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A more cuddly Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has returned to social media

The embattled leader seems to want to tell a happier story via photos of Mom and math socks.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick with his parents at the Kentucky Derby.
Travis Kalanick

For most of 2016, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stopped tweeting. Save for an occasional update of what city he was in, the once vocal entrepreneur — who often used Twitter in the past to respond to consumers, articles and even disparage local authorities in cities where the ride-hailing startup wasn’t legal — was relatively silent.

But then 2017 turned into an annus horribilis — and, so, he’s baaaaack, except this time as the nicest CEO in the whole wide world.

To accomplish that, Kalanick has been increasingly oversharing on Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram. That’s included everything from posting adorable photos of himself with his parents at the Kentucky Derby to retweeting updates on new features to showing off selfies in the company’s headquarters to pictures of his feet in math socks.

He even changed his Twitter avatar — an image of Alexander Hamilton that he’d used for five years — to one of him with a crinkly smile. In other words, he’s literally put on a friendlier face.

The message seems clear: No matter what you might have heard, Kalanick is a really good dude. See that smile?

So it does not seem to be a coincidence that Kalanick has been tweeting and posting more right around the time the company’s months of scandals began, from allegations of pervasive sexism and sexual harassment to a spate of civil and criminal lawsuits. That really came to a head toward the end of April when the controversial CEO resumed his 2013-era pace of using social media, posting at least once every two days.

This was after multiple attempts were made to get Kalanick to stop being so active on social media over the years, sources said. It seems the only attempt that stuck was the most recent head of comms Rachel Whetstone. But Whetstone has since stepped down and now Kalanick wants to tell Uber’s story as he had before, just sweeter.

In fact, as the ride-hail company weathered the press and public’s reaction to executive slipups, internal issues or potentially illegal actions since the very early days of its existence, Kalanick’s tactic was always to tell the story better. The root of many of Uber’s problems, he has said, could be traced back to the public’s misunderstanding of the company narrative, several sources told Recode.

In other words, it was a PR problem, a sentiment some inside and outside Uber have echoed in the past.

A close look at his Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feed will reveal some of those old patterns coming back. The playbook: After the media furor around whatever scandal of the moment died down, Kalanick tried to humanize himself — and, by virtue, the company — and often turned to puppies or children to do that.

From left to right, Kalanick posted these pictures on Facebook in December 2014, November 2014 and August 2014.

The images above were posted right around the time Uber first came under fire for its aggressive tactics to beat Lyft, as well as a few weeks after company executive and Kalanick BFF Emil Michael suggested digging up dirt on journalists who wrote unfavorable stories about the company.

Not two months after Michael’s flub, Uber rolled out a promotional puppy delivery service, complete with photos. Later that year, at a press conference marking the company’s five-year anniversary, Kalanick was sure to mention that his very sweet-looking mother — who sat in the front row — was getting emotional.

“Like Ryan Graves mentioned, it’s unusual for us to take the opportunity to reflect and as I see my mom up here — she’s getting a little emotional, and I get this from my mom,” he said at the top of his speech, before getting into how the company is good for riders and drivers.

It’s possible that part of the speech wasn’t scripted. But standing in the section of the room cordoned off for journalists, I watched David Plouffe — who had been replaced by Whetstone as policy and comms head by that time — mouth along the words to parts of Kalanick’s speech.

Then, there was the touching Huffington Post video in which Kalanick interviewed his even-more-sweet-looking father just a few days before Arianna Huffington announced she was joining Uber’s board.

True to form, Kalanick has turned to his completely darling parents again in this month or so of reclaiming the Uber narrative. On May 6, Kalanick tweeted a picture of him and his parents and their fabulous hats enjoying the Kentucky Derby.

Then on Mother’s Day, Kalanick shared side-by-side pictures of him with his mom as a kid and his with her this year.

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10155094722935944&id=564055943&pnref=story

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with anyone sharing their life with the public. But it drives home the point that Kalanick is misunderstood as a person.

However, the cuddly image Kalanick has been trying to push forward has conflicted with some others captured outside of his social feeds. Just a weekend after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published allegations of sexual harassment and sexism at the company, Kalanick was photographed at the tony Vanity Fair Oscars party, which some inside the company found tone deaf.

2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter - Arrivals Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Weeks later, a video of Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver over pricing surfaced. We know how that went over. Which is to say, not well.

Even his attempts at winning people over by presenting a friendlier image of himself can fall flat. For instance, another of his tweets about being at the Derby also looked a tad too rich bro than others, such as this one with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

The hat issue aside, it’s clear Kalanick is being strategic about what he shares, as well as what he’s been retweeting.

Such as, much more complimentary videos of him:

And examples of Uber making nice with cities:

And ones in which Uber is empowering women and people of color who drive for them:

And then one this week in which he is just a geek in socks:

#mathsocks #friyay #offtolaformothersday

A post shared by traviskal (@traviskal) on

See? In case you can’t do math, it adds up to adorable.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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