When self-promotion self-destructs

So our friends at the “Mother Ship”:http://gigaom.com/, have this “very intelligent take”:http://gigaom.com/2007/07/12/mackey-and-me-why-rahodeb-speaks-for-all-of-us/ on the budding scandal plaguing Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. He is being taken to task by the FTC and the media now for some apparently incriminating feats of self-promotion on a Yahoo! message board, which he penned under the screen name “Rahodeb,” an anagram for his wife’s name. (Not so smart for such a successful CEO we note, chagrinned.) We say ‘incriminating’ not in reference to Mackey’s shameless missives about himself: _”I like Mackey’s haircut”; “I think he looks cute”_ (ehem); and, _”While I’m not a ‘Mackey groupie,’…I do admire what the man has accomplished.”_ (come on!)

The posts are incriminating because Mackey also used the forum to blast Wild Oats, the peer company he is trying to acquire: _”Would Whole Foods buy OATS?”_ he wrote, as Rahodeb. _”Almost surely not at current prices. What would they gain? OATS locations are too small.”_

It appears as if the CEO was not only promoting himself, but also trying to drive down the pricetag of his takeover. Which is why the FTC cares and began looking into the “anonymous posts” in the first place. (They’re already suing to obstruct the Whole-Oats deal.)

Should Mackey get slapped by the Feds for doing too much of what CEOs are supposed to do — promote their company’s image and brand and market position with the public? Even if they do it anonymously? We’re not sure. (As we noted above, our colleage “Kevin Kelleher elevates this discussion”:http://gigaom.com/2007/07/12/mackey-and-me-why-rahodeb-speaks-for-all-of-us/ to a level beyond screen names and produce, showing why the debate really _does matter_ to us all. Thanks, Kevin.)

*But the budding scandal begs a valuable question for founders:*

*How far should a start-up founder go for the sake of self-promotion?* And does it matter if s/he self-promotes using a real name, a screen name, an anagram, or an avatar? How low can you go before self-promotion self-destructs?

Tell us what you think.