The tricky business of business tweeting

Wed, Mar 2, 2011, 00:00

CYBER SORTER:This week our social-media agony aunt looks at the question of whether businesses own their staff’s work-related social network contacts

Dear Cyber Sorter,

Recently I left a job where I used Twitter to help promote the company. I set up an account and got hundreds of followers in my industry including customers, potential customers and suppliers. The Twitter account has my name on it as well as the company name. I built good relationships with people through Twitter, tweeted in evenings and over weekends outside of normal work hours.

My ex-employer demanded my Twitter password when I got my P45. But social media became part of my role only after I started and isn’t covered under my contract. So I refused; now my ex-colleagues act like I nicked a laptop or something.

I think I should be able to keep the account, change the name on it to just my own and use my Twitter network to help me in my next job. What do you think? Do my tweeps belong to me or to my ex-boss?

FB

Dear FB,

Firstly, don’t be so sure it wasn’t covered in your contact. It may not have been explicit about Twitter, but most contracts aim to thoroughly protect company ownership.

Looking at the issue ethically, if you had gone to every networking event you probably wouldn’t have made as many strong connections as you have managed to build up on Twitter. You “met” these contacts as a representative of your company, but solidified them out of work hours. It’s tempting to think that those you had met face to face, shaken hands with and put drunk into a taxi at 3am would rightfully be yours.

However, your Twitter identity included the name of your company. A significant quotient of your followers came to you on the basis that you were part of the company and, by extension, because of the company’s reputation. They may well not have been as interested in that update about your breakfast roll as the one you sent out afterwards with a link to a company press release. You sound like a successful and conscientious Tweeter. As such you will have been an asset to your old company and enhanced its reputation.

As in most separations, dividing up the assets is a challenge. While the Twitter account was your hard work, it was set up specifically within and as part of the company you worked for. You would have also spent plenty of company time building up your Twitter profile.

If the Twitter account had been in your name only then you would be entitled to keep your tweeps. However, the company trusted you to use its name. You should hand the account back to the company, making sure your name is removed.

However, you are entitled to get back in touch with your tweeps via your new Twitter account. This shouldn’t be difficult if you have already established proper relationships with them.


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