Who Owns Your LinkedIn Profile? What EVERYONE Needs To Know

It’s natural to think that your LinkedIn profile belongs only to you. It’s contains so much of your hard work and personal knowledge, it seems out-of-the-question that anything else
could possibly be the case. However, as business begins to recognise the
value social media brings to the bottom line, the issue of ownership of
social activities is coming to the fore. So, if you tweet for work, use
Facebook for search, or LinkedIn to network, this post is for you.

Recruiters, you’re the lab rats
Lab Rats 300x201 Who Owns Your LinkedIn Profile? What EVERYONE Needs To Know
Recruiters, as early adopters and often super users of tools like LinkedIn, are in the front line of the coming conflict between employer and employee. Whatever is going to happen in this tug-of-war for social network ownership
will happen to us first. As such, the recruitment industry which is a
real time laboratory to see how this might all play out for everyone
else. I’m sure no one will hold it against me for saying it, but for
now, recruiters are the lab rats.

stealing database Who Owns Your LinkedIn Profile? What EVERYONE Needs To Know
For an individual recruitment agent, the benefits of networking tools like LinkedIn
are obvious – it is a portable CRM, a constantly expanding database of
candidates and a self updating business development tool. The
traditional downside of leaving an employer – the loss of a network of
carefully cultivated contacts and therefore, sales opportunity – is
largely eliminated by the portability of a LinkedIn
account. What is to stop a recruitment agent joining a firm, building a
network of contacts and then simply moving on with that enhanced book
of business? He becomes a much higher value employee in the open market
due to his expanded contact
book, and is likely to command added market value as a result. What’s
more, he’s free to repeat again and increase his value with further
moves down the line.

Restrictive covenant clauses don’t cover it
Restrictive Covenant Who Owns Your LinkedIn Profile? What EVERYONE Needs To Know
The Restrictive Covenant has
been the traditional employer defence for this type of behaviour. They
are standard in recruiter employment contracts and they are designed to
provide a degree of legal redress for employer; however, such clauses
typically cover only those contacts deemed as ‘clients’ or invoiced
customers within a specified time frame. The number of these contacts,
even for a phenomenally successful recruiter, is likely to be a small
fraction of the overall network that he has access to.

Danger sign 300x253 Who Owns Your LinkedIn Profile? What EVERYONE Needs To Know
The danger for the employers is clear. Consultants can sign up, hoover up contacts, plug them into their LinkedIn
network and move on. In a survey I conducted from a random sample of 10
national recruitment companies, 7 out of 10 confirmed that they were in
the process of amending their restrictive covenant clauses to cover
social media activity. If adopted throughout the wider economy, it will
have enormous ramifications on how we as individuals manage and use
social networks.

The gist of these contractual clauses is an employer is entitled to consider the tools it provides for employees to be returned to the
company when the employee leaves. It’s widely accepted that when you
resign, you agree to leave behind your company email, telephone number
and various hardware items like laptop, mobile phone and whatever else
the company has provided you with to do your job. In short, you agree to
leave behind your corporate identity when you resign from post. And here is where we run into a major controversy when it comes to social media.

Who owns your account, your connections, friends or followers?

question mark 220x300 Who Owns Your LinkedIn Profile? What EVERYONE Needs To Know
On a poll I cast recently on one of those networks, there was disagreement on this issue with 76% of respondents holding an
unalloyed belief that their LinkedIn
profile belonged to them and not the company who employed them.
Interestingly, of the 24% who disagreed (that is to say, thought that
the employers had a case), all were legal professionals
specialising on employment law or HR professionals who were
investigating precisely this position with their current companies. When
there is a big disconnect between what the people believe, and what
expert legal opinion say, there reason to worry. What’s more…

There is already a legal precedence.
Scales of justice 300x291 Who Owns Your LinkedIn Profile? What EVERYONE Needs To Know
In 2008, UK recruiter Hays successfully argued that an ex employees LinkedIn connections belonged to it,
particularly during that period where he was employed by the company.
The individual concerned was deemed to have breached his restricted
convenant by utilising his LinkedIn
network after he had left his employer and was forced to give up his
account, and ‘hand over’ his connections, although it was still unclear
how the latter was enforced. The implications of this ruling, for recruiters,
and for anybody else who uses social media for their work, are ominous.
Building your network as a corporate employee might lead you to leave
those networks behind when you leave that company. Imagine, for a
moment, how it would feel to leave behind your hundreds of LinkedIn connects, your thousands of Twitter followers and have to start over again in your new role.

In today’s world where your online visibility, personal brand and degree of connectedness are key tools in your job security, rulings of the type exemplified by the Hays ruling in 2008 put employee and
employer interests in direct conflict. The first major legal case is
surely not far away.

