Tips for managing Twitter in the workplace

    Twitter has recently burst into the mainstream as a social networking site whose users include everyone from college students and professionals to businesses, high profile media personnel and politicians.

    Twitter is basically a micro-blogging service that allows users to answer the question, "What are you doing?" by sending short text messages of 140 characters, called "tweets," to "followers," people who have signed up to receive that person’s tweets. Some more prominently known “tweeters” have hundreds of thousands of followers. Twitter is only one of the more recent entries into the so-called social media space, which also includes Web sites like Facebook and MySpace.

    Here are some quick tips for employers wondering what to do about Twitter in the workplace:

    1.) Acknowledge social media sites like Twitter are here to stay.
    Today, people turn to the Internet to get information more than any other source. For many, social media tools such as Twitter are replacing, or at least heavily supplementing, traditional information sources. That desire for real time information does not stop simply because someone is sitting at work, in front of his or her computer. Accordingly, employers have to understand their employees will sometimes want to access social media sites during work hours. The key is how you handle and control that use.

    2.) Familiarize yourself with Twitter.
    Give Twitter a try – set up an account and learn how to use the site. Search for “tweeters” who write about topics relating to your business. It is best to have a good understanding of Twitter and its impact prior to speaking to employees about its use.

    3.) Capitalize on Twitter’s potential value to your business as a communication tool.
    As a business owner or manager, it is critically important to tune in to what customers are saying about your company online. Twitter can be a resource for your business, allowing you to broadcast company news, interact with clients and customers, enable group communication or link potential clients or customers to your Web site. With proper use and monitored content, Twitter can be a valuable tool for branding and advertising.

    4.) Openly dialogue with employees about using Twitter and communicate a clear policy on its use.
    Encourage employees to ask questions about their use of Twitter and create a friendly environment for them to do so. Tell your employees that social media like Twitter must be treated like any other means of communicating about your business. Employees need to realize that “tweeting” about company information or confidential information may violate company policies or company agreements and such disclosure can subject the company to legal liability. Employees should not use Twitter as a tool to vent about fellow employees, company clients or other internal matters.  

    Consider a recent example on how “not” to use Twitter in a business environment: FedEx invited a public relations executive to speak to its worldwide communications group about digital media. Upon arriving in Memphis, the PR executive posted a “tweet” on Twitter saying, “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!'” A FedEx employee had been following the PR executive on Twitter and was understandably insulted by the “tweet.” He responded to the PR Executive and copied the FedEx and PR firm’s management teams. Not a good result for the PR firm.

    5.) Keep Up with Changes.
    Lastly, keep up with how social media like Twitter changes and how your employees’ use of it changes. You need to make sure your company policies are not drafted once and forgotten but evolve as the tools they address evolve.  

    Although Twitter launched in 2006, the corporate world is just beginning to see the benefits of this social networking tool. Implementing a policy outlining guidelines for communicating online via social media will set clear expectations for employees and help avoid potentially damaging situations. The time has come for companies to start thinking about social media in the same context as other forms of communication, which means setting clear guidelines for employee use, exploring options that will benefit the company and working to maintain a positive social media presence within the organization.

    Christopher Cain is an attorney with Foley & Lardner LLP.

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