Last week, during Apple’s new hardware announcement Zynga “quietly” laid off over 100 employees at their Austin location. I say “quietly” because I’m sure that’s what they intended since they may have been hoping that sacking a large number of employees during a highly publicized Apple event would go unnoticed. Unfortunately, social media has largely eliminated a big corporation’s attempts at privacy. A friend of one of the fired Zynga employees fired off this tweet as the layoffs were happening, and the news spread like wildfire after it got picked up by reddit and other outlets:
Whether or not Zynga was actually trying to “hide” their firings (and they probably were, as being forced to downsize never looks good for a business), their timing certainly didn’t make them look very good. Backlash was swift and fierce, making Zynga look much worse than if they had been honest and direct about the layoffs instead of trying to go about it in a quiet, sneaky way in hopes that it would go under the radar (which I don’t see happening for a big gaming company who’s letting over 100 people go).
Zynga’s blunder is a classic example of the Streisand effect, appropriately named after Barbra Streisand. In 2003, she tried to prevent photographers and paparazzi from taking photographs of her house, which naturally led to more curiosity and interest and drove more people to want to snap pictures. Wikipedia sums up the phenomenon perfectly:
[It’s] the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely…
If you try to hide something, you’ll oftentimes end up making the situation far worse than if you had come clean about it. Zynga’s mishandling of their recent layoffs is a prime example. You can’t rely on disgruntled employees (now former employees) and their friends to keep their mouths shut about something that can only make you look bad, so it’s wise to have some press releases handy and know how to announce or spread the information yourself so it’s at least coming from you first-hand.
Naturally, some of Zynga’s competitors jumped at the opportunity to turn Zynga’s negative situation into an opportunity for them. They employed the same tactic I wrote about in my last post and have been contacting the recently laid off employees to try and scoop up some new talent. Here’s an email a talent sourcer from Blizzard sent to a laid off Zynga employee via LinkedIn:
So it looks like this whole mess is a great opportunity for gaming companies who aren’t Zynga, just not so much for Zynga itself.