Social Media Reminder: Think Before You Speak…


I ran across several interesting posts yesterday on the social media conversation front. Some of them made me nod my head in agreement, but one of them made me absolutely cringe. Once again, watching someone’s mistakes reminds us all of the need to listen to our mothers when it comes to how we interact with social media.

Yesterday afternoon I came across a post by Alan Rimm-Kaufman talking about how we’re judged by what we write in the online world. Alan was playing off a post by Seth Godin, but was mostly focusing on a post Peter Shankman made about Ketchum’s James Andrews and his poor choice of Twitter commentary during a recent trip to FedEx headquarters.

It all started when Andrews made this Tweet shortly after arriving in Memphis:

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!”

What Andrews didn’t realize was a FedEx employee who was attending his presentation for the FedEx communications team saw his Tweet and passed it along to other members of the management team. The response from the FedEx team was swift. It read, in part:

It’s a cringe worthy response…one that left me feeling a bit embarrassed for Andrews. After all, who among us hasn’t shared our thoughts on a subject without really thinking it through. Granted, anyone who is going to speak on social media or online marketing to a company like FedEx should be familiar enough with the concept of a public forum to watch what they say…but at the same time, we all insert a foot in our mouth now and then. Andrews offers up his final take on the situation on his blog.

Andrews’ blunder serves as a powerful reminder to the rest of us though. Social media IS a public forum and anything you say can (and likely will) be used against you in the court of public opinion. Not knowing Andrews, I have no way of knowing whether he was joking around or speaking with destain. Of course that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? The FedEx team he was coming to speak with likely didn’t know either. Nor would many of his followers.

That’s why in the world of social media, you need to remember an important lesson your mom probably taught you growing up.

Think Before You Speak

handovermouth.jpgI have no problem believing Andrews probably didn’t mean his comments quite the way the FedEx team took them. Then again, isn’t that usually the case when we offend someone? That’s where the entire idea of thinking before you speak comes from. We can never know how someone else is going to interpret our words. Add in the fact that words are written (no voice inflection) and are limited in their context and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

While social media is all about being yourself and being real, it’s still essential to carefully consider the things you say. You need to remember you are speaking to a public forum and anyone who wants to look can find out what you’ve said.

Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, forums, blogs and the zillions of other places you can share your opinion aren’t closed forums. You never know who is reading them. Beyond that, you never know who will come in down the line and go back and read what you wrote weeks, months or even years ago. Think before you speak. If you can think of someone you wouldn’t’ want to hear you say what you’re about to say…you probably shouldn’t say it in a social media venue.

Images courtesy of Creative Commons license from Flicker users: Mel B..

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

The importance of what a company or person says in a Social Media situation can never be underestimated. In the case of business it is critical to ensure the right message is protrayed by the speaker or permanent damage to the reputation and the speaker will be the result.

The great thing about Social Media are the ideas portrayed by others, I am aware of many things but also unaware although conscious of your message it is not one I would of thought to broadcast


sorry, but I don’t see what was wrong with his comment; the reaction was sounding professional, but enough to hide the childish attitude behind it …

in other words; it’s always somethin; or they complain because you’re being honest or they accuse of being dishonest … it’s never good enough, always something to whine about it

if the press wouldn’t be so PC, we woul;dn’t be in the economic crisis

yes, I mean that; if more people would be like James; bold, honest and straight forward, instead of nice, friendly liars, we woul;dn’t be in thios crisis !!

go James go !

EDIT : the reaction was sounding professional, but NOT enough to hide the childish attitude behind it

ok, it’s Andrew, not James … anyway … I’m really upset about this.

Andrew didn’t offend anybody, he just spoke the truth, the reason why theplace is such a crappy place to start with is because too many people are like the edEx; they’re weak, they’re cowards, they’ll do whatever it takes to avoid seei9ng the world for what it is; they hide from the truth, they’re the real problem … not Andrew!

Clearly, we always should consider our thoughts before we utter them, not so much to avoid offense as to avoid confusion or misunderstanding. It has been the reluctance to speak truth (as perceived by the speaker) that has led to so much mealy-mouthed, feel-good babble that masquerades as communication but ends up as “nothing”. Say what you think. Think first, but say it. You will always offend someone anyway.

I understand that social media is a minefield of opportunities to hang yourself – but James’ comment wasn’t one of them.

The very fact that social media is so spontaneous and public is the very reason people should be more forgiving of some of the comments found there.

He did not direct his comment at an individual – it was an opinion, and one that he’s free to have; and he did not use bad language.

The world is slowly being strangled by political correctness, lack of humor, and people who take everything too seriously.

There are dozens of places I would not like to live in, and naming them is probably one of the least offensive things I could do on Twitter.

People aren’t perfect, not in any place, including Social Media. I have said things I later thought I shouldn’t have said, I either move on from it or apologize it its necessary. I think the issue in this case is that he was paid for it, in those cases you are held to a different standard. But its not unforgivable.

I agree with some of the sentiments here. While it is hard to argue with great advice – think before you speak, I see little fault in Andrew’s words. His message was public but not directed at FedEx which is the way FedEx took them. I think this was very poorly handled by FedEx. I would have rather seen FedEx ask Andrew for help or find ways to build a bridge. Instead they took offense to something that was never meant to be offensive and burned a bridge.

FedEx should be concerned that management is reacting in such a way.

Thanks for the link, Jennifer.

Another angle here is that not only is SMM broad, it is likely to be eternal. With the cost of disk falling, just about everything on the web is likely to be archived by someone, somewhere, for perhaps forever.

Gary Vaynerchuk made the point: everything you write on the web may very well be read by your grandkids and greatgrandkids.

Wow. Think about that.

When you think about comments from that perspective, it really changes how you write.

(And if my greatgrandkids are reading this one day in the far future — hello and love from 2009!)

That’s totally true. Basic value about live in social interaction is still and will always be valid. We should responsible for very words we speak in writting and orally.
Casey Madaline

In a virtual world, every word we say may be misconstrued. Come to think of it, the physical face-to-face communication is a lot different than just seeing text on your screen. Face-to-face you get to see the person’s gesture, facial expression, hand movements, intonation but online conversation is very 2-dimensional.

But I am not defending anyone here. Regardless of the mode of communication, everyone has to be sensitive on the feelings of others. Being nice is still the norm online or offline.

sterling silver cz ring

I find it funny and a bit odd that many bloggers are taking this as a big company trying to censor free speech or Twitter in general. It’s not about that.

Anyone is welcome to say whatever they want online or off (not including the “Fire!” in a crowded theater example). But just be ready to bear the consequences of those words. Andrew was well within his right to say Memphis sucked. And FedEx is well within their right to not utilize his services because of it.

Don’t cry “victim” when your words come back to bite you. Say what you like – but take person responsibility for whatever may come of it. Simple as that.

Very true!!!
we should always mind our word.
writing on social media is quit easy but while doing that we all should follow social ethics.
thanks for pointing this issue.

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