If you visit my Twitter profile, you’ll notice that the title of this blog is the beginning of the longest disclaimer Twitter allows me to post to my bio:
“My tweets are my own thoughts and do not reflect the official positions of my employer.”
True, the disclaimer takes up most of the space I could otherwise use to tell you all the clichè one-word keywords that most people who follow me already know describe me (nature lover, Steelers fan, vegetarian, woodworker, aspiring Buddhist, frequently confused, etc.) but it’s my responsibility to shadow my personal timeline under that umbrella. As one of the few people authorized to manage and post to my organization’s social media channels, I need to establish a clear distance between my personal profiles and those I am professionally accountable for.
There have been countless examples of why this practice is now all but dictated in most corporate social media polices, but none so recently outrageous as that which spawned the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet. I’ll let you read the story for yourself if you haven’t already, but I’m not writing this blog to judge the level of Justine Sacco’s common sense or speculate on her personal or political views. If you want to read that kind of commentary, just search for “Justine Sacco” on Twitter. I’m writing this piece to express my complete befuddlement over the lack of self awareness and personal accountability that too many social media administrators continue to display, years after it has become blatantly apparent that these values are requirements of the job.
The twitter profile in question was deleted shortly after the individual in question landed from her cross-ocean flight, presumably after she discovered that the entire blogosphere was attacking her for the tweet she’d posted before boarding. You’ll notice from screenshots of her pre-deleted profile, however, that her bio did not include any personal disclaimers taking responsibility for her words. Worse, what she did include explicitly named her organization and her role there, making it appear as though her profile could be professionally related to her firm. I’m not saying that doing so would have saved her job; if I ever posted something half as inflammatory as “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” I would expect to return to unemployment. Still, a disclaimer was a professional obligation.
I don’t want to comment on whether this phenomena is generational, or whether the instant gratification of sharing our spontaneous thoughts with the world is making us all less concerned with the impact they have on others. I only know that it wasn’t very long ago that the only people authorized to speak on behalf of an organization were its financial stakeholders, or at the very least, those who had completed formal media training to gain an understanding of the consequences of their words and actions. In too many organizations today, any prolific social media user with a following and a perception of “getting it” can be named a company administrator (although what’s most bizarre to me about the Justine Sacco event is that in an organization of her size, that’s almost never the case.)
The sense of responsibility I carry as a social media admin extends beyond the limits of my organization’s social media policies. To say that I think before I post is a massive understatement; I check my profile multiple times before posting to ensure that I am choosing the correct one for my statement, especially on a mobile device, which makes the occasional “oops” remarkably achievable. Although my company does not explicitly recommend that I do this, I do censor my online remarks in an attempt to keep my comments of a professional, albeit casual nature. Like many others, I post about sports, I tweet photos of my cats that no one cares about except me, and I do rant or complain occasionally on my personal profiles (generally about marketing campaigns I find to be annoying,) but I am cognizant that my profile is only a short click away from that of my company’s. Disclaimer or not, my words may have either a positive or a negative impact on someone’s perception of my organization.
If that responsibility feels too constrictive, I can empathize, but choose a line of work that doesn’t involve being a social media administrator. There are far more reputations than your own at stake.