Keeping Control of ‘His Master’s Voice’: A lesson in Social Media management

When Poppy Rose Cleere, the former ‘Social Media Planner’ for HMV, decided to prove her influence by using Twitter to express disgust at administrators laying off 190 people at its head office, it created a stir across the internet. Thousands of followers looked on in amazement as she embarked on a scathing attack that narrated the dismissal of employees.

What has become clear from this somewhat undignified episode is the need for companies to set standards, procedures and parameters for the use of social media, as well as repercussions that arise when it is abused. The irony of this recent case, of course, is that individuals such as Cleere would often to be the ones to advise on such policies.

But who is to blame in the HMV debacle? The obvious first choice would be the individual, Cleere, who, if she was still employed at the time of tweeting (i.e. if she had been given notice of redundancy but was working out her notice or placed on ‘Garden Leave’, or had not yet been told she was to lose her job), would more than likely be guilty of gross misconduct by bringing the organisation into disrepute.

I have had experience of an individual who was given notice of redundancy by their employer, put on Garden Leave and proceeded to write on their Facebook page how they wanted to leave such a bad organisation anyway and were delighted they were now doing so with a payoff. The company heard about the declarations, investigated, viewed them as being gross misconduct and subsequently fired the individual without the financial package.

Likewise, if HMV had offered Cleere a redundancy package, they are perfectly entitled to withdraw it after her conduct. Technically, the reason for the termination of her employment would shift from being termination for redundancy, to termination for gross misconduct, hence the loss of the redundancy benefits. If her employment had in fact been terminated at the time of her tweeting, the company could take action against her for defamation, and/or unfounded accusation, as well as withhold any outstanding payments owed.

But before we offer all our sympathies to HMV, what an earth were the administrators thinking allowing someone who had been fired, was just about to be or was witnessing the exit of her colleagues, to have access to the company’s Twitter account? It is said they were at a complete loss, asking how to shut it down.

Before the process began, a simple change of password would have prevented Cleere’s tirade being broadcast. In the vast majority of cases I have been involved in, an individual was called in for a meeting to break the bad news and from that point on was accompanied at all times when collecting belongings and leaving the building.

If Cleere did have remote access through her phone to the HMV Twitter account, the request should have been made at interview for her to delete the connection and the action supervised to make sure it was done.

Whether it was Cleere or HMV who benefited from the company having more serious matters to deal with at that moment in time due to its administration, we may never know (though I suspect it was both), but one thing is for certain – this will not be the last case of an employee abusing social media that has been entrusted to them.

Companies must learn how to prepare, monitor and enforce online procedures and behaviour in written policy and contract in order to minimise the chances of a rogue individual hijacking communication channels to do their employer harm.

HMV Twitter feed