FedEx’s Social Media Nightmare Before Christmas

Contrary to popular belief, not all publicity is good publicity. While it’s good to have people talking about you, a negative comment on social media has the power to quickly damage your brand’s reputation.

Before Social Media

Prior to social media marketing, companies had time to react to situations that called for crisis management. For instance, they could pull their TV commercial or retract an entire newspaper article if they felt it was being poorly received without much backlash. Sure, people could record these commercials or save these articles, but there really was no way for them to quickly share this information with others.

Social media, however, makes things more permanent, and is therefore, harder for companies to control. All it takes is for one of your customers to take a screenshot of something you posted or upload an incriminating video and then share it with their followers to make your social media faux pas go viral.

FedEx’s Blunder

In Dec. 2011, FedEx came under social media attack after YouTube user goobie55 uploaded a video that showed a FedEx delivery man throwing the Samsung computer monitor he ordered over his fence to deliver it to him. Although the customer was home at the time, the delivery driver never bothered to knock or ring the doorbell to alert him of his package; instead, he chose to toss it. After opening his monitor, the customer noticed that it was broken and needed to be replaced. Thanks to his well-placed security security camera, he was able to express his disappointment with FedEx on YouTube. Goobie55’s video, which received more than one million views in an approximately 24-hour time span, prompted other FedEx customers to discuss their negative experiences with the Memphis-based shipping company.

It was time for FedEx to do some damage control.

FedEx Responds

After the video was posted, FedEx Senior Communications Specialist Shea Leordeanu stated “All of us here at FedEx have seen the video and quite frankly we were shocked.” Two days later, on Dec. 21, FedEx apologized via their own YouTube video. In it, Senior Vice President of U.S. Operations Matthew Thornton apologized on behalf of his entire company for the actions of their reckless delivery driver. “I am upset and embarrassed for our customer’s poor experience,” he said. Thornton went on to explain that they had met with the customer, who had accepted the company’s apology and is now satisfied. They also announced that they were taking disciplinary action against the driver.

While this video went against FedEx’s purple promise, which is to make every FedEx experience outstanding, the company decided to use it as a learning opportunity. They shared the video internally to remind their employees of the importance of delivering packages and to demonstrate that actions like this are totally unacceptable. They also incorporated it into their training programs “as a constant reminder of the importance of earning — and keeping — your trust with every single delivery.” Additionally, the FedEx communications team also wrote a blog post titled, “Absolutely, Positively Unacceptable,” to expand on their apology video.

My Take On It

I actually really liked the way FedEx handled its negative publicity. The company took note of the viral video; issued a sincere, well-written apology, both on YouTube and on its site’s blog, in which it stated that it would use this video to prevent future incidents; made sure the customer whose monitor was damaged was satisfied; and announced that it would be taking disciplinary action against the reckless delivery driver. Customers took note of the company’s response and voiced their approval of the way it handled things in the blog comments.

That being said, there are a few things I would’ve done differently. First of all, while I appreciated FedEx’s response, I felt that it was too delayed. The video was posted on Dec. 19, and it wasn’t until Dec. 21 that FedEx issued their official apology. In the social media world, two days can seem like an eternity. Additionally, while the negative publicity took place on YouTube, I would’ve liked to have seen the company post a short apology to their Twitter as well as share a link to their YouTube video and blog post on their Facebook wall, as this would’ve increased the changes of having their message reach as many FedEx customers as possible. Finally, I wasn’t able to find any follow-up articles from FedEx about how this video had changed the way they do business. So even though they said they were going to incorporate it in their training programs, I would’ve liked to have seen a follow-up blog post about how doing so had had a positive impact on their employees and the company overall.

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6 thoughts on “FedEx’s Social Media Nightmare Before Christmas

  1. Erin says:

    Lynette,

    No way this was 2011! I feel like it happened yesterday! I can honestly say that this one event made me second guess every single flawed item that landed on my doorstep. I couldn’t help but wonder if the carrier stomped on it, ran over it or pitched it into my door. I actually have taken three pictures of different items shoved into my mailbox so tight that it took all of my might to remove them.

