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Friday, January 23, 2009

All a-Twitter about a Tweet

An online message only 140 characters long can create a world of trouble. That's what Ketchum PR's VP and Director of its Interactive Services Division James Andrews found out while in Memphis last week after he typed the following message onto social media website Twitter:
'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.' "

That he was on his way to meet with Ketchum client FedEx which is headquartered in Memphis seems to have been the catalyst for what followed.

Typically, I first found out about it via a tweet from Tweeter @davidhenderson. Andrews found out much more quickly than that. First, some Tweeters posted objections on Twitter, forcing Andrews to respond in typical (and in this case unclear) Twitter short-hand: "My commentary on my arrival was based on encountering ppl who didn't want me at hotel vs the city. Sorry."

Then came the big one: a fellow Tweeter and FedEx employee who earlier had attended a presentation by Andrews to FedEx, wrote an e-mail to Andrews that he also copied to the entire senior management of both FedEx and Ketchum.

He wrote in part: "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're confident however, it is enough to expect a greater level of respect and awareness form someone in your position as vice president at a major global player in your industry. A hazard of social networking is that people read what you write."

He went on to write: "James, everyone at 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 continues the tradition established by [FedEx Founder Fred Smith] of doing whatever it takes to protect jobs. [M]any of us 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."

In a subsequent blog posting, Andrews apologized: "Two days ago I made a comment on Twitter that was an emotional response to a run-in I had with an intolerant individual. The tweet was aimed at the individual, not the city of Memphis. If I offended the residents of Memphis, TN, I'm sorry. That was not my intention. I understand that people have enormous pride in their hometown."

He then tried to spin the incident into an example of the constructive function of social media: "While some would say this is the evil side of social media, I would say its pure intention is to foster a back and forth dialogue between people rather than a shield to hide behind and replace human contact."

I imagine that in the emotional aftermath of an unpleasant incident he broke a cardinal rule of blogging: he transmitted his Tweet while still upset. While hardly an indictment of social media, it is a stark reminder of the importance of the evolving new social media communications rules and protocols that must be adhered to; ignore or forget them at your peril.

In truth, the rule that we at CommCore insist on for our clients applies to ALL communications: think before you speak. Remember Secretary of State Al Haig's "I'm in control here" gaffe when President Reagan was shot?

From what we can tell FedEx is keeping Ketchum on as its agency, and Andrews still has his job.

What's your take? What does this incident say to you about the risks and benefits of social media in general, and the short-hand micro-blogging of Twitter?

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