Should journos have their Twitter profiles taken from them if they change job?

So The ABC’s new comment and analysis site The Drum is up and running.

And it’s off to a speedy start – not least because editor Jonathan Green was able to get the message out to his 1800 followers on Twitter this morning, while Annabel Crabb was able to do the same with her 7,700 followers.

Of course, these were profiles built up during time with their previous employers – Green as editor of Crikey and Crabb as columnist in the Sydney Morning Herald.

But is it fair to their old employers that the ABC’s The Drum has enjoyed that immediate traffic leg-up based on their old roles? After all, someone else was paying them to do it.

There’s an argument both ways. You could view it in the same way as when a reporter changes newspaper, they’ll take their contacts book with them. I’ve now got business cards and contacts books stretching back 20 years. I’m not sure what use the private phone number for Farnborough ambulance station in the UK would be for me now, but I’ve still got it somewhere.

But on the other hand, Twitter is also a marketing tool . It would be interesting to hear a legal argument that this list of followers is more akin to an email database and belongs to the employer.

Crabb has such a high following not just on her own account, but because of the profile Fairfax provided her with.

I wonder how long it is before media companies start including a clause in contracts that they own a Twitter profile if a journalist tweets during their day job. Just as they own the content that a journo creates.

At some point this issue will, I’m sure, be tested in court.

If it turns out that journos do own their Twitter identity, then you could see the number of your followers become a point of negotiation, either for a pay rise, or for a bigger salary elsewhere.

Tim Burrowes

Update: There’s also a good take from Margaret Simons of Crikey on the topic here


  1. Bec
    7 Dec 09
    1:49 pm

  2. Thats why I have a Personal Twitter and an employer Twitter. I have a disclaimer on my personal.
    That way, when I leave, employer twitter will remain with company, personal will come with me.

  3. Gavin
    7 Dec 09
    1:50 pm

  4. And on a related note, who does belong to now 😉

  5. sarah @ the edge
    7 Dec 09
    1:54 pm

  6. This sounds pretty simple. They create their personal/freelance identity and then a work identity that belongs to their employer. Like @AnnabelCrabb vs @AnnabelCrabbSMH and @AnnabelCrabbTheDrum. Employers would have to be pretty careful about using numbers of followers or friends on social networking platforms because people could just purchase 1000s of fake profiles to follow them a la Kyle and Jackie O.

  7. Karalee_
    7 Dec 09
    2:00 pm

  8. Interesting point of view Tim.

    I wonder though, how much of the profile of these two (Annabel and Green J) are based on their employer or rather on their own identity. I certainly don’t follow Annabel because she worked for Fairfax and now the ABC. I follow her for her wit, her insights and frankly because she says what she thinks.

    Therefore, I’d argue (in this case) a person’s online presence is their own currency, not their employers.

  9. Gary Kemble
    7 Dec 09
    2:08 pm

  10. It probably also got a ‘leg-up’ from tweetage from @abcnews, which has over 20,000 followers. :)

    I don’t see how an employer could take ownership of a personal twitter ID — it might be different if it was specifically @abcannabelcrabb or something like that.

    I’m with Karalee — I doubt people follow because of the company they work for. People like Annabel and John Birmingham have their own ‘brand’.

    Gary Kemble
    ABC News Online

  11. mumbrella
    7 Dec 09
    2:11 pm

  12. For what it’s worth, I’m a part owner of Focal Attractions, the company that owns Mumbrella.

    I’ve just made a note that at our next board meeting, we’ll discuss whether to put something in staff employment contracts making clear that their work Twitter persona belongs to us.

    I’m not certain that we’ll do that, but we’re certainly going to have the discussion.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  13. buckleup
    7 Dec 09
    2:42 pm

  14. I don’t see it like journos taking their contact list with them but taking their readers – which are attached to their name, and it’s reputation for quality.

    A solution for employers wanting to keep followers would be obliging journos to use a twitter account with a work moniker or a column name. eg Crabbe4ABC.

    The journo then runs a personal account separately.

