Does a company have the right to your twitter account after you leave their employment? Are they in control of what you send out while you work for them? Should they be? Can they be? Does it matter?
These questions have vexed many a business owner and manager, and I’d like to share some of my own personal views on the matter.
I believe that if a member of staff has their own twitter account, with their own name, whether created before or during their employment with us, it is their property.
Take for example, someone called Jo Smith…
If their account handle is @josmith, that is their name, and they will take it with them if and when they leave. The account itself is not company property, nor are the followers of that account.
If they tweet as themselves, they may tweet about their work and/or their own life. Being employed is part of their life, but not all of it. I would ask that if they tweet about anything official, something about us, and even perhaps about something unrelated, they do so with all due respect and realise that as part of their life is being employed with us, they take that into account. I would ask them to be courteous and wary of what they post, and that everything they send out (once sent) is permanent. Even a deleted tweet can be retweeted (or screenshotted) before you get a chance to delete it.
We provide coaching tips and guidelines to all staff members, and sometimes sessions, on how to use social media at work – the traps, the way it can work, how it can benefit their and our brand.
I believe a twitter account is very different to a staff member’s official email account (which absolutely is company property, including its name being that our company brand forms part of the address, and is run off our servers).
When and if Jo moves on from our employment, he or she can take their twitter handle and account with them … but not their email account. Their own name is Jo Smith and belongs to them (not the company), and so @josmith, and all its followers, moves with them.
To be honest, their twitter account is not much use to me after they leave anyway, even if I insisted I retain it. Their contacts, or followers, followed them for various reasons, and enjoyed (or not) their content. I don’t believe I have the authority to take over their persona, even during their employment with me, and certainly not after it. Even if I did, what would I do – carry on tweeting as them? Change the name and twitter handle? That’s deception.
I have noticed some companies (such as the ABC) have some of their reporters use a twitter handle such as @josmithABC, which presumably is created when they join, and ties Jo’s twitter account to the ABC, and only the ABC.
I actually don’t follow this policy because, what happens when Jo leaves the ABC? Are you going to rename his twitter account, take it off him, and give it to someone else? Shut it down? Plus, if you do this with all your staff, then they will have to start their accounts from scratch, and it can take a long time to build up connections and followers. What happens to their personal ones? Do they now run two?
I would argue that when Jo joined me, he or she brought with them everything learnt prior. Their skills, experience and yes, even their social media nous, was what I was hiring. When they leave, that walks out the door with them. When they arrive, I benefit from all their former employment and education and experience (this is what I am hiring, after all), and when they leave, that leaves too.
I try to treat all staff the same. If they have their own social media accounts (most have several), then our social media policy does remind them that whenever they use it, part of their audience knows they work for us, and for them to be respectful of that. We have a public persona, a brand, and that needs protecting, and hopefully, building upon. They do too.
On my own twitter account, which I started in 2009, two employers ago, I clearly state who I am, and that any views are mine and not of my employer. However, I always try to use my accounts to the best of the company’s goals, by liking and sharing content (but overly so, so as to annoy my followers) as part of my overall social media strategy.
Social media has developed into an important communication tool, and like the computer, phone and pen and paper before it, has its own foibles, pros and cons as compared to other forms of communication. What one needs to remember is that this form of communication is now permanent, and that proper staff coaching, including providing clear guidelines, tips and traps, is essential these days.