Brand Sues Employee for Taking Followers When Leaving

This is why you need a written agreement with each employee who manages any brand social media account: A federal judge ruled last week that news site PhoneDog (@PhoneDog) has a potential case against former employee Noah Kravitz (@NoahKravitz) for taking Twitter followers with him when he left the company. When Kravitz left the company, they asked for the account credentials, but, instead of surrendering the account, he changed the account name. PhoneDog says that Mr. Kravitz owes them $2.50 follower — per month — for each of his 17,000 followers, for a total of $340,000, and the judge required that the company present more evidence.
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PhoneDog claims that the account and its followers were a company asset because Kravitz acquired the followers as part of his job responsibilities.

According to Eric Goldman, PhoneDog is suing on three fronts: “(1) misappropriation of trade secrets, (2) interference with economic advantage; and (3) conversion.” Eric also examines each of the claims in his blog.

PhoneDog claims that $2.50 is the “industry standard” for the value of a Twitter follower, but no such industry standard exists to my knowledge.

Kravitz argued that the value in a Twitter account really “comes from . . . efforts in posting tweets and [an] individual’s interest in following . . . not from the account itself.”

Regardless of the court decision, all brands should implement written agreements with employees who maintain brand accounts in social media, so this kind of situation never becomes an issue for the courts.

Its not just a problem on Twitter. Google+ requires their newly released brand pages to be created within a personal account. If you have someone creating a brand page on Google+, you better think about what happens if they ever leave the company. I’d start by only letting long-term employees create such accounts.

  • Alex Stoneham

    Kind of side with the employer on this one. Sounds draconian, but what kind of egomaniac thinks people are following the brand because of him? 

    • Chris

      There have been a few companies that let departing employees keep their followers when leaving the company, but it should really be the company’s decision, when the followers were developed on company time, with company assets. In any case, companies should establish agreements with anyone managing such properties when the employee begins their role on behalf of the company.

    • http://socialmediagovernance.com Chris Boudreaux

      There have been a few companies that let departing employees keep their followers when leaving the company, but it should really be the company’s decision, when the followers were developed on company time, with company assets. In any case, companies should establish agreements with anyone managing such properties when the employee begins their role on behalf of the company.

  • Mike

    Useful post thanks Chris.
    In Google Plus you can set up your Page using a Google Apps account and therefore retain ownership.