Career Center Blog

November 10, 2009

When CEOs and social media don't mix


If you follow social media news, you've probably heard about Chip Conley, the 48-year-old CEO of Joie de Vivre, a 3,000-employee company that runs a collection of boutique hotels in California. Apparently Conley likes to get personal on Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, he posted pictures of himself at Burning Man, shirtless, donning a tutu in one photo, a sarong in another. On Twitter, he's lamented about the breakup of his eight-year romantic relationship.

Conley's propensity to lay his life bare online left some of his younger employees confused, not to mention a tad concerned. This doesn't surprise me. Career and social media advisors have been browbeating Gen Y about slapping racy, drunken photos of themselves on the web for years. Every time another twentysomething gets fired for inappropriate blogging or Facebooking, it's a national news item.

When word of employee concern got back to Conley, his first instinct was to tell his head of HR, "Screw that. People who don't like it can go work at Marriott."

Then Conley got more contemplative -- in an op-ed for business site BNET, of course.

There, Conley outlines his company's social media policy. Employees can't post pictures of or tweet about guests staying at the company's hotels. Nor can they reveal the business' trade secrets. Likewise, employees stupid enough to post online photos of themselves stealing street signs -- while wearing a Joie de Vivre T-shirt -- may have an unpleasant meeting with HR in their future.

But, Conley writes, "What if pictures emerge of a desk host drinking from a beer bong at a football game, or decked out in an S&M getup at an underground club? I'd have no problem with that, although I know plenty of CEOs who would. To me, that's an employee's private life."

So the boss is cool. Bonus for employees who like to document their beer bonging and S&M apparel online. But what about customers? Or investors? For Conley, this doesn't seem to be an issue. In his words:

"No one complained when I dressed in drag at a holiday party seven years ago, although pictures never made their way to the web. And I doubt anyone would be complaining if my [shirtless] pictures were from a beach vacation."

He raises some interesting points. When it comes to online reputation, why should we hold CEOs to a higher standard? Aren't employees clamoring for more transparency from their executives these days anyway? When does a vacation photo cross the line, and who's to say Burning Man is a less appropriate vacation for a CEO than a trip to Club Med? As Conley muses, "What, exactly, does it take to damage the image of the company?"

The worker bee in me recognizes the plusses of being employed by a guy who's open-minded about social media use. No more asking friends to take down Facebook photos of me from my college kegger days in the 80s, just to be safe. No more worrying about what the boss would think if I ever decided to publish a Harlequin bodice ripper or a piece of erotica under my own name.

But the cautious professional in me isn't so sure. What if Conley's business has a change in financial circumstance and he finds himself needing new investors, branding partners, or the patronage of some of the country's more conservative populations? Will his "take me or leave me" Mr. Authenticity shtick still hold up? Or will he regret having posed in a tutu for all the interwebs to see?

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide." E-mail Michelle at

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Hi Michelle, great post.

To address your final point first, I would suggest that Chip Conley would do very well should his business need more money - whether by design or not, he's given Joie De Vivre tremendous publicity through his overshare on social media. He's already become a mini web 2.0 celebrity - and whilst you can have your personal opinions on his behaviour - there's no doubting his achievement in being a talked about figure in the industry.

Conley must be recognised as a pioneer. Whilst he stands accused of being a narcissist, he's nonetheless walking the talk - taking a risk in revealing the life he's got outside of being a business leader of a sizeable concern. How many CEO's can we say that about? For that at least, he deserves a measure of respect.

Finally, Conley's overshare is perhaps an overdue reaction to the pressures we all have in social media. Its an enormous pressure to be constantly vigilant on whats being posted on your site or profile, to have the mental discipline to police your activities, to have to 'dual brand' everything you do. Its one of social media's central ironies that as the tools have become available for us to share, we've immediately and seemingly by default, erected barriers to prevent that sharing. Perhaps what Conley's recognised is the inevitability of the merging of the professional and personal, and the essential hypocrisy involved in separating the two.


I think he's right. Many people are using social media these days for both personal and professional reasons.

As long as the person isn't doing things highly illegal or immoral, there's no reason a public figure shouldn't be able to use social media the same way everyone else does.

Of course, the "mark as private" feature is still important to know about and use when appropriate.

This is a good and very timely article. I've been in marketing communications for over 16 years; the landscape is changing so fast it is becoming more difficult to keep up with the changes and stay focused the work that needs to get done.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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