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Lies At Wal Mart (presented at Duesseldorf University, Germany)

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This presentation is part of my larger research project on corporate blogging. For details, see http://corpblawg.ynada.com/

Published in: Education, Business, Technology

Lies At Wal Mart (presented at Duesseldorf University, Germany)

  1. 1. Lies at Wal-Mart <ul><ul><li>Narrativity and deception in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cornelius Puschmann </li></ul></ul>
  2. 2. <ul><li>Background </li></ul>
  3. 3. Corporate blogs <ul><li>How do we define what a corporate blog is? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A blog written and maintained by the employees of a company that is used to </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>further organizational goals. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>They can fulfill extra-organizational functions </li></ul><ul><li>marketing </li></ul><ul><li>public relations </li></ul><ul><li>customer relationship management </li></ul><ul><li>...or serve intra-organizational goals </li></ul><ul><li>recruiting </li></ul><ul><li>knowledge management </li></ul><ul><li>inter-unit communication </li></ul>
  4. 4. Organizational and functional types of corporate blogs <ul><li>five different types grouped according to authorship and function: </li></ul><ul><li>product blog, image blog, knowledge blog, strategy blog, multi-purpose blog </li></ul>
  5. 5. Organizational and functional types of corporate blogs <ul><li>five different types grouped according to authorship and function: </li></ul><ul><li>product blog , image blog, knowledge blog, strategy blog, multi-purpose blog </li></ul>
  6. 6. Organizational and functional types of corporate blogs <ul><li>five different types grouped according to authorship and function: </li></ul><ul><li>product blog , image blog , knowledge blog, strategy blog, multi-purpose blog </li></ul>
  7. 7. Organizational and functional types of corporate blogs <ul><li>five different types grouped according to authorship and function: </li></ul><ul><li>product blog, image blog, knowledge blog , strategy blog, multi-purpose blog </li></ul>
  8. 8. Organizational and functional types of corporate blogs <ul><li>five different types grouped according to authorship and function: </li></ul><ul><li>product blog, image blog, knowledge blog, strategy blog , multi-purpose blog </li></ul>
  9. 9. Organizational and functional types of corporate blogs <ul><li>five different types grouped according to authorship and function: </li></ul><ul><li>product blog , image blog , knowledge blog, strategy blog, multi-purpose blog </li></ul>
  10. 10. The (corporate) blog prototype <ul><li>- blogs as a genre are distinct from blogs as a publishing technology </li></ul><ul><li>- writing that is published using a blogging software can be more or less typical of </li></ul><ul><li>the genre (more or less “bloggy”) </li></ul><ul><li>- blogs as a genre are historically rooted in the tradition of web diaries and most </li></ul><ul><li>continue to be written in this style by private individuals </li></ul><ul><li>- positive qualities of the perceived antecedent genre are extended to blogs in </li></ul><ul><li>general, including corporate blogs: honesty, clarity and personal involvedness </li></ul><ul><li>- very often characteristics of spoken communication are linked to blogs (“blogs are </li></ul><ul><li>conversations”) and these characteristics are positively noted </li></ul><ul><li>- blogs are seen by corporate communicators as having the potential to overcome </li></ul><ul><li>the credibility crisis they are in, because the form of the blog alone evokes </li></ul><ul><li>positive genre characteristics that corporate communications lack </li></ul>
  11. 11. The (corporate) blog prototype <ul><li>- average length of 220 words per post (personal blogs: 199; press editorials: 480) </li></ul><ul><li>- average sentence length of 20.1 (personal blogs: 12.7; press editorials: 25.2) </li></ul><ul><li>- average word length 4.4 (personal blogs: 4.6; press editorials: 4.6) </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul>
