How the BBC lost 60,000 Twitter followers to ITV

Back in March, I wrote this piece looking at the ownership issues around Twitter profiles used for professional purposes. I noted that sensible consensus seemed to be that a personal feed (with no inclusion of a company or brand name) is owned entirely by the individual behind it, whilst a corporate feed (with no inclusion of an employee name) is owned entirely by the organisation to which it makes reference.

However, the post raised the issue of Twitter profiles that combine both employee and employer names. At the time, I mentioned that the account of the BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, was the perfect example of this – @BBCLauraK. What would happen, I asked, if she left the BBC for a rival media outlet? Would the BBC keep her Twitter account and reassign to her successor, or would she be permitted to take it with her?

Last week we got our answer.

On Thursday 21 July, the BBC lost 60,000 Twitter followers when Laura Kuenssberg renamed her @BBCLauraK account to @ITVLauraK.

Before the changeover, Jemima Kiss wrote for the Guardian that changing the name of the account would be the “sensible thing to do” and that Laura Kuenssberg’s successor “could hardly step in and take over the account anyway – that’s not what Kuenssberg’s followers signed up for…”.

I disagree. Many people, myself included, wanted to follow the updates of the BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent (@BBCLauraK). We might be less interested in updates from the ITV’s Business Editor (@ITVLauraK). When she had earlier tweeted the details of a new separate ITV account to her then 59,000 followers, only around 1,000 of them started following the new account, which seems to support this assumption.

However, beyond the views of her followers, I think the BBC had a pretty decent ownership claim on the @BBCLauraK Twitter account.

The BBC listed it (and in fact still does) as one of its official Twitter accounts here. Whilst there is no mention of ownership in the BBC’s recently-published social media guidance for official Twitter accounts, it seems at least one prominent correspondent, Philippa Thomas, specifically removed reference to the BBC from the name of her Twitter account she switched from @BBCPhilippaT to @PhilippaNews (although her bio does says (BBC newswoman). Perhaps this was because she didn’t want the BBC to have editorial control over her tweets, but I’m betting the issue of ownership of Twitter accounts must have come up at the BBC.

People have argued with me that the BBC taking control of Kuenssberg’s Twitter account would be like forcing her to surrender all of the contacts on her mobile phone or pretending that she never met any of the political figures with whom she came into contact as a BBC correspondent.

My response is that 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.

Kuenssberg rarely, if ever, included links in her tweets, but a quick look at recent tweets on Robert Peston’s Twitter feed – which has a similar number of followers – shows that each link he tweets is resulting in thousands of click-throughs to the BBC News website.

If ITV came along and demanded that the BBC redirected Laura Kuenssberg’s blog on the BBC News website to the business section of its own website, it would rightly be laughed out of the room. Yet ITV has done something on an equivalent scale by poaching the BBC Chief Political Correspondent’s 60,000 subscribers with the click of a mouse.

On a final note, BBC technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones has two Twitter accounts – one personal and one for his employer. His personal account was set up long before the other one and has over double the number of followers. Many people follow both accounts, so it’s an interesting example of how organisations like the BBC can have correspondents running both an official BBC account as well as their own personal account in harmony – everyone’s a winner.

What do you think about the ownership of Twitter accounts that mention an employer’s name or brand? Should all Twitter accounts that are used for work purposes be owned by the employer, or just those that mention the organisation in the name of the account?

Tom Callow is an account manager at Automotive PR, maintains the company’s Twitter profile @AutomotivePR.

  • Tom Callow

    @Chuck first prize for the over-the-top response to this blog!

    If I use your quite ludicrous analogy, the equivalent situation here is if your boss made a baby with you, supported it through childhood and then you tried to claim sole custody. It’s a grey area, so please stop pretending it isn’t…

  • Jobs

    The question is was Laura able to develop a following of 60,000 as “Laura Kuenssberg” or based on her position as BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent? I would guess as the later. Then my next question, when a very successful sales person move to a competitor do the clients follow them?

  • Himanshu Bansal

    Good story. I believe it is more about keeping official and personal profiles separate.

  • Igor

    It is a tricky question, and I do not believe it can have only one right answer. The best use is the one mentioned at the end – have both business and personal tweet profile.

    Maybe the best decision in Laura’s case would be to tweet links to new accounts – her new business account and also the account of her successor in BBC, so people can choose whom to follow.

  • Helen Coldicott

    I think what all of these comments lead us to conclude is that when setting up a new Twitter account with your employees, you need to have this discussion.

    If you think allowing them to inject some personality into their tweets and obtain a good following for who they are not just where they work or the position they hold then they may have a good argument for including their name in the account.

