Businesses, eager to utilise social media, often encourage their employees to use Twitter and Linkedin accounts for the benefit of the business. Whilst in some cases employees will create “work specific” accounts dedicated solely to business-related networking (usually featuring their employer’s name as part of the twitter handle) others continue to use their own “personal accounts”. But, what happens when an employee leaves? Who owns the contacts, followers or friends within these accounts?

The case of former “Phonedog” employee illustrates the difficulties in this area. The employee, Noah Kravitz, created a personal Twitter account “@Phonedog_Noah” in connection with his role at Phonedog. When Noah left Phonedog he renamed the account but retained his 17,000 followers. Phonedog claims that the followers and Kravitz’s Twitter password are theirs and are “trade secrets” of the Phonedog business.

As yet there has been no definitive answer in the Phonedog case. However, it is crucial for businesses to address this issue in their corporate policies. If a business asks an employee to manage an account on its behalf, and wants to retain ownership of that account, the business should enter into an agreement with the employee to set out who owns the account and, more importantly, the contacts within it.