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May 17, 2010 / Mervyn Dinnen

Controlling The Message??

I’ve noticed a lot of concern voiced recently over the possibility of employees saying negative things through social media which may affect their employer’s brand or image. There’s a neat summary on this blog by Michael Carty and I was involved in at least 2 group discussions at HRevolution on the subject.

HR clearly feels that they will have to pick up the pieces. I’ve heard talk of controlling the message, of laying down ground rules and guidelines for staff who want to blog, tweet or go on Facebook fan pages.

Yet I wonder what damage is done when a senior person in an organisation voices something, either planned or spontaneously, that gives a negative impression of the business. And why are there no controls, guidelines or ground rules for them?

Surely an employer being indiscrete does more damage than an employee?

Some readers will remember the entrepreneur Gerald Ratner. For those unfamiliar, he was CEO of a large high street jewellery group. He once commented in a speech:

“People say, “How can you sell this for such a low price?”, I say, “because it’s total crap”.

When commenting on the earrings that his shops sold, he said that they were:

“cheaper than a Marks & Spencers prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”

Needless to say there was an immediate negative impact on the business …the value of the group plummeted £500million with loss of custom and jobs. Clearly customers don’t like to taken for granted, but then neither do employees. Who wants to work for a company whose goods can be dismissed so lightly by the CEO? Negative employees don’t always put shoppers off, but a CEO dismissing his products will.

Most of my regular followers will know that I’m a supporter of Arsenal Football Club. Well this weekend I received my season ticket renewal application. It’s not cheap supporting a football team, particularly if you go to matches every week, and Arsenal is one of the more expensive clubs to follow, yet loyal supporters’ passions are not normally subject to cost criteria. They do, however, go into each new season with an expectation of seeing some success.

Football followers will know that Arsenal haven’t won a trophy for 5 years and that, whilst they may play some exciting football, supporters begin to get restless.

So it was a bit disconcerting to see the manager, Arsene Wenger, say last week that finishing 3rd in the Premiership, and therefore qualifying for the Champions League, is like winning a trophy. The rationale for this I believe is that if you don’t win the 2 main trophies (Champions League or Premiership) then automatic qualification for the Champions League will net you about £20,000,000 whilst winning the FA Cup will net you £1,800,000.

Which makes great commercial sense…yet will hardly quicken the pulse or heart rate of a supporter about to hand over a lot of money for their entertainment next season who desperately want to see their team win. Hardly the best sales pitch…come and watch us finish 3rd.

Never mind the customers (like me) what about the current and future employees?? A top club employs, and hires, players who want to be the best and win…yet what if your boss effectively tells you that not winning will be OK? That finishing 3rd is like winning? Can I be confident that when I turn up next season I will be watching players who want to win trophies…or just finish 3rd?

We football fans are used to seeing players moan about their clubs, and openly tout themselves as available for transfer, and none of this dims the supporters’ enthusiasm…yet a negative message from the manager (the voice of the club in terms of exposure) can achieve this instantly.

I can understand concern over employees voicing negative thoughts…but will a policy to counter this also cover comments from managers and owners?

What are the most damning comments you have come across…and what effect did they have?

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2 Comments

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  1. Felix Wetzel / May 18 2010 12:45 PM

    Mervyn – I really like the post as it provides a very balanced view which is needed in this often hysteric debate. You bring the debate back so sensible solutions can be found and we can move towards execution. Well done.

    Additionally: did Arsene Wenger’s words stop you renewing your season ticket? If yes, the question is: Can the emotional link to a brand overcome any negative comments?

    • Mervyn Dinnen / May 18 2010 11:00 PM

      Thanks for your kind words Felix!

      I’ve been a season ticket holder for so many years that it will take more than Wenger’s comments to put me off my weekly ‘fix’…however I speak to fans who are more recent supporters and the definitely are more influenced. My main concern is how it will impact on recruitment…does it make us an employer of choice if certain other leading clubs are also interested?

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