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At Whit's End

Dropbox Learns — Painfully — One Twitter Snafu and You Are Toast

Social media is not a forgiving construct. Dropbox’s recent, ill-chosen photo sends entirely the wrong message about its diversity efforts.

Media can be tricky. Especially social media. One poorly written sentence, ill-timed tweet or poor photo choice, and you’ll end up with your corporate image in a sling.

Ask cloud storage company Dropbox. They know.wf_website_blogheaders-20

Poor Dropbox. When they released their diversity numbers earlier this week, they meant well, really they did. If only the trolls would stop trolling, and the eyes would stop rolling long enough to realize, the picture in their unfortunate Dec. 14th tweet was not connected — in a perfectly straight line — to the associated content’s message.

I get it. Tweet, “Diversity at Dropbox: http://bit.ly/2hFEqlS” and then show a picture of five white people and an Asian woman — who you might confuse for a sixth white person if you’re not looking closely — and it’s bound to cause a bit of confusion. But I sincerely believe the company and the unfortunate media/marketing person who created the tweet and is now locked in a dark room with an ice pack over his/her eyes was referring to the information, not the picture. It was just poorly done; a mistake.

According to an Inc. article: “About five hours after Dropbox sent out its report, the company clarified that the picture includes Dropbox co-founder Arash Ferdowsi who is Iranian, Head of People Arden Hoffman who is lesbian and Lin-Hua Wu, a vice president of communications, who is Asian.

“This photo was meant to highlight the increase of women in senior leadership roles,” the company said in a statement. “We realize it doesn’t fully represent the diverse workforce we strive for at Dropbox. Improving our diversity continues to be one of our top priorities in 2017 and beyond.”

OK, Dropbox. We’re here for that. We know perfection does not exist. People make mistakes. Companies do too. The thing is, it’s absolutely terrible to make them on social media. Really. It’s terrible.

For instance, I’m starting a YouTube channel — no, there will be no makeup tutorials; I’m not that skilled — and my sister, trying to help me get the 100 subscribers I need to get a custom URL and not the hodgepodge of numbers and letters that currently represent me, posted a notice on Facebook. But she spelled my name wrong, and she didn’t have a call to action: Please click here to subscribe to Kellye’s channel. So, essentially, she was misrepresenting me, and there is no point to it. I was not pleased.

You know me. You do not see my work full of errors. My picture choices may not always be fabulous, and they may occasionally veer over the controversial line, but they’re usually appropriate, my links work, and the basics are there. You get the message whether you agree with it or not.

But when I tried to correct her, she acted like I’d just kicked her brand new, shiny black fur, gold-eyed puppy across a field. Image is important! Especially when you’re trying to get a new project off the ground in a visual platform — or in Dropbox’s case, when a company is trying to convey valuable information, set a tone and position its brand a certain way.

The venom that followed Dropbox’s mistake — the tweeted photo of a row of different mayonnaise jars seemed especially painful — the heat? It was telling. It was also excessive and unnecessary, but people are tired of companies soft soaping them when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Potential customers, clients and employees want vendors/employers to do better. In, many cases, they demand it. Just last week I blogged that organizational diversity is a key motivator for Millennial job seekers. Image is everything.

“It’s important that marketing material make people feel welcome,” said Deldelp Medina, director of the residency program at nonprofit organization Code2040, in the aforementioned Inc. article.

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is not something one can be careless about. Not today. Not with what’s going on in the world. And certainly not with the shortages of skilled talent that so many industries — like tech — are currently suffering from. Companies cannot afford to needlessly alienate anyone.

The sad part is Dropbox’s new diversity report actually had promising data to share: It’s representation of women in leadership increased 6 percentage points, and its number of black employees rose from 2 to 3 percent in 2016. The number of Hispanics also increased from 5 to 6 percent.

“We’ve made modest strides,” Dropbox said in its report, “but we still have work to do.” The company called them modest strides. I’d probably say baby steps, but I’ve been known to quibble over word choice. Whatever progress they’ve made, now no one cares. All because of one photo.

Sure, it would have been kinder to say: “Um, guys? You might wanna send another tweet clarifying that you were actually announcing your diversity numbers. Also, a new photo would be great, as diversity amidst white-ish people — and one Asian — isn’t as visually compelling as a more colorful array of employees.”

But kind has no place on the internet. This is the era of Glassdoor and keyboard courage. Pick the wrong pic, and you should expect headlines like this: “Dropbox Roasted for ‘Diversity’ Tweet Featuring Too Many White People” and “Dropbox Photo Fail Shows How Not to Celebrate Diversity.”

Kellye Whitney is associate editorial director for Workforce. Comment below or email editor@workforce.com.