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Oh, Snap!

22nd January 2018

Grayling San Francisco managing director, Alan Dunton asks what can be learned from Snap’s latest travails.  

Snap, the-struggling-to-swim social network, has an information problem … in this case, information it does not want to leave its walls, leaves its walls in the form of employee leaks. Leaking information is not a novel concept. Many companies strategically leak information when they want to puff up their chests or test the waters before officially going public with something. Apple, the company known for out-iterating its competition, feeds its legions of true-believers with details of its biggest reveals all the time to ensure it maximizes its annual hype-cycles.

But what happens when employees share sensitive information, such as the state of company morale and sales performance, either on-purpose or inadvertently? Well, it depends on the situation, but often, the result of the general public finding out about the inner-workings, or in Snap’s case, struggles, that information can greatly compound the challenges with which it is already contending.

Last week, Snap’s legal team decided it needed to take action, so it sent an internal memo to all employees threatening jail time for leaking information. This memo was picked up by Fortune, Gizmodo, Vanity Fair, and Business Insider to name a few. Cheddar is credited with breaking the news. Despite not being present for their internal debate on this subject, I am quite certain generating tons of news about this memo was not their key objective.

But companies do need to communicate sensitive information to their employees, and sometimes they must do so in very strong terms. Some pointers:

  1. Evaluate the circle of trust. Companies cannot be fully-transparent all of the time. Executives need to understand who the key people are who need to know all the details, and work with them to inform larger groups of people, if necessary.
  2. Do it live. Getting in front of all employees simultaneously or in small groups led by members within the circle of trust is a very good way of minimizing the potential for information to escape. It’s easy to forward an email. Much less easy to forward a face-to-face meeting.
  3. Listen to legal and HR. These two groups will view the situation from distinct, yet equally valid perspectives. Understand their points of view and adjust the message accordingly.
  4. Appeal to your people. Sharing bad/sensitive news is often when companies are their most human – embrace that. Try to be as forthcoming as possible, share as much as you can without breaking the law or doing more damage, and use it as an opportunity to listen to your people. If you allow them to share their questions and/or frustrations they will be less inclined to seek an alternative outlet later.
  5. Consider other channels. You want to fire off a memo from legal, but could the same communication be delivered by the CEO’s blog? If intercepted, what will the press ask – should you get in front of that by lining up some friendlies first?

One thing Snap is good at is taking punches. So, while this news will likely be a distraction this week, Snap will likely come out of the experience with only a couple of new bruises and further refinements to its playbook for handling tough news in the future.

Alan Dunton is managing director of Grayling San Francisco and has managed his share of issues for tech companies. Follow him on Twitter: @AlanBlast

Grayling Team

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