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What to do when social goes bad: The Lesson of HMV

Written by Sarah Carter, January 31, 2013
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goes badIt’s been a momentous day in the Twitterverse for HMV.  (For those of my US colleagues, who don’t know the brand, here’s a snapshot – from Wikipedia.. if you want more, click on the links).

HMV Group PLC is a British multinational entertainment retailing company with operations in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Singapore. It was listed on the London Stock Exchange and was a constituent of the FTSE Fledgling Index. The first HMV branded store was opened by the Gramophone Company on Oxford Street in 1921, and the HMV name was also used for television and radio sets manufactured from the 1930s onwards.

HMVSite Down

HMVSite Down

Now I had to go to Wikipedia to tell you more about HMV, because the company was put into administration on January 15th, as you can see from this is all I get at

As if that isn’t bad enough, what took place on Twitter earlier today should give any senior management team cause for social cold sweats.  Normally it’s great for the brand when you’re live tweeting an event (like we did recently at #IBMConnect)

But I’m not sure anyone has tweeted their own sacking before.  That’s right.  Just before 130pm local time, HMV’s official and verified Twitter account sent out the following: “We’re tweeting live from HR where we’re all being fired! Exciting!! #hmvXFactorFiring“.

This tweet went viral with over 1,300 retweets in 30 minutes.

This tweet was followed by 7 others, which told the social world what was going on.

Posts such as: “There are over 60 of us being fired at once! Mass execution, of loyal employees who love the brand. #hmvXFactorFiring” and, “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.” Went out.  And a little bit like car crash TV, we all watched.

Here’s the one that really consolidated for me the difference between those who “get” social and those who don’t.  Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying, folks) ask “How do I shut down Twitter?” #hmvXFactorFiring.

It gets worse.  Several hours later the offending tweets disappeared from the @HMVtweets feed.

Not, though before you could pick them up on places like Topsy – the news and screenshots of the offending tweets have been trending through the Huffington Post, CBS and Business Week here in the US, and the story continues.

You can see more write ups of the story at Holtz Communications, TwoFourSeven and I found the news out  through superstar @rhappe tweeting it (follow her, she’s great for breaking news like this)

So what can you do to make sure that #hmvXfactorFiring doesn’t end up at your door?

  • Social has GOT to be part of any crisis management communications plan.  Period.
  • Make sure ownership of your Corporate Social Network Accounts is with a group that is part of the planning.
  • Transparency is key.  If you spin, lie or cheat, you will be found out.
  • Deleting content, while it might be necessary sometimes (racist commentary, profanity and the like that you do NOT want on your Twitter feed have no place staying there in order to be transparent) should be undertaken with caution.
  • If you do delete content, make sure you have a record of it.  You can be sure that the rest of the world already does.
  • Engage, understand the mood and the sentiment of the audience and go with it.  Empower the team responding to do just that.  Respond.

What else would you add to how you can deal with social in a crisis?

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