Season 1, Episode 7
employee separation and marketing: have you left your
brand at risk?
Can Disgruntled Former Employees Blow Up Your Social Media and Martech Accounts?
- Stacy will share her personal story.
- We’ll discuss the need to clarify, in writing, who owns the social media accounts.
- We’ll chat about why you need to write employee separation procedures specific to marketing technology and social media accounts.
- We’ll talk about why you might consider adding corporate social media information to nondisclosure, confidentiality and non-solicitation agreements. (We aren’t lawyers, but these guys are. Read their thoughts on this topic: https://www.schwabe.com/newsroom-publications-12811.)
- We’ll talk about who owns an individual’s followers when a person has built a following as part of social selling or employee advocacy programs and how Twitter seems to lack an explicit policy.
- We’ll also touch on two notable lawsuits where employers have gone after former employees who left with sizable personal followings: PhoneDog vs. Kravitz and Roanoke Times vs. Andy Bitter.
- And we’ll share our personal (not legal) opinions about who owns an individual’s followers.
Mentioned in This Episode
Read the Transcript for Season 1, Episode 5
Stacy Jackson: Hey there, this is Stacy Jackson.
Alanna Jackson: And I’m Alanna Jackson.
Stacy Jackson: We’re cofounders of Jackson Marketing. We’re also sisters, and we’re bringing you episode 5 of The Marketing Mix. Alanna, what is today’s episode about?
Alanna Jackson: So today we’re going to be doing something a little bit different. We’re going to be talking about HR and the technology side of marketing management and how you protect your brand and tech stack during employee separation.
Stacy Jackson: Don’t you just love it at term, “employee separation.” In other words, we’re talking about when you fire someone or they get laid off or leave of their own accord.
Alanna Jackson: Right. And you, Stacy, have some first-hand insight into what happens during that employee separation because you were laid off with a few years back and what happens when with holding onto those keys to the martech kingdom.
Stacy Jackson: I sure do, but first let’s go to break and then I’ll share my story and the lessons that I learned that I can share firsthand with marketers.
Alanna Jackson: And we are back. And the one of the first things we want to talk about now that we’re back from break is Stacy’s situation that she had when she was laid off back in 2011. So Stacy, can you tell us a little bit about that?
Stacy Jackson: I sure can, Alanna. As you know, I had worked for this company for the majority of my adult life at that point, and the company was sold. And with getting sold, the sales and marketing team at my employer were let go so, you know that kind of stinks.
But what made it stink even more is we were all that go with no severance.
Alanna Jackson: Boo.
Stacy Jackson: Right. But even worse: if I had been a devious little devil, I could have walked away and just blown up the social media accounts and the HubSpot account because nobody — nobody — except for me had the passwords and logins to all of the martech stuff from my employer side.
And the acquiring company didn’t have anywhere near the number of followers on social media that we did, so I could have made a big old mess for them. But instead I took the high road. I encourage you if you’re ever in the situation where you’re the only one with the keys to the kingdom and you get laid off to take the high road.
I contacted HR said, “Hey guys. Do you care that I have all these passwords and logins? I think somebody needs to take over these . . . The corporate Facebook and Linkedin and Twitter accounts.”
I emailed my HubSpot rep from my personal email and told her the situation and asked her to get in touch with HR to walk them through how to manage the site and all that.
It was just kind of crazy.
Alanna Jackson: Were they, were they kind of like, “Oh, yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”
Stacy Jackson: I don’t even know what they were thinking to be honest, and, to a degree, I really didn’t care. I just wanted to be ethical and get rid of the responsibility so that if anything ever did happen to those accounts, it wouldn’t be my problem.
Alanna Jackson: So and one thing, one thing back to what you were saying, so. The company was purchased by another company and one thing that a lot of companies need to consider is marketing is typically the first area to go and they hold the keys to your kingdom, to your branding online.
Stacy Jackson: Right. The funny thing is about the company where I was working before they got purchased . . . there was an extensive employee separation policy, and IT was responsible for deactivating email accounts, making sure that phone access was removed, taking people out of the other systems, but nobody — nobody — else in the company, except for maybe one other person who also got let go, had any idea of the accounts and the passwords that we were using for marketing.
