Last week a friend of mine asked about if employers can require employees to do anything with their social media accounts. Apparently, his friend’s employer asked the employees to change the cover photos and avatars on their Facebook pages to some type of advertising for the company.
If a company wants to be involved in social media, they need to create their own accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and any other site where they want to have a presence. They should also have crystal clear contracts with the employees and/or businesses who manage these accounts that state how they should be used, who will own the intellectual property on the sites, and who will own the accounts and followers if the employee leaves or changes positions or if the company hires another company to manage their social media.
Back to employers telling employees what to do on their personal accounts – your personal Facebook account is your personal property. Your employer can prohibit you from being on your personal accounts during work hours or work computers and they can discipline you for violating your employment contract on it (as long as it doesn’t violate the NLRA). But to require you to promote the company on your personal page? That would be a big “Oh hell no.”
I checked out Facebook’s terms of service and they clearly state you must use Facebook Apps for all promotions and that you will not use “your personal timeline for your own commercial gain (such as selling your status update to an advertiser).” If your employment is contingent on promoting the business on your personal account, I see a valid argument that you essentially sold your part of your timeline to your employer.
On the other hand, companies want their employees to be happy in general and want them to support the product. I see no problem in companies making images available if employees wanted to voluntarily change their profile photos. I think it would be awesome if the company allowed employees to take pictures of themselves with a company mural or sign to use in social media if they were so inclined. This would have to be completely voluntary with no consequences, positive or negative, based on employee participation.
I’m a big proponent of employers leaving employees alone when it comes to their personal time and social media accounts as long as the employees aren’t violating company policies. If you think your employer is asking you to do something questionable with your social media accounts, check the website’s terms of service and consult a social media attorney (like me) in your community.