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I work for a large multinational company. Lately they've been encouraging (not requiring) us to "go social", to talk about their products, services, conference talks, etc on our personal social networks. (This would be in our words, not marketing's words, though they're "willing to help".) This is new to me; I thought most companies didn't want you to talk about them. (At worst you make them look bad; at best people assume you're shilling and the message isn't effective.)

Now I happen to like the stuff we do, so I'm not averse to mentioning that from time to time, but I've generally been careful to avoid mingling work and personal online. I almost never blog, tweet, or otherwise write about my employer. It seems easier to avoid pitfalls that way. But the worlds do mingle anyway; I have friends who are coworkers, people I follow socially mainly because of a work connection, etc. So this wall between worlds might not be very solid anyway.

I'm trying to decide whether to change my approach. What is likely to go wrong if I do? What is likely to go wrong if I don't, when my employer wants us to?

  • 21
    something similar happened to me, when I was on an internship (gap year while studying for my degree) the PR guys wanted me to use my university email account to send unsolicited marketing material to other students. I didn't do it, but to this day I know there is a marketing guy somewhere blaming me for his marketing campaign failing (although, if spam was his only plan, it would have failed anyway) – gburton Jul 29 '15 at 23:06
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    Beware that the FTC requires clear disclosure of affiliation in social media activity - see ftc.gov/news-events/media-resources/truth-advertising/…. And they do enforce it - see the press releases about large settlements on that page. If your employer was asking you to do this promotion without disclosure, they may be less interested in doing it with full disclosure. – Andrew Medico Jul 30 '15 at 0:02
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    Create several fake accounts via Tor browser, and post a lot of negative (but true) comments about the company. Soon they will realize why this was a stupid idea and scrap it altogether. :p – Masked Man Jul 30 '15 at 0:56
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    "Employer wants us to tweet (etc) about them; what should I consider?" A new job. ;p Though seriously, I would take this up with HR as you are almost certainly not required to do this as part of your job, and may even be able to point out it's a waste of your time and of their resources. – Zibbobz Jul 30 '15 at 3:52
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    Having worked in the Social Media space this is an absolutely horrific idea. This is how brands get bad press in the social space. You have amateur Social marketers out there polluting your brand. Not really your question though. I liked the top answer BTW. – Bill Leeper Jul 30 '15 at 13:59

11 Answers 11

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This is a bad idea. It could go horribly wrong - they are making a mistake.

For example, if people lie and exaggerate, there are now officially sanctioned lies about the company in the social media space. They might even misrepresent a product, potentially breaking the law.

If people feel obliged to do it and produce a large volume of low quality tweets, the noise level of twitter activity about this company is increased.

Employees of this company will also begin to get a reputation for shilling.

It is also possible that you might get something wrong and be held responsible for it - marketing people spend a lot of time carefully considering what they are putting into publicity material for a reason.

Discuss this with whoever your report to - nothing good can come of it.

If it is not mandatory, I would not do it. If it is mandatory, ask them to give you things to say, and begin moving on to a new job.

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    I'd also probably create a separate Twitter account. – Jane S Jul 29 '15 at 23:48
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    I agree it is a terrible idea to solicit tweets from just any employee. It just leaves everyone with a bad taste in their mouths because it looks and feels phony and sycophantic. However, it is more often than not the sign of a really unskilled marketing department that would allow this to happen. It is not something to leave over. If the OP has to contribute a "retweet" or a "like" would be relatively harmless. Best to sit back and just watch the social media train-wreck rather than join in. – teego1967 Jul 29 '15 at 23:51
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    It is not ethical to sit back and watch your employer make a huge mistake; train wrecks can be funny to watch, but your reputation is tied to the employer, you also have an ethical responsibility to your colleagues. – gburton Jul 29 '15 at 23:52
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    Given the number of high profile cases where social media faux pas, in the last few years, have caused huge PR nightmares, I am surprised its not obvious how inherently dangerous social media can be to a company's image. A single tweet with the wrong interpretation can and has produced many a storm in a teacup. Most companies I've worked for has asked their employees to distance themselves on social media from their employers. – Aron Jul 30 '15 at 2:57
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    If you want to put some force behind your objections: ask if your employer takes full responsibilty for any errors you might make while tweeting etc. – user8036 Jul 30 '15 at 14:10
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If you both want and don't want to contribute, you can just retweet / reblog / re-whatever the company's posts. If the company twitter account announces something, you can retweet it, and everyone is happy.

