HMV Twitter crisis wake-up call for brands

By Chris Lee

The threats posed from an organisation’s own staff on social media were demonstrated by HMV recently, leading social media marketers to reiterate the importance of policies and security of corporate Twitter accounts.

As a large number of staff at troubled HMV were receiving news of their impending redundancy, tweets were seen on the company’s official Twitter feed chronicling events. HMV’s 21 year-old now-former social media planner Poppy Rose Cleere later assumed responsibility for the tweets which, over a quarter hour period, included:

“We’re tweeting live from HR where we’re all being fired! Exciting!! #hmvXFactorFiring”

“There are over 60 of us being fired at once! Mass execution of loyal employees who love the brand. #hmvXFactorFiring”

“Sorry we’ve been quiet for so long. Under contract we’ve been unable to say a word, or – more importantly – tell the truth #hmvXFactorFiring”

“Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying, folks) ask ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’ #hmvXFactorFiring”

This issue raises multiple questions: Why did the marketing director not have access to the Twitter account or even know how to manage it? Why was a 21 year-old former intern trusted to be the voice of a huge brand on social media, especially at a sensitive time for the company? Were policies and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in place for staff when it comes to social media?

Lack of governance to blame

For Stephen Waddington of PR firm Ketchum and author of social media books Brand Anarchy and the forthcoming Brand Vandalism, a lack of governance and process was to blame in this instance.

“The rogue HMV tweets make great copy for bloggers and journalists dissecting the failure of this once great brand. The situation arose because of a lack of governance and process. There should be clear processes to lock down web assets when employees leave an organisation,” he told NMK. “We shouldn’t be surprised that processes didn’t exist at HMV. It is a sad story of a brand that has failed to modernise and build an online proposition over the last decade or so. The situation exposed a clear understanding of social media and the vulnerability of organisations that fail to adapt.”

Social media marketing consultant Darika Ahrens of Grapevine Consulting believes that, although every business is using social media in some capacity in 2013, what many struggle with is integrating social media across multiple stakeholders.

“Sometimes social sits in isolated pockets – often marketing, Customer Service or even IT – but here’s a demonstration of the impact of social on and from the HR department,” she said. “Using enterprise level software goes some way to coordinating social across the business but it starts with a dedicated role or person who has the cross-company view of social media; people like Scott Monty at Ford or Rachel Weiss at L’Oreal.”

Twitter best practice for brands

Danny Whatmough, director of digital strategies at London PR agency EML Wildfire, believes there are some basic steps which brands can take to avoid or at least minimise the chances of a similar experience to that seen at HMV.

“Make sure you know who you’ve given permissions to both internally and externally, if you’re using an agency,” he told NMK. “Social media is one of the first things you need to think about when putting together a crisis communications strategy and clearly HMV didn’t think about that. Failing to look at some of these things now in this day and age is unforgivable from a corporate standpoint. Take social media seriously and if you’re not, use this as the perfect example to really look at the policies you’ve got in place.”

You can hear the author’s podcast with Danny Whatmough on Twitter best practice here.

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