What you need to do for the time being
1. Set up an alternative email to link with your LinkedIn account – don’t leave and lose access to your account by leaving your work email as the default.

2. Pay for it yourself – that’s right, refuse any company offer to pay for or subsidise your account. Pay out of your own pocket, so that it’s
clear that it is a personal tool you voluntarily use for company

3. Scrutinise your employment contract and escalate the online ID clauses to the same level of priority as you would do for salary and benefits

If you enjoyed this post, share it!

Views: 5544

Comment by C. B. Stalling!! on September 7, 2010 at 8:44am
I enjoyed it (long) but good. Sent over to my office manager to review for our policy....
Comment by Geoff Clendenning on September 7, 2010 at 10:38am
An excellent post, and an issue we struggle with here at our recruiting firm.

Comment by Paul Alfred on September 7, 2010 at 12:39pm
This is an excellent post ... I really feel that if a professional in the HR Recruitment world who has thousands of contacts on Linkedin decides to work for an employer you definitely set up a new account under your name working as an Employee of that Company and use Linked licensed tools paid for by that employer ... Great so we know who owns what ....

Here is the kicker ... An Employer is going to hire that Professional based on his professional status on LinkedIn (The value of "His/her" Connections) ... There has to be an agreement that it never changes and you have a right to keep those connections after employment has ended ... Perhaps we need some legal minds in on this ....
Comment by Johnny Reyes on September 7, 2010 at 1:46pm
This is a great topic and one that will stir debates and legal issues for a long time. Even a legal expert would be hard pressed to give an affirmative decision on who owns the profile.
Comment by John Rose on September 8, 2010 at 2:40pm
Very good and worth spreading the word. If your role is to 'develop business or opportunities' you need to heed and apply the last part of this article - "What you need to do for the time being..."
Comment by Aaron Lintz on September 8, 2010 at 3:17pm
Linkedin does a very good job of hiding the free option to export your contacts. Google's BETA contacts system may not be the most elegant solution, but it does a fine job of searching for duplicates, tagging contacts by category, etc. No known storage limit & the ability to import and export in all the popular ways makes this a great backup solution. Also portable since you can access online, phone, etc. Salesforce charges $5/mo for the same thing.

Ability to sync would be ideal, but I am sure they are working on that.

Comment by Gerry Crispin on September 8, 2010 at 4:56pm
Good post. I've had lots of discussion with employers this year on the issue and most are still 'waiting to see'

As an Employer however - going forward I would (from the beginning) contractually require F/T (and most especially contract recruiters) to use corporate named (and owned) accounts i.e. "Gerry Crispin at J&J" while at work for all social media activities from Twitter to Facebook to Linkedin etc. All campaigns would drive prospects to groups owned by the employer and, when the recruiter left, not only would I take them back immediately but I would also mine them and move them within 24 hours.

As a recruiter I would NEVER mix my personal or professional accounts that were developed outside the firm with company accounts and NEVER let the company pay directly for anything. I would however, raise my rates to ensure I could pay for it. I would also be clear with my top prospects that I wanted to stay connected to that I wanted to have a personal, longer term, 'friend' connection beyond the company and have them link to my personal account....and periodically and randomly I would copy and save the email invitation to that effect. Say what you want 9 lawyer or no)t but if a firm decides to go after an individual it is an unfair fight and it doesn't matter whether you think you legally own all those connections. just sayin.

This is going to heat up next year.
Comment by Hung Lee on September 9, 2010 at 2:01pm
Thanks for the comments guys>

Paul - absolutely, it would be great to hear from legal/employment law types on this issue - I think we need it!

Jackie - that's a very interesting case study. Do you know why Microsoft backed down? Do you think they would do so again, in this climate?

Gerry - I think we all appreciate your honesty, and great to see things from both sides. It will be interesting how this pans out, I think we are going to see a lot of experienced recruiters set up on their own rather than join a business who might force them to hand over LinkedIn connections.
Comment by Gerry Crispin on September 9, 2010 at 4:02pm
Hung - I think you are right.

It might interest folks to know that top competitive employers are requiring (and will require) much more information about 'pool' of prospects from 3rd party 'partners' in the future. Not just the candidates presented...but ALL the candidates (not just a final slate) considered. Already a staple at the C-Level with provisos on how long these names will be 'owned' for commission purposes.

Not a big leap to this discussion. Personally I think any recruiter of the 'hunter' variety working within a firm should get paid a very high premium (3x at least) over what the post and pray recruiting school would command. If I didn't get that I would be outta there too. (And BTW, these folks are the first to go on the down side for obvious reasons).
Comment by Ian Millar on September 10, 2010 at 3:01pm
Many companies are now attempting to discourage us and possibly even block LinkedIn; which I think is a mistake. My current employer won't reimburse any ads or usage on LInkedIn, because Legal deems it a liability.


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