Alanna Jackson: Yeah, and I worked at the same company, and we were dealing with data of the client. So those pieces were tight, and . . . and set up properly for employee separation. But most companies just don’t even think about the social side of marketing and the passwords that you have access to and how you could . . . someone could really tarnish a brand’s name with that access.
Stacy Jackson: And probably a lot of huge brands out there know the importance, but some of your B2B brands or smaller brands just don’t even think about, “Oh, I need to get this in writing, and
Alanna Jackson: Right
Stacy Jackson: . . . make sure we have this buttoned up in case anything ever happens.”
So what do you think the first step is that brands need to take when it comes to employee separation and their martech stack is, Alanna?
Alanna Jackson: So I think the first thing you have to consider is, you’ve got to clarify in writing who owns the account while I know that it probably seems obvious that, well the company owns the account if it’s the corporate account, but I think you have to really consider that because you are giving someone the keys to your kingdom on your corporate accounts. And they could easily change the name on the Twitter account and the passwords and everything over to their personal account if there’s some bad blood there
Stacy Jackson: Right.
Alanna Jackson: So you have to. . . you have to identify in writing who owns those corporate accounts, especially.
Stacy Jackson: Yeah, like I had the only login password to the company Twitter account. I could have said, “Oh I’m going to take all these followers and make them mine.” But I didn’t, because I’m a good person, and not everybody is going to act that way. So you got to take care of your brand.
Alanna Jackson: Exactly. So what’s the next step that we need to take?
Stacy Jackson: So the next step kind of goes hand-in-hand with getting that written clarification down. It’s you need to work with HR to develop an employee separation procedure when it comes to social media accounts and the marketing technology that people have access to. So work with your [marketing department] and maybe even IT depending on their involvement with the martech stack, and come up with what are the processes for when someone quits or if they’re laid off.
How do we go about revoking their access to different pieces of the martech stack puzzle? So one solution, especially if your IT department isn’t directly involved and there’s no corporate kind of control over cutting people off, is to set up some team password managers. Alanna, I think you had a few that you had mentioned to me.
Why don’t you go through those?
Alanna Jackson: Yeah, so we have actually used Common Key in the past. So that’s one. There’s also TeamPasswordManager.com or LastPass.com. So, those are some different things that you can look at to give access to your accounts to employees without them actually having the actual password and login information.
Stacy Jackson: Right, and some other options specific to social media include if you’re using a marketing automation tool like HubSpot, you could go in and set up all these social media accounts and then grant permission to use those accounts to different users without actually handing over the passwords. Sprout Social and HootSuite also would allow you to do that same kind of thing.
So, just make sure that you’re taking steps to protect the accounts and you have a specific procedure in writing so that everyone knows what to do when an employee leaves the company whether it’s by their own choice or your choice.
Alanna, what’s next?
Alanna Jackson: I think the next thing you need to do is consider adding a corporate social media information to non-disclosures, confidentiality, and non-solicitation agreements because a lot of companies will consider customer lists associated with your corporate social media accounts to be trade secrets, so you’ve got to protect that information and you want to take formal steps for that.
Stacy Jackson: Right. So, that’s a good point about the corporate accounts because the company should own those followers, and you don’t want someone to walk away with them.
But what about employee advocacy programs or social selling when individual employees are using social media, and in turn, building up their personal brands to get business in recognition for the brand.
What do you think there, Alanna? Who owns those followers?
Alanna Jackson: Yeah, so that’s where it gets kind of sticky right? Because modern selling today requires people to be doing social selling. A lot of companies want employee advocacy and employee engagement, and you’re asking your employees to really get involved in spreading the word about your company.
So, what they’re doing is they’re taking their own personal brands and growing them, while at the same time, growing your brand awareness. And that’s where a lot of these things kind of get sticky. And the reason why is because of situation like PhoneDog versus Kravitz. So Noah Kravitz was the editor and social media specialist for PhoneDog.
