Maintaining Control in Social Media – How to Learn from CVS

For a company, deciding to go social and begin using or expanding the use of social media is a big step.  One of the challenges described in digital communications and social media today is the loss of control that companies face when moving to social media marketing.  In the Watson-Helsby Report, loss of control refers to the loss, or perceived loss, of control by the company of its communication message.  Once the message is live, people can comment on it, copy it, forward it, etc.  Companies have to deal with the reality that they will need to constantly monitor to be sure their message is clear.

Loss of control may be a great challenge, but it can also serve to be a great strength for certain organizations.  Companies with loyal consumers and followers can count on those followers to stand up for the company when the message is relayed incorrectly.  Have you ever experienced a consumer jumping in on behalf of a company when someone posts or tweets a negative message?

CVS and Twitter

CVS is a pharmacy retail store across the country.  According to Sprung (2012) and Fenwick (2011), when CVS launched a Twitter account @CVS_Cares, it decided to protect its tweets.  This meant that consumers wishing to follow the feed had to request approval to do so.

Privacy and control are important, but when a company decides to use social media it must commit to doing so to take full advantage of a particular tool.  CVS may have maintained some control by approving those who could follow it, but lost a great benefit of social media:  transparent connections that develop into meaningful relationships.

Would you follow a brand which protected its tweets or otherwise tried to control access to its social media networks?  Why or why not?  Is your response different for an individual?

Learning from CVS

The lesson we can learn from CVS is that a company needs to commit to social media if it decides to start using it.  It is usually worse to have a social media presence but overly control and restrict content users can post than to have no presence at all.  The point of social media is to allow transparency in order to build meaningful, long-lasting relationships.  Companies must be willing to give up some control in order to achieve the benefit.  Even though CVS tried to restrict access to its Twitter feed and thus gain some control over the discussion, CVS cannot control the rest of the social media world and what people are doing and saying about CVS outside the realm of an official-CVS site.

@CVS_Cares Twitter was officially closed in June 2010.

What do you think?

Was CVS’ attempt to control its social media presence helpful or harmful to spreading the word about CVS?

In terms of control, there are certainly better ways for a brand to maintain control.  The first, and most important, should be to develop a plan for what to do in the event of a loss of control – a social media crisis plan.  What are some other suggestions you as a consumer have for brands? 

CVS now has a Twitter handle @CVS_Extra, and no approval is needed to follow these Tweets.  The messages are personable and reflect transparent conversations with consumers.  CVS appears to have changed its perspective on control, and the dialogue is much more positive.


Fenwick, I.  (7 March 2011).  Marketing in Social Networks.  Retrieved from

Sprung, R.  (16 February 2012).  7 Rookie Social Media Mistakes by Big Brands.  Retrieved from

The Watson-Helsby Report.  (2010).  Digital communications and social media:  The challenges facing the PR industry.  Retrieved from


9 thoughts on “Maintaining Control in Social Media – How to Learn from CVS

  1. This was a great post and perfect example of how over-controling may not always be beneficial especially in the world of socail media where as you said is suppose to be “transparent connections that develop into meaningful relationships.”

    If I was really interested in a brand I would try to follow them even if their tweets were protected. I say try because I would be less hopefully they’d even follow back since they’re being picky per say. Twitter is suppose to be an open forum and encourage consumer engagement so for a company to protect their account is contradicting that purpose. When it comes to individuals, I will only follow friends tweets that are protected if I know them personally. Twitter again is about connecting and engaging with others, that said I do follow random individuals, but I won’t go out of my way to follow them, to me it’s not worth it.

    In the end, to reap the benefits of social media I think it’s in any companies best interest to have minimal control, which social media was attempted to do, but maintain close monitoring tactics and planning for campaigns will lead to the ultimate success.

    • I agree – social media is about understanding how you (a company) will have to give up some control, but in exchange you can monitor closely to keep track of what’s going on. There are so many positive and beneficial things that social media can bring, and for most companies these benefits outweigh the risks and costs. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I always believed that Social Media should be just that- SOCIAL! For such a large company to make their tweets private is crazy to me. I’m guessing that maybe they didn’t understand what the privacy settings really meant and that they just happened to choose the wrong control setting. A company should be willing to share information and talk with consumers. Hopefully CVS had learned from this!

    • I agree! I think CVS did learn from this because their new Twitter handle (@CVS_Extra) is public, hopefully other companies can learn from it too. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Sara,

    Nice post! It gave a lot of information and I had no idea what CVS had done with it Twitter page. I completely think that by only making there Twitter available to only certain people that they approve did hurt CVS. As a company you want as many people to “like” or “follow” you when using social media tools. If I had requested to follow them and I saw that I had to be approved I would be very turned off by that.

    This was not a good move on the part of CVS. It is nice to see that they did close that page and make a new one this is open to everyone. Hopefully they won’t make that mistake again. .

    • I agree! There are many companies still new to social media, and I think that as long as they learn from their mistakes and apologize and are transparent in their actions, consumers will forgive and forget.

  4. Nice job, this is something I am surprised not more brands take advantage of in regards to setting privacy settings on Tweets. I understand that the goal of social media is to reach a wide client base however in some cases making it more personal can be beneficial. For example as a consumer I would feel that I am of importance when getting accepted and being able to veiw tweets from brands.

    Here is an article regarding Twitter and privacy

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