Back in January of this year, Hjortur Smarason (owner of Scope Communications) wrote an interesting blog post about Target and their response to feedback left by a blogger named Amy Jussel.
Jussel had written to the retailer to complain about an advertising campaign that showed a woman lying spreadeagled on a target, with the unfortunate placing of the woman meaning that her crotch was immediately over the bulls-eye.
What makes the whole thing interesting was not the fact that Target used the ad in the first place, nor the fact that Jussel complained about it, but the response that she received from Target. Hjortur goes into it in more detail in his blog post, which is gaining a second wind thanks to a new-found popularity on social media site Stumbleupon. But basically, the gist of the post is that Target didn’t deem it necessary to respond to Jussel because she was a blogger.
(It’s particularly amusing that Target seemed to ignore the fact that Jussel is the founder of Shaping Youth, an organization that looks at the media’s effect on impressionable children).
While Hjortur (quite rightly) makes many valid points why Target and its PR team got this so wrong, the whole episode also raises some interesting points regarding the whole blogosphere and its standing with the business world, and certainly within the eyes of the PR industry.
When the PR team of Target responded in the manner they did – “Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets” – they made it quite clear that they didn’t take blogging as a serious media outlet. Big mistake.
With the power that the blogosphere holds today, not recognizing it as a credible media source is just opening you up to a major backlash – just ask Associated Press and the furore they created when they went after the Drudge Retort. Yet, at the same time, is the blogging community to blame as well for the views that Target’s PR team held?
For critics of the blogging community, one of the weapons they’ve always used as an argument is the unprofessional and irrelevant nature of many commenters. Yet is this fair? Yes, there can be some incredibly bizarre and often unfortunate comments left by blog visitors, but is this any different from other forms of media?
Target’s argument at the time was that it preferred to deal with the traditional media outlets. Now, depending on what your view of a traditional media outlet is, this would mean newspapers, television and radio. But traditional media outlets don’t always get it right either – many letters to national newspapers are just as irrelevant and pointless as some comments to blogs are.
The point is, it’s true that blogs by their very nature offer the personal voice of the person writing them. Yet that doesn’t mean that they should hold less sway with the businesses, media, news sites or similar that seem to hold blogging in disdain. The introduction of tools like BackType should also help to improve the quality of comments left on a post.
I find it hard to believe that Target – or any other business – would refuse to offer a media response to bloggers like Seth Godin, Brian Solis, Chris Brogan or others like them, merely for the simple reason that these guys can still be considered bloggers. Then again, Target never showed any sense in the first place, so perhaps they would ignore them.
Blogging has come a long way from its early days of sharing a few thoughts and stories with anyone interested enough to read. Professional bloggers have audiences of thousands and can wield some powerful influence when it’s needed. Companies like Target would do well to keep this in mind.
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