Twitter account ownership, logic lessons and what the BBC really lost

Did Laura Kuenssberg take 60,000 followers away from the BBC?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

So, earlier in the week, the world and her husband tweeted and linked this piece, suggesting that the BBC had lost, lost I say, 60,000 followers because Laura Kuenssberg took her Twitter account with her to ITV. The horror. And the predictable warfare between the “social media is a personal medium” and “social media is about marketing messages” camps broke out. (FWIW, I’m firmly in the former camp, for reasons we’ll go into later in this post).

Cue much discussion, wailing and bemoaning and evangelical posturing about who should own what in social media. Ugh. It’s rapidly becoming the new journalists vrs bloggers discussion.

Thankfully, there is some new thinking in here.  I think Martin Belam really nails it when he attacks the other part of the proposition, which no-one else seems to have questioned:

If you take TV as the analogy, when a series on BBC2 that has been pulling in 1.2 million viewers ends, we don’t generally go around saying that “the BBC has lost 1.2m viewers” and assume they are totally lost to the BBC. We expect that they still consume some other BBC programmes, and probably some of them still on BBC2.

Spoilers: based on his sample, the answer is that the BBC lost nowhere near 60,000 followers. Check out his arithmetic and stuff on currybet. So, Martin’s wee bit of anlysis suggests to us that the whole underlying argument of the piece is flawed. The BBC may have lost 60,000 Follows, but Follow does not equate to Follower, because people are capable of following many people. It’s a classic logic error which, admittedly, makes for fantastic linkbait.

So where does that leave us? Well, certainly not with the message that media outlets should own absolutely the Twitter accounts of everyone tweeting for them. John Bethune has some intelligent thoughts on how to address the situation.

Here’s an additional thought: if the BBC had claimed the account, and switched it to @BBCNormanS for Kuenssberg’s replacement, how would the people who found themselves suddenly following a person they did not choose to follow feel? Would they be annoyed that the BBC had forced them into following someone else? Quite probably, in some cases. And there’s a chunk of relationship damage that almost certainly outweighs the costs in terms of Follows inflicted here.

Brands are accumulations of people in the end; people’s work, personalities and output. And any brand that puts all of its eggs in the basket of a single Twitter user or account in putting all its eggs in one basket. That’s foolish. A brand which spreads itself across multiple social media accounts of its staff – of its constituent parts, if you like – benefits not only from reduced risk of loss, but also benefits from the multiple relationship streams developed as a result.

Tom Callow’s piece seems, to me, to be a classic example of the “command and control” approach to brand marketing clashing with the more personalised, distributed nature of social media. And that’s a fight that’s going to be going on for a long time to come, I suspect. But, we can see the outcome already. However much people might like to claim that people do, I don’t have conversations with brands, I have conversations with people. And if they’re good people, I think that much better of the brand.

What the BBC has lost is not 60,000 followers. What they have lost is Laura Kuenssberg’s relationship with 60,000 people. And no amount of Twitter account claiming could allow them to retain that relationship. Guess what? Your staff just got more important.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.