Backlash Week

Does your neck hurt?  Mine does.  Maybe it’s from sitting too close to the computer at work, maybe it’s from too many headers playing footy but more likely it’s sympathy pain from the amount backlashes I’ve been seeing this week.

Backlashes against marketers invading Second Life; backlashes from PRs and advertisers invading the mommy-blogosphere, backlashes against consultants, backlashes against the internet and backlashes against poorly dressed NBA players.  Lets not forget the backlash against Wikipedia edits either.

Clearly, these are all important issues to the people involved but the one’s that interest me the most, as a PR guy with a vested interest in social media, are the marketers vs Second Life inhabitants and mommy bloggers vs the corporate influence.

Is there any place for any sort of marketing in the consumer controlled world?  Social media is being trumpeted by many as the key for PR to get into the C-suite, bigger budgets and an all round glow of wonderfulness.  Are we right to have drunk the Kool-aid or should we proceed with caution?

As with any new thing there is bound to be a backlash from the early adopters over the invasion of marketers into their newly established eutopia but will it die down?  crayon must have expected this backlash from the community of people they are so deeply tapped into but how will they counteract the, vitriolic, rejection of a) their cornerstone claim to be the first company to launch in Second Life and b) their very existence by the people they are supposed to be marketing to. 

I’m a Second Life sceptic.  The potential is boundless for companies in the "game" but will any company be able to come up with anything as the snail races and flying centaurs described in the Second Life Herald article?  Will any brand manager go to her boss and, with a straight face, put on her desk a plan that calls for an investment into flame haired unicorns playing football against disembodied purple legs as a "brand engagement" exercise?  I doubt it.

Marketing in Second Life ruins the very raison d’etre of the platform, tries to corporatize and homogenize something that by definition is about freedom of expression – not bland corporate identity.  Thoughts, especially contrarian thoughts are welcome in the comments section!

Is there even any room for marketers in the blogosphere?  There’s a cottage industry, if I can call it that, of mommy boggers and wherever there are eyeballs, there will marketers and PRs insiduously trying to insert coverage for their clients for unsuspecting readers.

Or so the arguement goes.  From my perspective, as a, ahem, "senior consultant, internet communications" I would say that the interests of the client brand would be better served as a content provider, not as an influencer.

Why?  Well, for a number of reasons.  First is the cack-handed nature of on-line outreach that can go on.  Bloggers are as likely to publicise your awful, off target spam as they are to publicise your product or service.  Even if they do write about your product, they may come off feeling slightly dirty and used.  Once bitten, twice shy.

Second is the agency’s finance department. PR has always seen media relations, the time taken to pick up a phone or write an email, as the primary profit generator.  The campaign can be as elaborate as you like but the success or failure depends on the media relations.  Just as ad agencies see the media buy as the profit centre, rather than the creative itself. 

How many junior people (the people doing the media relations with the profit margin baked into their salary/billing rate) really understand the blogosphere, blogging and contacting bloggers?  Not many.  So now the senior staff have to dedicate their billable hours (with less profit margin) to Technorati searches (which are broken anyway) and outreach to bloggers.  It’s just not that profitable anymore.

Something that is profitable is the consulting, design and execution of a blog.  Teaching executives how to write, monitoring the industry’s bloggers to find interesting things to say, designing a cool looking blog, getting that blog into the RSS readers or favourites folders of your target audience (online outreach of sorts). That’s where the money is.

Manufacturing companies made the change into marketing companies a long time ago.  Maybe its time us PRs made the switch from marketing agencies into content providers?

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4 Responses to Backlash Week

  1. Hi Ed,
    I think you are making some good points here.

    I’ve long felt that social media would change PR in a fundamental way. And those practitioners who have engaged with the blogosphere have already begun to experience the massive shifts – through the development of extended networks that transcend geography, the learning and thinking opportunities presented by discussions with others as passionate about communication as we are, and the opportunity to step from behind the press release and express views and ideas in our own voice.

    Along the way, mistakes are being made (Edelman/Wal-Mart offer a lesson about the importance of transparency; crayon offers a lesson in the peril of hubris and hype). But, with each experiment, we are seeing a clearer path to the future.

    It’s a great time to break out of the confines of old rules and conventions.

  2. Backlash Against Crayon’s Second Life Launch

    The claim that new marketing company ‘crayon’ was the first new company to launch in Second Life raised some eyebrows and hackles among the virtual world’s denizens. The backlash against the launch was as much about a community feeling invaded by co…

  3. Fucktards in Cyperspace

    A 3-D Rejection of Public Relations on the Web

    Today, we are especially pleased to post a guest column by Urizenus Sklar, founder and contributing editor of The Second Life Herald.

    First, by way of introduction… a few weeks ago we explored the increasing rejection of PR on the World Wide Web. Regrettably, last week Paul Holmes confirmed our greatest fear, i.e. the industry seems to be in near total denial. In an article titled Wiki Whackiness, Paul tried to isolate the issue exclusively to Wikipedia. Fact is, Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, is only bowing to the rising political pressure in cyberspace. PR is being shunned and summarily locked out of all things social media. In an interview Wales said, “PR-firms editing in a community space is deeply unethical, and clients should put very firm pressure on their PR firms not embarrass them this way.”

    Well, this last week we saw the latest shoe to drop. The launch of Crayon, claiming to be “the world’s first new marketing company,” in Second Life, the Web’s premier 3-D virtual world, was harshly panned. Without further ado, here’s Uri.

  4. John Wagner says:


    I think you are exactly right in that our roles will need to transform — not completely, of course, but in many ways.

    Creating content should be our strength and helping others communicate more effectively should be our passion. We have more tools at our disposal than ever before, and more opportunities to engage people who care.

    The key is changing our thinking — from trying to appeal to the masses to developing communication with the niche markets that truly have an interest in our clients’ products or services.

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