Have you noticed those disclaimers on Twitter profiles? The ones that suggest that everything published on this Twitter account is personal and has nothing to do with my corporate identity. Many even add the additional comment that a retweet does not equal an endorsement.
Of course the disclaimers are almost meaningless, especially if the person has stated their company and position and then also added a disclaimer. Imagine if Rupert Murdoch started tweeting his opinion on just about anything. Would that be seen as his personal view and nothing at all to do with News Corp or could we safely assume that if it's on his Twitter account then it must be part of their corporate view?
Of course at the executive level, if CEOs are tweeting about their business or their rivals then there is never any disclaimer. CEOs on Twitter should be aware that a few drunken tweets may not be as funny the morning after and may lead to a sudden requirement for a career change.
But what about those employees without access to the executive suite? This is where the disclaimers about online comments are more prevalent because mid-level managers want to be seen online, but they don't want to run the risk of saying something that might be seen as an official statement coming from their company.
And what if employees are being offensive on Facebook or Twitter, but it is on their own time? Employees are surely not expected to conform to corporate rules at the weekend - are they?
Well what if their employer is clearly visible on a Twitter or Facebook profile and they are posting hate messages that are racist, homophobic, or abusive of a religion? I witnessed this myself recently when I informed one of my own clients that an employee of theirs - based in Northern Ireland - was hurling around sectarian abuse. It was on her personal Facebook page, but offended 'friends' were pasting screen-shots of her abuse on Twitter and commenting that you can see her employer next to the hate-filled messages.
Maybe she was drunk. Maybe those capturing the screen-shots wanted to make sure that her employer saw the comments before they scrolled off into oblivion after a few more Russell Brand videos were shared on her Facebook. Whatever the hidden agenda, she made the statements and they were right next to the logo of her employer.
In this example any disclaimer would be meaningless. Actions speak louder than disclaimers. Nobody expects an employer to police your every drunken night out, but if your drunken night out involves the abuse of an entire race or religious community - and everyone can see your employer - then you might expect to be visiting the HR team come Monday morning.
The obvious answer is to separate our professional and personal lives online. To have a Twitter account that features rants and cat videos and another that features corporate strategy. But this goes against all the advice of just about every communications professional - even company representatives have a real life and might tweet from the football now and then. I know that if I had the choice, I would follow the personal feed of most executives and ignore the corporate waffle enforced on them by their armies of marketing and communication specialists.
So perhaps the safest thing for more junior employees is to take greater care about how they share information - it's surprising just how many people still post publicly to their personal Facebook. They might also want to keep a network, such as Facebook, just for genuine friends and family, and therefore not complete the employer details at all. If the corporate logo isn't visible next to your comments then you cannot be accused of speaking in the company name.
When business magazines talk about work/life balance it usually refers to balancing time and commitments between a job and family, but in this new age of communication I believe that work/life balance is far more complex than just time management. Everyone is a publisher today and when people publish something offensive it is all too easy for an employer to suggest that it may be seen as representative - and therefore offensive to their customers. Think twice before your next batch of tweets about Gaza sent from the pub.