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    Since the OP genuinely likes his company this seems like the best answer by far. No liability, and if someone in his social circle asked about it/commented on it even in a negative fashion, he can honestly say "hey, I like my company so I thought I would share". Very low risk of earning a shilling reputation that way. +1 – Ryan Jul 30 '15 at 20:22
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    And you can even get selective and only retweet messages that you understand in depth, and that you consider genuinely exciting for at least some of your followers. (It's the moral equivalent of responsible upvoting on SE.) – Jirka Hanika Jul 30 '15 at 20:26
  • A very good proposal because it is upfront and honest, unfortunately some companies do not see that as enough and request "spontanous" acting under orders (paradoxical statement fully intended). – Thorsten S. Jul 31 '15 at 21:43
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Our company has started to encourage this as well, with groups of people effectively asked if they want to volunteer to become ambassadors for the brand. So far it looks to be done well, and at it's core, the success of the initiative is from the following:

  • These ambassadors get social media training, so they learn how to make posts that aren't blatant marketing, but instead personalised views on something from work
  • Training on when to tweet/post - ie what sorts of things are good to respond to, and what should be avoided or left for others such as the online helpdesk
  • Strong training on risk and the limitations on what can and can't be said, as well as levels of ownership of posts (ie which ones can be official, and which should be owned by the individual)
  • It is voluntary (but definitely encouraged)

I would imagine posting negative tweets about the company wouldn't be a good career choice, but so far the initiative seems to work well enough.

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    Please make the following experiment: Get a world receiver radio. Choose a channel where they are talking in a language (Afghan, Chinese, Suaheli whatever) you have absolutely no clue of. You will be still able to tell at once when advertising is sent, our brain is that good in detecting advertising. No amount of training, preparation or being "ambassadors" will hide that fact, you and others are fooling yourself in this regard. There is no non-blatant advertising, using peoples social media will always feel dishonest and I think it is a bad idea. – Thorsten S. Jul 30 '15 at 8:50
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    I think you're deliberately stating an extreme viewpoint for the purpose of argument. As I said, I think it is working OK here, but I also see your point and gburton's. Done badly I think it could be bad reputationally. – Rory Alsop Jul 30 '15 at 11:27
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    Ok - we are talking about two entirely different things then. Let's leave it at that. I think your position is valid for what I think you are describing, but that's very different to what I an talking about. Which is fine - there are as many ways to do this as there are people with ideas, I guess. – Rory Alsop Jul 30 '15 at 11:58
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    I personally have always liked seeing sincere tweets from people talking about their business. Especially small game development teams because they don't have overly much PR. It always seems easy to tell when they are sincere or whether they are just saying something for advertising. "Patch ** is ready, it's going to be totally awesome" vs "Can't wait for all you whiners to stop complaining about that bug tonight ;)" – DoubleDouble Jul 30 '15 at 21:06
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    @ThorstenS. For your experiment, I feel like there are way too many radio cue's that something is advertising. There will be a break from the normal program, and suddenly a (most likely semi-professional sounding) voice will start talking, probably somewhat quickly, with additional music or sounds to assist in grabbing attention. If the actual radio host were to throw in a "I saw that movie, I thought it was really good" in his normal voice and language as a sincere comment you would not notice. – DoubleDouble Jul 30 '15 at 21:26
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In addition to points that have been already made, such as ensuring full disclosure of your relationship to the seller and ensuring accuracy, be careful to avoid bait-and-switch in your use of communication channels.

For example, if I were your Facebook friend because of some shared hobby and you started sending me product information, I would treat that as an abuse of trust. I would unfriend you and put your employer on my list of companies I would prefer to avoid.

On the other hand, if you started a new blog that was frankly about your employers products, and described you as an employee, I would probably not follow it but I would not have any negative reaction either.

  • That's a good point; existing connections were based on different expectations. An occasional retweet shouldn't be a problem (I don't like every single message I read either), but it shouldn't become excessive. – S Abrams Jul 30 '15 at 16:15
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My last company had a similar approach. What I did and a few others did was create a "work" account. So if I had a "Dan" twitter account I use daily, I would create a "Dan At Work" twitter account and simply use that to promote or do whatever with the company.

Think of it in the opposite way though. Let's say you help promote your company with your twitter account. Then let's say you left the company and a new employer wants you to do the same thing? You're now promoting two companies on the same twitter account rather than just having to create a new account and start anew.

  • I like this idea, not just for the clear separation is useful to you, but also because having a separate "at work" account means you have plausible deniability when accused of "spending too much time on social media" - you can show how you are only logged in to your work account from work, and how everything posted on there is work-related. – Dewi Morgan Aug 1 '15 at 0:41
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I think you can do it safely by simply re-tweeting/sharing/linking content published by your PR department or maybe doing HOWTOs blog / videos on products.

For example, the company announces "Releasing IThingy 10 today", you post of Facebook - "Checkout the IThingy", with a link to the news release or whatever.

Or let's say you can do a video on how to replace your brakes and you say "As some of you know, I work for Giant Motors, and today I'll be replacing my brakes with Giant Motors new super cool Unobtanium-Carbon Super Performance pads.

I think something like that is OK, I would not do blatant marketing, spam people or make any claims about the product "in my own words".

