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.