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Social Media and Your Business –Who Owns Your Business’ Social Media Accounts?

Does your business have a Twitter or Instagram account? How about a Facebook, TikTok, or YouTube account? If you are not familiar with the names above, each is the name of a social media platform used by businesses across the globe to promote their goods and attract new customers (often referred to as followers). These platforms are used by millions, if not billions, of individuals and businesses every day. An account on one of these social media platforms can create a direct link to your business and can be a valuable tool or a harmful weapon depending on who is controlling the account. When it comes times to sell your business, these accounts can significantly increase the amount of money you receive for your business.

Impact of Social Media

While social media and the related platforms may be new to some businesses, studies have confirmed that for those business who use it, the amount of traffic to a business’ social media accounts often exceeds the traffic to a its traditional website. The reasons for this vary; some individuals prefer to interact with a business’ social media accounts as part of their on-going relationship while others prefer to review such accounts before establishing a relationship in order to obtain a sense of “who” a business is.  Regardless of the reasons why, it is undeniable that social media plays a role in attracting and retaining clients in today’s market. As such, it is important to make sure that the social media accounts associated with your business reflect the views and opinions of your business, and not those of a disgruntled ex-employee.

Social Media Accounts Can Be Stolen by Employees

In a real-life example of a business owner’s worst nightmare, an employee who was encouraged to develop a Twitter account for the purpose of promoting his employer was able to claim personal ownership of the Twitter account and all of the account’s followers. The individual then took the Twitter account with them when they went to work for a rival company and used it to promote the rival company’s services to the Twitter account’s nearly 17,000 followers. This matter went through substantial litigation before eventually settling out of court with the individual retaining ownership of the Twitter account.

Rather than face the possibility of having to negotiate ownership of your business’ (or what you believe are your businesses’) social medial accounts, it is important to establish ownership prior to the creation of the accounts. If that is not possible, start the process of securing ownership as soon as you finish reading this article (and the others in this series).

Social Media Sites – Similarities and Differences

Before starting the process of securing ownership of your business’ social media accounts, it important to consider a few things.

There are several different types of social media accounts and several different arrangements related to the promotion of businesses on social media. This article discusses the treatment of those social media accounts which were created on behalf of a business and which are used solely for promoting the business, whether by the employees of the business or an independent contractor. This article does not apply to the situation in which a social media influencer has been hired for the purpose of using their pre-established social media accounts to promote a business. This article also does not apply to those professional social networking sites (such as LinkedIn) or to online marketplaces (such as Etsy) as these kinds of sites tend to be treated slightly differently by the courts.

A social media account is not considered to be a single standalone item but a collection of items. While the aspects of a specific social media account can vary, they often include: the account name, the username or logon credentials, access to the account, content posted to the account, and followers of the account.

Personal or Business Use: Issues with Social Media Site Usage

Determining whether a social media account is a personal account or business account may not be an easy decision to make. As social media has grown over the past decade, what may have started out as a personal account may have developed into a business-related account. On the flip side, as the line between businesses and those who represent it have blurred, a social media account can contain both personal and business-related items (e.g. the situation in which a marketing manager uses an Instagram account to post about the business she works for, and her use of the business’ products, but also about her personal vacations and other activities).

If a social media account is mixed use (if it contains both personal and business-related items), it may not be clear who should or does own any certain item or category of items. In such situations, ownership of the account may need to be divided up with each party retaining certain portions. If ownership of a mixed-use account (or parts of it) is transferred, it is important that such transfer be properly documented to protect against a potential ownership dispute in the future.

Now that you are familiar with the idea of what a social media account is, you are ready to move on to the process of restricting access to the existing social media accounts related to your business.

Please read the other articles in this series available at: When to Restrict Access to Your Businesses’ Social Media Accounts, How to Secure Ownership of your Businesses’ Social Media Accounts, and Steps to Take to Document the Transfer of a Social Media Account

Should you have any questions about the process of restricting access to your business’ social media accounts, securing ownership of your business’ social media accounts, or how to properly transfer (and document the transfer of) a social media account, or would like to schedule a free initial consultation, please contact Navigant Law Group, LLC at (847) 253-8800 or contact us online.

Navigant Law Group, LLC is a full-service law firm with various areas of service to assist your business, including: Employment Law, Intellectual Property, Commercial Real Estate, Litigation, and general Business Law services. Individual services include Estate Planning, Wills and Trusts, Probate, and Guardianship.

This article constitutes attorney advertising. The material is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.