Concerned about hackers, protesters, weather disasters or even the threat of terrorist attack? You may want to look a bit closer to home. It is an established fact in crisis management circles that some of the biggest vulnerabilities an organisation faces come from its own staff. Whether that be a conspicuously hidden post-it note with log-in details to all the company accounts; opening a harmless looking email loaded with malware; or a disgruntled employee (or ex-employee) using company resources to tarnish a reputation.
Last week, HMV learnt this lesson the hard way when their social media team took over the official HMV Twitter handle to provide a running commentary on the redundancies being made in their office. The tweets, which have since been deleted, talked of ‘mass executions’ of ‘hard working individuals’ and used #hmvXFactorFiring to voice their disgust to over 60,000 followers of the brand’s account.
This event demonstrated once again the power – and dangers – of social media and its influence on traditional news outlets. The ‘rogue’ tweets were immediately picked up by influencers on social media, who took screen-shots (still believe that tweets are ephemeral?) and shared these with followers. Blog posts soon followed and within an hour, mainstream news channels had run the story in online editions, and the following day several publications printed articles on the episode.
Redundancies are always a sensitive issue, and it is unsurprising and entirely understandable that staff were shocked and upset to hear they were losing their jobs. In the past, however, a discreetly worded statement from the company (or in this case, the administrators) would cause a brief stir among a small group of interested parties and coverage on the business pages of newspapers. In this case, however, the power of social media means the implications stretch far wider, with a bigger impact, on a wider audience.
HMV at this point should be invoking their integrated crisis communications plan, and communicating with their stakeholders through the same channels that their detractors are using (i.e. social media). Oh but wait a second…we just fired the guys who know how to use that ‘Twitter’ thing that was causing all this fuss in the first place…huh.
In today’s world, there is no escaping from the implications of social media – both positive and negative – on corporate reputation. All plans, including ‘restructuring’, should take into account the reputational risks that come with both unhappy employees and the world of social media – especially if those disgruntled staff members have access to the official corporate communications channels.
This episode raises some interesting questions about crisis PR and corporate communications in the digital world: HMV last week faced an age-old problem, with a new-age dimension.