John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, has been busted. It seems he’s been blogging and commenting on chat lines for some time, hiding his identity and posting comments praising Whole Foods and sometimes knocking the competition.
Sneaky and unethical? For sure. Embarrassing, now that he’s been outed? Yes. But illegal? I hope not.
And The Wall Street Journal, in its editorial on Monday, feels the same way.
The SEC is now investigating to see if Mackey, who used the screen name “Rahodeb,” violated any laws, supposedly by disclosing insider information.
It’s ironic that this comes out just as the marketing bloggers’ collaborative book Age of Conversation is off the press. The book puts in one place what many of us have been saying online …. the importance for companies to connect with customers via a two-way dialogue that involves listening as well as sending out marketing messages.
I’m still thinking through my position on this, but my initial take is that Mackey would have served himself and his company better had he been open and honest when commenting online. Whole Foods has a good enough reputation that they don’t need an anonymous cheerleader sneaking around chat rooms and blogs. Most people, in fact, would have complimented him for personally participating in online discussions.
My real concern is the possible impact any SEC action might have on other top-level execs who we in marketing and public relations might, in the future, want to encourage to get into the online trenches and converse with customers. Will this scare them off?
Getting CEOs and CMOs online to talk directly with customers can be a good thing …. for customers and marketers alike. Let’s hope the government doesn’t scare the lawyers into advising the top corporate folks to zip it up.