Top 5 Branded Blog Gaffes

When branded blogs make mistakes, the Internet is quick to jump on the story. Whether the blogs got caught up in legal matters, posted a controversial item, or went too fast too soon with a redesign, people around the web know about it.

Recovering from these errors is tough, and can leave blog readers with a permanent bad taste in their mouths. Let’s take a look at the biggest gaffes in blog history.

Boing Boing Deletes Sex Blogger’s Comments

In 2008, Boing Boing was discovered to have deleted posts by sex blogger Violet Blue from their website. After the blogger wrote about it on her website, Valleywag picked up the story, and news of Boing Boing‘s bad behavior spread across the web. Fingers pointed to co-editor of the blog Xeni Jardin, with whom Blue claims she had romantic relations.

An explanation of the incident to the Los Angeles Times by Boing Boing‘s Business Manager John Battelle was that it was something to learn from. The site said it was going to review its procedures to let bloggers post what they want, when they want.

However, the web, nor the LA Times, was convinced.

“Removal of even one post without notice has long been verboten among online journalists and professional bloggers,” wrote author David Sarno. “And so it’s striking that neither Jardin nor Boing Boing issued a real apology or note of contrition about this regrettable act — which, because it was motivated by something personal in nature, would seem more forgivable if there was a simple apology, rather than a fancy rationalization.”

Bloggers saw Boing Boing as a safe and open space. The Violet Blue catastrophe proved that maybe the site wasn’t so free after all.

Gawker’s Redesign Fiasco

The web was not kind to Head of Gawker Media Nick Denton when he introduced the redesign changes to his popular blogs. At the beginning of 2011, the blog unveiled the design, which featured the most viewed stories more prominently on the left side of the page, doing away with the reverse-chrolonogical format it had previously used.

Users protested, traffic significantly dropped, and Denton was forced to admit his wrongdoings. In a letter to readers, he wrote, “News web sites may indeed become more application-like and readers may grow accustomed to swiping instead of scrolling. But they’re not there yet, as the extensive criticism of the sidebar made clear. …We got ahead of ourselves—and now we’re rowing back.”

Gawker tested out the site with beta versions, but as Econsultancy pointed out, it should have done more, implementing “focus group sessions throughout the design process and A/B or multivariate runs to obtain data from real-world usage across your entire audience, not just the subset which opts to try the beta.”

The site moved too fast and Denton came out of it all having to cool his confidence.

Gizmodo and the iPhone Prototype 

Gawker Media is no stranger to controversy. Gizmodo, a site under the Gawker umbrella, took a chance on April 19, 2010 when it posted pictures, videos, and specs about the iPhone 4, which had not yet been released. It was reported that the site paid the person who found the phone $5,000, inciting Apple’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel Bruce Sewell to write a letter, asking for it back.

There was a backlash after Gizmodo posted a photo and the full name of Gray Powell, the Apple employee who lost the prototype.

“After all, it was only last July when another young man in charge of fourth-generation iPhone prototypes for Apple’s Taiwanese manufacture Foxconn, lost one of the units,” wrote Fast Company. “He later committed suicide.”

The drama continued when Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s house was raided by police, who took computers, servers, hard drives, and other gadgets that could have been used in connection with the leak story, according to Fast Company.

In the end, Gizmodo didn’t face legal repercussions. But many criticized its “checkbook journalism” practice, that is, buying scoops and stories.

Huffington Post Doesn’t Pay

Arianna Huffington became notorious for not paying her workers after a group of unpaid bloggers who wrote for her website brought a class action lawsuit upon her. Huffington won the case, but the reputation of her website, which was acquired by AOL for $315 million in 2011, suffered.

“Though it is true that these bloggers volunteered for a non-paying position, these writers did a job for which others (like your correspondent) get paid,” said Rebecca Greenfield of the Atlantic Wire. “Media columnist and director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship Dan Gillmor called Huffington’s abuse ‘exploitative.'”

Huffington and other company reps equated the work of their bloggers to people who post on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

But in defense of his fellow writers, Mike Elk, who worked for the site, said it treated him and others as paid freelancers and employees: “On Twitter and Facebook, users can post anything they want (as long as it does not violate laws; e.g., threats). Bloggers at the Huffington Post, on the other hand, must have every single post approved by an editor before it is allowed to be published. To state the obvious, Twitter or Facebook do not pre-approve each status update or tweet. If the Huffington Post doesn’t feel that the post by an unpaid blogger meets its standards of journalism, it will not publish the post.”

In this day and age where writers are increasingly paid poorly or not at all, it was surprising that one of the Internet’s largest blogs was participating in the same practice, especially when it proved to be extremely lucrative. Needless to say, the Huffington Post struck a bad chord with writers everywhere.

Perez’s Post Goes Too Far

Gossip blogger Perez Hilton loves to cause a stir. In June of 2010, he tweeted two questionable photos of pop star Miley Cyrus, who was 17 at the time. The photos walked the child pornography line: It was hard to tell whether or not traces of the singers’ genitals could be seen.

Although Hilton didn’t face legal action, he did lose an advertiser, ABC, which pulled a banner for “The View” from his website. Fans also turned against him for his risky behavior.

Hilton later admitted, according to the New York Daily News, that Cyrus was actually wearing underwear in the photos. The stunt was a cheap way to get traffic, and supported existing claims that the blogger doesn’t treat women with respect on his blog.

Branded blogs need to watch their steps, because when they mess up, the world is watching. It’s not always so easy to return to their former glory after these mistakes.

Hilton image courtesy of moodsofnorway/flickr

Tags: , ,