#24 – Acting ugly hurts your employer, Uber’s desperate need for a brand lift, and what makes a great influencer?

#24 – Acting ugly hurts your employer, Uber’s desperate need for a brand lift, and what makes a great influencer?


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Can someone call Uber a taxi? They need to go home and sober up their reputation!

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  Welcome back for another episode. I want to start off by telling you guys a story. I went out for lunch a few days ago to a place called Winston’s Grille. If you’re ever in Raleigh, North Carolina, I highly recommend it. It’s one of those institutions. It’s been around for 30 years. It’s a really popular place for lunch. In particular, business lunches. In fact, if you try to go on a Saturday, it’s actually closed, because obviously nobody is going there for a business lunch because most people are off on Saturday. It’s a really popular place for business lunches. It’s also a popular place for the church crowd, for brunches. It’s a really nice place. It’s not a rowdy, casual place. It’s a place where you go and there’s a certain expectation of behavior.

After setting the scene, we’re sitting outside and there’s a table two or three tables from us, and the guy is just super loud, super obnoxious, and foul-mouthed. He is just cussing. He can’t go a sentence without dropping an F-bomb or just saying something obscene.

What’s interesting is I’m not normally a prude. I don’t like that behavior, especially in a nice restaurant like that. If it’s a sports bar and it’s loud, then fair enough, but when you’re sitting outside and enjoying lunch you don’t want to hear that. But he is wearing a company polo shirt that is recognizable to anybody, even from a distance. I just can’t believe that this guy is sitting here having this conversation.

I don’t know whether his dining mates are cringing at his behavior, but I’m thinking to myself, “Okay, making a mental note here. If this is his behavior when he’s outside of the store, this is not the kind of company that I want to do business with based on the type of people they’re hiring.” They may not have a clue, but by his very actions of wearing this shirt, I’ve made that mental connection even though he’s off the clock. He’s not specifically representing this brand, but I just don’t think you’re ever really separated from that reputation of your employer, especially if you’re wearing the company shirt. What are your thoughts, Erin? What do you think about that?

Erin:                  First of all, I completely agree. I find it incredibly off-putting. As someone who does run a company, I would want to know if someone that I’m paying to represent me is behaving that way in public, whether they’re on the clock or not.

A good example. I worked at a ski resort for a while between my college years and my grown-up job years. We lived on the mountain and we all had employee-identifiable ski jackets, clothing. Everybody could tell if you worked on the mountain, so if you weren’t on duty, they required that you have your own clothing that you wore when you were out and about, whether you were out at the bars, or if you were skiing with the guests. They wanted that completely separated out. But even still, we had a code of conduct that we had to follow regardless of what time of day it was, whether we were on shift or not. If we worked for that company, we were expected to follow a code of conduct.

I think that it really showed that they were really forward-thinking about this, knowing that whether you’re on the clock or not, if someone has an interaction with you and they find out that you’re a representative of the company, you’re a representative of the company regardless of what time of day it is or what day it is. It’s kind of that if you see the corporate car parked at the strip club, that’s going to stick with you whether the person’s working or not. This kind of behavior strikes me as the same way. I can’t think of someone that I would want to give money to that I would be okay with them behaving that way, whether it be in my home or a service for my brand.

Andy Beal:                  It’s interesting. You could call me a prude and you could say, “Lighten up, he was off the clock,” whatever it may be, but you’ve got to consider that you are a representation of your employer. No one ever said, “You know what? That guy over there, he’s not said a single swear word all lunch so I’m going to boycott his company.”

Why not just be careful? You’re wearing a shirt. It’s bright red. You’re standing out. I can see the logo from where I’m sitting. I want to say something, but I’m thinking to myself, “Eh, you know what? I’m just going to try and ignore it.” But at the same time, I’m thinking to myself, “Okay, well, I’m not going to say anything, but he should know not to behave like this, so I’m just going to not shop at that store.” I know exactly where the store is. I’ve actually shopped there before, but not anymore.

