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Social Media: Why You Need New Legal Documents for the Way You Do Business Today

As a business owner, you’ve got a million things to keep you busy. Hiring, overhead, inventory, scheduling, taxes; the list goes on and on. And with all the important, real world details you’re responsible for, you could be forgiven for overlooking a little thing like Twitter. After all, what are a few Twitter followers worth anyway?

Well, according to recently spurned, about $340,000.

Lately, we’ve been fascinated by the case of Noah Kravitz, an ex-employee of the aforementioned mobile phone site, and his erstwhile employer. During his four years at the company, Noah, under the Twitter handle @Phonedog_Noah, amassed some 17,000 followers. When he finally quit in 2010, he took his handle and those followers with him, and though he eventually changed his twitter address to @NoahKravitz, he kept his audience.

And Phonedog isn’t happy about it. Valuing each follower at $2.50, they’re asking for damages, alleging that the 17,000 people are essentially a digital rolodex. While writing and podcasting about this last week, we predicted that the sides will essentially settle out of court, sparing us — at least for the time being — a precedent on the value of a Twitter follower.

But even if the case does go to court, there’s no reason you or your company needs to worry about it if you take the right precautions. By claiming ownership over the followers your employees gain on company accounts, you can avoid ending up in the sort of sticky (and time-consuming) legal matter in which Phonedog and Mr. Kravitz now find themselves.

The solution is simple.  Ask your employees to sign a Social Media Policy, where you can spell out exactly who owns your social fan base, as well as solidify the rules about what your employees can and cannot say on social media. Believe it or not, there are already well-established laws on the books. For example, according to the Federal Trade Commission, your employees must always disclose any “material connection” between themselves and your company, even in their off hours. (So I could write something like “Rocket Lawyer is the best company ever,” so long as I made sure to mention, “of course, I should know: I work there.”)

But what about independent contractors?  How about employment agreements? We have you covered there too.  We’ve included similar language in our Independent Contractor Agreement, Employment Agreement, and Employee Handbook. It might not seem like a big deal to you now, but remember: no less than five years back, Facebook was just a place for baby pictures; Twitter didn’t even exist. Now, you can find nearly every Fortune 500 company on both.

If you don’t have a Social Media Policy in place, take a few minutes and get it done. Remember, smart companies don’t just solve problems after they arise; they avoid them before they even start.

And we’d like to ask you a little favor.  Since the idea of a Social Media Policy is so new, please help us spread the word! If you like our new Social Media policy, please tell your friends on Twitter and Facebook.  They’ll thank you!

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