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Do You Own Your Social Media Presence? Now It's Up to the Courts.
By: Christine Geraci
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If you troll about social networks with a username or handle that contains your employer's name, or if you interact via social media largely on your employer's behalf, you need to read this. I say this not to be pushy, but in an attempt to be helpful.
 
Noah Kravitz, a writer from Oakland, CA, could become a famous name in the social media world — either for keeping social media accounts in the hands of individuals, or effectively putting them up for auction.
 
He is being sued by his former employer for keeping Twitter followers he amassed under an account that once contained the employer's name, but was changed after he left the company. The company alleges his list of followers is essentially a customer list, and it is seeking damages from Kravitz to the tune of more than a quarter of a million dollars. 
 
Frankly, I don't think the company will win. But no matter the outcome of this interesting case, it brings to light some points and best practices I think individuals should follow when using social media for both personal and professional gain, as well as for an employer: 
 
Get permission, in writing, from your company to use its name in a social network username. Kravitz says he verbally confirmed that PhoneDog, his former employer, was OK with his using "PhoneDog" in his Twitter handle when he worked for them as a blogger. When he left, another conversation confirmed it was OK for Kravitz to keep the account and change the handle. Moral of the story? Talk is just talk. He should have gotten those agreements in writing. And you should too. 
 
If you're using social networks on an employer's behalf, hook them up to a work email address. Better yet, have your IT folks create you a generic email address that can be passed from employee to employee in the event you leave your position. Or, use a free email service like GMail to set up an account under the employer's name with an understanding that it's theirs no matter what. Then give multiple people access to the username and password.
 
If you manage a company page on Facebook, give it more than one administrator. Again, this ensures someone else can take it over on behalf of your employer if you should leave your position. Plus, it won't matter if you happen to manage the page from a personal Facebook account that isn't connected to a work email address. 
 
Followers and subscribers are NOT confidential. PhoneDog's assertion that Kravitz's Twitter followers amount to a customer list that needs "protecting" doesn't make sense. What, exactly, does this company want to "protect"? People on social networks have privacy concerns, but generally do understand that what they do on social networks can be searched and viewed by more than just a company representative. When people sign up to follow you on Twitter or subscribe to your updates, they don't do so because they want you to try to sell them things. They do so because you provide knowledge and/or entertainment. The good rapport you build with your followers leads to the sales. PhoneDog seems to have this backwards. 
 
A company or brand is not a person. At its core, social media tools give people ways to connect with one another. Brands, companies, organizations...they all jumped in to connect with current or potential customers. It's not the brand itself, but the person providing the voice of the brand, that keeps people coming back. It's what that person gives to their community of followers that determines what the brand gets in return. If PhoneDog's social presences aren't doing so well since Kravitz left, then it's their responsibility to find someone to give them a social boost. 
 
What do you think of this potential landmark social media case?


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About the Author
Christine Geraci is the Social Media/Promotions Specialist at MVP Health Care in Schenectady, NY. Connect with her on Twitter @christinegeraci.
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