Many social media users love to criticize and complain, and last week a lof of that negative attention was focused on “Crying CEO” Braden Wallake of HyperSocial. Wallake made headlines with an anguished post, accompanied by a crying selfie after his company had to lay off three employees.
The post went viral, along with a slew of angry comments most of which faulted Wallake for making it all about himself and his raw emotions, rather than his newly jobless employees and the emotions they must be feeling. “Completely narcissistic and tone deaf,” wrote one typical comment. “I don’t think anyone minds him posting a crying selfie. I think the issue is that he laid off 3 people who now have zero income.”
Let’s be real about this. Other executives have posted in the past how sorry they felt about laying people off. This one only went viral because of that selfie. It just isn’t the sort of thing people usually post to LinkedIn, which is usually used as a platform for people to tout their own expertise or professionalism. Real emotions are a rarity, and I think maybe they shouldn’t be.
Here’s more of what I think is wrong with most of the criticisms that have been lobbed in Wallake’s direction.
1. They’re punishing him for his honesty.
Expert warn that one of the biggest dangers of social media is that people make themselves appear more successful, more attractive, and happier in their posts than they are in real life. They’re effectively air-brushing their lives and careers in the same way models and actors have their images touched up before they are released online or in magazines. When the rest of us compare our own lives to these images, we wind up feeling bad about ourselves.
Nowhere is this air-brushing more prevalent than LinkedIn, which is the professional face we present to the world. It’s so full of self-aggrandizing posts that the Twitter account @BestofLinkedIn was created just to mock them. And though some have questioned whether Wallake was sincerely upset about th layoffs, to most observers, including me, his sorrow seems pretty genuine. Folks, if we want social media to be less inauthentic and insincere, let’s please not lambaste people when they let their true feelings show.
2. Most of the critics are showing their own ignorance.
“You didn’t cut your own salary. Could you have done other things rather than crying and putting a post online?” asked Rachelle Akuffo, anchor at Yahoo Finance in a video report about the post. A large, well-funded news organization like Yahoo really should do better at research and fact-checking because in fact Wallake says he did cut his own salary to $0 in view of HyperSocial’s financial troubles.
Many opined that instead of airing his own feelings about the layoffs, he should have posted about the wonderful employees he had to let go, letting people know about their skills and the great work they’d done so as to help them find new jobs. Wallake did that too, although he wisely waited to ask their permission before posting about them.
3. The post actually did some good.
Many, many people across social media complained that Wallake didn’t care enough about the people he let go. But do the critics themselves care about those people? If so, you might think they’d be pleased to see the effect the post has had.
Because it went viral, it made Wallake, for the moment, one of the most high-profile executives in America. He used that notoriety to do what many critics called on him to do. He created a post about Noah Smith, one of the employees he’d laid off, describing Smith in glowing terms as both a person and an employee. He let readers know what skills Smith has, and what kinds of jobs he’s seeking.
It worked. Today, Wallake posted an image of Smith’s smartphone showing a long list of LinkedIn messages, many of which appear to contain job offers. Wallake himself also got a huge number of messages, many of them suggesting he should die. Still, he writes, seeing all the messages to Smith “makes every single nasty comment worth it.”
As for Smith, who got laid off and then suddenly found himself in the spotlight, he’s consistently defended Wallake and the crying CEO post. And, he writes, “To those who would look to hire me, I’m only interested in working for people like Braden Wallake.” How many bosses do you know whose employees would say the same?