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Except it is of course, as is everything I say and do online in a public space.

The same goes for you: whether you like it or not you represent your employer online every time you hit 'update'.

It’s easier than ever for people to draw connections between what we say on social media and the companies we work for. There’s no point trying to hide.

A five second search on LinkedIn will often tell everyone who you work for, especially if you use the same avatar and then it doesn’t take much for people to see the connection. Not on LinkedIn? You’re probably on a team page and can be found easily that way.

Carly McKinney was fired from her job as a teacher for talking about smoking weed. People made the connection to where she worked, the school didn’t want to have a teacher on board who posted topless photos and called students 'jail bait' so action was taken.

Often a search isn’t even needed. We give away our allegiances all the time, via listings on our account (“Mike works for BigBrandCo”), the things we choose to share or even notices like “This account is not affiliated with BigBrandCo”.

But wait, surely if you write something like that on your account then your company can’t possibly hold you accountable for what you say? 

Nope. It’s just pointless faux-legal speak that doesn’t mean a thing. You may as well use that part of your Twitter bio to say you love cats or Ryan Gosling.

Adam Orth had a similar message which clearly said his tweets were not associated with Microsoft and yet when he started arguing with people regarding the Xbox One’s controversial DRM policy he left the company very shortly after. Like it or not, he was seen as spokesperson for the company, regardless of the disclaimers on his account.

There really is no way to stop people making the association that what you say reflects the views of the brand you work for. If people want to make that connection they will, and when you say something on social media you have to be prepared that people may analyse it and use it to inform their opinion of you and your job.

It’s also rapidly becoming the norm. When Brendan O’Connor was fired for complaining on Twitter that he was not given a tip, he wrote a blog post to highlight the situation. Interestingly a lot of the comments of the article sided with the employer, something that would have seemed strange a few years ago, when everyone would have gone crazy if an employer even looked at their social profile.

Nowadays it’s almost become expected that if you say something on Social Media that is harmful you will get a call from HR. Maybe that’s a messed up situation but it’s the web we use every day and it won’t change unless there are some heavy legal actions put in place.

In some places you could even argue people deserve it; such as a recruitment worker who gloated about how she could stop people’s benefits if jobseekers annoyed her.

Even if you’re on best behaviour now, people can even go as far as taking things that were said years ago and twisting them. Paris Brown was fired for making racist tweets years before she started her job or even started employment at all. People were determined to find a way to see her fall and they went through everything to take her down.

I can’t defend what she said and frankly the people who went that far to cause trouble also don’t deserve praise. However it’s a vital reminder that everything you have ever said online, that was marked as public is still out there, still waiting to be found and do harm.

It’s one of the reasons I’m glad we at Koozai have the word “@koozai” at the start of our accounts (e.g. I’m @Koozai_Mike). Whilst on the one hand it means the stakes are higher – if we say something stupid on social media it couldn’t be easier for people to make the business connection – but it also helps remind our team that what we say and do online does have repercussions.

It’s not just a strategy employed by us: BBC, Honda, Zappos, Raven Tools and Innocent Drinks are just some of the brands who use this tactic. I’m not saying it’s right for everyone but this concept of all-encompassing accounts does have its advantages.

Here’s a really scary thought to end on. What if the updates you made that were marked as private were not safe either?

In a recent court case, Gina Kensington was fired for what the company felt was a misuse of sick leave. She tried to appeal and the company asked to see her private Facebook updates (and bank records!) for the days she was off. As part of her appeal she was forced to hand them over. Is nothing sacred?

So whilst you have a right to say whatever you want online, you have to accept that at the same time there may be repercussions. If you wouldn’t say it to your boss, or in a company meeting then don’t say it.

So the next time you need to vent about something, what’s the best solution? Go to the pub and tell your friends. 

Oh, and hope your friends don’t have Google Glass. 

Mike Essex

Published 14 August, 2013 by Mike Essex

Mike Essex is Online Marketing Manager at Koozai Ltd and a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter

7 more posts from this author

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Jim Seward

This is a very interesting post, and it's an unfortunate byproduct of the social world we live in that privacy doesn't really exist any more.

