Since I posted about the topic of who owns what in social media from the perspective of an employee’s LinkedIn profile, I have been humbled by both the number of people visiting my blog as well as others that have re-tweeted about my blog on Twitter and elsewhere. Based on the comments I have received and other developments, I wanted to offer additional insight into this topic of who owns our social media profiles.
First of all, if you haven’t read my previous blog post on LinkedIn Profiles: Who Owns It, Me or My Employer?, please go ahead and do so as it offers background on the subject. Now some of you may have thought that that may have been a random case and the issue of social media profile ownership is trivial. Well, today a networking contact came back to me with a similarly frightening story from someone else about a fight they had and lost with an employer over LinkedIn Profiles ownership. In this person’s words:
“I was made redundant and was forced to hand over my linkedin account details to my ex employer or they would withhold my redundancy pay. As unfortatnetly they paid for the inmails, they claimed my account as “intellectual property”. Not sure if they have a case but I’ve got a mortgage and 2 small kids to think of. My name has been removed from the account and changed to the owner’s name.”I think we can all sympathize with our friend here and his situation with his employer, as this happens a lot when promised severance pay is not paid without signing on the dotted line on a document that you might not agree with but are coerced into executing.
First of all, keeping one personal account and one professional account, like you can do with Twitter, is not allowed on LinkedIn:
“You represent and warrant that you …(d) do not have more than one LinkedIn account at any given time…”
“You are prohibited from selling, trading or otherwise transferring your LinkedIn account or any information therein to another party…”
In other words, any employer asking you to turn over your personal LinkedIn profile is going against the policy of LinkedIn and is also forcing YOU to violate the LinkedIn User Agreement.
Now, if you define “intellectual property” as a contact database that was accumulated as part of your job, I can see the case for providing that data to the company like any other CRM database, as Miles Austin posted out. But it was the comments on my previous blog post from Ed Callahan that really made sense, that we are in a new era, and that it is time that a Corporate Social Media Policy is negotiated with and included in employment agreements going forward.
As social networking, blogging, micro-blogging (=Twitter) and the use of social media in general becomes more prevelant in professional society, it is time for all of us to realize that these social networking profiles and list of connections are our individual assets and part of our brand that everyone owns. This is not the 1950’s where the expectation was that we would be given lifetime employment. As many corporations continue to show their disregard for the welfare of their own employees to concentrate on the “bottom line”, it is time to realize that our social media profiles cannot be taken from us.
If we have to fight for our profiles, I think the time is now.
I am looking forward to enlightened Human Relations Executives to pick up the ball on this and create Social Media policies that are both respectful to the employee as well as cognizant of this new reality of our online profiles. And if there are any lawyers who would like to help out the two friends who have had to give up access to their LinkedIn accounts or those that may have to in the future, please comment as to how you may be able to assist.
For a final note on the subject, I would like everyone to read the excellent blog post by my new friend Michael VanDervort, whose article “Who Owns What in Social Media? Intellectual Property Takes New Forms”, although originally inspired by my previous blog post on the subject, gives additional excellent anlaysis looking at the various types of corporate accounts that exist on Twitter and the potential problems brewing vis a vis who owns what on that popular social networking platform.
I am proud of the fact that this blog is a pure user-generated content Web 2.0 experience, that we are all sharing in and creating a hopefully positive outcome through our communications. I look forward to your future comments and support. Thank you.
Now, does LinkedIn have anything to say about this growing problem? Should they be saying anything? Will they enact changes in their User Agreement to side with the Employer and allow them to own your social media profile? Only time will tell…
What do you think: Who owns your social media profiles, you or your employer?