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HMV Twitter hijack: It’s hard to believe there are still social media lessons to be learnt

Pete Sigrist on the lessons to be learned from HMVPete Sigrist on the lessons to be learned from HMV

Yesterday afternoon, the community manager for the official HMV Twitter (@hmvtweets) account live-tweeted the firing of 60 staff. In the space of 15 minutes, the official account, followed by over 70,000 people, saw the following tweets:

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

• We’re tweeting live from HR where we’re all being fired! Exciting!!

The tweet went viral within half an hour as it was retweeted 1,300 times in the first 30 minutes. Someone at HMV swiftly deleted the tweets, but then others popped up as the keyboard seemed to be torn between employees.

The final tweet read:

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

For a time, trying to access the HMV page returned the Fail Whale (which was a nice throwback to 2009) as it seemed unable to cope with the stress.

The tweets have now since been deleted. In fact, if you look at the HMV feed, it seems that January has been a pretty quiet month – service as usual for the music and entertainment retailer that’s been going since 1921.

Unfortunately, I like everybody else live in the real world, and know that it is not service as usual for the company, which has recently gone into administration. Living in this world also means that we have all seen the tweets that were deleted. People quickly took screenshots, and as is the case with the Streisand effect, if you try to delete something online, it multiples, and so those screen shots quickly went viral.

The tweets themselves were tweeted with a rather sour taste of humour, but sadness and bitterness shouldn’t be unexpected among a group of people who wanted a little a transparency.

The fact that this sort of Twitter fiasco can still happen is farcical. It’s hard to believe that, in 2013, social media lessons remain to be learned.

The public tend to distrust corporate secrecy and when it comes to information like this, it’s hard to keep it quiet. Comms strategies from the start should be about controlling the message but also respecting the medium your users use. Deleting tweets or Facebook messages rarely ends well, and is symptomatic of a corporate attitude that hasn’t grasped the reputational value of corporate transparency.

These tweets show how easy it is for senior management to lose control of social media. As tweets were deleted and then new ones appeared, it was clear passwords had not been changed. If you need to reduce the headcount in your organisation, make sure that those you are firing don’t have the opportunity to publicly humiliate you. Changing Twitter passwords must not have registered as a necessary step to take beforehand.

Increasingly, if you’re a high-profile brand or, especially, if you operate in a regulated industry, tools like Meltwater Buzz, Hootsuite or Syncapse are becoming essential levers of control over who publishes what on your official feed.

Transparency has its merits. Instead of deleting tweets, isn’t it about time for corporations to learn that you have an unique opportunity when everyone’s talking about you to get your side of the story across. It’s hard to believe that there are still so many lessons to be learned about what works online. But clearly, not everyone has yet set aside the time to take Social Media 101.

Pete Sigrist is managing director of 33 Digital, the digital PR sister agency of Hotwire.

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