Blogs Twice as Trusted as Congress

Josh Bernoff, a Forrester analyst and co-author of Groundswell, has issued a new report and has written a new blog post, entitled “People don’t trust company blogs. What you should do about it.” As people ranked sources of information, “company blog” came in dead last, at 16 percent.

I don’t trust it.

Don’t get me wrong. I have immense respect for Josh, and I think his post does point out some useful takeaways about how a corporate blog can be successful.

But I think the question that was the basis of his research was essentially meaningless.

It’s like asking people for their approval or disapproval of Congress. Before the last election in the U.S., the approval rating for Congress was at an all-time low, I believe. Something like 9 percent.

But people don’t vote in their local elections based on their opinion of Congress as a whole; they vote based on their local member of Congress and their perception of his or her record.

As Matthew Grant said in the comments on Jeremiah Owyang’s post about this study said, what’s really interesting is that the trust rating for personal blogs was only two points higher.

“Blogs” in general have negative connotations, just like “Congress” as a whole does. But a blog is just a type of Web site; one that enables interaction. I ‘m sure lots of people go to blogs and don’t even realize they are on a blog. They just perceive it as another Web site.

People are distrustful of companies in general and politicians in general. And they’ve had good reason, as demonstrated yesterday by the Illinois governor’s arrest for trying to sell Obama’s seat in the Senate. Rod Blagojevich’s trust level is probably around 3 percent today. Even after the recent vice presidential campaign, I’m betting Sarah Palin’s approval rating in Alaska is at least 20 times that.

People make distinctions among blogs (company or personal), just as they do among members of Congress. Or governors. The Blog Council (of which Mayo Clinic is a member) has a post discussing the Forrester findings as well.

As Shel Holtz put it nearly two years ago:

I trust certain people, and some of them have blogs. Therefore, I trust their blogs. It’s the person I trust, in other words, not the medium.

So as Josh says, be different. Be one of “the good guys.” If you’re going to have a company blog, don’t make it a regurgitation of the company line. Provide useful information and an opportunity for interaction. Let people make their voices heard on your site. And listen.

Trust me!

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Academic Freedom

Other than exploring the social media applications and implications of this year’s election, I’ve stayed away from political advocacy on SMUG. But I do feel compelled to share this YouTube video — Obama’s Attack Ad Against Himself — because it is the kind of social media creation that no campaign could afford to put on TV (and it didn’t come from a campaign.)


I mean, no campaign could possibly afford to buy a TV commercial that was four minutes long! (Er…check that, no campaign that hadn’t disabled fraud-prevention safeguards on credit card contributions could afford such an ad.)

From my perspective, Charles Krauthammer’s column on why he is voting “for the guy who can tell the lion from the lamb” expresses the substantive reasons why I support Sen. McCain and have concerns about Sen. Obama. I also thought his follow-up column was excellent. Here are some other opinions that I find compelling, from PowerLine, Thomas Sowell and David Frum.

I want all SMUGgles to know that it’s absolutely fine to disagree with the Chancellor, and that there will be no retribution reflected in course grading. (Especially since we don’t offer letter grades!)

But given the political tilt I see in the social media world (particularly in Twitterville), I also wanted to be on the record expressing my hope that Sen. McCain will be elected today. If professors at state-funded universities can express their political opinions at taxpayer expense, it seems fair for the Chancellor of a virtual university that receives no government funding (or funding of any kind, for that matter) to have the same academic freedom.

If Sen. Obama wins, I will hope that I’m wrong about him and will pray the best for him and for the rest of us.

Sen. Biden’s Macaca Moment: Pandering or Unguarded?

As part of the SMUG Political Science seminar series, we’ve previously looked at the use of social media by the McCain and Obama campaigns. The campaigns and their cohorts have created platforms for their supporters to interact and express themselves, and also have established outposts within the major networking sites like YouTube and Facebook to interact directly with voters instead of completely relying on mainstream media.

But the essence of social media — and its real power — is that anyone can use it.

When former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) had his macaca moment in 2006, it seemed he went out of his way to cause the problem for himself. He knew a Democrat operative was following him and specifically called attention to that person before using the word that has come to symbolize the power of unscripted video posted on YouTube to influence an election. When you know, as Sen. Allen did, that a video camera is pointed at you, you had best be on your guard. To paraphrase Miranda, you know that what you say and do can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion.

But what if you don’t know the camera is there?

I’m thinking this video of Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. Obama’s running mate, on a rope line in Ohio was taken with a Flip camera, or another similarly small point-and-shoot video recorder. He doesn’t seem to notice the camera.


When you click through to see the original video, you’ll find that it was posted by someone working for an organization that is against further development of clean-coal technology. Here is the video description:

At a campaign stop in 2006 All American City, Maumee, OH Joe Biden talks to a 1Sky campaigner about energy policy. Biden is called out on his platform that includes coal. Both 1Sky and the Energy Action Coalition are opposed to the development of new coal fired power plants. Energy Action Coalition is running Power Vote, a national youth based campaign to get 1,000,000 youth voters voting for clean energy this election season.

