Let me ask you something. When you move to a new house you wouldn’t leave a few belongings for the next resident to find and keep, would you?

If a tennis coach generously bestowed a tennis racket to you as a gift while you trained with them, you’re unlikely to return it if, for whatever reason, you end up quitting tennis, would you?

Would you return an award you achieved at work after deciding to make a career change?

Of course not!

Why? Because they’re yours. You purchased them, chose them, were given them and earned them.

They belong to you.

Why is it then that there is confusion about who owns LinkedIn connections?

Why is it a grey area for employers as to who owns connections?

For some while, I have read opinions at odds with mine that have been formed in this grey area of ownership of connections. There is a clear lack of knowledge around the subject on LinkedIn and how it really works.

I reckon it’s about time the truth was out.

So here goes…

The two key benefits of being active on LinkedIn are:

1) Lead Generation

2) Thought Leadership

So, it is no surprise that when people are employed in a business development role there is an

Who do their connections belong to?

Or the more detailed question:

Who do the connections belong to of the people added during the employment at the company?

Surprisingly, it’s still the case that very few companies take the trouble to agree (on?) specific terms around the use of social media when their employment contract is entered into, hence the ownership of connections being shrouded in enigma.

If in fact, you are bound by a signed legal agreement with regards to your social media use under your current employment, then much of what I write here is a waste of your time. For those with no such undertakings, read on.

As a practitioner in the art of LinkedIn, I have learned to appreciate that there are two categories of

C-suite leaders in the world: those that ‘get’ social media and those that don’t. Those that get it may not fully understand it but at least they have an appreciation of its impact in the world of communications. For those that don’t, you probably aren’t even reading this.

Let me first start with who owns a LinkedIn account. LinkedIn accounts are owned by individuals who LinkedIn calls ‘Members’. A person who registers a LinkedIn account is, therefore, a Member.

People who do not have a LinkedIn account, but who might visit LinkedIn.com, are simply called

‘Visitors’. Interestingly, LinkedIn’s terms and conditions apply to both parties who might visit their website.

Hereby hangs the first important truth – Individuals’ own LinkedIn accounts, companies do not.

In a recent learned article, I read the following advice:

“Make sure that the details of the [person’s] LinkedIn account show that this is a company and not an individual account.”

This advice is misleading at best and quite simply wrong. It is not possible for a company to own an account, although it is possible for a company to have a Company Page. But this is not the point in question.

It is against LinkedIn’s terms and conditions to portray an account as a company and not as a person.

 Despite you and I both sometimes seeing companies represented as people on LinkedIn, technically this is against their terms and conditions. Quite why LinkedIn do not clamp down on this activity might be the subject of a longer debate. (There is a lot LinkedIn don’t clamp down on…and

LinkedIn’s lack of clamping down might be a strong contributing factor for the grey area surrounding employee/employer connections.)

So, let’s just run through what the typical problem is here…

Jack and Jill are both getting on with their lives, developing LinkedIn connections throughout their existing employment, fulfilling their employment objectives. At a point in time, they move from an existing company to join the employment of a new organisation. They take with them their experience and connections and start their new role. At that point, the new employer is, understandably keen to benefit from the experience and connections that that person has made this far in life. It will no doubt be the case that both Jack and Jill will continue to add connections whilst in the course of their duties for their new employer.

Through the passage of time, Jack and Jill now feel that their career might develop further with a new employer. Who owns the connections made during the employment period with the present employer? The answer is quite simple:

Jack and Jill own those connections themselves.

In line with LinkedIn’s clear policies (however much they choose to let examples of their terms and conditions getting flouted, such as accounts being wrongly represented), the rule is a black and white:

LinkedIn Members own accounts, not companies. Therefore, Members own their connections, not their employers. Members (people like you and me) own our connections no matter who we work for.

You could go so far as to say not only do Members own their connections, they have earned them.

One could argue that LinkedIn Members deserve the right to call their connections their own as they took the time to connect to people they thought would be beneficial, either to them or their employer.

They dedicated the effort of inviting their connections to connect in the first place and, hopefully in most cases, took the trouble to craft a meaningful, personal message to accompany that invitation.

They also fulfilled the responsibility of ensuring their profiles were professional, up-to-date and relevant, encouraging would-be connections to accept the invitation sent to them.

On all counts, Members deserve to own their connections.

Why is it then that employers are often aggrieved by the development of connections which they feel they should have some right to own, simply because they paid the salary bill?

I must say that in the world we now know this is such an old-fashioned outlook. The patterns of employment are changing rapidly into those of location-independent, virtual teams and projects. Very few of the next generation of employees will work for significant lengths of time with one employer, as was the traditional norm for the previous generation.

Any attempt to own the connections and contacts of an individual, by an employer, will increasingly point to an out-dated company with an out-dated employment philosophy.

These are some of the points being made by employers to suggest that they should control the connections of an employee:

“Ensure that the company contacts are saved only to LinkedIn accounts that bear your organisation’s email address and logo.”

“Make sure that the details on the LinkedIn account show that this is a company and not an individual account.”

On both accounts, this advice is wrong and clearly against LinkedIn’s own terms and conditions.

So, might the other way around to this be to tie employees into a tighter employment contract that limits their use of LinkedIn?

“Include wording in your staff handbook that the company LinkedIn accounts are for company use

only and that any misuse during employment (e.g. extracting client details for competitive activities

post-employment) is a disciplinary offence that may, in certain cases, be treated as gross

misconduct?”

Or

“Secure an undertaking from the individual that the accounts will be used for company purposes only and not for personal use?”

Or

“Make it clear that on termination of employment the individual ceases to have the right to use their

LinkedIn account and should delete and not extract, copy or retain any confidential information obtained from it?”

Or

“Require employees to sign a warranty when they leave that they have not extracted, copied or retained any client information via LinkedIn?”

Or

“Ensure that the password details for the individual’s access to the LinkedIn accounts are provided on request/termination?”

What right-minded person would agree to such restrictive covenants?

If you find yourself about to enter a job without having checked these matters in advance, I would think again. What might you be letting yourself in for?

So, employers, what is the answer? I would suggest it is this:

The integrity of your brand is no longer your logo. It is not the glib advertising slogans of the past. Your brand is represented by every single touch point that your customer has with your organisation. Your employees are your brand ambassadors (though they might not be aware that they play this role).

For the period you employ them they should be provided with the richest opportunity to put their best foot forward for your brand. By being proactive on LinkedIn they have the opportunity, multiple times a day, to wear that brand through thought leadership and association with and through your organisation’s beliefs and culture.

Your employees simply have to be represented on social media channels; this is now where your prospects and existing customers expect to find them.

A more positive engagement with your employees is that of guided use to encourage the right type of participation on social media.

How can your employees’ performance be improved by intelligent engagement on business-to-business social media channels?

What could be the collective benefit of all your existing employees telling their personal stories of success and achievement whilst in your employment?

The power of these stories could be incalculable in extending the reach of your corporate brand. Just check out a simple Google search if you need any convincing. If you are unsure about how your employees’ performance could be improved on LinkedIn, don’t worry, perhaps a LinkedIn training course could be a beneficial avenue to go down, investigate and invest in.

In closing, I offer some intelligent tips to both employers and employees on the best practice use of LinkedIn:

If you would like a comprehensive programme to bring your employees up to date and to maximise the benefits of LinkedIn, start here by downloading my ‘How to win your first 10 new customers via LinkedIn booklet’.

Enquire about a LinkedIn training programme tailored for you

To find out more about our in-house training courses, get in touch via the form below, email us on nigel@valueexchange.co.uk or call us on +44 (0)7976 894353