Tuesday, April 3

Knowing When To Hint: Jason Goldberg

Joel Cheesman, president of HRSEO and Oaseo, is considered one of the most widely-read bloggers on emerging recruitment issues. On his blog, Cheezhead, he has an online poll that asks if Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, is killing the company.

Sure, it's not the best poll (sorry Cheesman, but it's not) and voters are allowed to vote more than once, but it does serve as an interesting conversation starter, especially if one asks if Goldberg is committing suicide by social media.

Voters seem to think so, with 51 percent of votes claiming "the dude's gotta go," outpacing the erroneous idea "all publicity is good publicity," which garnered 38 percent. The comments tell a different and perhaps more accurate story. Goldberg is surrounded by wingnuts: either fiercely loyal or venomously vindictive. Some excerpts:

"Jobster’s board and employees are 100% behind Jason. He is a thought leader in the industry and while sometimes controversial, that controversy is expected around disruptive companies." — Christian Anderson

"Clearly the young man has gone off the deep-end. He had a great vision and built an AMAZING team, which he then proceeded to destroy and dismantle." — claimed Former Insider

"I don’t know exactly whats gone on at Jobster but I do know a lot of people that have worked there. They all have mixed emotions on what happened." — Ryan Money

Exactly. And former employees are not alone. For Goldberg, social media saves him as often as it slays him. Or perhaps, it's the other way around. Goldberg gets himself in trouble by creating the very rumors that continue to assault his company.

The most infamous of these began when he used his blog to hint at, then deny, then confirm layoff rumors during the holidays. The story has been covered by anybody and everybody (Jobster), including the New York Times and, more recently, Wired magazine as Cheesman reported:

"Goldberg probably hopes that little incident will quietly fade away. But it won’t, for one simple reason: When you type ‘Jason Goldberg’ into Google, a link to an International Herald Tribune Story detailing the entire debacle appears near the top of the first page of results. Anyone who searches for Goldberg will immediately trip over the biggest faux pas of his career. It has entered, as it were, his permanent record."

However, this social media assessment is hardly the entire story because every time Goldberg misapplies social media, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of fanatical allies — most of which were made using social media — rally to his defense with statements that basically argue that Goldberg should never be held accountable for his own actions because they love him.

As I said yesterday, it's the ultimate social media paradox: social media saves him as often as it slays him. And he is extremely fortunate on that point because Goldberg is his own worst enemy, nobody else. The culprit is always the same: message management. At Jobster, at least for Goldberg, there is no message management.

Almost like clockwork, usually toward the end of the month, Goldberg hints at something ugly and creates a social media/industry rumor that detracts from all his other messages. In January, it was layoffs. In February, it was his feigned challenge over my assessment of his mishandling of crisis communication. In March, it was yet another hint on his blog at Jobster: "While recruiting.com has basically been running itself for the past year (with Jason Davis prodding it along), I've recently been putting some thought as to where we should take the recruiting.com site next."

Days later, after returning from a vacation, Davis was forced into a position to post his own explanation: "My decision to move on is entirely personal."

Rumors. Rumors. Everywhere rumors. Where is the reality amidst all this perception? The reality is far less dramatic. They mutually agreed to allow the contract to end well before Goldberg hinted, then denied, and then took action to implement new changes for recruiting.com.

Message management might have left everybody feeling excited for Davis and happily wondering about Goldberg's purported future changes at Recruiting.com. Then again, if Jason is not his brainless, uncontrollable namesake from Halloween with one too many sequels, then perhaps he's auditioning as a drama queen who creates his own publicity at the expense of others. I mean, come on, if we want to talk rumors... what if every apparent debacle was a calculated ruse to get the blogosphere buzzing so they would come to Jobster's blog and find posts that piggyback his dismissal of Davis...

Goldberg announcing a dozen or so features that include: the new Jobster Employer Training and Education Site, the new Jobster Blog Buddy (beta), the new Jobster Career Networking (beta) and Network Feeds, and on, and on, and on. Could it be the high-flying CEO at Jobster is simply eccentric or undeniably evil? Of course, if that were true, then he might as well play Russian roulette. As Barry Hurd pointed out on the Cheezehead blog...

"A lot of CEOs and execs are playing in a very complex public relations audience, and I think the primary difference that separates success vs failure in blogging was that Kelman (CEO of Redfin) had a more consistent message and he didn’t change course as often. He was also more brutally honest on his own actions, with statements about bad expos and poor decisions."

Bingo. Goldberg is no Kelman. Message management trumps publicity stunt. And sometimes, the difference is knowing when to hint. Apple is very good at it. Microsoft, not so good. Hinting at business, unlike politics where Goldberg got his start impersonating the President as an intern, is best reserved for good news. Yet, Goldberg likes to hint at bad news.

In contrast, if I said chapter one of an upcoming book this year might be entitled a "The Jobster Paradox" that would be a pretty good hint. If I said I might invite Goldberg to contribute his defense of my position, that would be a pretty bad hint.

It all comes down to one of several simple truths when you peddle publicity, hints, and rumors: the further you force a perception away from reality, the greater the risk. In every case study, the picture is crystal clear. It's not "what you do" as much as it is "what you do as compared to what you say you do."

And for Goldberg, based on Jobster's history and the recent Recruiting.com message mismanagement (no matter what "New Coke" du jour he has plans to introduce there), perception is often as far from the truth as one can get.



Unknown on 4/3/07, 1:14 PM said...


