The Hot Debate Over LinkedIn Profile Ownership
Question: If you use LinkedIn at your workplace, who retains ownership of your profile, and all of your connections?
Answer: It may not be you.
In an article published June 2008, www.telegraph.co.uk reporter Richard Tyler revealed, “A former employee of recruitment firm Hays has been ordered by the High Court to hand over business contacts built up on his personal page of the social networking site LinkedIn. The decision is one of the first to highlight the tension between businesses encouraging employees to use social networking websites for work but then claiming that the contacts remain confidential information at the end of their employment.”
The law here is very grey; however, most employment contracts state that, if you leave the job for any reason, everything and anything you used during the course of employment, from software and hardware to tools and office supplies, belongs to the employer.
The murky argument is then raised: If you create, maintain and build a hefty LI profile while employed, can you take it with you when you go? In other words, to whom do all of your contacts belong? Not to mention, the murky waters become downright sticky when factoring in the typical non-compete agreement.
In the HR world in particular, this is a question that deserves deep consideration. If the employee retains ownership, he or she is essentially walking out the door with valuable company contacts. If the employer retains ownership, the employee may be less than enthusiastic about social networking during work hours, thinking “What’s in it for me?”
Some employees come to the employer with added value ‘built in’, specifically because of the networks they have built. LinkedIn is, of course, the perfect place to grow a budding network. This begs yet another question: do those connections then represent peer relationships, or company-to-prospect/company-to-client relationships? Who decides?
Currently, it is the employee’s responsibility to understand network ownership policies that may exist within the workplace. The problem is, in most companies, they don’t exist. As employers work to catch up with the effects of a speeding Internet, no doubt new policies will be crafted to address these issues. For example, while the non-compete addresses the time limit within which the former employee cannot reach out to former clients, can we assume this also covers relationships defined by social interaction? How would an employer regulate such a thing? And what about connections the employee built prior to employment…where does the employer draw the line on which connections must be “handed over”?
Five Ways Employees Can Protect Themselves
1. Set up a separate email account to which all LinkedIn emails and connection requests are copied.
2. Export your contacts to a CSV file as a backup of the names and email addresses of your connections.
3. Export your profile as a PDF, so you don’t lose your recommendations.
4. Do number 2 & 3 at regular intervals.
5. Nurture relationships with people! A list of contacts on paper is meaningless without the engagement to support it.
Employers should ask themselves, not “Who owns the connections?”, but “What can I do to develop relationships with these connections, whether the employee stays or leaves?” If both employer and employee remember the Golden Rule of LinkedIn – quality, not quantity – perhaps this debate will one day have a harmonious ending.
Victoria Ipri is CEO of Modello Media, Inc., an e-marketing strategy firm based in suburban Philadelphia, PA. She welcomes your questions and comments on this forum, or contact her directly at: ModelloMedia@gmail.com