In the age of digital networking, personal brand and virtual communities the importance of social media has never been greater. Having a web of connections is invaluable when searching for new jobs, identifying potential business opportunities and being endorsed for certain professional skills you may possess.
The contentious question that continues to raise its ugly head is who actually owns your social media account, you or your organisation?
The answer that jumps straight to mind is that the individual is the owner, after all it’s their personal details, their contacts and their information, news and content that populates their profile. However delve a little deeper and there is a strong case to suggest that this isn’t as black and white as it seems.
In 2013, a high court ruling adjudged that legal action taken by Whitmar Publications was justified if an employees LinkedIn account was established in the course of employment and used to market and advance a company’s business activities, then it may be the property of the employer.
With social policy now as mainstream as the companies IT policies, it comes as no surprise that employees are encouraged to promote their employers activities through their own person networks. Most organisations with have a set of guideline that illustrate the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of company social behaviour. In the case of Whitmar Publications, former employee’s weren’t breaching any social guidelines, but were using established accounts and communities to ‘groom’ potential customers for a new start-up.
This seems to be the theme across other social media legal cases within the UK, but is there this level of consistency in the ownership of said accounts globally? In short, no there isn’t. A few cases that have appeared in the U.S. have returned a mixed bag of results.
Gadget review site PhoneDog.com tried to sue former employee Noah Kravitz for a whopping $340,000 for taking the 22,000 twitter followers he had amassed whilst working for the company. The pair settled privately after the court couldn’t decide on a value of the followers.
In another US based case banking education company Edcomm empowered its employees to use social media, specifically LinkedIn, to promote the organisation. Things quickly turned sour though after Edcomm was acquired. Former owner Linda Eagle tried to log in to her account only to discover that the acquiring company had changed her password. Eagle sued, claiming Edcomm misappropriated her account, but the company countered, saying that it had the right, since it owned her account and all its employees’ profiles. The ruling actually sided with Eagle saying that she owned her account and the company actually invaded her privacy.
One thing is clear though, companies and individuals now understand the true value of social connections and are willing to fight tooth and nail for them. Organisations have to improve their social media policies in order to lock down not only proper usage, but also ownership of these accounts. Employees on the other hand have to be mindful this too, exploitation of position or corporate brand may put them in a compromising when moving on to pastures new.
Could this uncertainty spark the revival of the little black book or Gordon Gecko style Rolodex…I think not!