Who owns your connections?

As private and business increasingly merge in the modern world questions of who owns a social media account, and all its contacts, is emerging as a matter that needs to be addressed.

Contacts are crucial in any business environment and social media is starting to provide an invaluable source of contacts. Background knowledge from Twitter, LinkedIn or facebook can warm a cold call or create a hot lead.

So even if the social media account is in the name of the employee you  should be able to claim ownership of it when they leave, should you not? After all, your employee will have spent many hours of your time building up connections, followers and friends. Much of the inherent value of your company rests on those contacts. But then the employee will not want to leave those contacts behind as many will, after all, be personal relationships.

It is tempting in the new, open, sharing culture that the internet represents, to ignore the implications of who owns social media contacts. But as experience in the US is showing, fudging the question of ownership can be costly.

If you want your employees to use social media accounts on behalf of your company, then set out clearly in policies or, preferably, in contracts, who will own those accounts. Make sure too that you have administrative rights to accounts. You need to have agreed with your employee (s) what you own before they think of leaving.

Consider also the content of those sites; while you might own the site, ask yourself how easily can the content be copied or even transferred to an employee’s site? You need to define company confidential information, intellectual property and brand ownership carefully.

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