Eegads…almost everyone bit when I posted on April Fool’s Day that Bill Gates hired me to be his executive blog coach. Here’s an email I got from a friend and colleague who happens to be a senior executive. Yes, he’s the enthusiastic type:
“OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
YOU JUST SCORED THE BIGGEST EXEC CEO WHALE OUT THERE!!!!!!!!!! This is just so unbelievable for you, I am sooooooooooooo thrilled!“
Frankly I’m a bit embarrassed. My little joke was the product of about five minutes thought. It was inspired by several others. See here (Robert Scoble) and here (Steve Rubel). I’ll admit to being pleased at being a successful prankster. But the real takaway is more serious.
The ability for anyone to publish instantly – and globally – can so easily be abused. It reveals the dark side of the blogosphere. Namely, that not everything you read in blogs (or anywhere online) is true. Indeed how do you know what IS true? Memes (topics du jour) can race around the blogosphere, morphing into urban legends, in a matter of hours or days.
More on “credibility” and the blogosophere and the problem with “citizen journalism”…
One such, of course, was the Kryptonite bike lock fiasco. In the
fall of 2004, a discussion board revealed that a Kryptonite bike lock
could be picked with a Bic pen. Soon after, this disconcerting fact
appeared on the popular blog Engadget.
Within days a blogstorm erupted over the fact that Kryptonite appeared
to be oblivious to the negative buzz in the blogosphere. From there, it
was a short hop to “Kryptonite is toast; their brand is forever
I include this story in The Corporate Blogging Book
in order to make the point that, in fact, the conclusion (Kryptonite is
toast) turned out to be wrong. Donna Tocci, Kryptonite’s PR person,
knew from Day 1 what was being said in the blogosphere. She chose not
to leave any comments on blogs, she told me, because she was too busy
arranging the logistics of an international lock exchange.
(That decision on her part cost the company in terms of search engine results. For at least a year after the incident, Engadget’s posting came up first if you typed “kryptonite bike lock” into Google.)
But she also told me something else in our interview for the book: in the days following the revelation on Engadget, not one single blogger contacted
her to check out the story. In contrast, mainstream media (yes, taking
their cue from the blogosphere) called her almost immediately to find
out what was going on.
Which brings me to my point. If serious bloggers – aka citizen
journalists – don’t adopt some of the basic tenets of old-fashioned
journalism (fact checking, attributing sources, pausing before
publishing), then the credibility of the blogosphere will be diminished.
And the palpable excitement over this burgeoning era of citizen journalists – and citizen marketers – may be premature.
I’m as passionate as anyone about the idea of Web 2.0 – the new
participatory Web where content is created by users and good ideas and
smart thinking bubble up from below, rather than being distributed from
above by a handful of media conglomerates.
But, hey, we’re all in this together. Let’s make it happen! Let’s be a little more careful
before we hit Publish. And a bit more skeptical about what we’re reading,
even on A-list blogs.
[Sigh… on the other hand, if Bill Gates sees my April Fool’s posting, I do hope he’ll call… Bill, are you listening??]