I know our company has policies in place regarding social media, even personal use of social media (you can be held accountable for anything you say that reflects on the company)

Your right, if you're not willing to say it at work to your manager, you shouldn't be shouting it to the world on social media

about 3 years ago

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Iain Bartholomew

It's one of those things where common sense should really come into play. Be smart enough to understand who you work for, how secure your position is and how they will react to particular types of conduct online.

Personally I would have a hard time working for any employer that looked to put any restrictions on my personal conduct, use of social media, etc. but at the same time I wouldn't ever do anything online that might compromise my employer or embarrass them.

The idea that anyone should be ready to justify everything they've ever said is ridiculous though.

about 3 years ago

Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop, Founder & CEO at 7thingsmedia

Simple advice; if you're worried about what your parents, manager, ex co-worker, or company CEO would think, listen to that instinct.

And realise that once a cat is out of the bag, you can never get the damned thing back in. Unfortunately, Internet publishing is an incredibly efficient at spreading rumours, secrets, rants and your mistakes.

about 3 years ago

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Laura Hampton

A really poignant post, thanks for sharing Mike.

This is something I consider a lot in my role in digital marketing. As a consultant, I work across a portfolio of clients as well as my own agency whilst it's also super important to me that my own 'brand' is represented well too.

So when I'm tweeting or posting on LinkedIn or Google Plus or wherever it may be, I must, as Mike explained, ensure that I am not saying anything which could possibly be detrimental to me, my company or the companies with whom I am affiliated through my work.

I believe there's another side to this too, and one which is worth considering. Whilst I work hard to ensure my words and actions are not DETRIMENTAL to any of my clients or colleagues, I work harder still to ensure that my words create a positive impression of me and the work I do. This means everything from this comment to my tweets and even the things I 'like' on Facebook has the IMPRESSION it gives as a key consideration.

For example, look at my Twitter feed and you'll see that I tend to post a lot about SEO and that I engage in conversations and even the odd debate around the topic. That's because I work in SEO and want to be seen as an active member of that community. And I share updates on LinkedIn which are crafted around sharing something of value and therefore being seen as a valuable contributor to the business community.

All of this focus on creating a positive impression through my individual profiles has repercussions for the business I work for. Though my company doesn't employ the same tactic as Koozai (my Twitter handle is @lauralhampton, not Hallam_Laura), I know that what I say and do can be easily traced back to my company. And that's important and, providing I'm doing this well, of great value to my company and clients.

I feel like there are opportunities for businesses to harness this value. Obviously, as Mike and anyone with an understanding of SEO will know, Google Authorship is very important and offers us the opportunity to link the content we create to its authors, thus building up our author profiles and Google's (and our consumer's) understanding of who we are. But could businesses do even more to utilise the personalities within their business? And when an employee leaves, what happens to that value?

I believe social profiles are already considered by many businesses during the employment process and I also believe my own social profiles played a huge part in helping me land my role.

As much as it is important for us as individuals to remember that there are potential negative consequences of our actions online, it is also important that we harness the value of the positivity we create through our online interactions. I'd love to hear other people's thoughts and advice on this in further comments.

about 3 years ago

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Fabio De Bernardi

The post makes perfect sense but I think that the title misses the point. It's fair to say 'views mine' or anything like that, because essentially what you're saying is that you take responsibility for what you say.

So if I say something racist for example it doesn't mean that my employer is racist... why would it? But of course my employer can be uncomfortable with my views and decide to fire me (I'm not HR so I'm making this simpler than it probably is but you get my point).

So 'This post is not affiliated with my employer' is correct. And I (generic *I*) lose my job because I'm an idiot, drunk-tweeting twat.
What's the difference if I was in a pub slagging off my boss and not noticing that HR is 2 tables down and heard everything... wouldn't I be hold accountable for what I said? Verba volant, scripta manent... this is the difference between web/social media and watercooler/pub. Clearly the Latin knew it all already! :)

about 3 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis of Brick Marketing

No mater how hard you try to keep your business and personal social profiles separate there is bound to be some cross-over. Everything you say online can be seen and recorded by someone else so think twice (or even three times!) before you Tweet.

about 3 years ago

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David Pride

Great thoughts here...I have had to delete tweets before because they pertain to an industry we serve! Crazy...but that's the new world we live in.

about 3 years ago

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David Pride

Great thoughts here...I have had to delete tweets before because they pertain to an industry we serve! Crazy...but that's the new world we live in.

about 3 years ago

Barry Adams

Barry Adams, Founder at Polemic Digital

I agree that as an employee you have to be aware that your public social conduct - both online and in 'real life' reflects on your employer and can be cause for disciplinary action.

