5 Reasons to Keep Your Twitter Disclaimer

An article published by Ragan Communications yesterday suggested that the “tweets represent my opinion, not my employer’s” disclaimer in Twitter bios is unnecessary, perhaps even harmful, and urged its demise.

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UK-based Stuart Bruce, in an article reprinted from Stuart Bruce’s PR Guy Musings, said disclaimers should go because 1) Many people will never see them, 2) They don’t protect you from legal liability, 3) People will associate your comments with your employer anyway, so a disclaimer can create a false sense of security and 4) the real solution is good corporate social media policies and effective employee education on the policies or guidelines.

While I essentially agree with all four of those points, I believe getting rid of what I like to call “the personal responsibility clause” would be a mistake.

Here’s why:

  1. It’s the social media equivalent of TSA screening. The security benefits of removing shoes and belts, laptops and one-quart bags with liquids and gels for x-ray examination are questionable, too. But having most passengers endure this ritual enables otherwise wary travelers to board airliners with more confidence than they would in the absence of such a process. Likewise, having the social media disclaimer enables corporate leaders to more easily reconcile themselves to having employees posting opinions publicly.
  2. It’s not an ongoing burden. You don’t include the disclaimer in every tweet. Unlike TSA screening, which inconveniences passengers on every flight, once you have added your disclaimer to your Twitter bio, you don’t need to do it again.
  3. It’s free. Maybe it “costs” a few of the 160 characters in your Twitter bio that you could otherwise use to describe yourself, but having the disclaimer has no out-of-pocket cost.
  4. There is a difference between association with your employer and speaking for your employer. In a presentation I uploaded to Slideshare today, I outlined a series of “Bad and Ugly” examples of conduct on Twitter. No disclaimer can protect your employer from the impact of a truly stupid action you take, but most things you say or do on Twitter hopefully won’t fit that description. And many of the most troublesome Twitter gaffes resulted from employees mistakenly posting tweets on their employers’ accounts that had been intended for their personal accounts. The same content on personal accounts likely would not have caused the controversies.
  5. A disclaimer is a declaration of your right to express a personal opinion online. It’s not just a disclaimer of responsibility for speaking on behalf of your employer; it’s staking your claim, your right as an American (for those of us in the former colonies), to have and express opinions. The disclaimer/declaration is a reminder of that right and the associated responsibility.

Of course if part of your day job is to speak for your employer, the lines get a bit murkier. For example, our Mayo Clinic CEO doesn’t have the disclaimer on his Twitter bio; because of his office, he does speak for Mayo Clinic. The same may be true in some cases for those of us who work in PR, which may be part of Mr. Bruce’s point.

But for most employees in most organizations, the personal responsibility clause/disclaimer should stay.

At least that’s my personal opinion. It’s also in our Guidelines for Mayo Clinic Employees.

What do you think?

Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

4 thoughts on “5 Reasons to Keep Your Twitter Disclaimer”

  1. Hi Lee, thanks for commenting to my Ragan article. Your penultimate two paragraphs are right. My article was specifically says “PR practitioners (and other communications disciplines)” and “anyone who can be considered the public face of an organization or company this is even truer. If you’re a senior manager or director, a PR practitioner, a politician, a company spokesperson, or something similar”

    It’s a different call for other employees and often I’d agree with your analysis above. So for the Mayo Clinic it’s right that your CEO doesn’t use it, but on that note I’d also argue that you shouldn’t. However, for doctors and other medical staff, it’s quite right to use it.

    Incidentally I love Mayo Clinic’s 12 word social media policy and cite you as an example of best practice when I’m running online PR masterclasses around the world.

  2. Thanks, Stuart. Good points, and I don’t necessarily disagree with your analysis relating to my bio and disclaimer. I am circumspect in my online comments, staying out of discussions I would otherwise love to join, because of my role and public association with Mayo Clinic. Sometimes I do, in fact, speak for Mayo. But I keep the disclaimer mainly as an example for our other 60,000 employees…so they will hopefully go and do likewise.

    Everyone should know that the disclaimer isn’t a “get out of jail free” card. It isn’t a license to say or do whatever you want online. But I think it helps to set a reasonable expectation of the rights of employees to reasonable expression in social spaces online.

  3. I side more to Bruce’s comments than yours Lee, however I agree that if you name your company in your bio you should understand the accountability of your Tweets. Would the phrase “I accept the responsibility for my own Tweets” speak more forcefully than “My Tweets are my own”? Or is it just semantics?

    Do you require that everyone who posts their Mayo employment on their Twitter feed identify themselves to your communications team or do you find out through normal reputation management processes? Do you require team members who identify Mayo as their employer to get training (or additional training) since they are associating their profile with the hospital?

  4. “Tweets are my own opinions” is just more of a shorthand given space limitations. We don’t require everyone who indicates Mayo employment in their bio to report themselves to our Communications team. We are developing a “Mayo Verified Twitter Accounts” program, however, that enables those who want to accept a higher standard to have their accounts listed in a directory.

    We are working hard on training, and making online resources available to all of our employees, whether their account explicitly lists their Mayo affiliation or not. We provide that through the Social Media Health Network site, too…so other health-related organizations can use the materials if they wish.

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