This extends as well to your online behavior. There are so many people that have, whether it’s their language, whether it’s their political rants, whether it’s their social rants, whatever it may be, and then they think they can hide behind putting in their Twitter profile that it says, “Opinions are my own and not that of my employer.”

Erin:                  Yep. Not working anymore, buddy. You know? It really appalls me. Do people not realize how they’re acting or do they just not care? I wonder that a lot about a lot of things that I see, both in the real world and online.

Andy Beal:                  To go back to your example, the employer needs to let employees know that, “Look, your behavior outside of the office could have an effect on our business because people, maybe they recognize you because we’re a major employer in the area. Maybe you’re wearing the company polo shirt. But your actions, whether it’s online or offline, can have an effect on us. If our reputation gets damaged, that hurts our ability to keep you employed. Not you specifically, but if we start losing business, we’re probably going to have to start firing employees. Yeah, you have the right to act the way that you want, but if you damage our company, it’s going to hurt everybody, yourself and others. We’d appreciate if would just conduct yourself, or not wear your company shirt, whatever it may be.” I think that companies need to do a better job of letting employees know just what a valuable part they are of their reputation, and let employees buy into that, and have a stake in the reputation so that they want to act in a way that doesn’t harm their boss’ reputation.

Erin:                  Definitely. I don’t know which side of the table I’m coming from here, but I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t be embarrassed to realize that they are representing their company in such a horrible way. It almost sometimes feels like it’s self-destructive.

Andy Beal:                  I wonder. This gentleman in particular was an older gentleman. That’s not really an excuse. It’s not to say that if you’re over the age of 55, you don’t know how the internet works, but maybe he’s just more ignorant to the fact that there’s that association is going to be made between the way he acts, technically off work, offline, and the reputation that’s perceived for his boss.

I think that the lesson here is you’ve got to understand what’s the reputation your employer is trying to build and are you helping them with your behavior? If you work for a sports bar or if you work for someplace where there’s an expectation that there’s no need to mind your p’s and q’s, if you like, then fine. That’s totally fine.

Maybe I’m being a little bit harsh on this particular store. Maybe I’m holding them to a standard that most other people don’t hold them to. But if you work for a company that is trying to have a reputation for being polite, civil, offering a fantastic service, then certainly if you’re out at a restaurant that has that reputation … You’ve got business people there conducting meetings. You’ve got people that do their company outings. Gosh, I’ve seen people doing presentations in private rooms. You’ve got your church crowd on a Sunday morning. This is not the kind of place where you go and start dropping F-bombs.

Erin:                  Sure. There may be a time and a place. Clearly, he was in the wrong place to do that. It goes back to the whole I tell my clients a lot, “If you wouldn’t say it to your grandmother’s face, don’t say it in public, and don’t say it online. Things can follow you around a lot more easily now than they used to.” It’s just plain, old off-putting. That alone should be enough.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. All right, well, that’s our rant. I think it’s good. We’ll leave it there, your advice about the grandmother. I think that’s a great litmus test. Unfortunately, we’re not moving onto any story that’s more of a feel-good story. We’re probably still going downhill from here because Uber is in the news again. There’s a new report out. Why don’t you go over that, Erin, and tell us what’s happening there.

Erin:                  Speaking of things you would not want your grandmother to read about you, Uber was being investigated based on some sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and really overall, in general, bad behavior claims. There were several independent investigations. I think the most popular one is the Holder report.

As a result of that report, more than 20 employees were let go from the company. It has been decided that the CEO is going to be stepping aside for a while. I’m interested to see what happens with this. He’s not being fired. It came along with a timeline. His mother was recently killed in a tragic accident, so he’s taking some personal time. It looks like they’re going to do some work to revamp the company while he is on his leave.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. That’s sorry for him. It’s a convenient excuse that allows them to say he’s stepping aside, but they’re not firing him. He’s not quitting. The report made 47 recommendations, including creating a new oversight committee, rewriting Uber’s cultural values. Get this: reducing alcohol use at work events. Prohibiting intimate relationships between employees and their bosses. The normal stuff that most good companies have in place.

