Blondes, SOPA and a Dead Elephant: What Go Daddy Can Teach us about Stakeholder Dialogue

Go Daddy is quite well known for its blatant display of sexist ads on the company website, with attractive women as a backdrop and in some cases an add-on (Why some businesses succeed … when most fail. Plus a smoking hot crazy blonde!!! Yes, this is right from the founder’s website). Also, the release of a picture of founder Bob Parson standing like a medieval warrior over a recently shot elephant (complete with the gun barrel on the animals neck) wasn’t the greatest message from a company that supports animal shelters. However, what really pushed things over the edge was the company’s stance on the Stop Online Piracy Act (also known as SOPA). For those of you who don’t know, SOPA is meant to stop websites printing anything that is copyrighted and internet service providers bear the onus if this happens. The act if passed can completely change the way internet works, and websites like Wikipedia and Facebook will no longer be able to operate the way they do now. Within two days of adding its name to the list of companies supporting SOPA, Go Daddy lost some 37,000 domains. Although the company has since reversed its position on SOPA and no longer supports the act, the customers are not ready to flock back.

Although the general impression is that Go Daddy is facing such huge consumer backlash because of its stance on SOPA, I beg to differ. I think it was a mix of many events that piled up over time and it all spilled over with the SOPA issue.

So, what pulled the Plug?

  1. Stakeholder Counsel: Don’t you think, much of this hooplah could have been avoided had Go Daddy consulted with its stakeholders before making its SOPA stance public. After all, being a web hosting company, its stance determines the future of the hosted domains. That’s business 101!
  2. Damage Control: Despite numerous websites condemning the company for their sexism, no action was ever taken by the company to address the issue or at the least answer the objections. Honestly, half of the battle is won when you own up to your shortcomings!
  3. A company is not a person: But consumers do not get it unless there is a clear effort on part of the company to drive the message home. In case of Go Daddy, the identities of Bob Parsons and his company are hardly distinct, so if one screws up, the other suffers as much, or worse.
  4. Changing Stance: When the company reversed its stance on the SOPA, no one saw it as a goodwill gesture. Almost everyone considered it just another effort to save the business from going down. Again, this could have been helped if there was a clearly communicated message through various media channels.
  5. Contradictions, Contradictions: You cannot spend your shareholders’ money on animal shelters and go around shooting elephants. Period.

As a person interested in corporate behaviours and consumers response on the same, I can’t help but ask myself what is more surprising; that Go Daddy grew so big despite the barely clad blondes and the elephant carcasses on camera or that it grew so big without anyone within their ranks pointing out that they need to talk to their stakeholders and listen to their views. Whilst Go Daddy by no means is the epitome of responsible corporate citizenship, the company spends both time and money on causes such as domestic violence, child abuse, and animal shelters. According to their website, they spent some 3.5million dollars on social issues in 2010 alone. It’s a shame that after spending so much time and money on charity, the company is still ignoring the most basic principal of CSR; being transparent and accountable. What companies need to understand is that the primary mode of earning stakeholder trust is to allow them to be a part of the decision making process and the credibility earned this way far outweighs the momentary PR rush from a mere donation. I am hoping that Go Daddy has finally learned its lesson and we will see a lot of stakeholder dialogue and open exchange of ideas from the company in years to come.

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