Do we really want authenticity from our leaders at the top?
That’s the question we all should probably be asking ourselves after the CEO of a relatively small social media agency in Ohio went viral this week.
In case you missed it, the LinkedIn post from the CEO included a long, detailed note about laying off a handful of employees, paired with a pic of a tearful Wallake. The backlash was a mixed bag of support for this authenticity and frustration with what some called an inauthentic attempt at engagement.
As someone who’s been a power user of LinkedIn for many years and someone who works specifically in this space (executive coaching on LinkedIn) and has studied many leaders on the platform, I have so many thoughts on what happened this week. But those observations can be boiled down into four key themes:
This isn’t great for convincing our executive-level leaders to be more authentic on LinkedIn
Morning Brew’s Jack Appleby summed up my initial take on this best the other day:
I promise you most CEOs are looking at the viral crying CEO on LinkedIn’s post and thinking “yeah, I have no interest in being honest about my feelings if this is how people are gonna act in comments.”
Moments like this make us LOSE access to leaders, not gain accountability.
— Jack Appleby ☕️ (@jappleby) August 10, 2022
That’s exactly it. Any executive who saw this example this week is now thinking “See, THIS is why I don’t want to open up on LinkedIn!” But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue talking to our exec partners more about being more authentic on LinkedIn. Sure, Branden got hammered this time. But, what about all those authentic posts Sara Blakely makes week-in and week-out? What about Target’s Laysha Ward opening up from time to time? Or, Medtronic’s Geoff Martha? There are all sorts of examples of execs being true to themselves on LinkedIn every single day. Let’s not let one example derail the entire journey.
Authenticity does have limits
Sadly, Braden learned this one the hard way. Put me in the “Defending Braden camp”–squarely. However, if I were coaching Braden, I probably would not have advocated for a pic of the CEO crying as a visual for this post. In fact, there didn’t even need to be a visual. The message was powerful on its own. And I would argue the post wouldn’t have drummed up nearly the negative attention without it. But, the larger point is authenticity has limits. We don’t need to see every pic of you. We don’t need to hear or read every thought. As much as we want our leaders to be authentic on social media, we also have to help protect them.
Further proof: The visual is everything (even on LinkedIn)
If you think this post would have drummed up even a small percentage of the attention it did without the pic of Braden crying, you’re kidding yourself. And it’s more confirmation that visuals are everything–even on a platform that’s hardly based on visuals. As we counsel our executive partners on content to post on LinkedIn, this is a key point. We must choose our words wisely–sure. But we probably should put even more rigor around the photos our execs post. Because clearly, they make a big, big difference.
Context is everything. Unfortunately, it also means next to nothing apparently.
Like I said, I’m firmly in the “Defending Braden” camp on this one. When I look at this post and situation objectively, and consider the CONTEXT, I see the following:
- A CEO being authentic and transparent–something we’ve been BEGGING for from our leaders for years. And, if you want to make the “he’s faking it with the crocodile tears” argument, I would challenge that and say “Why would he fake it?” What’s in it for him to make that post and pic and totally fake that? He’s an agency owner, which means he most likely worked pretty hard to get where he is today. Huge respect. And, why would he want the engagement on a post where’s he’s firing employees? How does that benefit him and his agency?
- A CEO trying to walk the walk. Part of what Hypersocial sells, if you take a few minutes to look at their site, is that human element. Says so right on the home page (“We bring out the human in B2B sales and marketing.”). So isn’t Braden, in a way, attempting to back up that claim by practicing what he preaches? Sure seems like it to me.
- A CEO who’s not afraid to respond to the criticism. Isn’t this another big thing we’ve been wanting from our leaders? The ability to stand tall, take the bullets and respond when things get tough on social? But that’s exactly what we’ve seen Braden doing the last couple days since the initial post. You see him in the comment stream in the initial post. He’s made a couple other posts since then–again commenting back here and there with reasoned and measured responses. Remind me again: How many times have we seen a CEO responding to damning comments like this before? Even if you believe he was “faking it”, you have to respect the guy for hanging in there and responding to all the hate. And if he wasn’t faking it (which is what I believe), man, this is a damn shame.
- A CEO who’s built a culture of success. Sure, they may be laying off people now. But again, the guy seems to have built an agency that appears to be solid. Go ahead, look up his employees on LinkedIn (I did). They typically have had pretty good things to stay about working for him and the agency. Noah Smith, one of the people who was let go, said in a LinkedIn post recently: “I smile a lot on our Friday calls. Every Friday, everyone goes through their personal and work wins for the week. We inevitably end up laughing and chit chatting about a wild range of topics. Today it was whale sharks, the word ‘vibes’, and Jamie Quinn‘s friends who can’t figure out how to board a train on time. Pretty darn thankful for my #HyperSocial family today. Here’s to the weekend!” Does that sound like a culture let by an ego-maniac? Probably not.
But sadly, much of this did not matter to those posting hateful comments about Braden. We’re always saying “context matters.” Yeah, until it doesn’t.
1 – Can we ease up on this guy just a bit? It seems pretty obvious to me that the guy was not faking this. It was real emotion. It was a hard decision. And yes, maybe he didn’t need to include a tearful pic in his post. But people are allowed to make mistakes. I think. I mean, I hope.
2 – From every case study like this, we can learn. Visuals are more powerful than we think. Maybe every LinkedIn post doesn’t need a visual? And, authenticity does have limits. Know where the line is. It’s your job to project your executives on LinkedIn (and social, in general). Be aware of the climate out there!