If you haven’t heard of the case of the writer who was sued by his former employer over the ownership of the company’s Twitter account followers, then you are in for an eye opening read.
If you have been following the case between Noah Kravitz and PhoneDog, read on anyway because this might provide a take on the situation that has not previously been presented.
Even though the case has now been settled, the fact that it went as far as it did should raise a few red flags. Especially taking into account the pre-existing agreement which stipulated who would retain the Twitter account in the event that Kravitz left the company. This speaks volumes in terms of why it is critical to ask yourself the question; to whom do my followers belong . . . my employer or client or, me?
It seems clear to me that if indeed content is king, then the one who creates (and continues to create) the quality content will inevitably draw the followers and build the lasting relationships.
But here is the question . . . if you are paid either as an employee or as a consultant to build a company’s following then logic dictates that you delivered a service for which you received fair remuneration. Look at the individual who created the Post It Note for 3M. He was employed with 3M who provided him with the vehicle to develop the product. If this person decided to leave the company, to who should the product belong?
Now I know that this is a considerably more complex case re what if a popular columnist leaves a major newspaper to go over to a competitor? Does the previous employer have a claim on the columnist’s readership? To me the key is to first and foremost outline an agreement that clearly stipulates what happens when the relationship ends . . . and in today’s ever changing marketplace it likely will.
The next step is to honor the terms of the agreement.
The problem with the Kravitz – PhoneDog case seems to be that PhoneDog went back on its original agreement and attempted to use the Twitter account as a means of dealing with a back pay issue. In this instance the company blew it. Not only because they went back on their word but, what is the likelihood that Kravitz will now “send the occasional tweets from the account” on behalf of PhoneDog?
In the end, this is as much a practical question as it is a legal question.
Given how the civil court system “works” (and yes this is a sarcastic jab), it seems to me that in the end the best policy is one that is centered on common sense and a mutual or shared benefit mindset.