When the BBC’s chief political correspondent jumped ship to work for a competitor last week, she took her 60,000 Twitter followers with her, and that has raised a few eyebrows in media circles. UK blogger Tom Callow made what I believe is an incorrect assumption when he wrote:
On Thursday 21 July, the BBC lost 60,000 Twitter followers when Laura Kuenssberg renamed her @BBCLauraK account to @ITVLauraK.
Callow wrote that the BBC has an ownership claim on that Twitter account, and suggested that those followers were interested in the views of the BBC’s chief political correspondent,” not ITV’s.
Twitter followers aren’t names in an address book. They are more like subscribers to a blog. We must remember that Twitter is precisely that: a microblogging service. Whilst the microblogs of BBC correspondents are running off Twitter’s servers, the BBC is controlling what tweets go out and must be able to stake a claim on the ownership of each official account — not least because they are now promoted so prominently on screen during news bulletins and even shows like Newsnight and Question Time.
Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman advanced the story, and asked the essential question, “Are people following the person — or the content the person represents?” Cory also smartly suggests that, contrary to what Callow thinks, Twitter does function in important ways like an address book.
This is a very important issue for media companies to get right, because in the world of personal media, personal brands are what matters. People follow people, not institutions, and if we try to practice the opposite, we’re likely to end up without any followers at all. This is why I think Callow is misinformed, because he’s viewing Kuenssberg’s (or any reporter’s) use of Twitter from an entirely old school business perspective.
People jumping ship and taking their followers with them is a necessary part of business in the 21st Century. The way to stop it is to make employment with you so attractive that there’s no incentive to switch, but if and when it does happen, the “loss” of those followers is simply a cost of doing business today. I would argue that we don’t really lose anything when that happens anyway, because to think otherwise underestimates both people and the ease with which technology allows them to change, too.
Moreover, we want to actually encourage the growth of personal brands among our employees. Why? Because without it, there’s no incentive for them to use social media 24/7 in the execution of their jobs. If we “own” those accounts, then we must pay people to use them, and that means on company time. Don’t think so? Press the issue and see how far it goes in the courts. No, we’re MUCH smarter to help individuals grow their brands with the quid pro quo being that they will use their brands to the furtherance of our business while our employees. We gain from their brands, which can include all forms of social media, blogging, personal events and appearances, and anything else they do with “their” brands, as long as they are our employees. When that ends, the cross-promotion ends, and that’s the way it should be.
Don’t think this is viable? Ask Arianna Huffington.
Individual people can go places that institutions can’t, and if we limit that in the name of protecting “our” assets, we effectively limit the potential that goes with it. We can’t have it both ways, folks.
Media companies, especially television stations, seem to hyper-react whenever somebody leaves. Their bios are immediately removed from websites with no explanation, and on-air goodbyes are often completely missing, depending on the reasons for departure. We do this despite that fact that it’s an affront to our audiences, who’ve gotten to know these people during the years of their service. Social media changes that dynamic, because true fans can follow them wherever they go. This is a good thing, I think, and another reason why my advice to any active or budding news person is to use their own name as their Twitter handle and not associate it with any media outlet.
Media companies who insist that call letters, for example, be included in Twitter accounts miss the point of social media by assuming it’s simply a way to extend their brands. Why we do this is a mystery, for the online world is not the airwaves; there are far more than four or five antennas in the ground here.