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Yahoo Lays Off 1,500 as the Blogosphere Buzzes

December 11, 2008
Related Topics: Downsizing, Technology and the Law, Technology, Latest News
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The 1,500-person round of layoffs at Yahoo began Tuesday, December 10, and so far, sales and marketing, content, engineering and administration have all been affected, including at Yahoo-acquired companies such as Right Media Exchange and Maven Networks. And the downsizing is all being played out across the blogosphere, in some cases in near real time.

The layoffs were expected, but most notable was the way the news of the layoffs was being covered in real time across the blogosphere and Twittersphere. As can be expected in a company with highly wired, networked employees, it was difficult to keep details under wraps.

Yahoo didn’t return a call for comment on specifics, but two people with knowledge of the situation said the portal cut its category development team that included many well-respected marketers, several of whom came from the client side.

Included in that group are Brian Zeug, who ran consumer package-goods sales and is a Mars and Unilever veteran; Mary Bermel, who ran technology and telco marketing and is a former Hewlett-Packard interactive director; Steven Feuling, who ran retail sales and is a former Starcom exec and chief marketing officer at Kmart/Bluelight.com; and Justin Merickel, who ran finance sales and has previously worked at Compete and Euro RSCG, among others.

Some members of Yahoo’s consumer marketing team were also laid off, but much of the ad sales and marketing team remains intact, although the company has lost some executives through attrition over the past year.

On Wednesday morning, Valleywag.com published an internal PowerPoint document that explained to managers how they should break the news to the employees who would be cut. By mid-day, Silicon Alley Insider was offering “live coverage” of the layoffs with a big front-page headline and a stream of continuously updated comments and tips from employees who wrote things such as: “Oregon just got hit ... 4 months severance... February 13 is going to be last day pay as employee and then 2 months pay after that” and “In the NY Park Ave office, all the layoffs were one-on-one.” Meanwhile, one Internet startup looked to milk the media coverage—Tokbox parked a taco truck outside Yahoo’s Sunnyvale, California, headquarters and got coverage on Techcrunch.

Twitter was another story altogether as thousands of tweets, or messages sent through Twitter, circulated from employees announcing they had gotten the pink slip and their friends who “re-tweeted” the messages and wished them luck.

Some industry executives both inside Yahoo and outside lamented the way the day’s news was playing out across the Web, from the live blogging to the veritable “Twitterstorm,” as “disgusting” and “inconsiderate.”

One Twitterer, Lulu Phongmany, marketing manager at iVillage UK, remarked that the coverage of the layoffs was disturbing. “When did layoffs become a sport?” she wrote.

“People are venting. Everybody is frightened, scared and uncertain and misery loves company,” said Tracy Murdoch O’Such, managing partner at Diversified Search Ray & Berndtson. But, she said, “What about the poor people who got laid off? And what about the poor people still to be laid off?”

She worries that there’s a fear-mongering aspect to all the coverage.

Still, Twittering a pink slip might not be bad thing for people wanting to network—as long as they remember that what you Tweet will stay public forever, even through the next job search.

“People in this business know the Internet as their go-to place to express themselves,” said Don Leon, managing director at Stephen Bradford Search. “The benefits of networking and getting your name out there and letting people know you’re available outweigh the potential downside of being perceived as bitter.”

“Remember when there were pink slip parties after the dot-com crash? This is no different—just a different venue. Instead of a martini bar, it’s on Twitter,” said Sally Hogshead, a blogger and the author of Radical Careering.

“Under other circumstances, people wouldn't be announcing it so overtly, but there’s less shame and awkwardness right now because everyone knows it’s a result of the economy,” Hogshead added. “For some people it’s almost a badge of honor. They’re joining the same ‘club’ that already includes many of their friends and former co-workers.”

Filed by Abbey Klaassen of Ad Age, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

Workforce Management’s online news feed is now available via Twitter.

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