Minilarson03 From the outside, the "blogosphere" is a weird, anarchic and slightly self-obsessed world. With over 70 million blogs and countless thousands starting up each day, it is little wonder that most brand managers, marketing directors and CEOs have no idea where to start.

But have you thought about it? Who are these people who write blogs? And how would you respond if a "blogger" contacted you? Do you have a strategy? A policy? Any idea?

Here is how one leading brand responded to an inquiry about their latest ad campaign:

“Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because [we do not] … participate with nontraditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest".

Can you guess which brand this is? Have you heard about it already?

To my surprise, this was the response that was sent by Target to Amy Jussel, Executive Director of Shaping Youth. Amy had written to Target protesting about the depiction on their latest billboard — they are, after all, a family brand and one which should have an affinity with organisations such as Shaping Youth. Indeed, Target’s "values" include the following statement:

From national partnerships to local initiatives to our own programs, Target is committed to making our communities better places to live.

This story has now been picked up by the New York Times … and has spread like wildfire. And while the focus of discussion by NYT has been around whether brands should treat bloggers the same as traditional media outlets, there are other things to consider. Amy is not your average blogger — she runs a professional and high profile not-for-profit organisation. She is a parent and she is a regular patron of Target. Before this episode, there was clear a affinity between Amy, Shaping Youth and the Target brand. But the actions (or non-actions) of one of Target’s employees (or PR team) has had an amplified reaction. What could have been done better. Let’s take a look:

  • Keep it real: Clearly Target has a digital/social media strategy of some sort. They have done some high profile work with Facebook and have amassed over 20,000 members to their group — so clearly the response was not completely honest.
  • Quick research: In the time it takes to send a form response to an inquiry, you can easily do a search on the domain, the blog or the profile of the person writing in. In Amy’s case, Shaping Youth clearly appears at the top of a Google search with the following description — "Shaping Youth is a consortium of media and marketing professionals concerned about harmful media messages to children". A moment’s research can help guide your response.
  • Blog it for free: Time and time again, companies ask whether they should blog or not. Clearly a consumer brand could actively use a blog to engage, converse and discuss a range of topics. A blog would have provided a space for this discussion and would have allowed them to enter this conversation in a more natural and harmonious way.

For brands, the question might be "are bloggers in your sights"? The reverse is certainly true — brands are in the sights of bloggers. And while one blogger acting alone may have limited impact, en-masse, it is a very different ball game. Perhaps Target could benefit from the social media insight and skills of Mack Collier, Drew McLellan or Christina Kerley.

What do you think? Is TargetGate a parallel to Dell Hell?