More than 800 e-mails about all kinds of consumer horror stories pour into the editor's inbox at RipoffReport.com every day. A staff of freelance editors briefly reviews every one and adds most to the public database of more than 323,000 accounts assembled over 10 years. “We don't add or remove anything other than obscenities, personal information and stuff like that,” says founder Ed Magedson, who's been sued more than 35 times, never successfully.
At Adrants, a must-read blog in the digital marketing world, Steve Hall says 100% accuracy isn't a prerequisite for publication. “I'll publish something that I may agree is not 100% correct because it's a conversation and the community can add to it,” he says. “The world of social media isn't journalism.”
Perhaps, but it's influential nonetheless. Adrants gets 12,000 visitors, most of them advertising professionals, on a typical weekday. The New York Times and The
Wall Street Journal have cited it a combined 31 times. They've cited Consumerist.com more than 80.
The popular advocacy blog fields about 100 e-mails from outraged consumers every day. Ben Popken, Consumerist.com's 26-year-old editor, won't discuss the blog's process, but notes “unlike a printed newspaper, a blog post can always be updated with new information.” Consumerist.com has more than 15 million monthly visitors.
Offended companies had better be careful. Last June, a Dell Computer lawyer sent a cease-and- desist letter to Consumerist.com after the blog published company secrets. In the old days, such a dispute would have been resolved in back-room negotiations. Not today. Consumerist.com published the lawyer's threat, sparking howls of delight from its rabid fan base, who then voted the story up the popularity stack on Digg.com.
Marketers, take note. The rules of the blogo-sphere aren't the same as those of mainstream media. In a world of instant updates and relentless pressure to publish, speculation and rumor are fair game. Bloggers expect their readers to fix any errors.
The print media world is different. Journalists are taught to confirm every detail before a story is committed to posterity. But some online publishers don't think that way. To them, a published article is simply a first draft to be annotated and improved upon by their readers over time. Their world is defined by community, and complete transparency and constant discussion are essential to the process. To conceal is to corrupt the purity of the conversation.
Not all bloggers are the same, of course, but the new rules demand a lighter touch. Published errors are promptly corrected, but threats and diatribes are posted for public ridicule. The new rules of journalism are being written by the Adrants and Consumerists of the world. It's incumbent on marketers to adapt to them. M