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I Have Questions: Transparency in PR Blogging

What Makes Me Want To Post This

Steve Rubel writes, “RSS is starting to attract some attention from those catering to Internet advertisers.” Yes it is. And it is, in part, due to him. He is a PR practitioner and one of his clients deals in RSS. Topix.net. If you look at what his firm does for Topix, you’ll see that he gets them press. Now, he did not get them press in the article he linked to, but he did further the meme, extend the tail, on advertising in RSS – something Topix may wish to pursue down the road.

Does anyone know if Topix is considering using advertising in their RSS feeds. They do have targeted ads from Google on their site. There are also ads from a ticket seller, a subscription news site and Amazon.com. Not the same thing, though. Does Topix want to start putting those, or other, ads in their feeds? Steve Rubel may know. If he does, and the answer is yes, is this a problem? I’m asking.

Rubel’s Status

Rubel is cited by Edelman and Intelliseek as one of the most influential PR bloggers. Rubel has a client that provides RSS services and/or may use advertising in RSS feeds. Steve Rubel is quoted in the article he links to and promotes. He does not note that fact in the post and has done this in earlier posts, too. He has been asked about it more than once and has yet to fully discuss the issue in his blog.

Questions We May Consider

I want to ask Steve Rubel and you, my few readers, these questions. I am doing this through the medium we’re talking about. A blog. Let’s have a conversation.

(1) Should any blogger clarify these relationships in their blog?
(2) Should any blogger try to make sure the relationships are clarified in articles where they are interviewed? (And, I know none of us can control what any reporter writes. We do try to influence it, though. Don’t we?)
(3) Should any blogger answer questions about transparency concerns that are posed as comments in their blog?

Rubel stated, in a previous post addressing Jeremy Pepper’s questions about transparency, that he would start clarifying. Has Rubel been true to his word?

Rubel wrote, “Here’s my two cents: if the article subject focuses on me, my company or my clients, I will say so in the post and file it under “Shamless Promotion.” Otherwise it’s fair game. In this case, I was quoted as a source. And anyone who clicks on the link will see that clearly. Bad Steve for linking to an AP story on corporate blogging. Bad Steve.” So, was the RSS advertising story a possible promotion? The post was only categorized as “Marketing”.

Possible Concerns For PR

The tagline on Rubel’s blog is: “Steve Rubel blogs on how weblogs and citizen journalism are impacting public relations.” We know that he is considered very influential.

I think that transparency in his (or anyone’s) blogging practices may impact a practitioner’s (or a client’s) reputation. It may have an impact on people’s perception of public relations, too.

If Rubel is a leader, does he have a responsibility to maintain this absolute clarity (transparency) in all of his posts? For PR professionals, they will likely all understand his relationships. However, as such a popular blogger, many people that are reading his blog may well not understand that those relationships exist.

This is why I’m wondering why Steve Rubel does not address his perceived transparency lapses more fully in his blog. The question has been raised more than once, by more than one person.

Possible Contradictions

Rubel recently wrote, “I am throwing my support behind the HonorTag system.” One of those tags is “Journalism” and part of that tag’s description states, “I’m fair, thorough, accurate, and open (transparent) about what I do. I operate with integrity.”

Why I Am Writing This

I’d like to hear the response to the transparency question, too. If the question is un-addressed, some may take the silence as the answer. If you endorse something in one post, and fail to do it in another, there may be problems. Can someone ignore answering questions posed on the topic? Sure, I guess so. But, is it wise? Does it help the profession?

For the benefit of my students and all those up and coming PR practitioners out there, I invite Steve Rubel to please talk a little about what responsibility, if any, his status as a popular PR blogger carries with it.

Along the lines of this thread, these questions seem fair to address:

The Questions, Again

Should Rubel (or any blogger) note a relationship in each post where you link to something where you’re quoted? An example might be the simplistic “I was interviewed for this story.”

