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The huge increase in social media uptake has brought many new legal challenges with it. A man working for a US mobile news website currently being sued for taking his Twitter followers with him when he left.

Noah Kravitz tweeted for news site Phonedog under the Twitter handle @Phonedog_Noah, but when he left the company he changed his username to @noahkravitz, taking his 17,000 twitter followers with him.

Placing a value on each follower, Phonedog are suing Kravitz for $2.50 per user, per month – a total of £370,000.

Social Media Ownership

Social media marketing raises new questions into intellectual property rights and data ownership.

Many leading social media accounts are built of the back of strong personalities. This is often the reason why many social media brand managers are hired.

A lot of the power in social marketing comes from direct communication between brands and customers, therefore it can be important for the communication to be openly handled by an individual representing the brand, rather than the brand itself.

Some brands are using social media channels as customer relationship management tools, often saving huge sums in call centre costs. However, these lack the personal communication that helps to build brand affinity, and leaves most brands with a problem.

They need social media stars to build their brand upon.

Social stars

Take someone like Scott Monty, the social media heavyweight famed for heading up Ford’s social media marketing efforts. With over 65,000 followers, Monty is a mini social celebrity in his own right, and should he choose to leave Ford someday, that’s a whole lot of marketing clout that can leave with him.

This is similar with any public facing individuals that organisations hire. Whether they be key footballers building their own international brand, or TV personalities with top talk shows switching between channels. Individuals can be worth a lot to an organisation.

Quite simply, if a twitter account is in someone’s name, that individual’s twitter followers are following them, not the brand. This therefore places a value on the individual, and brands need to start considering how much that individual might be worth to the organisation.

Some organisations invest significant time allowing employees to build their company brand under an individual’s name. But even if someone is under their own name, and organisation is allowing them to tweet during work hours, as its part of building the organisations brand too, unless you have covered ownership in your organisations social media policy, it’s a grey area, and grey areas in law can be very expensive.

Empower employees to use social media channels

People will always work harder at building their own personal brand. The trick here is to employ the right people, and let them make it their own.

Brands having employees tweet under their own name are still building their brand too. Although the individual is the one being followed and listened too, that person will be using their social power to market their employer.

Empowering employees to use social media to market your brand or organisation is key, and the cost of developing a social media policy is much less than the legal challenges faced when an employee leaves with 17,000 twitter followers overnight!