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By Thomas Baekdal - September 2010

HP Using Social to Create a Social Problem

We have all heard about the absurd lawsuit between HP and "former-HP-chief-exec-turned-Oracle-exec" Mark Hurd. HP is suing him for revealing trade secrets *in the future*.

It's like Minority Report where you get arrested for a crime you are about to commit later. And for us foreigners, it just takes the US legal system to another silly level.

But, I think a more interesting story is how HP is damaging themselves, using social channels.

There are many articles about how you should use social channels to as a damage control mechanism. Stories about how Nestle or BP should have used social channels to meet the public on their terms.

They are good articles, and it appears that HP's PR people have read them too. Because before news sites had a chance to pick up on the story, HP published the news on their blog, and twitter profile. They even tipped Techmeme, and published the legal documents on their official scribd channel.

From a social media perspective, this is absolutely the right thing to do. They launched the story, instead of reacting too it. They provide the material, instead of being forced to see unofficial copies floating around. They gave their views, before people even demanded them to be known.

The social media tactics and usage are brilliant.

There is just one minor, but quite substantial, glitch. You are not supposed to use social media to shoot yourself in the foot.

Can you imagine if Nestle tweeted: "We are deforesting an entire rainforest in Indonesia to cut cost #whoneedsaforest"? Or of BP tweeted "Just blow up an oil rig, can someone say oil fountain and splash? #oil-is-fun"?

This is what HP is doing right now. They are actively using social media to tell the world how insane they are behaving. "We are suing our former CEO for revealing trade secrets in the future. We want to hurt him again and again." HP has even asked the court to appoint a "special master" to watch over him. What are they? 10-year-old kids?

I love how Felix Salmon puts it:

I don't know who made the decision to launch this lawsuit, but it looks very much like it was filed in a fit of passion after hearing that Hurd had signed on with Oracle. There's no tactical or strategic rationale for this: it's just petulance, really.
Does HP even have a chairman right now? It definitely needs one: a grown-up who can tell these people to put away their silly squabbles and concentrate on actually running their business. This lawsuit might be a distraction for Hurd, but it's going to be much more of a distraction in HP's executive suite. Basta. Please.

Here is a top tip. Using social media the right way is very important. But, if the message you bring is wrong, you are making things worse by being really good at communicating it.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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