As the shockwaves left Hollywood, rippled across the world and spread news of Harvey Weinstein's worst-kept secret, a two-word hashtag swept social media: #MeToo.
Feed after feed, tweet after tweet and post after post spread a powerful yet simple reality around the web—lots of women (and men) have experienced inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.
Reaction to the #MeToo cry was mixed. There were those who were shocked and saddened to see so many of their friends and family members share their stories of workplace issues. There were those who were irritated and maddened by the “whining” over past “misunderstandings” (those are exact words posted in reaction to my own #MeToo posting).
But the most interesting reaction was one I overheard while awaiting a flight back to Silicon Valley: A man said sternly into his mobile phone, “We need to get a handle on how this is going to look…we need women who work for us to make sure they stipulate that their stories were not here….in fact, can we issue an email saying we don't allow our employees to make these statements? Can we tell them they can’t use that damned hashtag? Think of what it will do to our brand!”
I understood this man’s frustration…I truly did. We all work hard to build our brands. We also work hard to build great teams to serve as ambassadors of those brands. What happens when a member of that team posts something publicly that could be misconstrued to be about their current place of employment—or even worse, what if their post is about their current place of employment?
The tie between an employee and a brand is a critical one, so much so that the CMO Council conducted research looking at the dynamic between brands and workplaces. In the study, titled “Making the Workplace and Brand-Defining Space,” 74 percent of marketers said they believed that their brand’s persona was very important, if not critical, to attracting new hires and even new customers. Yet 54 percent also admitted that their organizations had yet to fully adopt a well-defined and universally accepted corporate culture. Only 18 percent believed that their company’s corporate culture aligned extremely well with their brand promises and claims.
Instead of wondering how to stop people from sharing their stories—whether they are about success, failure or, as in the case of #MeToo, their horror, anger and so many other emotions—I would have liked to suggest to the man I overheard that he identify safe places for his employees to connect, share and engage and perhaps even celebrate the absence of such negative behavior in their own well-established, open culture.
But first and foremost, I wanted to remind him what our survey respondents told us: By crowdsourcing employee stories, 50 percent of marketers believed they would be able to turn their employees into advocates and brand champions. Not only did half say they felt this was the path to advocacy from within, but 41 percent also believed that the simple act of crowdsourcing their teams across social would reinforce brand authenticity and corporate responsibility.
Good, bad or even less than perfect is still seen as authentic in the eyes of the customer. The question is: Will we find a way to celebrate those moments, or will we just let them happen and forget about engaging altogether?