Mixing business and politics in the social media age

Numerous high profile CEOs have commented on the outcome of the presidential election in recent days.  Reactions have ranged from being mild and/or business focused to more extreme and hyperbolic, including at least one CEO who posted a bona fide assassination threat (he has since resigned).  Mixing business and politics is always a tricky endeavor.  But in the age of social media where information is easily shared and outrage coordinated, the risks are that much greater.  In this blog post, we examine the story of GrubHub, and how an internal staff email ignited a social media firestorm.

GrubHub (@GrubHub) CEO Matt Maloney (@M3aloney) is in hot water after authoring a staff email allegedly suggesting that employees who agree with Donald Trump's policies should resign. Maloney quickly sought to clarify his email, explaining that he was "misconstrued" and that he simply wanted to "advocate for inclusion and tolerance - regardless of political affiliation." However, the firestorm on social media continues to rage.

While some Twitter users expressed support for Maloney, the overwhelming majority of tweets surrounding GrubHub have been negative.  Tweets and retweets of news articles that simply report the story quickly gave way to calls for a boycott of GrubHub, which were organized and propagated through social media.  In the several days after the email was made public, almost one third of all GrubHub mentions also referenced the boycott.  Other smaller topics focused on the legality of Maloney's email.



The most retweeted posts during this time were from major media players affiliated with Fox News, including @FoxNews, @LouDobbs, and @JudgeJeanine:

On Friday November 12th, the day after the email went public, it appeared that the controversy and boycott were impacting GrubHub's finances, as its stock price fell about 4.8% in Friday trading.  Tweets celebrating the sliding stock value exploded, with more than 4000 tweets on Friday alone.

These celebrations trailed off as the weekend put a pause on trading and as the stock price appeared to stabilize on Monday.

Volume of tweets that mention @GrubHub and its stock price

Volume of tweets that mention @GrubHub and its stock price

It is too soon to know what the ultimate impact of this controversy will be.  In recent days, some financial writers have suggested that GrubHub may actually be a good stock to buy, given its (presumably) temporarily suppressed value. Still, the calls for Mahoney's resignation as well as other concerns about his performance continue to be shared.

However the GrubHub email controversy plays out, is is a good reminder of how corporate public relations missteps can catch fire in the age of social media.