Leveraging Employees? – Avoiding the Pitfalls of the Social Ownership Question

Should you own your employee's social accounts and activity?  Maybe not.

Should you own your employee’s social accounts and activity? Maybe not.

Employee engagement with customers on social is perhaps the greatest untapped resource at your company.  It is also probably one of the greatest risks.  We have spent a fair amount of time discussing employees acting on their own without any incentive.  What we haven’t talked about for a while is what about those who you pay to do this.

What do you want to own when it comes to employees.  In most cases you want to distance yourself from your employee’s content.  Why?  To avoid all the liability that comes into play with it.  Attempts to control their message will also play into this.

If you edit everyone’s posts about your company, regulators will, correctly, assume that it is your message.  If it would be illegal for you to say it, it will then be illegal for them to say it?

That being said, what about the employee’s who generate interest about your company.  Who talk regularly in online channels about what your company does.  You have a huge interest in their message, therefore you have a huge interest in those accounts.  What do you do?

Account ownership – what should you own, and how should you own it

You have an interest in any employee’s activities that are meant for the brand.  This is true whether they are manning the phone, or developing new technology.  If they are doing it for you, you are compensating them, and it is yours.

You need to exert control over this speech as it is yours.  Whether you edit before or deal with it after, it is yours.  There are plenty of examples out there of employees getting it wrong on behalf of their company.  Some have even been sacked.

So there are lots of accounts in this universe of speech about your brand.  Should you own the accounts?  Should you own all the followers that are generated?  What are you to do.

I think that you need to exert ownership over these accounts and this speech.  However, I think you need to be practical about it.

– Total ownership.  You direct an employee to setup a new account to do the company’s work through.  In this case, you own everything.  If the employee leaves the company, they don’t get to take this with them, no matter how much of themselves they’ve put into it.  I would also suggest you put something of the brand in that online identity.

– Partial ownership (pre-existing account, no network).  The first example is easy.  This is harder.  An employee already has an account, but they don’t have that big of a network.  By working at your company they develop a large network of followers.  I don’t think you want to own the account.  I also don’t think you want to actually own the followers when the employee leaves.  What I think you want is the customer list that is generated.  It was generated on your time.

Partial ownership (per-existing account, large network).  In cases where you hire someone because of their social footprint, I think this will be a case by case basis.  If you can determine what part of the network was created after their employment started, I think you have in interest in that.  If you can’t, I think you leave it alone.

Agreements, agreements

While I think there are good cases for being practical, you need to have well-executed agreements in place.  They should explain in sufficient detail the duties and responsibilities of each party when an employee speaks on behalf of the employer. This doesn’t have to be a meeting where the employer lays down the law but one where a good dialogue goes on. The employer needs to be realistic about their goals.

Be practical though.  Do you care about the ownership of “Advice4Life,” or do you care about the fans that this person generates while at your company? If “Advice4Life” was created because the employer asked for it, then yes, you do care about the account. If the employee had “Advice4Life” from before they started and you want to start leveraging it, you may have some issues to deal with as an employer, unless you have an agreement in place.

Social media audits

When you bring employees into your social teams or any team that has communication responsibilities do an audit of what they have.  This helps you establish a base line of what is there and helps you determine what was done with your resources.  It is important to do this.  In the case of Eagle v. Morgan (Trial Order) the court stated that Edcomm didn’t prove that the contacts were “developed and built through the investment of Edcomm” resources.

You probably need to do this on a regular basis to ensure that your interests are looked after.  This is also an opportunity to update the agreements in place.  The first agreement should include a provision that allows you to do this with respect to newly generated accounts.  Carry it as an exhibit to the original.

The debate is not over

I think we should see more activity in this area as the value of your social media footprint increases.  Employers will look to this and want to exert ownership in new places.  Be honest about what you want, have good conversations with your employees, and do audits.  Take the findings and draft simple, clearly understood agreements.

If you are at a company that has no agreements in place, you are starting from a bad place.  Reach out to someone who can help you with the audit and get cracking.  This will save you heartache down the road.

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