What Adria Richards can teach us about our online presence

Another week, another sexist claim

You have probably heard about the Adria Richards saga and the multitude of debates that followed on the feminism and sexism in the tech industry. If you haven't, you can read all about here or here.

Briefly, the facts so far: 
- Adria Richards, a SF based and self proclaimed "developer evangelist" for the cloud-based email delivery service, namely SendGrid was attending Pycon and overheard a joke from two fellow attendees.
- Her first reaction was not to turn around and ask the two attendees to stop what she thought was 'sexist' jokes but rather to tweet the following to her large following of 12.000 followers. 

The Tweet that started it all

The Tweet that started it all

- Within less than 20 minutes, someone from Pycon spoke and then proceeded to remove the two men in question from the main event. Pycon then tweeted that they had "dealt with the situation".
- If only it had ended there. However, this was far from the case as the last 10 days have demonstrated
- Unfortunately, it didn't end there. One of the jokesters was fired from his job. The other, who worked at the same company, was not. Richards, followed up with her tweet with a blog post on her blog - which is interestingly entitled "But you'r a girl".
- One of the guys in question apologised on Hacker News but was later fired.  
- And so was Adria Richards. SendGrid released a statement on Facebook explaining that "Effective immediately, SendGrid has terminated the employment of Adria Richards.while we generally are sensitive and confidential with respect to employee maters, the situation has taken on a public nature."

What your employees can tell 'us' about your company

Personally I am not going to argue about the place of women in tech or sexism attitudes in the workplace. This is an age-old debate and I don't believe I can add anything interesting at the moment to the debate. 

However,  I do find this case fascinating in that it very clearly demonstrated the importance and the place of employees on social media and beyond. Never before have employees been so present, open and transparent, and also vulnerable. Both the employees and companies need to be prepared as to the consequences - both good and bad - of such an online presence. Take Adria Richards, her claim that she was not impressed with the two guys behind her making 'sexual jokes' was hardly news-worthy, even when she had shared her disgust with the people at Pycon. It was the fact that she voiced this concern online to her 12.000 followers by publicly shaming the two individuals with a picture she took while the two were in a private conversation. This quickly spiralled out of control and Richards' employer SendGrid quickly found itself in the middle of polemic that even found itself in the traditional media. In this case, Adria Richards was all but a 'brand ambassador' for SendGrid.

With the rise of social media, employees are more than ever becoming brand ambassadors, advocates and an open-window into any company. No wonder banks have for so long shied away from social media and been reticent about employees as such on online platforms.

The Strategy

Companies clearly need to be more strategic when it comes to their employees online presence as they are no longer merely hiring the right people for the 'job' but they are also hiring potential 'brand advocates'. The 'collective power of employees' is not new, employers have for a long time understood the benefits of having employees as 'brand ambassadors' and have done the necessary to make this happen. However, with the online space emerging, every single employee with an online presence can potentially act as the face of the company - for better or worse. Richards put her employer in a somewhat awkward position when she claimed that they were 100% behind her on this. 

This year companies and organisations are clearly getting serious about social media. Not just a core practice dedicated to all things social for the company nor simply a mere few managing the social media presence of the entire company. 2013 should be about strategically involving all - or nearly all - of your employees in the hopes they become brand advocates and/or brand ambassadors, all delivering on the brand's promise. Of course, it is not just about the brand promise, it is also about growing revenues, making profit and gaining new clients and securing 'old' ones.

Such a strategy requires a lot of planning, the right technology, a fair amount of trust and mandatory training. However, before any of this is done companies need to understand the purpose of such greater presence and engagement. Passionate employees should be encouraged to be present, active and vocal online, and must employees would probably happily promote 'their' company and employers in the best light possible, if only they were given more guidance, understanding, direction and training. 

Personally, I find if far more interesting and captivating to follow passionate and creative employees than a company 'logo', I get far more insight about what the company does and what it stands for.

I am probably an interesting case for my employer as I first 'branded' myself online as The FashionCloud three years ago when I launched my Fashion Blog. It so happens, The FashionCloud as an identity stuck to this day, and I don't think I will be changing it to something 'more appropriate' or 'serious' any time soon. Thankfully, the Cloud, is now a 'hot topic' making my twitter handle stand out somewhat less on Twitterwalls at conferences, for example. 

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