When an Employee Tweeter Leaves, What Happens to the Followers?

If you tweet on behalf of your employer, can the organization hand off your followers to your successor if you leave?

For a metropolitan newspaper, the answer is yes.

The minor kerfuffle surfaced on Wednesday in the Twin Cities. Judd Zulgad, the well-respected Vikings beat reporter for the Star Tribune, had attracted more than 16,000 followers to @juddzulgad, his Twitter account for the newspaper.

In August, Zulgad left the newspaper for a gig with the market’s ESPN radio affiliate. On his last day, he tweeted that “someone covering the Vikings” would inherit his followers.

Nobody seemed to notice – or care. Until Wednesday.

His successor, Dan Wiederer, began tweeting from Zulgad’s account using an updated handle, @StribDW. It prompted a few critical replies from followers (“do your own work,” said one) and a brief story from the local Fox television affiliate. Wiederer called the decision a “corporate thing.”

More importantly, it raised a social media question that you should consider: How would your organization handle a similar employee departure?

The answer likely depends on how you’ve structured your presence. If your organization name is the foundation (such as our @sundogtweets account), your followers are less connected to the individuals behind your tweets. They’re following your organization, and tweets from a new employee shouldn’t alter that relationship – assuming, of course, that the content and trust remain intact.

However, if individual employees are referenced in Twitter handles – or the organization isn’t referenced at all (as in Zulgad’s previous handle) – you enter murky territory.

At minimum, the Star Tribune awkwardly handled the situation. As an alternative, the newspaper could’ve encouraged Zulgad’s followers to follow Wiederer’s new account. It would’ve been a better approach, even if it meant losing some of Zulgad’s following.

Thinking through these scenarios is important as you set up your social media presence – and, ideally, your social media policy should address these inevitable events.

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