Online Diplomacy: the Famous Fedex Twitter/Email Exchange

Online Diplomacy: the Famous Fedex Twitter/Email Exchange

Summary: You may have seen the drama this week around a social media ad agency representative whose negative Twitter message about Memphis, Tennessee was read and responded to by one of his client FedEx's employees.James Andrews, '@keyinfluencer' on Twitter, was flying into Fedex global headquarters in Memphis to present on digital media to the worldwide communications group at FedEx (150+) people on behalf of his employer ad agency Ketchum.

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Fedex Information Delivery You may have seen the drama this week around a social media ad agency representative whose negative Twitter message about Memphis, Tennessee was read and responded to by one of his client FedEx's employees.

James Andrews, '@keyinfluencer' on Twitter, was flying into Fedex global headquarters in Memphis to present on digital media to the worldwide communications group at FedEx (150+) people on behalf of his employer ad agency Ketchum.

Upon arrival in Memphis something prompted him to tweet:

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! 2:58 PM Jan 14th

Andrew's Tweet was picked up by a Fedex employee who emailed FedEx Corporate Vice Presidents, Vice Presidents, Directors and all management of FedEx’s communication department - and also Andrews chain of command at Ketchum:

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.

screen capture of Tweet by FedEx

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.

I read this on Peter Shankman's blog 'be careful what you post' (and also scanned the huge number of judgmental comments posted there) on Friday, and initially discounted it as yet another new-medium-Twitter story like the 'someone took an iphone picture of the airplane that came down in the Hudson and posted it on Twitpic almost immediately' excitement. ( ZDNet fellow blogger Jennifer Leggio writes that 'Facebook fan numbers of U.S. Airways pilot Sullenberger grow at 1,000 per minute' - no T shirt sales allowed to this group however).

What's interesting to me about the ill advised client communications faux pas by James is the meeting of his lightweight and open Twitter message with the rather pompous classic 'impress the command and control bosses' riposte by email. This would be a closed loop had Peter Shankman not exposed it, although he doesn't say how or where he found it.

Meanwhile Seth Godin wrote today

The neat thing about the online world is that you are judged almost entirely by your actions, usually based on just your fingers....

....The biggest takeaway for me is this: online interactions are largely expected to be intentional. On purpose. Planned. People assume you did stuff for a reason.

Be clear, be generous, be kind. Can't hurt.

For me the FedEx Memphis fiasco (no one comes out of this looking good) is a great example of the enterprise collaboration culture clash between the analog generation (cc'd dressing down email thread) and the digital one (airport bar style Twitter banter). The irony of James Andrews unintentionally demoing the power of digital media prior to his more formal presentation is great.

I'm a huge proponent of free speech and openness, but I'd take Seth Godin's last point a step further - you can't be too clear or too generous when everyone can tune in to hear what you are saying...

Topics: Collaboration, Hardware, Mobility, Social Enterprise

About

Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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13 comments
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  • There is no 'free' speech

    You write, "I?m a huge proponent of free speech . . ." Perhaps the most important lesson that you should have learnt from writing your own article is that speech is NOT free; it has consequences because it usually has a victim - in this case the entire township of Memphis. I would much rather that people like yourself recognise this and begin to understand that 'responsible speech' is a far better alternative than constantly trumpeting the trite line of free speech. Had the author of the Twitter message thought more about responsible speech than free speech, then perhaps he might never have written his message!
    Wakemewhentrollsgone
  • RE: Online Diplomacy: the Famous Fedex Twitter/Email Exchange

    if he is so dumb as to bad mouth his hosts who also happen to be paying the bills he deserves both barrels between the eyes.

    Its rubbish to crap on about clashes of communication style Stupidly bad manners are perennial
    igor42
    • Bonehead move for sure

      Insulting a client's hometown just before presenting and then broadcasting it--when you're an ad firm--is just stupid. Anyone with a speck of sense would know that:

      FedEx was probably following him since his firm is a partner;
      FedEx's identity is co-mingled with Memphis;

      Let's hope he doesn't have the Wal-Mart account too. If he can't stand Memphis just imagine what he'll say about Bentonville, Ark....
      Larry Dignan
      • Watch what you say!

