Who ‘Owns’ the Relationships That Arise From Your Firm’s Social Media Presence?

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by Sarah Warlick, copywriter and editor

A brilliant blogger or talented tweeter creates strong relationships with the audience that follows your firm. What does that mean when personnel changes occur?

It’s an interesting question, one of the new horizons that accompany the rise of social media as a branding tool. Companies are beginning to run into this situation, without a precedent to look to for answers. It’s a scenario that more and more firms are going to face though, as social media continues to increase in importance as a way to develop a strong following in their markets.

We’ve seen it firsthand. bbr marketing watched a talented tweeter create and lead a stellar presence on Twitter for a professional services firm. Her efforts did a lot of good for the company, and the information she offered led to a growing audience of devoted followers who became an extended group of friends and colleagues. She eventually left the firm, but didn’t really know how to broach the subject of taking the Twitter account with her or at least announcing her departure. The Twitter account with its associated user name remained with the firm, which let the account wither and nearly die. We imagine that her audience was disappointed, feeling suddenly cut off from the person they’d come to trust and rely on for great industry insight and fun facts. Many who would have liked to continue following her didn’t know where to find the original poster under a new name. So, in the end, she lost many of these relationships. Nobody benefitted in that situation – not the firm, not our friend, and certainly not the former followers.

Using social media to communicate industry information and brand identity has proven very effective. So effective, in fact, that most firms now have a presence on at least one platform and many that don’t are strongly considering it. But how will your firm handle it if your star media presence who has built a loyal following on one or more platforms leaves for greener pastures? You’ll find someone else to take over the job, presumably, but how should you let people know about the change? Will you lose followers who choose to go with the content creator rather than staying with the company she or he represented? What if it’s not a mutually happy parting of ways? These are all valid questions, and there are no clear answers.

Some firms have chosen to maintain tight social media guidelines that obscure personal identity, preferring to have all official social media communication done in the firm’s name with no recognizable human. That’s one way to minimize the impact of staff changes, but it’s not an ideal strategy for creating the strong relationships that bring about the best results. Many firms opt to build the strongest, most effective social media presence they can with a savvy staffer and reap the benefits, expecting to take the hit when the end of that particular arrangement inevitably arises. They reason that if they handle the transition gracefully, there’s no cause to lose much of the audience even if some followers also accompany the poster to a new account.

In a perfect world, the problem could be avoided by keeping every part of the team so blissfully happy that no one would dream of leaving the firm. But realistically, that’s not typically the case. Even if it were, families move, partners retire, promotions occur – in short, change happens.

Each firm has to work out the best solution based on the individual circumstances when it’s time to transition a strong social media account into new hands. For most, it’s probably wisest to approach this scenario with transparency, allowing the old poster to announce the change and say goodbye while free to invite followers along to share whatever new adventure lies in store. (It’s not like you have to delete one person to add another.) This fosters trust in the company and maintains the goodwill that exists between the firm and its audience. It also allows the person who steps into the role to meet an audience that expects good things and is primed to establish a new, equally positive professional relationship.

For more about this and other challenges of social media dynamics in the workplace, you may want to read Alexandra Samuel’s Wall Street Journal article. But before you go, please tell us what you think. How has your firm handled staff transitions with successful blogs and social media accounts? Have you run into problems or created solutions that worked well? Do you have ideas to share? This is just one part of the new territory that digital media is leading us all into, and we’re interested in your experiences.

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