Response to my post about the Microsoft-AMD Acer laptop scandal has underscored the disconnect between how bloggers are perceived and what they actually are. Microsoft’s recent comments about the scandal also demonstrate just how cynical the company is when dealing with bloggers.
No-strings gift or bribe?
The scandal first arose when Microsoft sent some laptops loaded with Vista to 90 top bloggers as part of a public relations campaign. I was one of the first commentators to point out that the company had crossed the line with this initiative, and that these gifts were actually more like bribes. For my troubles I’ve been called jealous, a fool, and a racist.
Microsoft has since said that the program was meant to be an evaluation program, not a bribe, according to a report on news.com.au.
A Microsoft spokesperson was quoted as saying that generally speaking the blogging community ”is highly intelligent and quite cynical. Anyone who thinks they can be easily swayed is fooling themselves” and that “no editorial commentary was expected or required.”
In which case, my question is, why is the company bothering to send out the laptops if it expects nothing in return. Last time I checked Microsoft was in the business of making money. If what the Microsoft spokesperson is saying is true, than the company is spending its PR budget very unwisely. I would be quite upset by this if I was a shareholder, and would be calling for the head of Microsoft PR to be sacked.
But of course that’s not the case. This is a cynical exercise where the aim is to improve the coverage of Vista in the blogosphere. Everyone knows that, and Microsoft’s “no editorial commentary is expected or required” further demonstrates just how cynical the company is.
As I pointed out in the my original post, Microsoft’s approach raises some problematic issues:
First, it’s unheard of for a software company to give away. In the ten years I’ve been writing about computers this is the first time I’ve heard of this kind of PR give away on this level.
Second, how many bloggers that have received a notebook but have not declared it on their blog? Quite a few I suggest, which highlights up the fundamental problem with blogging, which is that bloggers are not trained journalists and not necessarily in tune with the ethical problems that gifts entail.
Third, obviously not every blogger will receive a notebook, which means that some bloggers will feel that they’ve been overlooked. From a PR perspective, rather than creating positive “buzz”, this initiative will actually generate a lot of negative publicity – it’s very easy to criticize something you’re not part of. Microsoft has further put is foot in its corporate mouth by saying that these bloggers are “fooling themselves”.
Finally, sending bribes to bloggers is not a good look for Microsoft, and this is exactly how this initiative will be perceived. Even as they try to defend themselves, Microsoft’s PR Gurus, show that they do not understand the blogosphere.
The fundamental problem is that is generally speaking blogs are perceived as being the authentic and trustworthy voice of the people who write them. The reason why this is so is because until recently blogs existed outside of the whole marketing/PR machine. Now however, they’re very much part of the machine, as Microsoft’s laptop give away demonstrates.
Microsoft’s recent comments, and criticisms by some sections of the blogosphere, have done nothing to allay my concerns – they’ve just underscored how real the problem is. Some bloggers don’t (or don’t want to) understand the ethical issues, and companies (ie Microsoft) are very happy to cynically exploit this lack of understanding.