Following Your Employees on Twitter

For those of you that run official government Twitter accounts, do you also follow your employees’ personal twitter accounts from your official one? Some businesses in the private sector follow their own employees. This helps with the idea of being more transparent and open. However, with government accounts are there any downsides to do so? Following your employees may bring a stronger voice to your organization as whole however, I can see a downside if someone tweets something which the media picks up and says, “An employee from ____[agency name]_____ recently tweeted that ___. It appear this agency is taking a particular side on the topic of _______”

Does anyone have a policy in place that states who they will and who they won’t follow from their official accounts, and why? This goes for any social media service as well (YouTube, Facebook, etc).

Note: This post is of my own personal opinion and is not endorsed or supported by any local, state, or federal government agency.

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Ryan Erickson

I’m in the Coast Guard and don’t know of any policy of them auto-following employees; however, when the Commandant, ADM Allen, first started on Facebook he (or at least whoever was running his profile) did indeed seem to pick and choose who he’d follow back. Now he has Corporate account so it doesn’t really matter. But reading your post did remind me that anyone who does have a social media account needs to weary of who may be watching. There is no doubt though within the organization who are watching fellow employees- whether it be on an official basis or not doesn’t really matter once you say something dumb.

Scott Horvath

Maybe there’s some guideline that should be established when employees sign up for accounts on social media sites. What if all employees were told if they sign up for an account and put that their an employee of a certain agency, then that means you’re acknowledging that anything you say can then be attributed to the agency and that you’re also giving the go ahead for your agency to follow or friend you. On the flip side, if you don’t say you’re part of your agency then you’re acknowledging that your account is strictly personal and that you don’t wish for your agency to follow/friend you.

Even though employees have to be weary of what they say in a public forum maybe that’s the “disclaimer” that should be used. Yes? No?

Ryan Erickson

Though it’s not explicitly stated I would hope anybody would be aware of what they say online is subject to scrutiny- especially if it regards their own employer or organization. But as you and I both now you’ll find plenty of example (some funny) of people noting how much they hate their boss or work environment. Not everyone will learn I guess.

Scott Horvath

Very true. There will always be some here and there. But again, does it make more sense to only follow those people that officially note themselves as being part of an agency (and are aware of the issues with regards to public comments)?

Health Communicator

NIOSH is currently working on our social media strategy document and CDC has guidance but I do not believe it covers this topic.

Scott Horvath

@Health…: Maybe this is something that has been overlooked by everyone else as well? I’m curious to see if other government agencies have thought about this.

Kevin Lanahan

Our news director recently began following feeds of any Missouri Conservation employees that were on twitter. I tried to beg off, since I mostly tweet about accessibility and gov 2.0, my twitter handle is just my name and don’t mention my employer anywhere in my tweets.

Then I thought, why not let him figure out that he isn’t going to get much to retweet from me, but it couldn’t hurt to know what I’m following.

As soon as I need to tweet as an MDC employee, you’ll know from my username to profile who I work for.

Steve Radick

If this situation were to happen,

“An employee from ____[agency name]_____ recently tweeted that ___. It appear this agency is taking a particular side on the topic of _______,”

wouldn’t it happen regardless of whether you were following them or not? Would it not be better to be aware of something like that as soon as it happens, vice having to find out from whatever blog picks it up? Isn’t the bigger question whether employees should openly identify themselves as employees of X agency or company when using these tools for personal purposes?

Scott Horvath

Yes, part of it is about how you identify yourself. However, by following people specifically or creating a list of people, you’re highlighting it and making it more visible that “these” are the people in this organization who are tweeting whether they want to be identified or not as being part of the organization. So, yes, I mean it comes down to how you identify yourself.

Steve Radick

@Scott – Ah yes, I went through this when I created a Twitter list of all the Booz Allen employees. I went back and forth on whether or not to create it. Ultimately, I determined that having this list be transparent to all did a few things:
1. It put these people on notice that they really should watch what they tweet. There’s no active monitoring going on (no one sends DMs saying, you shouldn’t tweet that you were drunk last night), but it does make people think twice about what they tweet about (as people should do anyway).
2. It gives everyone else a means to monitor the conversation and get to know their other colleagues. In a firm of more than 20,000, it’s easy to get lost and not get outside your personal little network. This helps expand that.
3. It created a network of public relations people – there are a lot of really smart people that I work with and I thought others would benefit from knowing them.

Andrew Krzmarzick

I think Gov 2.0 tribe leaders like Gwynne Kostin set a standard on their personal blogs when they say things like:

Gwynne – About this Blog: This is my personal blog and mine alone. Thoughts, opinions, links, endorsements do not express the views of my employer, organizations I belong to, my colleagues or friends. Just me. Blame me.

If Twitter is microblogging, then it seems they could make the same kind of statement….thought it’s much harder with Twitter’s short bio…and who wants to put something official like that in a bio when they are using it for personal use?

Or maybe the Twitter verification feature is what distinguishes “official” tweets and handles from everything/everyone else…and all should be considered personal unless otherwise specified.


Brittany Ballenstadt of @NextGov just posted an article on this conversation:


Hope it drives more dialogue!