Friday, December 30, 2011

Professional Management of the Twitter Account

Twitter Account – Professional or Personal?

Ontario Real Estate Source

By Brian Madigan LL.B.

Issues concerning ownership, use, and operation of a Twitter account have arisen in the case of PhoneDog v. Noah Kravitz.

The novel issue is the crossover between personal and professional interests.Kravitz was employed by PhoneDog to blog about competitive mobile phone products. Kravitz tweeted about his blog and about football, food, the arts and other sports. His professional  phone blog became more popular.

When he left PhoneDog, naturally he had to leave his blog behind. But, what about the Twitter account?  There were 17,000 followers!

So, really it should be easy to separate. However, that needs to be determined at the outset.

If the individual is responsible for a company blog then any supporting social media should belong to the company as well. If, none, then agree on that too!

Professional Social Media
  • Make this specific. Ensure that the company is the owner.
  • Agree that supporting social media belongs to the company too.
  • Have the account in the company’s name.
  • Have supporting media in the company’s name too.
  • Ensure that the access codes, passwords and the like are all made available to the company.
The company’s IT Officer should have all this information.

Ownership of the blogs, Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter accounts should be made quite clear: they are owned by the company.

If the employee or other delegate opens such accounts then they are doing so by and on behalf of the company. In effect, they are performing these tasks "in trust" for the company. The use and operation of the sites are distinguished from their ownership.

There should be a company social media protocol policy.

All employees, delegates, and independent contractors associated with the company should agree to adhere and abide by the terms of this protocol as issued and updated.

Personal Social Media

Personal is, of course, just that “personal”. Family and friends, sometimes extended family, longer term friends and acquaintances, and neighbours etc.

Personal use can be extended to “friendship” on a personal basis with companies for the provision of personal benefits.

However, this is clearly not “business marketing”. So, Facebook is really a “personal friend” site. Linkedin is intended to be more “professional”. Business marketing on Facebook requires the use of a “Fan Page”, but it’s already integral to Linkedin. When it comes to Twitter, and the 140 character limit, the issues and differentiation between personal and professional are most unclear. But, this would not be the case if matters were clearly set out in a contract.

Professional Social Media

Many independent contractors in various businesses, like real estate agents, have websites, blogs, and social media accounts. If they are licenced and supervised by a brokerage, then their brokerage has a vested interest in their marketing venues. They are considered to be advertising and must comply with any advertising guidelines set out by the regulating authority.

In Ontario, that would be the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). However, there should also be advertising guidelines issued by the brokerage and the brand name franchisor concerning the use of trademarks etc.

Compliance is a requirement, but who is going to monitor this issue on a daily basis?

These issues suggest in effect that the individual should indicate which social media sites he may be engaged in, and disclose whether such sites are personal or professional.

Also, there needs to be a fundamental presumption about the engagement, either:

·        They are all professional, unless agreed otherwise, or
·        They are all personal, unless agreed otherwise

It would seem to me that a brokerage would prefer the latter since that would place the onus of disclosure clearly upon the real estate professional.

Once, the brokerage is aware of a “professional” engagement, then the brokerage has the responsibility, duty and obligation to monitor compliance. You will appreciate that there is a cost to the brokerage associated with that fact.

Brian Madigan LL.B., Broker is an author and commentator on real estate matters, if you are interested in residential or commercial properties in Mississauga, Toronto or the GTA, you may contact him through Royal LePage Innovators Realty, Brokerage 905-796-8888

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Twitter Account Controversy ~ Ownership and Control


Who owns the Twitter Account – Employer or Employee?

Ontario Real Estate Source

By Brian Madigan LL.B.

In a recent case, PhoneDog v. Noah Kravitz, the issue of Twitter account ownership will soon arise.

The case is interesting because it presents a novel issue and that is the crossover between personal and professional interests.

This is what happened according to CNN sources:

Kravitz joined PhoneDog and was employed, in part, to blog about competitive products. The site became increasingly more popular as Kravitz began to tweet about his articles and reviews. On his Twitter account he threw in other topics that were not just mobile phone specs and comparisons. He talked about football, food, the arts and other sports. That made his phone blog more popular. Soon he had 17,000 followers on his twitter account. He left the company and initially was allowed to take the Twitter account with him. When he set it up in the first place he used his own personal information for registration.

With 17,000 followers, PhoneDog now wants the Kravitz’s Twitter account, or alternatively to be paid $2.50 for each follower per month for the 8 month period after he left the company.

This case will have some implications for the real estate industry, since most sales staff are employees from the perspective of the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act, 2002, (Ontario), but independent contractors for the purposes of other legislation.

Do they have websites, blogs, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Google Plus and other social media sites? If so, what is the arrangement and the protocol for participation? Is the brokerage responsible for what they say? Can the brokerage be sued for comments made? Obviously, they are personally responsible, but if the brokerage is responsible for supervision, then should the brokerage see and screen the material in advance?

At this stage, it’s probably too early to tell, but the fact of the matter is that each brokerage should set up its own protocol concerning the use of social media in addition to its policies on websites and blogs.

Brian Madigan LL.B., Broker is an author and commentator on real estate matters, if you are interested in residential or commercial properties in Mississauga, Toronto or the GTA, you may contact him through Royal LePage Innovators Realty, Brokerage 905-796-8888