Posted May 20, 2011 8:27 am by with 3 comments

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Social media is great isn’t it? Never before have more people had more chances to voice opinions and share ideas. While that’s the rose-colored glasses description of the space let’s not forget what might be crawling underneath when you flip the rock over.

An example of how companies can simply get themselves the wrong kind of attention happened in Washington state recently. The short version is that a small non-profit that was getting some support from Comcast (Reel Grrls) tweeted their surprise at a recent Comcast hire who came from the public sector. The results are less than hilarious if you are Comcast. The Wall Street Journal reports

A local Comcast Corp. cable system temporarily cut funding to a small Washington state nonprofit that tweeted its surprise that the cable giant hired a Federal Communications Commission member as a lobbyist just four months after she voted to approve the company’s deal to acquire NBCUniversal.

So what was the offending Tweet?

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And how did Comcast react? Like any non-thinking corporate dimwit would, of course.

The next day, the nonprofit said it received an email from a local Comcast official informing the group that it would pull funding for a program that it had sponsored since 2007.

“Given the fact that Comcast has been a major supporter of Reel Grrls for several years now, I am frankly shocked that your organization is slamming us on Twitter. This is not the first time either. I’ve seen at least one other negative Tweet about Comcast,” wrote Steve Kipp, a Comcast vice president of communications, in an email released by the nonprofit. “I cannot in good conscience continue to provide you with funding—especially when there are so many other deserving nonprofits in town.”

This caused Comcast to go into the latest dance craze favored by those corporations who often come off as if they spend their days with their heads up somewhere not so nice. It’s called “The Corporate Backpedal”. Watch and learn.

A Comcast spokeswoman said Thursday afternoon that the nonprofit’s funding wasn’t in jeopardy.

“We are in the process of reaching out to Reel Grrls in Seattle and let them know the funding the organization has received from Comcast is not in jeopardy and we sincerely apologize for the unauthorized action of our employee. This is not the way Comcast behaves toward its nonprofit partners,” Sena Fitzmaurice, vice president of government communications, said in a statement.

Uh, actually it is how Comcast behaves in some instances toward nonprofit partners but who’s counting?

So the lessons to learn here are plenty as it relates to online reputation management and more. Here are a few I can come up with.

Train your people better (or start training them) – The fact that this local employee was dumb enough to threaten this group’s funding based on a free speech matter is, well, dumbfounding.

Publicize actions taken against offending employees – While it’s nice to hear that this employee did a bad thing let people know that within your organization they will get more than just a tongue lashing or 5 whips with a cable box wire.

Shut up – There is no better advice to anyone who thinks that responding to a tweet from a group like this than to just not say anything. Check with someone higher up (and smarter) who can bring reason and logic into the picture before you act. Oh and if you do act, don’t e-mail something like this. I mean, c’mon man!

Did I mention train your people better? – If for no other reason a company should train its people in responding to social media ‘concerns’ as a CYA move. If a rogue employee does something silly then at least you may have grounds for firing them and can report to the world that this is not how things are because you are really trying to educate your less than thoughtful employees.

I suspect there are more and maybe you could add to the list in the comments.

Lastly, I wonder if Frank Eliason is available for a few days of consulting to remind his former employer of some of the basics?

  • Britexpat

    I think a Comcast competitor should step in and take over funding – perfect PR stunt

  • Nicole

    I understand the point of your article was the way Comcast dealt with the tweet… which I agree, was not “exactly” the best option. However, they are a corporation and as such, get to choose which non-profits, or anyone for that matter, they give their money to. If you are receiving funding from a company, I do suspect that you should keep your mouth shut as well or be prepared to lose that funding. I don’t think they handled it properly, but I also wouldn’t blame them if they did decide to move the funding to a different, and equally (if not more) deserving non-profit.

  • In this online world, everything can get leaked. It’s not a big surprise that the nonprofit released the email they got from Comcast. Companies have to be prepared for everything they say and do to get reported online. Once the information is out there, it’s out there for good.