Who’s the owner of this Twitter account anyway?

The boundaries between the private cyber persona and the work cyber persona used to be clear enough: Most of us had private email at one of the free providers (e.g. Google and Yahoo) and we all had our work credentials with work email address and work corporate network user name.

In recent weeks there were a lot of discussions around employers breaking those boundaries by asking to verify potential or current employees’ background by gaining access to their Facebook accounts. This invasion of privacy is done under the Human Resource and Ethics owners within the company. See for example the case Teacher’s aide fired for refusing to hand over Facebook password.

However, this is just one aspect in a much broader topic of how the Employee-Employer relationship is changing as a result of this inherent personal and work cyber personas conflict.

When talking about today’s personal cyber persona, we are talking about any cyber presence that each and every one of us maintain. This includes our social media accounts at Facebook, Twitter, LinedIn, blogs and any other form of cyber presence that is publically shared with the world or at least shared with a circle of trusted acquaintance.

That characteristic of social sharing is viewed by more and more Employers as both threat and opportunity. Let’s start with the threat.

For years, whenever a CEO of a corporate (or any other high enough executive) was making a remark in any sort of public or semi-public forum, that remark was viewed as representing the corporate. And when that remark was poor it quickly became a corporate publicity nightmare (and there are many cases of CEOs making bad remarks that got into the pantheon of stupid CEO remarks).

Today, when at a large corporate there are many individuals with strong social presence, that concern of several executives turned into a concern about many more people, perhaps hundreds or even thousands. And with scale comes the growing control issue. How do you control what potentially hundreds or thousands people can say?

To address that concern employers are starting to add Social media clauses into any employee contract, highlighting what the corporate views as acceptable and not acceptable social media behavior. And some employers are taking that to the next level by asking for access to the private social media content as well as running employee monitoring procedure. This is becoming creepy very fast and there way too many gray areas around that.

From opportunity perspective, the social media also bring a tremendous potential. What if the corporate marketing team can harness the power of its employees to push to the market new “viral” content? What if a corporate with thousands of employees can publish a youtube video and ask all its employees to mention this new video in their private Facebook and Twitter? While we can argue whether any corporate can really ask all their employee to do something and whether any corporate can get to that scale of actually generating an artificial viral effect, some marketing teams at large corporates believe that they have that power and regularly send internal employee notification with “suggested” tweet contents and the like. This is already a reality.

The other aspect of the potential is creating the “face of the company” opportunity. In that case the corporate selects an employee (or a select small group of employees) that are regarded the evangelists of the company. As part of their work these individuals are encourage to be active in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and their personal blogs. The company is measuring the effectiveness of the evangelists by monitoring how many are following their social accounts. But what happens when that employee is leaving the company? Who is the rightful owner of that social account? Is that the corporate that sponsored the individuals all these years to build the social presence of the employee or is it the personal belonging of the employee that he personally is interesting enough to many people so they follow that individual? Since there are no clear boundaries between the personal and the work this is very hard to judge. That is the exact case of Noah Kravitz that was recently sued by his previous employer phonedog. During his work at phonedog, Noah built his Twitter and reach a nice number of 17,000 followers. When he left the company, phonedog wanted access to the twitter account claiming that this is an asset similar to laptop or any asset provided by the company and should be returned upon termination of employment. One of the interesting aspects is that as part of the lawsuit, they had to quantify the damages and from our perspective, they perhaps for the first time, needed to assess the monetary value of Twitter followers. Phonedog estimate is $2.5 per follower per month. Not too bad indeed. See more information and more examples of similar cases at law.com The Role of Social Media in Workplace Disputes.


Author: dave

Consider myself kid in soul and naive by choice. I am interested in people, technology and business and thrive when they all work together. My favorite quote and motto is that “You can fool some people some times but you cant fool all the people all the time” ― Bob Marley

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