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How leaders should and should NOT react when social media goes wrong

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) When you use social media as a CEO, your brand is always on the line. Even seemingly innocent statements can be taken in an unflattering light.

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smartphone typing ceo social media

When your power is tempted

Temptations come from seemingly odd places at times for each of us, but behind every one is an understandable human emotion. So while it may not be ours, we can see how it could seduce another. For example, the temptation that overcame Reddit CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman this past week.

Despite knowing his actions wouldn’t be well received, Huffman went beyond mere moderation and actually edited the personally unflattering comments to reflect other users.

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For a website like Reddit, where moderation in the forums has been accused of being uneven at times over the years, an attempt at comment moderation in the midst of a highly-charged political arena should expect to be met with criticism. Earlier in the week, Reddit closed the subreddit r/pizzagate, home of conspiracy theories regarding Hillary Clinton, including, but not limited to, the allegation that Mrs. Clinton ran a child-trafficking ring from a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor.

The damage is done

Upset users went to r/The_Donald and let their displeasure with Huffman be known, vulgarly displayed, at times. Huffman couldn’t handle their commentary, and changed the intended target from himself to the moderators of r/The_Donald. Although the changed posts were only up for an hour or so, and have since been restored to their original postings, the damage was done.

It’s not easy to be criticized when we feel that we’re rightly deserving of the blame, and harder still to be criticized when we know that we’re just doing our jobs and haven’t done anything wrong. However, for leaders, the use of social media to defend one’s self can be a dual-edged sword.

While using social media platforms is an extremely efficient way to combat misinformation, leaders (and by extension, public relations/communications deputies) must remember to use language that reinforces brand standards. Failure to do so only intensifies the problem.

When resolving a crisis, arguing with the people who feel let down by you or your product only cements their feeling that you’re both incompetent and tone-deaf.

How about another example?

Sometimes the mistake isn’t trying to avoid criticism, but in assuming that your personal social media persona can be divorced from the company you represent. This is a source of frustration for many employees and employers alike. There is predictable friction between wanting to live in the present for all the world to see, and doing so in such a way that your employer suffers no loss of value.

Such was the case for James Andrews, then a vice president at public relations firm Ketchum. Using his personal Twitter account in 2009, he wrote, “True confession but i’m[sic] in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say ‘I would die if I had to live here!'” The town was Memphis, where Andrews was presenting a session on the uses of digital media to FedEx, who famously base their operations there. The tweet quickly spread, making its way to the over 150-person-strong FedEx corporate marketing team, who were none too pleased, and were verbal in their displeasure to senior management. Andrews, predictably, apologized.

How not to apologize

His apology, however, is a good example of the type of apology to avoid when you do make a mistake or have a lapse in best practices with your personal and/or corporate use of social media. “Two days ago I made a comment on Twitter that was the emotional response to a run in I had with an intolerant individual. The Tweet was aimed at the offense not the city of Memphis,” he wrote. “Everyone knows that at 140 characters Twitter does not allow for context and therefore my comments were misunderstood. If I offended the residents of Memphis, TN I’m sorry. That was not my intention.”

Let’s count the red flags, shall we?

His opening? Not bad. You do have the ability to provide some detail as to why you made the choices you made on social media and wrote what you wrote, and should take that opportunity as you see fit.

“Everyone knows”… things are getting shaky. If everyone knew it, they wouldn’t have taken as immediate of a level of offense that they did, would they? If you’re worried about the contextual capabilities of the platform, either provide appropriate background in the space you have, or pick a better platform.

“… my comments were misunderstood.” We’re sliding away from a true apology here, to corporate-speak. As the author, you own responsibility for writing with such clarity that it is almost impossible to misunderstand what you’re trying to say.

“If I offended… I’m sorry.” And here the shift away from taking personal responsibility is complete!

When it’s clear that people are indeed offended by something you’ve posted to social media, there’s no reason to say, “if”.

