This week, REI’s chief executive learned that Reddit’s “Ask me Anything” feature really means just that – anyone could participate, not just those who want to ask Jerry Strizke about the company’s cool decision to stay closed during Black Friday so that employees can “spend the day outdoors with loved ones.”
Shortly after Strizke’s thread opened for questions, some current and former REI employees began posting about what they described as the many downsides of working for the company. In particular, many were concerned that the company uses unfair employee performance evaluation standards.
REI runs on a co-op model, and it sells memberships to that co-op to its customers. According to those posting in the thread, the number of memberships sold per shift is by far the biggest performance metric that seems to matter to the company — which would go against REI’s self-styled image as a chain that values expertise in the products it sells, something that its Black Friday stunt is supposed to in part underline.
“How many memberships you sell is the ONLY metric by which you will ultimately be measured. Product knowledge, customer service skills, overall work ethic are worth ZERO if you are not selling x number of memberships per shift,” one former employee wrote.
After Strizke’s AMA time ended, the question remained unanswered. But he eventually returned, saying that “My team gave me a heads up that I missed an important question.” He posted a mildly conciliatory response promising to look into how the company uses its membership sales to evaluate employees.
But, to a large extent, the damage had already been done before Strizke returned to address the issue. Gizmodo wrote up the whole debacle, highlighting the contrast between REI’s message and how the company’s employees felt about it. What was supposed to be an opportunity for Strizke to demonstrate REI’s unique appreciation for the people who work there turned into something very different.
Strizke, however, is hardly alone in hosting an AMA that suddenly goes wrong. There’s an entire subreddit devoted to bad AMAs –
A quick glance at the subreddit shows a whole bunch of ways in which the question and answer sessions can go wrong, warranted and otherwise: sometimes angry redditors arrive en masse to flood an AMA of a person whose ideas they don’t like. Sometimes, internal Reddit politics bomb an AMA. Sometimes, the subject is simply bad at the Internet. But the most high-profile disasters almost always come from participants with some degree of fame.
AMAs don’t always focus on celebrities or otherwise powerful people, but more and more, they’ve become standard tools in the PR belt of anyone looking to make a company, project, or person, seem engaged with all of us regulars. And not all of those who sign up for an AMA looking for a neat bit of PR are quite ready for what ends up happening.
Here’s an (incomplete!) list of some of the worst:
This is the famous Bad AMA and it is so famous that AMADisasters’s header image is an homage to it. In this AMA, Harrelson only seemed interested in giving answers about the film he was promoting, “Rampart.” At one point, he wrote, “Lets focus on the film people,” in his response to an admittedly strange question containing an allegation against the actor that involved a high school prom after party.
To this day, a flurry of comments about Rampart from redditors is a sure sign that an AMA is going poorly – like this one, featuring Jon Heder.
Morgan Freeman’s AMA – and the “meta” response.
Here’s another sign that an AMA is going poorly: the top comments in the post don’t contain any of the subject’s actual answers. Peruse through
and you’ll find several top comments questioning whether Freeman is actually participating in the thing at all – or whether it’s simply a publicist posing as him. The controversy prompted Reddit’s AMA moderators
about the Freeman AMA, along with how they handle celebrity AMAs in general.
Andrew Scott’s very short answers
Andrew Scott is probably best known stateside for playing Moriarty in “Sherlock.” And it’s perhaps because he’s connected to such an energetic character that his terse, brief AMA was so especially derided. One user even made a spreadsheet of the word count for each of Scott’s answers. The top comment? “Who forced you to do this AMA? You don’t seem interested.”
Unlike the AMAs above, Maddow’s AMA contained full answers to a variety of questions. The issue here, for many participating in the thread, was which questions Maddow chose to answer. Many of the top comments accuse Maddow of only answering softball questions, and ignoring those that were voted to the top of the thread. The controversy was enough to prompt a statement from MSNBC defending Maddow’s participation.
Like that Maddow AMA, your read
will probably depend on what you think of the person participating in it. But one thing was unmissable – the author and political commenter
her account, and ended up answering questions under a different username from the one indicated at the top of the post. That led to pretty much chaos, especially after users downvoted her answers so hard that they were unreachable without pulling up her user page.
When a former baseball player known for his weird Twitter feed did an AMA, it was…weird. Maybe not a “disaster” in the purest sense, but we’ll leave that to you to judge