4

Apparently the company is willing to take the risk of one of those tweets taking a turn for the worst. But the profit can be huge because they get a lot of exposure on a shoestring budget. Thats how profitable companies work, take risk, lose some, gain more.

But what's in it for you?

You invest some time and effort in those tweets. Are you expected to tweet outside office hours when you could/should be spending quality time with your loved ones? What will happen when you tweet something that gets interpreted the wrong way and damages the reputation of your employer? Wil your employer support you when that happens or wil you be fired an/or sued and what will happen with your reputation?

These are all questions that need to be answered before even thinking about what to tweet.

And now we come to the key questions that need to be answered:

  • What do you personally gain from tweeting?
  • Is it worth the risk as mentioned above?
3

Be very leery of "Encouraged but not required". I've no doubt that those who told you this were sincere (or thought they were), but if you choose not to participate, you'll likely gain a reputation as "uncooperative" or "not a team player". - Your boss asked you to do him (or her) a favor, and you declined. What do you think that will plant in his mind?

That's been my experience anyway. Your safest course, in my opinion, is to simply re-tweet as some mentioned above

  • Personal social media accounts are for personal use. What you decide to do with them is up to you. If you want to tweet about the company you work for you can, but in no sane environment will not doing so hurt you. If it does... time to find a new job anyway. – user1234567890abcdef Aug 2 '15 at 6:00
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I don't know what your contract looks like, but I'd expect that there are two sections in it which might come into conflict.

  • You are required to keep your work confidential. Knowing what you do on a day to day basis, what works and what isn't working, when new products will be released, etc., could be a great benefit to the competition. Talking on social media goes against that.

  • You are required to do other, small tasks as directed by your manager. Even if you are technical staff, it would be perfectly legitimate if your boss asks you to proof-read a press release about your latest product to make sure that marketing gets the technical features right. Or even to write a few paragraphs and post them on the company site. You cannot simply reject this request.

That being said, you should ask about (written) policies how you are to identify yourself when you're assisting the marketing department, which internal information you are allowed to disclose and which must remain secret (that's where the "willing to help" from marketing could be really helpful), and how much company time you can spend on it.

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If you look at some of very successful programmers and designers, they talk a lot about their work. For example, it's arguable that Magic's Head Designer got the job partly because of his strong commitment to community interaction, both because it made him a face, and because it improved his ability to satisfy the ridiculous demands of his entitled userbase. It's certainly arguable that Coding Horror and Joel on Software were what helped build StackExchange.

Obviously other successful programmers don't talk at all, at least not on public forums, but it's obvious that it can help your career far more than it hurts it.

So you have to ask yourself, do you fit that role well enough to benefit from filling it?

Are you interested in discussing your work with other people?

This sort of breaks down into "Are you interested in your work" and "Are you interested in writing about stuff online?"

If the former isn't true, this can be an opportunity to change that. For example, you can say "look, what I'm doing at the moment won't make for good branding because it's kind of dull and routine; I'd really like to work on Project-X, because it's the kind of thing I can really write some interesting technical/user-facing stories about it". If the latter isn't, then don't. It's not your job, and if this doesn't seem like an opportunity, why do it?

What can you actually write about?

If they have very scripted things they want you to write about then they're effectively asking for control of your social media. If they want a bunch of dummy accounts, they can pay for them.

If they have a review policy before you publish anything, then that's great, but be aware that you may have to fight for what you write. But this way you'll be safe if anything you publish causes brand issues, because it got brand signoff.

If they don't have a review policy, then you need to either need to persuade them that they need one, or have them contractually stipulate that they can never fire you or take any action against anything you might publish online ever. Otherwise they're asking you to write stuff, but if you write the wrong stuff, you'll face disciplinary procedures. What's the wrong stuff? Well, it's anything they dislike.

Rule 1: Never risk anything you value on your ability to psychically intuit a complete stranger's whims.

What is your brand?

What face do you want to represent when people talk about you? If you're highly technical, your writing should be about the technical problems you solve. If you're really interested in your problem domain, it should be how the software solves real problems that are faced. If you really enjoy the environment you work in, it should be about the way you're managed and how it helps you solve issues. All of these have value to your company either via recruitment or sales.

Writing is a great way of being seen, and being seen is a great way of being valued. But you have to do it with your eyes open. It's great to tweet about the cool stuff your company's doing; some of the best Twitter accounts do just that. But it's only sensible to ask what you get out of this; and what you get out will very much depend on how much you're prepared to put in.

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I would post harmless factoids along the lines of:

"Today at Initrode we successfully converted hundreds of pieces of paper into information storage devices".

Or

"Here at Initrode we pride ourselves on our efficient conversion of oxygen into consciousness."

I can't see getting fired for something like that given the open-ended nature of their request, but your risk tolerance may vary.

  • 7
    I would call that a very risky strategy. It sounds like you are mocking the policy, which I assume would not go down well with the powers that be. – Jane S Jul 30 '15 at 21:14

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