The undercover online discussion board activity of Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey is already a great lesson in the challenges faced by corporations in a Web 2.0 communication environment and an excellent place to start my fresh emphasis on the business of blogging.
As a former Whole Foods employee who has deep issues with rich men who profit from progressive rhetoric, I’m viciously biting my tongue to focus on the useful takeaway rather than my very personal response. But I think this current drama is a strong example of how blogging can provide an entry point and focus for understanding Web 2.0 business communication.
Let’s break this down and introduce some of the practical aspects of business and blogging that I will pursue in greater detail over time.
1) Mackey is exposed for pseudonymous discussion board comments.
Although this behavior was not on a blog, the comments sections of exceptionally popular blogs are often as busy as discussion boards and offer the opportunity to learn how to enter a conversation with one’s customers, critics and, yes, pseudonymous/anonymous commenters who may well be competitors.
In particular, learning to deal with hostile commenters in a way that shows that one is open to dialogue and not afraid of being challenged but also unwilling to involve oneself in petty disputes is an important lesson for all bloggers. Unfortunately, I haven’t really internalized that one as longtime readers of ProHipHop can attest.
Blogging also gives one the opportunity to be tempted and to turn away from anonymous commenting. I get an A on that one!
2) Mackey’s response to concerns on his own blog have been extremely weak.
Blogging is a great way to cut through the noise and get a company’s message out, not in broadcast form, but in a form which can literally change the direction of dialogue in a positive manner by speaking with fellow humans in a human voice.
Mackey buried his response to the current controversy in an update to an extensive FAQ way down at no. 16 on a section of Whole Foods’ website separate from his CEO blog which has few posts and tends towards the formal though one can see moments of promise.
The formal part comes with the territory of corporate communications. Blogs give one a change to move out of that mode at one’s own pace. However, if Mackey had taken all that commenting energy and put it into his blogging, he could have built a great communication channel and would have a meaningful forum for addressing public criticisms of Whole Foods rather than another corporate outlet that’s rarely updated.
3) Mackey is now being ridiculed, criticized and generally undermined as a result of his behavior. Though he’s also receiving support, it’s never a good thing for a public company to have the business press calling for internal probes and CEO downgrades.
Blogs are very dangerous tools in the hands of CEOs who are prey to their own psychological makeup when allowed to run free.
Fast Company bloggers on John Mackey:
Charles Fishman feels folks are overreacting and that Mackey’s years of comments were “silly and juvenile…nothing more than dumb“.
Elixe Waxenberg also feels rather underwhelmed but, in a friendly manner, asks: “Couldn’t you have just deployed a PR peon to sing your praises on the silly message board?“