An anecdote in today’s “Heard on the Street” section of the Wall Street Journal (sub. req'd.) has an important lesson for all of us about social media policies. HMV, a United Kingdom retailer of CDs and DVDs, recently entered the British equivalent of bankruptcy protection. As part of the bankruptcy process, HMV on Thursday fired 190 persons. Including the employee responsible for the company’s Twitter account. Unfortunately, HMV’s management had not thought ahead, and the now-former employee continued to tweet live updates of the firings—which it called a “mass execution of loyal employees who love the brand.”

While the rogue tweets were eventually deleted, the person claimed that employees who really loved the brand were the ones being fired. And, oh, the account lasted long enough so that the person was able to add: “Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying folks) ask ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’”. That’s not something any marketing manager wants to see tweeted to their brand’s followers.

While it is unlikely that substantial harm was done to the HMV brand as a result of the series of “inside” tweets, this episode reminds us that it is essential from marketing, public relations and, yes, legal perspectives that everyone have an effective employee Twitter use and access policy in place, along with contingency procedures for how to handle rogue users. This means at a minimum (1) taking the time to write down the policy and have it vetted by legal, (2) communicating the policy to authorized users who have access to the brand’s platform, and (3) maintaining access to account information and passwords so that immediate steps can be taken to “shut down” rogue users. You don’t want to find yourself asking any “How do I “ questions in the middle of crisis.