All “if” does for you in this context is make you sound like a petulant child who got caught doing something that they knew better than to do. Own your behavior, and say instead, “I offended you, and that was wrong of me.” People are much more likely to forgive you when you take responsibility for your own actions like an adult.

“That was not my intention.” Words have real power, and your intention is framed by what you wrote. Perhaps it wasn’t the intention to have blowback from experiencing personal frustration, but you’ve got to be aware of it in this era all the same.

When social media goes wrong

Depending on the frequency and the severity, an off-brand use of social media may move from a poor idea to an unethical one. That’s the situation an overzealous defender of the Whole Foods brand found himself in in 2005. Speculation is the trade of internet message boards, especially those focusing on stocks. Poster “Rahodeb” was both animated and opinionated when speculating about upcoming purchases Whole Foods would engage in, especially regarding a company named Wild Oats.

Unfortunately that level of insight wasn’t due to a penchant for prediction.

“Rahodeb” was a anagram for Deborah, the wife of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods.

Mackey’s message board posts weren’t limited to the acquisition of Whole Foods, however. For over eight years, Mackey took to the message boards to debate customers over their experiences with Whole Foods, going so far as to defend his own haircut when another message board user made fun of it.

The whole affair came to light when the Federal Trade Commission, who opposed the merger, posted “Rahodeb’s” confession that it was Mackey the entire time. Mackey’s comments came perilously close to skirting illegal insider trading, and were unseemly even in the best light.

The takeaway

When you use social media as a CEO, your brand is always on the line. Even seemingly innocent statements can be taken in an unflattering light, so the old advice of thinking before one speaks is always good to consider for starters.

When you’re always on the stage, your responses don’t have to be rehearsed, but be aware that they will possibly be transmitted far beyond your reach. The audience is always listening.

#CEOAwareness

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Business News

Big retailers are opting for refunds instead of returns

(BUSINESS NEWS) Due to increased shipping costs, big companies like Amazon and Walmart are opting to give out a refund rather than accepting small items returned.

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Package delivery people holding deliveries. Refund instead of returns are common now.

The holidays are over, and now some people are ready to return an item that didn’t quite work out or wasn’t on their Christmas list. Whatever the reason, some retailers are giving customers a refund and letting them keep the product, too.

When Vancouver, Washington resident, Lorie Anderson, tried returning makeup from Target and batteries from Walmart she had purchased online, the retailers told her she could keep or donate the products. “They were inexpensive, and it wouldn’t make much financial sense to return them by mail,” said Ms. Anderson, 38. “It’s a hassle to pack up the box and drop it at the post office or UPS. This was one less thing I had to worry about.”

Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., and other companies are changing the way they handle returns this year, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to weigh the costs of processing physical returns versus just issuing a refund and having customers keep the item.

For instance, if it costs more to ship an inexpensive or larger item than it is to refund the purchase price, companies are giving customers a refund and telling them to keep the products also. Due to an increase in online shopping, it makes sense for companies to change how they manage returns.

Locus Robotics chief executive Rick Faulk told the Journal that the biggest expense when it comes to processing returns is shipping costs. “Returning to a store is significantly cheaper because the retailer can save the freight, which can run 15% to 20% of the cost,” Faulk said.

But, returning products to physical stores isn’t something a lot of people are wanting to do. According to the return processing firm Narvar, online returns increased by 70% in 2020. With people still hunkered down because of the pandemic, changing how to handle returns is a good thing for companies to consider to reduce shipping expenses.

While it might be nice to keep the makeup or batteries for free, don’t expect to return that new PS5 and get to keep it for free, too. According to WSJ, a Walmart spokesperson said the company lets someone keep a refunded item only if the company doesn’t plan on reselling it. And, besides taking the economic costs into consideration, the companies look at the customer’s purchase history as well.

