Friday, March 18, 2011

Did the Chrysler F-Bomber Deserve Termination or Empathy?

If you aren't on Twitter you probably didn't catch a recent Tweetstorm about how an agency for Chrysler accidentally tweeted the following on the ChryslerAutos Twitter account:

Obviously the tweet was meant to go out on this guys' private account. The tweet was deleted quickly. But the damage was done. The Tweeter was fired by the agency, New Media Strategies, and the agency was fired by Chrysler. Chrysler made this statement on their blog.

There's been ongoing debates about which was worse:
  • The F-bomb? ... Or the message itself, which runs completely counter to the new Chrysler ad campaign embracing Detroit? (See AdFreak)
  • The F-bomb tweet? ... Or the language/culture of Eminem, who is currently featured in said Chrysler commercial?
There's also an interesting debate going on today over at this blog, which talks more about the human side of the tweeter (Scott Bartosiewicz) and whether or not he should have been fired. .

Here's a tweet he probably won't be sending out again:

There are lots of good comments on the blog, but I tend to agree with these from Carri Bugbee the most:  
"The agency showed very poor judgement in assigning a global brand to a complete Twitter newbie (did you look at his personal Twitter account?!) who also appears to be young and probably not steeped in the ways of business. ... You need to make mistakes (everybody does) on your OWN account -- not your employer's or your client's ... there's no excuse for a big agency or a big brand to be that clueless (or that cheap) in 2011."

I would add to that:
  • When you're working in a regulated industry such as Pharma, it's even more important that you have experienced, knowledgable, professionals doing the tweeting, whether on the agency or the client side.
  • I'm sorry, but few true professionals I know (no matter what age) would tweet an angry F-bomb-laden statement on their private account in the first place. The statement alone says a lot about this guys' character and judgement about what he puts out into the world about his own personal brand.
  • I do think it's fine for agencies to tweet on behalf of their clients, in certain situations. Keep in mind the "accidental tweet" mistake could have happened just as easily on the client side. In fact, it happened to the Red Cross recently, and they handled it with grace.
  • Still, I don't subscribe to the idea that this particular situation could have happened to anybody. We all make mistakes. But this was collossal. 
What do you think ... did the Chrysler Twitter F-Bomber deserve what he got, or does he deserve a little more empathy because, after all, he's only human?


Martorana said...

I agree with the agency’s decision to terminate this individual. It’s also my opinion, that given his experience (or lack thereof), both in business and Twitter etiquette alike, he should never had such an assignment in the first place.

National Media Services also failed miserably in any attempt of damage control (unless I missed something). Although this was a colossal mistake (and perhaps firing by Chrysler was unavoidable), they should have quickly jumped on the horn, with a follow up tweet of some sort (see recent Red Cross case study). An example on how to spin this twitters poor judgment could have been along the lines of: “Last tweet from an angry motorist (we’ve deleted) - ensure you’re always safe with Chrysler’s Blind Spot Monitoring System [tinyURL]”

Just my 2 cents…

Wendy W. Blackburn said...

Ha - I love your suggestion for a clever and more positive solution to the situation. Thanks for your comment!

Tony Faustino said...

Wendy, I agree with the agency's decision to terminate the employee. It's unfortunate this individual didn't grasp the magnitude of responsibility when communicating online on Chrysler's behalf.

However, we've seen this movie before (i.e., Kenneth Cole's infamous "advertising tweet" during the political events in Cairo, Egypt). Unlike the individual cited in your post, Mr. Cole didn't lose his job (so I suppose being the head of your organization provides a little more job security. :-)

Still, your post demonstrates why organizational leaders must be proactive in developing and publishing real-time communications or social media guidelines for all employees. Otherwise, high profile embarrassments like these will continue. And, that doesn't help any industry that's cautiously adopting social media (i.e., the pharma industry).

Still, there's hope. Here's a database hyperlinking to 164 companies that have publicly published their social media guidelines:

I hope you and your Intouch Solution clients find it helpful. There are some major healthcare brands in this database including Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, and Mayo Clinic.

Carri Bugbee said...

Wendy, thanks for the props. I'm surprised that any big brand that would expect its ad agency to develop on-strategy creative ideas, which then are vetted and tweaked over the course of weeks or months, and likely requires all its press announcements to go through the legal department before they can be distributed would allow a youngster with a mobile device to randomly say whatever he wants on its behalf. Granted, the misfired tweet came from a guy who worked for the agency, not for the brand, but if I were on the client side, I'd want to vet each and every person who was in a position to post unfiltered comments. If the tweeter wouldn’t be qualified to stand at a podium and speak on behalf of the brand at a major product unveiling or crisis moment, he/she probably shouldn’t be posting anything that’s not pre-approved in social media spaces.

This incident should send a shudder through any big company that has outsourced its social media to an agency or offloaded it to a youngster because they happen to know how to use some tech tools. Social media should be handled by grown-ups.

Uwe Hook said...

The company is called New Media Strategies and is owned by Meredith. I agree that they should have followed-up with a tweet like Red Cross but I'm pretty sure organizational issues prevented them from doing it. Once the F-bomb went out, Chrysler might have been informed by their followers and it was Chrysler's responsibility at that point to improve the situation with a lighter comment.

The way it looks, this more about a turf war between agency and PR. I'm pretty sure NMS was on the way out already, this just made the exit quicker and easier.

Using Eminem as spokesperson (drug abuse, assault, gun charges) and getting all bend out of shape because of one F-bomb makes no sense to me. There's a deeper branding issue at hand, Chrysler not really knowing who they are.

Wendy W. Blackburn said...

Thanks for the comment, Cari, and you're more than welcome for the mention. Your comment made a strong argument for the value of experience and maturity in social media. It's an interesting debate on the qualifications of a social media representative for a big brand -- or any brand, really. I've often thought, too, that being a social media manager is akin to being a designated spokesperson for the company. To me, maturity and professionalism are more important qualifications than pure age. I've seen plenty of grown-ups that really shouldn't be speaking on behalf of a company, but also seen some younger professionals that "get it" and are mature, careful and considerate. Perhaps someone should develop a test to screen for those skills and characteristics best suited for social media management?!?

Wendy W. Blackburn said...

Tony - Thanks for posting the great link to all those social media policies - there are many that would be wise to learn from them. I assume New Media Services had a policy in place ... it didn't stop the mistake from happening, but perhaps allowed them grounds for firing the offender. There are other measures companies can take to avoid this too -- such as screening the people that tweet on their behalf (per Cari's suggestion), using different acocunts and even different platforms (Hootsuite vs. Tweetdeck) to separate one clients' tweets from another and to separate client tweets from personal. We're issuing a POV to clients on this topic and hope to get it up on soon as well. All good stuff - thanks for the comment!

Wendy W. Blackburn said...

Uwe - Thanks for the correction re: New Media Strategies - not sure how I got that so wrong but it's fixed now. Thanks for the comment.