Asked that question, I'll bet most of you would say that you, the employer, the one who authorized the employee to start the account would own the account on the organization's behalf and that you would expect the employee to return the account, so to speak, at the end of his employment.
And that's all well and good, providing the employee agrees. But what if he or she does not agree, what if the employee decides that he or she wants to take the account with them to their next job? Let me quote you a recent high profile case. A mobile phone review site called PhoneDog says that one of its former employee’s Twitter accounts is worth $42,500 per month, and it wants it back. PhoneDog sued blogger Noah Kravitz this summer, saying that his taking his @Phonedog_Noah account with him when he left the site in October 2010 was the equivalent of stealing the company’s property. Kravitz countered that he created the account of his own accord for both personal and professional tweeting, and after leaving the company changed the Twitter handle to @noahkravitz with the company’s knowledge. A judge ruled that the company’s complaint is worthy of going to trial.
It’s an interesting case, and illustrates the importance of employers and employees hammering out these details in advance. “It’s much cheaper to spell this out ahead of time than to litigate it after the fact,” says Stephen Riden, a partner at Beck Reed Riden LLP, who specializes in employment law.Dell’s social media policy is a good example of “forward-thinking.” Dell spells this out in a section devoted to social media account ownership:
If you participate in Social Media activities as part of your job at Dell, that account may be considered Dell property. If that account is Dell property, you don’t get to take it with you if you leave the company — meaning you will not try to change the password or the account name or create a similar sounding account or have any ownership of the contacts and connections you have gained through the account. This doesn’t apply to personal accounts that you may access at work, but would certainly apply to all Dell branded accounts created as part of your job.
What to make of all this? Well, the key issue is to make sure any and all social media accounts representing the company are clearly defined as company “property.” Looks like you’ll need to add another section to your social media policy!