Who Owns Your Company’s Social Media Accounts?

If you haven’t thought about how your social media accounts operate and about who owns them, it’s time to wake up before you have a nightmare.

According to one of several court rulings, the owner is the person whose name appears as the administrator on the account. EEK! That’s scary. Does your company have anything in writing that says otherwise? Do you know whose name (or names) is listed as the administrator on your company’s social media accounts?

Your social networks should be viewed as company assets. If you have employees managing them without a signed ownership policy, your organization could be in danger.

How can you protect your business? Create a social media ownership policy, and include the following fundamental elements. Always be sure to consult with an attorney or HR professional when creating compay policies.

Ownership of Social Media Usernames

This is a no-brainer. Your company’s name is part of your brand. It should not be used in any other way by anyone who is not part of, or affiliated with, your company. Your ownership policy should specifically outline all your company’s usernames, and state clearly that you own the rights to each name. It should also say that no new company usernames may be created at any time without express permission from company leadership.

Ownership of Social Media Content

Employees should agree that any content they create and post on your company’s social networking sites is under a work for hire agreement and is the sole property of your company. Work for hire means the content employees create is part of their job. Even if they have not specifically signed a work-for-hire agreement, work for hire is automatically implemented when someone becomes an employee of your company.

Also include language about content an employee may not consider to be work for hire. This is to cover yourself if there is any disagreement. Employees must agree to assign your company all rights, titles and interests to the content that is not deemed to be work for hire.

What happens if an employee who creates and posts social media content leaves? You’ll need an extra line item in your policy. It should say that any content the employee created on or for your company’s social networking sites, or that relates in any way to your company, may not be used under any circumstance after employment.

Ownership Rights to Access and Control Company Social Media Accounts

Any employees given administrative rights to company social media accounts must agree to provide access to all passwords and usernames. They must agree to provide access to any online groups they create under your company’s name. And they must transfer all management rights and authorizations of those groups to the company upon request, or at termination. All company social media accounts should be registered using a company email address, if possible, to avoid confusion.

Ownership of Company’s Social Media Fans and Followers

Your company owns the rights to the fans and followers of all social media accounts it has established. This includes Facebook, LinkedIn, company Twitter account followers, Instagram account followers and others. Your company also owns the rights to any contact lists, Twitter lists, Facebook custom audience lists and all other fan and follower lists employees created while they were an employee or under a specific work-for-hire agreement.

Don’t overstep the boundaries, however. Your company does not own your employees’ personal account logins. This includes Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections (not the same as LinkedIn fans following your LinkedIn company page) and personal Twitter account followers. The same is true of other personal accounts belonging to your employees that are not affiliated with your company and were not set up under a work-for-hire agreement.

Just because a prospective employee has scores of great connections doesn’t mean they suddenly belong to your company when you hire that person. You own your company accounts; employees own their personal accounts.

Once you’ve created your social media ownership policy, it’s important for all employees to review it and have the opportunity to ask questions. Ownership of your company’s social media accounts should not be negotiable. If you get pushback from someone on any of the four policy elements outlined here, that’s a good indication that person shouldn’t be managing a social media business account.

Include Consultants and Outside Agencies in the Policy

Don’t forget consultants and agencies who are hired to manage your social media on an outsourced basis. They often take over administrative rights, which means they could kick you off your own social networks at any time. It’s critical to have a signed contract that says your company owns everything, regardless of the work these consultants do on your behalf.

The last thing you want is a contractor running off with full control of your company’s Facebook page after you’ve worked so hard to earn a good reputation and a lot of supportive fans. It’s your responsibility to protect those fans, as well as your company’s reputation. Social media ownership policies and contracts give you more power and could possibly save you the hassle and expense of a lawsuit.