The CEO of a company that specializes in optimizing LinkedIn posts is facing criticism after he posted a tearful selfie on the social media platform alongside an announcement that he had laid off some of his employees. But he told Motherboard he was only trying to show the difficulties business owners go through themselves when they have no other choice but to enact layoffs.
“This will be the most vulnerable thing I'll ever share,” HyperSocial CEO Braden Wallake wrote on LinkedIn Tuesday. “Days like today, I wish I was a business owner that was only money driven and didn't care about who he hurt along the way. But I'm not. So, I just want people to see, [sic] that not every CEO out there is cold-hearted and doesn't care when he/she have to lay people off. I'm sure there are hundreds and thousands of others like me.”
Wallake’s post quickly went viral, receiving more than 20,000 likes in less than a day. But it also led to a heated debate among people in the comments, with some celebrating Wallake’s vulnerability and willingness to own up to his past mistakes and others calling the post “cringeworthy and tacky” and criticizing his decision to center the news around his own experience.
Wallake told Motherboard over the phone on Wednesday morning that the company had laid off two employees on Tuesday evening. He performed one of the layoffs and his “girlfriend slash business partner” laid off the other employee while he watched.
Both of the laid-off employees, he said, were “over-the-top nice” about it and “assured” him and his business partner that they were “going to be okay.”
A few hours later, Wallake decided to make a post to LinkedIn in hopes of showing the emotional difficulties leadership faces when companies go through layoffs as well.
“I was just sitting here at my desk, just kind of crying, I guess, and decided to make the post because I have seen a lot on LinkedIn recently of how awful business owners and CEOs are for laying off their employees and that they're laying off employees while they're getting their third house in the Bahamas or wherever,” Wallake said.
“There's a lot of other business owners out there who are letting people go,” he continued. “And it's not because they're padding their own profits, but it's how their business is. And they may have done a lot and I just wanted to kind of put it out there that it's not all just profit-hungry, rich businesses who are making layoffs, and there are normal people behind many layoffs as well.”
HyperSocial bills itself as a marketing company that helps B2B (or business-to-business) companies develop sales campaigns and increase brand awareness. According to its website, HyperSocial is particularly focused on LinkedIn, offering LinkedIn outreach services, LinkedIn posting strategies, and LinkedIn profile optimization to clients.
Wallake himself is something of an influencer on LinkedIn, where he has accumulated 28,000 followers. He has written repeatedly about how the platform is best used in posts like “5 Tips for LinkedIn to Optimize Your Presence,” “Best Practices for Responding on LinkedIn,” “8 LinkedIn Secrets Most Business Owners Don't Know,” “Is LinkedIn a Waste of Time?” and “6 LinkedIn Business Page Mistakes Every Entrepreneur Should Avoid.”
The CEO had tried to make sacrifices ahead of going through with the layoffs, reducing his pay to zero from the original $250 a week he had been paying himself, he said. He added he had previously taken no pay after he rebranded the company in 2019 and only started taking a paycheck last year.
Wallake said it was true that he was sharing his own personal experience of the layoffs, and that he did not mean to imply his experience was tougher “than what they're going through,” but that he believed in “a level of transparency” on LinkedIn and wanted to share the difficulties of being a small business owner.
“This was a low time in my life,” he told Motherboard. “[I] was not attempting to compare my low time to the laid off employees low time, because theirs is much worse. But just to simply share the journey that I am going through personally as a business owner in the current world.”
Following the criticism this week, Wallake admitted he thought the photo was cringeworthy as well. For all the negative attention he received, Wallake said he was heartened to see other entrepreneurs reply saying that they were interested in potentially hiring the laid-off employees.
“I’ve laughed at people on other social media platforms who have posted pictures of themselves crying. And then I did it,” he wrote in response to one comment. “I have no doubt this post can be a useful tool to either keep those employees or help them find better positions.”