Ethical Considerations In Posting Comments to Blogs
Let me say first and clearly that I SPECIALIZE IN REPUTATION MANAGEMENT. I am drawn to controversial topics. I like seeing resolutions that are a win/win. So I am naturally drawn to any controversy centered on a product with significant brand value. It''s what I am all about. If that sounds surprising, then let’s have lunch to discuss it. Others are interested in chocolate; I am interested in public relations and crisis communications. So here is what happened.
After being alerted to a blogger attack on NOKA Chocolate, a local small business, I did what I often do. I read the various posts and formed my own opinions. I saw it as an issue of semantics, primarily. The issue seems to boil down (no pun intended) to the use of the word "our" rather than "the" when describing the base materials used in their product. Further, it seemed that an exhaustive analysis of comparative prices was inherently flawed and failed to recognize the distinction between "price," "value" and "worth."
So I posted my personal opinions as comments on a number of blogs. It''s not like it was some concerted campaign. I simply wanted to encourage an actual discussion to counter the mindless piling on that was occurring.
I never sought to disguise my identity, primarily using some form of "Dan" as a user name and even using my real e-mail, which is pretty much unheard of in the blogosphere. In the one case I used a different user name, I communicated directly with the blogger using my real e-mail address.
My interest in offering a differing point of view about the attacks was genuine and in no way did NOKA Chocolate sanction, approve or authorize it. (UPDATE: NOKA was not even aware that I had posted personal comments about the issue until days later, after this forum was already active. Further, the company''s decision to engage DPK Public Relations was NOT influenced in any way by the posts.) And yet, this morning I find myself under attack (Correction: I first said "Samuel" was the one calling my actions into question, but many more did) outed as a mere public relations person. See for yourself:
And there are probably others as well.
As visitors to this site are aware, I am a big proponent of transparency and hold myself and my firm up to the highest standards of ethical conduct. As discussed in the article, "Managing Client Expectations: Your Public Relations Firm Must Operate in the Open," all public relations programs should face a high level of disclosure.
I did not disclose a tie to the business in question in my comments because I did not have any tie (now here''s the sticky part) at the time. So I want to both assure those who feel I was out there flogging that I wasn''t and at the same time, ask what would be appropriate, given the fact that my status has since changed.
Any thoughts? E-mail me. If you disagree, feel free to post a comment. Unlike those who questioned my ethics, I don''t have any qualms in posting differing opinions.
And let me just say for the record that I am amazed by the lack of critical thinking shown by the vast majority of bloggers who post about the series of reports in question. Some seem more outraged by the fact that a PR person who (at the time) had no connections to the issue would dare to post comments -- even though I used my real name and address -- than they are about the author of the series remaining anonymous and offering nothing in the way of credentials that would make him qualified to make the judgements he does.
Transparency works both ways. I find anonymous journalism troubling because it leaves unanswered questions about possible motivations, conflicts of interest and lack of expertise. If the reader is comfortable with it, so be it, but I''m not comfortable with it.
UPDATE: The original intent of this post was to discuss the necessary level of retroactive disclosure for people who post to blogs then take on work specifically related to the comments that had been posted. In response to feedback, I have gone to each of the blogs where comments were originally posted and posted clarifications regarding my firm''s interests and subsequent involvement.
FURTHER UPDATE: Since the company has released a statement on this issue, I''ll defer to that statement on all matters specifically related to NOKA Chocolate. While I appreciate your comments, this is really intended as a discussion about OUR actions, not about NOKA. So I am not posting comments that aren''t about OUR actions.
FURTHER FURTER UPDATE: I''ve retitled the article based on comments received suggesting that the former title, "Chocolatier Unfairly Attacked for Use of Pronouns" seemed inconsistent with my interests in keeping this discussion about OUR actions.
Source: Dan Keeney, APR