Lessons from Wal-Mart's latest

There's this big company—Wal-Mart—and they sometimes attract the wrong kind of attention. This week, bloggers are writing about t-shirts with a Nazi symbol found in a Wal-Mart store. Follow the link if you want to know the story; I'm going to focus on what we can learn from it. Because of Wal-Mart's high profile, this story makes it easy to see how online buzz works.

Blogger Rick Rottman explains the appeal of the story in a Consumerist interview:

RICK: I guess people just love good Walmart slash Nazi stories, you know.

CONSUMERIST: Perfect Venn diagram for the blogosphere. Sweet spot! Yes!

The Hugh MacLeod cartoon draws itself, doesn't it? So this story was born prominent. For the rest of us who don't share Wal-Mart's exposure, what can we learn?
  1. Any blogger can become highly visible with the right story.
    Rottman posted his original item on the social news site Digg, which sent him over 55,000 readers in one day. The many links to his posts boosted his rankings and influence ratings went from approximately nowhere to very influential, and they will stay there for a few months, regardless of his future posts and readership. He could also leverage his current visibility to become a long-term influential blogger on Wal-Mart. Any tool you use to measure the influence of bloggers needs to be able to detect a sudden increase in influence.

  2. Bloggers will report on blogger relations efforts.
    Rottman posted the full text of an email from Edelman, along with some research into the sender's background and his observations on Wal-Mart's response. The days of PR pros working behind the curtain are over, at least online. You will be judged not only on your original actions but also your follow-up actions.

  3. All kinds of people read blogs.
    One side effect was a rush by neo-Nazis to buy the t-shirts at Wal-Mart.

  4. Topics of interest spread.
    If you want to follow the conversations springing from Rottman's post, you need to read many blogs (and comments). You also need to read over 170 comments on Digg, where much of the conversation has focused on free speech (in favor of Wal-Mart).

  5. Blogs provide an early warning system.
    True, this all started with a blog post, and a lot of people know about it. But the consensus seems to be that mistakes will happen, and Wal-Mart is responding appropriately (although there were some complaints about taking a few days to get the shirts out of the stores). When mainstream media picked up the story, the headline was Wal-Mart pulls T-shirts with Nazi skull logo, and the company was able to apologize and explain their plan to correct the situation in the initial reports. If they didn't read the blogs, the initial reports could have been far more difficult for the company.

About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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