Chrysler tweet: an issue of process

Over the weekend, I had several people from big brands ask me what I thought about the Chrysler tweet debacle, and whether I thought the right actions were taken. If you haven’t heard, an employee from the agency that ghostwrites the @ChryslerAutos twitter handle accidently posted a tweet to that handle rather than their personal account, as intended. A virtual s$%tstorm was brought down on Chrysler, who in turn fired their agency, who in turned fired the employee.

The reality is that this is not an uncommon occurrence, nor will there be a time when such things don’t happen. Raise your hand if you’ve never mistakenly sent an internal email to a customer. Looking…. yep, no hands raised. We’ve all done it, or something similar.

I feel bad for the employee, and I have no idea of what the circumstances are behind the scenes. But if I were the point of contact at Chrysler, I certainly would have strongly considered firing them [the agency], if not actually doing it. This isn’t because I expect agencies to be perfect or that mistakes are the end of the world. (In fact, mistakes – or the positive recovery from them – are sometimes the best way to build your proof points of authenticity)

Rather, it is because the fact that an employee could accidently tweet anything to the client’s stream rather than their personal stream tells me two things:

  • There was/is very little process in place at the agency that ensures such mistakes can’t happen. This process would come in two forms: ensuring that the employee is well trained in specific best practices, dictated and/or signed off on by the brand, and that workflow for how tweets are created includes a buddy system or other forms of human and technological verification before publishing takes place.
  • There is no audit of these best practices to ensure that a new employee who is given the keys to the kingdom isn’t, for instance, using a single Twitter app to setup both @funkyfreshagencyguy and @ChryslerAutos. (I don’t know if that’s what happened here, but that’s my guess)

Here’s what I told these contacts when they asked how they could avoid a similar debacle:

  • If you’re going to outsource your brand personality (which I’m not passing judgement on), then ensure that you’re taking an active role in the process development and the on-going auditing of said process.
  • It’s up to you (the brand) to be responsible for anyone and everyone working on your project. Turning things over to your agency and trusting them to avoid disaster is, in fact, a recipe for disaster. This is your brand, not theirs. Ultimately, you’re the one getting judged on success of the programs, activities, and outputs and as such, you have to be involved in the details.
  • Ask to see the process with your own eyes. Watching your agency contacts struggle to show you how things work behind the scenes or watching them quickly and efficiently post content will tell you more than you’d ever get in writing. Documenting process is easy, sticking to it in real life is really hard.
  • Ask your account director for bios or resumes on the folks pushing the publish button. Agencies, more often than not, push the task of publishing to very junior employees (It’s easy, after all… why does a senior person need to be doing it? Right??) whose judgement or experience might not be where you’re happy with. Push back if you don’t feel comfortable with their staffing. Anyone who pushes a publish button on your behalf is inherently a spokesperson for your company. There’s a reason the White House Press Secretary is a senior position. There’s a reason why your company’s lead PR spokesperson isn’t an intern. If you’re going to outsource, make sure you have the right person in the hot seat.
  • Demand updates on staff changes. Agencies churn people at a regular clip; it’s the reality of the business, and it’s neither good or bad, it’s just how things work. Require your agency to update you if the person pushing the button or anyone on the content flow team changes. Then repeat the vetting process steps above for their replacements. Just because your account director is awesome doesn’t mean that his/her staff isn’t problematic.
  • And lastly, regularly reassess whether you’re truly getting your money’s worth by having someone else push the publish button. In the case of Chrysler, because this mistake happened with a layer of removal between the brand and the content, it was harder for the Chrysler folks to apologize in a way that had any personality to it. It wasn’t an Chrysler employee working on a brand many love and many will defend. Instead, it was from a person who was dissociated from the love, so activating an audience of fans to step in and defend Chrysler is nearly impossible.

(Thanks to Armano for the graphic up top)