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As a social entrepreneur in the BeNeLux my focus lies on a holistic approach for helping companies mature their social media exploits, externally and/or internally. Rogier is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 45 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Connection Ownership and how to settle this?

08.01.2013
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It’s nothing new that employers and employees or business partners face each other in court to battle over who gets what. When ‘divorce lawyer’ can be a career choice, you can assume there is plenty of business in settling break-up disputes. Now, with social media and on-line connections, the break-up process has become even more complicated.

The wonderful Jillian Jackson wrote a post about this subject, and it should keep every business and every professional busy.

Who owns the professional connection?

This is a very fair question to ask. And I’m not sure I can answer it to full satisfaction.., but I’ll try. The way I see it, there has to be a clear mutual agreement and a clear guidelines.

battle connections

With the ever more increasing on-line connectivity of employees in a modern social business it gets very difficult to differentiate between personal connections and professional connections. It seems a good place to start.

Personal Connections

This can be defined as a connect with no ties to the company one is working for. But, what if you work for, let’s say, Nike. Every body has a pair of Nike’s in the closet. By that rational, a good friend who runs a lot and connected with you via LinkedIn can be a potential asset to Nike.

You can post something, a latest blog post, on LinkedIn and he can be influenced by that. Despite the fact he knows you work for Nike and has been running on them from even before you met. Still, because of his demographic, Nike could claim the connect.., especially if the connect was made during your employment with Nike.

Tough, huh?

Professional Connection

When you have an on-line presence, you create connections. Further more, your company should want you to connect. It needs brand ambassadors and employees can be the best. Providing preciously useful content for its customers. And we use our own accounts for this.., because we want to be ‘genuine’ and ‘keep it real’.., and extend our personal brand while we’re at it.

Sure, for official communiques there are the corporate Twitter and Facebook accounts.., of course. But, the 150 or so employees who are active on blogs, in forums, on Twitter, Google+, Facebook and all the other available communities are impossible to regulate. And you can’t create a ‘corporate’ account for every eventuality. Well, you can, but it kinda defeats the purpose of having your employees willingly contribute to your social business.

Legal Battles

In 2011 Noah Kravitz was suit by his former employer over his Twitter followers. He created a, to me, impressive following of 17.000. But, did this with the handle @PhoneDog-Noah. Although Kravitz claims the separation was amicable, PhoneDog came down on Kravitz like a ton of bricks. The Social Sphere was keeping an eye on the precedent that would be set via the ruling on this case.

Well, I don’t how it ends. I don’t want to know. I dug a little deeper and find [they] were suing, counter suing, trying to get stuff dismissed, which then didn’t get dismissed.., it’s a farce and a waste of our time.

One word.., SOCIAL. Why do we need a court ruling on every single fart we inadvertently let escape. I mean, really, do we need to set a legal precedence here.., I say we can settle this like grown ups.

Between Partners

Jillian’s question was more between business partners than between employee/employer. But, I think there can be an equally satisfying solution.

Imagine there is a breakup between partners.

If you take ownership of ‘friendship A’, what does your partner do? Un-friend that person? That’s just silly.

I think “owning” the real account to the client can be detrimental to deciding ownership. Or, the one retaining the rights to the brand or ownership of the company should have first dibs on ‘connections’

And, I do believe that this is only a matter when earnings are involved. A ‘connect’ on Twitter holds little weight. A signed contract for a service a lot more.

The Twitter account connected to the contract is a free for all, nobody can deny you the right to connect. How you communicate is a different matter.

Prenup

But, here we assume nothing is set up front. That no contract was signed or agreement was met.

It should be settled up front (i.e. prenup). In any case, whether it’s a two person partnership or a larger company. In order to avoid problems, you should settle it up front.

Still, the exact content of such a contract be another legal tar pit.., and even then, you cannot anticipate every conceivable break-up scenario.., always leaving some room for a law suit.

Personal Accounts are Personal

It’s a merry-go-round. But, in the end a personal account should stay personal, at all cost. Any connection made on that personal account belongs to the owner of that account.., period.

I know, what about connections made during working hours? Yes, them too belong to the employee (or partner), not to the company, even if the account is a customer or a partner.

The point here is.., does the employee does her? If ‘yes’, than the connections are hers. If ‘no’, then not.

Get Your Stuff Under Control

Employers should get their lines straight. If they supports an environment where employees can be free to develop, to innovate, to communicate and be proper brand ambassadors.., then there is no need for legal battles.Even if an employee should leave, she’d leave on good terms. Then, there is no problem, her name is still under a lot of blog posts (or not), but she’ll still be a brand enthusiast.

Bottom Line

I do not have a solution, and I do not believe there is a ‘ready made’ one available. Even when a legal precedence is set.., companies or disgruntled employees will always find a reason or a way to sue each other, regardless.

The only way I see to settle this is to create an environment where this situation does not apply. An environment where trust and respect are the main motivators, not greed or retaliation.

I know, Utopia.

But, we’re not that far away from such working conditions. Social business is able to reduce intrigue and office politics, leaving openness and honesty as default behaviour.

Published at DZone with permission of Rogier Noort, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)