  13. 13. A few facts about Wal-Mart Stores, Inc <ul><li>- world's largest retailer, largest corporation and largest employer in the United </li></ul><ul><li>States and Mexico </li></ul><ul><li>- net income of 12 billion dollars in 2006 </li></ul><ul><li>- each week, approximately 100 million customers, or one-third of the US </li></ul><ul><li>population, visits Wal-Mart's US stores </li></ul><ul><li>- criticized for: the corporation's extensive foreign product sourcing, treatment of </li></ul><ul><li>employees and suppliers, low wages, resistance to union representation, insurance </li></ul><ul><li>benefits, sexism, child labor, environmental practices, the use of public subsidies, </li></ul><ul><li>and the economic impact of stores on the communities where they operate </li></ul>
  14. 14. Life at Wal-Mart: an atypical corporate blog <ul><li>- blog entries are actually “letters to the editor”, (allegedly) written by Wal-Mart employees and posted by the staff maintaining the blog </li></ul><ul><li>- the (alleged) authors address the reader to share their first-hand insights about the company </li></ul><ul><li>- the (alleged) authors are neither fully identified nor fully anonymous </li></ul><ul><li>- the (alleged) authors concern themselves with a quite narrow range of topics and express themselves with very little stylistic variability </li></ul><ul><li>- the (alleged) authors unanimously praise Wal-Mart and criticize its detractors, either explicitly or implicitly. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Walmartfacts.com and Life at Wal-Mart
  16. 16. Communicative strategy <ul><li>You cannot separate Wal-Mart associates from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Either your are for them both, or against them both. </li></ul><ul><li>http://www.walmartfacts.com/LifeAtWalmart/2006/08/cruise_on_down_and_see_if_you.aspx </li></ul><ul><li>the blog seeks to </li></ul><ul><li>blur the line between the corporate entity and those in its employment </li></ul><ul><li>create the impression that Wal-Mart's employees fully support the management's policies </li></ul><ul><li>persuade the reader that Wal-Mart's employees have the most accurate understanding of the company and its conduct </li></ul><ul><li>associate certain values (patriotism, family, religion) with the company and the people who work there </li></ul><ul><li>anthropomorphize the company and its (positive) acts </li></ul><ul><li>bottom line: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Wal-Mart's employees are good, working-class Americans </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>concrete examples (e.g. testimonies) of Wal-Mart's morally positive behavior trump more abstract negative counter-examples such as figures, studies and expert opinions </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Post structure and post prototypes <ul><li>prototypical blog posts </li></ul><ul><li>Type A: the career/life story </li></ul><ul><li>Type B: the crisis or incident account </li></ul><ul><li>Type C: the opinion piece </li></ul><ul><li>Type A </li></ul><ul><li>Frames Wal-Mart as a part of blue collar American culture. The testimony of </li></ul><ul><li>personal success associated with a a career at Wal-Mart is used to rebuff critics. </li></ul><ul><li>Type B </li></ul><ul><li>Highlights the moral and materials support the company supplies in a time of crisis </li></ul><ul><li>to its associates. Rebuffs claims of sub-standard health care benefits. </li></ul><ul><li>Type C </li></ul><ul><li>Political lobbying and influencing in areas of interest for the company. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Life at Wal-Mart: career / life story <ul><li>I grew up in rural Arkansas in a family with five kids where both Mom and Dad worked at a </li></ul><ul><li>shirt factory. We always planted a big garden and raised enough chickens, pigs, or cows </li></ul><ul><li>to provide most of our own food. Mom made a lot of our clothes. As children, the five of </li></ul><ul><li>us all did various jobs for folks in the area to earn a little spending money for </li></ul><ul><li>ourselves. We picked strawberries, caught chickens, hauled hay, you name it. We didn't </li></ul><ul><li>earn a lot of money and we worked hard for it. We would try to save up for trips &quot;into </li></ul><ul><li>town. &quot; Every once in awhile, there would be some livestock to take to the sale barn in </li></ul><ul><li>Harrison and one or two of us would get to go with Daddy. This was a much anticipated </li></ul><ul><li>event because once the livestock was sold we would go to Wal-Mart. At Wal-Mart, we kids </li></ul><ul><li>had enough money to buy lots of stuff! It was such a treat and those memories will always </li></ul><ul><li>be dear to me. I am going on 18 years with Wal-Mart. I still believe, as my parents did, </li></ul><ul><li>that people who believe they are owed anything just because they exist are </li></ul><ul><li>extremely misguided. I find it almost poetic that I'm a part of a company that can help </li></ul><ul><li>make life affordable for people who are working hard to raise a family like my folks did. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Life at Wal-Mart: crisis / incident account <ul><li>Jan. 31 started out like any other day. It was cold and blustery, but quickly turned into </li></ul><ul><li>one I will never forget. About 10:30 a.m. I received a call from my daughter-in-law, </li></ul><ul><li>Bobbi, who works in the transportation building telling me her water had just broke and </li></ul><ul><li>they were on their way to the hospital. I arrived shortly after they did and spent the </li></ul><ul><li>next 19 hours waiting for our precious Kendale to be born. He didn't breathe right off </li></ul><ul><li>like babies should so they rushed him to the nursery. After a few hours, Kenny and Bobbi </li></ul><ul><li>were able to see their beautiful baby and all we could do was stare through the glass at </li></ul><ul><li>how beautiful he was. </li></ul><ul><li>Our awe soon turned into fear. The next morning Kendale was rushed to Springdale and from </li></ul><ul><li>there he was flown to St. Louis Children's Hospital. We found out Kendale had </li></ul><ul><li>transposition of the great arteries which meant he would have to have major heart </li></ul><ul><li>surgery. [..] The day of the surgery was as traumatic as it could be. Our morning started </li></ul><ul><li>at 3 a.m. so we could spend a precious few moments with Kendale before the surgery. At </li></ul><ul><li>first, all went well with the surgery. Then, it took a drastic turn for the worse. </li></ul><ul><li>Kendale had some catastrophic problems and was not able to survive the surgery, leaving </li></ul><ul><li>this life on earth while only being 5 days old. </li></ul><ul><li>Kendale had many people praying for him and many of them were from my Wal-Mart/Sam's Club </li></ul><ul><li>Family. I know there are many people who will criticize Wal-Mart, but I know in my time </li></ul><ul><li>of need, the people I work with now at Sam's Club and the people I have worked with in </li></ul><ul><li>the past in Wal-Mart Operations, did everything they could to help me and my family </li></ul><ul><li>through the most painful time we have ever experienced. [..] </li></ul><ul><li>My sincere thanks isn't enough to give to all of you for the many cards, flowers [..] </li></ul>
  20. 20. Life at Wal-Mart: opinion piece <ul><li>I just wanted to share my thoughts on the new little stubby, squiggly fluorescent </li></ul><ul><li>bulb.My husband and I started using these bulbs when we were in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, </li></ul><ul><li>before moving to Fayetteville in August of 2005. </li></ul><ul><li>My husband is the Maintenance Supervisor at an apartment community in Fayetteville, and </li></ul><ul><li>he put the little squigglies in the Clubhouse - and wouldn't you be amazed to know that </li></ul><ul><li>it has cut down their electric bill by $1,000 per month. The next step - we put these </li></ul><ul><li>bulbs in all of our light outlets at home and lamps - and yes, we have saved too. The </li></ul><ul><li>next thing he did was place these little squigglies in the light outlets outside all the </li></ul><ul><li>apartment complexes that are turned on automatically on a timer. I have no idea how much </li></ul><ul><li>this is now saving the complex's management, but they sure have made our electric bills </li></ul><ul><li>go down. </li></ul><ul><li>Plus there are other bonuses by using these bulbs, beside your billfold: </li></ul><ul><li>1) They start off dim and the longer they are on, the brighter they become; </li></ul><ul><li>2) They don't get hot like other light bulbs (you have no idea how many times I've burned </li></ul><ul><li>my arm or hand on a hot light bulb while cleaning - which should also be noted as a good </li></ul><ul><li>thing for small children - I jumped recently when I hit one of these bulbs while cleaning </li></ul><ul><li>and then I laughed because it didn't hurt - it was just my reaction from hitting light </li></ul><ul><li>bulbs so many times while cleaning); and </li></ul><ul><li>3) They are so much easier to get out of the socket if you accidentally break one. </li></ul><ul><li>[...] </li></ul>
