Articles

Who Owns Your Company’s Social Media Accounts?

As social media develops and matures, companies are realizing that platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram can be used to reach customers and clients in ways that traditional print and media advertising simply cannot.

Accordingly, in an effort to take advantage of the power of social media, companies are now commonly asking employees to register and maintain social media accounts for the benefit of the company.  These employees are often tasked with posting messages, communicating with the company’s “followers” and “friends,” and creating and publishing content on these platforms.  Marketing through social media has proven to be successful.  There are issues, however, that should be addressed before your company decides to join this movement.

Consider the following scenario:

Company X asks one of its employees, Jane Doe, to register and maintain a variety of social media accounts to market Company X and develop customer and client relationships.  Jane sets up accounts on a variety of platforms, and over the course of the following year, she diligently publishes content and messages, interacts with customers and clients, and develops a large number of “followers” and “friends” for Company X.  Jane has done a great job developing a loyal community and Company X’s business is thriving as a result.

For unrelated reasons, Jane is fired later that year.  Angered by her termination, Jane posts a series of messages on Company X’s social media accounts that state that Company X is a poorly run business and a horrible place to work.  Jane also decides to open her own competing business, “Company Y,” and invites all of Company X’s customers to follow her to the new company.

Company X demands that Jane stop posting on its social media accounts and asks Jane to turn over all login information for those accounts.  Jane refuses believing she has the right to continue to use the accounts that she created and developed.  Litigation ensues.

What can we learn from this example?  Clearly, it is important to establish the company’s ownership and control over the social media accounts up front.  Prior to allowing/asking an employee to register and/or maintain a social media account on behalf of the company, agreements should be created that define the ownership of these social media accounts.  Although written agreements will not eliminate every dispute, by setting forth the parties’ expectations ahead of time, the risk of conflict will be reduced.  Moreover, resolution of any remaining disputes should be easier.

At the most basic level, these types of agreement should:

  • state that any account registered or managed as part of the employee’s job duties belongs solely to the company;
  • provide that any employee tasked with creating or maintaining a social media account on behalf of the company is required to disclose all login information (usernames, passwords, 2 factor authentication information, etc.), and that the employee will take all reasonable steps to ensure that the company is able to access and manage these accounts; and
  • expressly state that the employee agrees that all associated account names, profiles, followers and content created or maintained in relation to the social media accounts belong to the company.

A simple agreement can ensure that each party understands what rights it has to the social media accounts that are being created.  Conversely, a failure to address these issues proactively may lead to unnecessary headaches down the road.