Tuesday, February 20

Knowing When To Comment: Jason Goldberg

Starting in December 2006, Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, embarked on what the New York Times and many others have classified as crisis communication gone wrong. Using his blog as a primary means of communication, Goldberg hinted at, then denied, then confirmed layoff rumors during the holidays with such abandon that the company’s Technorati ranking knocked Britney Spears out of the top spot for popular searches. Through it all, most members of the media and social media scoffed at Goldberg, calling him everything from insensitive and ignorant to brash and dishonest.

While most companies find away to move beyond bad news that impacted a mere 60 positions, Jobster seems unable to break away from the dated story despite Goldberg offering a belated apology and Jobster making several announcements that seem to suggests its business model is working, including the news that it beat Monster out on the coveted deal with Facebook.

So why can’t Jobster shake it off? Because Goldberg has a reputed disdain for menus; the man already knows what he wants. Why waste time on an exhaustive list of options?

When your communication, even blogging, becomes formulaic and you’re not willing to consider others options, you’re almost always going to make mistakes. Sometimes the mistake is simple, like missing the special everyone is raving about. Sometimes the mistake is more costly, like the host putting in your usual order on the one day you wanted something else.

I think that is exactly what happened when Goldberg erred in choosing to comment on a largely unrelated post to presumably, according to some, challenge my assessment of his mishandling crisis communication (which he already admitted to and apologized for anyway). Known for being fierce with critics once upon a time, he ordered up a “chat” of sorts when a chat wasn’t really what he wanted.

When you attempt to take a casual observer to task after the newsworthiness of the incident has long died out and most people have forgotten, you are almost always betting against yourself because the misguided incident will be rehashed all over again. What you really risk is diluting and distracting from any good or fluffed news you have. So why bother?

Compounding this apparent timing issue, Goldberg never considered that the person he was sizing up as opposition not only teaches continuing education courses as part of his community service commitment, but also happens to be a hired gun of sorts for dozens of companies when a crisis does strike (among other things).

Of course, this assumes I was ever opposition, which, based on my posts (you can source by clicking the label “Jobster” on my blog), I was never exclusively an adversary. Sometimes I was a cheerleader in my assessments, when warranted.

Highlights of positive comments are not limited to: complimenting him on continuing to address the media and social media during the crisis he created, the well-thought out layoff announcement that was better than par, the offer to help place his former employees, and his public apology (though belated). In one post, I also defended Jobster when a competitor missed its news opportunity to pick on the company. In fact, in several incidents, one might even surmise that Goldberg coincidentally adopted strategies similar to those I posted as part of my living case study assessment.

The best time to comment on a blog, or engage the media and/or social media, is when the engagement is timely. Waiting almost two months only serves as a reminder that something bad happened.

If you are engaging to challenge the writer or to correct any errors, it’s probably best to conduct an assessment of the work. For media, the rules have always been fairly clear when you are the subject of a story:

• Are all the facts in the piece accurate?
• Is the story complete or cite additional resources?
• Is the story and any opinions offered fair and relevant?
• Are opinions included from multiple sides and sources?
• Was there appropriate depth to the story given the topic context?
• Was there an appropriate opportunity for others to leave comments?

In the case study of Jobster’s crisis communication debacle, at least on my blog, the answer is yes to all of these questions. Certainly there could and can be disagreement on the partial menu of communication choices I shared (as Recruiting Animal argued about in one post), I proposed any number of them would have been better than the non-menu approach chosen at the time.

In fact, Goldberg’s first comment to me is unsurprisingly similar to the case study. Originally, he teased at, then denied, then confirmed layoffs. Now, Goldberg teased at, then denied, and has apparently confirmed no public conversation with me. While that is fine with me, it doesn’t make sense from a communication standpoint. His real critics must be wondering if he has cold feet.

Look, if you want to comment or perhaps correct media or social media errors, it’s best to (but hardly absolute) do this:

• Choose to respond in a timely manner when the topic is still hot.
• Read the entire body of the ongoing work to ensure you are not mislabeling someone.
• Gather at least some knowledge about the person, people, or media you are responding to.
• Stay positive and reasoned, keeping your cool in order to keep the focus on corrections and clarifications, unless you’ve created a more satirical persona.
• Stay focused on what matters if you hope to maintain credibility and transparency.
• Recognize that engagement is a limited commitment, and that the person you engage will likely respond.

Of the three questions Goldberg asked, only one was worthwhile while two read as nothing more than an exercise in puffery, in my opinion. Nevertheless, I answered them all conscientiously; especially the first, as it was a fine example of the smarter questions Goldberg has been known to ask about blogging.

Unfortunately, the allusion that there would be a conversation seems to have been an illusion, probably because it wasn’t so sincere of an offer anyway. It’s a shame really. I have often found many of his previous questions relevant though sometimes not with the best timing, perhaps because he doesn’t like menus.

And, in the end, all he gained was an opportunity for people to learn how not to manage bad news, like layoffs, all over again.

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2 comments:

Rich on 2/21/07, 7:22 AM said...

Famous Last Words:

"Happy to be of use to you. Would you like some more?" — Someone claiming to be Jason Goldberg

"Now hold on a second. A friend just alerted me to the above "comment" which I did not make. What gives?" — Someone claiming to be Jason Goldberg

It's a mystery, or not, as the IPs were the same and the comments on recruitingbloggers.com just minutes apart. Whether one was Goldberg or not, both seem to be internal at Jobster, which is a shame, regardless of the explanation.

Rich on 2/21/07, 1:32 PM said...

Update: Jason Goldberg denied both comments were made by him, but as a point of interest, both IPs tracked back to his company, which is a shame, as I said.

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