However the moment my employer asks to see my private messages is the moment I'm handing in my notice. Private messages are exactly that, and no employer has any right to see those.

about 3 years ago

Mike Essex

Mike Essex, Marketing & Comms Manager at Petrofac

Thanks for the comments everyone. I find it interesting that amongst us we've all reached a common consensus. This just goes to show how far things have changed. A few years ago the concept of employers looking at Social Media accounts and firing people based on it would have sounded crazy. Now it really is the accepted norm.

So here's some rules I think people need to live by:

1) If you say something derogatory against your employer / clients on a public account you may suffer for it. Banter is fine and people should be allowed to express their opinions but there is a clear line. Consider what would happen if you said it to your boss and act around that.

2) As Barry suggests; what you say on a private account should be private and unacessable by your employer. Although be careful who you let follow you. If your clients / boss are your friends on private accounts they may see what you say.

3) I love the comment from Fabio about "what if your boss was in the pub". It's a valid point. Perhaps we need to find ways of getting our issues discussed at work instead of venting them outside or in public places?

4) Laura makes a a great point that acting like an idiot online is only going to affect the way people perceive you in the future. It may not affect your current employment but what about the next role you have? If you burn lots of bridges by being a troll online, you may struggle later (as Paris Brown found out).

If anyone has any further thoughts / comments then please share them.

about 3 years ago

Gary Robinson

Gary Robinson, Head of Marketing at Crunch Accounting

This subject always makes me uncomfortable. I want to be able to say what I think, but I know I have to be considerate of my employer.

I was once told the story of how the Royal Navy's social media policy only consists of two questions:

What would your mother think?
What would your commanding officer think?

I've always felt that those two sum it up quite nicely - think about what your mum and boss would say if they saw that photo or read your tweet.

Oh and don't be an idiot. That helps too.

about 3 years ago

Pete Williams

Pete Williams, Managing Director at Gibe Digital

what happened to the individual?

Like Laura above we work on behalf of a number of clients as well as representing ourselves. Our brand is of an agency that works hard but also knows how to have fun and so you'll find pics of our monthly nights out etc on our Facebook pages. We also tweet and have found that the boring standard, "this is what we do" tweet unsurprisingly has no impact. Talking about stuff we are actually up to, interested in etc does engage viewers. These could be seen by some as risky but I think clients appreciate some honesty and seeing us as we are.

If we all took the corporate way and only said sensible boring stuff where would we be, just like everyone else.

Obviously we would never say anything detrimental about a client, but that's just common sense, you wouldn't stand in middle of a networking event and say something bad about a client would you?

There is room for individuality and personal opinion as long as that doesn't impact negatively on the brand.

about 3 years ago

Gary Robinson

Gary Robinson, Head of Marketing at Crunch Accounting

Pete, I don't think it's necessary for everyone to act 'corporate' but you did hit the nail on the head with the phrase 'common sense'. That's all people need to use, think before you share.

Sadly, as the frequent examples in the fast food industry demonstrate, the common in common sense isn't actually always, well.... common.

about 3 years ago

Hannah Rainford

Hannah Rainford, Associate Director of Social Media at Jellyfish Online Marketing

A great blog post Mike, and Laura flagged up an equally interesting point about the client relationships as well.

It's easy for people to get irate and attack a company on social media for poor customer service. We've all done it (it can't just be me!) I'm a little more careful about how I do it now. For example, I wouldn't slate the company too much but try to resolve the matter fairly. How would it look if this company then became a client of my employer? It could definitely reflect badly a la Paris Brown if my negative tweets came to light a few months or years later.

Equally, I try to refrain from jumping on the bandwagon with jokes about various companies. My Twitter stream was filled with jokes about the Tesco horsemeat scandal but I decided to remain neutral, just in case. I'd hate to be the reason my employer lost a major client!

about 3 years ago

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