Before I launch straight into this post, I just want to make it clear that I am referring to a variety of different social-networking platforms and not just 'Twitter', as the title might suggest. Ok, now we've got that out of the way, let's move on to what this post is actually about; are your opinions really your own on social-networking websites? Intrigued? Well, read on!
Firstly, let's take a moment to think about how great various social-networking platforms actually are. I mean, we can now connect with long-lost friends, 'stalk' our favourite celebrities and share opinions with a wide range of people. However, when you share your opinions on such platforms, who are you really representing? Are you representing; yourself, your country, your family, the educational institution that you attend or the place where you work? Ok, I feel like I am getting a bit ahead of myself, so let me pause and fill you in on why I am considering this question in the first place.
I am currently working as a Frontrunners Marketing Assistant for all of De Montfort University's Placement Units. During my induction I was advised to be aware of how I was coming across on the social-networking websites, such as Twitter, and on my blog(s). Now, don't get me wrong, I completely understand that this advice was purely for my own benefit and bad social-media etiquette can sometimes cost you future job opportunities. However, I consider profiles that I personally set up to be my personal profiles and all thoughts, opinions, etc voiced on these are all my own, not that of my employer. In fact, I have even included the 'all views expressed are my own' line on my Twitter profile, something that I often roll my eyes at when I see it because I think it's a bit of a given. However, does what I post on my personal social-networking accounts, reflect upon anyone but myself?
Well, as with most things, there are two sides to the story. On the one hand, I think most people are Internet savvy enough, when it comes to social media anyway, to know that the views expressed on a personal profile are those of the individual and not the views of anyone else. On the other hand, however, I think many organisations don't spend enough time learning about professional conduct on social-networking websites and differentiating to their employees what's acceptable and unacceptable, instead preferring to lay down guidelines that are often too strict and wholly unnecessary if the correct training was implemented. Does that make sense?
Plus, if employees really wanted to get around any rules laid down by their employers, they could just adopt a random username that doesn't tie the profile to themselves or to their employers. Although, this does raise concerns about transparency on social-networking websites and goes against Mark Zukerberg's mission to make the world 'more open and connected' - how can you be open if you're hiding who you actually are behind some random usename/handler?!
So, what's the solution?
I think both employers and employees have to be trained (if they don't already know that is) on how to conduct themselves in a professional way on social-networking websites. You don't even have to hire an external consultant to show you how it's done; employers and employees could sit down together and have an open discussion, coming up with guidelines that they both agree to adhere by - turn it into a team-building exercise! That way rules can be defined and unacceptable behaviour can be clearly identified and corrected - or else!
Whether businesses like it or not, the world is becoming more open and connected through social-networking websites, so employers can either learn how to utilise such platforms or risk being left behind.