You’re asking yourself, “How did they allow this culture to be built?” To the point where even, I think it was yesterday, one of the board members said something inappropriate when they were discussing these findings, and now he’s had to resign because of a sexist comment he made just this week. It’s like the culture is just rife with this whole sexual … I don’t know. It’s terrible. I mean, I think they’re putting some more women on this oversight committee to help them there to understand normal, decent behavior.

But what’s really interesting for me is I see a lot of people talking about this. It’s really showing that Uber has almost a divided reputation. Now that runs contrary to what I always preach, but if you look at what’s going on with Uber, you’ve got journalists, you’ve got investors, you’ve got employees. They’re all really saying Uber has this terrible reputation.

But if you look at the customers, you’re not really seeing a lot of everyday individuals boycotting Uber over this. We’re still using Uber because it’s convenient and we’re getting cheap fares. There’s almost this disconnect going on where it’s the customer say, “Well, it’s not anything that’s directly affecting me. I still get cheaper fares than taxis and it’s more convenient, so eh. You know what? Let them figure it out and I’ll just keep using the service.” It’s kind of puzzling.

Erin:                  It is. It almost feels like people have, like you said, separated. “The drivers don’t go to the office. The drivers don’t interact with the board or the CEOs, so it’s okay to support them.” Or, “We’re still taking our rides because it’s easy and convenient.” Then over at the corporate offices, there’s this Wolf of Wall Street situation going on where it’s just a free-for-all it seems like.

The fact that they had to put out a press release saying that they were hiring a COO who was diverse to take over some of the current CEOs duties, why are we having to tell people that in this day? Like, “Hey, we’ve got some diversity.” Well, congratulations. Welcome back from the 1950’s. This is stuff that people are already expecting. We’re not going to celebrate you for doing what you’re supposed to do.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. It’s really strange that we’re not holding them more accountable. I wonder if it’s because we are at least seeing that Uber is trying to do the right thing. It’s not like this culture exists and they’re not willing to do anything about it. Now, they did suppress it and they did have a terrible HR where these claims were suppressed and ignored. There was that. At least once it came to the public light, they’re saying all the right things. They’re doing all the right things. I’m wondering if that’s given them a little bit of breathing space because everybody is waiting to see, “Okay, well, how are you going to handle this? What are you going to do?”

Kind of like what we’ve seen with United Airlines. United continues to have these issues, but at least they came out with a new customer care policy. We’re waiting to see if that’s going to make a cultural difference. I wonder if we’re waiting to see that here.

But the problem is it goes back to one of the three keys for whenever you have a damaged reputation. The last one is consistency. That is you’re demonstrating to your stakeholders, your customers, employees, investors, journalists, that you are consistently improving your behavior. This was an isolated incident. Problem is when you’re announcing your plans, and your changes, and all that, and one of your board members makes a sexist comment in that meeting, you’re not showing that consistency.

Erin:                  No. I also wonder if we give these companies that started as really small startups and exploded, seemingly overnight, more of a pass than we’re going to give older companies like United that have been established for a long time as a corporation. Are we letting them get away with a little bit more because they’re still in their infancy and we see them as being run by “children”? Are they getting a chance to grow up in the spotlight? I do feel they get away with a little bit more.

Andy Beal:                  Well, that’s kind of funny because you know a friend of mine, [Dean Shore 00:15:52], put something up recently. He was mocking because they were trying to defend President Trump’s actions by saying that, “Well, he is new to all of this.” Well, that’s not really-

Erin:                  No, he’s not.

Andy Beal:                  That’s not really a valid excuse. I don’t think we can say, “Well, they’re just a startup. They didn’t know any better.” No. Basic rules of decorum, and values, and ethics should apply here regardless.

But I have worked at a startup where everything was going great. When you’re small, you don’t have these issues. But as we got larger, there was all kinds of inappropriate things happening. HR was completely at the mercy of the CEO. They were just doing his bidding.

