Corporate Blogging Survey 2005

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December 28, 2005

Edelman Blog: A Case Of Un-Intentional Synthetic Transparency?

Shel Israel wrote a blog post, “Edelman--The Missing Linker�, about Richard Edelman's (Richard Edelman runs one of the world’s largest PR agencies) lack of linking to other websites, specifically Suw Charman's blog, it occurred to me last night that Richard Edelman's lack of linking is a case of synthetic transparency.

Synthetic transparency was a phrase coined by Dr. Walter Carl, a professor of Advanced Organizational Communication at Northeastern University. Dr. Carl defines the term to mean, “Synthetic transparency involves using blogs to give the impression of openness, honesty, and transparency but without really doing so.� In my article, "Using ‘Synthetic Transparency’ To Set Expectations On The Level Of Transparency Found On Your Corporate Blog," which was also reprinted on the new communications blogzine, I describe how General Motors has a policy of not answering every comment, however when I had questioned a few General Motors customers who commented on the blog about their expectations for receiving a reply, the customers assumed that General Motors would reply to their comments. The customers had not seen the blog guidelines. I suggested that the example of the GM Fastlane Blog is a case of un-intentional synthetic transparency. General Motors had decided to reduce its level of interaction with customers due to the volume of comments, which are in the thousands for the GM Fastlane blog. And while I think its perfectly acceptable for a corporate blog to do what ever they want to do with their website. If a company wishes to build trust through openness, the whole point of a blog, its important to set expectations with your audience.

I'd also suggest its important for a corporation to be aware of the norms of their online community, does the community allow comments, trackbacks and other levels of interaction? Is it typically expected that bloggers in a community will link to other bloggers? A company is perfectly within their rights to not to work within the norms of a community. But in response the community may turn their back on the non-participatory blogger.

After being involved in the PR blogging community for about two years, on PR Communications and now Blogsurvey, I think I can safely say that it is expected within the community that PR bloggers link to other bloggers. It was interesting to me that Shel noticed the lack of linking to other blogs on the 6 A.M. blog because I'd noticed previously that Richard Edelman's blog does not allow trackbacks. I'd been inspired to write an article about Healthcare blogging because one of Edelman's staffers had discussed the issue at the Business Blog Summit earlier this summer, and when I tried to trackback the post to the article on Richard Edelman's blog I could not. Richard Edelman's blog does allow comments but according to Trevor Cook of the Corporate Engagement blog, Richard Edelman's blog has a track record of not linking to other blogs. Trevor Cook linked to a PubSub recording of Richard Edelman's outlinks.

On closer examination, I actually read through Richard Edelman's posts back to August 2005, I think I can see why he has so few links to other websites. The context of his posts don't lead themselves to linking i.e. there was nothing to link too. In one post where it was appropriate to link, I did notice that Richard Edelman linked to Jeremy Zawodny in Richard's post, "The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends," the article discussed Jeremy's suggestion that all PR professional emails should be banned. From a search engine optimization agency perspective, if ever there was a post Backbone Media would recommend Richard Edelman not link too, it would be that post but he did, that seems pretty transparent to me.

However I did notice that Richard Edelman did not link to in a post about Peter Hirshberg, "PR--The Powerful Receiver?" Now by any stretch of the imagination I don't think can be considered a competitor to Edelman. I think that was just an oversight. Part of the reason blogging consultants recommend linking to other websites in articles, is that its a matter of convenience to the reader, your reader does not have to search for the link.

To me 6 A.M.'s lack of linking in the case of Suw Charman may be just an oversight. But a bigger issue for me is my inability to send a trackback to Richard Edelman's blog. It just does not seem the 'done thing,' in the PR blogging community. Partly because it means I have to both write a blog post and comment or send an email to Richard Edelman if I want to let him know that I just wrote a post that references one of this posts. Blogging is all about design to me, and it just makes good web design sense to include moderated comments and trackbacks on a blog. By not allowing trackbacks the 6 A.M. is being very transparent that the site does not want to receive notifications or links from other websites. That's okay, but it also means I am less likely to link to Richard Edelman's blog, even if I cite a blog or blog post in my own posts. This is why I did not link to the Edelman blog in this post about, "Blogging For Highly Regulated Industries."

In review, I am not sure Shel was being entirely fair to Richard Edelman on the linking issue, I think Richard's content strategy and writing style has got more to do with the lack of links, and the link issue with Suw Charman was probably an oversight, I cite the example of the Jeremy Zawodny post. Further, if someone is going to review a blogger's outlinks for the ratio of inlinks to outlinks, then they need to read the blogger's posts to double check that linking was appropriate within the context of the posts.

Is this topic really worth discussing? After all folks, it’s only one link! Well I think it is as it provides a good opportunity to consider the use of the term synthetic transparency, I believe this new term is helpful in giving bloggers a yardstick to measure their blogging efforts, the GM Fastlane blog is a good example of where with a few simple extra steps the blog can be more transparent. I hope each corporate blogger uses the term to determine their level of transparency, intentional and un-intentional. Though my research on corporate blogs its apparent that each organization moves at its own pace, its okay for others to encourage a faster pace, but those critics should realize that its still the blogger's website and they can do what ever they want to do with it. However, if your blog's level of interaction is slower than other blogs in your blogging community a corporate blogger should not be surprised when they don't receive the benefits of being more actively involved in the community by adhering with the community's norms.

Oh, lastly, in the case of Richard Edelman's blog I don't think his blog is synthetically transparent.

Update: Richard Edelman posted a comment on both Shel Israel's and Trevor Cook's blogs that he should link more will do so in 2006. Thanks Trevor Cook.

Posted by johncass at December 28, 2005 1:14 PM

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It seems to be that the issue about norms of the community is an important factor that companies need to be clear about when making a decision to blog or not. Also, it would interesting to think about a way to measure a way to determine if it truly is high, med, or low transparency.

Posted by: regina at January 6, 2006 7:57 PM

Your right Regina, a measurement system for transparency within the context of blogging would be helpful to the corporate blogging process. I personally think this is community project. A critical element for determining the yardstick will be the level of interaction with a corporate blog's audience.

Posted by: John Cass at January 6, 2006 8:51 PM

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