What Will My Boss Think If I Start Twittering

I recently visited Choice Australia to talk about their Social Media Advisor position and Social Media policies.  The question I am often asked is – where are the boundaries between personal social media sites like blogs and twitter and using them for your company? Choice Australia have found an excellent balance. When researching about the Company I found it easy to find

  • Choice Australia had a Social Media presence
  • The face behind the Choice Australia – ‘Choice Australia tweeted by @swandives’
  • @swandives twitter profile led me to a name  ‘Georgina’ and her blog ‘Swandives‘ – on fishing amongst other things starring a beautiful (but very dead) rainbow trout.

It was a pleasure to research, @swandives has her own social media presence which will remain with her wherever she works, and also her professional one and looking at Choice Australia followers on both the Twitter and the Facebook sites she is doing an exceptional job -both sites are thriving, followers are engaged, asking questions and providing responses.  It’s the ‘human’ and intelligent face behind the company that people can engage one-on-one with.

Questions asked included

  • how would you get 110 people to use social media in the office as part of their very varied jobs
  • where is the boundary between personal social media and company social media
  • have you had any disagreements in social media and how did you deal with it
  • how would you get your guy in the lab who is busy testing washing machines and looking at evidence-based data to use social media (answer: show them the evidence-based data that can come out of social media, scienceblogs … etc)

Choice are also revamping their website in the next few months, adding more social media elements to engage with their audience which is already vocal in what they want and like (don’t like).  Their new CEO, Nick Stace, joined only in February from the UK where he was also former deputy CEO of British consumer group Which? (and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Director of Strategic Communications) is making a significant difference to the company.  The office has been revamped and has a modern look with people engaged and involved with what the company is currently testing – treadmills were being tested by one of the team when I was there.  It remains to be seen what impact the Governments decision on pulling the Grocery Choice website will have.

The question still remains for others ‘Suppose I twitter and my boss sees me — or my work mates’ ‘how can I blog and express an opinion when I work for someone else?’

Some Companies have been slow to use social media whereas their employees want to, and policies are being drawn up as to the do’s and don’ts – but really it’s your voice and the question is can you be told who you can talk to and what you say online?  The rules of social engagement online are similar to those in conversations face to face.

Building up your online presence as yourself will stay with you long after you leave a company.  If you are using social media to express company views don’t forget that it’s still worth having yourself separately online as ‘you’ which will always be with you.  If you are blogging you might add a disclaimer to the effect that anything written does not reflect the company you work for.

From The Cluetrain Manifesto:

We’re both inside companies and outside them.  The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today.  but they’re really just an annoyance.  We know they’re coming down.

There’s legal risk in freer communcation between employees and customers.  Companies accustomed to issuing pronouncements from a single tightly controlled department find this conversational shift somewhat terrifying.  The intersection of the webbed world with business as usual leaves much legal ground uncharted.  While we’re waiting to see how our laws will evolve to met these realities it might be prudent for companies to consider which is more damaging: silence, or talking to customers in many individual voices.  Is the the legal risk posed by unfettered speech always a valid excuse for not speaking?

However, some Social Media Policies may have overstepped the mark — although Companies need to have a policy in place for when an employee does say something ill-considered, The Associated Press’ policy asking Employees to delete what others say on social media sites like facebook pages is venturing into new territory and bringing out the Unions.

“If you don’t trust your employees to tweet freely, it’s an employee or leadership issue, not an employee Twitter policy issue.” – Zappos.com CEO -Tony (Via SwitchedOnMedia)