PhoneDog LLC filed a lawsuit last July against a now former employee, Noah Kravitz. PhoneDog, which reviews mobile devices, including phones and tablets, is claiming ownership of Kravitz's Twitter followers. They claim he owes them $340,000 based on an assumed value of $2.50 per follower per month.
The dispute arose when Kravitz resigned and allegedly changed his Twitter name from PhoneDog_Noah to noahkravitz, to keep the 17,000 followers that he built up since 2006 when he started with the company. The company is alleging that the followers should be treated like a customer list, and therefore PhoneDog's property. The fact that Mr. Kravitz used the company name in his Twitter handle likely will not help him. However, the company probably could have done more to ensure that they owned the account and followers.The outcome of this case will likely be based on the specific facts here.
But regardless of the outcome, companies should take away a very important lesson from this case. The lesson is that it is critical to address employee social media issues. Lawsuits and their costs and uncertain outcomes can be avoided by having well thought out and clear policies and agreements with employees who use social media in connection with company activities. Don't wait until an issue like this is upon you to focus on a social media policy.
Companies that do not have a social media policy need to fix that as soon as possible. Those that have cobbled one together but without expert advice, need to have the policies reviewed to plug the holes. In short, all companies using social media would benefit from spending a little time having their social media policies and agreements reviewed by an attorney who spends time everyday on social media issues.