Interesting session today at the importers’ AGM held by Wines of South Africa in London. I was there to speak about the use of social media in the wine trade (my presentation is available here if you want to see it). Two points of discussion proved quite interesting.
The first was whether or not agencies/importers/wineries should tweet as organizations or individuals. I firmly believe that the latter is the best course to take. People relate to people, not organizations. I think you are likely to have much more impact if you tweet as yourself, and build up a social network this way.
But for some employers, this can seem risky. If they have a staff member tweeting as themselves, one common reaction is that the person involved is using company time for something that isn’t just about their role. The usual give and take of twitter sees people getting involved in all sorts of discussions, and mixing the personal with business. Bosses can sometimes find this slightly alarming.
Also, what happens if a member of staff is an effective user of social media, building up a large network by tweeting as themselves, and then leaves? Bosses might see this as a loss; the individual is taking away some equity that took the employee company time and resources to build.
But I’d argue that without having tweeted as a person, that employee would never have built anything like as rich a social network up in the first place. It’s true: they take this with them when they leave. But they’d never have had this to take away had they been tweeting as the organization, and the company would not have enjoyed the benefit of this employee’s profile and following on twitter while they were in their job. So it’s a choice: you generate nothing and you lose nothing when they leave; or you generate something, benefit from it, and lose this when they leave. The latter is preferable, but it requires bosses who understand social networking at a reasonable level, and who can see the bigger picture.
We also discussed the problem of tweeting from larger companies. An employee from one of the UK’s largest agencies revealed that she simply can’t tweet because the legal department won’t let her. Because of the Portman Group recommendations, if she were to tweet she’d have to protect her tweets, and then if anyone wanted to follow her she’d have to contact them by email to verify that they are over 18 (the legal drinking age in the UK) before allowing them to. This means building up any sort of following is just about impossible. Once legal teams get involved in these sorts of decisions, it’s almost inevitable that a risk averse strategy will be chosen, which pretty much rules out employees tweeting in a personal capacity about anything to do with their job.