Business

Silicon Valley has gone tone-deaf

Jim Ross is a San Francisco based political consultant and media advisor. 

It’s been a tough few weeks for a handful of visible Silicon Valley characters.

From Peter Shih attacking San Francisco to Sheryl Sandberg’s Foundation advertising for unpaid, full-time interns to Brian Goldberg’s poorly received launch of Bustle.

All of these incidents show a remarkable level of tone deafness.

While any crisis communicator can give you ideas on how to get out of these situations, a good communicator should be there to help you avoid getting in these situations in the first place.

After more than twenty years of working in politics, I’ve had to deal with more than my share of “what were they thinking?” moments. Here’s how I have learned how to avoid them:

It’s not about you

An important lesson that people work politics have to learn is that elections are about the voters, not the candidates.

That’s why in politics, you’ll find a whole subgroup of pollsters and opinion researchers who work to find out what people are thinking and feeling. It’s also why former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil would famously start almost every conversation by asking, “What do you know?”

In politics, vox populi, vox Dei.

Most tech leaders are not self-centered and tone deaf to the emotions and demands of their customers (the late Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos are great examples of customer-focused CEOs), but recent events show us that some tech leaders need a reminder that they serve customers first, not their self-interests.

Always asking other people about what they want, what they need, and what they like will help you broaden your messages and help you retain good people.

Don’t isolate yourself

Why do politicians hold town hall meetings? It’s not just because they want to give their constituents a place to vent. Town hall meetings expose politicians to a broader range of ideas and issues.

It is not whom you know but whom you get to know that will determine your future.

Are you overexposed to people in the technology industry? If you live, work, and play with people who only do what you do, then you’re limiting your experiences, the people you can meet, and your points of view.

Get out of the charter bus, go to non-industry events, and try to meet people you don’t normally associate with. This will help you better understand the desires and thoughts of a broad range of people and will also help you find new audiences to connect with.

Talk with people, not at them

Want people to like you? Engage them in a real conversation. Proclamations, including the one you’re reading, almost always have an edge of arrogance to them.

Engaging people in a conversation, asking them about what matters to them, sharing your experiences on a subject, and eliciting responses are ways you can create connections. Good politicians do this.

If you want to give your company and yourself a good name, don’t just proclaim your thoughts on social media sites and press releases. Ask others what their thoughts are.

Organizations are judged by their leader

Anthony Weiner’s Twitter dalliance is an extreme example of someone’s poor actions on social media badly impacting not only himself but also the people who work and associate with him.

If you have a Facebook account or use Twitter or LinkedIn, you are a public person. If you are also the leader of a company, then you are its chief spokesperson, and everything you say or do in any medium will reflect on your company.

Be sure to run by what you say with others who are impacted by your personal or professional efforts, as they have a vested interest in making sure you don’t hurt or embarrass them, as well.

Jim Ross is a San Francisco based political consultant and media advisor. A veteran of more than 150 political campaigns, he managed Gavin Newsom’s 2003 campaign for mayor of San Francisco; the reelection of Governor Ted Kulongoski (D-Ore.); and was a part of electing Jeff Merkley (D.-Ore.) to the U.S. Senate. His firm provides public relations, political affairs, and political media to a variety of businesses and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at Jim@jimrossconsulting.com


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