Peter VanRysdam / Marketing / July 30th, 2009

Warning: Use Social Networking With Extreme Caution

I follow PR guru and author Peter Shankman on Twitter, and he posted a great blog yesterday that I had to share.  People are always singing the praises of social networking (yesterday’s quick response on twitter to the plane crash in the Hudson, new business acquired, etc), but the pitfalls often fall through the cracks.  That’s not to say there haven’t been a few biggies.I talked about facebook as a tattle tale a few months ago, and Peter Shankman’s example from yesterday was equally as damning.  First off, here is the post itself.  Seems harmless enough on first glance:

Well, it turned out not to be harmless.  The poster, James Andrews, an agency rep from Ketchum in New York, is talking about Memphis where he had come to give a digital media presentation to over 150 FedEx execs.  FedEx is a big client of Ketchum’s, and has been headquartered in Memphis for years.  It turns out, and understandably so, many of the FedEx employees took umbrage with the remarks about their home.  In fact, they wrote him this note: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.Ouch.  Just goes to show that if you use social networking for business like I do and so many others do, you need to be careful.  I’m not saying you run your posts by the company attorney or communications department, but try to take in all perspectives about your comments, as you never know who may be reading it!  But isn’t that the point?