Who Owns Your Twitter Account?

Should a company own their employees' Twitter accounts? Some say no, but, it seems to me there are clear cases when they should.

On my last day at my previous job, I was asked to turn in the usual things: my ID, my keys, my laptop and my health insurance. There was, however, one piece of what could be considered company property that I was not asked to turn over (aside from company pens): my work Twitter account. I did, however, voluntarily leave it behind.

By “work Twitter account” I mean an account I created in my name, with company branding, for work related tweeting. This was separate from my personal Twitter account as well as our corporate Twitter account (to which I also contributed). (See also "How to Manage Multiple Twitter Accounts.")

There was no company policy at the time (that I knew of) to offer guidance. I did it this way because I prefer to keep my personal and work tweets separate, since each really is geared towards a different audience; my mom really wouldn’t be interested in my work tweets (and she often doesn’t get my personal tweets, but that’s another story). Plus, I don’t want my employer ever claiming ownership of my personal Twitter account. (See also "Former Blogger Sued for Keeping Twitter Followers.")

I used my work account to tweet about things related to the projects that I managed, mainly geared towards clients I worked with, in my own voice. Over the course of three years, I built up a small audience (500 or so) mainly of clients interested in my projects. A number of them looked to my tweets for important information. It was another method to communicate with people, in addition to emails, phone calls, blog posts, conference appearances and so on. In fact, for some, Twitter replies and direct messages were their preferred methods of communications with me.

In short, it was an important communications channel for a small number of our clients. Given the specific nature of the audience that was following this account, and the fact that the projects it was tied to would continue on without me, it didn’t seem to make sense to take the account with me here to ITworld.

But, interestingly, I was the one who had to bring up the idea of leaving it behind. As there was no policy about creating it, there also wasn't one about what would happen to it when I left. So, when discussing my departure with my boss, I recommended they keep the account and rename it to something related to either my replacement or the projects it served. She thought this was a swell idea and that’s exactly what they’ve done.

So, it all ended well (i.e., I'm not getting sued over it), but it's easy to imagine how it wouldn't without a clearly defined company policy or employees who were careful about such things. Meanwhile, here at ITworld, I've done a similar thing: I've created my own, company-branded Twitter account. Someday when I leave, I'll hand over the keys to that account too.

But I'm keeping the pens.

Phil Johnson is a writer and editor for ITworld.com, after having survived 17 years in the corporate wild as a software/web developer, technical lead and project manager. Along the way he also used to write monologue jokes for David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno. In his spare time these days, when he's not chauffeuring his daughters to and from school, lessons and Justin Bieber movies (ugh), he enjoys drawing cartoons, tweeting about his life and taking pictures of cranes.

This story, "Who Owns Your Twitter Account?" was originally published by ITworld.

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