Chip Conley, Burning Man & Social Media

So it seems that Chip Conley, the Founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels is a fan of Burning Man as well as a fan of Facebook. So much so that he combined the two by posting his pics from the event on his FB profile, much to the chagrin of several employees and well, yes, HR.

In what I find to be a wonderful self-examination piece on bnet, Mr. Conley takes a look at how his personal use of social media can affect his workplace.

Today, Joie de Vivre is a $230 million company with more than 3,000 employees and 38 properties. From the luxury spa resort in Big Sur to the urban chic hotel in San Francisco and a surfer-inspired hotel in Huntington Beach, our mission statement is simple: to celebrate the joy of life. And that’s precisely what I was doing at Burning Man, which, incidentally, I have attended twice before in the past decade, before this social media problem existed. I went with a close friend. She took a ton of pictures, and when I got home to San Francisco, I posted six of them, two of which show me shirtless. In one I’m wearing a tutu; in the other a sarong.”

Well, it seems that several employees objected to these pictures so much to the point that the HR Chief (per Mr. Conley) asked him to take the pictures off of his FB profile. Evidently a number of employees had friended him and looked up to him as a father figure. A father figure whom they didn’t want to see in a tutu. Mr. Conley’s response was not atypical of some who hold leadership positions.

My reaction was swift: “Screw that,” I said. “People who don’t like it can go work at Marriott.”

but then…

And yet, I’ve begun to see her [HR Chief] point. I don’t want to create tension at the company or be viewed as a hypocrite.

And while I appreciate that he took the time to look at things from an HR point of view, I actually think Mr. Conley has a very refreshing view of what the company can/cannot do in terms of an employee’s private life.

If Jimmy Carter or Megan Fox stays at one of our hotels, I want to make sure the staff knows not to post photos on Facebook or blab about it on Twitter. The policy applies to the employees and their own behavior, but that’s less of an issue, so long as they’re not damaging the image of the company in public.

This viewpoint is similar to the content of my very first blog post where I stated that employee blogging should not in itself get someone fired, but “…your employment can be terminated…for revealing company secrets or representing yourself as an employee of a company and acting in a manner which would violate the company’s policies”.

It’s something that I believe to which all employees (including the CEO) should be held accountable. In this case it sounds like Mr. Conley understands the difference between personal and professional life in regard to social media, not only for himself, but for his employees.

What if pictures emerge of a desk host drinking from a beer bong at a football game, or decked out in an S&M getup at an underground club? I’d have no problem with that, although I know plenty of CEOs who would. To me, that’s an employee’s private life.

I think this kind of open-mindedness can take a company a long way. Especially for a company whose mission statement is “to celebrate the joy of life”.

Good for him.

3 Replies to “Chip Conley, Burning Man & Social Media”

  1. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

    I think that it’s perfectly okay for him to have posted them as he holds his employees to the same standards. He is not violating company policy (according to how he described it) nor is he stating that he’s the only one that can post pictures like this, so I think it’s fine for him to keep the pics up on Facebook.

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