18th December 2019


It’s our final instalment of BrandSoup, and to finish, we take a look how social media can blur the professional and personal.

A particular problem with social media is that it blurs the professional and the personal, the business and the individual – there may be a clear commercial objective to all this tweeting and blogging, but it’s the authentically human voice that makes an account stand out. A business may rightly regard its social media presence as part of its investment in its brand, while an employee may see it as the fruits of their own labour.

Take BrandSoup for example: on the one hand, we’re simply a digital construct – a blog and some associated accounts. But we’re no Twitter bot; there’s a real live lawyer behind all this, working to make a technical subject accessible and engaging. And we’re also a proud part of the wider Thrings brand, a conduit for the firm to communicate, to exchange information, to share news, to chat.

What if that were to change? Could we take BrandSoup and run it from somewhere else? Could anyone else pick up our baton to tweet and blog as passionately and eruditely as we?

The law certainly has some bearing on the matter of social media ownership, but don’t expect much direct or decisive guidance. Various intellectual property rights apply – trade marks for brand names, copyrights in text and images, database rights in customer lists – but can’t be relied on for a knock-out blow. Likewise, T&C’s and community guidelines often cover disputes generally while being less helpful in specific situations. And this lack of clarity leads to conflicts.

A few years ago, Californian tech review site PhoneDog notoriously sued an ex-employee who was threatening to take his sizeable Twitter account to a competitor. PhoneDog argued the login and password were its trade secrets and claimed ownership of the account’s followers (valuing each one at $2.50!) The employee argued the account was his initiative, its success entirely down to him. Disappointingly for pundits, the parties settled on confidential terms.

Something similar happened more recently with Laura Kuenssberg’s Twitter account: when Ms K temporarily left the BBC for ITN, there was clearly no way she could continue to use her handle @BBCLauraK, but also no realistic prospect of Auntie taking over and running the account on her behalf. Much as the Beeb was keen to preserve her substantial following for its own ends, they agreed to let her keep the account and change the username to @ITVLauraK.

Resolving a dispute by agreement is a laudable aim, but the best solution to any problem is of course to anticipate it: in advance and in writing. A social media policy is the perfect opportunity to establish a cool, calm consensus, as opposed to struggling for compromise when the heat is on and stakes are high. By setting out clearly how social media accounts are to be created, named and used, a business can keep control over who says what in its name and avoid the distraction and cost which a dispute will inevitably cause.

All of which is a rather roundabout way of saying sayonara. At BrandSoup, we’ve always understood this blog to be a joint venture which neither we nor Thrings could carry on without the other, and since Mrs BrandSoup has decided we’re relocating Down Under (she’s had enough of northern hemisphere rain so we’re taking our chances with bushfires instead), this is our final despatch.

Thanks for supporting us over the years – we’ll think of you all fondly as we’re riding our kangaroos along the beach. We hope you have a great Christmas and an excellent New Year. BrandSoup out.

If you have any questions about the latest BrandSoup article, or wish to discuss your intellectual property needs, please contact a member of Thrings’ Intellectual Property team.

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