Mzinga case study

The tale

The story goes something like this:

  • A well-known analyst, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research gets wind of organizational changes afoot at Mzinga, a Social Media software company whose guiding principle is “WE are smarter than ME” and writes about it first on Twitter, then this somewhat more articulated post on his blog. Of course, even if he expressly says he does not want to start rumors, the language is ambiguous and he closes by “strongly recommend[ing] that any Mzinga clients or prospects stall any additional movement till they brief me next Monday”. If you read Jeremiah’ post however, do not forget to read the comments: in the following six hours over 50 readers chip in, almost universally criticizing the fact that the analyst wrote a story about financial troubles at a company without any proof and before speaking to them; readers feel he has done this out of being pissed because it took a week for Mzinga to set up a meeting. Backlash is so strong eventually Owyang caves in (perhaps under pressure from his employer Forrester Research) and issues the following day a public apology.
  • Two days later, Mzinga CEO Barry Libert posts about some rather significant changes happening at Mzinga, including the layoff of about 18% of its workforce (40 employees) and the departure of a few key executives.
  • In the words of Boston.com: “Though layoffs are always painful, there’s something new going on here – especially in the way these laid-off employees weren’t silent, and in the way their network of friends and contacts leaped in to help them.”
  • True, in most cases, fired employees pack their stuff and just leave and the only ones who get to hear their side of the story is their close friends; preserving the morale of the remaining employees is the reason why all HR manuals advise to deal with layoffs swiftly. In this age of Social Media empowered employees, however, this no longer holds true, and ex-employees will continue to correspond with their network of contacts as if nothing had happened.
  • Is there a lesson to be learned? Libert sure thinks so, “proudly announces [… Mzinga] won’t be like the cobbler’s poor children” and walk the We/Me talk. e.g. by opening up the weekly management meetings to all employees.

The questions

The friend who told me the story however asked a barrage of questions – not sure I can answer these, so please feel free to add your own answers, whether in agreement or not with yours truly.

  1. Should analysts publicly blog when they are really serving their clients?
  2. Do bloggers really have to meet journalistic standards?
  3. Should companies treat bloggers, journalists, consultants, and customers all the same?
  4. Can information really be managed?
  5. Does company blog content establish a different standard for corporate communications?
  6. Where do employees fit into this scenario?
  7. This company needed funding and was having trouble raising money. Did this justify their approach?
  8. Is this and example of corporate Two Wash or a real transition?

My (Gianni’s, not Pleon’s) answers

  1. I think this question is mis-expressed. Should or should they not? Famous analysts, like journalists, are primadonnas who expect and usually get white-glove treatment by companies. When they do not, they may not control a knee-jerk reaction like the one Owyang was guilty of. So although ill-timed and perhaps poorly expressed, this reaction was not THAT surprising. And remember, at the end of the day he was right !
  2. When bloggers are ALSO journalists, by all means yes. When bloggers are also analysts, they should follow whatever analyst ethics are in practice. Blogging does not turn you into a green-skinned, pointy-eared alien: it merely adds another expression medium to your roster.
  3. No. They never did, nor should. Every interaction between Company and Stakeholders serves a purpose. This purpose is usually fairly clear on Company’ side (probably something like “supporting the brand”) but should keep into account Stakeholder’ own agenda and objectives in interacting with Company. A successful interaction furthers both Company’s and Stakeholder’s agendas and therefore will materially differ according to who Stakeholder is.
  4. Please define “manage”. As in “make it what we want”, not a chance. Purists will argue that it was never the case: the Watergate happened well before an american President fought to keep his Blackberry, but at least very large corporates had so much financial power over media they could even tame 60 minutes. As in “undertstand how it works to try to use to our advantage”, more so than ever.
  5. I am fond of saying that a CEO blog only makes sense when used for internal communications. CEOs are not good at understanding the timing and rythm of public communications, and that’s why they have a PR expert next to them. Corporate communications should stick to its guns and manage the communications process as it did in the past, including communications through blogs. CEOs have not suddenly become PR officers: they are both too expensive and too little experienced for that.
  6. Front and center. As they always did (do I need to link again “The Insider” ?). Lie to your employees and they’ll find out about that from your customers. Lie to your customers and they’ll find out from your employees.
  7. I don’t want to claim an ethical high ground here but it’s unclear to me how this behaviour did (or should have) help them to achieve that.
  8. Twowashing something means the opposite of walking the talk applied to Social Media – in this case he who lives in a glass house should not throw stones and hyping the We/Me thing has probably created some expectation of Mzinga being different from other companies.  Since they screwed on the communications front, now they’ll go totally rad-dem and hold an all-hands meeting every week. I have run companies and this DOES NOT seem a good (or sustainable) idea. But we’ll see.

Whew! a long post on a deep topic. I’m sure there’s more to say.

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3 thoughts on “Mzinga case study

  1. Gianni

    Thanks for this, I think your case study is fair and balanced. My approach was wrong, very wrong, but I did have clients best interest in mind.

    Going back, I certainly would have done things differently, if not at all. I learned some lessons the tough way.

    What matters now is what I do next, do I learn from this and move on? You bet. Thanks for taking the time,

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