The Ketchum/FedEx issue on Twitter is being discussed online quite extensively. In my opinion, blogger David Henderson is covering this story very well. (David is a newly discovered online voice for me – and he has quickly become one of my favourites. His blog is definitely worth reading.)
This story has legs. And it has created some valuable discussion online about freedom of speech, the right to your own personal opinion, what’s reasonable to say out loud, how to handle a crisis online and much, much more.
For those that might not know, the basic overview of this issue is that a week or two ago, a Ketchum PR VP (James Andrews) flew from Atlanta to Memphis to visit FedEx, one of the agency’s biggest clients. He was going to talk with them about social media.
On his arrival in Memphis, he posted a message on Twitter that said: “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.’” He posted under his Twitter name @keyinfluencer.
Someone at FedEx was following Andrews on Twitter and forwarded his comment to a few other people at FedEx. Well, the good folks at FedEx weren’t too happy about the comment and they responded publicly with a personal message to Andrews. You can read it here at David’s blog – along with his take on this topic. David has/is covering this topic very well, his journalism experience shines through in the thoroughness of his research and ability to put the story into context.
There are many sides to this discussion, many of which revolve around the question: what was he thinking? There are several things that were done or not done that may have changed how big this story got. But, the thing is, this story is big. Some discussion has now turned to what should be done now to deal with what this has become, an issue that is being played out online.
This story and the continuing fallout has raised some interesting questions and points about living in an online 24/7 world where lines between personal and professional are increasingly blurred. Without turning this post into a novel, I have a few points I would like to open a conversation on.
Who are you?
I was at a workshop about Twitter recently and the presenter really pushed the fact that there are no longer those barriers – you can’t be someone at work, someone else at home, someone else at Church, your kid’s school…it’s all blending. Like it or not, it’s an important fact to note. I often have clients friend me on Facebook, I have clients following me on Twitter – and I have to admit, at first, that felt kind of odd. We are a small agency though and the truth is, we’re friendly with our clients. One of the reasons that we started AHA was because we wanted the ability and opportunity to work with people we like, people we respect, people that we would make time to meet for a coffee or a glass of wine. So I had to look at why I was a little uncomfortable about it. I am still not sure why, maybe it has nothing to do with the fact that they are clients or colleagues. Perhaps it’s that by being out there I am making myself more public and I am more of a private person. I got over it and I have to say, I love hearing about what others are up to. I am not as good at putting what I am doing out there yet, mostly because I wonder who would find it of interest, but I am getting there.
What’s Your Opinion?
Andrews had an opinion and he voiced it. I personally love Memphis, but there are places in the world that I am not so fond of. However, given that we are seeing a huge blurring of the lines—and the big fat megaphone that the Internet gives us—it doesn’t seem to be such a smart move to make such a negative statement so casually. I have been at professional events where blunders like this happen. Little conversations where someone mentions a topic and someone says that they would never fly on airline X, eat at restaurant Y, or buy product Z and someone else at the table says that they’re the VP of communications there. Everyone at the table gets a little uncomfortable, someone makes a funny and we all go back and repeat the story ad nauseam until the next time someone puts their foot in it. Andrews, however, was sitting at a big virtual table when he made his comment.
Are We Really Listening?
I don’t know if Andrews had been to Memphis before, but it seems like he might have made a snap judgment. Social media is supposed to be about interacting. Perhaps, his tweet might have said, “I don’t know much about Memphis, can anyone tell me the great things to see or do here?” He could have listened before he spoke and started a conversation rather than a firestorm.
What Happens Next?
On his blog, David outlines how all of this unfolded, including the response from FedEx and Ketchum (he called both organizations). Since then, it seems neither one has commented any further.
There is still a lot of controversy online and off about this issue. It shows what can happen if you don’t take the power of social media seriously. I don’t know what is going on behind closed doors at Ketchum or FedEx or what they are talking about, but I have to wonder why no one from either organization is joining the conversation online. The tweet from Andrews may have started it all, but then FedEx also took their response public – and it was quite an aggressively worded one.
There is an opportunity here to come out and engage and contribute to the discussion. It seems that both Ketchum and FedEx made a statement and let Andrews take the hit – that seems pretty old school to me. Maybe Andrews shouldn’t have tweeted what he did, but then maybe FedEx shouldn’t have made its response public until they spoke with Andrews.
What else could have been done? Maybe Ketchum could have stepped up and said they blew it here and insulted Memphis and FedEx, but they’re going to make it right – together. With FedEx they could have reached out to the Memphis business development association, the tourism board, or some smaller organizations that couldn’t afford Ketchum’s rates and help change some of the potential misperceptions and promote Memphis as a great place.
It’s Different Now!
The world has changed and organizations—and the people involved in them—need to better understand the importance, value, power and challenges that the online environment brings with it. Any good communications strategy needs to include online components. Sometimes it will be the priority, sometimes not. As communicators, it is up to us to help inform, educate and engage our clients in this area and to provide them with effective, professional advice. We can learn a lot from the Ketchum/FedEx issue.