Who Owns Your Company’s Social Media Profiles, Contacts and Content?

Who owns social media is a nebulous and often confounding question.  Teresa presented on this topic at the June 10, 2011, Minnesota Recruiters Conference #14 at General Mills.  The discussion focused on the following:

  • Who owns content, contacts, and websites when employees use social media for recruiting or other business purposes? 
  • How can policies, practices, and agreements (non-competes, confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements) impact ownership? 
  • How has the public availability of contact information (LinkedIn, Twitter, ZoomInfo, etc.) impacted the ability to claim customer lists are confidential? 
  • What has happened to the definition of “non-solicitation” with the use of social media?  Has it changed? 
  • How should a recruiting manager or firm owner address linking to vendors, customers, and competitors in a competitive environment?

We’re going to run a series of posts to address these topics in more detail.  Our first topic? 

Who “owns” social media content, contacts, etc. and how do employee policies fit in?

The answer to who “owns” social media is not clear cut and the law in this area is not well developed.  Additionally a lot will likely hinge on how the employer has (or has not) managed ownership of social media.  Employee policies are a key element of this process.  

Your policies should address, among other things, whether employees are permitted to upload Outlook contacts, or other contacts from your contact management system into LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.  These sites make it very easy for you to use existing databases to find contacts. However, if you allow employees to upload contacts to LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., you have then permitted employees to take and save an entire database of contact information, into an account that was created, maintained and possibly “owned” by them personally. 

This raises the question about who should then own that account when the employee leaves.  This also may call into question your ability to later claim that this information is confidential.  It is critical that these issues are taken into consideration and addressed in employee policies.  Otherwise, you may be in the situation where your employees’ actions have dictated ownership of social media in a way that does not serve the company’s best interests.

While employee policies are one key piece in managing ownership of social media connections, another key piece is confidentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete and other employment agreements.  We’ll discuss this piece in our next post.  Stay tuned! 

In the meantime … Do your policies address these key social media issues?  How does your company balance the need to protect customer information with the increasing pressure to be “out there” on social media?

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Contributing Authors

Teresa Thompson

Teresa Thompson Teresa is the Chair of Fredrikson’s Non-Competes and Trade Secrets Group, and an MSBA Certified Labor and Employment Law Specialist. She counsels business clients on risk management and policy development relating to employee use of technology, and also litigates their business and employment disputes. Teresa trains, writes and lectures extensively on legal issues arising from business use of technology and social media.

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Norah Olson Bluvshtein

Norah Olson Bluvshtein Norah is an employment law attorney representing businesses both in and out of the courtroom on employee issues from hiring, to firing, and everything in between. She writes, speaks, and consults on employee use (and misuse) of the Internet, social media, and technology.

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