Norman Smith is one of the most experienced correspondents on our team at Westminster with a distinguished career delivering incisive political reporting to a loyal and appreciative audience, most recently on the Today and PM programmes.

screenshot of @BBCnormanS twitter account

As he moves shortly to take up the post of BBC News chief political correspondent, Norman will be reaching more of our audience on TV, especially the News Channel – and on the social networking site Twitter, where he is @BBCNormanS.

In fact, like many of the best political reporters, Norman has been active on Twitter for sometime, with a following of nearly 7,000. In his words:

“It’s said that Twitter is where the news is, and that’s certainly true in political terms – it’s a key place for news, comment, analysis and, yes, gossip.

“It can be useful, fascinating, frivolous and daunting, but it’s an essential Westminster talking shop and has become more and more important to my job.”

He is taking over from another keen Twitter user, Laura Kuennsberg, who is moving to become business editor at ITV News.

Since the move was announced there has been a wide range of comment and speculation about what would happen to her Twitter account. Would she re-label it, taking it and her 60,000 followers with her? Or would she leave it, to be effectively closed, or handed over to her successor?

The debate ranged over who owns Twitter accounts, the blending of professional and personal, the role of “users”, and how new it is as an issue at all. Even the front page of the Financial Times got in on the act.

It is a new issue and a complex one, although the reality of the process we went through with Laura was not complicated. Over to her:

“I really enjoy Twitter and having such a smart and lively bunch of followers. But when I decided to leave I was clear that, although I wanted to keep my account and just change the name, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if that wasn’t possible, and I reserved a new account at @ITVLauraK just in case.

“But I was pleased that fairly swiftly we agreed that I could change the account if I was clear about what was happening and where I was going. And also I agreed to introduce the followers of my account to my successor.

“It was all very amicably done.”

To Laura, the chatter around ‘losing’ or ‘taking’ followers slightly misses the point: “People who want to find info on Twitter or share or discuss what’s going on are definitely savvy enough to choose who to follow themselves.”

That’s a view we share – plenty of Laura’s followers also follow other BBC accounts, so we don’t see this as the wholesale “loss” of all her followers.

We see it as a straightforward approach, in tune with common social media practice. It’s also a sustainable approach, considering more and more people will be joining us with well-developed social media presences, built up through different roles and at different organisations. BBC News will benefit from those networks and audiences, in just the same way other organisations will benefit when people leave us.

Above all, users, or audiences, are at the heart of what the BBC does, and quite obviously at the heart of social media and social networks. So, as BBC News Channel controller and Newsroom deputy head Kevin Bakhurst put it:

“Our view was Twitter users can make up own minds – and hopefully follow Laura as well as @BBCNormanS.”

Of course, as with our refreshed BBC News social media guidance, the pace of change in the world of digital and social media means the position will always be kept under review. But for now we’re confident this is the right approach.

Chris Hamilton is social media editor for BBC News. You can find him on Twitter @chrishams


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