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.
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.