Who owns your Twitter profile – employer or employee?
Whilst most employment contracts explicitly prohibit employees taking copyrighted assets with them when parting ways with their employer, it is unclear as to whether social media assets like Facebook pages or Twitter profiles are covered by such clauses.
Some companies that have parted company with senior staff have seen their Twitter accounts go with them. That can have serious implications.
In the automotive industry, the importance of managing brands online is clear. BMW last year took control – in a collaborative and sensitive way, rather than via a hostile takeover – of the base BMW Facebook page.
BMW’s Facebook page had around 1.4 million fans at the time. BMW has been very active in creating content and managing the page and it now has more than 4.6 million fans.
However, the desire of automotive brands to control the Twitter profiles of their employees – which often purport to be explicitly representing the company and its views – is less obvious.
In the States, Ford’s Scott Monty has more followers and is more influential on both Klout and Peer Index than Ford’s corporate account, which he also runs. However, if Scott were to leave Ford, would he be able to take his 50,000-plus followers with him, perhaps even to a different automotive brand?
Anecdotal consensus seems to be that if an employee is tweeting under only their own name, there is no way a brand could seek to claim ownership of such a profile. Conversely, an employee running a branded feed would pretty obviously not be able to take the profile with them if they left. However, the situation becomes somewhat murky when considering Twitter profiles that combine both employee and brand names.
In the past six months, the automotive PR industry in the UK has seen two senior personnel – one at Hyundai and one at Honda – move to new roles at rival firms and take their previously branded Twitter profiles with them.
Whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, it raises an important question about whether the rights to Twitter profiles containing brand names ultimately rest with the employer, or the employee responsible for the content.
Frank Eliason best known for running the @Comcastcares Twitter account is a good example. When he left the cable firm for Citibank the @Comcastcares was taken over by someone else (Bill Gerth). There was a line of social media succession, so to speak, and the account stayed in the family.
What do people think? It is an issue that affects the whole industry and has serious implications for businesses and their social media profiles.