  15. Anthony Dever
    7 Dec 09
    3:23 pm

  16. The ABC let Scott Dooley keep his Twitter profile despite switching from jjj to Nova 96.9. Over the weekend his username changed from @triplejdools to @scottdools.

  17. tabloidtwit
    7 Dec 09
    3:31 pm

  18. When the employer starts paying a by the word rate for tweets performed outside their normal working hours, when you can start having a serious discussion about who owns the IP. And what are you going to pay the journos whose tweets drive traffic to your site?

    Perhaps the issue here is that the journo is brand now, which means the employer is losing some control. And yes, people read the SMH because Crabb was there – just as they’ll follow her to the ABC. It’s a two-way street. That doesn’t mean employers own your soul too.

  19. Ben
    7 Dec 09
    3:34 pm

  20. If you tweet under your own name, how can your employer claim the name when you’re gone?
    It’s your name, not theirs.
    It’s like a former employer would have no right to new works written under your by-line if you no longer work for them.

  21. -h
    7 Dec 09
    3:36 pm

  22. The default for any social network presence is to assume that it’s the individual speaking/communicating. So, if there was no agreement up front, it belongs to the journo. If there was an agreement, I’d expect the twitter name to reflect who’s paying; eg. #journoname-ABC …and for what it’s worth, I’d be less likely to follow it.

    I follow people. People get paid to work for someone. If they use their personal network to promote work, their employer should be very grateful for being allowed access to that network. If they don’t want the journo using work time for it, that’s a different issue. But the employer doesn’t suddenly “own” that network just because they got access to it; any more than they own the journo’s contacts book.

  23. Anon
    7 Dec 09
    3:37 pm

  24. Employers might even try to drive down salaries on hire for the benefit delivered to pre-established individual twitter profiles during the course of employment…

  25. Warlach
    7 Dec 09
    3:38 pm

  26. I think there are two major points to this, and one which has an important influence on your Focal Attractions, Tim…

    1) While these profiles are certainly boosted by their exposure, this is similar to viewers/readers who would follow a celebrity from one station/publication to another – this wasn’t an issue as there was no way to revoke public awareness. I don’t see how Twitter profiles, whether in journalism or any profession, should be treated any differently. But, more importantly …

    2) Without the person who wrote it, what it he benefit to the company? Sure the @mUmBRELLA could be used if Tim was replaced, but for someone like Jonathon Green or Annabel Crabb, there are only two options: a) have someone else Twitter from the account, which the public wouldn’t like or b) change the username, which, as people wouldn’t have consciously followed the new person, would I imagine produce a similar backlash.

    Yes, I can imagine some publications and companies feeling bad at losing that power when a popular profile moves on, but in reality I see little way of having it work any other way other than to vindictively effect the person leaving.

  27. Mandi
    7 Dec 09
    3:44 pm

  28. Daemon’s CEO Richard Spencer brought up something similar at our Risk vs Reward seminar last week. Scott Monty was hired by Ford for being a top gun social media “guru”. So what happens when he leaves? Are people interacting with Scott Monty or Ford? In Scott’s presentations, he links to his personal accounts before Ford. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong here but hopefully all concerned are aware of a succession plan when a persona is involved. Sounds like something a social networking policy would cover!

  29. nextbrett
    7 Dec 09
    3:48 pm

  30. If its a personal account… it should go to the person who owns it. Simple.

    Business should see social as a chance to invest in the company and their employees.

  31. Jason Whittaker
    7 Dec 09
    3:57 pm

  32. I think it’s important to point out these journos are actually putting in extra effort – not necessarily recognised in salaries or employment contracts – to market their platforms via their Twitter messages. This is not only POSITIVE for the company, it’s VITAL in the digital age of fragmentation. Journalists almost have to be brands and self-marketers – @leighsales has made some good comments on this.

    Therefore, frankly, companies should bid farewell to journos and their accounts with nothing but thanks.

  33. James Breeze
    7 Dec 09
    3:58 pm

  34. Mm, if we set up a work one and a personal one, does that make it harder to be authentic in Twitter for business?

    I’ll answer that myself..

    No, actually I think it is fine to have 2 personas or even more. Just be honest about who you are and what you do.

