Online and offline rules apply online

Edit your company's entry on Wikipedia, and you may rouse the vengeful spirits of Wiki enforcement. Post boosterish comments using a false name on the Yahoo Finance stock boards, and you risk provoking the Feds. Because the Whole Foods story needed—just needed—a social media angle. But wasn't this lesson too obvious to need teaching?

From tomorrow's Wall Street Journal, page one: "Whole Foods Is Hot, Wild Oats a Dud—So Said 'Rahodeb'"

For about eight years until last August, the company confirms, [the Whole Foods CEO John] Mackey posted numerous messages on Yahoo Finance stock forums as Rahodeb. It's an anagram of Deborah, Mr. Mackey's wife's name. Rahodeb cheered Whole Foods' financial results, trumpeted his gains on the stock and bashed Wild Oats. Rahodeb even defended Mr. Mackey's haircut when another user poked fun at a photo in the annual report. "I like Mackey's haircut," Rahodeb said. "I think he looks cute!"
Roger Ehrengerg expounds on the dimensions of Mackey's foolishness, leading off with time-honored advice:
Lesson #1 in business career management: Don't say or do anything that you wouldn't be comfortable having plastered on the Front Page of the Wall Street Journal.
And now it is. It turns out that mistakes in new media can invoke enforcement mechanisms in old media (not to mention the governmental variety). As important as it is to know and respect the rules of new media, don't forget that the rules of the real world still apply, too. Unbelievable that that needs to be said.

Yeesh. When I worked for a publicly traded company, our Yahoo stock board was (sadly) one of my better sources of what was going on in the company. I never would have dreamed of posting anything—anything!—there. The exposure of Rahodeb means that Mackey's comments are now retroactively on the record for all—and particularly for the SEC—to see.

Update: Mackey's apology.

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About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Studying complexity and futures.
  • Principal, Social Target

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