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
    pixelpusher220 (profile), 8 Mar 2011 @ 8:14am

    Re: Effectively the employee does

    you can take the accounts with you but you can't make them follow your 'new' account...

    I think the basic concept is that if the account is the show name or a derivative of the show name, the show keeps it. If it's a personal account, it stays with the employee.

    Take MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, he's @Lawrence or @TheLastWord. Which do you think will go with him and which stay with the show if he were to leave?

    Besides if a former employee were to use an account for 'nefarious' purposes, there are all sorts of laws that can be used against them. If you left a job the last thing you would want to do is continue to make use of an account that referenced your *previous* job.

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