“Opinions are my own.”
It’s a standard disclaimer on many of the Twitter accounts I see out there. You’re an HR or recruiting pro in the great wide world and you hear that you should get on the Twitters from some person at a conference or in a publication somewhere. Only, one of two things happen:
1. You create the account without checking and think that by putting that disclaimer there, you are somehow protecting yourself and company
2. You check and your boss or PR person requires you put the disclaimer on there, somehow protecting the company
I’ll tell you what that disclaimer means in the real world: jack squat. Only, at least on Twitter, I never can tell people how ridiculous the whole disclaimer actually is in 140 characters without sounding like a jerk. And also because this statement is ridiculous for a wide variety of reasons, all of which need to be further explained. So let me lay out the various scenarios and why each one doesn’t warrant the use of any sort of disclaimer:
1. You couldn’t conceivably represent the company
Look, all the rage these days in the HR/social media world is about using employees as mini-external brand advocates. The number of employees this encompasses is a small population of the overall employee population, though. There are millions of blue-collar workers, both union and non-union, who have no intention of being your brand advocate, ever. There are also millions of white-collar workers in the same boat.
Some of these people are on Facebook, setting up a page for their all-female Journey tribute band “Just Some Small Town Girls” (and if that’s an actual tribute band name, I apologize). Others are on news sites, forums or blogs, commenting under monikers about Obama’s birth certificate, why a Mormon shouldn’t be elected president or debating whether or not Kobe is better than Jordan. In other words, personal reasons. Probably more personal than most HR people care about.
You probably don’t have a disclaimer and if you said anything bad enough to warrant a disclaimer, you’d probably be quietly canned anyway with little fanfare. Try to keep your nose clean and at least a little hard to trace and it probably doesn’t matter.
2. You could possibly represent the company
If you’re in a higher level client/candidate facing position, or you’re a part of company leadership, there’s a good chance that at least some people will recognize you and possibly snoop beyond your professional profile. If all you have out there is a professional profile and an innocuous, private Facebook account, you don’t have to do anything.
But if you want to tweet or blog or do other fun things like that on the internet, there are two steps beyond that: disclosure and self-moderation.
Disclosure is pretty simple: what do you have out there that someone else can find that might be less than innocuous? If there’s something out there beyond a Michael Bolton fan page, you probably want that information coming from you, not from an angry client or a snoopy shareholder.
This is where the manager or PR person is going to tell you to get that disclaimer up, stat. This is where you resist with the promise of self-moderation. If you have established accounts, show them how you’ve handled it responsibly. Tell them that most people don’t assume you are speaking for the company unless you say so. Tell them the people who will be most outraged about what you say won’t care about your stupid disclaimer anyway. Because nobody reads it and says, “Oh, never mind.”
But if you have something more personal or risqué, then it is time to assess where you, your personal life and the company stand. Somebody will eventually notice if you’re in one of those positions. Some of those people will care, others won’t.
But again, none of those people will care that you have a disclaimer stuck somewhere on your personal pages or social media accounts saying that your views are your own or that it isn’t associated with your employer. Some of them will associate anything you do with your employer, others won’t. If you say something really bad (or you run a site that is really taboo), some people will ask your employer why you’re working there. And if it gets publicized, then there is a whole other world of pain with that too.
It’s a question each company has to be comfortable answering on their own. And if there is a good chance you’ll represent the company in some less-than-minor capacity, you should push that to them so you have an opportunity to make a decision for yourself with time to do a cool-headed evaluation. Nobody said it’s fair but at least to some segment of the population, you’ll represent the company.
3. You most definitely represent the company
No amount of disclaiming or get-out-of-jail-free cards will get you out of anything. If you are a C-level exec, founder, partner, PR firm or PR lead, or any official social channel of the company, you are speaking for the company 24/7. You say stupid things and they become associated with your company.
What if the company says I must have that stupid disclaimer?
So you reasoned with the unreasonable but they are still saying that you should definitely have the disclaimer that nobody reads or cares about, no matter what level you are in the organization? Lay out a hypothetical: let’s say you have the disclaimer and you openly mock the fact that your company makes you put a disclaimer in your bio. What is their reaction? Do they:
- Not care. You aren’t an official voice for the company so everyone will read that disclaimer and go about their day.
- Freak out and make you take it down, just like they would have done if you bad-mouthed anything else they had done publicly.
If the answer is 2, then there is no sense in the disclaimer if their constant reaction will be to act like you are representing the company. They have to either get comfortable with you being out there, train you to be better or not allow it. And yes, that last option is a real one.
If the answer is 1 though, have fun. It might be the only time that disclaimer actually does any good.