  21. 21. Life at Wal-Mart: linguistic characteristics <ul><li>pronoun & possessive determiner use : exploration of deictic ambiguity (YOU, WE/OUR and THEY/THEIR); 1PP refers to the (alleged) author who remains semi-anonymous and is not identical with the publisher </li></ul><ul><li>tense mixing : narrative episodes, often referring to a point in the past that is not exactly specified </li></ul><ul><li>discourse markers : items signaling scripted orality (non-standard spelling, emphasis markers) and indicating a specific sociolinguistic frame (blue collar Americans) are frequent </li></ul>
  22. 22. Life at Wal-Mart: post titles and pronoun use <ul><li>[ 1 ] &quot; I still can not believe everything that the company has allowed me to achieve&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>[ 2 ] &quot; I just wanted to share my thoughts on the new little stubby, squiggly fluorescent bulb.&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>[ 3 ] &quot;Thank you, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, for having so many good associates&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>[ 4 ] &quot; I don't have to tell you - Wal-Mart came to the rescue!&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>[ 5 ] The care and support from my company is overwhelming. </li></ul><ul><li>[ 6 ] Kendale had many people praying for him and many of them were from my Wal-Mart/Sam's Club Family. </li></ul><ul><li>[ 7 ] &quot;Do it better. Do it for less. Do it every day.&quot; </li></ul>
  23. 23. Life at Wal-Mart: posts and pronoun use (YOU/YOUR) <ul><li>1. &quot;Cruise on down and see if you can possibly be against what you find there.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>tion away from our associates and their efforts. Load up you r bus and come on down to the Gulf Coast and see what our </li></ul><ul><li>2. &quot;Cruise on down and see if you can possibly be against what you find there.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>UFCW has been working hard to tear down and defame them. you cannot separate Wal-Mart associates from Wal-Mart Stores </li></ul><ul><li>3. &quot;Cruise on down and see if you can possibly be against what you find there.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>parate Wal-Mart associates from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Either you r are for them both, or against them both. Cruise on down </li></ul><ul><li>4. &quot;Cruise on down and see if you can possibly be against what you find there.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>them both, or against them both. Cruise on down and see if you can possibly be against what you find there. </li></ul><ul><li>5. &quot;Get out and vote!&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>ent us. Being the largest employer in the United States, do you really think that the people you are electing are represe </li></ul><ul><li>6. &quot;Get out and vote!&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>voting can make a huge difference in this country. What are you changing, that is in you r control, in you r area of respon </li></ul><ul><li>7. &quot;I left there with a smile on my face.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>ny makes in the lives of others. I wanted to write and tell you about a wonderful associate from Store 54 in Springdale, </li></ul>
  24. 24. Life at Wal-Mart: posts and pronoun use (WE) <ul><li>1. &quot;Hello Mr. Sam, how are you today?&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>mers. The store had only been open a couple of months since we had just moved from the old store 1 building into the new </li></ul><ul><li>2. &quot;Get out and vote!&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>-Mart and Sam's employees to get out and vote. This is what we can change in our area of responsibility, because the fact </li></ul><ul><li>3. &quot;Get out and vote!&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>cting our company are going to affect our lives. The people we elect are supposed to represent us. Being the largest empl </li></ul><ul><li>4. &quot;I left there with a smile on my face.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>y face, but more importantly, my son left there asking when we can go back and see him! I wanted to write and tell everyo </li></ul><ul><li>5. &quot;I left there with a smile on my face.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>ity. That is service! Melvin, keep up the good work and we will be seeing you soon. </li></ul><ul><li>6. &quot;We did not get behind on a single bill!&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>ollege. One Friday night I was working the service desk and we we re very busy. The checkouts we re full and we had no one </li></ul><ul><li>7. &quot;Mr. Sam shook everyone's hand, and thanked us for all our hard work.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>tle shocking to see Mr. Sam in hunting clothes, even though we had all heard the stories of him touring stores dressed th </li></ul>
