Maintaining Control over Your Company’s Social Media Account

I’ve previously written about the legal issues that arise when a company loses control of a social media account purportedly belonging to the company, usually either because the employee who managed the account leaves the company, or an outside firm is hired to develop or manage the account and a dispute (usually over fees) occurs between the parties. There are steps companies can take to maintain control over their social media accounts. I’ve previously suggested having employees agree to social media policies; in addition, employees who are tasked with maintain company accounts should also agree in advance that such accounts (and the content the employee posts on them) are the property of the company — this can be accomplished through an agreement that also contains a work-for-hire provision. However, one best practice is to have at least two employees who have administrator privileges on the social media account. When one of the employees with admin privileges leaves, the other changes the password and other access codes and appoints another employee to replace the departed worker. This way, current employees maintain access and are not locked out of the account. If an outside company is hired to create or manage a social media account, the client company should have its own employees maintain administrator access according to the above procedure. Any agreement with an outside firm should clearly state that the account is the property of the client company, and that the outside firm may not deny access to the client as a remedy in the event of a dispute. If the social media site’s options allow it, you can grant your company superior administrative privileges, so that an outside firm is not technically capable of deny you access to the account. If your company has already lost control of an account, either because there was only one managing employee who has left the company, or your outside firm has locked your company out in the middle of a dispute, the first step toward regaining control is to ask the person with access. Barring that, your company can turn to the social media company itself. However, they are sometimes notoriously slow to respond to claims of ownership, and in some cases may be constrained by their policies — some sites consider the creator of an account or group to be its lawful owner, regardless of any real-world arrangements. The final step would be to take the issue to court. Unfortunately, the law regarding ownership of social media accounts is unsettled (although several cases in this area are going to trial this month), which can mean a lengthy and expensive process to regain control (with no guarantee of success). As a result, it may be cheaper to start from square one with a new account, but if the account is critical to the company and its customer relations, then the company may have no choice but to spend the time and money to recover it through the judicial process. In order to prevent such costly endeavors, it is best to take steps from the get-go to ensure that someone in the company always has access and control over all social media accounts.

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