A candid LinkedIn post from HyperSocial CEO Braden Wallake talking about how upset he was after laying off two staffers was widely criticized by users of the platform on Wednesday.
Wallake started the post, which included a selfie of himself crying, by saying, “This will be the most vulnerable thing I'll ever share.” He explained how he had to lay off a few employees after he made a business decision in February and “stuck with that decision for far too long,” adding that the layoffs were his own fault.
“I just want people to see that not every CEO out there is cold-hearted and doesn't care when he or she has to lay people off,” Wallake wrote. He added that he knows it “isn't professional” to tell his employees that he loves them, but that he hopes they know how much he does.
The post was liked more than 27,000 times and received 4,000 comments. However, the consensus in many comments is that Wallake’s post was disingenuous.
Following the criticism, he wrote another post on Wednesday afternoon apologizing. Wallake said he is going to start a thread for people looking for work.
“My intent was not to make it about me or victimize myself,” he wrote. “I am sorry it came across that way.”
Wallake told PRWeek that he was not expecting this level of blowback, but he is not sorry for the original post, but for how it was received.
“The reason [I haven’t deleted it] is because I am getting countless messages from other business owners saying, ‘love this, been there, worst feeling, right there with you,’” said Wallake. “There is a lot of good that has come from this post, but I am trying to not sit there reading the negative [comments].”
He said that his post was meant to help other business owners, who are in the same difficult situation of having to let employees go, feel better. Many respondents, he said, have asked what his pay and worth is. Wallake said that people don’t realize that he started HyperSocial from scratch in 2019 and for the first 18 months, he didn’t take a salary. For the last year, he has taken a $250 a week salary because he wanted to put “my employees first.”
He said that he has 15 employees left after two layoffs and the staffers at HyperSocial are “very close” because the company is so small. “People have no idea what has actually gone on, what actions we have taken, what conversations we have had with these employees,” Wallake said.
Wallake responded to critics who said he should have supported employees by helping them network by saying he didn’t do so because the former staffers are taking time to reflect and figure out their next goals. One is even going back to school.
When they know their next steps, “We will give them support and make intros and shout them out on every social media platform until they are taken care of because there is nothing we want more than that: to let them go in the best way we possibly can,” he said.
Although “vulnerable” posts on LinkedIn are usually received positively, a number of prominent PR executives criticized Wallake’s post, with some saying the CEO made the announcement about himself instead of the departing employees.
Kym White, CVS Health’s former chief communications officer, agreed with Smirnov, commenting on her LinkedIn post that the CEO’s move was “indulgent.”
Meanwhile, Ellen Gerstein, senior director of digital communications for corporate affairs at Pfizer, wrote on LinkedIn that Wallake’s post reminded her of her child coming to her and theoretically crying about how sad they were for breaking her favorite vase.
“Kid! Still not about you,” Gerstein said.
Instead, Wallake should have helped affected employees network their ways to new jobs, executives said. On LinkedIn, PR pros noted how Wallake could have instead focused on how he would support laid off employees.
Others said the crying selfie was not necessary. Danielle Wiley, founder and CEO of Sway Group, said on LinkedIn that while she is all for vulnerability, “selfies like this, and selfies that are meant to look sexy or feel overly posed just rub me the wrong way.”
Others said it just didn’t feel authentic. Like Wiley, Stephen Bonsignore, owner of SDB Communications, commented on LinkedIn that the post also rubbed him the wrong way.
“Nothing felt pure or authentic about it,” he said.