Brand and Reputation – Memo – the YikYak of the Office

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Need to vent about the boss? Now, there’s (another) an app for that.

From the WSJ: “Memo, an app released last week, allows users to post anonymous messages about their employers, similar to Yik Yak or Whisper.

So far, the free app has drawn employees from Oracle Corp. , Delta Air Lines Inc., Ernst & Young LLP and Hasbro Inc. talking about compensation, managerial efficiency and working from home, according to Memo’s maker, Collectively Inc.”

As the audience continues to increase and new social media tools and apps such as Memo continue to emerge, the risks that organizations have always been vulnerable to are broader than ever before.

To complicate this, the line between business and personal communications has become blurred, further exposing organizations to liability.

Memo encourages employees to “Get Real.”

“Verified members of companies anonymously share public Memos to start conversations about what work’s really like.”

Memo says that each company may also have a private Memo board where company members can anonymously initiate real change. 

So this is another app that wants to be the trusted suggestion box of the moment.

But what if one wants to damage the reputation of a company that they dislike for whatever reason – a poor customer experience, a former disgruntled employee, a competitor?

The folks at Memo say:

How We Verify Your Employer

In order to use Memo, we ask you to verify your current employer. We do this in one of two ways:

– We send you an email to your work email address.
– We verify your work email through LinkedIn.

In both cases, we store this personal information in RAM just long enough to send the email or connect with LinkedIn, usually for less than 1 second. It is then permanently erased. Once we’ve verified your employer, we assign you a random ID and associate that random ID with your company.

Huh? Because LinkedIn verifies employment? It takes about five minutes to create a throw-away email, create a fake LinkedIn profile and link that profile to a legitimate company.  Then jump on Memo and do as much damage as you like.

*Reminder – check on LinkedIn to see who purports to work for your company.  You may be surprised at what you find. As per LinkedIn (highlight mine):

“The ‘Employees on LinkedIn’ feature on a Company Page represents the total number of LinkedIn members who’ve affiliated their work experience with your company. It’s not meant to be a source of truth or a way to validate company size. It’s only a reflection of member-provided data.

Since members provide this data, it’s not possible for an administrator to remove employees from a Company Page. If the member is a former employee of the company, we recommend you request the member update their profile.”

Memo2While I am sure the collective team at has the best intentions (they create other things too, like credentials-based chat groups for professionals – also using LinkedIn), it is naive to think that this app, like so many others before it, will not be abused, and that hurts more than the companies targeted for abuse, it hurts Collectively too.

As for the Content posted itself, Memo says:

“We only display Memos created by a member of a company to other verified members of that company. Our verification technology is not fool-proof however. We can only verify that a person at one time had access to a company email account. This does not preclude former employees, spouses and friends of employees, or anyone else who’s had access to a company email account from verifying as a company member.

Further, we spend no technical efforts to prevent people from copying Memos or any other information they have access to and sharing it with the rest of the world. In our estimation, this is technically impossible and we prefer to spend our technical time on protecting you.

Finally, we have internal access to the contents of Memos, comments, votes, and any other activity posted to Memo. We don’t know WHO created any of this content, but we know what company it’s associated with and we can access the content. We may access this content for moderation, legal, statistical analysis, or any other reason that may be important for our business.

The point being, although we go to great efforts to ensure you are never connected to content you create on Memo, we can’t protect the content itself.”

Detailed in a report from The Wall Street Journal, many companies are already voicing concern:

“Apps like Memo, along with sites such as Glassdoor, where employees post reviews of their employers and leaders, could make public things management would prefer to keep in-house.

The hack of Sony Pictures late last year, which exposed the inner workings of a Hollywood studio, from employee salaries to office gossip to details on the cost of Academy Award campaigns, sent shudders through corner offices. In the weeks since, some companies have reviewed information security procedures while others are advising staff to share sensitive information in person rather than over email.

Mr. Janssen said Memo has received cease-and-desist letters from at least two companies, and a series of email complaints from a third company.

One of those letters, sent by Visa Inc. and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, concerns Memo’s advertising, and not employee gripes. Visa recently requested that the company stop using Visa’s logo and the name of the company CEO, Charles Scharf, in targeted ads it had placed on Facebook to drum up user interest. Mr. Janssen said he complied with Visa’s requests.

Mr. Janssen said users have reported that Visa, Boeing Co. and Hewlett-Packard Co. have circulated internal messages discouraging employees from using the app.

A Boeing spokesman said the company recently posted a message on its employee intranet reminding staff to be on the lookout for anyone seeking company information via social media. Employees are encouraged to voice concerns and complaints about the company via internal channels, he said.

Visa and Hewlett-Packard denied contacting employees about using Memo.

Memo stems from Mr. Janssen’s frustrations of Collectively’s first venture, a social network designed for freelancers. He said he had expected frank discussions in the site’s forums, but since users were identified with their real names, “people put on this weird, fake professional face.”

Collectively recently closed on a seed round of venture capital, the details of which Mr. Janssen said will be released next week.

Mr. Janssen said moderators check in on the app to patrol for bullying or offensive postings.”

Attorney John Hyman wrote a good piece on Memo for Workforce here.  In it he says: “…As you should know, federal labor law gives employees the right to engage in protected, concerted activity — that is, discussions between or among employees about wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. Employees’ discussions, for example, about an open-door policy, would be a textbook example of protected concerted activity.

Federal labor law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for engaging in protected concerted activity. Retaliation isn’t Memo’s biggest risk because its posts are (supposedly) anonymous. However, federal labor law also prohibits employers from maintaining or enforcing policies that could chill employees’ right to speak about terms and conditions of employment.

Thus, if you think you can legislate Memo (or other similar apps) out of your workplace, you might want to think again. The National Labor Relations Board will likely hold a very different opinion about the rights of your employees to talk about your company, anonymously or otherwise.”

Good advice. But what if employees are discussing and disclosing confidential information – it happens, and more and more companies consider it a top five risk area.

There is an assumption here that all companies are inherently closed off to open feedback; that the truth is not valued; that employees have poor relationships with each other and their company leadership, and need a seemingly anonymous arena to vent.

Our advice?

  • Create an account and keep an eye on what’s being said about your Brand.
  • Educate your employees on the risks and fallacies of believing in anonymity on the web.
  • Foster an environment of transparency and professionalism in your organization.
  • Keep an eye on your LinkedIn Company page and employee connections.
  • Contact Firestorm to learn more about creating a Business Intelligence Network for your company.


From the New York Times – An App, Memo, for Anonymous Discussion of a Company

Entrepreneur – Meet Memo, the Anonymous App That Could Revolutionize the Workplace

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