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Who owns social media?

I manage a company placing senior execs in the IT industry around the world. One of our employees is leaving. He has created and manages a very popular LinkedIn Group and Twitter feed and he wishes to take both with him. The LinkedIn Group is in the company name, but the Twitter feed is in his own. Who actually owns this Group and the Twitter followers?

Although social media accounts created in the course of employment for business purposes belong to the employer, it can be difficult to prove that the accounts were set up "for business", particularly if they are used for both business and social purposes.

Whether or not you have a claim to the LinkedIn Group will be fact specific. Factors to consider are:

  • Is the LinkedIn Group in the company name?
  • Was the Group set up either by you or on your instructions?
  • Does anyone else have access to the Group?
  • Do you have a policy dealing with the use of social media?
  • Is there a requirement in the employee's employment contract to share the username and password with you on termination of employment?

The Twitter account is in the employee's name, so it will be more difficult for you to establish a claim on ownership, especially if the account was created before the employee joined the company or if the employee tweets personal messages.

To avoid these issues, you should:

  • Ensure that the social media accounts are registered using a company email address.
  • Require employees to replicate business contacts on their own social media account onto your own databases.
  • Consider requiring employees to delete all social media connections that have been made through their employment when they leave.
  • Oblige employees to give back usernames and passwords on leaving employment.
  • Include guidance on account ownership in your social media policy.

This article ' In a tangle over social media' originally appeared in the Financial Times on 12 Apil 2014. Rahul Thakrar is an Associate in the Corporate department

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