I ended up leaving under just terrible circumstances. Not really anything for me, but I saw what was going on. I’m like, “Look, this is going to hurt my reputation personally. You guys are not looking to stop this. I’m out. I don’t want to be a part of this.” Then that company eventually had all kinds of accusations and then closed its doors eventually. I think that what happens is as a company gets larger, they realize because they didn’t have these policies in effect from the beginning, which is fine when you’re really small, everybody knows each other, you open up the keg on a Friday because there’s only 20 of you, you know, that doesn’t scale.

Erin:                  Exactly.

Andy Beal:                  Those small things escalate and expand once you become a large, multi-billion-dollar company.

Erin:                  I completely agree. I think we may have worked at the same company. I had a similar experience. It’s the same thing. You learn a lot through the process, but you definitely get to a point where you go, “Oh, I don’t know that I want my name tied to this, where this is headed.”

Andy Beal:                  Absolutely. At some point, you need to realize that your reputation is extremely important. Just as you represent part of your employer’s reputation, your employer’s reputation represents your personal reputation. It’s definitely a two-way street there.

All right, let’s move on. We’ve got a question here from [Matthew Starts 00:18:12], who asked on Twitter, he said, “Thought leaders and influencers always claim to have a “great network,” but how can you tell? How can they prove it?”

First of all, thanks for the question, Matthew. It is easy, especially for people that are on Twitter, or Instagram, or one of these social networks, to point to their numbers and say, “Look. Look how influential I am. I have this great network. I’ve got 150,000 followers. I’ve got half a million followers.” Whatever it may be.

They somehow claim that that makes them a thought leader, makes them influential, but really I’ve seen “thought leaders” that have used software that follows everybody back so that it escalates their numbers. I’ve seen people that go out and use software that follows people. Then if they don’t follow them back, it unfollows them. There’s all kinds of trickery that can happen to inflate your numbers. Heck, you can even buy followers on these social networks.

To answer your question, Matthew, one of the things I look for is engagement. First of all, I don’t care how many followers you have. How many of them are actually paying attention to everything you say? Are they engaging with you? Are they leaving comments? Are they retweeting you? Are they liking your posts? Are they sharing your posts? Are there comments on your blog post? Because I want to see that if I’m going to invest some time building a relationship with you, I don’t want you to just broadcast it out into a vacuum that nobody’s listening to. I want to see that there is a level of engagement. I want to see results, not just audience reads. What are some thoughts you have on that, Erin?

Erin:                  I absolutely agree. Actually, my first two points were to look at their interaction and engagement, and be wary of the echo chamber. Another thing that I think is important is looking at who they are engaging with. You may have somebody that’s got great engagement in the tech sector or in the online world, but someone who is a great tech influencer may not be someone who is going to influence your small-town bakery or your children’s toy store. I think it really matters who they’re engaging with and how they’re engaging with them. Are their posts genuine? Are they getting good interaction? I think if you really take a good look at it, you can start to see patterns in their communication.

Andy Beal:                  Right. There’s some services out there. There’s Followerwonk. There’s Klout. There’s lots of different services that can give you more of an idea of what topics are the influential on. If you’ve got somebody that’s a generalist with a million followers, they may not necessarily be an expert on anything.

But you could have a smaller audience, but very engaged with a lot of influence because they’re talking about gluten-free recipes. When they talk, when they share something, everybody listens, everybody shares. Yet they may only have 20,000 followers. But the amplification of that could be huge because those 20,000 followers could be influencers themselves. Of that 20,000, it could be somebody that’s got their own million followers, but they happen to be gluten-intolerant, and so they listen to everything you say and then they amplify it.

There’s that. Last thought I have on that is generally if someone has to tell you that they’re a thought leader or an influencer, they’re probably not.

Erin:                  Yes. Thank you.

Andy Beal:                  All right. On that note, we’ll leave it there. Appreciate your question, Matthew. If you guys have a question, please head over to our Facebook page, andybealORM, or head to andybeal.com. Find the latest podcast and just leave us a comment. We always appreciate you guys tuning in, listening, and leaving your questions. As always, Erin, thank you so much for joining me.

Erin:                  Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Andy Beal:                  Appreciate you guys tuning in. We’ll hope you catch us again next time. Thanks a lot and bye-bye.

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