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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!

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$100m reimagined convenience store startup to open 25 stores in 2022

(BUSINESS) Foxtrot is looking to redefine the convenience store as we know it. This startup is looking to make it a whole new experience.

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Laptop with Foxtrot convenience store locations in Chicago.

Move over 7-11, there’s a new player in town! There’s always room for competition, even in the world of convenience stores. Yes, you read that right, Quick Trip has some serious competition from a newcomer, Foxtrot.

Foxtrot is a curated, modern convenience store offering a brisk 30-minute delivery and 5-minute pick-up. It was created by Mike LaVitola and Taylor Bloom in 2014. These stores will undoubtedly be popular in walkable areas, but also with their online ordering convenience. This modern version of a convenience store offers the combination of an upscale corner store with a digital-first e-commerce platform. Sounds pretty glorious, right?

However, the original convenience store is safe as long as people are traveling and need to stop for gas or a restroom break.  If you’re from Texas, then you know and love, Buc-ee’s, the Texas-born chain. Buc-ee’s have been creating their own in-store products garnering a cult following among their customers. Still, Buc-ee’s doesn’t have an online ordering or delivery option unless it’s offered through a third party.

Foxtrot has raised $160 million in Series C funding and they are expecting to open 25 locations in many cities in 2022. There are a few different levels of funding. If a company makes it to Series C funding, they are already successful and looking to expand or develop new products per Investopedia.

According to Retail Dive, “About half of the new stores will be in Chicago, Dallas and Washington, where all of the 16 stores Foxtrot currently operates are located, LaVitola said. The tech-focused retailer is also planning to begin operations in Boston and Austin, and intends to open four or five new stores in each of those cities during the next year and a half, he said.”

Foxtrot is testing out technology equipment that would allow customers to leave the store without stopping to checkout at the counter. They plan isn’t to go entirely self-service, but as the creator LaVitola stated, “the more hours we can allocate towards sampling and storytelling and interacting with customers and less [on] tasks that don’t add on to value, like checkout, that’s great.”

Foxtrot is redefining convenience by including carefully curated products. They aim to offer local popular products as well core pantry items. They aim to make the commonly unpleasant experience of convenience stores enjoyable. Let’s hope they succeed.

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What small business owners can learn from Starbucks’ new D&I strategy

(BUSINESS) Diversity and inclusion have been at the forefront of Starbucks’ mission, but now they’re shifting strategy. What can we learn from it?

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Hands of all different skin colors on green background representing Starbucks' D&I.

Starbucks was one of many companies that promised to focus on diversity and inclusion efforts after the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020. What sets Starbucks apart from other companies were its specific goals.

How It Started

They began with hiring targets and have now added goals in corporate and manufacturing roles. Starbucks’ plans and goals revolve around transparency for accountability. They released the annual numbers for 2021 as a way to help hold themselves accountable. The data they’ve released so far show that they’ve met nearly a third of their 2025 goals according to Retail Brew. Because of this information, we can see why they are choosing to move in the direction of manufacturing and corporate jobs. In 2021, POC’s fell to 12.5% of director-level employees from 14.3% in 2020 in manufacturing.

How It’s Going

Per Starbucks’ website stories and news, “[I]t will increase its annual spend with diverse suppliers to $1.5 billion by 2030.  As part of this commitment, Starbucks will partner with other organizations to develop and grow supplier diversity excellence globally.” To put that into perspective, they spent nearly $800 million with diverse suppliers in 2021. With these moves, by 2030, it will increase by almost double.

As part of their accountability and progress, they plan to partner up with Arizona State University to give out free toolkits to entrepreneurs on fundamentals for running successful diverse-owned businesses. Another goal they’ve listed is to boost paid media representation by allocating 15 percent of the advertising budget to minority-owned and targeted media companies to reach diverse audiences.

At the heart of all this information on their goals and future plans, data transparency and accountability are what’s forcing them to look at the numbers to make specific goals. They are doing more than just throwing money at the problem, they are analyzing how they can do better and where the money will make a difference. Something that, as entrepreneurs, we should all do.

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Business News

Peloton is back-pedaling: Reports of price increases, layoffs, and cost cuts

(BUSINESS) After a recording of layoffs leaks, ‘supply chain’ issues cause shipping increases, and they consult for cost-cutting, Peloton is doomed.

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Man riding Peloton bike with instructor pointing encouragingly during workout.

Is Peloton in Trouble?

According to many reports, Peloton had success early in the pandemic when gyms shut down. Offering consumers a way to connect with a community for fitness along with varying financing options allowed the company to see growth when many other industries were being shuttered.

After two years, CNBC reports that the company is “being impacted by …supply chain challenges” and rising inflation costs. According to the report, customers will be paying an additional $250 for its bike and $350 for its tread for delivery and setup.

As demand has decreased, Peloton is also considering layoffs in their sales and marketing departments, overheard in a leaked audio call. The recording details executives discussing “Project Fuel” where they plan to cut 41% of the sales and marketing teams, as well as letting go of eCommerce employees and frontline workers at 15 retail stores.

Nasdaq reported that the stock fell 75% last year, after a year where it soared over 400%.

Peloton reviewing its overall structure

According to another report from CNBC, Peloton is working with McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, to lower costs as revenue has dropped and the growth of new subscriptions has slowed since the pandemic. Last November, according to NPR, Peloton had “its worst day as a publicly-traded company.” It also anticipates greater losses in 2022 than originally predicted. It makes sense that the company would reexamine their strategy as the economy changes. They aren’t the only one that is raising prices amid supply chain issues.

It will be interesting to watch how Peloton fares

Peloton has a large community that pays a monthly fee for connected fitness. While growth has slowed, the company still has a strong share of consumers. Although it is facing more competition in the home fitness market and more gyms are reopening, as Peloton adjusts to the new normal, it should remain a viable company.

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