Who Owns What? LinkedIn Connections Causing Confusion

Last week, a Forbes article asked the question, “Who Owns Your LinkedIn Connections”. A completely valid question in today’s social media saturated business world and unsteady job market. According to press reports, this is the first time a British court has ordered an employee to turn over all LinkedIn contacts to an employer. What about your LinkedIn profile? Are your contacts protected and owned by you?

 

LinkedIn has always been my favourite social media platform for business. It preceded Twitter and I was an early adopter when LinkedIn debuted back in 2006 (beta version since 2003) and was immediately impressed. I’ve always said I operate in a very social and engaging way and with the advent of social media platforms like LinkedIn, it was great to give a name to what I’d been doing all along. After all, LinkedIn’s tagline is: Relationships Matter. It’s not Connections Matter, Business Matters, Your Online Resume or anything else. LinkedIn is clearly in the business of promoting relationship building and connections past, present, and future.

 

When I first joined LinkedIn no one I knew was on there. But I loved what it stood for—connections, recommendations, job searching, and essentially helping people. Now, more than 5 years in to using LinkedIn I have connected with so many people I have met (and some I’ve never met!) in both my personal and professional life.

 

Have you ever thought about how you build up your contacts on LinkedIn? Were they organically accumulated during the course of regular business or do you consider yourself a LION (LinkedIn Open Networked, like me) and strive to connect with individuals who share similar business backgrounds, companies in common, or just to expand your network? How you gained your connections and what you plan to do with them may be more important.

 

In the day of non-compete, non-disclosure and other clauses ad nauseum, one must proceed with caution when comes to dealing with LinkedIn contacts especially after a job change. In the case cited in the Forbes article, an employee had left a former employer and proceeded to start a consulting firm—not an unusual story in today’s business world. If she tried to elicit business from her LinkedIn contacts with a “spammy” email or in a way considered derogatory by the former employee it may have instead brought about litigation.

 

So what can one do to protect both your connections and your professional aspirations? Here are three tips to help create boundaries and best practices:

  1. Establish a social media policy. It is surprising to note only 25% of American corporations have a published social media policy for employees. This low number leaves plenty of room for interpretation and missteps. Any large corporation should employ its in-house legal and HR teams to craft a policy that covers employee and employer responsibilities, and the consequences of ignoring or blatantly operating against the policy.
  2. Continue to build your LinkedIn profile and connections. Ultimately, you are in charge of your career. And the people you meet in everyday business situations and transactions are good for current business and future opportunities—not just yours but theirs. Don’t just collect connections though. Engage with them and look for ways to enrich your connections. Strive to turn your connections into acquaintances, maybe even friends by taking your exchanges and conversations offline. This is when your LinkedIn profile merely becomes a conduit to a real-life, engaging, two-way relationship with others who see you and your professional talents and skills in 3D.
  3. Be respectful. One of the best things you can do for your professional career is BE A PRO. At all times. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Just like your momma told you. Treat your career and your contacts with the respect they deserve. Doing so, you will pave a path to success where those you have helped along the way either professionally or personally will be more inclined to do business with you no matter whose corporate banner appears on your business card.

 

Who do you think should own LinkedIn contacts? Do you have some tips on how to handle LinkedIn connections?

 

4 thoughts on “Who Owns What? LinkedIn Connections Causing Confusion

  1. nealschaffer says:

    Thanks for linking to my article Susie. More importantly, I actually blogged about this same subject 2 1/2 years ago (http://windmillnetworking.com/2009/05/25/my-linkedin-profile-does-my-employer-own-it/).

    Your LinkedIn connections should and must be your own, but once a company starts paying for paid accounts, it gets fuzzy. Unfortunately, with LinkedIn, the TOS dictates that only one person can have one profile. You can’t make a separate profile for your employer. With that in mind, a LinkedIn profile has to be considered your right ; otherwise, if you leave a company and create a new profile representing you, you’ve already violated the TOS.

    I believe that the ideal situation would be when companies respect the social media presence of their employees and work hand-in-hand to develop a policy to both protect the company and find mutual respect for the employee’s presence. Until then, those that work at one of the 75% of companies that don’t have a social media policy will continue to operate in an uncomfortable gray zone.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great tips, Susie.

    I think that above all, ensuring integrity is front and centre when we are making connections will ultimately lead us down the right paths.

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