Insurance Brokers - Who owns your LinkedIn contacts?

At a breakfast seminar at the Old Lloyd’s Library on the use of Social Media in the general insurance last week, the first presenter asked the 100 or so delegates assembled…

‘Can I have a show of hands please, how many people in the audience are on LinkedIn?’ 

All hands duly shot up skyward.

This unanimous show of support for LinkedIn certainly chimes with wider research that youTalk-insurance has completed, that points to the fact that LinkedIn has become ubiquitous amongst UK insurance professionals.  Indeed many insurance brokers are increasingly harnessing the networking power of the site to help them win, retain and grow new client accounts. 

But what happens when an employee decides to move on and leaves the business to go to work for a competitor?

Does this mean that the LinkedIn contacts, or for the want of a better word ‘data’ that an employee has amassed during the course of their employment simply walks out of the door with them?  Well the short the answer is potentially NO.

As long ago as June 2008 an individual was ordered by a UK court to hand over their list of LinkedIn contacts to their ex-employer (Hays vs. Ions), who successfully argued in court that they had a right to the data that their employee had built up whilst in their employment.  Given the highly competitive nature of the insurance broking market I understand that disputes between employers and employees in connection with LinkedIn data ownership are on the rise.

This ruling however, doesn’t make the situation completely black and white.  Individual circumstances, as always will be key in determining where ownership lays.  Notwithstanding this, this is something that all employers and their insurance broking employee’s should be aware of.

From an employers’ perspective you could have invested heavily in an individual and paid for a premium LinkedIn account for your employees to use for the sole purpose of helping them to foster business relationships and attract new clients.

On the other hand an employee may argue that their account was held in their personal name and that all of the contact information was publically available information and by dint of this, was open for others to see on LinkedIn (so therefore not terribly proprietary).

To help the situation, the best advice coming from employment experts seems to be, don’t wait until there is a problem.  Companies should be seeking to address this issue now for the benefit of themselves and their employees.  Perhaps the easiest way of addressing this issue is for employers to codify their approach to Social Media employee usage, by having a robust Social Media policy.  I suppose this begs another question – how many insurance broking firms have a Social Media policy?  

With the increasing use of and development of new technologies that invariably overlap and cross personal and work boundaries (just consider the highly topical BYOD debate) issues surrounding the ownership of data are unquestionably going to come to the fore and against this backdrop it’s probably better to be safe than sorry.  It’s a risk business after all.



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