This entry has been updated. Plus… does anyone know who created the graphic below? I’d be happy to give credit.

My post (and a corresponding email to a group of colleagues) inviting folks to visit GSK’s new alli blog and — if inspired or provoked — leave a comment, has been unfortunately misconstrued by some as inappropriately “asking” for comments on a corporate blog.

The unfortunate part is not that I did something wrong or unethical in asking for comments (I didn’t), but that a mini blogstorm, replete with misconceptions, inaccuracies and nastiness, can propagate so quickly. It’s painful if you’re the one being attacked.

Addendum: I made the same request for comments on the alli blog, for which I write as well as consult. There is no way I could have been more transparent.

My one mistake

To back up a bit for those not familiar with this incident, it was my use of an off-hand phrase (“no need to say you know me”) in a private email that precipitated this blogstorm. In the email I asked a group of colleague-friends to visit GSK’s new blog and, if inspired, to leave a comment. The phrase “no need to say you know me” was a throwaway and a bit of a joke. It was an unfortunate choice of words on my part.

The phrase didn’t look so innocent when one of my email recipients, David Murray, published the message on his blog without alerting me first or asking my permission. Frankly, I found this to be an odd breach of email etiquette – and my privacy – by David, who is an editor for Ragan

It looked as if I was asking colleagues to conceal that they know me. Those who know me – and know my tone of voice in an email – understand that I didn’t really mean it. I regret using the phrase. It was a mistake. Now let’s move on to the topic of this entry…

Using the backchannel of email is not underhanded

What I really want to do today is crawl under a rock and pretend I’ve never heard of blogging (and in particular, nasty PR bloggers). Instead I’ll take this opportunity to clarify what some call the “backchannel” of the blogosphere — namely, email.

Many bloggers send emails to friends and colleagues asking them to “take a look” and “leave a comment” on a recent post. This is a common, if not commented upon (sorry, couldn’t resist), practice.

HP’s very own esteemed blogger Eric Kintz sent me just such an email this week. He’s been promoted to VP of Marketing for Digital Photography and Entertainment and wanted to let a bunch of his friends & colleagues know about it. He also asked if we’d leave suggestions for any new directions he should take on his blog.

Is this “comment seeding”? I don’t think so. This is Eric being Eric and asking colleagues to leave a Comment on his blog. A bunch of people did, BTW. Myself included.

I expect the backchannel of email is used in the blogosphere far more than anyone admits: to stroke egos, to ask for advice, to admonish, etc.

So is it OK to solicit or ask for comments on a corporate blog?

My answer remains the same: yes, it’s OK if you do it only occasionally and are transparent about your request. The fact is, many people still are not familiar with blogging etiquette. If you stopped a random person on the street or in an office elevator and asked if he or she planned to “leave a comment” on a blog today, you would likely get a confused stare.

A blog? A what? A comment??

My intent was to get a few coherent comments onto GSK’s alliConnect blog in order to demonstrate to other visitors what a Comment is and how it should be written. My circle of colleague-friends tend to be smart, savvy about social media and good writers and that’s why I called on them.

As an example, here is the comment left on the alli blog by my colleague Paul Chaney after I alerted him by the infamous email.

The other mistake I made was to include a few too many colleague-friends in the small group I sent my email to. There’s a whole other lesson in that. Which I’ll take up another time. Suffice it to say that “social media” can create a false sense of intimacy and friendship with people.

As to whether my smart colleague-friends (a mix of entrepreneurs, marketing experts and others) are the right kind of readers to be leaving comments on the alli blog, who cares? It was a one-time request. As with much of blogging etiquette, you can parse these things to death. I don’t believe in that. A waste of time.

Related links

There’s no shame in soliciting comments on a blog by Steven Lewis (July 12, 2007)

Blogging: Who Makes Up the Rules? by Jeffrey Eisenberg (July 13, 2007)

Bloggers v Bloggers by Joseph Jaffe (July 13, 2007)

Blog Ethics and Why I’m Ashamed of the PR Bigwigs  by Jennifer Mattern on Naked PR (July 23, 2007)

Astroturfing on the Dark Side of the Moon by Geoff Livingston (Aug. 6, 2007)

Netiquette and Debbie Weil’s Email on Hoi Polloi (who is this??) Aug. 9, 2007