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Edelman-WalMart Update: Richard speaks up

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On his blog, Richard Edelman has responded to the flurry of conversation about the Wal-Marting Across America flog.

To his great credit, he has apologized, acknowledged that the tactic was wrong, and indicated the company is going through an education process. He has replied to comments posted to his item, and has even posted a comment among those left to my original post on this blog.

Edelman has also noted that the company refrained from comment until all the facts were in; Steve Rubel has also posted an item explaining this reason for the prolonged silence.

Comments posted to both Rubel’s and Edelman’s blogs run the gamut from praise for admitting the mistake to questions about what took so long to outright dismissal and an assumption that the same behavior is bound to repeat itself. An optimist, I’m willing to give Edelman the benefit of the doubt and assume that, after three conecutive social media blunders on the WalMart account, they’ll undergo some serious introspection and establish some processes and guidelines. I think it takes guts to admit you’ve made a mistake and even more to apologize. A lot of CEOs would never take that step no matter how egregious their acts.

The problem I still have is with how long it took to begin participating in the conversation. I sympathize with Edelman’s desire to get all the facts, but this was a genuine, bona fide, reputation-damaging crisis. As the title of Gerald Baron’s excellent crisis communication book informs us, “Now is Too Late.” Nobody should know this better, as it relates to social media, than a PR agency that promotes and implements social media solutions (not to mention provides crisis communication counsel). It should have taken hours, not days, to ascertain the facts in order to address the crisis quickly. I would hope fast response is another issue Edelman is addressing with his employees. Even “We’re listening and looking into this and will let you know what’s going on once we have the facts” would have been better than the deafening silence.

At the same time, of course, I do understand that the cobbler’s children have no shoes.

Another curiosity arises from Edelman’s admission-he calls the blog “the cross-country tour that Edelman designed for Working Families for WalMart.” This seems to contradict assertions made in the final post that appears on the blog itself, which insists that the tour was the blogger’s idea: ” I called my brother, who works at Edelman and whose clients include Working Families for Wal-Mart, in order to find out if we’d be allowed to talk to people and take pictures in Wal-Mart parking lots. As a freelance writer, I’ve learned over the years that it’s always better to ask about stuff like that in advance. They didn’t just give us permission. They said they would even sponsor the trip!”

Go read the post for yourself to see how it squares with the admission that the tour was designed by Edelman. From what we’ve learned based on Edelman’s and Rubel’s posts, this could be true, semi-true, or completely untrue. We just don’t know.

So props to Richard Edelman for the admisison and the mea culpa. Best of luck to his company in making sure they get it right in the future. And sincere hopes that more answers to the many lingering questions get answered now that the company and its representatives have started engaging in the conversation.

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Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.

Edelman-WalMart Update: Richard speaks up
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