Who 'owns' social media in the workplace?

The extract below, from an HR e-bulletin I recently recieved ( from Debbie Clark HR consultancy) was a bit of an eye opener for me. I guess it only really applies to the 'business type' of social media such as LinkedIn - but it could easily escalate. An employee using Twitter for example could be very influential to their followers if they moved to another competitor?

Former employee ordered to give employer log in details of LinkedIn account

Whitmar Publications Ltd v Gamage and others

Details have emerged this week of a case in which the High Court required a former employee to hand over the details of a LinkedIn account that she had established in the course of her employment, but that she had also used for personal purposes. This decision is thought to be the first time the ramifications of the misuse or misappropriation of a company LinkedIn account, together with all of the business contacts that it contains, have resulted in a court order to disclose log-in details to an employer. It is significant that despite the fact that the LinkedIn account had been set up by an employee in her own name and contained contacts that were no doubt personal to her, the court concluded that it was the property of Whitmar and that the log-in details (and hence ownership of the account) should be passed to it.

There are lessons for all parties in this decision. Employees should take note that a LinkedIn account that is established in the course of their employment by a company and used to market and advance that company's activities, may well be the property of the company, even if the employee has also been using the account as a personal contact database. Employers, on the other hand, need to remain vigilant and aware of the continually evolving world of social media. Although it was not a stumbling block in this case, employee contracts should include a clear direction as to ownership of corporate or employee-created LinkedIn accounts or similar databases. Employers should also be aware of the potential damage that can be caused to their business in the event of the defection of an employee who may have been using such an account to build and maintain an online contact base

There is more information about this case at: http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/25/09/2013/59670/case-of-the-week-former-employee-ordered-to-give-employer-log-in-details-of-linkedin-account-she.htm?cmpid=NLC|PTPT|PTDIR-20131002&sfid=70120000000taB7

Clearly, it's time to have another look at Social Media policies to ensure that ownership of work based social media are correctly covered!

As a big advocate of social media, I'd be really interested to hear of any similar experiences out there?

Steve

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Replies

  •  Article about ownership of social media at workplace and how employers and employees should manage this issue:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2013/02/18/company-social-med...

    Sorina

  • Hello Steve,

    Interesting topic. Indeed companies need to define policies regarding the social media use by its employees and the employment contract can be a good starting point (as far as I know, there are already companies stipulating in their employment contracts social media use and ownership during the employment period).

    Here is also an interesting article related to this topic

    http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/hr/features/1073656/hr-technology-speci...

    Sorina

    • Great article Sorina!

  • Hi Steve

    That's a really interesting case, thanks for sharing.

    Social media is so prominent in today's society that companies who don't engage with it are potentially losing out.

    My company are starting a three month pilot utilising Facebook & Twitter as avenues for customers to contact us to make complaints, comments, suggestions & repair requests.  To support this a Social Media Policy has been created as we're aware there are a lot of potential pitfalls. However, after reading you're post I'm not sure if it covers everything!

    I attended an Employment Law seminar this week entitled Social Media & the Impact on HR.  It was really interesting but made me realise just how complicated this area is.  You need to take into account the Human Rights Act & the Regulations of Investigatory Powers Act when dealing with situations that have arose due to misuse of social media.

    If you look at the various bits of case law you don't get any definitive answers either as each case is considered on it's own merits, so ensuring your company has an up-to-date robust Social Media Policy is a must.

    Jill

  • Not had any personal experience of this but I am amazed at the problems that Social Media platforms are now causing Companies/Organisations - my dream as a HR/Social Media Consultant may not be dead in the water just yet! Thanks for the interesting blog Steve  :)

  • This is indeed interesting and I've been involved in and seen this being an issue in some organisations.

    There must be some distinction between professional and personal at some level however this becomes very blurry when it comes to being a recruiter on LinkedIn. Being employed by someone to recruit for that organisation means you are going to be regularly adding people to your network and will build up a network of people that is very valuable to your organisation...but who's network is it? The LinkedIn account is in an individuals name so I'm a little surprised by the decision above as this sets a very dangerous precedence.....and it's not just confined to LinkedIn...

    Does this mean that every follower I gain on Twitter is the property of DPG as I currently work for them and share what I do through my blog and through Twitter. I've got a disclaimer on the account to say that tweets are my own however if I (and this is far fetched I know) gain 20,000 followers in my employment with DPG and then choose to leave - are they 'my' followers or DPG's - you could argue that they are DPG's - or could you? I think it depends on the circumstance and the court have looked at the above case and decided that actually the LinkedIn account is property of the organisation due to the work the individual has done.

    There is another high profile case between Phone Dog and their law-suit against Noah Kravitz - again slightly different as the organisation's name was the account however the argument was that the Twitter followers belonged to the individual a they managed / developed the account...Check it out below

    http://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2012/02/02/phonedog-vs-noah-kravi...

    We must remember that whilst it feels like it's been here forever, social media is still very new and most business are only just putting policies in place or using it for the first time. As it continues to grow and becomes more integrated with work practices and we see more jobs that include social media I think more of these cases will come up.

    It's an interesting debate and this won't be the last one we hear about....that's for sure!

  • Thanks for sharing this Steve - this is a really interesting decision - I am going to be sharing this with my HRP group next week..

     

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