Social media contacts. Who owns them?

It’s been an interesting week. I’ve just finished with a project that involved creating a website that is fully integrated with all the social media touchstones – Linkedin Company Page, Facebook Business Page, Twitter etc. – and I’m about to roll out a company wide integration of individual social media accounts.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The client is asking employees to either sign over “ownership” of their existing Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook accounts along with all the contacts contained within, or create new profiles for each of the networks and not use their existing social media contacts for business purposes.

This client is a fairly large player in the Canadian recruiting industry and the position they have is that social media contacts have the same value as the Rolodex of yesteryear. So it only stands to reason that when somebody leaves the firm, they don’t get to take all the business with them.

So who really owns the contacts you make at work? Is it even possible to successfully segregate your previous contacts? Is this just an issue with the recruiting industry? Surely, the same arguments can be made for sales reps in any industry. What about media? If a journalist with a substantial social media following leaves a newspaper or television network, do they have to hand over those followers?

Let’s say you are a new employee and you have been busily working LinkedIn for a number of years prior to coming on board. Is it proper to a)require you to turn over  potential leads to your new employer without compensation and b) can you work effectively starting from scratch on LinkedIn, knowing the contacts you’re making are most likely temporary and non-transferable?

If you choose not to transfer clients from your old account, what do you do when an opportunity comes up and you think you may have a good fit – but contacting that person means you won’t ever be able to contact them again if you were to change jobs? What if it’s your brother in law?

And when you leave the company – and eventually most of us do –  those Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin company accounts don’t come with you, leaving a big hole in your digital footprint – by stripping a valuable chunk of the work connections we now take for granted.

Using LinkedIn to conduct business and find leads is changing the way companies in all industries operate. As more and more of them become aware of the power of Linkedin, this issue is sure to get a bit more play.

Aidan Crawford


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