In today’s digital landscape, social media accounts should undoubtedly be considered an asset of a person’s business. By using social media accounts, companies are able to cheaply, if not freely, expose their products and services to new customers, acquire fans and followers, and create an online place where engagement and communication can happen in real time. The value of having active social media accounts to sell products or services and interact with customers cannot be overstated.
Part of our work in helping small business owners audit and ultimately protect their intellectual property includes taking an inventory of the social media accounts a company may have and making sure the accounts are properly owned by the business owner or principals of the company.
Over the years, we’ve found that many business owners are shocked to learn that at one point their social media pages were set up personally by an employee or marketing agency who is now technically the “owner” of the page. Even if this was done at the owner’s request and on behalf of the owner’s company, court cases and Terms of Service agreements have affirmed that the person named as the administrator of the account (usually the person who set it up) is the legal owner.
Why is this such a problem? Well, essentially, if your employee quits, becomes disgruntled, or falls off the face of the earth, YOUR social media accounts could be lost forever with nothing you can do to remedy the situation.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take before a crisis happens to ensure you have control of your social media. If you discover that an employee set up your social media accounts and may have ownership of your pages, consider taking the following actions while the employee and you are still on good terms:
- Set up new accounts. If you don’t currently have a large following on social media, it may be worthwhile to start over fresh with an account that’s fully under your ownership and control. Abandon the old pages in your employee’s name and set up pages that you own. You can then begin to drive new followers or “fans” to your pages and give employees admin privileges instead of ownership privileges if they are helping you manage the accounts.
- Use agreements to ensure you own the content that’s created on your social media accounts. In addition to reclaiming ownership of your accounts, it’s also a wise idea to have employees sign a work for hire agreement that states any content created and posted on your company’s social networking sites is the sole property of your company.
- Transfer ownership of pages when possible. If you’ve taken the time to build up the followers on your page and you don’t want to start again, it may be possible to transfer ownership of the pages back to you if you are still in communication with the employee who set the pages up. On Facebook, the employee can use the Business Manager to transfer ownership and remove him or herself from the page. On Twitter, once the employee is logged in, they can go to “Settings and Privacy” to change the email address on file from his or her name to yours.
- Go after the employee for using your intellectual property. If the previous employee is not willing to cooperate or transfer ownership of your company’s pages back to you, you may be able to work with an intellectual property lawyer to bring an infringement claim.
It’s critical that you take whatever steps are necessary to avoid being held hostage by an employee or marketing agency when it comes to the ownership of your social media accounts. If you are concerned that someone has access to your digital assets and you’d like to retake control in order to protect your business and brand, we invite you to contact our intellectual property lawyers at 888-666-0062 to schedule a consultation.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.
Law Office of Jason H. Rosenblum, PLLC © 2018 All rights reserved.