December 27, 2011, 2:38 PM — If you blog or tweet to as part of your job to promote the company you work for, when you leave the company, does the Twitter account and the list of followers belong to you or to your employer?
Cell-phone information and sales company PhoneDog may help answer that if its lawsuit against a former employee (who is also suing PhoneDog for back pay) is heard in court rather than settled.
It seems like a trivial question, or would to people who don't live and die by Twitter.
Increasingly, it's not individuals, but companies whose public image grows or shrinks within a select population of heavily connected social-networking users, toward whom those companies are directing more and more of their promotional efforts.
Along with those efforts comes the complications of adopting anything new, namely the need for people who can use the technology well but who might eventually leave to find new opportunities of their own.
Is a Twitter account intellectual property?
Tech companies are used to fighting over patented designs and other intellectual property. Most companies have sales or marketing groups in which it's not unusual to see someone escorted out of the building by security after quitting or being fired, to make sure they didn't take their contact or customer databases with them.
During the past two years marketing has evolved from the science of hanging posters on the inside of toilet stalls to one in which interactive social-networking spreads like oleo on top of traditional marketing media.
Social networking lets marketers swap useful tips or updates for the customer's time, attention or contact information.
That makes blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook fan pages, LinkedIn events and Q-and-A's and other exchanges more than just one-way communications or platforms for individual expression.
They become every bit as much a part of a company's proprietary record of interactions with a customer as call logs, support records and customer reports following a sales visit.