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Who Owns Your Employee’s Social Media Contacts?

Do you know who owns your business's social media contacts?
 
What about your employee's contacts?
 
Nearly every business has a social media presence these days and for obvious reasons.  Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest allow businesses to advertise directly to potential customers.  LinkedIn gives users the opportunity to develop new business leads.  Many businesses have recognized that there is enormous value in the contact information captured through these social media sites. 
 
Because of this value, employees, either on their own initiative or at the urging of their employer, are utilizing social media for business development purposes.  LinkedIn is the most obvious example.  As a result of these sites, employee's personal social media accounts are becoming valuable property for their employers.
 
This raises the question: When an employee leaves your company, do you know what happens to their LinkedIn contacts?
 
Although the law is still evolving in this area, these social media contacts are likely the property of your employee.  If the employee departs your business and does not share these contacts with you, you cannot force the employee to turnover these contacts.  Additionally, unless you have an agreement in place, you cannot stop the employee from using these contacts for future business development purposes.
 
To protect your business in the event that an employee does leave with a valuable cache of business contacts, here are some actions to be taken:
•    Maintain a Central Contact Database: Have your employees upload their social media contacts to a shared contact database.  This way the contacts become the property of the business, and you have access to that contact information if your employee leaves the company.
•    Impose Non-Solicitation & Non-Compete Agreements: If your employees have not signed non-solicitation and non-compete agreements, they should.  Well-written non-solicitation and non-compete agreements will minimize the impact of an employee leaving with these social media contacts.
 
Again, the law in this area is still evolving.  Courts across the country have taken different positions on social media-related legal issues.  Before taking any action to protect your company's social media contacts, contact a member of MacDonald Illig's Emerging Technologies Practice Group.
 
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