"Always Make New Mistakes!"


I began this post last week when the recent blogstorm over Ketchum interactive VP, James Andrews and a questionable exposed email from a Fedex staff employee threw the blogo/twittersphere into a hightech lynching of Mr. Andrews, who has in my view, become a hapless digital transparency hero.The incident showcases how responsibility, privacy, constitutional rights, influence, transparency, and well, new rules of the digital era will present us all with new and interesting challenges.In case you’ve missed this, please prepare with the introductory reading assignment:

  • Andrews’ tweet as he arrived in Memphis, hometown of Ketchum client, Fedex.
  • PRinfluencer, Peter Shankman (with 20K+ twitter followers. That’s > /steverubel, but < /chrisbrogan), who exposed an email from an unhappy Fedex employee with this post.
  • @olivermarks’ crossover post to the e20 community.
  • You can see more blogger reaction here.

I borrowed the headline for this post from Esther Dyson who signs her emails with “Always make new mistakes!” It’s become such a trademark for her, it’s refrigerator magnet worthy. I’m choosing Esther’s slogan to frame my reaction to this new twitter-gate episode partly because of her long-time advocacy for Internet privacy, but also because of her belief that we can only learn through experience. Sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong, but in the end, we all benefit from the lessons learned.Oliver Marks says in his post, “no one comes out of this looking good.” So, yes. I agree mistakes were made. But, what’s more important is what can we learn from this?On PrivacyThere were two privacy issues in this case study. The first involves Mr. Andrews’ personal thoughts telegraphed to the world. Because of Twitter’s ubiquity and real-time reach, Andrews forfeited his right to privacy here. A right he chose when he unprotected his tweets. The second issue is related to the privacy of the individual who sent the damning email and now has perhaps embarrassed Ketchum and Fedex for being mixed up in a socialweb skirmish. Did the Fedex employee intend for Shankman to expose Andrews? If so, he/she gave up his/her right to privacy. If not, Shankman has some explaining to do. This incident reminds me of another social media expert who found herself in a dither with the social media community over a private email she sent to friends that also was posted (and exposed) via a blog. That was the Debbie Weil case. Different set of principles and values, but another lesson learned for all who jumped into that one. Regardless of where you stood on that issue, Ms. Weil’s privacy was jeopardized and led to a social media embarrassment for her.On ResponsibilityYes, “Think before you tweet.” It’s like Microsoft told Scoble, “Blog smart.” On the social web, we are what we tweet and what we blog. Going forward, as the social web colors in the paint-by-numbers portraits of our true character, we will need to stand on our principles. Where we have prejudices, they will be revealed. Nonetheless, I’ve been in the ad agency business. In many ways, I found it was that rare combination of Emotional Intelligence and IQ that made the best ad executives. The account executives and creative groups who were sensitive and respectful of the clients’ values succeeded in creating great campaigns and developing longstanding client relationships. We can ding Mr. Andrews on a breach in sensitivity here, knock a point off his performance review, but to call for his dismissal is a giant step backwards in the national discussion on transparency and openness.On Freedom of SpeechTwitter, YouTube, Blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr– all of these open social media are lifting our voices. We are all being heard. We have a right to object, to argue, to agree, and to embarrass ourselves. Just like the pre-Internet age, with that powerful right comes the great responsibility to suffer the consequences when we fail to self-censor. I urge all of you who are active in online activities to learn more about Internet freedoms. Two good places to start are the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the OpenNet Initiative.On InfluenceJacob Nielsen’s 1/9/90 needs to be re-interpreted to explain the influence the 1% is wielding in shaping public opinion on the Internet. When eruptions such as the Ketchum/Fedex-gate occur, it’s incumbent upon the socialweb-orati to explain the significance of the events as well as argue their side of the debate. It has disturbed me that the loudest voices on this issue are coming from the PR/social media community who condemn the agency VP handily without seriously weighing the ramifications of lynching Mr. Andrews for what amounts to a personal opinion.On TransparencyWe’re entering a new era of openness and transparency. Transparency rests on a platform of truth. Transparency is our ally, not our enemy. Yet, transparency’s ugly twin sister is accountability. You can’t date one without the other. Will we hold Andrews accountable for Ketchum losing the Fedex account? I hope not. But should we be held accountable for what we say online? Yes, but within reason.Mistakes are the only way we will progress toward a universal protocol for our acceptable digital behaviors. May you make many of them!