According to The New York Times and its reporter Michael Barbaro:
"What is different about Wal-Mart's approach to blogging is that rather than promoting a product — something it does quite well, given its $300 billion in annual sales — it is trying to improve its battered image."
I am not sure how this makes Wal-Mart unique. Earlier in the story there is a reference to GE meeting with environmental bloggers before investing in green technology "to build support." Is that promoting a product other than the GE brand? Is that wrong?
Having a strong brand helps promote and sell product. Selling is not necessarily evil, even when it is done in obscene quantities. Both companies are engaged in grassroots PR and they're not alone and that is a good thing. Wal-Mart's brand is under attack and they have every right to defend themselves. Wal-Mart probably does a lot of good, but with a footprint of their size they are bound to trample at least as much.
The real question (which the Times didn't ask) and its answer are what is actually newsworthy...will Wal-Mart take advantage of the blogosphere as a two way dialogue? Rather than working only with their friends, will they engage their critics in the blogosphere, open a dialogue, and use blogs as a platform for addressing their concerns. Wal-Mart is too big and too polarizing today to win over everyone, but by listening to all of their constituents and working on reasonable criticisms, my guess is that they will win more hearts and minds than they lose. (the low prices help too).