Networking and contacts have always been the key to success in any profession. Back in the day you would have your little black book of contacts that you would use throughout your career. Nowadays, it’s all gone digital and it’s easier to store contacts online for you, and it’s easier for your employer to snatch them when you leave.
Here’s a scenario for you: Your boss encourages you to sign up for a Linkedin profile which you start to actively use in your work as well as socially. The time comes when you and your company part ways for whatever reason. Your boss now says that the account that was set up belongs to the company and you have to give it up. Does it sound like an unlikely scenario? It has happened to lots of people out there and it will happen again.
Don’t let this happen to you
Even though the lines of demarcation between work and play can be grey in social media, most people simply assume they can bring their profiles with them to wherever they are heading. I happen to know a recruiter who left his company after about five years of service and was asked to give up his Linkedin and other accounts. He was having none of it and put up a fight which only lead to his former employer withholding the final commission payment. It was rather a lot of money so in the end he had no choice but to oblige. He had not seen this coming at all and was now left with the not so enviable task of having to start a Linkedin account completely from scratch; he went from about 5,000 connections to zero overnight.
This was obviously an unfortunate case but you can see why the employer did this. Recruiters rely heavily on Linkedin and the employer knows that the contacts will be used at the next company. Whether you will ever end up in a sticky situation like this is impossible to say. All we know is that you cannot assume anything in this job market. Even the safest job today can be outsourced tomorrow and your servers can be locked down over night, effectively leaving you without access to any online profile you have set up at work.
What I can say is that there are ways to prepare for any eventuality. Here are 5 few self preservation tips that can safeguard your online presence:
1. Check the intellectual property policies
Review your company’s electronic data, social media, online communications, email or whatever-they-call-it policy. Understand exactly what is the intellectual property of your employer and what is considered yours. If you think that your company’s policies are too strict, speak to your manager or HR department and see whether you can swing an opt-out clause. As long as you have a good case for it, they will hear you out.
2. What happened to leavers
Are there any precedents? See what happened to others that left your team or department, start by looking at their online profiles and it will be fairly evident what the procedure was. If there seem to be different policies for different people, ask yourself why. Could it have been because of the role, the relationship they had with the boss or just that things changed when they left? Do your best sleuthing so you can anticipate what would happen to you.
3. Set up duplicate profiles
To be on the safe side, you can open up duplicate accounts on Linkedin, Viadeo, Xing, Twitter etc and make it obvious that the new account is your personal and you will only use it in free time, if at all in the office. To make it abundantly clear it’s your profile only, you can leave out your current employer and just state what industry you are in. The duplicates have to be connected to your private email account by the way.
4. Facebook is under the radar
Facebook is considered private and not a business tool. This means it will not be brought up if you leave your company. By adding your key customers and partners as friends on Facebook, you know you will be able to contact them in case you lose all other means. Adding your current co-workers is also a good tip, as their numbers and emails will be on your company laptop/phone which have to be returned.
5. Use your webmail for personal correspondence
This can be a pain but you don’t want to lose all your emails from loved ones in case you are laid off. Try to separate business and personal correspondence, and tell your friends and family which accounts to use. It will take time to wean them off your company email but it will be worth it.
6. Use your own name for a blog
Instead of blogging for your company (let’s face it, nobody reads a corporate blog), start a blog in your own name or write for other blogs in your field. Make sure you write objective material and that it is not done on behalf of your employer. There is no way an employer can yank this off you as it carries your own name.
7. Back to basics
Networking thrived long before the digital age. How about getting yourself an old-school black book and writing down your contacts by hand? It’s what anyone with a job has been doing for donkey’s years and it will work for you as well.
Leaving a company shouldn’t mean you leave empty handed and without any contacts to help you and your career. The last thing you need when you leave a business is a divorce hearing to divvy up your digital estate. So make use of the tips above and think of your own solutions to safeguard your network just in case you are laid off or choose to move on in the future.
Would your employer let you go with all your contacts? Has this happened to you? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.