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Hey, Brands On Twitter: What Happens To Their Work Account When Your Star Employee Quits?

You’re a huge, global brand, and you’re on Twitter. You have lots of support employees on the network, and sensibly you’ve each allocated them a @name_company or @company_name username (i.e., ASOS_james). You have a unit working under your name, and they’re doing good things.

One of your employees becomes the real star of the team, and gets tens of thousands of followers over many months, offering fantastic support and just enough personality to be a hit. He starts getting a lot of attention.

Then one day, suddenly, he quits.

What now?

Some things to consider:

  1. Do you allow him to announce in his (current) Twitter account that he’s moving to another company, even if it’s a rival?
  2. Do you let another employee take over the account? And do you do this on the sly, or do you make it public knowledge?
  3. Do you rename the account, allocating it to another employee? What about those 50,000 followers – how are they going to react knowing their superstar is no longer in charge?
  4. Do you let the person running the account rename it, and take it over, doing with it as they will?
  5. Or do you just close the account? What about all those cases they solved, and help they gave? There’s a history there.

This is going to be a big deal in the future. I can see lawyers getting involved deciding who really ‘owns’ the tweets on employee accounts – or even the account itself. Yes, you’re tweeting on company time using company resources, but it’s your personality that’s made that account a success. It’s you that nurtured those followers, and it’s you that turned them into clients. When star salespeople leave companies, they often take clients with them. Indeed, their clients want to go. Why should it be any different on Twitter?

If you’re an individual like Jeremiah Owyang that moves his essentially personal account between companies, then it’s less of a problem. Owyang is the account. He takes it with him when he leaves. This perhaps seems like the right way forward, but it’s not necessarily best practice for companies to let employees use their personal accounts for work (and vice versa). And both lose the advantages of being associated with the brand name.

It becomes significantly less clear about what is the right thing to do – in both the contractual and ethical sense – if somebody becomes a superstar on Twitter using their work-only account, and then leaves. By association, the company becomes a superstar, too, particularly if the individual is being applauded for great support, and the ramifications of what happens when he or she quits (or, daresay, is fired) are considerable.

And as such, it might be worth thinking about the inevitability of that future now, as opposed to when it actually happens. Because believe me, it will.

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