Many companies use social networking sites to promote their business, while nearly all employees have personal accounts on those sites. And when the lines between the two are blurred – as in this recent lawsuit – things can get complicated.
Jill Maremont worked as the marketing director for the Susan Fredman Design Group, a Chicago interior design firm. As part of her job, she created Facebook and Twitter accounts for her employer.
She also became somewhat well-known within the design community on her own, amassing 1,250 followers for her personal Twitter account.
In 2009, Maremont was hospitalized with serious brain trauma after being hit by a car. While Maremont was in the hospital, other employees continued posting to the Susan Fredman social media accounts — and also began using Maremont’s personal Facebook and Twitter pages to promote the company.
Allegedly, Maremont ordered the company to stop using her personal pages, but they refused. She sued the company for using her identity to endorse its services.
She claimed the passwords for her personal accounts and the company’s accounts were both stored in a locked folder on her work computer and that she never gave anyone authorization to log into the personal accounts.
A district court refused to toss the case, finding that the company may have violated the Stored Communications Act and Maremont’s right to publicity by impersonating her online.
While the facts of the case are strange, it does highlight one important lesson for businesses: It’s helpful to have a social media policy that clearly distinguishes between employees’ personal and professional accounts. Forbidding employees from discussing the company on personal accounts (and from writing personal stuff on company accounts) can help avoid confusion between the two.
Cite: Maremont v. Susan Fredman Design Group