December 4th, 2007

Looking Outside Our Own Backyard

This week, I enjoyed the chance to look outside our own “backyard” here at Johnson & Johnson and see what other companies are doing in the social media space. I attended a conference called “Convergence 2007 – The Future of Advertising, Communications & Media” in New York City and heard from some similar companies in the consumer space: Toyota and McDonald’s.

Bruce Ertmann, corporate manager of Consumer Generated Media (CGM) from Toyota Motor Sales, USA, walked through how the company’s move into CGM began about 18 months ago. Toyota didn’t have its own turf in the blogosphere, but knew it was a space it needed to address. The company initially jumped into the mix on other third-party sites like and AutoBlog when its 2007 Toyota Camry encountered some transmission problems and the company wanted to respond in a simple, transparent way. Such monitoring and responding has continued.

Success won Bruce more support and this June Toyota unveiled their own Open Road blog. Here’s a note from Bruce’s initial post:

So whatever we want to call this rapidly expanding consumer-generated media, it’s all about the conversation along the open road, it’s about listening to those who think your products rock as well as those who think they stink. The venue isn’t perfect, but it is instantaneous–and it does demand an uncompromised level of transparency and authenticity. What a perfect place to unveil Toyota’s newest corporate communications tool, the Toyota Open Road Blog .

Toyota’s case studies about how they have handled some product issues seemed to stay very true to this sentiment about transparency and authenticity and Bruce continually stressed how Toyota uses this medium as way to “listen” to its customers, not just speak to them.

In the McDonald’s presentation, I was struck by how they are using this space to deal with some of their toughest critics. Heather Oldani, director of Communications for McDonald’s USA, recognizes that there are some people McDonald’s will never be able to convince about the food quality and nutritional aspects of their menus, but to their credit they took a real risk that seems to be paying off.

McDonald’s invited six real mothers to be “Quality Correspondents.” These mothers were brought in to headquarters to meet with McDonald’s menu development teams, top chef, the chief operating officer. They visited McDonald’s suppleirs and even worked behind the counter of a local restaurant. The mothers were able to see firsthand how McDonald’s foods are made and prepared. They were able to ask their tough questions. And then they posted unedited (GULP!) journals (link) to the McDonald’s site. One example:

People have, and still continue to ask why I chose to represent McDonald’s when their food is bad for our health. For the record I do not represent McDonald’s, I represent my children. Why wouldn’t I want to know what goes into the food they eat? As an African American, I am abundantly aware of the increased risk of health related issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity that affect not just my race, but every race. However, I think McDonald’s is working hard toward providing a wider range of healthy choices. If people don’t select these choices both in McDonald’s and at their grocery store, then who is really to blame for the rise in obesity in this country? Until this tour, I wasn’t even aware that McDonald’s posted nutritional statements on their food containers and tray liners. I think this is crucial in allowing people to make informed decisions.

Talk about transparency, authenticity and risk taking.

The discussion of transparency and authenticity recurred throughout these and other presentations during the day. I think it was Russell Meyer, chief strategy officer of Landor, who expressed this nebulous concept of authenticity best when he described it as, “Are you who you say you are?”

In other words, are your statements and beliefs in the social media world consistent with the actions and values that you demonstrate in the real world. Some fries … I mean food for thought.

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