April 15, 2009

The Tweet Heard Round the World

James Andrews of the Ketchum PR agency was en route to a meeting with a little client (FedEx) when he did something thousands of Twitter users do everyday – updating us on his current status: “True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here!’

Maybe if the writer hadn’t been a PR exec at a well-known agency, the tweet would have passed quietly in the night. Instead, the client saw the post and issued a comment on the company blog.

Mr. Andrews,

If I interpret your post correctly, these are your comments about Memphis a few hours after arriving in the global headquarters city of one of your key and lucrative clients, and the home of arguably one of the most important entrepreneurs in the history of business, FedEx founder Fred Smith.

Many of my peers and I feel this is inappropriate. We do not know the total millions of dollars FedEx Corporation pays Ketchum annually for the valuable and important work your company does for us around the globe. We are confident however, it is enough to expect a greater level of respect and awareness from someone in your position as a vice president at a major global player in your industry. A hazard of social networking is people will read what you write.

Not knowing exactly what prompted your comments, I will admit the area around our airport is a bit of an eyesore, not without crime, prostitution, commercial decay, and a few potholes. But there is a major political, community, religious, and business effort underway, that includes FedEx, to transform that area. We’re hopeful that over time, our city will have a better “face” to present to visitors.

James, everyone participating in today’s event, including those in the auditorium with you this morning, just received their first paycheck of 2009 containing a 5% pay cut… which we wholeheartedly support because it continued the tradition established by Mr. Smith of doing whatever it takes to protect jobs.

Considering that we just entered the second year of a U.S. recession, and we are experiencing significant business loss due to the global economic downturn, many of my peers and I question the expense of paying Ketchum to produce the video open for today’s event; work that could have been achieved by internal, award-winning professionals with decades of experience in television production.

Additionally Mr. Andrews, with all due respect, to continue the context of your post; true confession: many of my peers and I don’t see much relevance between your presentation this morning and the work we do in Employee Communications.

This is a cautionary tale, and a lesson for anyone who uses social media for business purposes.
– Personal opinions should be kept in check on social media when representing your company, its clients or customers
– Be aware that your tweets can be taken out of context. Try to include enough detail to prevent confusion.
– If the worst happens and you find yourself in a similar situation, be honest like James Andrews. Fess up and get past it.
– Learn from FedEx, too. Many people believe the company’s response was excessive as well.

I remember something my first boss once told me. Don’t ever write anything (whether it be in an e-mail, a Post-It or a letter) that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. That goes the same for social media posts. Before your post, remember that your boss, client and parents might be following your every word!

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