Yesterday, I noticed that the number of @NosyCrow followers on Twitter topped 20,000. (We also tweet as @NosyCrowApps with 5,680 followers and @NosyCrowBooks with 5,622 followers at the time of writing.
I’m are grateful to all of those followers, and really enjoy my online conversations with so many of you.
The last time I wrote about our followers on Twitter was, I think, back in November 2011, when the @nosycrow Twitter followers numbered 5,000. (I wrote this later blog post about following people on Twitter, though.)
Co-incidentally, on the same day that @NosyCrow reached the 20,000 milestone, I read this missive from Tom Doherty of Tor, the US fantasy and science fiction imprint belonging to Macmillan in the USA, explaining the distinction between what Tor wants to say and what an employee wants to say. I don’t know enough about the issues at stake to feel confident to comment on them.
Tom Doherty was writing about Facebook. Our/my landmark is a Twitter one, but, still, it made me think, all over again, about social media, and how and why a set of individuals thrown together as a company uses social media with a company perspective at all. Can an organisation have views? Is that the prerogative of individuals? I am not – sorry – enormously engaged with Facebook, so I have to write about Twitter as the social medium I am interested in and involved with.
As the person who posts the @NosyCrow tweets, I am of course aware that, for me, the divide between the personal and the professional is very blurry. Embracing Twitter was particularly easy as soon as I had founded and was running a small company: everything is personal. There isn’t a corporate voice to ventriloquise other than my own. In a previous role, I know that I offended some people within the organisation with an internal blog about something they would prefer not to have had discussed: I’d failed to catch the organisation’s tacit consensus on its way of thinking and expressing itself.
And it is that the consensus is often tacit that is, of course, part of the problem. If you don’t define the edges of acceptable utterance, how will people know when they’ve transgressed? How far should an organisation – or, because an organisation is just a bunch of people, a leader or a group of leaders within an organisation – attempt to articulate or codify the views of that organisation? And how far and in what circumstances should an organisation attempt to impose those views on the employees of that organisation, or, at least, ensure that the public utterances of employees conform to those views?
A number of people working for Nosy Crow use Twitter, and some of them indicate the fact in their Twitter profile: @cawdelia, @kjstansfield, @ChiarionGiorgia, @LittleZeeBee, @TomBonnick, @CodingCrow, @axxxj, @OlaPolaBear, @ellie_corbett, @domdelaking and @dixie_dolores. Others working for Nosy Crow use Twitter but don’t identify themselves as part of Nosy Crow, though some of them refer to the company or its books or apps often enough that it’s not hard to work out who they work for.
Many companies insist on a “views are my own, not my employer’s” disclaimer (Tom Bonnick’s Twitter profile used to have a “views are my employer’s, not my own” disclaimer, which always made me smile). I’m never sure what weight, if any, those disclaimers have. Maybe we should insist that Nosy Crow employees add disclaimers, though it takes up a lot of space in a profile with a character limit.
We don’t have a social media policy and we haven’t presumed to provide social media guidelines for Nosy Crow staff. To me, at the moment, it feels not just inappropriately intrusive, but hopelessly impossible to police. I have never had cause to challenge or question anything I’ve seen any employee post. They somehow know what the edges are.
But what if, suddenly, it turns out that someone doesn’t know what the edges are?
Since reading the Tom Doherty piece, I found myself wondering what I’d do if someone did express on social media a view that was incompatible with what I think is the organisation’s tacit consensus. Let’s imagine someone who included the fact that they worked for Nosy Crow in their profile posted something that was, say, sexist? Would it matter whether it was an opinion expressed apropos of nothing to do with publishing, or in the context of a children’s book, or author, or children’s reading?
And I find that I don’t know the answer.
If someone who identified themselves online as working for Nosy Crow said something online that we would challenge if it were said in the office or in a public forum (like a sexist comment, say), then I would insist on a retraction and apology from that person. If they refused to apologise or retract I’d first insist on them removing the reference to Nosy Crow from their profile, and, if the issue were serious enough, I’d treat it as a formal disciplinary matter.
For what it’s worth, I can’t imagine, though, apologising for them, which is what Tom Doherty has done for Irene Gallo, and which just seems to blur all over again the separation between the individual view and the organisational view which was the problem in the first place.
What do you think?