Marissa Mayer and The New Yahoo Employee Policy

Marrisa Mayer is absolutely right that real and meaningful relationships cannot be built purely from behind computer screens, via email, or over the phone. I don’t care what anyone says about the proliferation of technology and the ease-of-access it has provided for an increasingly mobile workforce, and it has, but it is still not close to being a substitute for face-to-face contact and the casual in-person encounters in lunch rooms or other parts of an office that form the intangibles of building human relationships.

I admit that people can be extremely efficient working remotely. It is easy to interact with various departments, have meetings over Skype and pretty much complete every task you need to, in order fulfill your job responsibilities. I also know many companies today are entirely virtual, and are thriving, but I bet even their CEO’s will admit that with more money (or much lower travel costs) they too would want their employees to meet more often, in-person. Ultimately, every company leader realizes that you cannot create that highly intangible yet extremely valuable thing we call “culture.” Corporations that have it feel more familiar, warmer and more like a home away from home for employees. They provide a common purpose, and those that do it better, create a sense of belonging to a tribe.  Just think about the amount of time we all spend working …

Here the rub; you simply cannot build meaningful relationships with people you have never sat across the table from, shared a latte with or broken bread with. A very wise CEO once told me that “everything that happens after 6pm is far more important than what transpires during the workday; this is where the magic happens.” He was absolutely right. It is during these moments; when you share the experience of having faced an abusively irate client, discuss the dressing down your boss got in front of you, or have a colleague offer to do something for you, so you can leave early, because they overheard it was you anniversary– these are the things that form the bonds that make up the intangible glue of real relationships. And these moments only transpire when you let your hair down, share a laugh, throw out a random idea based on something you just overheard, or because someone confessed a problem they were facing over lunch. Try taking your finance guy out for a coffee and ask him what he thinks of your latest project, and you will start to understand what I mean.

So while Ms. Mayer was right to bring people back into the office, it seems she may have relied a little too heavily on data to drive he decision and therefore failed miserable on how she executed Yahoo’s new policy (source: Business Insider). As much as I have talked about the virtues of being in the office, I feel equally that there needs to be a balance. People should be able to work from home a few days a week, and this is where technology has provided the ability to do it seamlessly (just not all the time). It should not be one or the other. If I were Ms. Mayer, I would have made it mandatory to be in the office every day for the first six months, for new hires, and then three days a week after that.

The most ironic thing about Ms. Mayer’s approach is that while she may have used data to inform and even make her decision, she clearly needs to learn that she also needs the human touch when executing and implementing policies across the organisation; especially when her objective is try and get people to build better inter-personal relationships.

To LIKE or not to LIKE…

There seems to something akin to a marketing frenzy to build Facebook LIKE’S among companies. Almost every second email I get relates to a contest that is trying to entice me with a $xxx,xxx prize or a dream vacation. However, when I excitedly click on the entry link it frustratingly forces me to LIKE the product in order to enter the contest.

Sure, it will help you drive up the number of Facebook LIKES on your fan page in the short-term but what is the real and long-term value of this? I get that there are many statistics out there about how conversion and engagement is much higher on Twitter and Facebook and social media is all the frenzy in marketing today but for a moment let’s break down the psychology of most of these contests.

I am not saying all contests are the same and therefore not valuable but am merely talking about the recent frenzy where the prizes have no bearing or relevance to the company, or product, and the contest itself does nothing to build customer engagement with the brand. Most importantly when you throw the kitchen sink by emailing people randomly, it becomes akin to a marketing bribe where in order to receive a LIKE; rather than trying to target a relevant audience and do it on the merits of your brand or product story.

The simplest way to think about – imagine walking down the street one day you decide you want to make 100 new friends that evening. You could simply stop every person you see and offer to pay for their dinner at a really fancy restaurant, like Per Se. I have no doubt you would end up with 100 new “friends” very quickly, and without too much effort. Now what are the odds that any one of these 100 people will actually ever have anything to do with you again or be there in a pinch? Versus building real friendships through time, common interests and all the other real and meaningful stuff.

This is what these almost daily contest emails have become for most of these brands. Everyone from airlines to tampon makers have sent me emails, to enter contests, but only after I LIKE them on Facebook. Ninety percent of them have no relevance to me, my purchase history or my interests. It seems all these so called social media agencies are throwing the kitchen sink to drive up campaign success metrics, which frankly are of little value for the brand. Because even if the grand prize for a tampon product was so amazing that I decided to LIKE it to simply be eligible to enter, I am never going to purchase that product of have any future interaction of engagement with the brand.

Social media done right is about building long-term relationships, kind of the way we build friendships in the real world; and it is hard work.

So the next time you want to increase your fan page LIKES on Facebook, remember that 10 truly engaged customers will not only spend much more money on your products, consistently, over the long-term but also are more likely to become evangelists for your brand. Their value alone will be greater than the 1000+ LIKES you may add of people who don’t even know what your company makes.