I’ve seen public relations professionals post the disclaimer “my thoughts are my own,” in the about me section of their social media profiles and I am always perplexed. I wonder what they hope to accomplish by adding it. I’ve personally never posted that language and here’s why.
First, in the day of social media, everything is public. No matter how much you lock down your social media pages or refrain from connecting with coworkers, what you say matters. And, as a representative of your organization, you are a representative at all times – whether you like it or not.
It is for this reason, that I limit my online political banter, though I have very strong political beliefs and stop short of offering opinions on many other controversial subjects. This is because I know whether I like it or not, I am always a representative of the municipality that I work for. It’s for that very reason that I also refrain from coloring my hair some of the wild and fun colors that others enjoy and why my dress is typically more conservative.
In short, because I go on camera and on the record representing the municipality I work for, my behavior reflects the organization. I don’t just speak for Sparkle Anderson even when I am posting to my personal social media accounts and posting the “my thoughts are my own” language doesn’t free me from that responsibility. I would argue that public relations professionals should be held to a higher standard when it comes to social media because if anyone should understand the power of social media, it should be a public relations/communications practitioner. And, while there are many benefits to its use, it does have its share of pitfalls and it is very easy to become lax in what is posted to social media.
I can think of horror stories like Justine Sacco, the former communications director of the New York-based internet empire InterActive Corp. who tweeted insensitive comments that linked Aids with race or James Andrews who after just 16 months of joining Ketchum’s KIC division posted to Twitter, “True confession but i'm in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, I would die if I had to live here” regarding a FedEx account. When I read stories like this, I always have this moment where I shake my head and ask myself, “What were they thinking?” However, these stories are cautionary tales.
Long story short: online and offline behavior (think Juli Briskman) can get you fired. Is it a burden to bear? Yes. Is it fair? Absolutely not. But, it comes with the territory. So, no, I’m sorry… your thoughts are not your own.