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The dark side of influence

Fresh off the heels of BlogHer, I am home feeling very inspired and slightly unsettled.

The “mommyblogger” movement has been gaining momentum for some time now and big corporate America has bowed to their power on more than one occasion. The latest BlogHer survey showed that 85% of respondants made a purchase decision based on something they read on a blog. So the evidence backs up the notion that this growing network of moms is entitled to some respect. But with power comes responsibility, something this community is still working on.

This weekend, Nikon fell victim to the online equivalent of a lynch mob. Their crime? They threw a swanky cocktail party at a swanky bar for a handpicked group of bloggers. They provided hair stylists, makeup artists, massage therapists, and even brought in Carson Kressley for a celeb photo op. There was a chocolate fountain, fancy hors d’oeuvres, and adorable swag “purses.” They transported the guests from the hotel to the bar via stretch limousines. In other words, they went to great measures to make a good impression on this crowd.

Full disclosure: I was there, but not because I am in the same category as most of these other women. We are a newly-authorized Nikon dealer, and I am slightly evangelical about their D90 digital SLR. This was enough to score me a last-minute invite.

The trouble started when a couple of invited guests were turned away because they’d brought babies. The venue’s liquor license prohibits anyone under age 21 from entering the premises, infants included. The disappointed moms tweeted about it, and what ensued was rampant slamming of Nikon across the twittersphere, as angry moms accused the company of being clueless and out of touch.

The people at Nikon who had worked so hard on this amazing event ended up feeling stung by the criticism. They were just trying to give these women a night out, a pampering treat away from their kids and other responsibilities. But people who weren’t at the party, and who had no real understanding of the situation, picked up the ball and ran with it. They ran and ran, spreading the awful, ugly story like wildfire in an attempt to wreak as much havoc as possible.

There were a few sensible voices in the crowd, most notably the women directly impacted, who never intended for this to get so out of control. Nikon did apologize the following day, and just maybe, they can see the forest through the trees on this one. They did generate a lot of buzz this weekend, even if it wasn’t exactly what they had in mind.

It was really fun to be in Chicago, treated like royalty by brands like Proctor & Gamble, Pepsico, GM, Microsoft and, yes, Nikon. For a group of women who spend a lot of time doing mundane chores like driving carpool, grocery shopping, and sweeping Cheerios off the floor, it was a very refreshing change of pace. But will these brands continue to support a community that is so prone to catastrophic knee-jerk reactions? If we want the respect of these brands, we need to offer them a little courtesy of our own. No company ever gets it right 100% of the time, but the good ones want to right their wrongs. The immediacy of Twitter is an irresistably appealing venue for consumer complaints. That’s not going to change. But it’s so important to make sure you have the facts before lighting up the torches.

The brouhaha is settling down, but one debate is still smoldering. Should babies be universally welcome anywhere their mothers are invited?

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