GO-JEK is known for shattering conventions and getting away with it. Did it just do this again in the company’s sort of Coming Out Day last week?

It was sort of because on October 11 it joined other companies operating in the more liberal parts of the world to celebrate Diversity, which also falls on LGBTQ Awareness Day. Only instead of going whole hog on it, GO-JEK only mounted an internal campaign among its staff. It put up a gallery in its office displaying the pictures and the stories of its employees who have bravely “embraced freedom, self-acceptance and tolerance”.

The title for this internal campaign was a brave “Going All In” and one of its posters talked about embracing differences, including in sexual orientation. Yet it stopped short of using the acronym “LGTBQ”.

Even so, the campaign seems rather brave and contrarian in Indonesia, which has seen the rise of a noisy, religious Right of late.

But being brave is one thing, being myopic is another.

It would seem that not one among the bright young men, women, and possibly those who fall in the LGBTQ description, seem to have anticipated a public fallout from the internal campaign.

Did no one foresee how porous the border is between what’s “internal” and “external” in today’s social media-fueled society?

So some of GO-JEK staff members — including even one of its VPs – shared about the campaign on their social media channels. It wasn’t long until the country’s Muslim conservatives put two and two together, and a social media shitstorm ensued. #UninstallGojek became a Trending Topic on Twitter, as the disillusioned clamored for an explanation and didn’t get one.

Go-Jek Going All In or Getting Away?The lack of immediate response from GO-JEK seems to suggest that it had not anticipated the possibility of such a reaction, hence it either did not have a monitoring system in place to alert GO-JEK’s top management what’s going on; or that GO-JEK had intercepted the development, but was at a loss of what to do.

It took GO-JEK two whole days before it issued a statement to the media and its owned channels. Even then, the statement smacked of denial.  It said the staff members’ posts were their “personal interpretation of an internal campaign on diversity” and stressed the company’s respect for local norms. GO-JEK then went mum for two days, other than to reply to customer complaints on its services, before going back to “tweeting as usual”.

Looking at this, I was ready to brush this off as another case of bad crisis management, when I did a double take.

Could it be that GO-JEK planned this all along? Did it cynically plan to score brownie points with the more liberal segments of society and its Millennial fan base by somewhat embracing diversity, especially now that it is branching into new markets? And did it make a calculation that it could get over the issue by issuing vague statements and then shutting up afterward? After all, GO-JEK managed to get out somewhat unscathed, as others whose sympathy it has won fight GO-JEK’s battle with its detractors.

As I pondered this, my attention was – excuse the pun – grabbed by developments over at Grab Indonesia. The ride hailing company came under fire after yet another sexual harassment case involving one of its drivers.

At a glance, the Malaysian-based company seemed to be more communicative in its crisis management. It promptly responded to tweets that tried to bring the victim’s story to its attention.  It detailed the actions it had taken to rectify the matter; one of which was its attempt to mediate a meeting between the victim and the alleged perpetrator. Albeit specific, this move was in contrary to the conventional wisdom of handling trauma caused by sexual harassment. As a result, Grab Indonesia reaped endless criticism. Such case of shooting itself on the foot is often what breaks a company during crisis-like situations.

Go-Jek: Going All In or Getting Away?Grab Indonesia, in short, had the right intention and followed the rules of good crisis communications. Yet the results turned out to be unfavorable as Netizens, particularly feminists, castigated the company.

At the end of this rough one week for both ride hailing service companies, GO-JEK that was vague and uncommunicative emerged better off than before. Grab Indonesia was the exact opposite, but came off the worse for it.

It’s a topsy turvy world we now live in and one can’t help wondering if the rules of communications shifted.

Written by Sr. Consultant Marsha Imaniara

Check out other thought pieces by Maverick Crisis Working Group: 

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