Recently Chip Conley, CEO of Joie de Vivre, a $230 million company with more than 3,000 employees, got enmeshed in a bit of a modern corporate culture snafu. Conley’s not your average Harvard MBA pinstriped buttoned-down corporate chieftan. He’s an entrepreneur. He writes his own rules. So to him, it wasn’t so strange to post some pictures of himself at the Burning Man whatever-it-is in the desert on his Facebook fan page. Or to tweet on Twitter about the demise of his 8-year-long relationship.
Some of his employees, however, found it unseemly for a CEO to be shirtless on Facebook. And since he runs a company that’s pretty open and has a whole system for making sure the CEO hears from the rank and file, well, he heard about it.
This is already a little unusual, but then he did something even more surpising. He wrote an article about his actions on BNET and asked people what they thought of his conundrum. Included as a topic for conversation: whether it’s ok for him to post such shot and then turn around and put some limits on what his employees can do in the socially networked world. (For example, no employee tweets about the famous rock star in the hotel lobby.)
Deborah Schultz, a partner at Altimeter Group, a San Mateo based boutique consulting firm that advises on the social media landscape, says that while not every CEO will find themselves in this exact boat, all leaders (and followers) need to think about the changing modes of communication today and how they present themselves through them. “It used to be we had the ‘luxury’ of discreet roles,” says Schultz. The new social media terrain “is forcing a much more integrated view of who we are as people…It’s really about having a new set of etiquette, what is private and what is public.”
Schultz suspects that the response of Conley’s employees may well be an indicator of some broader issue, something this snafu might have helped surface but which predated the shots of him in a tutu. “Technology can be a lightning rod,” says Schultz. She applauds Conley for embracing the chance to open up his internal debate to broad input through his BNET piece. And he’s gotten a lot of comments, many very thoughtful. “He spoke to the horses mouth and asked people what they thought. Others would be meeting with their public relations staff behind closed doors.”
Early discussions around social media often involved employee bloggers losing their jobs. Now it’s the bosses who are hiking through uncharted terrain.
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