Treehouse Stickers Blog

How Uber did the Right Thing and Lost

Date: 2017-02-22

An appropriate subtitle for this article might as well be “and how Lyft did the wrong thing and won”- or, “The corporate culture lens in the scope of Public Opinion”. Note that this article is about public opinion, which by it’s nature is a mass generalization of millions of different viewpoints and perspectives, filtered through one single viewpoint, mine. Maxwell Hunter’s viewpoint. These are my impressions of a recent event unfolding as we speak. I swear, if I hear the word unprecedented one more time I’m gonna vomit.

Have you seen this? Have you heard about this?

I have some theories on how this happened... First off, let’s remember, Uber already has a bad reputation, for some pretty obvious reasons. I don’t need to tell you. So, every action’s intention is calculated based on the company’s predetermined character judgement. Especially after the most recent allegations of “Game of Thrones” style (great show, terrible model for corporate culture) management, rampant sexism, and just being a shitty company in general, Uber has an uphill battle if they’re ever going to be regarded as having even basic human decency- and IMHO, their corporate culture is the primary culprit.

If you haven’t heard, here’s the jist: After refugees started getting turned away or detained at JFK Airport in New York (that means city- if they meant state, they’d say state) a local cab company announced (on twitter probably) that they would not accept fares from JFK for a one hour strike, as protest. Solid.

Uber, being the nimble technology company that they are, sprung into action and announced they were going to do their part. They announced, in solidarity with the protest, they were going to disincentivize drivers from getting extra money for scabbing the protest. Drivers would not be paid the surge bonuses, and uber wouldn’t charge for them. Except they didn’t phrase it that way at all, they just advertised it as no surge at the airport. Right thing, wrong messaging.

Lyft did no such thing. I don’t know what the exact figure was, but they charged users the extra fee - arguably profiting off the protest, or what people have claimed is defined as ‘scabbing the protest’ based on the impression I get from the passengers I’ve met- Lyft were the ones actually doing the thing everyone complained about, but Uber got blamed for it. Because lyft has a better reputation, even if just by comparison, they’re given the benefit of the doubt. That, or Uber is just a lightning rod for bad PR.

Uber raised the stakes, donated $3 million to the ACLU, and announced a program to pay their immigrant drivers bonuses. But because of the ‘corporate media caball’ (that’s sarcasm), Lyft got all $4 million worth of good PR, and Uber looks even worse. Quickly, their CEO was forced to resign from the Presidential Economic Council after pressure from the public. Wait, what? There’s no way that having that much influence in the executive federal government could have ever possibly been a bad thing, before this specific president. Truly strange times we’re living in.

Lyft’s biggest advantage is just the simple fact that they’re not Uber. And especially with the way things are going, all they have to do it sit back and let Uber destroy themselves. I don’t think Lyft even noticed what was going on until #DeleteUber started trending. Their biggest uptick in DAU was thanks entirely to a messaging mistake by some middle marketing manager at the competition, who’s almost certainly been fired already anyway.

When it comes down to it, it shows just how important the Company Culture is to public image. When i started writing, this article was supposed to be about how their knee-jerk reaction in marketing posts is a symptom of toxic Corporate Culture. The more research I did, the more I realized that Uber actually kind of did the right thing here, just in the wrong way. Lyft did the wrong thing, in the right way- and because their competition has the image problem, they’re the ones who get the benefit of the doubt.

Further reading:

https://www.susanjfowler.com/blog/2017/2/19/reflecting-on-one-very-strange-year-at-uber