    I think you are right about timing to respond. It cannot wait a single day. Even if you have to put something out there to act as a holding position, you have to act. I remember seeing this video everywhere I turned. I don’t however, remember seeing the response by FedEx everywhere. I saw it a couple places but it certainly didn’t go viral. You make a great point about cross-promoting the apology. Twitter would have been a great place to post a link to a YouTube video. They also missed the mark on following up. The reason this is so important is because it is nowhere near forgotten. I don’t know if we will ever forget this event caught on video. I think FedEx needs to have an ongoing conversation about this to counteract the fact that it is so deeply engrained our memories.

    • Hi Erin,

      Thanks for commenting! I also couldn’t believe that this FedEx package incident happened three years ago. How time flies! Did you ever tweet the pictures you took to the shipping companies who delivered those packages to your house? If so, I’d be curious to see how they responded. There really is no need for large items to be stuffed into something as small as your mailbox.

      This FedEx video is completely engrained in my mind too, and I don’t think you and I are alone in feeling this way. When a company does something to ruin its reputation, they have to do damage control for a long time in order for people to forget about what happened. Take Manti Te’o’s catfish incident, for example. Even though it occurred two years ago, and he’s accomplished a lot in the NFL since then, it’s still the second story that pops up when you Google his name. Thankfully, FedEx’s story doesn’t show up on the first two pages of Google, but it is still engrained in our minds and easily accessible on YouTube. That’s why FedEx and other companies need to make online reputation management a top priority.

  2. Lynette,
    GREAT post! I had no idea that this had even occurred, it was a great example of a company handling their social media crisis responsibly. While I was reading your post I couldn’t believe how well FEDEX had handled the crisis- from the wording of their apology, the validation of inexcusable behavior on the part of their driver, etc. I really liked that they incorporated the video into their training program as well. You also made some really great points about how they could have done more to spread the word about the flub, a good offense is the best defense and they should have shared the blog way more than they did. I also agree with timing- three days IS an eternity! The only thing that rubs me the wrong way about this apology (and it could just be me) is that they distanced themselves from the driver and took no responsibility as a company themselves. They never said ‘we know this is unacceptable, we could be monitoring drivers better or training them better’ etc. We all know that this has not just happened with one driver- there is a larger problem at hand here and I would have liked to see more of an acceptance of blame I guess.

    • Hi Wendy,

      Thanks for commenting. I agree with you that FedEx, for the most part, did a great job in issuing a sincere apology and in choosing to incorporate this video into future employee training sessions. You bring up an interesting point about the way they treated their delivery driver as a separate entity. Any FedEx employee is an extension of their brand and should be spoken of in this way. While it was the driver’s fault, FedEx can’t forget that they’re the ones who hired him, so it ultimately all comes back to them and their new employee screening process. FedEx should’ve probably worded their apology in such a way that demonstrated that they were willing to take full responsibility for their driver’s actions.

  3. Hi, Lynette.

    Great post! I, too, think FedEx handled this situation competently. I saw this video back when the incident occurred. I think it was on Good Morning America, so talk about high exposure!

    In the case of the company, you have to cut FedEx a little slack because, as we all know, you can train your employees, have them sign contracts and live by a firm mission statement, but when you have representatives for your company out on their own, you can’t ensure things like this never happen. So for their part, FedEx did a fairly good job righting the wrong done by its employee.

    Your suggestions for improvement are spot on. Follow up, as we heard in our lecture this week, is a great way to build trust and strengthen reputation. FedEx has some tough competition, and they can’t afford to lose traction with their customers. And lastly, I think in 2011 companies were still in the mindset of minimizing exposure to bad publicity, and may be why FedEx didn’t issue their statement as quickly or as broadly as they would now. The landscape has evolved, and businesses understand that there is no containing these stories. They were used to control back in 2011, but in 2015, I believe there is finally an acceptance that they’re not in the driver’s seat (no pun intended) anymore!

    • Hi Kimberly,

      You’re right that even though you can train your employees to the best of your ability, force them to sign contracts and agreements, you don’t have complete control over what they choose to do when they’re away from their supervisors.

      You also bring up a good point about the year that this took place. In 2011, businesses weren’t as well versed in the dos and don’ts of online reputation management as they are today. I have a feeling that if something similar to this happened to FedEx again this year, they’d not only be quicker to respond, but they’d also be better about issuing their apology across multiple platforms.

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