A Lesson in Twitter Handles – Learning from the New York Times

Many companies struggle to determine who owns the social media account – the employee or the company? Without clear policies, companies risk losing the fan base they worked so hard to establish. This can be devastating. Just ask the BBC – they lost 60,000 followers.

On Twitter, the biggest concern is determining the best Twitter Handle (or username). We want to increase brand exposure and yet success depends upon personality and genuine connection. How do we be humans online when wearing the mask of a brand or logo?

The New York Times (NYT) manages the balance well. Let’s take a look.

Official New York Times Wellness Twitter Account:
The twitter handle for the official NYT Twitter account is @nytimeswell. This Twitter handle clearly “belongs” to the company; however, when you look at the page, you can see personality right away. Blogger Tara Parker Pope’s photo and name are clearly displayed. You can also see her personal Twitter handle which includes her full name and no reference to the NYT.

Click on the picture below to enlarge.

It is clear that followers are following the company; however, followers are interacting with an individual. This profile builds trust and establishes a relationship.

This profile also protects the NYT. If Ms. Parker-Pope is promoted or leaves the company, the Twitter handle is still useful to the NYT. The company retains the account and its 100,000+ followers (assuming they like the next personality just as much).

If the official Twitter handle were a blend of personal and professional such as @Parker-Pope_NYTWell, the account would be difficult to salvage.  The NYT would have to create a new Twitter account and ask its 100,000+ followers to follow that new account. It is doubtful all followers would transfer; the NYT would lose valuable exposure.

Tara Parker-Pope’s Personal Twitter Account:
Blogger Tara Parker-Pope’s personal Twitter handle is her full name: @taraparkerpope. It does not include the name of her company.  She does indicate in her profile that she is a blogger for the NYT. This allows for maximum exposure for both her and the NYT. Parker-Pope’s followers can also follow the NYT and vice-versa.

Click on the picture below to enlarge.

If Ms. Pope is promoted to a different position or leaves the NYT, she should be able to retain her personal account without concern. She can easily change her profile information to reflect her new status. If her personal Twitter handle were a blend of her name and the company, this change would not be so easy to navigate.

Why is it imporatnt to separate personal from professional?
Rarely do individuals stay in one job for more than a few years; however, social media is here to stay. Companies must think long term.

It is dangerous when a company’s presence online is dependent on an employee’s twitter handle, especially an employee’s twitter handle which includes the compnay name (such as @joe_ABCcompany). There are two major risks here:

  1. First, when the employee is no longer at the company, the Twitter handle is no longer useful to either the employee or the  company. The followers must either chose to follow a different account or be lost completely. This loss is completely avoidable.
  2. Second, it is unclear who owns the Twitter account. Does it belong to Joe or to the company?  These questions are leading to some very interesting (and unfortunate) legal debates.

Social Media Policies
Social media polices are key. Policies should state upfront how decisions are made. A good social media policy will:

  1. Provide guidance as to the naming of company accounts
  2. Provide guidance to employees as to how to avoid the question of ownership of their  personal accounts

The NYT Wellness account is one great exampel of how to balance personal and professional on Twitter. Do you know of other examples  Please share here.

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