Did Social Media Humanize ...


I think we can all agree that a consultancy does not want to see this headline on the cover of The New York Times.

“Turning Tyranny Into a Client”



That’s the headline that greeted the good folks at McKinsey over Sunday brunch.

As discussed last week, the clients of a professional services firm increasingly impact the reputation of a consultancy. In the case of McKinsey, the firm was still dealing with the fallout of the debacle with the South African government and state-owned power company Eskom when this latest missive from The New York Times landed on their doorstep.

As a symbol of McKinsey’s inability to read the room, the story calls out the incongruence of a McKinsey retreat in Kashgar. While the area is experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis, McKinsey essentially erected a lavish kingdom in the middle of the desert complete with free camel rides.

Not a good look.

This line in the story caught my attention:

“But the political backdrop did not appear to bother the McKinsey consultants, who posted pictures on Instagram chronicling their Disney-like adventures.”

I suspect this prompted McKinsey to immediately rethink its guidelines for social media with an internal email along these lines going out the door yesterday.


Dear Fellow McKinsey Consultants:

By now you’ve digested the 5,000-plus-word treatise published by The New York Times yesterday.

Let’s start with the good news.

The headline that accompanied the online version, “How McKinsey Has Helped Raise the Stature of Authoritarian Governments” is more sympathetic than the terse hardcopy headline “Turning Tyranny into a Client.”

Thankfully, no one reads print anymore.

It’s also worth noting that the data from our research unit shows that in our target demographic, the online headline generated an 83.345 positive response rate. The overriding theme in supporting focus groups was that if we can help authoritarian governments, imagine the benefits we would bring to the table for a non-authoritarian regime. In case you’re interested, “tyranny” generated a 36.324 positive response rate.

Still, good consultants take a clinical approach to every assignment. We’ve done this with the NYT piece and concluded that it doesn’t completely present McKinsey in a positive light, some of which is our own doing.

By our own doing, I’m referring to the 3,238 Instagram posts published during our recent retreat in Kashgar. Before going further, I want to acknowledge that previous social media guidelines encouraged all of our consultants to post on Instagram while on the job. This was part of our overall branding effort to humanize the consultancy and show that MBAs from Harvard and Stanford are real people just like the grads from state schools in New Mexico.

Unfortunately, the NYT story teaches us that even when our consultants post with the best of intentions, journalists will take the posts out of context. Henceforth, our social media policy now requires any posts while you’re on the McKinsey clock to be approved by our social media department before publishing. Please allow three weeks for your proposed content to work its way through the review process.

As a general rule of thumb, photographs of food, nature and smiling millennials will be approved.



Images with government officials from Ukraine will not.

We appreciate your consideration in this matter.


Of course, the reputation challenges facing McKinsey transcend social media.

But I don’t think we’re going to see any more camel rides published on the firm’s Instagram account.

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