Who owns a social profile?


Social networking for business is inevitable, whether you approve or not it's happening within your company. So when your staff gain new followers on Twitter or connections through LinkedIn as a result of work for your company, and then leave, who owns those? As a corporate star, a thought leader or just as a representative of a company I might use LinkedIn to connect with customers or clients. I might have a Twitter account @Brandname_Justin that has 1000's of followers.

But when I leave that company should I have the right to retain those connections, that audience?

There is a legal battle currently under way in the USA where an employee using a @Brandname_personalname Twitter account left the business and simply changed the Twitter handle on the account when they left. The account had amassed 17,000 followers and now the company has gone to court seeking $340,000 USD in compensation. Read the full story here

So did the employee amass the followers based on his own merits, the content he shared and the level of engagement he generated or as a consequence of brand association?.

In this case I believe the company has a strong case. The Twitter account was quite clearly representing the brand, providing it's customers support or advice. The mere fact the employees name was apart of the @Name is of little consequence. In many cases that helps create personal connections and humanises the experience. That account was never intended to be a personal profile.

In the recruitment industry especially, LinkedIn plays a vital role searching for and connecting with prospective clients and candidates. So as your recruitment consultant I might make 100's of connections related to the work I do for your business through my personal LinkedIn profile. When I leave your business I take those connections with me. If you're smart you'd have policy where those connections were integrated with your CRM so you don't lose them. But I'd still have those contacts as I move to a competitor or start my own business.

I guess the flip side to this debate is when you hire someone with 1000's of LinkedIn connections or Twitter followers. If you expect them to utilize those networks to promote your business, generate leads or recruit new staff, what value does that rollodex bring you and should salaries reflect that...

What are your thoughts on this? How does your business deal with these issues? Do you required staff to create separate 'work' LinkedIn profiles they have to delete when they leave?