You’re Stealing Your Employer’s Clients

Courtesy of TOKY Branding and Design

Courtesy of TOKY Branding and Design

Do you have a LinkedIn profile? What about a Facebook, Myspace, Plaxo Pulse, etc profile? Have you ever added a client as a friend or contact on one of those networks and then switched jobs? If you have, you may have violated your company’s policy against taking client information with you when you leave the company. Oddly enough, a lot of companies have not realized that they should at least have a policy on this.

In many companies, salespeople and recruiters are the most likely to embrace social networks for work purposes, and why shouldn’t they? Social networks, especially LinkedIn in the case of businesses, make lead generation and networking easy. If you were an employer, wouldn’t you be bothered if a resigning employee packed up his rolodex along with the personal effects in his office? How is a rolodex much different from being connected on Plaxo, LinkedIn, or Facebook? Regardless of whom I work for, I can still get ahold of my previous business contacts’ information if they are in my social network.

To be honest with you, as an employee, I suggest that you continue to connect with your clients through social networks. It makes a lot of jobs simpler, and as long as your employer does not seem to care, it will probably make your next job simpler as well since you’ll be able to call on old clients for business at your new job. Employers would be well served to not ban social networking, but also to develop policies regarding it. If they remain unaware of these types of consequences, they may see more and more clients moving to and fro with their employees.

Prior to posting of this blog, I tweeted, “do you add clients as connections/contacts/friends on any of your social networks?” Giyen responded, “everyone is invited! i can’t go around censoring myself for different grps of people. sadly,not everyone wants to be your friend.”

Do you connect to your clients through social networks? Is this a good thing for you? Is it a bad thing for your employer/s?

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  • John
    As an employer, I had this issue come up recently. I asked one of my salespeople to create a profile on LinkedIn so that he could use it as a networking and mining tool to get contacts for sales leads.

    Big mistake.

    Without my knowledge or consent, he walked around our office encouraging our production staff (non management, non-sales) to create profiles on LinkedIn for some intangible "seo benefit" or "web 2.0 marketing benefit". He unwittingly created a real problem for me, as now more than half of my staff has basically put their personal resumes online in the form of LinkedIn profiles. I see this as very dangerous for my company, as these employees are not answering questions in the answers area of LinkedIn. My next step is to update my policy manual to make sure that these sites are not used to put our client connections online.

    For an employee at a super-large company, I can see how sites like these would be relatively harmless. But when you have a small company, you have to be really, really careful about these sites and what your employees post to them.
  • Thanks for the comment, John. Much appreciated.

    I was following until you said that it is dangerous for your company, as they're not answering questions. Why is that? Do you mean to say that, if they were participating in these discussions as employees of your company, they might represent you in an unflattering manner?
  • John
    My point was that if they were truly using the site to appear as experts in our field, it would be more of a true "web 2.0" use of the site for networking. Since their bios do nothing more than serve as a resume on what could be considered a job posting site, it causes me concern.
  • Hi John, thanks for the clarification. I completely understand now what you were getting at. . . employees could be advertising that they're potentially looking for a new job without having to come out and say it. Coming up with a fair company policy with regard to that would be pretty difficult obviously, but have you come upon any policies that both protect your business and also allow your employees to be on LinkedIn? I've been wracking my brain over this, but everything I come up with has a good argument against it from at least one of the sides.
  • John
    I think that it can be done. Like any other technology, if a benefit can be proven, then employees should have access to it. I also see the benefits in being an open company that is very transparent, but I think that a company that is too open is just being naive.

    Ultimately for me, the policy will most likely read like this...

    "Authorized employees will need to use business networking websites to increase the sales of the company, and gain contacts in other organizations. For example, websites like LinkedIn and other business networking sites are encouraged for management, salespeople, and project managers. While we feel that these sites are beneficial for the company when used by authorized employees, they are not to be used to conduct business using the company's name without permission from a company officer. Posting resumes on these sites could put the company in a bad light, and could limit an employee's advancement in the company."
  • Sounds like a pretty good plan to me, John. I used to use LinkedIn for business purposes, but now, I really just use it to form a lasting, social network contact with people I am currently doing business with. I suppose that it might be beneficial to include something in your policy like this, "While it is understood that all employees may use LinkedIn and other social networks for affairs outside the purview of this business, employees are expressly prohibited from forming social networking connections with our clients unless given prior authority." Do you think that goes too far and/or would seem overbearing?
  • Paranoia anyone?

    I suggest that if your employees can do their jobs better by talking to people outside of the company, they should be using social networks. Arguably, that's everyone in your company, not just your sales and marketing folk.

    If you treat your employees well, you shouldn't have an issue. So, instead of trying to control how they do their jobs, focus on making their jobs something they enjoy. Empower them.
  • Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the comment. You bring up a good point. I definitely do not want to come across like I believe that employers should clamp down on and control all use of social networking. . . and, I think I was bordering on that. I believe we would be well served by having open networking policies, but I did want to make the point that far too many employers are either naive about these issues or just completely unaware of both the benefits and drawbacks.

    Even when people have jobs they enjoy, they do often move on to other companies for various reasons, correct? So, even though you could make your employees' jobs enjoyable, are you not still at risk of losing clients if employees change companies and the clients' connections have been built more strongly with the employee and not with the company?

    Again, thanks for the comment, Peter. I really appreciate having differing perspectives and also enjoyed your Hubspot post.
  • I'm up, voted , anxious 2 see where America's goin the next 4 years, & one of my posts took off overnite
  • Can any1 comment Peter on the pros & cons of using social networks for business? I'm startin to feel like a broken record
  • RichardFlemming
    I wouldn't call it stealing, but more like employee leasing . Being smart is of course something we all want, but being smart also means to stay out of illegal business that might end up with a jail sentence or a lawsuit that will cost more than you have to spare.
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