        Your reply is an example of what you post and what other people read. Just what do you have against Bentonville anyway Larry?
        donald@...
        • Bentonville vs Memphis

          Well, there's no comparison between the airports at Bentonville and Memphis! XNA is a squeaky-clean small regional airport and has one of the nicest FBOs in the regional airport biz. MEM is a toilet by comparison and doesn't give visitors a good first impression of what Memphis itself offers.

          I've visited Memphis on business many times and always had a great time; it's a GREAT party town. Bentonville is pretty boring as party towns go, but Fayetteville just a few miles down the road has a great nightlife albeit on a much smaller scale than Memphis. (And it's only an hour's drive from my place so I'm a much more frequent visor there than Memphis!)

          All of that said, publicly biting the hand that feeds one is never a wise idea when it can be traced back to the origin! If you're going to be "brutally honest" the least that you can do is be anonymous!
          GeneBuettner
          • You took the bait

            My reply was meant to get a response from Larry. But you helped get my point across. People will read into things that you post if you do not fill in the details. Larry's reply almost sounds like a slight to Bentonville because of the lack of details, even if that was not his intent. If you go to Twitter and read what @keyinfluencer has to say in later posts,(albeit it sounds like damage control), his original comment was because of a bad experience at his hotel and had nothing to do with the city of Memphis. If he had given that one detail, we wouldn't be having this discussion.
            donald@...
  • RE: Online Diplomacy: the Famous Fedex Twitter/Email Exchange

    Fair point - responsibility had already been debated in some detail elsewhere but perhaps I didn't emphasize that enough above.

    To say that free speech usually has a victim is a stretch however. My whole point is that open communication such as Twitter can travel far and wide - just as a public blog post or conference keynote video can - so adolescent comments like the social media maven's Tweet above are ill advised.. unless you intended to stir up debate around the resulting blow back...
    @...
  • RE: Online Diplomacy: the Famous Fedex Twitter/Email Exchange

    What has me laughing is that, for the most part, I've always been advised to keep my professional and personal lives separate. Social media blurs those lines, as we see here, so maybe it's time we all live, and recognize in others, an integrated life.
    gialyons
  • RE: Online Diplomacy: the Famous Fedex Twitter/Email Exchange

    What has me laughing about all of this is that, for most of my adult life, I've been advised to keep my professional and personal lives separate. Social media blurs those lines, whether we like it or not. Maybe it's time we live - and recognized in others - an integrated life.
    gialyons
  • Free Speech doesn't mean free from consequences

    This article almost completely misses the point. The same communication protocols that we exercise in our personal and business communications are still in effect. There isn't a separate set of rules for "lightweight" social networks. Be very clear and generous...when is that NOT a good philosophy to abide by? Good sense still rules the day.

    Further, the amazing thing isn't that somebody took a picture of a downed plane and posted it to twitter. The amazing thing is that for thousands of folks, it was their first notice of the event. And those people found out minutes or hours before their counterparts who were following more traditional news sources. I'd say that's an interesting paradigm shift when the witnesses become the first-line reporters.
    the.ksmm
  • Not Much of a Media Technology Expert

    Posting on Twitter obviously is not as anonymous as posting on some public gossip/opinion/news site. It's more like posting on a board for a class you're taking. If you wouldn't be comfortable standing up and saying that in class, you probably shouldn't be posting it on the board. In this case, would he really have stood in the middle of the concourse and announced that? Thought not. He doesn't understand what all these tools are best suited for. Why would I want to listen to his recommendations?
    MichP
  • Why the discussion.

    If you go to Twitter and read what @keyinfluencer has to say in later posts,(albeit it sounds like damage control), his original comment was because of a bad experience at his hotel and had nothing to do with the city of Memphis. If he had given that one detail, we wouldn't be having this discussion. If the powers that be at FEDEX would have comnfronted him and discussed his post, it would be over. Instead they decide to do their own piece highlighting the problems of Memphis that most of us never knew existed.
    donald@...
  • RE: Online Diplomacy: the Famous Fedex Twitter/Email Exchange

    Fact is that social networking comments just like eMail are not private. Never were designed to be. If you don't want you momma to hear it, don't press the send key....
    rg.hart@...