Who owns your social media account?


Recently I blogged about why your boss should allow you to use social media in the workplace. This has a lot of advantages (read my previous blog to find out why).

Who owns your social media account?
Who owns the keys to your Twitter account?

But what happens when your workplace not only allows you to use social media, but requests that you use it? Take this to the extreme and consider – who then owns your social media account?

This is a very important question, which I don’t believe has been debated enough. I’m seeing a growing number of Twitter profiles and blogs where an individual’s social media profile:

• References where they work
• Might include a link to their work website address or work’s Twitter handle
• Might even include the workplace name as part of their personal Twitter handle, for example @AndyAtStarbucks. This is okay. But it is probably not sustainable without a strategy and shared understanding between worker and boss.

They say today’s employee will have many jobs in their lifetime. So what happens when you leave one employer … and take your Twitter account with you?

Take for example the case of journalist Laura Kuenssberg, who amassed quite a Twitter following while working for the BBC. She had more than 58,000 followers – and used the handle BBC in her Twitter name – before leaving the national broadcaster and joining ITV.

What should she have done? Abandoned the ‘BBC’ Twitter profile and started another? Handed the BBC profile to her successor? Or rebrand, rename and start tweeting as an ITV journalist? Who was the owner of her account? There are good arguments for and against holding onto the Twitter account. It’s simply too difficult to tell whether people followed her because she was Laura Kuenssberg, or because she was a journalist with the BBC. There may have been many who followed for both reasons; not to mention family and friends.

The Online Journalism Blog captured some of the debate. And similar questions were raised here when high-profile Australian journalist Annabel Crabb moved from the Sydney Morning Herald to the ABC.

What can be done to avoid this situation? Well, if your employer asks you to tweet for work purposes and to weave the company name into your Twitter name, it’s probably time to write a contract! It could be extremely useful for the future, if you had a documented understanding of who owns the Twitter account.

If you can’t reach an understanding, the best option may be to tweet from a company name only and keep your personal Twitter handle entirely separate.

Of course, this also raises questions about the boundaries we have in our workplace. When we use social media many of us are losing some work/life balance. Our professional and personal spheres are colliding. (I’ll be writing about personal versus professional in an upcoming blog).

Have you been asked to tweet on behalf of your employer; post on Facebook; respond to a blog or take part in an online forum?

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Nice blog Michelle. I know the HWY faced a similar problem recently when they asked some of their employees to start tweeting. I suggested they tie themselves to the HWY via their bio but not their Twitter handle, I think this is a safer option and can be easily switched when employees leave their workplace. Having said that, I’m not sure the HWY is on the same scale as you’re talking about in your blog 🙂

    1. Prakky says:

      It’s tricky to advise on this as a social media consultant. On one hand, we’re ecstatic when an organisation wants to embrace social media so much that they begin to enlist their staff. I just know that once you start including a work name in your Twitter handle, it could lead to tears and tantrums in years to come …

  2. Gary Lum says:

    This is why I have personal and work accounts for Twitter and Facebook.

    1. Prakky says:

      Thanks Gary, that’s a good tack to take.

  3. Jason Dunstone says:

    Hey Michelle. Good debate. From what I see there is too much blur between work and personal, including those with their own business. People may follow someone because you work somewhere, but there needs to be separation between work and life. It would be interesting to hear a legal opinion, but I would have thought an employer would struggle to retain an employees account.

  4. Robin @Robin_Hop says:

    Great article Michelle, thanks for sharing. It’s an interesting one. As Facebook ‘rules’ don’t allow individuals to have more than one facebook profile (and with lots of rules not allowing profile names to include words that suggest the person is an admin), it’s hard.

    I have separate personal and work Facebook profiles – but only use the work one to administrate our organisation’s pages and to be able to use the Chat feature with our fans who also choose to add my admin profile as a friend. If Facebook’s functions changed to allow Pages to take part in chat, tag individual users in photos and message people individually, I’d love to give up the work Facebook admin profile.

  5. Ash Simmonds says:

    Can’t wait for someone to want me to write stuff on their behalf…

  6. Neil Collins says:

    Another great post Michelle!

    I’ve been talking about this with @Twillyon recently too.

    It’s a topic that’s right on the money for me at the moment given that I’m about to move into a new job in a company with very high-profile branding. This brand currently runs profile images of key social staff and responder ^initials etc. on it’s Twitter account. Although I also know that the key staff never refer to the company or discuss the brand through their personal Twitter accounts.

    I’m assuming this is due to negative sentiment in recent times, and the potential to get caught up in a brand related argument that could easily go pear shaped if not controlled properly.

    So my dilemma is this: Do I continue with my personal account the way it is, RTing, commenting on industry guff, discussing topics with followers etc, without mention of my new role and the brand I’ll be behind? Or throw caution to the wind and amend my Twitter bio to include the brand name and my position?

    The brand’s social policy (as I am led to believe at this stage) dictates that staff are more than welcome to state their association, but as soon as they do so they must adhere to the restrictions listed within the policy. I’m yet to read the policy, so perhaps the restrictions will make my mind up for me.

    I’m also told that if I do ‘call myself out’ and reveal my position, although I must try to play within the rules, I may just be allowed to bend them slightly, in the right context.

    So – interesting times for me, and a fairly crucial decision given my current Twitter usage levels.

    I see the positives as: Raising awareness of my own profile and increasing my social footprint, transparency (which I’m a big fan of in social), and alignment of my ‘personal brand’ with the brand I will be representing – thus being able to shout about the wins, and debate the losses.

    I see the negatives as: Trolls (obviously), personal attacks relating me to the brand and any potential media disasters it is involved in, and the potential for my personal musings having a detrimental effect on the brand.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts, and those of any of your readers.



    1. Prakky says:

      Thanks for the (very lengthy) comment Neil. I would take the long term view, and maintain your own personal accounts as separate entities from your work. I’d use your personal profiles to continue to network with others, learn, share resources, ask questions, share your personal life etc – and try to steer away from promoting your new employer, RTing etc. That will just make life easier, if you maintain that distinction. Sure, your employer may appreciate you supporting them online with your own account, but it just has potential to get messy. Consider also that you may pack up and leave that role in six months, 18 months .. who knows what the future holds. I believe our private social media accounts are our personal property / CV / employment passport, so keep it as pristine and “individually you” as possible.

      I do sometimes use my personal account to promote my employer, but as I cite my employer in my bio I think that’s transparent enough. I’m not required to support Hughes PR, I just choose to. I have them promoted in my bio because I also think that connection is good for my personal brand. It’s important for potential clients to see I’m working within a PRIA accredited, well known public relations firm.

Leave a Reply to Prakky Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s