Who Owns Your Social Media Account?

There is definitely value in a Twitter account, but to whom does it belong? Brands have to be careful to maintain control of their messaging, and many work diligently to cultivate their social media profiles. But what about the brands of service providers and knowledge workers? It may be a straight forward to answer the question “who’s account is this?” when a brand account is operated by an anonymous marketer, but what about the situation where a person uses a twitter account identified both with their company and themselves?

In the context of an attorney in a law firm, the firm may have a branded twitter account that is operated by a designated staff member. In addition, individual attorney’s may have their own twitter accounts with their own cultivated list of followers. These “personal” twitter accounts are often used, as in my case, for both business development and for personal interests.

In a recent example, PhoneDog sued a former employee, Noah Kravitz, when he refused to turn over his twitter account to the company. His account had become a very effective means to engage with PhoneDog’s current and prospective customers who were among his 17,000 followers. Kravitz’s tweets were also effective at driving traffic to PhoneDog’s website.

The question in the PhoneDog case is who should control the account going forward? Ownership isn’t really an issue as Twitter asserts, through its user agreement, that it owns the accounts. There are a number of conflicting factors for both sides. For example, while he worked for PhoneDog, Kravitz used @PhoneDog_Noah as his twitter handle, he started the account while an employee, and published tweets during working hours. However, the connections he created were both personal, and professional, posted at all hours of the day, and clearly identified himself as an individual, not just as the brand of his employer.

These conflicting factors, coupled with the fact that the employment agreement was silent about social media, make this a bit muddy. However, this can be an learning moment for both companies and individuals. The lesson learned, in my opinion, depends on an important fact: Content is King.

In the context of social media, your content is king. The quality of the content you generate and/or share will define the quality of the account. Of course, that content may be personalized (if not personal) to an individual employee. If the content is geared towards marketing an individual within an organization, the social media account should be branded as the individuals and feature the content the individual creates and wants to share. If the social account is for the marketing of the organization, it should be branded accordingly. My firm, for example, has a Twitter account and blog, but the individual attorneys also have their own social accounts. It’s always important to think through which account is the more appropriate platform from which to share any piece of content.

For an individual in an organization who is using social media it’s appropriate to put a link to your company in your profile, but you may want to avoid incorporating your employer’s brand in your username. Use a personal email address to register the account or, better yet, use an existing one if you have one. In short, avoid having what should be your social media account look like an extension of your company’s marketing department.

However, it’s the content that determines the value of a social media account. If the content changes drastically when a new employee takes it over, or the account holder leaves their employer, so to will the demographics of the followers. Clicking the “unfollow” button is as easy as clicking “follow.” The account won’t be worth much to anyone if it isn’t maintained.

photo credit: Matt Hamm

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