Corporate Blogging, Comment Seeding, and Controversy

Jerry Bowles at Enterprise Web 2.0 posted a fairly scathing indictment of Deb Weil and the GlaxoSmithKline corporate blog (clog?) for Alli: Deborah Weil and the Art of the Fake
. Bowles argues:

Deborah Weil has been around the block a couple of times and she must have known when GlaxoSmithKline’s agency approached her to consult on a new flog for its Alli weight-loss product that it was a dishonest, insincere attempt to cash in on the social media craze and that the parameters set for it doomed it to failure.

He’s referring to Weil’s post where she requested of her readers:

head on over to GlaxoSmithKline’s official corporate blog for alli, the first FDA approved, OTC (over the counter) weight loss product. Take a peek and, if you’re inspired, leave a Comment.

She also, to be clear, disclosed the relationship:

Full disclosure: I’m working with GSK on the blog. And this was my idea to ask for Comments.

However, as Kevin Dugan points out in the comments, the email version of the post included the sentence “No need
to say that you know me, of course.” See also Weil’s followup post: Using the backchannel of email to invite Comments on your blog.

While I’m not sure that Bowles’ personal attacks at Weil and her “inexplicably popular” blog help his argument, and alliconnect doesn’t fit my definition of a flog (since it declares directly it is written by GSK folks), the core of the issue is the extent to which traditional PR and Marketing techniques are conflicting with next generation Internet conversations. On this, I think Bowles is right on:

Many companies still don’t get it. To them, social media represent just one more set of marketing tools to sell more stuff. They believe they can have it both ways–control the message AND build relationships of trust with potential customers. They are wrong and, when engaged to provide advice, communications professionals who understand the new realities have a obligation to tell them so.

Echoing the question Weil asked, is it acceptable to use email (what Weil calls the backchannel of the blogosphere) to suggest to people you know that they visit your own blog, or the blog of a client, and leave comments?

I’ve certainly emailed folks I know and asked them to check out the Optaros Enterprise Open Source Directory – and encouraged them to leave feedback. When I’ve written a blog post or a white paper I’m proud of, I’ve emailed popular sites and asked them to check it out – for example, when “picked up” this post, that was at least in part because I had emailed them directly, telling them about the post.

I’d argue that part of the launch campaign for any new service or site these days should include a “market to the influencers” component, which includes plans for how to get influential bloggers early access to the invite-only beta.

Is the difference that Weil was encouraging traffic to a corporate blog. rather than her own? Is it that she suggested, albeit lightly, that they not disclose their relationship to her, despite the fact that she consulted with GSK on the blog?

(See for example Dennis Howlett’s Holy Crap!, which cites the product itself as one of the issues, and Weil’s suggestion not to disclose as another).

Is the real problem the fact that GSK is abusing the blog concept? Bowles argues:

You can’t have a successful conversation when personal anecdotes and negative comments are banned and the few comments that are left are so obviously scripted and uninspiring.

What if Weil had suggested explicitly that people visit the Alli blog and leave comments positive or negative? What if she had suggested that they disclose directly that there were doing so in response to her invitation for comments? What if that invitation for comments had been posted directly on the blog in question?

(In addition to disclosing the relationship on her blog, she is listed as a contributor on the Alli blog)

If I posted on the EOS Blog and then came here and asked you all to comment on it, would that be a conflict of interest, or effective marketing?

Ultimately, I’m as concerned about astroturf and bad corporate-pr-blogs as anyone else, but the issue comes down to whether authentic and transparent conversation is being had at the site in question, not whether people were encouraged to go there.

(For some real, unfiltered, and clear feedback about Alli check out: alli: miracle diet pill with teeny tiny side effect and Laugh? I nearly shit my pants. I wonder if the Angry Aussie has tried posting comments on the alli blog).


  1. Corporate blogs (Clogs!) are really hit or miss. My own company does a terrible job, filling it with useless marketing jargon.

    There are occasionally really good ones though. If you haven’t checked it out yet, Sun’s Jonathan Schwartz writes a really good one. In fact, his latest clog post addresses the whole CEO blogging phenomenon.

  2. No, I didn’t post comments on the official alli blog :) My little posts surely grabbed their attention, in the hundreds of comments I received there are some obvious corporate shills posting glowing reviews of alli. I don’t think many people are falling for it but sadly it seems there are a huge number of desperate people still buying the pills.

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