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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
— Lee Aase (@LeeAase) March 4, 2014