Who owns your friends?

By now, you know about the circumstances which led CNN to fire anchor Rick Sanchez.  [Sanchez made several controversial remarks about Jon Stewart, the “media elite,” even his employers at CNN during an interview by Sirius XM host Pete Dominick.]  Let’s skip over discussion about what he said, whether or not he should have been fired, and how the comments may have been handled better on either side … there’s a more interesting question of intellectual property ownership at play.  Sanchez essentially built his weekday afternoon show around a prolific social media presence; in fact, many people joked that all he did was sit around reading other people’s Tweets for a couple hours.  His Twitter @ricksanchezcnn has more than 146,000 Followers. 
So, now what happens to his Twitter account and all his Followers? 

This is quite a new dilemma for Personalities and Media Brands.  Let’s think about some of the implications:

  • Who owns his Twitter account?  CNN, or Sanchez personally?  Does it matter who created the account?  Who knows the password to access it right now?
  • Can CNN require him to remove the “CNN” from the end of his Twitter handle?  Of course, I assume Sanchez would gladly take it off; but, should he be required to do it before making any public Tweet about his termination?  (For the record, Twitter can change his verified handle without losing any Followers.  There is a precedent; ironically for another CNN fired reporter Octavia Nasr, who converted from @octavianasrcnn to just @octavianasr).
  • Who owns his Followers, CNN or Sanchez?  Should those Followers be converted to an account of CNN’s choice or should Sanchez get to keep them (presumably under a new handle)? 
  • Should CNN have directed their viewers to a generic “company branded” account instead of promoting the Twitter account of an individual personality?
  • Is a talent’s social media presence included as part of their employer’s “intellectual property rights”?

The most successful social media strategies all seem to have one thing in common – allowing “fans” the ability to make a direct personal connection to the “celebrity.”  Sure, we’ll follow a couple of news feeds or favorite star, but John Mayer became a Twitter sensation because he shared intimate details from his everyday (and sometimes mundane) life.  This is why a strong morning radio personality who engages fans via social media will often have more Friends & Followers than the radio station which carries their show.  In the end, talent can ultimately drive more value to the overall brand than could have been generated by the brand alone without the personal connections.  Ideally, both the talent and the brand cross-promote one another for complementary growth.

Since I’m not currently “in management,” I’ll go out on a limb to say I believe talent should “own” their social media presence.  However, as new technologies further converge on “old media” standards, I think it will (and should) become more commonplace for both sides to include new terms in employment agreements.  There will need to be a compromise, though:

  • Talent should be allowed to create and maintain their own social media presence;
  • Employers should outline social media expectations during Talent’s employment – which sites play into the brand’s marketing strategy, how frequent should the sites be updated, what is appropriate content, who will be responsible for maintaining the social presence, etc.;
  • Talent should be required to equally promote their Employer’s brand presence on social platforms as well as primary web/mobile presence, not just promote their own Talent presence exclusively (this includes links back to brand platforms);
  • Talent should either choose a social media profile name that does not include their brand, which may potentially change (as in the case of Sanchez) or should be required to change their profile name once employment ends;
  • And, non-disparagement agreements should be extended to social platforms.

Agree or Disagree?  Please share your comments below.  Don’t forget to Follow me @scottsandsmedia or “Like” us on Facebook.


  1. World Wide News Flash - October 5, 2010

    Who owns your friends?…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

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