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Business News

Google workers have formed company’s first labor union

(BUSINESS NEWS) A number of Google employees have agreed to commit 1% of their salary to labor union dues to support employee activism and fight workplace discrimination.

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Google complex with human sized chessboard, where a labor union has been formed.

On Monday morning, Google workers announced that they have formed a union with the support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications and media labor union in the U.S.

The new union, Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) was organized in secret for about a year and formed to support employee activism, and fight discrimination and unfairness in the workplace.

“From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade,” stated Program Manager Nicki Anselmo in a press release.

AWU is the first union in the company’s history, and it is open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company in the United States and Canada. The cost of membership is 1% of an employee’s total compensation, and the money collected will be used to fund the union organization.

In a response to the announcement, Google’s Director of People Operations, Kara Silverstein, said, “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”

Unlike other labor unions, the AWU is considered a “Minority Union”. This means it doesn’t need formal recognition from the National Labor Relations Board. However, it also means Alphabet can’t be forced to meet the union’s demands until a majority of employees support it.

So far, the number of members in the union represents a very small portion of Google’s workforce, but it’s growing every day. When the news of the union was first announced on Monday, roughly 230 employees made up the union. Less than 24 hours later, there were 400 employees in the union, and now that number jumped to over 500 employees.

Unions among Silicon Valley’s tech giants are rare, but labor activism is slowly picking up speed, especially with more workers speaking out and organizing.

“The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues. All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members,” stated the AWU in a press release.

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Business News

Ticketmaster caught red-handed hacking, hit with major fines

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ticketmaster has agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after hacking into a competitor’s network specifically to sabotage.

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Person open on hacking computer screen, typing on keyboard.

Live Nation’s Ticketmaster agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after admitting to hacking into a competitor’s network and scheming to “choke off” the ticket seller company and “cut [victim company] off at the knees”.

Ticketmaster admitted hiring former employee, Stephen Mead, from startup rival CrowdSurge (which merged with Songkick) in 2013. In 2012, Mead signed a separation agreement to keep his previous company’s information confidential. When he joined Live Nation, Mead provided that confidential information to the former head of the Artist Services division, Zeeshan Zaidi, and other Ticketmaster employees. The hacking information shared with the company included usernames, passwords, data analytics, and other insider secrets.

“When employees walk out of one company and into another, it’s illegal for them to take proprietary information with them. Ticketmaster used stolen information to gain an advantage over its competition, and then promoted the employees who broke the law. This investigation is a perfect example of why these laws exist – to protect consumers from being cheated in what should be a fair market place,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.

In January 2014, Mead gave a Ticketmaster executive multiple sets of login information to Toolboxes, the competitor’s password-protected app that provides real-time data about tickets sold through the company. Later, at an Artists Services Summit, Mead logged into a Toolbox and demonstrated the product to Live Nation and Ticketmaster employees. Information collected from the Toolboxes were used to “benchmark” Ticketmaster’s offerings against the competitor.

“Ticketmaster employees repeatedly – and illegally – accessed a competitor’s computers without authorization using stolen passwords to unlawfully collect business intelligence,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme in a statement. “Further, Ticketmaster’s employees brazenly held a division-wide ‘summit’ at which the stolen passwords were used to access the victim company’s computers, as if that were an appropriate business tactic.”

The hacking violations were first reported in 2017 when CrowdSurge sued Live Nation for antitrust violations. A spokesperson told The Verge, “Ticketmaster terminated both Zaidi and Mead in 2017, after their conduct came to light. Their actions violated our corporate policies and were inconsistent with our values. We are pleased that this matter is now resolved.”

To resolve the case, Ticketmaster will pay a $10 million criminal penalty, create a compliance and ethics program, and report to the United States Attorney’s Office annually during a three-year term. If the agreement is breached, Ticketmaster will be charged with: “One count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, one count of computer intrusion for commercial advantage, one count of computer intrusion in furtherance of fraud, one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of wire fraud.”

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