Monday, November 7, 2011

Who owns social media accounts—the employer or employee?

What happens to an employee’s social media account when the employee leaves a company? One British court has answered this question by ordering a former employee of a recruiting firm to turn over his LinkedIn contacts to his former employer.

The answer to this question is not nearly as cut and dry as this one case may make it seem. Ownership of social media usernames, pages, and relationships depends on the nature of the employment, the nature of relationship, and the ownership of the account. Thus, for example, an employee hired to manage a business’s social media will have much less of claim over these relations than will an employee who uses social media to foster personal relationships with co-workers, customers, and vendors. Salespeople—who might use LinkedIn to manage business contacts, or Facebook and Twitter to promote their companies and products—present a much grayer issue.

Because shades of gray lead to unpredictability, you should plan for these uncertainties by reaching agreements with your employees—up front and in a social media policy—on how social media ownership will be handled at the end of employment.

[Hat tip: Forbes]