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November 7th, 2008

Finding a Human Voice Through Social Media

Zappos Tweet Here in the valley we definitely see, hear and feel the affects of the economic downturn. We sympathize with all our colleagues who have suffered, and wish them the best as they find their footing during tough times. Overall, it feels like everyone is just a bit more compassionate these days–and although it’s easy to label them as “the bad guys,” even executives are showing sadness for the layoff’s and budget cuts they’ve had to make.

In the past, layoffs came hard and fast, like ripping off a band aid, surprising both the employees and the public at-large. Today, more and more executives are stepping-up and demonstrating corporate transparency as well as humanity, by explaining the details of their company decisions and who they affect. CEO’s are communicating with employees often and early through social media channels like corporate and personal blogs, even Twitter, expressing gratitude for service and compassion for affected employees.

This week The New York Times reported on the upswing in corporate transparency, explaining how executives personally sharing bad news is not only more heartfelt than canned press releases, but also keeps away rumor mongers and controls backlash. In practical terms, speaking out about cuts before the media can weigh in allows a company to simply get in front of what’s obviously a sensitive topic.

Just this Thursday, Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh tweeted:

Very emotional day for everyone at Zappos. I’ll be sending out an update later today with details of what’s going on.

As promised that afternoon Tony shared an email that he sent around the company detailing 8% layoffs, by tweeting and posting it on the Zappos CEO and COO blog:

…Today has been a tough, emotional day for everyone at Zappos. We made the hard choice of laying off about 8% of our employees. The layoffs will affect almost every single department at Zappos. In addition, we are also looking at closing some of our brick and mortar outlet stores in Nevada and Kentucky. This is one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make over the past 9.5 years, but we believe that it is the right decision for the long term health of the company. The rest of this email will explain why…

Obviously social media can’t prevent layoffs, or reverse an economic downturn, but it can offer an authentic way for executives to communicate as human beings on behalf of their companies. They can convey emotions and sentiments that are impossible to share via a press release, and provide honest insight into corporate decisions. Employees will undoubtedly share their experiences on their own blogs, twitter streams and social networks–and media will report on these accounts, good or bad–so why not engage in the conversation early, answer questions that are sure to arise, and show that there are people behind the company worth trusting.

Filed in Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media, Voce People

Add Your Comment1 Response to “Finding a Human Voice Through Social Media”

Craig Oda on November 18th, 2008 at 12:51 pm

Shanee, thanks for sharing this tidbit about the Zappos CEO. I’m curious as to why the identities of the people writing comments on the blog appear to be masked. The IDs are things like ZC21886.

It’s also interesting that the blog post references a Twitter policy.

Zappos is focused on a loyalty business model and relationship marketing. This blog technique might increase the loyalty of existing customers, something that is core to the Zappos business strategy.

I’m not sure if the blog post actually helps the Zappos business since it does draw more attention to the fact that they missed revenue numbers. It’s not clear if it will help them to increase their revenue. It might, but Zappos is a bit of an unusual business animal.

It’s an interesting experiment. However, I think that this example should be judged in the context of the unique business strategy that Zappos pursues.