Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts are an important part of the online identity of a business. As disputes over ownership of social media accounts rise, businesses need to understand the implications of employees using personal social media accounts for the benefit of the business.
In the U.S., a number of recent court cases address ownership of an employee’s personal social media accounts that were used to promote their employer’s business as well as what rights an employer has to access those accounts:
Employers cannot intentionally access an employee’s personal social media accounts without authorization (even when that employee uses those accounts as part of their employment.) Further, the employer should receive authorization to use those accounts and the extent of that authorization should be clearly laid out on paper.
2. Personal Accounts Remain Personal
When an employee brings their personal social media accounts to a business the personal nature of those accounts, in many cases, does not change even though the accounts may be used to promote their employer’s business. Use of those accounts by an employer beyond authorization may constitute a false association of the business with the employee or violate state specific publicity statutes or common law privacy rights.
The Solution: If possible, start fresh and create a new social media account and password for the employee. The password should be immediately changed when the employee leaves the company. Where you must use an employee’s personal account, I recommend that the terms of such use be put in writing and that details the scope of use, access rights and ownership of the accounts and related content. Alternatively, if the personal social media account is important to your business, consider purchasing it from the employee.