April 15, 2014 Last updated September 18th, 2018 1,149 Reads share

LinkedIn: So Just Who Owns Your Profile?

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Picture the scene. You’re working for a company and, like many others, you’re using your LinkedIn profile to build the business’s network and you also use it to nurture relationships and increase sales using its range of excellent tools. Now you decide to move jobs and to another company, so you pack up your things and say your goodbyes. But your boss has other ideas! Before you leave, you’re asked to hand over your LinkedIn account access details. The big question now is….. Who owns the LinkedIn contacts and the profile? And unfortunately, this is a question no-one ever asks until it’s too late!

In 2008, a former employee of a recruitment company was *ordered by the High Court [UK] to hand over business contacts built up on his personal page of the social networking site LinkedIn. There are many other cases recorded over the last few years that involved similar scenarios. These have included employees moving on to their next job, confident that they could take the contacts with them. But some might say they were taking the company client list with them….

So, where do you stand? – The facts at a glance..

In LinkedIn’s user agreement it states that:

  1. “If you are using LinkedIn on behalf of a company or other legal entity, you are nevertheless individually bound by this Agreement even if your company has a separate agreement with us.”
  2. You own the information you provide LinkedIn under this Agreement, and may request its deletion at any time, unless you have shared information or content with others and they have not deleted it, or it was copied or stored by other users.”
  3. “The profile you create on LinkedIn will become part of LinkedIn and except for the information that you license to us is owned by LinkedIn. However, between you and others, your account belongs to you.”
  4. “You agree to: (1) keep your password secure and confidential; (2) not permit others to use your account; (3) not use other’s accounts; (4) not sell, trade, or transfer your LinkedIn account to another party; and (5) not charge anyone for access to any portion of LinkedIn, or any information therein.”

So, I’m sure you’ll agree that the lines are becoming even more blurred.  But still, LinkedIn seems to be saying pretty clearly in the above excerpt, that their relationship is with you.

But who really owns your LinkedIn profile and your contacts? To ensure there are no questions to ask (or answer), these blurred lines should be clarified when you start working with a new company or when you start to use your LinkedIn profile for the benefit of the business you are in.

Three steps to clarifying the use and ownership of your LinkedIn account in your new position

Step 1: Review the staff handbook

Review the staff handbook and see if there is any reference to LinkedIn or using social media in the company. Do they have any policy or guidelines around ownership of contacts and use?

Step 2: Agree a policy or set down guidelines

To ensure there are no grey areas you need to sit down with your boss / company owner and agree a policy around…

1. What accounts (social media or business networking) will be used to benefit the business?

2. Who retains ownership of the account and more importantly the contacts? Can you walk away with the account or will they ask for you to hand over the account access details when you leave? Take into account LinkedIn’s User Agreement quoted above. It does state that you should not transfer your account to another party. To ensure you comply with LinkedIn’s User Agreement the policy should only include specifics around the contacts you make. Part of the agreement could include:

  • How contacts will be transferred / exported without having to transfer your account to another party?
  • Will you disconnect from contacts made during your time with the company and when is this expected to happen? See help on how to export contacts from LinkedIn . Click here to see the steps to disconnecting from several connections at once.
  • How will you be able to differentiate your own contacts vs. company contacts? Before using LinkedIn for the company, consider exporting your contact list and keep on-file until needed. You can cross reference. Alternatively you can see the date each contact was added by visiting the persona profile and clicking relationship tab (just under their profile image).

3. What activity will take place? This should tie in directly to your LinkedIn strategy

  • Who are you trying to connect with?
  • What are the goals and targets?
  • How will you reach these goals and targets?
  • What tools do you need to reach these goals and targets e.g. upgraded account, InMail. Agree how upgrade payments will be processed. These include company credit card, your own credit cards and reimbursement via expenses.

4. Get guidelines around how you describe your position and summary. Ensure it fits in with the company ethos and brand.

Step 3: Review the policy or guidelines regularly

As the world of digital marketing evolves, so should your policy and/or guidelines.  Ensure that it is fully up-to-date and all parties agree to it.

In order to get some legal clarity on this issue, our own legal advisor was happy to provide us with the legalities of what can be a complicated issue…

“When professional social media profiles like LinkedIn and employment law collide, the outcome may be uncertain unless the rights and obligations of the employee and the employer are agreed and set out in writing. While employment conditions can also be agreed verbally or by custom and practice, clear and practical written terms and policies are best.

These policies should, at least, cover whether and how your LinkedIn or other professional social media profiles will be used for the business, what contacts remain yours, what contacts are solely your employer’s, what happens to your content and contacts when you move on and what interaction you can have with certain contacts when you do. While this type of agreement would be subject to legal principles governing employment law and non-compete obligations, it would be a brave employee who would hope to rely on their LinkedIn or other User Agreements to establish the boundaries of the legal duties they owe to a former employer.”    So, many thanks to Michael Fitzsimons from www.tmrlaw.ie

Undoubtedly, the workplace has changed with the arrival of Social Media and with this change has come uncertainty and a little caution in the world of HR and indeed Employment Law. Today, we’ve looked at why care must be taken with regard to Social Media and why it’s crucial both employers and employees are sure of their ground when the worlds of Social Media and business collide.

So, if you’re moving on to that next big role, think carefully about your LinkedIn contacts and ensure that you, your current and future employers all know the answer to that big question…who owns your LinkedIn contacts.

* Source http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Images: ” MANCHESTER-FEB 13: Linkedin website home page on Feb 13, 2014 in Manchester, UK. LinkedIn is a social networking website for people in professional occupations. The site is available in 20 languages.  / Shutterstock.com

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Sandra Hennessy

Sandra Hennessy

has a passion for all things digital and when Sandra set up her new business in 2010 her main objective was to empower businesses to manage their online marketing in-house at an affordable cost. For 12 years Sandra has been providing online marketing services and a suite of online marketing training programmes for training organisations and SME's in Ireland.

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