The following story of LinkedIn account ownership is a true one, and as with my other blog posts, I am hoping to get your feedback as to what the “right” answer to this question should be.
Imagine that you began a job as a recruiter. Part of your job is, obviously, building out a network. After being hired you sign up to LinkedIn using your personal name. You start inviting your network as well as new contacts to connect with you on the networking platform. In order to better facilitate your sourcing activities on LinkedIn, your company starts reimbursing you for a paid account.
I think the above is a very likely scenario for a lot of people, not only in the recruiting industry, but in any outward-facing role (such as sales and marketing) as part of a larger organization. And if you don’t feel the problem brewing, then maybe you need to make sure that you don’t end up like my networking contact did.
This person decides to leave the company. The company demands ownership of his LinkedIn Profile. That’s right, they are not asking for the database of his LinkedIn connections, which is fair game, but for his username and password. The company wants ownership of this employee’s social networking account in its entirety.
It would be interesting to see if there have been any court cases regarding who rightfully owns the LinkedIn account in this instance, so that we can all confirm what the legal precedent is. I am not a lawyer in any fashion (although I DO have advice for lawyers on how to use LinkedIn!), but something tells me 1) the company should have opened a LinkedIn account and provided the employee with a username and password to use (along with a legal agreement that ownership of the account passes on to the company when the employee leaves) and 2) because the company did not do this and merely reimbursed the employee, they do not have the legal right to ask for outright ownership of the account, although they obviously deserve access to the information in the database.
I always tell my networking contacts to make sure that they use their personal email address, not company one, as their primary LinkedIn contact information. Should you have to suddenly depart your company, you want to make sure that your account is completely portable. But this employee did just that, and is still facing a problem.
As you can see, we are navigating uncharted waters when we talk about social networking. There are no rules established for this. And professional networks like LinkedIn truly blur the lines between your “professional” network and your “personal” one. Add the fact that there is a paid service available on LinkedIn, and you begin to wonder why we haven’t heard about this potential problem before.
So, in this scenario, who do you side with, the employer or the ex-employee? And for what reason?
Regardless, if you are potentially in a similar situation, save yourself future headaches and create your own personal LinkedIn account so that you can be found if someone does a LinkedIn search by name and company, making sure that you separate your private network of connections from your employer’s. You never know when you may be fighting this same battle when you leave your next job.
Now some of you may think that the above situation may have been a random case and the issue of social media profile ownership is trivial. Well, today another 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 unfortanetly 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 in the comments of this 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 prevalant 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.
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 about this question on LinkedIn account ownership: Who owns your social media profiles, you or your employer?