Uber Lesson 101: Focus on the Public Before the PR

Written by Priti Ambani

Nov 20, 2014

How can a week be so messed up for anyone?

If you’ve not been snowed in with Snovember in the US, you would probably know the company in question is Uber. News from Uber has dominated my feed for all the wrong reasons — and when it rains its pours they say. It will not be an understatement if I said Uber was having a really rough week.

First — Uber’s Sr. VP Emil Michael is in the news for reportedly suggesting that the company would use its access to vast consumer data to dig up dirt on the personal life of Sarah Lacy, founder and editor of news site PandoDaily, because she has been critical of the company’s creepy practices. Michael has since then apologized but the story is not going anywhere because of Uber’s half baked stance on the issue and refusal to sack Emil Michael.

Second — Ashton Kutcher, Hollywood star and Uber investor jumped in and tweeted his comments on how he did not see a problem exposing dirt on “shady” journalists, even though he clarified he was speaking for himself and not Uber.

Third — News seeped out that Uber is investigating one of its executives for allegedly tracking the private travel records of a journalist without her permission.

Fourth — (yes there is more) Uber driver accounts that depict the company in very bad light and highlight cheap tactics and unfair practices.

And then there was one where Uber employees reportedly ordered and cancelled hundreds of rides on rival Lyft. (not counting this one as it did not come to lift this week)

While there is a lot of discussion on the company culture at Uber and a high tolerance for unethical hustling there is a general consensus that Uber’s win-at-all-costs attitude is coming to bite it. 

How does Uber clean up this mess?

Uber has lost its way in one big area – people focus. And I think the easiest way for the innovative company to redeem itself is by starting there — even getting rid of a few will not be a bad idea. No one seems to be happy with Uber and that is the problem. Every company has PR pitfalls and an executive who has his foot in his mouth, but in Uber’s case it seems like all of the company’s stakeholders are unhappy, with the exception of investors (and that love story may not last long if Uber continues along the same path). In the last few months, Uber has been focusing on regulation wins and lobbying in government, even hiring President Obama’s chief strategy officer, David Plouffe, undoubtedly one of the sharpest minds in politics while throwing the people & trust variable out of the equation. The focus of any business has to be its people. Period.

Collecting data on its riders and drivers is a big part of how Uber operates and is the reason the company is able to put its cars at the right place at the right time. The company collects user behavior over time into a program that they call “God View” that helps them predict the next surge of rides. But the data’s focus should be its community and that seems to have gone missing.

Friendly advice to Uber – if your community, in your case drivers and customers are happy, safe and trust you, believe it or not, they are the shield against that odd PR machinery failure.

About Author

About Author

Priti Ambani

Priti Ambani is the Global Media Director at Crowdsourcing Week, a thought leader and prominent writer on social enterprises, start-ups and web 2.0 businesses. Previously, Priti grew Ecopreneurist, a nascent green business blog into a notable social business resource as site director and managing editor. Working from the ground up, she has developed successful business and communications strategies for impact organizations that aim to create social, environment and economic wealth. Priti is a Professional Engineer and holds a Master’s degree in Biological Resources Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park. Priti lives in the Washington DC Metro area with her husband and sons, is a lover of the outdoors, traveling and from-scratch cooking!

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