What "the crying CEO" says about all of us
For those of you who are unaware: yesterday (10th August, 2022), a CEO of a US-based marketing agency shared on LinkedIn the sad news of having to make his team members redundant.
This post went viral because of the following reasons:
The subject matter struck a chord with the professional community in a post-pandemic, pre-recession climate, where the world is severely split between "Break My Soul" Great Resignators, and those fearful about their job security amidst massive lay-offs;
The focus of the post was wholly on the (white, male, and seemingly privileged) CEO, with the tone coming across as self-centred, attention-seeking, and unhelpful*;
To spark further reaction, the added faux-pas was accompanying the text with a teary selfie of his crying face (a bit cringe);
And, lastly, let's not overlook everyone else's behaviour on social media today, which largely contributed to the post's virality:
This is the focus of this blog post, because this is a bigger problem than a single viral post that everyone will have forgotten about this time next week.
Whether you sympathise or roll your eyes at Brendan Wallake's behaviour is besides the point - at least for this particular write-up. Yes, he could have taken a beat before posting. Yes, he could have used his platform to help his redundant staff find new jobs. Yes, he could have done without the attention-grabbing selfie. And, yes, he could have made the post less "me me me."
Social media is a machine where people post a lot of content on a very regular basis, not always planning for one of those 1,000s of posts to go viral, and not having a personal PR team or crisis comms consultant standing in the wings for when things like this do happen to suddenly explode.
This isn't a defence for Mr. Wallake necessarily, but more a call to arms for less of the online "road rage," less of the"cancel culture," definitely less of the piss-take crying selfie pics - and more empathy to other humans sat behind the screens.
At the time of writing, the viral post in question has 32,422 reactions , 6,608 comments and 559 shares - with very mixed responses and already hitting all the major media platforms and news outlets. In fact, if you just type in 'layoffs' into Google right now, the poor bastard's teary face is all over the Internet search results.
Can you imagine how Mr. Wallake might be feeling right now? I certainly can't.
(And, yes, I can hear some of your voices saying you don't give a sh*t how the privileged white male CEO is feeling and how we should be more concerned about his jobless employees. I know, and I get that too. But it's not black and white, people. There are shades of grey and nuances in life. More than one thing can be true at the same time).
This level of virality is of course another form of fame. And it makes me think of how "traditional fame" (e.g. with performers, artists, etc.) can be so damaging, particularly for young people. (We all know about child actors, right?) But this is worse in a way, because of the unexpected backlash.
As Aurora Myers, Founder of I&I Outfitters, a clothing line that raises awareness about mental health, very eloquently put it:
"If we make a habit of ridiculing and judging others for the way they choose to express themselves, it will only make it more difficult for others to do the same. Disagreement with someone's reasoning, decisions or feelings isn't an excuse for public backlash. Regardless of our opinion, our words matter. People will remember moments like this the next time they're on the fence about whether or not to share what's on their mind."
I'm sure Mr. Wallake will recover and that at least some good will come of this for the individuals involved. In the meantime, everyone else will jump down the next poor sod's social media post and get in their own self-made jury box, spectating the sport and judging the players on the field until the crowd mercilessly turn on them, too.
Unless you read this blog post ;)
Sources and footnotes:
*Social media success - much like social interactions in any other context - rely on a value exchange.
Braden Wallake's viral LinkedIn post - https://www.linkedin.com/posts/bradenwallake_this-will-be-the-most-vulnerable-thing-ill-activity-6962886723617910784-_L4w/?utm_source=linkedin_share&utm_medium=member_desktop_web
Beyoncé’s ‘Break My Soul’ Heralded As Anthem For The Great Resignation - https://www.forbes.com/sites/marisadellatto/2022/06/21/beyoncs-break-my-soul-heralded-as-anthem-for-the-great-resignation/?sh=69248e8e5bb4
Tech Layoffs In 2022: The U.S. Companies That Have Cut Jobs - https://news.crunchbase.com/startups/tech-layoffs-2022/
Aurora Myers' mental health take on 'the crying CEO' - https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6963246934304178176/