Why Raven employees have Raven in their Twitter handles

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It’s a question we get a lot.

If Raven has a main company Twitter account—@RavenTools—then why do Raven employees use Raven Twitter handles, too? Like this @RavenJon (Jon Henshaw)

This question has come up again this week, with recent news that one company is suing a former employee for “keeping” his Twitter followers when he left the company. People are asking, everywhere, “Who owns your Twitter account, you or your employer?” Frankly, we don’t have an opinion on the law. We’ll pay attention to the outcome of the legal case, of course. (Update June 2013: The parties settled.) But what we do have is an opinion and explanation for how we do things at Raven.

Our @RavenTools account

We have read a few stories about how companies handle corporate, branded accounts. These seem to be the most common strategies:

  1. One official, branded company account, with initials or a name at the end of a tweet (e.g., ^KD or —Kate) to let you know who is tweeting. See: @chipotletweets.
  2. One official, branded company account, with a description in the bio of who is doing most of posting and replying. See: @SouthwestAir. Update June 2013: Southwest Airlines no longer lists the most frequent poster in its bio. @TheAtlantic is a better example now.
  3. One or more official, branded company accounts with no reference to who is posting and replying to messages. See: @nytimes, as well as @FastCompany, @FastCoDesign, @FastCoLead and @FastCoLabs.

Or some combination of those three.

At Raven, we choose Strategy 2 for our official, branded company Twitter account.

Raven's Twitter Profile

Raven’s Community Manager Kate Dore handles about 95% of the workload for @RavenTools on Twitter (and our Facebook Page, and our LinkedIn Group, and so, so, so much more). And she’s a wizard at it — the rest of us can barely keep up when she’s on vacation or traveling for work.

Before Kate started at Raven, it wasn’t necessarily clear to our Twitter followers and Facebook fans who was posting and responding — generally, it was @RavenNate, but everyone else could, and often did, respond, too. We weren’t specific in the @RavenTools bio, either.

But Raven matured along with social media. We discovered (surprise!) that it’s much easier for us to have one owner/gatekeeper for the @RavenTools account, and it was logical that that person be our community manager.

As Raven continues to grow, who knows? We might need more than one person to help manage our social media initiatives. Or Kate might assume different responsibilities at Raven, and someone else takes over the Twitter account.

We’ll adjust as our business, our customers and our marketplace need us to.

The @Raven[Employee] accounts

Now we come to what you really want to know: if, for example, Kate handles @RavenTools, then why does she also have @RavenKate? Do we force our employees to have Twitter accounts with Raven in the name?

We didn’t even know that people wondered about this until Ross Hudgens interviewed Raven’s co-founder Jon Henshaw. Here’s the full excerpt of the part of their discussion that touched on our Twitter handles:

Ross’s question:

“One of the only things I found myself put off by with Raven is your approach on Twitter. Your team all has ‘@RavenNAME’ handles, which means that through building their accounts, they’re basically building equity that will be lost if they leave the company or rebrand themselves. This is of course understandable if everyone stays there forever, but that’s not realistic. Is this an internal requirement or just something that has organically happened as the first Raven employees began to use that format?”

Jon’s response:

“I have a big problem with hiring people with the expectation they will have to use their “personal” social network handle to promote my company. I think it crosses a boundary that shouldn’t be crossed, is disrespectful and puts the employee in an awkward position. It already pisses me off that neither I nor my employees have much of a choice when it comes to Facebook.

“This is a policy that also extends to myself. I have two handles on Twitter, @RavenJon and @henshaw. I use @RavenJon for company and industry communication, and I use @henshaw to make as big of an ass of myself as I want.

“People are not the companies they work for, and they shouldn’t have to drag their online social equity to the business as a prerequisite for being hired. The respect of their personal lives away from the office is more important to me than how much I use them for my company’s self gain.

“I also think it sets a dangerous precedent for companies. What happens if things go sour with that employee? You have no control over [their personal] account, because it’s not your account. The majority of your customers may follow that account, and that person can tweet whatever they want, whenever they want.

“Our policy is about mutual respect and privacy. On the surface it may appear draconian, but it’s actually quite the opposite. I can assure you that all of our employees appreciate these boundaries.”

What Jon said then still stands:

Raven employees are neither asked nor required to use their personal accounts on behalf of Raven. Mostly, they don’t. Why mostly? Because many of us have all made friends in this industry. Our personal interests might align with our work — the type of news we like to keep up with and share with others, for example. Sometimes we’re proud of what we have done at work and want to share Raven links with our personal network. But, again, none of that is required or expected, and Raven has no control over that. It’s a personal decision on the personal account of any employee.

Now, about the @Raven[Employee] accounts:

No one at Raven is required to have a @Raven[Employee] account on Twitter. If any Raven employee creates and uses a @Raven[Employee] Twitter account, they know they are representing the Raven brand, no matter what they talk about. And there are some pretty solid reasons that a community manager (like Kate) and a communications director (like me) should have a @Raven[Employee] Twitter account.

As Ross pointed out, it’s not realistic to think that Raven employees will work here forever. Here are a few circumstances we have experienced so far:

  • We have some employees who started work at Raven with big personal followings of their own, and have never really built another community as a “Raven” tweeter. That’s OK with us and them.
  • We have other employees who mostly have built up followings as “Ravens” and may have to start again with another name if they leave the company. That’s OK with us and them.
  • We have had an employee leave Raven, change their Twitter account name, and keep their followers. We knew about it, and that was OK.
  • We had another employee who left Raven, and another employee start working here with an identical name, and the new employee inherited all of those followers. That was OK with us and them.

In all cases, we ask everyone to communicate clearly who their audience is reading and talking to. Is this a Raven employee or not? Which one? Are they speaking on behalf of the company?

So far, we haven’t had any problems. Most people seem to understand that when they’re talking to a @Raven[Employee], they’re talking to a Raven employee — whether they need help, want to share a joke, are passing along links or anything else.

Not to mention that, especially in a SaaS, cloud-based world, customers like putting faces to companies. The @Raven[Employee] accounts help us do that.

Does Raven “own” those accounts and those followers? We know this: they carry our branding. Each social network has a policy. And we’re sure that the legal system will continue to set precedents for ownership related to social networks.

Our personal accounts

Sometimes our customers and industry friends know about our personal accounts, and go stalk follow us there, too.

To be very clear: if you’re following the personal account of a Raven employee — any account without “Raven” in the name — it’s their personal account. Raven doesn’t control the content of those accounts. It’s personal.

Each employee makes his or her own decision about whether or not to follow back on personal accounts. Don’t be offended if they don’t.

Oh, and please don’t be offended if a @Raven[Employee] doesn’t follow you back, either. We don’t have a policy on that.

Disagree? Have another point of view?

Some people may think our policy is off base somehow. Others might say we’re doing an injustice to our employees by not letting them build a personal brand. (And some like to ask us what happens when all the Raven names are taken. We don’t know. Probably we’ll check with our buddies at KnowEm.)

The bottom line: Right now, we believe it’s better for Raven and better for Raven’s employees to do it this way.

What’s the value of a Twitter audience to your company, your job or yourself, anyway?

Thanks to Ross Hudgens for asking Jon Henshaw a question about this in the first place. We honestly didn’t realize there were so many opinions about it until we read the comments on his blog post, and it came up again this week.

I’m sure as time goes by, we’ll refine our policy.

What’s yours?