Vancouver’s Hootsuite Inc. backtracked Thursday from a controversial business decision after the company, which helps corporations track what people say about them on social media using its software platform, saw one of its own employees take to Twitter to denounce it.
Chief executive officer Tom Keiser tweeted Thursday that the company had decided not to proceed with a recently signed contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department, or ICE, after “a broad emotional and passionate reaction from our people" that has spurred additional dialogue.
"We have heard the lived experiences from our people and the hurt they are feeling. The decision has created a divided company, and this is not the kind of company I came to lead.”
The uproar started after an apparent employee, identified as @samelaanderson on Twitter, issued a string of tweets Wednesday about the contract, stating more than 100 employees had vocally opposed the deal because of ICE’s alleged aggressive anti-immigration measures, including locking children in cages, forcing female detainees to have hysterectomies and separating migrants from family members. The employee appears to be Sam Anderson, a training specialist with Hootsuite, according to LinkedIn. She tweeted Thursday she would not respond to media requests.
The tweets said the contract came to light in June, causing an uproar internally over ICE’s actions, which Ms. Anderson noted are “to put it lightly, seriously at odds with our publicly stated values.” Also, Ms. Anderson noted that Hootsuite is a certified B Corporation, a designation for businesses that have met high standards “of verified and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”
“This makes it abundantly clear that Hootsuite puts profits over people. … I am so disgusted that this is who I turned out to be working for,” Ms. Anderson tweeted.
By mid-Thursday, the original tweet had been retweeted 7,600 times and liked 21,500 times – the kind of social-media storm Hootsuite is supposed to help corporations get a handle on. A petition calling on Hootsuite to cancel the contract had also gathered 601 signatures.
Further fuelling the controversy, the company initially told Business in Vancouver Wednesday it “is not entering into a deal” with ICE. But the magazine linked to the U.S. government’s awards management website showing it had finalized a deal last week with Maryland-based technology services reseller FCN Inc. to sell a one-year Hootsuite licence for US$509,000, with a two-year extension option.
BetaKit reported that Mr. Keiser told employees in an internal e-mail late Wednesday it would be pulling out. Hootsuite Thursday morning tweeted, “We can confirm that Hootsuite has decided not to do business” with ICE.
Mr. Keiser said in his tweet the decision to proceed initially despite employee objections was made “considering the various factors, including our belief in the power of communications and social engagement to break down barriers, and supported by the set of objective guidelines that emerged” from the internal committee’s work.
The company made its about-face just two months after Hootsuite hired San Francisco-based Mr. Keiser, previously chief operating officer with Zendesk Inc., to succeed founder Ryan Holmes as CEO. It also followed some of Hootsuite’s recent tweets promoting its services online. “Executives underestimate social media’s power,” said one this week. “It’s time we showed them what social can really do.”
After the reversal, Ms. Anderson said she wouldn’t answer media inquiries but tweeted: “This has been an overwhelming experience and I’m so thankful for the shared hurt and outrage. It’s not ideal, but if this is ultimately how we hold companies to account and make them do better then it’s good to know that we have a mechanism for it.”
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