CommCore Blog and News

Reddit Says “Good Riddance to Pao.” Now What?


Photo Source: Twitter

As CommCore’s Nick Peters noted in our video blog, What Were They Thinking, Reddit’s interim CEO Ellen Pao took harsh criticism for a host of management actions and changes that culminated in her firing of the well-liked Victoria Taylor who ran the website’s popular discussion forum: Ask Me Anything. The community revolted and even shut down sections of the hugely active site. Now, just days after she issued a public mea culpa for her failure to communicate better with stakeholders, Ms. Pao herself has been fired.

Problem solved? Hardly. And as we like to ask in the Observer, is this just an interesting one-off or are their lessons for other communicators.

The new chief, Steve Huffman, AKA Spez, is a ReddIt co-founder, and very familiar to “Redditors.”  But, not all Redditors happy with his appointment. And, perhaps more damaging to the brand – few believe that much will change.

To his credit, Mr. Huffman has been speaking to the community in a much more engaging and transparent way – including, ironically, taking part in an Ask Me Anything session. But, what remains to be seen is whether the company will re-instate the popular Ms. Taylor? Will they be more transparent and relax some of the protections for cyber-bullies. Will they stop banning some users? As of this writing, Mr. Huffman has stated that it is “unlikely” that many if any of Ms. Pao’s unpopular decisions will be reversed.

So, how does any organization stem the tide of ongoing reputational damage when you don’t introduce any new players or announce substantive changes or reversal of policies and prior actions? When little changes after the reputation hit occurs, the damage can be deeper and longer.

Reputational-damage and crisis lesson takeaways from Reddit are clear:

  • If your company is all about engagement and your CEO is secretive – get ready to manage a revolt.
  • Crisis scenario-planning MUST include ramifications from bad management decisions. Crises often start with internal issues, not just outside attacks and vulnerabilities.
  • Consider whether a fresh face in a leadership position will help, rather than rolling out an existing or founding member of the management team. We have seen companies bring in outsiders; others promote an internal change agent.
  • Once you have resolved the management issues, there are a couple of courses of actions: Stand by your changes because they are well thought out and will help the organization over the long run; or admit mistakes and adjust. Either way, communicate the decisions to employees and stakeholders.
  • As the late baseball manager Casey Stengel was reported to have said: The secret of managing is keeping the people who hate you far away from the undecided. NOTE: Casey didn’t live in a social media world.