Company Social Media Policy Should Clarify Account Owner
In our previous post about whether or not social media accounts are considered trade secrets, we mentioned PhoneDog v. Kravitz, (N.D. Calif. 11/8/11), which concerned ownership of a corporate Twitter account.
PhoneDog v. Kravitz
In brief, Noah Kravitz worked for PhoneDog, an “interactive mobile news and reviews web resource.” PhoneDog provided Kravitz with a Twitter account with the Twitter handle @PhoneDog_Noah. The purpose of creating the account for Kravitz was to disseminate news/reviews and to promote PhoneDog. Over time, Kravitz gained around 17,000 followers.
When Kravitz quit, he joined a competitor of PhoneDog and continued using the Twitter account that PhoneDog had given him, that had amassed the 17,000 followers. Kravitz did eventually change his handle to @noahkravitz, but that didn’t change PhoneDog’s displeasure with what Kravitz had done. PhoneDog filed suit, claiming misappropriation of trade secrets, intentional and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage, and conversion. Translation: PhoneDog sued Kravitz for stealing its property (the Twitter account), and using it for his benefit, at the detriment of the company.
Kravitz moved to dismiss PhoneDog’s claims. The court agreed with Kravitz and dismissed PhoneDog’s intentional and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage claims on the ground that a Twitter follower is not in an economic relationship with the account holder (following someone is not an economic transaction). Thus, stated simply, Twitter followers are not “clients” of the account holder.
However, the court denied Kravitz’s motion as it related to PhoneDog’s conversion claim. As part of Kravitz’s argument on this point, he stated in part: “To date, the industry precedent has been that absent an agreement prohibiting an employee from doing so, after an employee leaves the employer, they are free to change their Twitter handle.” Although the court disagreed and allowed the case to proceed, Kravitz’s statement is notable because he readily acknowledged that he believed he could continue holding and using the account because there was no agreement prohibiting him from doing so.
Company Social Media Policy – Account Ownership
Some companies already have social media policies or agreements in place; however, we will likely be seeing more of them stating:
- The company owns the social media account, not the employee
- All social media account information, including passwords, has to be surrendered to the employer when the employment relationship ends
- The employee is allowed to keep the account the company provides them, so long as they change the account name to eliminate affiliation with the company
Company Social Media Policy – Recommendations
Companies should also have policies in place that specify what employees can and cannot do with social media accounts. For example, sharing confidential corporate information such as upcoming product releases, sales data, and company rumors should clearly be a no-no. Including this kind of language in an employee handbook can work to prevent any haggling over an account after the employment relationship ends, i.e., prevent lawsuits.
Does your company have a social media policy? What do you think about it?