The latest polemic about the perils of on-line communication – in this case the unfortunate Twitter comments by a Ketchum executive – provides more fodder for those who fear to tread in social media. Check out the summary of the developments on this AdAge post. Certainly, there is a lesson here (if we needed another one) that what you post on-line – no matter where it is or how innocuous it appears – can rapidly spark a domino effect of unintentional consequences. In this case, the Twitter post (with unflattering comments about Memphis) was discovered by FedEx employees, who in turn turned up the volume by sending their response to a broad swatch of FedEx executives. Once the executive was identified (he was in Memphis to present to FedEx as a social media expert) Ketchum was forced to do some predictable mea culpas.
But I tend to agree with this AdAge columnist that the original tweet wasn’t much of a smoking gun, and that the tension increased largely because of the agency-client dynamic. So if there is a secondary lesson it’s that when you post on your own behalf – even through an alias on Twitter – you always need to consider how the content will reflect on your role as a PR professional, or agency representative. The line between personal and professional is nebulous and quickly forgotten when comments are lifted out of context or – as in this case – the content straddles the line.
Already, this small dust up is being leveraged by those who like to focus on the risks and uncertainties of social media. The incident has been mentioned to me several times within the context of “see what can happen…” with the unspoken suggestion that it may be better to avoid the whole messy thing altogether. Few would deny the dynamics of social media – the global reach, the permanent legacy, the nasty vitriol, the shifting etiquette – require caution and thought. But the fact a pseudo scandal can spread quickly and unpredictably is no reason to avoid the Web.