An internet meme currently circulating is a conversation between a girl calling herself “Ms. Pretty” and someone calling himself “J. P. Morgan CEO.” Ms. Pretty announces that she is a pretty girl who wants to marry someone with an annual income of $500k or more, and asks for advice on accomplishing her goal. CEO points out some home truths:
- Ms. Pretty is offering a fairly straightforward deal: beauty in exchange for money.
- Physical beauty is a depreciable asset, one which will become less valuable over time.
- Money, in the form of a high income, is likely to increase over time.
- Ipso facto, Ms. Pretty isn’t offering a good deal.
CEO suggests that she’d be better off figuring out how to earn her own $500,000 income, since a savvy businessman will lease rather than buy her offering. The response was presented clearly and courteously, and it offers some good business lessons, as well as a valuable life lesson for the young woman.
Snopes checked with Craigslist, and they confirmed that Ms. Pretty’s post appeared to be a real post. I don’t think the response was actually written by James Dimon (or whoever was CEO of J. P. Morgan at the time), but experience suggests that many people will believe that it was. What might the results be for J. P. Morgan, and what lessons could a company learn from this example of corporate social media?
First, it brought a lot of attention to the company. J. P. Morgan already gets lots of attention, but it isn’t always positive. While there was a reply in Huffington Post that lambasted the CEO for being so superficial as to think that the conversation was about mere physical beauty, the truth is that Ms. Pretty wasn’t offering anything but good looks and good taste. She might have had more to offer, but her looks were all that she put on the table, and CEO qualified his response with “if that is your only asset.”
Overall, the response online has solidly favored the CEO over Ms. Pretty, who has been labeled “the Craigslist Gold Digger.” Ms. Pretty removed her post, and disappeared from the scene. So if J.P. Morgan were a smaller company seeking visibility, they might have benefited from the exchange. Ms. Pretty didn’t benefit.
What lessons does this exchange offer businesses?
- Being authentic is important in social media, but there are limits. We often see brands that aren’t meeting their social media goals because they’ve confused social media with advertising. You can’t just tweet promotional messages and expect good results. If you authentically are a gold digger, transparency might not be your friend. If you manage social media for your company, balance authenticity and transparency — both good things in social media — with discretion and common sense.
- Relevance matters, but there’s some flexibility. Participating in discussions about your company is an obvious move. Participating in other discussions in which your expertise can be helpful is a less obvious move, but it can be a good one. Your conversation may not be hanging around for seven years as this one has, but if you can provide useful content for people outside your typical audience, your company can reach a new segment of your target market.
- Courtesy is key — no buts. The response was written courteously and respectfully. It would have been easy to attack Ms. Pretty — plenty of others have in discussions of this conversation, and we don’t know what other responses her post received before she removed it — but CEO was forthright without attacking. Even when you’re intent on disagreeing, presenting another side, or defending your company’s position, you’ll get better results by being polite.
Depending where you find the discussions about this conversation, you’ll also find lots of mention of the poor quality of the writing in both the post and the response. Obviously, this matters a lot to many people, and smart companies are aware of this when they plan their social media management. But your company would certainly want to be on the CEO side in this exchange, not the Ms. Pretty side.