Cut Companies A Break

Are you perfect? Most companies aren’t either. They don’t get everything right – in product launches; in marketing; in pricing or in any area where people are involved. They certainly don’t get everything right in social media.

The big difference for them is, when they get things wrong in social media, people often shout it loud from the rooftops.

Sometimes, though, one person’s mistake is another’s best practice.

For example, yesterday I noticed someone declaring a #fail on a large company – FedEx – that had claimed a Twitter account but wasn’t responding to tweets sent to it. At first glance, that would seem to be a legitimate criticism – why would a company not respond to people asking questions?

However, far from failing, the company may have actually been following the best practice by claiming their organization’s identity. By doing so, they were able to ensure that no-one brand-jacked their name on the service. In fact, claiming your company’s identity on social media services is something I’ve recommended all companies do, even if you’re not prepared to use the accounts yet.

The same goes for people complaining about the timeliness of responses. I’m a little sick of seeing people chastise companies for not responding mere minutes after asking a question. You know what? A couple of years ago you’d have waited a week for a form-letter response, or sat on the phone line on hold for half an hour. Now, you can take 10 seconds to write a tweet then sit back and wait. Guess what? People have meetings. They have other tasks to hand. They may even turn off the computer while they watch a movie in the evening. While it’s great when they can and do respond instantly, try cutting them some slack if takes a little longer.

From a big picture perspective, social media is still new and companies are still figuring out how (or whether, in the short-term) to adopt it. There are no standard processes across industries yet, and the best practices are still evolving. It’s about time we started to pause and look at things from outside the viewpoint of the fishbowl before assuming that a company is screwing up. Would it be lovely if FedEx were active on Twitter? Sure. Is it an automatic failure that they aren’t? Not necessarily.

29 Responses toCut Companies A Break

  • Interesting post, Dave. I’d even go a step further and say the reason why we expect an instantaneous response from companies and big business is because we expect it from our friends in our social circle.
    I’ve even caught myself frustrated when someone doesn’t pick up their cell phone — not thinking that turning that off or putting it on silent is akin to “unplugging the phone” 10, 15 years ago. Similarly when I send a friend an email — a friend I know who has a smart phone and will get that email before having to open their laptop — I really get frustrated when they don’t respond ASAP.
    Of course, those frustrations don’t cut both ways — I am free to take my time and answer my cell phone if I feel like it.

  • I had similar thoughts after a Social Media Breakfast in Ottawa a few months ago. The presenter showed Air Canada’s twitter account (they were doing what FedEx is doing) and many in the crowd took delight in slamming them for it.

    The echo chamber bitches when companies aren’t embracing social media but given the shitstorm these same ‘advocates’ are only too anxious to kick up at the slightest perceived misstep it’s not hard to see why some are so reluctant.

    • I agree with the premise of ‘cut companies a break’ , but disagree with your Air Canada example: the account is still sitting there, unbranded with one odd tweet. I don’t even think it’s owned by AC to be honest.

      WellsFargo actually did the same thing, but put its logo in and stated it was holding the account (though they have since actually tweeted)

      Just sayin! 🙂

  • I agree 100% Dave. But, this is the direction we’re heading. We live in an instant society that demands instant response. While it’s not exactly realistic, if we have a problem we want it solved sooner than later. Social Media is great because it allows companies to create brand evangelists – you treat me right and I’ll go sing your praises to everyone – but it’s a blessing and a curse. As quick as we are to praise good products and service, we’re even quicker to jump the gun and bash a company if we aren’t getting “immediate” gratification (I say we collectively, not me specifically – but I’m a little more old school).

    Yes, we should be a little more patient and realize that these are human beings with other day to day tasks that don’t include waiting on you hand and foot, but companies will have to (and they are) realize that customer service is becoming priority number one – even before price.

    Great thoughts and post Dave.

  • Rock on! I, too, am tired of #fail being thrown about so casually and quickly. The need for instant gratification is just not realistic. Companies need to do a better job of setting expectations as they enter the space and those socmed voices need to pipe down, understand the context of issue and become more solution oriented. Learning should be embraced, not frowned upon.

    • I agree, instant gratification is what it boils down to. The internet makes us accustomed to getting what we want, when we want it. The #fail hashtag is like the twitter equivalent of a minor tantrum.

      I just heard the Black Eyed Peas song “Generation Now” this morning, and instant gratification is what it’s all about. It’s actually a little scary!

  • This is good. In this particular instance, Twitter has turned us into brats.

    I see far more complaining than praising (of course that could just be more of a reflection on the people I associate with) and you are spot on about the expectation to be acknowledged right away.

    I will admit that I do enjoy playfully instigating; for example, South Beach Living breakfast bars used to have 10 grams of protein. Now they only have 8, and Kraft built a new marketing campaign boasting that this is twice as much as other breakfast bars. That’s pretty ridiculous right, you would agree? I’ve let @kraftfoods know that I do not appreciate this sort of swindling.

    All in all, I just think that if you’re going to use Twitter to bash companies (which they, at times, fully deserve), be sure to balance out with some promoting. Give props when props are due- there is a enough negativity out there.

  • Amen. A simple post with a very clear and fair message.

  • I get frustrated with complainers because it seems that most of them are trying to start a kerfuffle just to elevate their own status. Their only path to gaining expert status for themselves is to point out the faults of others. In hindsight. Feedback ought to be tendered as constructive criticism OR AT THE VERY LEAST after a conversation with the ‘offending’ company. There are too many flaming bandwagons leading to angry mob scenes.

  • Nonsense. All companies are evil in every way possible. All of the time, no exceptions. Power to the people.


  • Dave, you are spot on here. Companies do need to be cut a break sometimes. I can’t speak for Canadian or European cultures, but instant gratification is the name of the game here in the US. Many won’t wait for anything or anyone and expect the world to revolve them. That puts many companies in a customer service dilemma. How to meet customer expectations when there clearly is a no win-win situation. All that said, companies who claim their Twitter names should have someone monitoring the feed to avoid the #fail hashtag and have a statement saying it is best to contact them via x, y, z methods.

  • Dave,

    The use of social media in business settings has launched us all (businesses and consumers) into a new age of accountability. People on both sides of the fence should understand the responsibility and influence that they potentially can have to do damage or do good. I wrote about the subject here: The bottom line is: Think before you tweet.
    Nice post.

  • Good points Dave. Some advice for companies who have claimed their Twitter account but aren’t yet using it, is to make a simple statement as the first update and leave it.

    I used this as a placeholder for 3 months on a secondary Twitter account that I had claimed:
    “I have not yet started Tweeting on this account. Until the blog is ready and I’m ready to go you may follow my primary account @AdeleMcAlear” (

    I think that it is a good way to let people know your intentions and, hopefully, put to rest the criticisms about not engaging right from the very start. Brands could easily adopt this practice to set expectations from the very start.

  • Jackson Mehl
    ago11 years

    I would have to agree with you Dave. Social media is new to businesses. People want instant responses. The pace of communication has changed since the invention of social media, and people need to give businesses time to adjust to this change. However, if companies have a twitter or facebook account, people feel like businesses needs to understand the commitment to prompt communication that goes with that decision. Good Post.

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