Who Owns an employee twitter account ?
A fascinating case is currently proceeding in the US which shows the importance of separating out business and personal online interactions of all kinds and further shows that businesses can seek to put a significant value on social media and online assets which are on the face of it free to create.
The issue in the case is whether an employee owns a twiter account which is in his or her name but has clear connections to an employer’s brand or whether this is the employer’s property.
In the case in question an account in the name og @noahkravitz (although the account did not start in that name) has over 21,000 followers. His former employers claim that the vast majority of the followers followed when the individual worked for them and that the twitter account is a powerful tool for their brand which has a value of tens of thousands of dollars.
Aside from the obviously important and interesting employment law ramifications of this case, online PR and image can easily be damagaed in aviral way in a case like this if the twitter community think the employer is being heavy handed. These kinds of things can backfire spectacularly.
In reports of this story in the US, the example of Dell has been cited as an employer which has been well ahead of the game on this issue. It has a clear policy for all new employees regarding their use of social media, which is that if the employee undertakes social media activities as part of his or her work at Dell, the account is the property of Dell, but making it clear that the employee can have their own personal accounts which do not promote the company message or brand. Dell also has staff who monitor social media accounts which is an increasing trend of big companies for many reasons, again demonstrating that social media is big for business.
This is a case which we will certainly monitor, the outcome, if it reaches trial, could be an important precedent for the way the English courts might view this scenario and given the number of organizations with twitter accounts run by staff, this is a big issue which should not be overlooked or underestimated in employment law terms.
Finally, all this publicity is likely to create a lot more followers for @noahkravitz, so someone, either former employer or employee, will benefit !