Best Buy isn’t buff enough for this kind of transparency

Posted on November 15, 2010 9:54 am by | Facebook | Social Media | Transparency

In his book, “The Naked Corporation,” co-author Dan Tapscott argues that organizations that seek to be transparent need to ensure that the access to company information won’t reveal anything unsightly. Or, as he puts it, if you’re gonna be naked, you’d better be buff. (I heard him reiterate this point during his talk at WebCom in Toronto a couple weeks ago.)

Tapscott’s admonition was top-of-mind as I followed links from an article about a Best Buy presentation on transparency to an employee Facebook page that was less than buff.

The article—from SmartBlog on Workforce—reported on a presentation by Gil Dennis, Best Buy’s senior director of HR communications and employer branding, at Marcus Evans 6th Annual Employee Engagement and Internal Communications Conference in Orlando, Florida. In the presentation, Dennis points with pride to Best Buy’s employer website, I Am Best Buy, a site that was previously accessible only by employees.

Dennis said he received lots of resistance from corporate leaders about that decision ??? and even more from legal. When HR proposed that certain forms shouldn???t be accessible by the public, Dennis pushed back ??? ???Maybe we shouldn???t have that form then.???

Since the site went public, it has had more than 287,000 views. According to the SmartBlog post, it has also expanded to include an online performance management program along with videos and blogs from company leaders.

Public access to the employee site is based on the company’s belief in transparency, one I have heard reiterated by CEO Brian J. Dunn. In his presentation, Dennis said “he strongly believes that people have to see the behaviors every day that show what the company stands for.”

So I clicked on over to I Am Best Buy, which is divided into three sections. “Our Brands” provides links to the various businesses Best Buy owns. “Our Stories” contains a variety of videos on a number of different topics. And “Our Heart” includes links to various employee-related sites, including the Facebook Best Buy Employees group, seen below.

Shel Holtz

The group, which is open to the public, encourages you to “Join up if you’re an employee of Best Buy and are loving it.”

It was this page that stirred thoughts of Tapscott’s notion of being buff if you’re going to be naked. It also brought me back to Dennis’ assertion that transparency creates the ability for people to see what the company stands for.

The top post on the wall, from J.J. Johnston, is a politically-focused video titled “obama sucks.” The caption on the YouTube video—which appears on the Best Buy wall—reads: “anti liberal and anti obama rap obama is a fag o o o.” The wall post, which I first saw on Sunday morning, remained at the top of the page 24 hours later:

Shel Holtz

I certainly wouldn’t suggest that Johnston—nor any other Best Buy employee—should be barred from expressing political opinion. But I question whether the nature of Johnston’s rant, and the language which some (myself included) might find offensive, reflects the kind of behavior Best Buy wants the public to see its employees engaged in.

Politics have polarized much of the U.S. population. Johnston’s views mirror the opinions on one side of the debate. The other side—representing millions and millions of people—would be likely to take exception not only to Johnston’s sentiment, but also to his choice of language. (Use of the word “fag” sparked a controversy recently when it occurred in the trailer for an upcoming movie release, leading to the removal of the scene from the preview. How much more controversy might it engender when used in reference to the President of the United States on a Best Buy group with nearly 12,000 members?)

Lest you think this is a political post on my part, let me be clear: I’d be equally concerned about what Best Buy is revealing about itself on this page if the same video had been produced but the target had been John Boehner or any other prominent member of the Republican Party. The point is that, whichever side you’re on, you don’t want to alienate nearly half of your customers, leading them to choose to shop at a Best Buy competitor. (Fry’s is only a mile or so from my local Best Buy.)

Best Buy has done a better job than most companies embracing social media. From the Twwelpforce to CMO Barry Judge’s blog to the Blue Shirt Nation, Best Buy has consistently shown that it understands the benefits of genuine engagement.

But perhaps some employee training is needed to ensure compliance with the company’s own social media policy: Be smart. Be respectful. Be human.

If Johnston’s post of his YouTube video to the Best Buy Employees Facebook page was respectful, I must misunderstand the meaning of the word. I have nothing but admiration for Dennis’ goal of providing insight into the character of the company and its employees, but like Tapscott said: If you’re gonna be naked…



  • 1.This is definitely an incident to think about both when developing a social media policy and when choosing/developing channels for a campaign. But what I thought about when I first saw this was a recent conversation on moderating blog comments.

    Shel, you published a post just a few weeks ago explaining why you believe comment moderation to be both justified and necessary, which prompted a conversation on the InsidePR podcast (episode 2.26). During that episode, Gini Dietrich and Joe Thornley talked about Gini's belief that moderation was only necessary _after_ a comment had been posted (her feeling is that community engagement suffers when comments are held in a moderation queue).

    Of course, that conversation was around blog comments, not participation in a Facebook group or forum. But, when it comes to commenting, the two channels aren't that different.

    So given what happened, what policy/strategy changes would you consider appropriate, if any?

    Dagan Henderson | November 2010 | Roseville, Calif.

  • 2.Because this is an employee group, I'd moderate reactively rather than proactively even if I had a choice (and I'm pretty sure you can't moderate comments to a Facebook group -- just delete them after they're posted).

    The trick here is to ensure that the community manager for the group is reviewing the contents regularly and deleting those that violate the company's social media policy in a timely manner. More than twenty-four hours is hardly timely.

    Some might argue that Best Buy should take a hands-off approach, given that this is (apparently) an employee-run group. But with the link from the "I Am Best Buy" page, it assumes the characteristic of endorsement from the company, even if it's not explicit endorsement.

    Johnston has every right to post his video to YouTube, by the way -- regardless of my own personal political affiliation, I have absolutely no issue with that (even if I may object to his language). It's the video's presence on the Best Buy employee group that causes potential reputation problems for the company.

    Shel Holtz | November 2010 | Concord, CA

  • 3.Hi Shel,

    Thanks for your post. People even clicking that far through our online content is a good thing.

    We're firm in our belief that transparency and empowered employees is the way to go. As you mentioned our strategy and policy for social media can be boiled down to three key elements: Be smart, be respectful, be human. The third is the one that brings with it the most risk, but also the most opportunity to connect with customers and engage employees. Being human means mistakes will be made, and we believe that's a chance worth taking when it delivers real connections with real people.

    This particular facebook group is quite an obvious area where we have not been "buff" enough, and the first two elements (smart and respectful) can use a bit of work here. We've taken the first steps tonight to take care of the spam, and especially the disrespectful content, and are working to ensure the right controls exist to keep it that way.

    Again, thanks for your post. We value our customers' and enthusiasts' honesty as much as we hope they value ours.

    Best Buy? Corporate

    Jason | November 2010 | Minneapolis, MN

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