Silence a barking dog? Or how the HMV tweets went walkies

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Silence a barking dog? Or how the HMV tweets went walkies

This afternoon something extraordinary happened on Twitter. Employees who run the HMV Twitter feed (@HMVtweets) reportedly started to tweet about ‘being fired.’ Their messages appeared around 2.30pm (GMT) and by 3pm, if you look at @HMVtweets, it’s like it never happened. However, being the world of social media, the delete button is not the delete button any more. I’m not going to get into the decision taken by someone there to remove them. That’s a whole other topic.

Music and DVD chain HMV is one of the most iconic brands on the British High Street. It has existed since 1921 when it opened in London’s Oxford Street. Their trademark gramophone and dog image is from a 1898 painting His Master’s Voice, and at the start of 2013 the company announced that it had appointed an administrator. It has 4350 employees and 239 shops.

From what I observed over the course of the half an hour today, the Twitter events unfolded like this:

Just before 2.30pm, tweets reportedly from HMV employees appeared, including:

  • 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!!#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
  • Under usual circumstances we’d never dare do such a thing as this. However, when the company you dearly love is being ruined…
  • …and those hard working individuals, who wanted to make hmv great again, have mostly been fired, there seemed no other choice
  • Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying folks), ask “How do I shut down Twitter?”

Regular readers will know that I’ve been experimenting with Vine this week, and I decided to make a short film about the tweets just after they appeared, which you can see here and below. I filmed within six minutes of the tweets starting. I also tweeted screengrabs as I had a feeling they may disappear. You can see them here and here.

 

They continued for a little while. Then suddenly all of the tweets vanished and they have since been deleted from the @hmvtweets account. I recorded another Vine at that time to highlight the before and after.

 

A few moments later I saw a tweet from @SkyNewsBreakAdministrators confirm that 190 people have been made redundant at HMV’s head office and distribution centres

So what can we take away?
Firstly, it goes without saying, that thoughts are with those employees and their families who are affected by the decisions today. For all the media commentary around what should and shouldn’t have happened, as with any such change, it is people who are affected.

They clearly felt Twitter was the way to air their thoughts. Use of the phrases like ‘Under usual circumstances, we’d never dare do such a thing as this… there seemed no other choice’ and ‘company you dearly love’, ‘hard working individuals who wanted to make hmv great again’ offers insight into seemingly dedicated employees who care about the company and know they were doing something extraordinary with the trust that had been placed on them to tweet corporately. (I wrote about that exact topic in a guest article for @Mazi‘s blog last week).

Best practice internal communication is of course that you inform your employees first. From all accounts, it sounds like HMV were doing that, and face-to-face.  However, the ‘how do you shut down Twitter’ comment certainly gives a glimpse into what was apparently happening behind closed doors, and I can only imagine those conversations. But speculating further isn’t helpful, so I’m not going to do that.

I’m going to end this article by highlighting my Windmill Networking colleague Judy Gombita‘s monthly column as I think it’s timely. It went live today and features damage control and crisis comms. I’d encourage you to read the whole article for an in depth look, but am going to share this passage which Judy quotes from the book Masters of Disaster (Lehane, Fabiani and Guttentag, Dec 2012):

When responding to a crisis, the mission is to restore trust. The response to the crisis is what is known as crisis management. The tale of what you do to manage the crisis – and, in particular, how fairly you are treated going forward by those audiences who will be judging you – is called damage control.”

Further reading on today’s events
Blog by Shel Holtz
Julio Romo: hmv tweets their own sacking  

Update at 8pm: I’ve created a Storify as the tweeter is reported to be @poppy_powers. Her tweets state (I’ve grouped some together):

It’s been an amazing two and a bit years with hmv! (Only 1 and a half officially) Such a shame it had to end on that note. Someone had to speak!

I would apologise for the #hmvXFactorFiring tweets but I felt like someone had to speak. As someone without a family to support/no mortgage I felt that I was the safest person to do so. Not to mention, I wanted to show the power of Social Media to those who refused to be educated. 

Just to set something straight. I did not ‘hijack’ the hmv twitter account. I actually assumed sole responsibility of Twitter & Facebook over two years ago, as an intern. When asked (this afternoon), I gladly provided the password to head office. I also set another member of  staff up as a manager on Facebook and removed myself from the admin list. I didn’t resist any requests to cooperate

Since my internship started, I worked tirelessly to educate the business on the importance of Social Media – not as a short-term commercial tool, but as a tool to build and strengthen the customer relationship and to gain invaluable real-time feedback from the consumers that have kept us going for over 91 years. While many colleagues understood and supported this, it was the more senior members of staff who never seemed to grasp its importance

I hoped that today’s actions would finally show them the true power and importance of Social Media and I hope they’re finally listening

As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or tweet me @AllthingsIC if you would like to share your thoughts on what you have read. Thank you for stopping by, Rachel

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2  responses on Silence a barking dog? Or how the HMV tweets went walkies

Hi Rachel,

I think ‘best practice internal communication’ / HR is going to have to change. That’s not just because of the impact of social media and I don’t just mean that companies have got to take control of their social media feeds either. In fact I still don’t think they should. Much better one short social media disaster than continuing mistrust of all your employees.

The bigger issue is that behind closed doors, top down, command and control management of these sorts of situations isn’t going to work anymore. Of course there are loads of reasons why you might want to manage transactions in this sort of way – but look how much you piss people off if you do.

They may take to twitter, they may not, but it’s the pissing them off this much that we need to find new ways to avoid. That’s fundamentally about transparency, honesty and involvement.

That’s the main thing I take away from this.

Thank you for your comment Jon. I think it’s the ‘behind closed doors’ attitudes that are the key contributor to unease.

I’ve certainly experienced hierarchical structures where employees think senior management are ‘sharpening the axe’ if they are reticent to communicate their plans, despite hearing advice to the contrary. This leads to mistrust, uncertainty and doubt spreading – definitely a case of having pissed off employees, to use your phrase.

I agree that transparency, honesty and involvement are crucial. Three attributes seldom found in command and control situations.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts,
Rach

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