Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Who Owns Employees' Social Media Accounts?

As more and more companies develop social media footprints, the issue arises as to which individual or department will be responsible for commenting, responding, and maintaining accounts. The CEO may comment, department Vice Presidents may comment, the marketing or public relations department may comment, or the IT department may comment. Before long, lines blur – and chaos results.

But there are more ways that chaos can result. When an employee leaves, who owns his/her Twitter and other social media accounts? If the Twitter account is used for business, does the company own it? If the LinkedIn account is used for business, and the contacts were made as part of doing business, does the company own it? And if friends were made on an employee’s Facebook page, does the company own that account?

The reality is, there are no easy answers. According to Jennifer Archie, a privacy and data security attorney with Latham & Watkins, “People’s professional work often bleeds over into their personal time thanks to the interconnectedness of mobile devices.”

But there is a solution until the law catches up with social media. The best way for employers to avoid legal issues is to write clear policies indicating how employees can and should use social media – and clearly state what will happen to an account when an employee leaves the company.

According to John Delaney, an attorney with Morrison & Foerster, “If a company is going to encourage its employees to use their own personal social media accounts for work-related posts and tweets, the company should not expect to obtain ownership over such accounts.”

So, before a crisis happens regarding your business, write a social media usage plan for your business. The five key elements to include are:

[1] Which Employees Will Post (individual, department, overall ownership).

[2] Posting Schedule (hourly, daily, weekly – and on which sites).

[3] Crisis Posting Plan (i.e., how to respond to negative comments).

[4] Official Voice (i.e., friendly, conversational, or formal).

[5] Be clear that no sensitive or confidential business data may be shared via social media.

Once your business has social media guidelines, distribute them to everyone – and if possible, schedule regular training sessions. This way, people understand what is expected of them and what is not. While we’re not all legal eagles, we can be prepared for the potential of brand violations in cyberspace – but only with sufficient planning.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

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