Lessons We Can Learn From Memphisgate

If you don’t want to read the below, just understand I have no ill will towards James Andrews. We’ve never met and I’m sure he’s a bright, stand up guy. One thing we do know is he’s honest and transparent in his willingness to share his thoughts with his audience.

Via his wife’s blog, she mentions that James’ tweet had nothing to do with Fedex and was taken out of context, which makes understanding the platforms for which we use both as consumers as well as marketers all the more important to understand. For all intents and purposes he could have been talking about anywhere in the world…but one word caught him in a trap: immediacy.

The platform he was using to communicate his thoughts wasn’t built around “store & forward” like a daily blog post that can be read at leisure. Twitter is built around instant response and for that his defense doesn’t hold water. Using tools such as Twitter ensure you speak in concrete statements. James had 140 characters to convey his feelings to his syndicated audience and he did it ambiguously, giving them an opportunity to speculate and respond. That obviously isn’t a bad thing – igniting conversation is something I’m sure he’s tasked with daily.

The problem is when you say something both open ended and provocative, it practically begs for some kind of reaction. In the case of twitter, this reaction is in the form of a response. Sometimes that response is private, other times it’s sent en mass for the world to see. In James’ case, the latter proved catastrophic to his client-agency relationship.

But still, why did this story catch fire?

Well there’s a number of factors. There is a perverse masochistic empathy that comes from watching someone get PWNED by a client. Personally I cringe, but others like to watch a good train wreck. This was one of them waiting to happen.

We root for the underdog, but in this case when James maded the decision to use the handle “KeyInfluencer” on twitter, that set the precedent that there would be people who perceived him to be full of hubris and ego. To quote a friend, “If PR is supposed to be a selfless profession of constantly making your clients look, what kind of selfishness does it take to deem your online moniker as ‘KeyInfluencer?” 😉

But ultimately, there’s no handguides when it comes to using social media. There’s common sense (which unfortunately for James, slipped away from him for a moment) but no rules of engagement. We improvise as we evolve. This was a costly lesson and hopefully the client tongue lashing was enough to ensure it is never repeated.

That’s not to say that James shouldn’t back down from his statement. In fact if he felt strongly enough to mention that he thought Memphis was a far from desireable city for his tastes to live, he should stand by the statement. One of the things clients will have to get more accustom to is the divide between agency rep and consumer. We are all consumers, we all have opinions, even if they go agains the grain. The goal though is to take whatever those opinions are and learn from the insights they provide.

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3 comments

  1. Adam Bow · January 24, 2009

    good post craig. i agree with many things stated. as we have all made some sub-optimal actions in the workforce you have to have some sympathy. BUT i think his defense was crappy and did not make sense…it then makes me question the authenticity and honesty…it was one of those ‘you’re so full of shit, man up.’

  2. Bill Cammack · January 25, 2009

    A hyperlink to his wife’s blog would have been nice, so we could read what you were referencing.Anything people post to the internet will be judged as a standalone. You have to be willing to stand behind whatever you said in 140 characters as if you said the same thing to that person’s face.This is obviously a fine example of why you want to remain vigilant when blogging, and ESPECIALLY when microblogging, which, as you mentioned, brings up IMMEDIATE reaction from the people who follow you… and then the people who follow THEM….

  3. Craig Daitch · January 27, 2009

    Thanks for the comments Bill. And sorry about the lack of link to his wife’s blog post which you can find here: http://funkidivagirl.com/2009/01/james-andrews-hey-thats-my-man-youre-talking-about/

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