Who Owns Your Friends?

Here's an interesting tidbit from JimRomenesko.com about a reporter who had built a following on her Facebook and Twitter accounts, and what happened when the new owner of her station put in place a social media policy:

At this juncture, I am retaining ownership of my existingFacebook and Twitter pages. Therefore, the company has started new social media accounts in my name for me to use during work hours when I am covering stories. The company has administrative control over these accounts.

It would be easy to think this kind of thing only applies to businesses with "talents" like news organizations, theaters, etc., but that would be wrong. As social media in its varying forms becomes  ingrained in the way we do business, the question of who "owns" friends/followers will be as fundamental as who "owns" a salesperson's contact list.  Many companies avoid this problem by having only one official company Facebook page, Twitter account, LinkedIn page, etc. so there's no question about who "owns" those followers, but for those companies that decide to allow their employees to develop distinct social media presences as company representatives this is a vital consideration.

 You might wonder why any company would allow an employee to develop a distinct social media presence. After all, you'd think that would distract from the company's core social media property. That's a valid concern, but when you stop to consider what you pay people to do in the "real world" – attend industry conferences, develop sales channels, develop relationships with the trade media, etc. – why wouldn't you want them to do the same things via social media? If you're willing to embrace the messiness and chaos that this brings to your social media portfolio then you're likely to generate plenty of business through these efforts, but you also better be ready to protect your business by making it clear who "owns" those channels and the related followers/fans/friends.

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