    If you think people will primarily follow due to the organisation they work for the twitter account needs to be named corporately.

    If you choose the former, the person should be able to rename the account on leaving that organisation.

    If you choose the latter the following and tweets remain with the company.

    Just make sure you contact your HR department from the outset!

  • I think that if I want to follow BBC, I have to follow the official account of BBC. If I choose to follow Laura Kuenssberg, it’s because I like her and her work. So, in this way, her follower belong to her.

    Only the impersonal things may belong to the company.

  • Mike

    I Assume the previous Business Editor of ITV has, in turn, kept his/her twitter account. Given this, it seems the industry already has a defacto way of dealing with this ‘issue’.

    Did Laura Kuenssberg own the twitter account previous to it being called @BBCLauraK? If she did, then it appears to be her account (that she’s augmented considerably by using the reach and notoriety of the BBC – no bad thing in my view). If it was set up during her BBC employment and the account and her tweets had to adhere to all BBC policies/guides etc then it doesn’t seem that personal and the BBC have a case in my view.

  • Tom Callow

    @Mike yes, that’s sort of my view too… If she’d wanted to create a personal account for her own views/insights etc. (ones not vetted by the BBC), then my opinion is that she should have done that.

  • Deon Fialkov

    I agree. I think that one can’t compare it to asking for the numbers on her cellphone because she would never have got 60 000 followers if she didn’t work for the BBC.

    I think that the BBC is entitled to reclaiming what’s rightfully theirs. The other alternative is that her twitter profile be deleted/purged and created again.

    eg. If I worked for the President and I had 120 contacts that were `confidential’ in nature – essentially either those contacts should be removed or it is `property’ of the respective employee.

  • Simon Johnson

    Perhaps the content nature is key. @BBCLauraK wasn’t really a driver to the BBC site, it was observations by an individual within her sphere of work. As that work sphere has changed, 59000 followers can decide whether to continue following or not.

  • BritainLoans

    I’m glad the BBC saw her move as ‘sensible.’ It shows they understand the importance of the co-branding. The BBC didn’t just lose followers, they lost an amazing journalist. She’s taking her sources and contacts with her – but the headline doesn’t read BBC loses top sources to political coverage. I love that she went a step further in helping the BBC brand by promoting another Twitter account. I see no problems in co-branding. It’s necessary for transparency as well – clearly marks you as a journalist for an organization.

  • Tom Callow

    It now appears that some BBC presenters are being asked not to promote their Twitter handles ‘on air’, such as the DJ Chris Evans. Others, who run ‘official’ accounts with BBC in the handle are still being allowed to promote them. However, there is some disparity as Gavin Esler did mention his Twitter handle (that does not mention ‘BBC’) on Newsnight.

  • B.C. Kowalski

    Twitter followers are not like subscribers to a blog – they’re much more like phone contacts. Twitter is more like a conversation than a blog. If I choose to follow a particular person’s Twitter account, it’s because I want to hear from that person – not the company itself. In this case, what would BBC do, transfer it to a new employee? So as a user, I’m suddenly following a completely new person? Ridiculous.

  • Tom Callow

    @B.C. I’ve got to disagree. I think most people who followed Laura’s account were following it because she was the BBC’s political correspondent. Of course she added a personality to the role, but the primary reason for most people following her was – I believe – her role, not her personality. I’ve not got a particular interest in following ITV’s business editor, which is what I was forced to do when Laura repurposed her account. The account wasn’t used personally, but purely for updates on political situations as you would expect to be reported by the BBC’s political correspondent. She didn’t set it up as a personal account, but as a BBC ‘branded’ account that was regularly promoted by the BBC on air.

  • Tom Callow

    Interesting to see now that out of 48 presenters, correspondents and reporters on the ‘BBC News on social networks’ page, only two – @paulmasonnews and @peston – do not include the BBC ‘brand’.

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    This is somewhat akin to the official email id. Ideally, if technology could permit, a Twitter account bearing an organisation’s / brand’s name should not be rendered unusable if the person moves out of that organisation. However since thats not possible now, there’s little choice but for organisations to own all Twitter accounts used for official purposes. As for the Twitter account holder, s/he should use their personal handle for personal blogging.

  • alaanile

    This is somewhat akin to the official email id. Ideally, if technology could permit, a Twitter account bearing an organisation’s / brand’s name should not be rendered unusable if the person moves out of that organisation. However since thats not possible now, there’s little choice but for organisations to own all Twitter accounts used for official purposes. As for the Twitter account holder, s/he should use their personal handle for personal blogging.

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  • andy

    Interesting review of How the BBC lost 60,000 Twitter followers to ITV useful for obat untuk mengatasi keputihan gatal