social media & social networks

Chip Conley’s Burning Man story or the dark side of social media

There is a dark side of social media. This is a critical look at the Chip Conley story previously published on Bnet. For those who haven’t read the story yet, Chip Conley is the founder and owner of the Joie de Vivre hotel chain and was criticised for posting suggestive pictures of himself on Facebook while issuing a social media policy for his employees. The pictures shocked some of his employees. They were taken away from Facebook, but one of them is still available in the Bnet article as well as Google pictures.

Chip Conley’s Burning Man story or the dark side of social media

Chip Conley's Burning Man story or the dark side of social media
Chip Conley’s two faces – screen copy of Paul Sloan’s piece on CBS News

Much as I love social media and the power it gives to ordinary people, I believe there is also, on the part of certain users, a tendency to overexpose things on these platforms, which are of little or no interest and even potentially abusive.

My take is that it is sometimes the result of clumsiness or more often than not, but the chances are that downright scandalmongering is a potential motive too. Twitter messages from people saying “Hello World” or even the October 2009 tweet craze followed by those who stated “I’ve just made love” and pinned their names on a map were innocuous examples of cyber babble, but who cares?

Linking personal statements like these to a brand name is, however, not a good idea unless you want to raise a scandal for the sake of popularity.

In which case, this is buzz marketing at its greatest – risk included. I am not at all certain, however, that this is what Chip Conley had in mind, even though he did manage to get some attention.

Yet, the main issue is not the burning man pictures, but the fact that they were linked to a corporate image. Now that the dust has settled, here are my two cents on the Conley story:

  1. Conley argues in his article that there is no double standard. Yet, if someone from his hotel chain were posting a picture of himself/herself in an S&M party while wearing a company t-shirt, he would consider this as an issue. Assuming there is nothing illegal about that S&M party or anything that is in the picture, I would consider both cases to be similar. Conley doesn’t need to wear a t-shirt to represent his company. Indeed his name is already naturally associated with the company he created (if nothing else, via his Facebook page). If Richard Branson were to post naked pictures of himself on Facebook, people would rightfully associate these pictures with Virgin (as a matter of fact, someone did that on his behalf). So this is a double standard, and I tend to disagree,
  2. The real issue is not this, though: why post this kind of picture on one’s page at all? He could have kept them for his friends on a private space or have used a different profile in which he kept all his private stuff. Even though I don’t find the pictures offensive, I don’t find them suitable for a link to a business page either. Conley’s PR seemed to have reached the same conclusion. Now that the pictures have disappeared, it seems that Chip Conley has agreed to this too.
  3. As a rule, there is no need to share that type of content unless you’d want to shock or provoke. In this particular instance, it’s probably a sign of company culture (a remnant of the Californian 1960 hippy era?), and therefore that right should also be granted to employees too.
  4. Having said all this, a formal social media policy is not a bad thing in itself; it’s even recommended for disclosure purposes. Education, trust and management aren’t bad either. Enforcing both is probably the best-case scenario. People should also be given a chance to make amends. After all, this is what Chip Conley did for himself.

Brands are important and sensitive. Besides, Internet presence is a powerful ingredient of personal branding and is a sign that persons are becoming brands too. Associating non-professional content to a brand is not a good idea. Exceptions include personal content which is highly valuable and desirable; for instance, if you are an artist (for a good example of this, check Ed Terpening’s website, Ed is not just a fine artist, he is also VP, Social Media on behalf of Wells Fargo).

My personal advice is never to associate your brand with strong content or feelings. Keep them separate and create another account under an assumed name or a nickname and avatar that people can’t recognise; with such an account, you will be able to share your more private stuff including personal pictures and videos. After all, even in the post web 2.0 era, there is still such a thing as private life. I know of a top-level executive in some company who went on about some of his somewhat dodgy sexual preferences on his Facebook page and who got away with it. God knows he was lucky!

If, on the contrary, you feel like starting a buzz marketing campaign, don’t follow my advice. Just go on unabated. However, remember that what celebs can get away with, you might not be able to survive. Not everybody is a revered entrepreneur; middle managers are more exposed to that kind of risk.
In conclusion, think of protecting your online reputation, here’s a set of tools for you to do that on a previous Bnet article.

note: this is the unabridged and unedited version of an article written for Bnet.co.uk

Yann Gourvennec
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Yann Gourvennec

Yann Gourvennec created visionarymarketing.com in 1996. He is a speaker and author of 6 books. In 2014 he went from intrapreneur to entrepreneur, when he created his digital marketing agency. ———————————————————— Yann Gourvennec a créé visionarymarketing.com en 1996. Il est conférencier et auteur de 6 livres. En 2014, il est passé d'intrapreneur à entrepreneur en créant son agence de marketing numérique. More »

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