The op-ed article of Greg Smith who served Goldman Sachs till the day of the article opened a can of worms. Let’s face it; this episode has raised a storm in every tea cup wherever it has been consumed.
A corporation which takes years to create a brand and has thirty thousand employees finds itself at the wrong end, facing the music.
Some thoughts on the episode:
- David and Goliath: Increasingly people are looking at David’s view of Goliath. When confronted with the reality that Goliath was too big to hit, David’s view was, it was too big to miss. Large organizations and people who are known or popular run the risk of being hit. If an employee of a non-descript organizations has such revelations, it will hardly have any ears. If a husband gets slapped with a shoe by his wife at home, or a neighbor features in a fight, it doesn’t constitute as news. But slapping a well-known politician will surely get you column centimeters, tweets and eye balls.
- Insider Credibility: When an intern at Washington House, a wife of a famous personality, or a disgruntled employee reveals some juicy inside information, people are drawn to the bites as bees to honey. Due to the insider status, a healthy claim of credibility is established and usually the onus of proving otherwise falls on the accused.
- Damage: Genuine or not, unless outrageously ridiculous, the damage is caused by the accuser. The defense strategy that the person or the corporation adopts is also tricky. You start defending and you get dragged into a war of words, which could be the intention in the first place. And when the accuser is an unknown entity, he has nothing to lose and can exit at his option. If the accused stays quiet, your silence adds credibility to the claims. In this case, the Goldman Sachs PR machine tried to blunt some of the damage by stating Smith was just one of over 30,000 employees, but its defense, thus far, has been tepid at best.
- Truth or Lies: The acceptance of the allegations depends on the reputation of the organization and the type of allegations that are leveled. If the allegations are in total variance of the public opinion and reputation, the facts claimed by the offender need to be backed with a lot of concrete evidence to lend credibility. However, if there have been some doubts, this salvo serves as the nail in the coffin. It serves as an important piece to complete the jig saw puzzle in the minds of the doubters.
- Objectives: History has shown that this strategy is used many a times as a bargaining tactic. You open your mouth, show the extent of damage you can cause which gets the opponent to the bargaining table. Or it could be a last ditch effort by a disgruntled soul to inflict whatever damage he can when all doors seem to have been closed.
- Social Media Vulnerability: With social media becoming an integral part of our lives and the cascading effect of its bombardment across the globe – genuine, malicious and innocent barrages have a telling effect. Social media strategies towards such situations are in its nascent stage. With few case studies or precedents in the wisdom bank of what works and what doesn’t, people have yet to crystalize the best strategies to such issues.
- Motivation or Opportunism: Was Greg smart or dumb to make such a spectacle of his departure. Did he genuinely want to correct a system which he thought was unfair and unjust? Or did he aim at instant stardom? Few of us knew Greg’s name before March 14th, he is now the toast of Wall Street and has gained instant worldwide recognition. Reports suggest that he is now in talks with leading publishers for a book deal. This may be better than a 9 to 5 job at Goldman Sachs for the next decade. Sounds like a neat strategy, if that was the purpose.
- Larger Picture: With the advent of internet and social media, news travels across the globe in nano seconds. There was a time when rumours could be suppressed before they assumed dangerous proportions. But not today. The tweets, Facebook walls, the instant messengers, and the like transmit the news instantly across the world. People pass on anything without verifying and in many cases verification, as in this case, is difficult. So the damage is done. This causes the risk to grow exponentially.
Brands will have to work harder to protect themselves from this assault. They will have to create the bond, proximity and emotion quotient with their customers to make them look at such barrage as trash rather than give it credibility.