He left the company, and he took his Twitter account, which had 17,000 followers, with him. And his . . . his Twitter handle was PhoneDog underscore Noah, so it wasn’t the corporate account. It was his personal account, but he was being portrayed as PhoneDog Noah. So what PhoneDog thought, “Well, those followers belong to us, and I’ll tell you what, each follower’s worth $2.50 to us. So we’re going to go after you for $340,000.”
And they settled out of court, but still, that just begs people to consider where or who owns those followers on those personal accounts.
I did some social selling training a few years back, and a lot of the people at the company would. On their Twitter handles were company XYZ and their name, you know, so a lot of people are doing this type of situation and I think is very important, too, for both parties involved — the individual and the company — to identify who actually owns those followers in these types of situations.
Stacy Jackson: Yeah, definitely, and the PhoneDog versus Kravitz case was several years ago, but it’s still a situation, especially when it comes to Twitter, that we’re seeing cases go to court even in 2018.
The Roanoke Times is trying to sue a former reporter for his Twitter account because he had used it when he was a reporter for that paper, and he has over 27 thousand followers. So they’re trying to sue on the basis of trade secret and that they should own those people that he cultivated as followers during his time as a reporter for them.
We don’t know exactly where that will end up, but you know — just something to think about. You don’t want to be stuck in a situation where you’re creating even more bad blood with that employee who’s leaving, and you don’t want to have to go to court about it either.
So what did the platform’s themselves say?
Obviously. Since people are going to court over Twitter. There’s no clear statement. We tried to find one and could not, but LinkedIn and Facebook do have a little bit clearer turns. Alanna, what does LinkedIn say about your actual personal account and followers?
Alanna Jackson: And I want to preface this with I’m not a lawyer, so I’m just interpreting what I understand . . .
Stacy Jackson: And you’re not even interpreting, your reading it.
Alanna Jackson: Well, yeah true. I am just reading.
Okay. So on LinkedIn section 2.2 states that “As between you and others, including your employer, your account belongs to you. However, if services are purchased by another party for you, like recruiter seat bought by your employer then the party paying for that service has the right to control access to get reports on your use of such paid services, but they do not have rights to your personal account.
Stacy Jackson: Boom. One for the personal user.
Alanna Jackson: Right.
So right there, they don’t want you giving away your account to someone else so if you are an individual user, you can’t just give away your face your individual Facebook account nor can you give way your page account. And we’re going to talk about that in a minute too. But also on Facebook’s Principles, they state that “People should own their information and people should have the freedom to decide with whom they will share their information and set privacy controls to protect those choices,” which I know is kind of funny when you think about Facebook’s issues recently around privacy,
Alanna Jackson: Right?
Stacy Jackson: . . . but they do at least state for these principles in writing. So again, neither of us are lawyers, but you could work with your corporate counsel to try and determine what that means with regard to employees using Facebook on your behalf.
Now with that, that page thing that they mentioned where you cannot transfer ownership of a page to someone else without their permission first. You should not give a freelancer or a lower level employee the authority to set up your brand’s page for you. You need to do that so that they can’t walk away with your page
Alanna Jackson: Right, because for those of you that don’t know, a brand page on Facebook is associated to a personal account. So, you want to make sure that the “powers that be” in the company, especially if you’re a small company . . . just have the CEO or somebody have that page associated to their personal account on Facebook. You don’t have to set it all up with the cover image and all that stuff.
You can just set the page up to where it’s live, and then you can set your employer freelancer . . . whoever it is that’s going to be working on your social media . . . give them access as an admin on the page.
Stacy Jackson: And you can do that through Facebook’s Business. Module. That way you can add people as different user levels or add freelancers or an agency to manage your page and still control, have ultimate control, over who has access. And you can from there sever access to people who are no longer working with you.
Alanna Jackson: Right, but you should own your company’s page.
Stacy Jackson: Exactly, and I know we’ve talked primarily in terms of employee separation, but this goes for anybody that you’re working with whether it’s a freelancer or an agency. Take those steps to protect your brand and make sure that people can’t just go rogue.
