Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, has been in the news quite regularly over the last year or so. Already a high-profile woman as one of the few high-powered female CEOs in Silicon Valley, Sandberg’s personal profile began to dominate the spotlight in March 2013 when she published her book, Lean In. As you can tell in the 60 Minutes Interview Sandberg did in June 2013, the book has drawn plenty of mixed reactions. Many women feel, for example, that Sandberg’s wealth prohibits her from being able to offer general advice to all women, regardless of lifestyle and pecuniary situation. Other women, in contrast, have begun using “Lean in” as a battle cry. Through it all, Sandberg has strongly indicated that she has no desire to back down from her own powerful claims in Lean In.
It is in this context that the news broke last week that Sandberg’s organization, LeanIn.org, appears to be hiring unpaid interns. As Slate Magazine summarizes, the controversy arose on Facebook (ironically) when the editor for the organization announced an opening for an unpaid internship. The title of the Slate article was far from neutral: “Lean In Hypocrisy: Sheryl Sandberg’s Organization is Hiring an Unpaid Intern.” The Washington Post reported on Friday that the organization has back-tracked on the whole situation, but to us, the interesting part of this whole crazy scenario was watching how easy it is for a brand to find itself painted into a corner. In this particular case, the disconnect was not in marketing or promotion, per se. Rather, there was a contrast between the overall mission of the Lean In organization versus a random Facebook post by an individual organization employee.
If your company does not have a solid established brand and mission statement, if information does not flow through your organization seamlessly, or if your marketing campaign bears a striking resemblance to throwing spaghetti against a wall, the case of the Lean In organization should scare you a little. There is the social media element to ponder, for one thing. An individual’s decision to use a platform like Facebook to post something about your company can have powerful ramifications for your business. Are you ready for that? Do your employees know that if their account is tied to the company, they are on the clock 24/7 in the public’s mind? Do they know how to best represent your company? Is your sales team sending out messages contradicting your marketing message? Does HR know what skills your new employee really needs to possess in order to help the company?
In the case of the Lean In controversy, it is important to remember that the can of worms was opened not by a corporate blog post or by something on the company web page. Rather, the entire situation began because of one person’s post to Facebook. Even if your company is not “doing” social media, the new world of business can impact you if you do not plan carefully for all possible scenarios. Everyone in your company needs to not just know what your corporate mission is, but they need to be on board with it, and you need to trust that they are.
We do not want this story to paralyze you. Rather, we are hoping that this story inspires you to act. Work on that brand statement. Work on tearing down those silos. Work on making sure that every single employee from top to bottom in your company knows the company line and company identity. It’s not just a marketing issue. It’s a corporate issue. But it’s also a very preventable problem.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlie35/8747344904 via Creative Commons