J&J Blogs, Sues Red Cross and Buys Maya’s Mom. Miss Marple, What Do These Clues Mean? Part 1

by Marianne Richmond on August 31, 2007

Johnson & Johnson has been making social media headlines this summer. There are two parallel paths here; one path, a corporate blog and a corporate law suit. This will be Part 1.

The other a continuation of their transformation of their 10 year old e-commerce site, BabyCenter, into a media company. The latest steps in the latter was the purchase earlier this week of Maya’s Mom, a social networking site for moms’. This will be Part 2.

In early June, the corporate blog, JN JBTW, when live with the following welcome from the editor, Marc Monseau,

"Everyone else is talking about our company, so why can’t we? There are more than 120,000 people who work for Johnson & Johnson and its operating companies. I’m one of them, and through JNJ BTW, I will try to find a voice that often gets lost in formal communications."

Hmmm, I think we have a page in our why participation in social media is a good thing for corporations presentation that says something about a conversation going on about your company that you might want to get involved in, right Toby? Someplace before or after the Cluetrain reference. So, as I read those words, I was thinking ……no, I am not going to write one judgmental {cynical} word. Let’s take it all at face value and see how it unfolds.

 I wrote a blog post a while back mentioning the paradox: we want our clients to blog but nonetheless many of the blogging marketing and social media consultants jump all over every corporation that enters the blogosphere for not doing it perfectly…meaning doing it precisely according to the Koolaid Manifesto. So, not to be tarred by my own brush, I wrote nothing.

Toby Bloomberg and Fard Johnmar raised some valid points in their constructive reviews; Toby mentioned the lack of social bookmarking and links to J&J while Fard noted the risk of corporate blogs "sounding stiff, safe and boring" which seemed to imply that was how he found this one.

Maybe so at first, but this month, JNJBTW stepped right in front of the Red Cross freight train and answered the question about the fact that everyone was talking about J&J and why couldn’t they. They could. And did. And did a really great job. Actually I would have to say that they really did snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. They were suing the Red Cross after all; and originally it appeared as if they were suing the Red Cross for using the red cross.

As Paul Herring pointed out on Chaos Scenario, in an aptly titled post, "Johnson and Johnson’s New Approach to PR" Ray Jordan, Corporate VP of Public Affairs and Corporate Communications, courageously used the corporate blog to tell the J&J side of the story even using an intriguing headline, "Your Doing What?!"

 Cam Beck added this in a comment:

"If the blog posts I’ve read are any indication, at worst (for J&J), people take the side of the Red Cross but can see J&J’s point. At best, they take J&J’s side.Such is the reward for being unpretentious in fact when communicating with an audience.

Johnson & Johnson’s handling of the Tylenol poisoning in 1982 has become the classic case study of handling a corporate crisis. James Burke, CEO stepped up to the plate and so it seemed, immediately invoked a corporate credo that emphasized that the company’s first responsibility was to their customers, and ordered the massive recall. Despite the fact that some have said that Burke did not have a choice but to issue a recall, it is nonetheless noteworthy that he reacted quickly, took responsibility, and communicated openly and directly with the public….pre-technology, without having social media working for him, or against him.

During the recent Pet Food Recall which had some similarities to the Tylenol poisonings I reflected that not only was the Tylenol playbook not used by any of the corporations involved, I couldn’t really come up with any examples of how after all those business classes and corporate workshops, any corporations else had applied the Tylenol principles to a real life corporate crisis.

Can you?

As a slight aside, I came across a study by John J. Pauly and Liese L. Hutchison at St. Louis University, Moral Fables of Public Relations Practice: The Tylenol and Exxon Valedez Cases. Their study focuses on ethics….the premise being that J&J and Exxon are not examples of ethics driven behavior but examples of moral drama.

 They make some great points as they analyze both scenarios but in the end, I think their study supports the real Tylenol lesson which is not about ethical standards; does J&J have higher ethical standards than Exxon because J&J communicated openly and Exxon withheld information.

The lesson I think is that open communications in this kind of situation provides a kind of halo effect of implied ethical standards. Similar to telling my kids that not only will they receive a less severe consequence if they volunteer the details of misbehavior but also that if they provide ongoing information of their whereabouts (as in use those mom subsidized mobile phones to call me once in a while) I will probably attribute positive behavior to them versus the negative thoughts that occur when their phones are turned off (or sorry forgot to charge the battery as they typically say).

So, kind of interesting that J&J seemed to again be setting standards for crisis handling, this time using social media to connect. Of course, there were no deaths, human or beloved pets…..but they were able to join the conversation that everyone else was having about them, and set the record straight; or at least have their day {not yet} in court.

Part 2 will discuss how and why the 10 year Baby Center and its faithful sidekick Parent Center hired Tina Sharkey from AOL, Judith Meskill from AOL/Weblogs, and then bought Mayas Mom.

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