And just to clarify, the campaign stop happened just last week; Maumee was an All-American City in 2006.

For those unfamiliar with the electoral implications, neighboring Pennsylvania is a huge coal-producing state and also is a Keystone (pardon the pun) to the Electoral College math that will decide the presidential election.

The McCain campaign immediately jumped on this statement and its negative impact for Pennsylvania jobs, and the Obama campaign accused the McCain campaign of distorting Biden’s position.

It seems, though, that there are really only two possibilities for interpreting Sen. Biden’s remarks:

  1. He was pandering to this environmentalist voter, telling her what he knew she wanted to hear, even though his real position is that he supports clean coal technology, or
  2. He was captured in an unguarded moment, saying what he really thinks about clean coal.

Am I missing something? Is there another interpretation that could fit the evidence you see in this video?

Either he misled the activist in what he thought was a semi-private conversation (with hundreds of people around), or he’s being less-than-truthful about his support for clean coal.

Pandering is not a new phenomenon in politics. When I started to get politically involved in the 1980s, I heard stories about the late Sen. Hubert Humphrey in the ‘50s speaking to grain farmers in the morning about propping up corn prices and then giving a speech to hog farmers in the evening, a couple of counties away, saying something needed to be done to get the costs of feed down. (For those of you from non-agricultural backgrounds, feed is corn.)

That story may be apocryphal, so don’t add it to Sen. Humphrey’s Wikipedia entry, but the advent of mass media made this kind of pandering more difficult, or at least more costly when politicians were caught.

Now the stakes are even higher. With ubiquitous recording devices in the hands of both opponents and average citizens, candidates can’t afford unguarded moments or pandering, because what they say will come to light.

Sen. Biden comes across as arguing fairly passionately against coal, but I’m no mind reader as to his actual position. To borrow a phrase, “That’s above my pay grade.” 😉 Voters (especially in Pennsylvania) may judge for themselves whether they think he was pandering or expressing his heartfelt opposition to (even clean) coal. Or this video may just contribute to voter distrust, because this is worse than just a flip-flop in which a candidate was “for it before he was against it.” This is saying two different things about the same issue at the same time.

One more item: as surrogates for Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama were making the post-debate TV rounds last night, Sen. Biden dropped this gem about having devised “with Barack” the strategy that Gen. Petraeus is using.


Jeff Emanuel has a good analysis of this. And it just shows that candidates can say things that damage their credibility even when they’re fully prepped and aware that they’re on national TV.

And in our SMUG spirit of bipartisanship, although I support Sarah Palin and share her values, this answer to Katie Couric wasn’t her best moment, either.

What other macaca moments have you seen this year, from candidates of either party? Please share the links in the comments below, and I will update this post to reflect your contributions.

Election 2008 on Twitter

If you haven’t checked out this Election2008 site on Twitter, you really should. It’s a great way to see a real-time political pulse, although the population of the Twitterverse seems to be pretty skewed to the left/Obama side.

Any Tweets that mention Biden, McCain, Obama, or Palin flow together in a continuously updated river of news. A few minutes ago I tweeted my ambivalence over whether to watch the debate tonight, or instead tune to the Twins-Royals game. With a moment, my post appeared on the page. (Click the image below to enlarge.)

I expect the Twitter pace will pick up through the night.

Meanwhile, for the next 45 minutes or so I’m definitely watching the Twins (and also rooting for the Indians, who are up 1-0 over the White Sox as of this moment.)

Obama, McCain Both Have “Girls”

In his analysis of Barack Obama’s use of social media in Social Media 302, Associate Professor Scott Meis called attention to a key difference between this campaign cycle and those of the past:

In the past, a campaign team may have overreacted to a video such as Obama Girl or been concerned about not having a say in the messaging behind a video such as Yes We Can. Instead, the Obama team has embraced these videos and recognized the value and power of user-generated content in moving others to action.

That’s a really crucial change in the media landscape, and it’s here to stay. Candidates formerly would try to control the campaign’s message, but that has become extremely difficult if not impossible. As Scott mentioned, Obama Girl had a brief period last summer in which she essentially dominated the campaign news.


But now BarelyPolitical has also added “McCain Girl” to its YouTube lineup:


And just as we will expect to see Obama-McCain and Biden-Palin debates in the next 60 days, there is also a “Candidate Girls Olympics” competition.


Social media are more than just “new media.” I define new media as a way for organizations to bypass the mainstream media and deliver content directly to audiences. Social media means they aren’t “audiences” anymore. They can and will talk back, whether on social networks or through their own blogs.

As Scott said, it’s encouraging that both of the major campaigns have significant involvement in social media. (You can read about the McCain effort in Social Media 301.) But whether the campaigns are participating or not, the reality is that with the widespread availability of these cheap and easy tools, rank-and-file people across the political spectrum will be engaged on-line in this momentous election.