Should you note that your clients may benefit from your press coverage (thought leadership) in some form or another?

Should bloggers note these relationships in any similar type of post where their clients may benefit from their praise or 3rd party endorsement?

And, for that matter, shouldn’t the NYTimes reporter (Louise Story) have stated the relationships of Steve Rubel to Topix.net in her story?

I Believe These Are Legitimate And Fair Questions

I’m asking. I don’t know how Steve Rubel feels about these issues.

On all of the questions, either way, I hope Steve Rubel will please speak up. I will truly appreciate the opportunity to read his take on these questions.

My Opinion

I do not believe that one can take the Charles Barkley defense on this one.

You can’t have the status and ignore the responsibilities that come with it. Steve Rubel may not think he is a role model, but with continued citations in the press on all things blog and more, he is one – like it or not.

A trackback has been sent to his blog. If it is posted and he responds there or here, we may find out.

Please note: A post just like this has been sitting in my drafts file for some time, now. This is not a “let’s beat up on Steve Rubel” post. He gets enough of that already, I’m sure. It is, however, an honest attempt to get clarification about questions that seem, to me at least, to go unanswered about one of the most influential blogger’s practices. I truly believe these questions should be legitimately considered by all bloggers. I especially want my students to consider them. Steve Rubel is just the obvious blogger to reference because of (a) his visibility and (b) the questions have been asked of him before.



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  • http://www.micropersuasion.com Steve Rubel

    Robert, see below…

    (1) Should any blogger clarify these relationships in their blog?

    Yes, I believe bloggers should disclose who they work with. If you go to my About page you will see a full disclaimer of who I am working with.

    (2) Should any blogger try to make sure the relationships are clarified in articles where they are interviewed? (And, I know none of us can control what any reporter writes. We do try to influence it, though. Don’t we?)

    I want to clarify what happened with Topix and the NY Times. I did not supply that information to Louise. She found it on her own and it was a coincidence that we shared the story. In hindsight I should have said that, but I didn’t notice it until days later. Usually when I link to anything client related, I say so. I make an effort to be transparent. Sometimes, it’s not as much as people want.

    (3) Should any blogger answer questions about transparency concerns that are posed as comments in their blog?

    It depends. It’s ludicrous to think that all comments will be addressed. There’s a time factor. Ideally, I recommend folks address comonalities – e.g. themes that come in through the feedback loop. If I answered every question or criticism that came my way I’d be jobless and homeless. I do try to answer themes.

    If you feel that you would like to dive further here, let’s set up a time to talk live.

    Hope this helps.

    Steve

  • http://pop-pr.blogspot.com Jeremy Pepper

    14:59

  • http://www.semiologic.com Denis de Bernardy

    (1) Should any blogger clarify these relationships in their blog?

    I think you are raising a non-issue. You think of a blogger as a PR pro or a journalist. You are wrong on both counts. A blogger is neither; he is an opinionated average Joe who, at best, is more of a columnist. In this context, _expect_ a blogger to be biaised.

    That said, if you are discussing the ‘pro’ blogger, who is in fact a mere puppet in the hands of PR pros, the question is an entirely different one. Yes, let him tell who he really is. If you don’t, the lad will get bad press if he gets ‘caught’. And then, hide the notice some place where noone will look.

    (2) Should any blogger try to make sure the relationships are clarified in articles where they are interviewed?

    It depends on the influencer and on the context. Research in psychology of influence shows that you’ll be more credible in some circumstances (door in the face), and that you’ll be better off not saying anything in most cases (foot in the door).

    (3) Should any blogger answer questions about transparency concerns that are posed as comments in their blog?

    Only to dismiss the question as a non-issue. Influence-wise, reacting as if there were real transparency concerns that need ex-post clarification can only work against you. This is where you need that hidden notice discussed above.

  • http://www.auburnmedia.com/ Robert

    Steve, I appreciate that you came by and commented. Thank you.

