DOD and Wal-Mart troll the blogosphere

March 7th, 2006

We’re working on a project that models how ideas and influence spreads through the blogosphere. One use for the model might be to find a small set of well connected blogs such that influencing them might eventually lead to a tipping point in which a large fraction of bloggers were influenced.

If you mention certain small technology companies or their products in your blog you might be contacted by them, or at least find relevant comments on your posts. That seems very natural. We’ve got Google alerts set to notify us if others are talking about our research group. We want to know what people are saying and thinking about us. This week I was surprised by two examples of big organizations trying to monitor the blogosphere and influence the bloggers.

The U.S. Central Command, which runs military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, has a three-man team to interact with bloggers who post about relevant topics and offer them information. This is from an article from the American Forces Press Service:

McNorton said the team contacts bloggers to inform the writers about any given topic that may have been posted on their site. This outreach effort enables the team to offer complete information to bloggers by inviting them to visit CENTCOM’s Web site for news releases, data or imagery.

The team engages bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information. They extend a friendly invitation to all bloggers to visit the command’s Web site.

Many bloggers appreciate the team’s contact, blog team officials said, and most post CENTCOM’s Web site as a link on their blog sites. This, McNorton said, has a “viral effect” that drives Internet news consumers to CENTCOM’s Web site.

“Now (online readers) have the opportunity to read positive stories. At least the public can go there and see the whole story. The public wants to hear these good stories,” he said, adding that the news stories the military generates are “very factual.”

It turns out that Wal-Mart has also been trolling the blogosphere and trying to plant good news stories. See, for example, this NYT article about Wal-mart’s efforts to influence friendly bloggers.

Under assault as never before, Wal-Mart is increasingly looking beyond the mainstream media and working directly with bloggers, feeding them exclusive nuggets of news, suggesting topics for postings and even inviting them to visit its corporate headquarters.