Bad News Blogging Can Be Good For Business
The truth is controlling everybody else’s message was never really an option, internally or externally. A company’s narrative always was and still is property of that company and can produce literature reinforcing that narrative; the whispers, the rumors, the melodrama belong to employees.
And now they have blogs, Twitter, you name it, and the narrative developing internally is very often at odds with the overarching corporate vision. In the Great Transparency Panic of this new decade, the disparity has been viewed as a bad thing.
But it’s not. Instead it’s a reckoning for management too concerned with the short term, too concerned with beating down dissent instead of listening and addressing. And now, much like how similar shortsightedness caused the financial crisis and thus, reform, companies are having to reform how they handle communication. That’s a good thing.
Open internal criticism via blogs and social media forces transparency from the upper echelons, and thus better message shaping and control. It also reinvigorates the case for corporate blogging.
“Today, whatever you say inside of a company will end up on a blog,” Rusty Rueff, a former human resources executive at Electronic Arts and PepsiCo told the New York Times in an article about preemptive blogging. “So you have a choice as a company — you can either be proactive and take the offensive and say, ‘Here’s what’s going on,’ or you can let someone else write the story for you.”
The cautionary tale in the article focused on layoffs at Jive, where an employee’s dramatic exit became an important part of that company’s narrative on Twitter, covered by widely-read blogs like TechCrunch. Management was forced to do damage control via the same channels, still insisting on corporate-jargon like “cost reduction.”
Another anecdote involves a former Gannet employee warning of coming layoffs in advance, an act that prevented soon-to-be-terminated employees from being blindsided. This seems to be the tendency, especially at large companies, to keep bad news like this quiet until the absolute last minute.
But that practice, along with silly phrases like “cost reduction” and “downsizing” and even “dehiring” communicates terrible things to employees: We think you’re stupid enough to be soothed by a different way to say we’re about to yank your livelihood and make your life generally miserable until you find someway out of what is now entirely your very own life crisis; We are not, never planned to, going to shoot you straight about that; You aren’t important enough to us for straight talk or advance warning; Your status as a number, a cog, are confirmed, yes, that’s all you ever were.
And then companies are surprised, outraged, panicked when a jilted employee internalizes the situation and makes villains out his now former superiors, and blogs about how awful it was that one day he had a job and the next day security escorted him out of the building. Right there is where the company loses control of its narrative and misplaces the blame on the newly displaced. Of course, they’re upset and a little crazy right now—and part of that is management’s fault.
Also there is where blogging and social media can help. Companies are turning to the blog in an attempt to preempt these situations, and that’s a smart move. Not just transparency, but also straight-talk and mutual respect prevent an unfortunate development from turning into an ugly situation. In addition to generating sympathy for a struggling company, openness also cuts down on surprises, and lets employees know management views them as humans and adults. Employees also have time to process the information and decide what they’re going to do in a life after current employment.
Best of all, a simple, straightforward blog post helps to ensure a company remains in control of its narrative. Fires are smaller, more manageable afterward, rumors and whispers dissipate, and preparation takes the place of panic.