  35. Arthur
    7 Dec 09
    4:04 pm

  36. On the surface the @TripleJDools change to @ScottDools seems okay, as most of his tweets were of a nature that reflected his personal views. Apart from issue of followers, some of the problems which arises is the impact of the name change on search and also past @ references.

    Not sure of the impact of this and how google handles instances like this, but a Google search for ‘Scott dooley twitter’ still returns countless broken links to

  37. anon
    7 Dec 09
    4:05 pm

  38. Should businesses be able to take over a personal email account because you happened to use it for a couple of work-related emails due to working at home/over the weekend? Clearly not.

    A Twitter account in someone’s name remains the property of that person.

    If businesses want to have a Twitter account in their name, for example getting multiple personalities to post to @sydneyfm then by all means do so.

  39. Dr Nick
    7 Dec 09
    4:11 pm

  40. What publishers and media still don’t get is that they don’t own distribution ‘brands’ or ‘news’ anymore.

    You contract talent and own stories.

    And you certainly can’t own or control the relationship the journo has with the reader – because the reader choses to follow and read. If you try to control this relationship then you will loose many more readers and respect than you will gain by trying to control. You too Mumbrella.

    Also – Do publishers plan to pay your journo retrospectively for tweeting outside of hours? Or for driving traffic to your website from the twitter account – for leveraging their writing and journalistic skills. I guess if you write it into their contract, that they must have a twitter account and they must manage it, then you will increase the salary for having marketing skills as well. (Maybe get rid of the marketing department?)

    Get a grip!

  41. AngGraham
    7 Dec 09
    4:15 pm

  42. I agree with Jason and Karalee and Gary and Warlach …

    Employers, no matter what industry they’re in, should also see social media as a business opportunity. It works both ways.

    Sure, people may get some more followers if they work for a high profile company, but your company is also getting great exposure through staff being active in the space … if they’re using it right that is. I’ve had plenty of new business opportunities come through to me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Why would journalism be any different?

    Unless the handle is a company handle like @abc, ownership isn’t the issue. You just need good guidelines … and to make sure people take the company name out of their social bios once they’ve moved on :)

  43. heather ann snodgrass
    7 Dec 09
    4:18 pm

  44. exactly what Ang [and Jason, Karale, Warlach and Dr. Nick] said.

  45. Warlach
    7 Dec 09
    4:26 pm

  46. Reading back over my post I just want to apologise for my spelling. Feeling a bit light headed, may have a fever, and that writing is atrocious.

    So many good points raised, and I think it’s pretty clearly which ones I agree with. I would warn against the dual account, ie @Warlach and @WarlachAtASIO style structure as I agree with @-h: I think people will be far less likely to follow these branded accounts rather than the primary, more personal account.

    It’s certainly not just an issue for journalism – Julian Cole’s current following of 2,265 people on Twitter (and around *cough* 500 defrauded fans on Facebook *cough*) don’t belong to the Population and will follow him to the TCO. If it bothers you, you need a social media policy that covers it, but I honestly think there’s little to be gained for a company trying to fight this trend.

    So Tim, will this comment thread be used at the next Focal Attractions meeting? :)

  47. Karalee_
    7 Dec 09
    4:42 pm

  48. Gavin – it now belongs to the new Premier :)

  49. Wolfcat
    7 Dec 09
    4:48 pm

  50. I think the deletion of all the tweets on the account is more interesting…

    whilst the account still belongs to the premier it is the erasing of the history that is a real concern to the publics right to know. History gets changed with the deletion of the tweets and not the followers.

  51. Karalee_
    7 Dec 09
    4:59 pm

  52. Completely agree with you. I’m wondering if the majority of the followers are there for Rees or because it is the official Premier’s account…

    But, to erase content is a concern. Think a better way to engage would have been to explain the account was being taken over by the new Premier, and kept intact?

