Who Owns Your List of Followers and Fans?

Many companies are spread thin, especially small businesses, when it comes to maintaining and setting up social media venues such as Twitter accounts, Facebook fan pages and the like.  Everyone wants to pitch in and help. Or do they? Many times our employees are well-intentioned when they take the initiative to set these accounts up with their email as the contact because it's easier, etc.  I'm warning you – set up company policies regarding the use of the company name, tagline, logo, lists as soon as possible. It's difficult to go back and gain "custody" after a messy divorce.

Social Media Venues
If an employee sets up a Twitter account for your company using their email address, and then proceeds to represent the company with their tweets and efforts, this is no longer THEIR Twitter account.  People follow with the assumption they are following the company or product. If a list of followers is gained, then the staff person is fired or leaves the company, they can simply change their Twitter username and retain the list of followers. It's similar to stealing a company client list or mailing list of customers.  Don't think that some people won't intentionally do this to gain a big list of YOUR customers and fans with the plan to leave and bring the list with them.

Same with Facebook PAGES and company PROFILES.  Be sure anything with YOUR company name has YOU as the primary contact, the owner and registrar.  This goes for domain registration as well.  Anyone working for you in these efforts should either ask you to set it up and create additional user accounts or they should set it up with YOUR email as the contact and then you can go in and change the password.

I can't stress this enough – if it is marketing material related to YOUR company you need to be in charge of the username, password, notifications. You may set up additional admin contacts, but you should ALWAYS know where your online "stuff" is and how to access.  It's no longer acceptable to play dumb and fluff it off to "my girl knows…" or "my guy knows…"  If you still have this 80's mentality, you deserve to have your site stolen, Twitter followers kidnapped and your fans abducted.  Take responsiblity.  There should be a central list of all of your online accounts. You and your most trusted staff member, director, officer or family member should know how to get to this information.

You also owe it to those followers and fans that trust following your company will always remain your company. If they are suddenly switched to a new 'home,' they were not given a say in this move – they were just part of the divorce and custody battle.

I can't tell you the number of times clients and former clients come to me for this information.  No one has gathered it for them or they've lost it and rely on me to be able to give them access or at least assure them that we can change passwords, lock accounts, renew domains, etc.  Who is your network or online services hero?  Do they have your back? Really?  What if you tick them off, can you rely on them to remain professional and pass the baton to your next administrator?

Dashiell Bennett has a humorous, yet serious take on this:

I strongly suggest that you have an agreement for your onlines services providers stating that any accounts created on behalf of your company and any lists created, assembled and maintained belong to the company.  All registrants for domains should be in the company name/address. No exceptions. Would you allow someone else to sign the lease to your brick and mortar store?  Of course not.  This is no different.

Here is a great article on this topic posted on The Atlantic Wire.