The lines between per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life are more than a lit­tle blurred when it comes to a person’s social net­work­ing pres­ence. Despite what many employ­ees assert, it’s not pos­si­ble to fully declare inde­pen­dence from your com­pany when express­ing your per­sonal opin­ions on your social net­works. Far too often, employ­ees think they have a “get-out-of-jail-free” card when it comes to per­sonal respon­si­bil­ity on social net­work­ing accounts—Twitter in par­tic­u­lar. In many cases, the pre­vail­ing thought is that it’s fine for me to asso­ciate myself with my com­pany and job as long as I include the oblig­a­tory dis­claimer, “What I share are my opinions.”

Can that sim­ple phrase exon­er­ate you of all you say? First off, let’s be clear that social net­work users do share all kinds of inap­pro­pri­ate things, includ­ing ques­tion­able behav­iors from per­sonal lives as well as scathing, even scorn­ful com­ments about the com­pe­ti­tion or other brands who’ve offended them some­how per­son­ally. Far too often they do it under the ban­ner of free­dom because of a sim­ple dis­clo­sure in a bio.

Reflec­tions Matter

Unfor­tu­nately, it isn’t that sim­ple. My rants and raves and your lifestyle and per­sonal behav­iors will reflect on our employ­ers, whether we like it or not. As a result, you shouldn’t expect your employer to absolve you of all wrong­do­ing because you said the magic “my opin­ion” words in your Twit­ter bio. While I’m not sug­gest­ing brands should fire out­spo­ken employ­ees, I am sug­gest­ing that peo­ple be acutely aware of the fact that online behavior—regardless of your “Dec­la­ra­tion of Independence,”—reflects not only on your per­sonal brand but on your employer’s as well.

Keep­ing It Real

Here’s a per­sonal, pretty embar­rass­ing exam­ple of just how easy it is to use social media with­out think­ing about con­se­quences. A few months back, I was at a col­lege bas­ket­ball game watch­ing my alma mater take on a top 25 team. It was an intensely phys­i­cal game with some unbe­liev­ably hard fouls on both sides, and it went down to the wire. In the bat­tle on the floor, one player from the oppos­ing team fouled out. On his way to the bench he decided to let the fan base of the home team know his feel­ings about their bois­ter­ous nature. He gave them a sort of “thumbs up,” but not exactly with his thumb. The ref­eree didn’t catch the ges­ture and the crowd was livid—I was livid.

Imme­di­ately fol­low­ing the game there was a firestorm on Twit­ter about what had hap­pened. I sent off my own tweet men­tion­ing the player’s name, telling him how unclassy I thought his ges­ture was. There you have it, my confessional—I hit send in the heat of the moment. I quickly deleted my post, all the while know­ing it’s still flap­ping its Twit­ter­ing wings some­where in cyberspace.

I real­ized that the first thing peo­ple fol­low­ing the game and the con­ver­sa­tion online would do when they saw my post would be to see who this per­son was that was act­ing so flip­pant and self-righteous. What would they see? They would eas­ily con­clude I was an Adobe social media guy, and my Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence from my employer in my bio would not absolve some poten­tially neg­a­tive asso­ci­a­tion with Adobe in their minds. As a brand builder, why would I do that?!

Think Before You Tweet

What does this mean for the future of Twit­ter and the ease with which employ­ees can com­mu­ni­cate in real time? That’s a com­pli­cated ques­tion. But per­haps one thought should per­me­ate every poten­tial rant, angry out­burst, and tirade: what you say will indeed be judged, and no per­sonal dec­la­ra­tion to the con­trary will par­don inap­pro­pri­ate behavior.

Be smart, be cour­te­ous, and be aware, espe­cially on per­sonal social accounts where you gladly wave the flag of your employer. Your brand will thank you for it.

4 comments
horatiumocian
horatiumocian

Hi Cory,


You are making a very good point. and I think having the company in the bio on Twitter makes it more visible than on Facebook, or other networks (except LinkedIn, but I assume nobody is posting personal stuff there).


What do you think is the best company policy in order to reduce the impact of employees' personal tweets reflecting bad on their brand? Training employees to be more careful when they post? Discouraging them to put the company the company in the bio if they post controversial tweets? Or is there a better way?

chadwarren
chadwarren

A voice of reason. I don't have one of these disclaimers in my Twitter bio for the exact reason your article states. There is no get-out-of-jail free card in a public forum. 


And, your point about Twitter shaming is an astute one. I'm not quite sure why people feel like Twitter is an appropriate place to slam people, especially in ways they'd never do to their face. Do they not realize they're not anonymous?


The story of Adam Orth proves this point: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2013/04/11/microsoft-creative-director-adam-orth-reminds-us-all-of-the-perils-of-twitter/

coryedwards
coryedwards

@horatiumocian  Really good questions Horatiu. You quickly find yourself on a slippery slope when you begin to dictate what should or shouldn't be stated in a bio. But employees absolutely need to better understand through training how to be careful...especially if they are going to proactively call out who they work for. It's up to brands to ensure that the employees understand what being an ambassador means on these networks -- whether you're a formal ambassador or informal ambassador.