eBrandz Blog

Who owns an ‘official’ social account – the company or employees?

How much indeed is an innocuous tweet worth it? How much exactly does a follower on Twitter cost? The value of those isolated individual updates on the popular social network appear to be rather negligible in context of base economic terms; after all, a quick take on it is nothing but a few bits of harmless data sent via the Internet? Well, that’s not always the case!

In a new online realm wherein influence of social media can mean the ultimate difference between another fruitless business call or a lucrative sale, Twitter and Facebook accounts at companies are taking on a new relevance and significance. The question to be asked is: Can a business look to encash, and stake claim to the ownership of its employees’ account on social media. If so, what are the implications for office people using Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter, during work hours?

The above questions put in perspective a lawsuit over contacts that might have been gained through social sites. It sure has wide resonance in this context in terms of providing some answers. A writer based in Oakland from California, Noah Kravitz, quit his job at  a mobile phone site, after working there for four years. The website has a blog that hosts the official content and an e-commerce section that sells phones. While doing his assignments, Mr. Kravitz also started posting content under the title of Phonedog.Noah on Twitter.

He amassed thousands of followers over time, and at the time of his leaving the company, he claimed that he was permitted to keep his account in lieu for posting occasionally. According to media reports, the company asked the former employee to continue tweeting on its behalf and he agreed since he was quitting on good terms.

So he continued to write but as NoahKravitz, retaining his followers under the new handle. As things turned out and took a new twist, the former employer sued him eight months after he had left them, stating the Twitter list was actually a customer list. The company sought damages of $340,000 ($2.50 per follower per month for eight months). The company had issued a statement, mentioning:  “The resources and costs invested into growing its followers, fans, and creating brand awareness through social sites. Theyare quite substantial and are considered the company’s property. We intend to protect our customer lists as well as confidential information, intellectual property, brands and trademark.”

Mr. Kravitz claimed the lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California, was a move in retaliation for his demand to give 15 percent of the website’s gross ad revenue because of his status as a vested partner, and also back pay for his role as blogger and video reviewer for the site. The lawsuit could create broader ramifications in terms of deciding: who owns an ‘official’ social account – the company or employee?