  25. 25. Life at Wal-Mart: posts and pronoun use (THEY) <ul><li>1. &quot;We did not get behind on a single bill!&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>art and the associates helped us through a very rough time. they held bake sales, car washes, etc. , and I'm really proud </li></ul><ul><li>2. &quot;Don't speak about what you don't know.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>ily did not need anything. After I got out of the hospital, they continued to check on me and welcomed me back with open </li></ul><ul><li>3. &quot;I couldn't imagine working anywhere else.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>niority, favoritism and certainly not race, color or creed. they actively seek out diversity and truly appreciate it. I'm </li></ul><ul><li>4. &quot;'Respect for the Individual,' is practiced by our associates every day.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>carrying my bags. Most of these people do not know me, but they still ask to help. It is comforting to know that the maj </li></ul><ul><li>5. &quot;Wal-Mart was right there with support.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>for my husband asking if there was anything that we needed. they gave my husband the time off to sit at the hospital whil </li></ul><ul><li>6. &quot;We are not even close to being as bad as we are made out to be.&quot; in Life at Wal-Mart </li></ul><ul><li>money. But the one thing they don't talk about is how much they make and how often they give themselves raises. If Presi </li></ul>
  26. 26. Life at Wal-Mart: tense switching <ul><li>tense switching/mixing: narrative episodes, often referring to a point in the past that is not exactly specified </li></ul><ul><li>[ 5 ] With the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina upon us, I wanted to express my appreciation for what the company did for me during that time last year. I was in Louisiana for the storm. Born and raised outside of New Orleans, I lost my home to Katrina. I was working at Distribution Center 6048 at the time and as traumatic as the whole catastrophe was, the good people at my DC supported me. I don't know if I could have made it without them or Wal Mart. I am at DC 7045 now, and even though the memories of Katrina haunt me, I know I work for a company that stood by me and thousands of others just like me. This is one of the reasons I am proud to be an associate at Wal mart. </li></ul>
  27. 27. Life at Wal-Mart: common verbs <ul><li>Rank Word POS Frequency </li></ul><ul><li>1 was VBD 200 </li></ul><ul><li>2 have VHP 102 </li></ul><ul><li>3 is VBZ 94 </li></ul><ul><li>4 had VHD 81 </li></ul><ul><li>5 be VB 67 </li></ul><ul><li>6 are VBP 64 </li></ul><ul><li>7 been VBN 60 </li></ul><ul><li>8 were VBD 49 </li></ul><ul><li>9 am VBP 35 </li></ul><ul><li>10 do VVP 34 </li></ul><ul><li>11 have VH 34 </li></ul><ul><li>12 has VHZ 30 </li></ul><ul><li>13 work VV 28 </li></ul><ul><li>14 did VVD 27 </li></ul><ul><li>15 make VV 25 </li></ul>
  28. 28. <ul><li>Observations </li></ul>
  29. 29. Observations <ul><li>1. Life at Wal-Mart consciously uses certain positive characteristics attached to the form of blogging for PR purposes. </li></ul><ul><li>2. Linguistically it conforms with a strict socioeconomic profile (so strict, in fact, that the lack of variation alone is suspicious) and attached that profile to the positive qualities of the blog form. </li></ul><ul><li>3. Furthermore, the blog exploits the often unclear relationship between speaker, listener and mediator (the invisible blog editor) to simulate immediacy and spontaneity </li></ul><ul><li>4. As a result, the reader is under the impression that he is engaged in a free, two-way exchange with hard-working, middle-class Americans who are recounting concrete examples of positive corporate behavior on the part of Wal-Mart. </li></ul><ul><li>In truth, the communication is strictly one-way, the speakers are essentially anonymous (and thus the factuality of their stories unverifiable) and no sequence of positive personal experiences impacts the reality of the company's policies in any way. </li></ul>

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