There are a lot of companies out there who leapt onto the social media bandwagon without looking. More importantly, without understanding the media or how it worked. Something I see regularly is a business that delegates this responsibility to its newer employees, to an employee who appears to understand the media, or even to an intern. These individuals are left to their own devices with no oversight, no expectations, and most importantly in this case, no clear lines of ownership.
While social media sites are changing to accommodate business and corporate structures, many are still based on individuals: a real person with a personal account used for personal things. When an individual builds a social media presence and uses it to promote a company and then that individual leaves, who owns the account? In many cases, the company has summarily taken possession of the account, and even sued the account holder for possession (see my article: Who Owns a Social Networking Account?). This is a nasty business that can cost in many unforeseen ways including lost prestige for the brand.
Last week, a judge ruled that a company that takes control of an employee’s social media account, while not in violation of anti-hacking laws, is liable for unauthorized use of the employee’s name and likeness. In essence, while a corporate entity is not considered a hacker for taking over and locking a person out of their social networking account, they can be successfully accused of impersonation, with the account reverting back to the original owner.
Since social media is a combination of marketing, sales, and customer service all in one, ownership of the responsibility as well as of the accounts can be difficult to pin down even within a corporate structure.
The key to avoiding this whole quagmire is to treat social media like any other marketing venture. Clearly define expectations and ownership – in writing. Treat the employees, interns, or contractors who create blog posts and other writing on company time for the benefit of the company as staff writers or work for hire positions with content ownership clearly defined.
As technology changes and businesses fumble around for the next big thing, the core essentials of ownership have not changed and will remain a constant for whatever new media appears on the horizon.
- Treat social media for business as any other aspect of the business.
- Clearly define social media account ownership.
- Clearly define social media expectations and conduct.
- Clearly define intellectual property and creative property ownership.