Who Owns Your Social Media Contact Lists?

The rise of social media has transformed many aspects of how we work, with particularly profound implications for the recruitment and selection process, as well as CRM (especially true when customers may have a preference for a particular instructor).

It is advisable for organisations to review their social media (e.g. Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter etc) policies on a fairly regular basis. For example, yearly or when a major change occurs.

A particular cause for concern could be Linkedin, which can be likened to a portable database, because it may threaten the traditional non-compete clauses as employees may believe they own their Linkedin contacts and do not have to hand them over when they leave a business.

Before social media became such an important business tool, a departing employee’s email address book, which they had established while working for that business, belonged to the organisation. It would have been handed over with the company email when they left.

However, Linkedin is different as it sits on the internet and not on an organisation’s server (this means the agreement is between the individual and Linkedin).

Case Law in this area is growing. Examples include:

  • In 2008, an ex-employee of Hays, a recruitment agency, was forced to hand over their Linkedin contacts when the courts found that he had been purposely building a database to use in his own business.
  • In 2013, another ex-employee (of a different company) was blocked from using her ex-company’s Linkedin groups to mine details of contacts for a business venture.

Facebook’s new ‘Facebook at Work service‘ may be next.

Issues for organisations to consider:

  • A new employee already has an established social media profile (across a range of social) when joining the organisation, adds contacts based on their employment with the organisation, then leaves the organisation after a period of time.
    • Who ‘owns’ the contacts established during the period of employment?
    • How will any non-compete clauses be affected?
  • ‘Make’ employees establish a company profile separate to their individual profile (I know at least one outdoor fitness provider requires its employees/workers to do this).
    • However, the instructors still connect/friend customers on their individual profiles!
    • The training provider’s social media policy (such as it was) did not stop instructors from connecting/friending through their own individual profile.
  • Employees establish contacts through a company-only profile.
  • Employees may delete connections on Linkedin but could become friends on Facebook.
  • Separating personal and employment connections/friends.
  • Who gains credit for establishing connections/friends?
  • Employees/organisations can both gain mutual benefit from a wide range of connections/friends.
  • What about contractors/sub-contractors?

This area is still fraught with danger and there are a number of solutions based on individual/organisational preferences.


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