Your post is an excellent summation although those who don't know that you are writing a “living case study” on Jobster's sometimes-odd CEO might think that you have it on for poor Jason Goldberg. Those who have followed your posts in the last four months might take the view that you are giving him tens of thousands of dollars of free consulting. I guess you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him think. For the rest of us, thanks for the schooling.

There has been talk in the bubble in recent days about transparency, citing Jason Goldberg as a case in point. Hmmm. Being able to see the emperor in the altogether does not mean his cloak of fine linen is a “veil of transparency.” It means he is parading around in a delusional state of high-fashion. I’m afraid its time for Jason Goldberg to look in the mirror and conclude for himself that talking-the-talk and walking-the-walk requires more backbone that jaw. He might then see he appears to some of us to be exposed and choose to cover up - I mean in a way that is less transparent if you follow my inverted thinking there!

To the quote in your post:

“A lot of CEOs and execs are playing in a very complex public relations audience, and I think the primary difference that separates success vs. failure in blogging was that Kelman (CEO of Redfin) had a more consistent message and he didn’t change course as often. He was also more brutally honest on his own actions, with statements about bad expos and poor decisions."

Let me suggest this:

It seems to me that the transparency gig blogging enables is the simplest game to play. It doesn't need a thesis from Dr. Becker. All that it requires is that you are prepared to be honest no matter what and that you are willing and able to correct whatever you mess up, doing it with a sincere subjugation to the process. You can’t game transparency and authenticity without someone eventually stepping up and singing: “Look at the King! Look at the King! The King, the King, the King! The King is in the altogether, the altogether, the altogether…” Of course, simple rarely means easy and therein lies some of Jason Goldberg’s problem.

I will be the first to concede a certain naivety in this matter, but I do so want to believe. I want to believe in the underlying good that can come from social media and the attendant values of authenticity, trust, transparency, reputation, integrity and so on. Those of us who have been around long enough to see that "business as usual" sucks -- those of us who have not lost the passion for cutting deals and spinning dollars -- so want to believe. The sorry shame of it is that so many want to believe in Jason Goldberg as a champion for this cause that his opacity -- read: business as usual -- makes us scrutinize him even more. Doesn't he get it?

As Jason Goldberg becomes unraveled – assuming he is being duplicitous and trying to game the process, guaranteeing that he will – I hope he revisits the advice many have generously offered and grows in the process. I also hope those of us who bear no ill-feelings to his Mother's son will remember we are all fallible human beings and reconciling the weaknesses we carry as such is not a task for Jason Goldberg alone. I also believe that the social media-inspired change in the way we do business will help us do that. God, I hope so!

So, Richard thanks again for raising the tone of conversation to include things that transcend the importance of any one person or business or position.

Somewhat related, please check my post on Bells & Whistles which argues that the character of an organizations’ CEO can impact that organization's ability to maximize its opportunities: A Conversation with Laurence Haughton...http://tinyurl.com/2wrz32

And last, in the interests of full-disclosure: I voted 56 times on the Cheezhead poll representing the 14% who answered “Jason who?” and the 3% under “Other.”

Rich on 4/3/07, 1:30 PM said...

Lovely comment! Here is what I left at the sister posting for anyone interested:

Oh my Amitai, I hardly know where to begin ... if only transparency were so easy ... hey, I'm no doctor! ... you know, I kinda like Haughton ... thank you! ... it's only free if you learn something ... yes, I kinda like Goldberg, but don't like liking him ... etc., etc.

Suffice to say transparency is a topic I enjoy, but not something I would write a thesis about. I think you're right in how easy it can be, but to work as you outline would require an executive who free-thinks in public and an audience willing to accept it as such without a propensity to mistrust, climb over, or attack. Wouldn't it?

Few, it seems to me, take advantage of healthy conversations that lead somewhere as yours and mine do. Anyway, thanks for pointing out what others do not know. Yes, I use case studies from the perspective of a passerby to hopefully elevate conversations into something other than one person or business or position. Darn you! I hate being so pigeonholed. ;)

Oh, I voted "Jason who?" a few times too because I wanted to see the results (expect once so I wouldn't stack it up too much. :)

Rich on 4/3/07, 5:30 PM said...

Jim Durbin at StlRecurting is a stand up guy; maybe more people could be like Jim.

Jim asked whether I went too far with my thread that suggests a pattern in Goldberg's moves.

As I explain in a longer comment on that post, pending approval, I would concede the writing technique employed to parody Jobster rumors was too close to reality to play properly as it distracted too much from my main points. It was meant to be a stretch as he suggests, but I was not clear enough in presenting it as a stretch.

More closely aligned with my thinking is that Goldberg distracts from all his "wins" with lots of "misses." Along with that, I did not call Davis because I already knew too much about the reality of the situation, when communication observations are sometimes best evaluated by the posts that exist and not the follow up calls that shed light on what everybody meant. (Besides, Davis said it was personal anyway.)

I imagine that is the very reason Jim did not call me (he did e-mail me a heads up on the post). You can read his compliment and suggested correction, along with my response in full when it posts at StlRecurting.

Joel Cheesman on 4/3/07, 6:51 PM said...

Ah, hell. I can't believe I botched the poll. Maybe if I knew I'd cause such a stir ... it's fixed, but obviously too late.

Rich on 4/3/07, 7:05 PM said...

Are you kidding? You did fine! American Idol style. :)


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