A couple months ago a PR rep at a shopping comparison engine anonymously left the following feedback in response to my Shopzilla/Scripps Howard News Service article:
“You asked for feedback and seem genuinely surprised that you don’t have more participation on your site. Ok, here goes: when you bite the hand that feeds you with articles like this (and numerous other examples), you provide a massive disincentive for people to get involved.
Most of your articles seem to try to “find the dirt”, whether at Shopzilla/Scripps, Froogle, Shopping.com, et al. Since getting mentioned on comparison engines often means that you will take a shot at our employer, it’s simply not worth it. It’s better to stay under the radar.
Recognize that your audience is a bunch of industry participants that want to learn more about competitive feature sets, new developments, etc. We can get investigative journalism elsewhere, particularly when it means that we might be your next target.
This is genuinely meant as feedback, not criticism, so I hope it’s taken as such. You’ll note, though, that I’m not willing to put my name either.”
I didn’t respond to this comment. There didn’t seem to be any need to do so. I viewed the comment as constructive criticism. I thought about it for a bit…but that was it. In fact, I completely forgot all about it until I read Marc Cuban’s recent post on criticism.
If I can take the feedback, I hope that the person who wrote the comment and her company can handle my feedback as I think there’s a good lesson here for PR executives and general management teams living in the age of the blogosphere…
Thank you for reading ComparisonEngines. Whether you like what I’m doing or not, I appreciate that you took the time to air your thoughts.
Unfortunately, though, I think that you and your company are living dangerously if you think that not talking to a blogger like me and trying to stay under the radar is smart. As Glenn Reynolds, author of An Army of Davids said in a Guardian Unlimited article back in April, “You can bury your head in the sand, but very quickly you’ll look like a very old-fashioned company.”
While I’m still not completely clear how it happened, at some point over the last year, I became a Malcolm Gladwell – esque influencer. Now before I sound a like I’m getting too big for my britches, I freely admit that I’m not the biggest blogger out there, but within the shopping comparison engine and vertical search industries, my posts are fairly well followed. And through working with Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Watch, I’ve increased my profile a bit.
You commented that “when you bite the hand that feeds you with articles like this (and numerous other examples), you provide a massive disincentive for people to get involved.”
I ran this by a couple people much smarter than I. Mike Manuel of Media Guerrila replied: “It’s like saying ‘play nicely, or else.’ Which is just BS.”
You have to realize that in the age of the blogosphere, you no longer control the story. Stop and think about that for a second. That’s a HUGE change from 10 years ago. You can help shape the story if you and the executives you work for are involved, but hiding under a rock just means that you can’t stand up to a transparent critique.
As Garrett French of Search Engine Lowdown commented, “The more open we are with criticism – as long as it’s reasoned and non-malicious – the better we serve the online space.”
I’m not out to ‘dig up dirt’, but the beauty of the blogosphere is that anyone can post anything and if a company goes ‘dark’ and doesn’t talk to the media, this type of behavior is going to attract even more attention. You said that talking to me means that I might take a ‘shot’ at your employer and ‘it’s simply not worth it.’ To me that means that I’m right on target in my analysis and you don’t have a story that’s going to prove me wrong or change my opinion. Yes, your job is to get the best story possible written about your company, but if you can’t handle the more critical pieces and view them as constructive feedback, then we’ll never have any relationship and my coverage of your company will probably just continue down a rocky path.
But it doesn’t end there. You incorrectly said in your comment that my audience ‘is a bunch of industry participants’. That’s not at all the case. Employees at comparison engines make up an estimated third of my audience. Another third is made up of financial analysts/VCs/media. Another third is made up of merchants who are trying to figure out where to allocate their monthly budget. Oh, and don’t forget about the people who are interviewing with your company…the smart ones contact me for my opinion before they take an offer.
As for the comment on ‘biting the hand that feeds me’, if you’re literally talking about feeding me, I have probably taken less than $875 in food and schwag from the shopping comparison engines over the last year. And please note that there aren’t even Google Adsense or Yahoo! Publisher Network ads on my site. If you’re talking about feeding me news stories…that’s not how it works with me. I write what I want to write about, this is not a press release regurgitation site.
I’m here to shed light on what’s happening in this industry. If you completely disagree with what I write, then rip my opinions apart with solid facts. Better yet, have your CEO or a member of management call me and honestly answer my questions. I realize that you can’t share everything, and I don’t expect you to. Just know that there aren’t many rocks to hide under these days. This is not a threat. Just reality.
Mike Frigden (of Farecast) wrote a post recently about Steve Rubel’s comments on how traditional marketers should approach bloggers:
Steve Rubel, of Edelman Public Relations…mentioned that one of the biggest issues is that “every marketer is too worried about giving up control”. He quoted [Thomas] Friedman’s book The World is Flat, “we’re moving from command and control to collaboration and connectivity”.
Some comments that were made by the audience on how to connect with bloggers:
– Demonstrate that you have read their blog
– Do not ask a blogger to blog about something they are obviously not interested in
– Do not expect them to write anything other than what they think
2 points here go hand in hand. You are no longer in control AND you can’t expect me to write anything other than what I think. Sorry, I know this sucks for you. Your job is to get positive press about your company, and as a fiercely independent analyst, I’m throwing a wrench in your plans. There are plenty of bloggers who will mindlessly write what you say, but I’m going to dig a little deeper than most and offer up my opinion.
You can completely shut me out, but that’s only telling me what I already know, that your company is facing an uncertain future. It’s time for you to embrace that uncertainty or else you might crush yourself under the weight of that rock you’re hiding under.
I know it’s scary to put yourself out there without controlling the story, but view this as an opportunity. Many executives at the shopping comparison engines talk to me and other bloggers on and off the record to get our feedback on plans or strategies. It might be time for some of your management team to do the same.
Analyst (and proud Blogger), ComparisonEngines.com & VerticalSearch.net
Vertical Search Correspondent, Search Engine Watch