What you can learn from one company’s layoff debacle

After a jilted employee live-tweeted her company’s round of layoffs, the company had to do major damage control. Here’s how to keep your brand safe.

By now you’ve probably heard the story of the HMV employee who went rogue when the company let a group of employees go at once.

“We’re tweeting live from HR where we’re all being fired! Exciting!! #hmvXFactorFiring,” read the initial message from @HMVtweets, which has more than 70,000 Twitter followers.

This happened while the 91-year-old company laid off 60 employees during a round of downsizing.

Through seven subsequent tweets, Poppy Rose Cleere, the company’s newly-axed, 21-year-old online marketing and social media planner, aired the company’s dirty laundry to the world.

By the time the marketing director gained control of the account and deleted the offending messages, the damage was already done—and the screen grabs were taken.

The tweets went viral and images were shared around the world.

The blogosphere noticed first (I saw it in several Facebook groups), and by the next morning every major news outlet was covering the story. For the company, which had just received bankruptcy protection, the PR debacle had extremely bad timing.

Hard decisions

As a business owner who has had to do a round of layoffs, this is extremely painful. Sometimes you have to make decisions that are best for the health of the company and, unfortunately, that means letting people go.

I don’t consider layoffs to be the same as firing people, but I know it doesn’t feel any different to those on the other side of the desk.

I also don’t think it’s the wisest idea to tell everyone at once, though I understand that when it’s a group as large as HMV’s, you have to do it as quickly and painlessly as possible or everyone starts to talk, speculate and create rumors.

I wasn’t going to write about this debacle until I read a blog post Yvette Pistorio wrote for a client. She freaked me out!

Wake-up call

In the post, she talked about how company social media accounts should have one universal password that, if someone leaves, is as easy to shut down as a person’s email account.

As it turns out, my team keeps social media passwords in a centrally located, locked-down file we can all access. But I admit I had to look in there the other day to be sure.

There are two other things you should consider for your organization’s social media accounts:

1. Centralize all the networks. We use Hootsuite for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. With the exception of Facebook, I am one of the administrators on the other accounts. On Facebook, there are three administrators, so if one person leaves the other two can lock it down.

2. Control access through limited permissions. If you insist on giving junior employees the keys to your social networks, do so with caution. There are tools now (Hootsuite included) that allow you to assign permissions so junior-level employees can draft messages, but someone more senior has to approve them before they can be published. This kind of access probably would have saved Applebee’s from its PR crisis last week.

Yvette and I joked about this, and she assured me she’d never go rogue. I don’t believe she would, but as an organization gets bigger, it’s impossible to understand the motivations of every person who works with you.

These kinds of things not only keep you safe from rogue employees, but they’re smart.

How do you manage social media so the company isn’t vulnerable to an angry employee?

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.

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