Walmart's Travel Flog

Walmarting Across AmericaBusinessWeek reports how a blog about two people RVing from Las Vegas to Georgia has turned out to be a fakish blog called Walmarting Across America. The blog was backed by Wal-Mart and its PR firm Edelman. The Walmarting RV parked at Wal-Mart stores and the bloggers took photographs of ever-happy Wal-Mart employees.
Every Wal-Mart employee that Laura and Jim run into, from store clerks to photogenic executives, absolutely loves to work at the store. Sound like a great Wal-Mart publicity campaign? Anyone familiar with Wal-Mart and its reputation for being quite stingy with wages and benefits will roll their eyes at such a rosy picture. In fact, some critics are so skeptical that they wonder whether Jim and Laura are real or whether they were concocted at the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

"Wal-Mart has hired fake people," says Jonathan Rees, a labor historian and associate professor at Colorado State University at Pueblo, who has also worked as a staff researcher at the AFL-CIO. In a blog posting for the Web site The Writing On the Wal, Reese published an open letter to Laura and Jim challenging them to reveal themselves and asking who paid for their RV and gas.
It turns out that the blog was sponsored by Working Families for Wal-Mart, an organization launched by Edelman. Deep Jive Interests explains.
In spite of the ever growing echochamber the blogosphere lives in, it never astounds me what gets missed from time to time; in particular, there's a leading story in Businessweek about how a travel blog about Wal-mart (that is unabashedly positive about Wal-Mart), has in fact been sponsored by Working Families for Wal-Mart. What's wrong with that? Well, it turns out that WFWM is an organization that was launched by Edelman about 10 months ago, as a PR move to counter negative press about Wal-Mart.
Deep Jive Interests also notes that Edelman and Wal-Mart have generated unfavorable blogosphere buzz before -- see here and here. In Edelman's defense at least they didn't launch that horrid social network for

Robert Scoble writes that blog integrity is important and relates the Wal-Mart RV blog incident to PayPerPost allowing bloggers to get paid for blog posts without disclosing it.

Shel Holtz wants to know where the Edelman bloggers are? "So where is Edelman in this particular conversation? Missing in action. As dismaying as this latest misstep is, it's even more dismaying to see Edelman's high-powered social media experts failing to walk the talk. Nothing from Richard in his vaunted 6 a.m. blog. Nothing from Steve, who blogs at the pinnacle of PR's A-list."

The final word from the Walmarting Across America blog blames the anti-Walmart crowd, as Mathew Ingram notes. The Walmarting Across America bloggers are also steadfast in their love of Wal-Mart.
Even these personal attacks won't sour my feelings about Wal-Mart. I've met too many great people in Wal-Marts across the county. I've met too many people - real people, not imaginary Internet people - who've told me about all the good Wal-Mart has done. I've camped in Wal-Mart parking lots. I've met these people and heard their stories firsthand. Which is something the people who attacked Jim and me haven't done and don't care to do.

So I've made the trip. I had a great time. I loved meeting the people we met, listening to the stories we heard. After everything that's happened, I even loved blogging about it all. And if I had the chance, I'd do it again.

In the end, that's all that really matters.
AdPulp reports that the photographer of the flog, who also works for the Washington Post, is in trouble because the Wal-Mart photographs violate his freelancing policy with the Post. The other problem with the blog is there are not many links to it from other blogs and some of the inbound links are just bloggers complaining about it. There must not have been much interest in watching people travel from one Wal-Mart to another.

Update 10-17-06: Edelman admits to "failing to be transparent about the identity of the two bloggers from the outset." Edelman will also continue to support the WOMMA transparency guidelines they helped write. A-list blogger and Edelman employee Steve Rubel was not personally involved in the Walmarting blog.

Posted on October 15, 2006

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