Thursday, January 5, 2012

Does Your Company Have a Social Media Guideline?

Hey founders under 40 group members does your company have a social media policy before you hire that new employee?  - Me

Some companies have social media guidelines—Citi, H&R Block, SAP, and Edelman, to name a few. But most companies don’t. The workforce solutions firm Manpower found that only 29% of American companies have a formal policy regarding employee use of social networking sites. While all the ramifications of mixing personal and business social media profiles are unclear, most companies welcome (or even order) employees to evangelize for their brands through social media because that’s the way the world is going. It’s better to be in the game than left behind.

So who, exactly, owns a social media profile? It seems to be clear that Twitter or Facebook accounts that were created by a company, and that incorporate the company’s brand name(s) or logo (such as @SAP), are fully entitled to these accounts, even when employees who operate them depart. How the account is used may also determine who owns the profile. “If the account is built strictly based on interactions on behalf of the company, legally the company would most likely have the right” to the account, says Frank Eliason, a social media executive at Citi and former operator of [<>]on Twitter.

On the other hand, if an individual employee’s name is either the account name (such as FrankEliason) or part of the account name (like @PhoneDog_Noah), the employee may have the right to walk away with the account. Kravitz seems to have a pretty good case. There is no active engagement on PhoneDog’s current Twitter account, while Kravitz’s account is flourishing with conversations. In other words, it looks like the followers of @PhoneDog_Noah (and later, @NoahKravitz) are following the thoughts and insights of Noah Kravitz, not PhoneDog.

Ideally, clarifying the ownership of a social media account should be taken care of before any account is created, perhaps even before an employee’s first day of work. Zena Weist, [name] vice president of strategy, explains that companies don’t have the right to an account created by an employee “unless they have a written non-compete agreement that clearly states that the employer keeps the account.” If a non-compete containing a social media clause had been agreed to by Kravitz and PhoneDog, it would be crystal clear who had a right to the Twitter account and all those followers.

Even when Twitter account ownership isn’t black and white, it may be wise for companies to back off and err on the side of allowing employees, and even former employees, to use social media profiles however they please. Why? PhoneDog has been bashed in the media for going after Kravitz. The lawsuit has not only hurt the company’s brand, especially among tech-savvy millennials, but may also scare away potential employees. Younger workers in particular say they seek out employers that permit social networks in the workplace without any consequences. Brian Ellefritz, SAP’s vice president of global social media, says that “employees want their company to be open and accessible, from inside or out.” That goes before, during, and after being employed by the company.

Finally, employers must understand and be OK with the idea that social media will be used to boost not only the company’s brands, but the personal brands of its employees as well. “Companies need to accept [employees building brands] or they’ll die and be unable to recruit top talent,” says H&R Block’s Gulbransen.

Building up one’s personal brand through social media is one of the best ways for workers to have sustainable careers these days. Companies should understand this—and understand that it’s often in the best interests of both the company and the individual to allow workers to use social media to build their brands. In addition to supporting their employees, companies need to be upfront and define social media guidelines well before it seems necessary to file a lawsuit.

*Originally written by Dan Schawbel.
*For undo-ordinary marketing strategic needs,  Also a Founders Under 40 Group partner.

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