Who Owns Your Social Media Relationships? What To Do When Your “Social” Employees Move On.

We’re at the point now where we no longer are teaching HR folks what a “tweet” is and how to sign up for a Twitter account. But as more folks integrate social media into their recruiting practices, we’re beginning to see “advanced” considerations arise. The other week for example, I delivered a webcast on behalf of Jobvite to talk about metrics and measurements to gauge social recruiting successes. (Slides here: http://ow.ly/2M2xj and audio here: http://bit.ly/bwsMFx) Not necessarily an easy feat right now but everyone is (hopefully!) looking to provide value with their efforts – yet tracking metrics is a bit of a disjointed process without having to pay a boatload of money for a system or service to do it for you. And even if you do pay, there are few systems that do it well. (Although there may be hope with a new release Jobvite is making that specifically addresses recruiting intelligence and has a fancy dashboard that simply aggregates the data for you. Yes, hello, I am a possible future Jobvite customer. Full disclosure!)

Fractional-ownership Another interesting “advanced” consideration? Ownership of usernames and relationships in the social space and how to/if you have to transfer those relationships once an employment relationships ends.

I had a recruiting friend who changed jobs recently and is highly involved in social media – meaning having thousands of followers and connections and a highly engaged following. Now the relationships she has built over the past few years have been twofold – 1) to build up her professional network in order to make a stamp with her personal brand, and 2) build relationships and hopefully cultivate business on behalf of her employer. Call it a mutually beneficial situation of sorts, the work she was doing in social media. But then she made a change in jobs…

The challenge? Well, many of the early adopters just dove in, started tinkering and then built. Considerations weren’t necessarily made for username selection and whether they should be attached to/include the company name. Maybe the email address used to sign up for the account was a personal account too… but the tool was used professionally still. So then the picture becomes a little muddier. And what’s an employer to do? Or what are you to do if you’re the one with the followers (aka potential candidates who are part of your social media community) who are leaving to go work elsewhere? I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer – yet. But here’s a starting point and some things to think about:

  • Step One – Make determinations on who “owns” the username, account, and therefore the relationships based on the email address used to sign up and the username selected. Also make a determination of whether usage of the account was solely for the purpose of the business or instead, multi-use (personal and professional). If it’s the latter, what you are looking at is likely the following…
  • Step Two – It’s reasonable to ask the departing employee to leave a list behind of followers and connections on Twitter and LinkedIn. If you manage a Facebook page, make sure additional administrators are in place (and fingers crossed you started up the page/account using a nonpersonal email address) and remove yourself as an administrator. Same protocol for LinkedIn groups. Promote someone else to “manager” status. It’s probably not reasonable to ask a person to hand over the account/username unless they’ve signed up with their work email address, or the username is tied to the company name (i.e. APCOjessica).
  • Step Three – Make it clear that the employee has moved on and provide people with a re-direct option. (Stop following me and now follow so-and-so instead.)

At the end of the day, how to handle this is not too different from how a headhunter might handle ownership of candidate relationships when moving from one agency to another. A company can and should have some kind of dibs on the relationships… but the reality likely will be that many of those relationships were cemented because of a person or personality. People are, of course, naturally drawn to brands where there’s a personal connection and therefore foster a sense of loyalty from there. Relationships will follow the person/personality – but as an employer, you could get lucky and retain some if you put forth the effort to sustain a relationship.

And to possibly prevent getting into this somewhat tricky/confusing situation? If you’re getting ready to launch into social media for recruiting or other marketing/branding purposes… make a decision from the get go of how people brand and market themselves. Do I sign up as @jessica_lee on Twitter? Or am I @APCOJessica? Or do I just stick to @APCOjobs? That may drive and dictate ownership of relationships at the end of the day… so look before you leap, friends!

FOT Background Check

Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is a VP of TA at Marriott International where she leads a team that enables the company to think big, broad and boldly about all things talent acquisition and in effect, keeps them relevant and ahead of the curve in how they attract and acquire top talent. Don't be fooled by that fancy pants title and description though, she's still an everyday HR gal in the trenches at the core. SPHR certified, a decade and a half into trench HR life... she can whip up a corrective action plan or source for your purple squirrel in a heartbeat. Talk to Jessica via EmailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook... See Jessica's riffs and rants on Fistful of Talent here...


  1. Steph Moewe says:

    What great food for thought Jessica. This is another reason that companies should have a well thought out social media policy in place, covering such issues, rather than simply diving into the social media space willy nilly.

  2. Great topic. From what I’ve seen, far too few companies think this out ahead of time.

  3. Anniechae says:

    Hmmm…much to pontificate on…wonder what legal boundaries exist for those co’s that do have social media policies? What about the individual’s rights? Great write-up, Jessica!

  4. @steph – it’s tough! the folks who have really embraced social media early on and are successfully using it – there wasn’t a roadmap so i think they had no choice but to jump in willy nilly… but hopefully they can share their lessons with others after the fact (like me!)
    @alison – lots of unknowns… that’s for sure
    @anniechae – i think that’s unknown at this point. there may be something in the fine print for terms/conditions of various sites but i’m not aware. most orgs who have started to deal with this, and attorneys who have been involved in the issue, find there is no recourse except for if the usernames/handles are attached to the company and attached to a company email address. otherwise, unless you’re probably going to need something written into your policy but even then… how enforceable? not too enforceable and maybe not worth the effort. and i really think at the end of the day, the big issue is that even if companies have thought this through and try to retain “lists” of followers/friends, there’s not much that will come of it unless there are concerted efforts made to maintain a relationship. but still, i think the relationship will always follow the person, like how i’m going to like and follow you wherever you go! 🙂 so maybe it’s that a company just has to learn to let go… i dunno and now i’m rambling. ha!

  5. Facebook seems to be the big challenge. With Fan Pages being attached to a personal page, we are walking into messy waters.

  6. What a great idea Jessica. This is another reason that companies should be well thought out social policy in the media, these issues, not just dive into social media in any way.

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