Who owns the Twitter followers of an account when they were amassed during an employee’s tenure at a company? A case popped up in the news today on SMH (originally published in the New York Times).
The details are fairly clear cut:
- Employee tweets under Twitter handle that bears both his and the company’s name
- Employee amasses 17,000 followers in 4 years
- Employee leaves company and reaches agreement with employer to keep his account as long as he posts occasionally on their behalf
- Employee changes his Twitter account name to his own name and (not sure how) keeps his followers under his new handle
- Former employer then sues (8 months have passed at this time) claiming Twitter list as customer list. They claim that they have invested significant resources to grow the list and consider it their property.
A ruling has not been made as yet but no doubt many are looking on with interest. I won’t go plagiarizing the article further but I encourage you to read it. Companies should proactively define their social media policy so as not to be caught off guard.
- Define at the outset if employees will be posting from their personal or company accounts
- State at the outset who owns the accounts
- If posting from personal accounts decide protocol of disclosure, e.g.:
— Employees are expected/encouraged to post and declare affiliation
— Employees are free to post but any views expressed are their own and do not in any way, unless specified reflect the views or opinions of their employer
- Set guidelines for what employees can publish, and how they should respond to customers on digital channels. Encourage a conversation internally about the guidelines and iterate them as appropriate.
- Monitor what is published in the interest of improving the voice of the company online (not for surveillance purposes) and share success stories.
- Ensure appropriate handover procedure for when employees leave