The following story of LinkedIn Profile 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, 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.