Monday, 19 November 2012

Whose social network is it anyway?

Social media has changed the world we live in.  It's not just the daily scandal about what some premiership footballer said on Twitter.  Social media has changed business too. In one of the most hyped IPOs (Initial Public Offering) in years, Facebook went public. Investors went mad. Suddenly though, Facebook was worth half what it was a year ago (poor old Mark Zuckerberg, eh?).

Social media is changing the society we live in too.  If you believe some people (my Grandad), then Facebook / Twitter / Blackberry Messenger (they're all the same, aren't they?) actually caused the riots in the UK last year.  It's the pinnacle of the downfall of society!  The fall of Rome!  Why doesn't anyone write a letter anymore?

The debates are endless and the issues virtually limitless.  I just want to focus on one small area and that is how social media can affect an employment contract.

For example, many employees have a LinkedIn profile.  Some even use it.  A minority might even use it as they're supposed to. They establish connections and a network of contacts for the benefit of the employer's business.  Great?

There is, however, a problem.  What happens when the employee leaves?  What happens to all those great connections and the network of contacts?  Many businesses (some say all) are based on those personal relationships and connections.  It used to be just weirdos who contacted strangers online.  For many business professionals it's now a part of everyday life.

But is there not some inherent value in those personal relationships?  If an employee has been using LinkedIn as part of their job, in the course of employment for the purpose of furthering their employer's business, who "owns" those connections?  Who "owns" the social network (see what I did there)?

Social networks have a value to any business that uses them.  For employers, one way of protecting that value is through a properly drafted employment contract which addresses social media.  There's no point ignoring it, after all.

Posted by Simon Hall, trainee in the employment law practice.

Simon Hall -

Simon started his training contract in January 2012 and his experience includes working on shareholder and director disputes, contractual disputes, personal insolvency and consumer claims. 

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