July 17, 2007
On the Web, Everyone Knows Your Reputation
On one hand, you have well-regarded Whole Foods, the very successful natural and organic grocery chain. It's spent 10 years on the Fortune "100 Best Companies to Work For" list, is a supporter of eco-leaning philanthropies and has an official site whose pages mention a Declaration of Interdependence, Our Core Values, Our Quality Standards and Sustainability and Our Future.
On the other hand, there's Rahodeb -- AKA Whole Foods CEO John Mackey -- a formerly anonymous poster on the Yahoo Finance message boards who has for years been pumping Whole Foods stock, dissing competitors like Wild Oats and complimenting his own haircut. Did I mention that Whole Foods is trying to acquire Wild Oats, that the FTC is investigating the merger on antitrust grounds and as a result, outed Rahodeb-Mackey, who is now the subject of an informal SEC inquiry?
What are we to make of the supremely poor judgment of this CEO, whose whole (pardon the pun) company and brand identity depends on its reputation with customers for selling produce, meats and packaged foods that are, indeed, natural and organic? No grocery shopper can verify if a tomato, fresh chicken or box of packaged pasta lives up to its organic billing while standing in the aisle. Reputation is everything, as some Chinese firms have learned to their sorrow and, in the case of that country's corrupt food and drug regulation czar, paid the price with an official bullet to the head.
CEOs who take to the Net to promote their interests don't necessarily have nefarious goals in mind. CEO bloggers use their Web soapbox to speak to employees and stockholders as well as customers, to inspire, reassure and inform in the same way their pre-digital predecessors gave pep talks or managed by walking around the factory floor or store aisles.
Now some CEOs have taken digital bonding a step further by joining social networks and becoming online "friends" with employees, using online services like MySpace and Facebook.
The CEO as an online friend? Let's think for a moment about what that means. As the Rahodeb incident suggests, the anonymous Internet has all but disappeared. In its place is a Web of connections to people who may not know you, but know your reputation. Guard it wisely.
Here are more resources on blogging and social networking at work:
- "Audio: Care for and Feed Your Online Network"
- "Seven Tips for Social Networking Online"
- "Refine Your Online Image"
- "Social Software and Your Career"
- "Work Blogger, Beware"
- WSJ MarketBeat: "The CEO Blogs"
- From Sneaky Business: "CEOs Yearn For Normal Life -- Without Paper Trail"
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I'm cautiously embracing the transparency that's emerging in the online world. While I surely don't want my whole life out there, I try to conduct myself as I would be proud to have people witness on every message board and forum in which I participate, even if I am anonymous.
It's not a matter of being careful or watching out for my reputation, I just behave according to how I think a person should--whether someone is watching or not as a point of character.
Good post, thanks for the thoughts.
Posted by: Chuck | Jul 17, 2007 4:42:24 PM
I agree with many things you talk about in this blog and it directly relates to the website I currently work for. Employers and co-workers may have access to your online profiles on networking sites, so it's important to manage what you want them to see. Like you said, guide your reputation wisely.
YSN.com was created as a way for users to create their professional profile online and stay connected with others, learn, grow, and get on the path to success. There's an abundance of tools and resources on the site, but most importantly, it creates a professional image.
Check us out at www.ysn.com
Posted by: Amanda | Jul 18, 2007 7:24:40 PM
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