The value a ‘socially visible’ CEO brings to the company they run

I woke up this morning to the news that web hosting company GoDaddy had decided to pull its forthcoming Super Bowl advertisement (see below) following a backlash from consumers.

The ad, called ‘Journey Home’, stars a a way-cute golden retriever puppy named Buddy who accidentally falls from the back of a pickup truck before finding his way home, experiencing some scary moments along the way.

As he rocks up home, he’s greeted by a young woman who exclaims: “Look it’s Buddy! I’m so glad you made it home because I just sold you on this website I made with GoDaddy.”

Poor ol’ buddy is then shipped off.


The public backlash was swift and GoDaddy acted quickly by pulling the ad from TV schedules.

The way the breakfast TV news in Australia covered the story, it simply sounded like it was just a bunch of wowsers who complained (we do see that a lot these days, don’t we?). But closer inspection of US coverage of the event tells a different story, one around animal advocacy and the sensitive issue of ‘puppy mills’. So with context, the situation takes on a different complexion.

But I’m not going to get into the issue here – Huffington Post more than covers that side of things; I’m more interested in how the episode was handled by the company.

From where I sit, GoDaddy acted swiftly and decisively and, it appears, with genuine contrition. They ticked all the right boxes – crisis and issues management practitioners the world over are probably weeping with joy at how well it was handled (errr, perhaps not)! And I think it’s fair to say GoDaddy has strayed into controversial territory over the years, so you’d think they’re well-versed in this regard.

But even that’s not what I want to focus on.

What caught my eye was the ‘social visibility’ of GoDaddy CEO, Blake Irving.

I liked how Irving :

  • penned a post on the GoDaddy blog explaining the situation, saying “we’re listening, message received” (interestingly, there was no apology, which is something the masses often demand);
  • jumped on to Twitter to further press his point (take note of the language used – no polished corporate-speak – ditto the blog post) .

Screenshot 2015-01-29 08.01.08

So what can we learn from this episode?

Well, apart from the swift and seemingly contrite nature of GoDaddy’s response, companies – particularly large ones – can learn from Blake Irving and his online behaviour.

Having a CEO active on Twitter speaks volumes; if they’re listening, if they understand the nuances of the medium, they will always be better placed to react accordingly if there is an issue that rolls into the Twitterverse.

(According to this HubSpot article, research suggests social CEOs are better leaders who can strengthen brands, build trust in products and services, demonstrate brand values, and communicate accountability — all by simply being on a social network).

In the case of Blake Irving, he has 12,700 followers on Twitter – this is an inbuilt audience for his message (and stories and ideas and links to interesting articles and observations and opinions and …). The man has tweeted over 3300 times, so at least he has a presence and a following, which is more than could be said for many (most?) corporate CEOs.

I’m tipping most corporate leaders hate the idea of being on Twitter because it means the public can talk to them directly. It’s the wrong attitude in today’s social age, of course, but it’s one that prevails.

We also learnt the power of posting an article on the company blog during times of crisis, stating your position on the issue in question.

In the case of the GoDaddy blog post:

  • It was the CEO who (presumedly) wrote the article – it’s his face and name accompanying the piece, and that counts for something. How many CEOs would do that, or would their first course of action be to ‘issue a press release’? Indeed, how many companies have a blog in the first place?
  • The company enabled comments on the post even though they would have known commentary by and large would be negative – the post had at time of writing attracted over 550 comments and serves as a forum for the further public debate on the issue. How many companies have the will to allow negative comments on their blog?

More importantly, I wonder if any corporate CEOs saw Blake Irving’s actions and presence on social media and saw a light bulb go off?

What’s your take on CEOs and social media?


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3 thoughts on “The value a ‘socially visible’ CEO brings to the company they run”

  1. Great example of the CEO leading during a PR crisis. I wish Hamdi of Chobani had done this during their mold crisis.

    But I don’t agree CEOs of public companies should be on social media unless they are carefully coached. The reason is anything they say can move the share price. And what they say could be taken out of context leading to rumors and share price moves…leading to investor law suits.

    Or they can wind up looking weak, like jerks etc also impacting the company.

    That is the risk.

    What is ironic is he doesn’t care about his sexist ads exploiting women but he does about animal welfare. I guess puppies rank higher than women in value to him. And based on his previous advertising campaigns…..that is the conclusion I have and many women now have.

    Now what do you think?

    1. Hi Howie,

      Re CEOs on social media: The points you make are valid, but for me, it’s more of an attitude, a willingness to get involved and try to understand the new media landscape, or not. If CEOs don’t at least try and get their heads around it, they’re failing as leaders.

      Author Dionne Lew addresses some of the myths surrounding social media here (and why decision-makers need to take it more seriously):

      And when I say “being on social media” I’m not necessarily meaning the CEO needs their own Twitter handle – they can add the occasional tweet on the corporate account if they wish – or be more active on LinkedIn, or post on the company blog (or their own), or record videos for YouTube, or publish audio content. Just getting involved, having a point of view, adding value, breaking down the walls of the boardroom and communicating directly with the public – their constituents – is the thing real leaders should be doing.

      In terms of the need for CEOs to be coached (I take it you’re meaning Twitter mainly?), I agree they probably do need to be guided by someone who gets this stuff, but it would truly worry me if a CEO of a major organisation needed their hand held over the journey. If they can’t manage Twitter, perhaps they should not be in charge of the company?

      Re GoDaddy’s sexist ads, being in Australia we’re thankfully not exposed to GoDaddy’s ads (at least not TVCs) – I was of the understanding they had been toned down significantly in recent times, and that the new CEO Blake Irving had something to do with that?

      Just did a Google search and found this, so yes, it looks like change is definitely underway under Irving:

      Thanks Howie,

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