    You are the guy that gets the de facto “PR blogger” label from MSM. If anyone is going to be the person to adhere to what they write about – if only for the sake of themselves (let alone the discipline of PR), it should be you.

    Certainly, we should all comply. But, you are the role model, if the MSM is correct.

    Before I respond, let me offer this. I know you’re getting a bit of flak lately and I’m not trying to pick on you.

    Your response here did not have the depth I was hoping for, but I thank you for it.

    Yes, I accept your offer to talk. In fact, I’d like to interview you for a podcast. Will you participate, please?

  • http://www.auburnmedia.com/ Robert

    Denis, thank you for commenting.

    A good point. I should have used the “PR blogger” phrase everywhere because that was my focus.

    For a PR professional to be blogging and have posts related to their clients go unflagged, I believe, could pose problems.

    Our profession has enough perception problems. I don’t think we need to add to them by our own actions.

    And, may I add, I don’t believe I have all the answers. This post is as much an exercise in learning for me as it may be for anyone else. I like questions because they frequently lead to answers. That’s my goal.

  • http://www.micropersuasion.com Steve Rubel

    Sure.

  • http://www.semiologic.com Denis de Bernardy

    For a PR professional to be blogging and have posts related to their clients go unflagged, I believe, could pose problems.

    Agreed. But if said PR pro isn’t good enough to dismiss the question as a non-issue, he should consider a career shift imho.

    “Oh? Why yes! These guys happen to be a customer. See my disclaimer page here, I mention I work for XYZ PR firm, which announced them as a customer last month in their press releases. The lads are super cool. But disregard this information, really: In all objectivity, their stuff is simply awesome!”

  • http://www.auburnmedia.com/ Robert

    Thank you, Steve. I’ve sent an email. We can set up a convenient time.

  • http://www.auburnmedia.com/ Robert

    Denis, now to the question of how and when to state the disclaimers. The question of whether to post these disclaimers, and how, is not new.

    One year ago, a high school student – Ben Casnocha – wrote about the practice regarding Jeff Jarvis. And Jarvis responded. Doc Searls also commented to Ben.

    This issue is important for all to consider. In PR, where reputation is currency, the more important the issue of transparency becomes.

    What I am looking for is clarification of when and how the disclaimers should appear. In the above example, Doc Searls also notes that he either ignores or acknowledges the relationships. So, when is it necessary and when is it not?

  • http://www.semiologic.com Denis de Bernardy

    I think the case fo transparency is somewhat slim. In practice, nobody cares except for the handful of zealots who raise the issue.

    What I am looking for is clarification of when and how the disclaimers should appear.

    Don’t play the zealots’ game: You are asking for a norm where there is none. This is the main reason norms emerge, via self-fulfilling propheties. Group decisions are made on issues noone ever cared about before they were raised. And a gell-effect ensures the loop is looped.

    To the PR pro, the real questions imho should be:

    - How do I appease things when a zealot raise the transparency issue?
    - How do I subtly discredit a zealot if he raises it again?

    And the answers lie in the psychology behind behavior engineering techniques.

  • http://pop-pr.blogspot.com Jeremy Pepper

    Well, as one that you might be accusing of zealotry (and not the dead sect of Judaism), I thought I’d pipe up. And, zealot is quite a strong word. How about one that believes in his profession and industry?

    It comes down to this – either we police ourselves, or get policed by others. Yes, who watches the watchmen, cui bono (who benefits) and all that.

    But … I rather have the internal discussions in PR, and not have journalists and bloggers call us morons. Or, pull back the curtain and expose PR people as what they see as duplicitious. This year, our industry already has had to deal with transparency issues with video news releases, paid spokespeople, satellite media tours – let’s not be called out on blogs as well.

  • http://www.semiologic.com Denis de Bernardy

    Well, as one that you might be accusing of zealotry, I thought I’d pipe up. (…) I rather not have journalists and bloggers call us morons

    You aren’t the zealot… They are.