Who Owns Employee Social Media Accounts? 'The Correct Answer Is: Shut Up'

from the winner dept

Back in October, we had a post looking into the legal issues of who actually owns a Twitter account, especially when a famous employee of a large corporation uses the Twitter account as a part of his or her job. As we noted, the law isn't clear, and for the most part, companies seem to assume that the employees own the accounts, so no one's really made a big stink about an employee leaving and taking a ton of "followers" with them. But, it's really only a matter of time.

Still, an anonymous reader sent over this recent take on the same issue by lawyer Jay Shepherd that gets right to the heart of the matter, brilliantly, in saying that if you're even asking the question as an employer, you're probably in trouble:
Who owns an employee's LinkedIn contacts?

Or Facebook friends? Or Twitter tweeps? If an employee is using these social-media sites in his or her professional capacity, does the employer have the right to take the contacts away once the employee leaves?

The correct answer is: shut up.

Seriously. If you're an employer or a manager and you're seriously asking these questions, you just don't get it when it comes to social media. You're missing the whole point of these social-networking sites.
His overall argument is pretty much exactly how we feel: employers need to let go of some things, and an employee's ability to build up relationships that they could potentially take with them when they leave is one thing to let go. The benefit of allowing this is much greater in the long run for a company. If you're going to try to claim ownership over employees' social media accounts, your employees are going to recognize that, and they won't care or invest as much effort into those accounts, meaning the company ends up getting very little benefit, even if they technically end up "owning" the account at the end of the day.

One of the key lessons that we try to point out over and over again on this site is that you don't have to control everything. Quite frequently, by letting go of control, you stand to benefit much, much more. And this is yet one more example where that's true.

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  1. icon
    Adam G (profile), 8 Mar 2011 @ 7:51am

    I think one thing that although short term, is easily overlooked.

    Lets say Company A has 20 employees from various departments, all with their own individual twitter/blog/facebook/etc... pages. The company links to them, as they are to post relevant stuff about things they are working on, and other misc stuff, they are free to do what they want, with only minimum guidance.
    They all build followers(of different types)

    Sure company A will be mad with employee Bob leaves, taking his twitter account with 50,000 followers.

    But maybe, Company B will be THAT much happier to have Employee Bob? Because now Bobs new company can take advantage of it.

    Perhaps in the future, we will have as part of a resume, how many youtube or twitter followers we have in our professional lives?

    It wouldn't be a requirement for every job, but it could definitely be considered an added perk.

    It will make a few companies a bit disgruntled in the beginning. But I think overall in the long run, it'll be beneficial for everyone. Even if some companies don't ever see it that way.

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