Twitter: Views are my own – oh no they aren’t

West Yorkshire Playhouse Jack and the Beanstalk photo

Oh no they aren’t, oh yes they are!

Twitter disclaimers such as “Views are my own and don’t reflect the views of my employer” are a subject that divides opinion. Some argue that they are an essential safeguard, others that they are meaningless. I’d go further and argue that for PR practitioners (and other communications disciplines) such disclaimers are actually dangerous.

The reason I argue very strongly that these disclaimers are dangerous is that the disclaimer provides absolutely no protection whatsoever and can actually engender a false sense of security.

Firstly these disclaimers don’t provide legal protection. If you say something that you shouldn’t have then having that little disclaimer won’t save you from disciplinary action or even, if your comments are outrageous enough, from being sacked for gross misconduct. The same goes for the disclaimer in your Twitter biography that says “Retweets don’t imply endorsement or agreement”. The fact is you ARE disseminating information and if it is libellous or inaccurate than you can be held accountable.

However it isn’t the legal aspect that makes these disclaimers not just wrong, but reputationally dangerous. It’s the practical reality of how most reasonable people will view them – what the man on the Clapham omnibus will think (in UK law a hypothetical reasonable person).

Disclaimers don’t work because:

  1. Many people will never see them. They will just see your tweet or retweet and never click through to your profile to see your biography and disclaimer.
  2. People will inevitably associate what you say and what you do with your employer. This post isn’t about debating the rights and wrongs of this. It’s simply stating that it is the reality.

For anyone that is even remotely the public face of an organisation or company then this is even more true. So if you’re a senior manager or director, a PR practitioner, a politician, a company spokesperson or any similar jobs then what you do and say directly impacts on both your and your employer’s reputation.

That means you’ve always got to be careful what you say.

If companies or organisations really want to protect themselves from reputational damage from what their employees say on social media then a far better solution than disclaimers is to implement proper social media policies and training. A good social media policy will be designed to make it easier for employees to use social media safely, ultimately protecting both the employee and the employer.

There are countless examples of senior PR people, both in-house and in agencies, who tweet extensively without the need for meaningless disclaimers. A few friends and acquaintances who correctly don’t use disclaimers include:

  • Flip Dotsch, global corporate media relations, Unilever
  • Tom Murphy, global director of communications for Windows at Microsoft Corporation
  • Dom Burch, head of social, Walmart UK (Asda)
  • David Brain, CEO Asia/Pacific/Middle East/Africa, Edelman
  • Stephen Waddington, digital and social media director, Ketchum and 2014 president of the CIPR
  • Stephen Davies, director of digital health Europe, Weber Shandwick

All of these in-house and PR agency experts have excellent Twitter accounts that mix the personal with the professional.

I’’ll give the last word to Tom Murphy who wrote a far better and pithier post on Twitter disclaimers.

Footnote and my disclaimer Smile

The current guidance from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (to be fully transparent I’m a founder member of and sit on the CIPR’s Social Media Panel which produced these guidelines) in its Social Media Best Practice Guide fudges the issue and says:

 

For example, it can be advisable to add a ‘views are my own’ disclaimer to a Twitter biography, if a practitioner tweets about client and industry related news / opinions, [professional] and also shares their personal views on a subject that lies outside of their work remit [personal], through the same Twitter account.

However, practitioners should be aware that this will not remove the risk of association with an employer, potentially damaging their reputation, and that adding this to a profile has no legal standing in the UK.


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.