Who Owns Your Company's Social Media Accounts?
Social media accounts have become much more than just a place for people to tell their friends what they ate for lunch. There's no doubt that social media accounts have become valuable tools for businesses to attract, retain and influence customers. But just how valuable are they? And who owns the accounts when they're used for business?
A company recently sued a former employee over ownership of a Twitter account, claiming that the account, which has 17,000 followers, is worth an astonishing $340,000 -- or $2.50 per month per follower for the eight months since the employee left the company.
The plaintiff, PhoneDog, an Oakland, California company that runs a website with news and reviews of mobile phones, claims that the list of Twitter followers is a customer list that belongs to the company. It told the New York Times, “The costs and resources invested by PhoneDog Media into growing its followers, fans and general brand awareness through social media are substantial and are considered property of PhoneDog Media L.L.C."
The ex-employee started the Twitter account while working at PhoneDog, using a Twitter account name that combined his employer's name with his own. After he left his job, he continued using the account with all of its followers — with the company's consent, he says — but changed the account name to his name alone.
The question of who owns a social media account used for business purposes is uncharted legal territory, and the outcome of this case could set new precedents. Also potentially precedent-setting will be the monetary value the court assigns to Twitter followers. "It all hinges on why the account was opened,” intellectual-property lawyer Henry J. Cittone told the Times. Several other cases involving social media account-ownership issues are active in the courts.
Companies should include provisions in their social media policies addressing the ownership and control of social-media accounts. Companies should not allow employees to establish business-related accounts in their own names. And companies should offer employees training on proper use of social media. WeComply's Responsible Social Media Training Course provides important guidance to employees in using social media appropriately and responsibly.Categories: General Business Compliance
Tags: Social Media