Brand Advocate Fired Over Tweet

Mike Allton
Mike Allton Internet Marketing Consultant, The Social Media Hat

Posted on March 22nd 2013

Brand Advocate Fired Over Tweet
Brand Advocate Fired Over Tweet

What happens when you are the evangelist for a brand and you ignite an Internet controversy while representing that brand? You get fired.

Adria Richards was a brand advocate for SendGrid. She was attending a Python conference, one of many she had attended on behalf of her company, and according to her blog post, had heard more than her fair share of sexual jokes. At one point during a presentation, she decided to take action in the form of a Tweet that she knew would be seen by conference organizers.

Conference organizers did indeed see the tweet, and escorted the identified developers out of the conference. One of the pictured developers was ultimately fired from his position at PlayHaven.

Adria maintains her own website and that's where she shared the details of her story and this incident, but Adria's Twitter bio specifically states that she is the "Developer Evangelist for @SendGrid." The developer who was fired also published a story on Hacker News.

As news of this spread, Adria and SendGrid began to receive a lot of backlash. Adria was threatened for having outed these guys on Twitter, and SendGrid's website became the target of a massive DDoS attack that's left the site, and their email distribution service, inoperable. In the midst of the attack, SendGrid fired Adria and posted that annoucnement to Twitter.

PyCon is also revising their Code of Conduct to specifically state that reports should be submitted in writing, not in public.

Dino Dogan from Triberr, tech-startup founder and SendGrid customer, suggests that "both PlayHaven and SendGrid have made the same mistake. They fired their employees, when in fact they should have stuck with them. Not only is it the right thing to do, but now they are suffering the consequences of not putting people first."

There is no question that Adria had a right to be offended and had a right to complain. The question is, did she make the right choice when she decided to use Twitter, and include a picture, to communicate that complaint? And while Adria's employment would not appear to be protected under the National Labor Relations Act, do you think SendGrid was right to fire an employee making that kind of statement online?

Image courtesy of MDGovpics, Flickr.

Mike Allton

Mike Allton

Internet Marketing Consultant, The Social Media Hat

I love to help small businesses and organizations that are interested in using the Internet more effectively. I provide a comprehensive set of consulting services, which include Social Media, Blogging, website development, SEO and Internet marketing.

I started my own website design firm in 2007 when I moved to St. Louis. Though I had been designing websites for years, it was always side jobs and part time gigs until I started my own firm. I now provide professional web development and Internet consulting full time.

For most clients and projects, we start with a new website. The new site is based on the Drupal Content Management System (CMS) platform so that the client may log into their site and add or edit content any time they need to. Each CMS includes a built-in Blog and other content types like FAQs and Testimonials. The CMS also includes a full compliment of SEO and Social Media integration options so that every time they create a new blog entry, that post is automatically shared with search engines like Google and Bing, and can be easily posted to social networks like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

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Comments

Actually, I wonder if she wouldn't be protected under federal law. Her company fired her after she complained about sexual harrassment. I would consult legal on that one before completely ruling it out. 

"Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling...

  • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct."

http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/practices/harassment.cfm

Everyday we blaze new trails with social media usage and governance, but, unfortunately, the outcome is not always positive.  In any situation where personal and professional communications overlap, one should always err on the side of caution.  Perhaps, if Ms. Richards had hit the mental pause button and asked herself the following questions, the situation could have had a vastly different outcome.

The first question should always be:

  • Is this the best means of addressing the problem?

If the answer is yes (and, in this situation, I would argue that it is not and should have been a more discreet, face to face conversation with the conference organizers), then, as a de facto reputation manager for her company, she should then have asked herself:

  • Will I still feel this way in 24 hours?
  • What is the most positive way to achieve my goal?
  • How will this message reflect on me and/or my employer?
  • Are there legal, reputation or other risks to posting? (If you're asking this question, you may want to revisit the previous questions. If you can't answer this question, don't post.)

Based on SendGrid's actions, they, too, would have benefitted from asking these same questions.  The backlash against them from the Twittersphere continues.

Social media can be an enormously valuable tool and a great way to express oneself. But since you can't unshoot a bullet, better hit that mental pause button before you post.

This is the big issue with Twitter, it is not only imediate but so very public.  Was she right to comment about harrassment at the conference, most certainly.  Was SendGrid right to fire her, is the grey area.  If she had complained via a more private medium I would say wholeheartedly no, that would mean they fired her for complaining about being harrassed.  However, the forum she used complicates matters.  But this is not a new problem, so many times people do not think before they tweet and if your twitter (or blog or anything else) represents others, then one should think very carefully about the repercussions.  Still SendGrid should have throught harder about firing her, because that does not send a very good message either. 

Yeah that is clearly wrong of them to do. They should not have fired her for that. I hope she sued the company for wrongful termination. They blamed her for the DDOS attack which she was NOT responsible for.