March 19th, 2008
In my career, I’ve learned a lot – but never so much in so short of time as I have in the past 24 hours – all while spending part of my day on Jury Duty in NYC!
Here’s my story. I work in the Johnson & Johnson Group of Consumer Companies and handle PR for the Johnson’s baby brand and, like many of my colleagues, I’ve been working hard over the past few years to better understand how to work with bloggers and others in this changing media landscape. To me, it’s all about figuring out how to start having two way conversations. That way not only do others get to learn from me, but I can learn more about them – and about what they are looking for.
As we considered such two-way communications, me and my colleagues got to thinking about summer camps. Sitting around campfires, telling stories, sharing news. That’s where some of the best, most intense conversations can take place.
So we struck upon the idea of creating our own camp – Johnson’s Camp Baby.
Rather than setting up on some lakeshore in the woods, we decided to bring together 50 mommy bloggers in New Brunswick for a 2-day conference (April 2-4). To provide news and value to this important group of women, we’d bring together a group of third party experts as well as some of our own people who could talk more about our products, research and thinking about childcare and motherhood. For me and my colleagues, it would provide a great way to learn more about how to work better with these important mommy bloggers. To get this right, we worked hard to try to understand the needs of our guests.
For instance, the first step was to develop the guest list. Limiting this group to only 50 bloggers was very tough given there are hundreds of amazing blogs on the topic of parenting. However, since we really wanted to keep this an intimate experience, we decided from the beginning to keep the group small. To build the list we used loads of tools such as Technorati and Google, drew upon our existing relationships and asked bloggers to let us know if they had friends we should invite. While no list is perfect, we felt we did the best job we could. So after all of these good intentions, here is what we didn’t get right.
Last week, after we sent out many email communications to bloggers to register, we soon found we were oversubscribed. Though we ended up extending our invitation to an additional six bloggers, we eventually closed out the registration like any event based on a first-come-first-serve basis.
So while I’m at the New York City Court House yesterday morning (yes, jury duty!), I found out about a few bloggers who felt we were dis-inviting people and not doing a good job doing so. I was in this situation where I wanted to act quickly, yet I was sitting in a room filled with people – and I couldn’t control being called for questioning. The good news – by the afternoon we were dismissed so I could come back home and really focus on figuring out what went wrong, and what I could personally do now to explain our methods.
Probably the most concerning complaint we had was based on the experiences of one blogger – Mother Goose Mouse.
We decided from the beginning that we wouldn’t open this conference to any children since we had a jam-packed schedule and, in such a short period of time, we wanted to ensure we could focus on the program and various evening activities. We realized that another popular conference, BlogHer, is open to all family members, which is a different conference from our own. While this would mean clearly that we’d miss a few key bloggers who are nursing we thought for a first event we’d fill it with those who were able to attend an “adults only” gathering. We always knew the date, location, and childcare wouldn’t be perfect for everyone – but we tried to take an approach that would be fair to everyone.
What I’ve learned – and yes, learned the hard way – was that we should have been much more overt about this policy and explain why and how we came to this decision. While we handled it on a case-by-case basis and thought that was sufficient, it was not.
So while I wish yesterday didn’t happen, it did and we know better now. I will share this learning with my colleagues and do whatever we can to improve how we work with bloggers and others online. I am sure there will be a few bumps along the way, but the point is taken – we heard you, we think you are important and we are dedicated to build and grow our relationship with each of you.