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Don't Fire An Employee And Leave Them In Charge Of The Corporate Twitter Account
Yesterday HMV, the beleaguered British entertainment retailer, laid off 190 employees, in an effort to cut costs and right its balance sheet. The company apparently pulled a large group into human resources and gave them the bad news. While this was going on, one employee, Poppy Rose, who had been an HMV community manager and thus had access to the corporate Twitter account, started live tweeting about the layoffs.
Over a period of around 20 minutes, she sent out a series of notes expressing her rising sense of alarm to HMV’s 61,500 followers (that number has since risen to 73,350). Rose admitted that it was unusual to use the company Twitter feed to express her views, but, she wrote, “when the company you dearly love is being ruined,” she felt it was justified. “There are over 60 of us being fired at once!” she wrote. “Mass execution, of loyal employees who love the brand.”
One of the most entertaining tweets that came through before HMV took backthe account and deleted the offending tweets: “Just overheard our marketing director (he’s staying, folks) ask ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’”
After she stopped tweeting on the HMV feed, Rose continued to tweet on her own account, @poppy_powers, using a hashtag she created while tweeting on the HMV account, #hmvXFactorFiring. She explained that she had worked as an intern at HMV and in that job, had been responsible for the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. Because she is single and has no kids ormortgage, she wrote that she felt she was in a unique position to speak out.
On her own account, Rose also wrote about how the company never quite grasped what her job entailed. “I wanted to show the power of Social Media to those who refused to be educated,” she tweeted. “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.”
What seems shocking is that HMV didn’t realize ahead of time that it had left the power of its social media accounts in the hands of a young woman it was letting go. The blunder could have something to do with the fact that consulting firm Deloitte has been running HMV while the company attempts to restructure. Deloitte and HMV did not comment on the Twitter fiasco. Instead Deloitte released a statement that said, “Since our appointment as Administrators over two weeks ago, we have been assessing the financial position of HMV.” Deloitte also confirmed that HMV had laid off 190 people.
Later in the day, this tweet came through the HMVaccount: “One of our departing colleagues was understandably upset. We’re still here thou, thx for supporting hmv thro these challenging times.”
But as recently as eight hours ago, according to a tweet on Rose’s account, she still had access to the HMV Twitter feed. “@hmvtweets you need to go to ‘settings’ and revoke my account access as an admin. I’m still able to switch between accounts.”
The rather obvious lesson for employers in all of this: Take control of your social media accounts, change the passwords, and restrict access before you let go of the employees who run those accounts.
As for Poppy Rose, it’s not clear how her actions will affect her career. As I’ve written previously, at least in the U.S., in most cases it is legal to say disparaging things about your boss online, if you’re speaking on behalf of a group of employees and if your intention is to improve the conditions of your job. But in the vast majority of cases, it’s unwise to do so and damaging to your reputation. Of course Rose had already been let go, so some of those considerations were moot. What’s not clear is how her actions will affect her career in the future. It may be that no boss would want to hire an employee who would take actions that would so embarrass an employer. On the other hand, Rose has made it clear she understands the power of social media and how to wield it, a skill that many employers value.