Alanna Jackson: Right. Right, so important because it can go downhill fast.
Stacy Jackson: So, Alanna, I know we’ve talked through what Facebook and Linkedin says and the fact that we could not find something that Twitter stated explicitly, so let’s just talk about our opinions — and again not legal opinions, just personal opinions — who owns a person’s followers on Twitter even if they cultivated those followers in service to the company? Your opinion?
Alanna Jackson: So as far as it being a personal account, I believe the person, individual, should own that account and those and those followers because they put the work into it. The followers are following them because they have a relationship with them.
They are following them because of the personality and the information that they shared, and I think that that belongs to them. It doesn’t belong to the company. Now if it’s the company corporate page, then I think it’s different, and it . . . those should stay with the company.
Stacy Jackson: Yes, I agree and like in that PhoneDog or even the Andy Bitter and the Roanoke Times . . . the people that brought those followers on board with them. Like you said . . . they are interested in what Andy Bitter had to say or Noah Kravitz had to say, and the fact that they were associated to a company may or may not have played a part. But the bigger part was following that person and engaging with that person, at least in my opinion.
Alanna Jackson: Right, and one thing that companies need to consider is if you only have one person primarily that is the brand or the face for your brand, then you might be at risk of losing a lot of . . .
Stacy Jackson: Yes!
Alanna Jackson: . . . awareness about your brand if they decide to leave or something like that. So it’s important that you don’t put everything into one person as, as your brand because if they decide to leave ,or God forbid, they get hit by a truck, then you’ve lost
Stacy Jackson: Right.
Alanna Jackson: . . . all that awareness that’s happening on social.
Stacy Jackson: And while that person may still walk away with their followers, if you’ve cultivated your employees and train them to be social advocates on your behalf and train your salespeople to do their best on social media for social selling then yeah, you might take a hit when so-and-so leaves, but you’ve still got a social media army who are advocating on your behalf and can, you know, maybe make up or at least maintain the followers you have while you get more people trained and involved in social media on behalf of your company.
Alanna Jackson: Right. Right, you won’t be left high and dry.
Stacy Jackson: And I know a lot of people may say well, “I don’t want to train my employees to do this because they’ll leave and take their followers with them,” but you know . . . what if you don’t train them and they stay and nothing great happens ever on social media? You’re just missing out.
Alanna Jackson: Exactly.
Stacy Jackson: And another important point is the Edelman Trust Barometer, for several years, has said that people trust people more than they trust brands, so it’s so important. Just get your employees out there and involved with social media because they’re more likely to gain trust from your customers and your prospects than your logo will.
Alanna Jackson: Word. That is so true because people do trust people more than they trust brands.
Stacy Jackson: Yeah. Exactly. So, Alanna, anyparting thoughts on employee separation and what to do when the “you know what” goes down and someone has to leave the company?
Alanna Jackson: Yeah. I think it’s just important to have that plan in place and getting these password solutions together so that when someone does part, it’s an easy process and you just take them out of the password management system and they don’t have access to everything anymore. And just knowing that you have things written down so that you’re covered, both parties are covered, and there’s no question as to who owns what.
Stacy Jackson: And as far as my advice to those who may be separated, especially if you’re separated involuntarily whether getting fired or being laid off, don’t blow up the accounts and don’t blow up your career. I didn’t do it, and I’m glad I didn’t do it.
Alanna Jackson: Yeah, you could really hurt yourself with future employers.
Stacy Jackson: Stay ethical. Take the high road, and go to your next career or start your own business like I did with Alanna.
Alanna Jackson: Right?
Stacy Jackson: Right.
So, that’s it for today folks. I hope you got some good information and insights out of what we discussed.
Don’t forget that you can connect with both of us on Twitter. I’m stacy_jax and Alanna is alanna_jax, or you can look both of us up on LinkedIn. If you’ve got the Anchor app on your smartphone, go there and leave us a voicemail and we might include your comment or question on next week’s show.
Thanks for joining us, this is Stacy signing off.
Alanna Jackson: And Alana. I hope you have a good week.
Stacy Jackson: Bye.
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