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
    Mikael (profile), 8 Mar 2011 @ 3:03pm

    Re:

    Adam G, that would all really depend on what kind of employment agreement was signed between the employee and his/her company. At my previous job I was a field service technician that handled clients personally. Each technician had our own clients and one of the agreements I had to sign when I started stated that if I left the company I was not allowed to solicit those clients if I was working in a similar job somewhere else.

    If I had been using twitter/facebook/etc at the time for work purposes, I wouldn't have to "give up" those followers, but I wouldn't be able to perform any kind of work for those individuals if it was related to what I did for that company while employed there. I guess I would've been able to do the work for free, but why would anyone want to do that lol. Hell I could've done the work and been paid for it, but I would've run the risk of getting sued by my former employer.

    If anything else, I would just notify the followers that I would be leaving the company, setup another account, and tell them to follow me there if they still wanted to.....then delete the one associated with the company to make sure no one else could capitalize on all the effort I had put into it to that point :D

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