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For UPS, a public-relations win on Reddit

Thanks to some crisis control from UPS rep Debbie Curtis-Magley, the shipping company quickly sidestepped a potential PR disaster.


Kevin Morris

Internet Culture

Posted on Jan 31, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 10:03 pm CDT

There are few public relations bombs on the Internet as terrifying as protracted Reddit outrage. GoDaddy, the website hoster, learned that lesson at its peril, after a Reddit boycott forced the company to backtrack on its stance supporting the Stop Online Piracy Act.

As UPS recently discovered, however, there are ways to cut the fuse of a Reddit bomb. Big surprise, all it takes is a little communication.

The UPS headache began late Monday. A redditor posted a picture of an alleged UPS delivery person carelessly slinging a package onto his porch. “UPS Delivery Fail,” the post read, and quickly shot to the top of the 1-million-subscriber r/wtf section.

In December, the company’s competitor, FedEx, suffered a similarly calamitous Internet event. A YouTuber posted a video of a FedEx employee tossing a computer monitor over a six-foot fence. That really didn’t go over well with the Internet, and it took FedEx executive Matthew Thornton II three days to respond with his own video.

In this shipper battle, UPS proved it was quicker with the delivery. A UPS PR manager, Debbie Curtis-Magley, was on the scene in under three hours.

“Throwing a package is inexcusable and UPS does not tolerate it under any circumstances,” Curtis-Magley wrote in the thread on Reddit. “I sent a message to the OP [original poster] asking for his assistance to get a tracking number on the shipment so we can determine if UPS was involved.”

Her comment shot up to the top of the thread, buoyed by a bit of face-saving luck: As Curtis-Magley and some redditors observed, the delivery person didn’t appear to be a UPS employee at all. The outfit was all wrong. And if there’s one surefire way to identify a UPS employee, it’s the all-brown and black outfit, including the socks (the person in the image above is wearing white socks).

The redditor who posted the thread retracted his statement and made a public apology. He later confirmed that it wasn’t a UPS driver; it was a driver for another company called Ensenda. Oops.

Though UPS wasn’t even actually at fault, it was still a very good thing Curtis-Magley jumped into the thread. By asking the poster to provide more details, she prompted him to look into it more closely and eventually make a very public retraction. And before she took the plunge, redditors were already starting to share their numerous bad experiences with UPS, proving that Reddit is more like a PR cluster bomb—little disasters explode all over the place.

But with that top-voted comment, and some engagement elsewhere in the thread, Curtis-Magley helped defuse the situation.

So is there some secret to success companies should know when engaging customers on Reddit?

Curtis-Magley told the Daily Dot she was pretty much a Reddit newbie. She registered only after hearing about the growing anti-UPS brouhaha from another employee. (Her team monitors various social media sites, she said, and is constantly on the look out.)

“We recognize every community has a unique culture and the way that it likes to invite people into the conversation,” Curtis-Magley said. “But first and foremost what I’ve learned in engaging online conversations over the past few years is that people just want to be acknowledged. The company says: ‘I just want to learn what’s going on here and if we’re at fault we want to know about it.’”

She added this simple piece of advice:

You’re not likely to know all the details in the story. Use that opportunity to engage, learn what the community has to offer. Read the whole comment thread. Where people support you, give them a shoutout. Where someone has problems be sure to acknowledge it, so you’re not a drive-by commenter.

Redditors appreciated the direct response (though a few were quick to point out the Curtis-Magley was indeed just doing her job).

“The fact that a UPS PR person took the time to address this in public and is working on it?” redditor magicker71 wrote. “Hell, that’s a win in my book for customer service. Bad employees are everywhere and a company can’t be everywhere at once monitoring them. It’s how the company reacts and rectifies the situation that counts.”

Redditor x2501x added: “I think it would be great if large companies took more time to do things like this in large online communities.”

Oh, by the way: Ensenda, it looks like you have a PR bomb to defuse.

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*First Published: Jan 31, 2012, 8:14 pm CST