Letting employees tweet away can be a smart move but is not without risk.
Twitter has cemented its influence in business as companies capitalise on feedback and leads from customers, suppliers and prospects among the site's 140 million active users.
But who do you entrust your company Twitter image to?
Is allowing staff to tweet under their own steam a smart business move or a reputation risk that companies just can't afford?
The former – if you manage things right, says Paul McLachlan, a partner at McCullough Robertson, an independent legal practice with 50 partners and 400 staff.
The firm's marketing office launched a corporate Twitter account early this year, an initiative that augmented the extensive Twitter following a number of solicitors had already generated in their specialist areas of the law.
“We have a really open attitude to people using Twitter,” McLachlan says.
“We encourage it if people think it's a way to build their reputation and practice … It's where our future recruits, peers and clients are. We want to be in that space and we want to be sophisticated users of it.”
Social media training, rather than censorship, is the key to making sure staff maintain the professional image and gravitas that clients expect of a firm where hourly rates for advice run into the hundreds of dollars.
It's mandatory for all employees, while a social media policy launched at the same time as the corporate Twitter account contains guidelines about personal and professional tweeting.
Staff can use their accounts to follow Kim Kardashian or bemoan the cricket score but need to include a disclaimer stating they work for the firm should they comment on anything pertaining to its clients or the law.
“People need to make sure that the image they're presenting, if it's associated with the firm, that it's appropriate,” McLachlan says. “We want them to be careful when people make the link.”
Encouraging staff to tweet can be an effective way of soft-selling a company's achievements and services and engaging with its customer base in a social way, says Artechulate Social Communications director Gareth Llewellyn.
“Most businesses have more to gain than lose by taking this approach,” Llewellyn says.
“The risks are easily managed if approached sensibly and the advantages are gained with very little investment.”
James Griffin, a director of social media consultancy SR7, says the blurred line between professional and personal use means it's critical for companies to lay down a few rules.
Even if an individual's tweets are unrelated to their job role, they can influence perceptions of the author's professional ability and reflect, favourably or otherwise, on the firm that employs them.
“We're in a very new space when it comes to the different types of profiles and personalities someone may have online,” Griffin says.
“People can draw a link between someone's online actions and where they work.”
For many companies, ad hoc adoption of Twitter means usage guidelines may post-date the practice by months or years.
Sydney-based PSK Financial Services has 34 self-employed financial advisers working under its corporate umbrella and began tweeting 18 months ago in a bid to win new business by drawing prospects to its financial blogs.
Some of the firm's advisers also use Twitter to help build their own "brands" in the tech-savvy Gen X and Y space.
They are free to do so, provided their personal positioning is in line with the firm's safe and steady image, says marketing manager Sophie Firminger.
The firm does not have a social media policy and is happy to trust individual judgment, at least for now.
“We hope people in the business understand not to be tweeting things that disadvantage the business,” Firminger says. “We hope they have the common sense not to do that.”