  53. Eriq
    7 Dec 09
    5:39 pm

  54. Will publishers also accept legal liability for tweets from a twitter-name they now “own”?

  55. narelle
    8 Dec 09
    2:15 pm

  56. It is a sad reflection on life as we know it that sms and twitter and blogging and so on are taking on the perception of value. Real people do not spend all day tweeting. Nor reading tweets. They are busy. They are fucking. They are reading or eating. They are not the ones driving this traffic and the sooner you fantasy players understand that THERE IS NO MONEY IN THIS the better.
    People grow up. Then they sppnd money and are valuable audiences. Children SMS all day.

  57. tweebs
    8 Dec 09
    2:36 pm

  58. Thanks Narelle, the irony of you posting your uninformed opinion on “sms and twitter and blogging and so on” in a blog comment will sustain me through the afternoon.

  59. Megan
    8 Dec 09
    2:37 pm

  60. Thank you narelle, for your wise and very true words.

    i had always wondered why i could not adequately donate enough time to my social networks. It was because of my rampant sex life, with an occasional pause to read a book.

  61. sarah @ the edge
    8 Dec 09
    2:38 pm

  62. that is _gold_

  63. Warlach
    8 Dec 09
    2:48 pm

  64. Dear Narelle,

    Real people do eat, drink, read and fuck – some of us even do it while tweeting, spending time online and reading inane blog comments.

    In all seriosness: try reading some statistics and case studies of who actually uses this technology, and how the uptake in society is trending.

    I’ll leave you with this though: if all the people communicating on Twitter all day are children, someone should tell the @NSWPolice as we just found a MASS of paedophiles!

  65. Ratatoskr
    8 Dec 09
    3:06 pm

  66. I’ve often suspected I’m nothing more than a spambot. Do you think this means I don’t have to pay rent or taxes anymore, seeing as I’m not a real person?

  67. Grant
    8 Dec 09
    3:22 pm

  68. Finally my true reason for using Twitter—my sexual prowess—comes to the limelight and I can rejoice, as now I no longer need to hide it.

    I remember when I first started using email to talk to my friends my parents and their friends all mocked it for being child’s play and that it would never catch on. ‘Why don’t you just call the person?’ and ‘Why not write them a real letter?’.

    Social Media technologies like Twitter, Facebook and Friendface are all simply the new electronic mail, the sooner people realise this the better.

    It is clear there must be value in the technology, otherwise every other news article wouldn’t quote them as resources for news stories, people wouldn’t be spending 29% of their internet time using them and my Farmville farm wouldn’t be as awesome as it is.

    Narelle, get with the program.


  69. dain_ger
    8 Dec 09
    3:41 pm

  70. We are all just input/output devices for the inevitable AI that is being populated as we speak.

    Narelle – I would like to assume – likes to “switch-off” the online (oxymoron?) communication and do it the old-fashioned way – in person, using a voice-box.
    The fact I believe she is (failing) to make is that we don’t NEED twitter. Hell, we don’t need email. We don’t need phones.
    We DO need food, air and sex (at our most basic level).

    Of course without these technologies we wouldn’t be as informed, intelligent or productive (Farmville aside).

    So yes – the world we live in has an extraneous amount of fluff and waffle, but it makes it all the more interesting.

    Now I’ll go back and read the article because the link from the tweet I received jumped me straight to the comments. :)

  71. elliott bledsoe
    8 Dec 09
    4:33 pm

  72. Employers shouldn’t be able to claim an account unless they set it up. As I said on my blog,, if you’re given a staff email account you give it up when you leave, but they can’t claim your personal gmail account!

  73. Nat
    9 Dec 09
    12:44 pm

  74. It also depends on whether you started the twitter profile at your company’s behest. I assume that most journos probably started their own profile off their own bat, which their company then benefitted from.

  75. Derryn
    11 Dec 09
    8:52 am

  76. Narelle makes a good point. At some point people at work will not be allowed to do this stuff.

  77. aplet
    16 Dec 09
    6:53 am

  78. Very interesting debate – and one that probably raises a few eyebrows in legal depts around the country too.

    Surely if people are following a person who has individual views and thoughts then and their twitter handle is their own name, then they should take it with them on the basis of the fact that their followers want to follow them, not their employer.

    On the other hand, if a brand has a twitter following, and it is a combination of a number of people talking about the brand, then that stays with the company

    Tough one I guess – good debate!


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