6 Ways HR Can Protect the Return on Social Media Investment

Let’s start by stating the obvious:  it takes time and money to create a strong Internet presence. HR must take steps to protect the company’s return on social media investment.

Employers that do not have a marketing department or outside public relations, media or advertising vendor often turn to employees to run their websites and create a social media presence.  This usually means that the designated employee sets up a WordPress site, purchases a theme and fills the pages with content.  That same employee may also create Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest accounts in the name of the employer and for themselves and other key employees.  Finally, the employee and others may blog to create authority and expertise for the company and its key employees.

6 Ways HR Can Protect the Return on Social Media Investment

That’s a lot of hours, effort and content.  Work performed within regular business hours is typically compensated through wages or salary.  Work performed after hours may require the payment of overtime wages.  Alternatively, the employer may set up an independent contractor relationship with the individual to work on the company’s Internet presence – but watch out, there are rules governing the contractor relationship and if you don’t comply, you could be in a world of trouble with the state or federal agency enforcing wage and hour laws or even the IRS.

In any event, the company invests time and money into creating and maintaining its Internet presence and it needs to protect the return on its investment (ROI) should the employee leave the company.  The last thing you want is a departing employee shopping him or herself to a competitor with a bucket of readymade content and contact lists – that you paid for.

Some states, like California, have a statute that provides, essentially, that anything created using employer time and resources and/or at the employer’s behest, belongs to the employer.  While that creates a legal right for the employer to recover property from a departing employee (including all rights to social media or other Internet work product), it is an expensive and tedious drain on productivity to sue someone to enforce that right.  The better route is to set expectations that keep honest people honest.  Use documents that place employees on notice of your expectation that the company’s Internet presence, white papers, contact lists, followers and identifying marks, belong to the company.

Advance notice, transparency of expectations and
good documents keep honest people honest.

Offer Letter

When you extend an offer of employment, make sure that the letter contains a reference to the fact that (a) the employee is expected to devote a percentage of his or her time to the creation of the company’s website or other social media presence; and (b) the work product developed through that effort belongs to the company.

Job Description

List the creation and maintenance of the company’s Internet presence as an essential function of the job. Tweet This


Your handbook should have an electronic communication policy.  In that policy notify employees that they cannot set private passwords to the company’s social media accounts.  Beware emerging state law prohibiting the employer from compelling employees to disclose their personal social media account passwords.  It is also advisable to have a social media policy.  Much has been written about the employer’s right to monitor the employee’s private activity on Facebook and the like.  This post, however, concerns the employer’s right to maintain ownership and control over the employer’s social media presence.  The social media policy should reinforce the rule of “no private passwords” for company social media.  It should also:  (a) dictate who is responsible for posting and blogging, or otherwise maintaining the website; (b) prohibit “sock puppetry” (false employee testimonials); (c) notify the designated employee that contact lists developed in their job will belong to the employer. Tweet This

Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure Agreements

Include social media account passwords, schedules, content and contact, email, registration, follower and fan lists in your company’s Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure Agreements.  Tweet This Don’t forget Hoot Suite, Tweet Deck or other social media scheduling programs.  Failure to recover the passwords, schedules and content maintained on these sites could “back-door” access to your sites by a departing employee. Tweet This


Keep a list (and update it constantly) of all social media accounts and websites owned by the company.  In the exit interview, ask for all passwords and confirm that you are (a) able to log into the site and/or the website dashboard; (b) that you are the type of “user” or “member” that can change passwords, administrators and users; and (c) discontinue the departing employee’s access to company social media accounts just as you would the company’s network. Tweet This

Client Lists, Email Lists, Followers and Fans

Did you know that LinkedIn contact lists can be made private?  Downloaded into an Excel spreadsheet?  Synced with company Outlook or Interaction accounts?  Well, now that you do, you should periodically download that material.  Also, to the extent possible (like on LinkedIn) you should require that the employee maintain the “non-public” status of the contact, registration, follower and fan lists.  Treat them like you would the old-fashioned Rolodex.  This promotes the notion that this is proprietary and confidential information.  Mention such lists in your offer letter, job description and policies.  Include them in your company’s Non-Disclosure or Confidentiality Agreements. Tweet This

These are just a few of the ways in which HR can protect the ROI in the company’s Internet and in social media presence.  I’d love to hear your ideas.

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Mary Wright

Mary Wright is the Founding Editor of HR Gazette, an online magazine for HR professionals and employment lawyers. She is an employment lawyer with 25+ years' experience in helping employers reach workable business solutions to complex human resource problems. She is currently a Shareholder with Ogletree Deakins and the firm's former General Counsel. Connect with Mary.

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