Blogs House “Brand Assassins”

    February 10, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

Beware the lowly blogger, all ye mighty multinational corporations, for the keyboard, the RSS feed, and the comments section are mightier than the public relations sword.

The Economist discussed the shift in power when companies face public complaints. The article goes through the history of corporate behavior, from placating unions to splashy public relations efforts, all managed by the business.

Bloggers with a gripe, however, cannot be managed by someone on a corporation’s organizational chart. Most bloggers occupy one portion on such a chart, and that would be right at the top. Someone who has climbed from the bottom to the top of the business world may have been able to forget those at the bottom in years past. Not now, as The Economist stated:

The spread of “social media” across the Internet-such as online discussion groups, e-mailing lists and blogs-has brought forth a new breed of brand assassin, who can materialize from nowhere and savage a firm’s reputation. Often the assault is warranted; sometimes it is not.

All a blogger really needs to devastate a company is a bit of information and plausibility, a complaint that catches the imagination and a knack for making others care about his gripe.

In the story, The Economist recounts a few corporate disasters online, like the problem with Diebold acquiring Global Election Systems (GES) to add electronic voting to its portfolio. While Diebold did the customary “due diligence,” it ignored blogs that complained about GES’ lack of a paper audit trail.

The dustup over that and other complaints about GES eventually found its way to the traditional media, where newspapers and TV news began to criticize Diebold so much that several state governments changed their decisions to use Diebold’s voting machines.

Many corporations have learned to keep track of the blogosphere, and services from companies like Factiva and Nielsen have been developed to help fulfill corporate needs to track commentary in blogs and forums.

The vast majority of big corporations have not performed one task that could help them mitigate a crisis, and that is to do some blogging themselves. But the corporate mindset today tends to frown on public dissension by an employee.

While many firms may admire Microsoft for letting Robert Scoble take the occasional shot at the company, few have thick enough skins at the executive level to handle criticism, let alone the transparency a good corporate blogger needs to be taken seriously by others.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.