My £0.02 on who owns your Twitter followers

Yes! this has been utterly discussed to death. But I’ve got to have my say on this.

I first started grinding my teeth about on this topic when Laura Kuenssberg, formerly BBC Chief Political Correspondent defected to ITV overnight, switching her Twitter account from BBCLauraK to ITVLauraK.

Today, Mehdi Hassan of the New Statesmen has announced he’s joining Huffington Post UK as Political Director in July.

There are all sorts of legal opinions on this, but my personal opinion is more simple.

I think that when people follow you on Twitter, it’s usually on the basis of something you’ve tweeted and a combination of reading your name and bio.

If you state where you work and, particularly, if you include it in your Twitter name, you have an obligation to your followers not to hijack what they’re reading when following your tweets. For example, I chose to follow Laura because of her position as BBC Chief Political Correspondent – hence BBCLauraK. If I had chosen to follow her as an individual, I would’ve happily followed an alternative shared feed.

The BBC’s tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones happily operates this approach (@ruskin147 vs @bbcRoryCJ) as does their technologist, Bill Thompson (@billt vs @bbcbillt)

Yes, there is an argument that your Twitter account is yours to do with as you please – but it’s a slap in the face of your followers and your employer by stealing their audience in this fashion. It certainly reflects negatively on you and what you think of your followers.

Funnily enough, I was discussing this with my hairdresser the other day. Poaching clients from salons is a huge no-no for stylists. It’s a form of carpetbagging – and ultimately, as word gets round, that stylist will no longer be able to work in that industry.

It’s telling now that, having unfollowed Laura the moment she moved to ITV, she now makes zero impact on my life. Perhaps it’s because I don’t consume much news outside the BBC or tech publications, but this is the real impact that her move would have had if she’d not taken her Twitter followers to the BBC’s key competitor.

Mehdi now has to think carefully. As @ns_mehdihasan, can he simply change to ‘HuffPoMehdi’ or should he create a new account? If I was the New Statesmen, I’d wonder what audience I’d lose by allowing him to take his followers to HuffPo. Individuals are powerful brands, but these accounts have been grown by their association with their employer’s brands.

Personally, I’ve never stated my employer in my profile and have no plans to. Where work stuff is interesting to my followers, I’ll retweet it. And usually, I’m on the shared work account tweeting enough interesting stuff with personality without the need to create a ‘Corporate Josh’. This doesn’t mean I’m not proud of my current association with Melbourne. I just like to a draw a clear line that won’t leave me in a sticky situation if my employment ever changes (I hope it doesn’t!).

In any case, a light-touch policy for employers is essential. Agree what you’re going to do if or when the time comes for a staff member to move on – will they hand over the keys like a company car used for work and business? Or will you let them take the audience they’ve grown for you to your competitor?