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10 Tips to Ensure Employer Ownership of Social Media Contacts

3rd November 2014 | Helen Rideout

Helen Rideout, author of Employee Risk Management, shows you how to get to grips with managing social media networks in your organisation.

Employee Risk Management (9780749471606)Social media comes into its own with its unique ability to connect individuals and groups to each other. In a business context, its purpose is to build relationships and a brand as well as share useful information. Two channels leveraged by employers in this way are LinkedIn and Twitter. However, both rely heavily on the accumulation of contacts. With LinkedIn, many employers encourage their workforce to extend their network by adding first level connections, whereas, with Twitter, the task of building up followers will fall to those responsible for maintaining the organisation’s Twitter account. This generally works well whilst the employment relationship continues. But what happens to these LinkedIn connections and Twitter followers once the ‘gatherer’ moves on to pastures new? But more to the point, who owns them? Is it the employee or you as the employer?

If you want to stake claim to these contacts and avoid time-consuming arguments, work through the following 10 tips on how to maximise your chances of doing this successfully:


1. Define status of connections. Describe any connections made whilst working for your organisation as confidential information. Justify this on the grounds that most individual profiles contain a significant amount of personal data.

2. Connection Ownership. State that any connections made as a direct result of working for your organisation are its property and not that of the individual employee. This is because the opportunity to make them was provided through employment.

3. Access to group email addresses. Ban staff from harvesting emails from groups that they belong to by reason of working for you. Not doing so puts you at risk of employees stealing these details on leaving your employment (see Whitmar Publications Limited v Gamage 2013 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/1881.html).

4. Update restrictive covenants. Review any existing restrictive covenants to see if they cover ownership of LinkedIn connections. If not, extend their coverage.


5. Name of account. Insist on the Twitter account being in your organisation’s name and not an individual employee’s.

6. Ownership of followers. Make it clear that any Twitter feed operated on your organisation’s behalf along with its followers are solely its property.

7. Categorising followers. Formally define Twitter followers as ‘customer lists’ in an attempt to strengthen your organisation’s ownership of them. Do not try to classify them as confidential information as the information is already in the public domain.

8. Monetise each follower. Do what US company PhoneDog did and assign a monetary value to each of its followers. It came up with the sum of US $2.50 (£1.50) per follower per month.

9. Third party tweeters. If you engage a third party to tweet on your behalf, ensure that your contract identifies your organisation as the owner of both the account and its followers.

10. Update your policy. Update your social media policy to reflect all these changes and explain why you have introduced them.

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