Yahoo’s New Marketing Chief Elisa Steele Doesn’t Use Flickr and How This Signals That Yahoo Management Is Out of Step With Innovation

Yahoo’s New Marketing Chief Elisa Steele Doesn’t Use Flickr and How This Signals That Yahoo Management Is Out of Step With Innovation

Image by Thomas Hawk
The Wall Street Journal today reported on Carol Bartz’s (Yahoo’s new CEO) latest executive appointment, Elisa Steele. Steele joins Yahoo in a newly created Chief Marketing Officer position.

"Yahoo’s marketing strategy and teams have become decentralized over time– hiring Elisa in the CMO role will quickly mobilize our plan to integrate the function globally and more effectively represent the Yahoo brand," Ms. Bartz said, according to the Journal.

When I first read about this appointment, the first thing I did is went and did a search for Elisa Steele on Yahoo’s photo sharing site Flickr. It turns out that there is a single account under this name (completely dead and inactive) going by the handle Kangas. There is also a single photograph of Steele on the site as well.

After Bartz was appointed as CEO of Yahoo I did a similar search on Flickr to see if Bartz was active there after Bartz mentioned on a Yahoo earnings conference call that her daughter used Facebook to share photos. Like today’s appointment Bartz also was not active on Flickr. There is also a lone Bartz account on Flickr, like the Steele account also completely dead and inactive. If you do a search on Yahoo’s bookmarking site delicious for either Bartz or Steele, neither of them show up there either.

Now some people say "so what." Who cares if Yahoo execs don’t use Flickr personally. They are busy people and have plenty of other more important things to do than to play around on a photo sharing site. But I think that having Yahoo executives not use their company’s most innovative products sends a message both to the product teams that manage those products as well as the broader public about how Yahoo executives view innovation.

Both delicious and Flickr are two of Yahoo’s most popular services. More significantly, however, both are considered to be two of Yahoo’s most *innovative* products. When delicious founder Joshua Schachter left Yahoo he made a very significant comment over at a post on TechCrunch explaining his departure:

"I was largely sidelined by the decisions of my management. So that was mostly the result rather than the cause, if that makes sense. It was an incredibly frustrating experience and I wish I was a lot more like Stewart in terms of pushing my point of view."

Even more damning an indictment came in the form of Flickr Co-Founder Stewart Butterfield’s incredibly creative, but crpytic, letter of resignation to the company.

Now I guarantee you that both Carol Bartz and Elisa Steele have photos that they could share with the rest of the world if they chose to use Flickr. C’mon, kids, everybody’s doing it these days! Even if they don’t have personal photos of friends and family that they want to share, they undoubtedly have photographs of flowers or kittens or of the Grand Canyon from a vacation or whatever. Even if they had zero photos to possibly share on their hard drives they could at least mark a few photos of others as favorites of theirs on the site. Feel free to fave some of my photos here Carol and Elisa.

Over the years executives at Microsoft have been big proponents of the idea of dogfooding. Hell, Bill Gates won’t even let his kids own iPods and in one of his most entertaining email rants of all time rails on Microsoft’s own developers after his own frustrating experience trying to use a Microsoft product.

From wikipedia: "To say that a company "eats its own dog food" means that it uses the products that it makes. For example, Microsoft emphasizes the use of its own software products inside the company. "Dogfooding" is a means of conveying the company’s confidence in its own products."

Now I’m not suggesting that people like Bartz and Steele ought to use every single Yahoo product. There are hundreds of different products that they could possibly use. But more importantly than them not using some of Yahoo’s most *popular* products, in the case of sites like Flickr and Delicious, they are not using some of Yahoo’s most *innovative* products. I think that this is likely both demoralizing to some of their most talented employees on some of their most important teams and that more significantly it sends a message to the rest of the world that Yahoo Management *still* does not get the innovation represented by services like Flickr or Delicious. A further confirmation of the very reason why the founders of both delicious and Flickr both left the company.

Even worse than simply Bartz or Steele not using Flickr, a quick Flickr people search of the 12 current executives listed by Bloomberg for the company (Roy Bostock, Carol Bartz, David Filo, Jerry Yang, Blake J Jorgensen, Aristotle N Balogh, Elisa Steele, David Windley, Michael J Callahan, Venkat Panchapakesan, Hilary A Schneider, and Michael A Murray) shows that not a single one of these individuals carries any sort of significant presence on the site whatsoever.

Now maybe Flickr is not the most profitable business unit at Yahoo. And maybe the million or so that they bought it for is mere chump change for executives at a company like Yahoo. But Flickr nonetheless represents one of the most significant properties ever on the internet. Flickr breaks news. Flickr has some of the world’s most amazing art. Flickr represents the largest organized library of images in the world! That is something. And the fact that Yahoo executives, even in some small way, don’t really want to have anything to do with that is sad.

9 thoughts on “Yahoo’s New Marketing Chief Elisa Steele Doesn’t Use Flickr and How This Signals That Yahoo Management Is Out of Step With Innovation

  1. Great, Thomas. I’m totally agree with you. Would the boss of an hospital be agree to be treated in his own hospital ? I guess he has to… And about ICT : it’s well known that people promote only what they use, not what is "in the mood" … So, if the Yahoo’s executives don’t use Flickr or Delicious, or whatever in their big company, what will they promote ?? email??

  2. very well written….& yes…its akin to working for AMEX for 16 yrs…& then one day finding out one of your bosses who once had a card? was canceled & couldnt get another one due to their payment history…..?!?!? — Seen in my contacts’ photos. (?)

  3. Thanks for writing this, Thomas. It’s a good editorial for the Yahoo! execs to read. It’s also a good wake-up call for those of us who use flickr daily. It’s certainly possible that changes down the line may really mean the end for our wonderful flickr community. Unfortunately, I don’t know where else to turn for the rich, artist filled experience that I have daily on flickr. Let’s hope your essay gets to the right people. Three cheers to you for taking the time to put these thoughts down.

  4. Yahoo is a business and Flickr is a drop in the ocean for Yahoo in terms of revenue and profitability. If I was a shareholder, I wouldn’t care if all the executives used all the products on a regular basis (just like I don’t care if say, Cisco executive uses every product Cisco sells on a regular basis, which is impossible, or if Steve Ballmer has every Microsoft application his company sells installed on his computer an again uses it on a regular basis). This is especially true of products that aren’t important to the overall bottom line. I think you’re looking beyond the mark here, Thomas. What makes you think that Carol or Elisa even care about photography or take any pictures at all? Yahoo has bigger challenges to deal with than Flickr, and future of the company doesn’t depend on Flickr, so the fact that neither have accounts is not something I would worry too much about. ** Disclaimer – I’m not affiliated with Yahoo or Flickr in any way, just offering my humble opinion from business perspective.

  5. Agree: Flickr and Delicious is now most innovative Yahoo!’s product. While I have changed some of Yahoo!’s services I used to others, Flickr and Delicious are still my fave. Both show simplicity and elegance.

  6. An interesting theme Thomas; I remember your earlier post. Agree about the worth of Flickr and Delicious. Both have very strong positionings. I’m not very active on Flickr (though I fave a lot) but I use Delicious. It has so much potential but has not been well nurtured. Gone backwards even. I think the lack of apparent interest in these products by the execs is not a complete story but it sure ain’t a good sign. Having said that, I once worked for a dogfood company and did good work in their marketing dept (that’s my story anyway) without owning a pet.

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