When Wall Street Strikes the Right Note

March 7, 2014

When Wall Street Strikes the Right Note

Wall Street has long been criticized for its attitude and rhetoric in the years following the 2008 global financial crisis. Many felt that Wall Street lacked a certain sensitivity towards the hardships facing middle- and lower-income Americans as they dealt with double-digital unemployment and plummeting retirement savings. However, Wall Street has very much turned the corner, undoubtedly due in part to the improving economy.
 
That brings us to last week’s uncovering of the personality behind @GSElevator, a Twitter account that for the last three years has posted comments purportedly from Goldman Sachs employees overheard in the company’s elevators. With a following of hundreds of thousands of Twitter users, @GSElevator resonated with those who believed Wall Street bankers were ruthless, uncaring and downright rude.
 
Except @GSElevator was never actually an employee at Goldman Sachs. While John Lefevre, the man behind the account, worked for Citigroup for seven years and was thus familiar with the banking world, none of this tweets were actually real-life musings made by Goldman employees inside its elevators.
 
Goldman, understandably, would have every right to be upset, considering the battering it has taken over the years from a Twitter account that was downright misleading its followers. But the way the company handled this issue deserves applause. 
 
First, it conducted an internal inquiry without much fanfare to determine whether the account was actually being run by a Goldman employee. Second, this inquiry, from all appearances, did not involve heavy-handed tactics (such as subpoenas or litigation) that could have drawn even more ire from Goldman critics. Third, the response from Goldman after learning of @GSElevator’s identity was pitch perfect - striking a humorous tone without making the company seem thin-skinned: “We are pleased to report that the official ban on talking in elevators will be lifted effective immediately.”
 
Ultimately, the attention paid to @GSElevator has harmed its author’s reputation more than Goldman Sachs. Yesterday, Simon & Schuster announced that it was canceling its book deal with Lefevre after questions were raised by media outlets about his credibility. Goldman’s response: “Guess elevators go up and down.”
 
Goldman Sachs’ approach to @GSElevator illustrates how all companies need to carefully calibrate how they respond to criticism and dissent - taking into account their own brand and reputation, the seriousness of the crisis, and how a potential response could potentially backfire and elevate an issue and give it more attention it deserves.

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