Mumbrella’s Twitter Policy

Focal Attractions are the publishers of Mumbrella, an online magazine for media and marketing news. They revealed in the MX rag yesterday that they plan to put a clause, claiming ownership of tweets, in employees contracts. The reason why is because:

an employee’s work-identified posts fell somewhere between their little black book and the firm’s email database … they should belong to the company … so a worker could not take all the followers they had built up using the firm’s identity to a competitor.

Click for a larger image.

mind-your-tweets-mumbrella-web

Tim Burrowes, co-owner and editor cited this example:

“With Rove, he has got loads of followers and when he leaves Ten they’ll all go with him”

I’m not sure this is the best example that Burrowes could have used.  Rove has his own production company and his content is licensed to Ten.

Any employee who feels that they are under surveillance will soon become uncomfortable. What this policy fails to acknowledge is the enormous benefit an employee can bring to his or her company through a contribution to an online community.

A company has every right to protect their client list and their intellectual property. However, there are too many implications to cut a hard and fast rule of ownership of a tweet:

  • What if you created your twitter profile before joining the company?
  • What if you already had a significant following before joining the company?
  • What if the company hired you, in part for your network of followers?
  • What if your tweets, work to increase the profile of the company?

Being protective of company IP is one thing, but owning conversation and commentary  is surely another. Could a company lay claim to blog comments? Forum contributions? Facebook status updates?

Focal Attractions is in the business of running social media workshops and seminars for companies. They want to be viewed as leaders in this space, hence the motivation for this PR piece. Paranoid companies would be far better advised to not allow employees to tweet during work time, or to tweet from a company twitter account, attributed to a company email address.

Companies can always set guidelines for twitter use. I can only see a policy of ownership as a way to kill morale. Does your company want employees who just do their job; or, do they prefer ambassadors who demonstrate pride, knowledge and pleasure in their work through their online networks?

Would you want to work for a company that claims ownership of your tweets?

Comments

Lisa

What a load of rubbish! They don’t own your tweets, how ridiculous. Unless you’re writing for the company twitter account that’s just nonsense.

Will they also claim ownership of my flickr photos? My Waves? my gmails?

Wow, they just lost a serious amount of credibility in my eyes. What a joke.

kristin rohan

Thanks Eri – So much to ponder. A company’s most valuable assets are the people – and if you try to control them too much, they rebel, lose their enthusiasm and passion for good work.

Everyone loses in the end.

But great advice about having a company twitter account and invite employees to be part of the team rather than a guest or untrusted visitor.

Cheers – great post as usual,
kristin rohan
SassySEO

heather ann snodgrass

Eri, I think this story probably stemmed from this original post on Mumbrella, about whether or not journos own their Twitter accounts, or the publications they work for. It got a healthy amount of debate and is a pretty insightful conversation to read:

http://mumbrella.com.au/should-journos-have-their-twitter-profiles-taken-from-them-if-they-change-job-13600

In that sense, I agree with the approach of the New York Times — they have multiple streams for their publications to broadcast through, but journalists are also encouraged to maintain their own accounts, which they claim no ownership over.

I think, generally speaking, that it really comes down to what kind of business you’re in. Obviously if you’re at the helm of a company Twitter account and then, for whatever reason you leave, the branded account stays with the company.

Should you have to hand over your personal brand because your profile was “built” during your tenure there? Hell no. I think that personal branding is benefiting businesses now more than ever, and that it’s a grossly lopsided and egotistical corporate view to try and exercise that sort of control over an employee should they make the choice to go work elsewhere in the near future.

On the other hand, however, there is a new tool being tested at Twitter which allows multiple people to have posting rights to a Twitter account, which attributes them in the Tweet info. Will be interesting to see how that transforms the service once again, and if these sorts of policies have any sticking power at all.

H

Erietta Sapounakis

Hi Heather
Thank you for the article link. Its great to have the wider context of the story.
eri

Tim Burrowes

Hi Erin,

Before I tackle your main issue, I should point out that you’re wrong about “the motivation for this PR piece”.

mX rang me to follow up on an opinion piece I’d written some time ago. I’m always happy to talk to journos if they call, but I didn’t seek coverage.

(Thanks for chucking in the link, Heather, it saves me doing it. It probably reflects my position a tad more subtly than mX’s piece.)

I do agree with you Eri that Rove probably isn’t the best example. It wasn’t the main one I gave. However, I suspect that the journo knows their audience better than me, so used the example readers would be most familiar with.

It’s an issue companies need to talk about, and I don’t know what the right answer is. That’s why we’re going to have the conversation. I’ve no idea what we’ll decide to do.

I speak as the co-owner of a website where about 10-15% of our traffic comes directly from Twitter, meainly as a result of my tweets. I put a sizeable part of my day into using Twitter to build relationships between Mumbrella and our community. As other staff come on board, I’ll encourage them to do the same.

If they were to then leave, having spend at least part of their working day effectively being paid to tweet, I wouldn’t necessarily want them to be able to walk out of the door and delvier that potential traffic directly to a competitor. I’m not talking about people who use their Twitter account mainly for personal stuff, but when they do it for their company.

I’d argue that trying to develop a policy aroudn this isn’t “paranoid”, it’s sensible. If you were me, what would you do?

Cheers,

Tim @mumbrella

Erietta Sapounakis

Hi Tim

Thanks for making a comment and thank you for clarifying that the article was *not* a PR piece. I’m actually surprised the MX guys did some actual journalism ;-)

I have used my personal twitter account and my presence on other communities for work purposes. I guess in those cases, the community in question knew exactly who I was, who I worked for and what we did. My twitter one line bio revealed all. It was changed when I changed jobs.

The ‘medium is the message’, and the twitter medium is ephemeral. Its value is its real time currency. While someone may be paying someone to tweet during the work day, that tweet is effective in a very specific space in time. The time when they were employed.

Would you hire someone who had worked for a competitor? Would you benefit from their network? Assuming the answer is yes the pros and cons work two ways.

If a company feels it is appropriate to own tweets, and the related network of followers for whatever reason then they should have a policy for people to have a company related twitter account, as suggested by some of the comments in your original article. But if a company would rather tweets be sent out from personal monikers, because that is more authentic, then they have to take the good with the bad.

I am not an employer, nor am I a business owner so the “what would I do?” really becomes a “who would I like to work for?” I would like to work for a company that trusts me to conduct myself in a loyal and professional manner. What would I advise a company to do? Have an account that a team of people could access and encourage people to retweet that account’s messages.

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