How to protect intellectual property in the world of social media


We live in a world where a quick online search can expose the tiniest details about your personal and professional lives. How can businesses keep intellectual property and sensitive information from making it onto an employee’s social media profiles?

Six degrees of Kevin Bacon, right? So goes the theory that everyone in Hollywood is only separated by six degrees from the (greatest) actor (of all time), and that he is therefore the de facto centre of the universe. While we won’t enter into a debate over the merits of this theory, it illustrates a similar phenomenon in our own lives. We live in a world where details of everyone’s professional careers (and personal lives, in some cases) can be found in only a few clicks. Although on some social media platforms – LinkedIn, for example – each individual’s histories are usually carefully curated to remove any skeletons from their closet, a little bit of investigation can glean a large amount of useful information fairly easily: who’s connected to who, who’s worked with one another in the past, or information about intellectual property that businesses would rather keep confidential.

This level of connectivity can potentially cause all sorts of issues for businesses. While you thought your client lists and intellectual property were confidential, you should maybe guess again. For example, your top salesperson might not be able to resist the temptation to boast online about working with their biggest cash cows. Were you excited about your business’s top secret strategy for success? Oops! Maybe the CFO shouldn’t have posted a selfie from their office with the plan pinned up on the wall behind them for all to see.

This is not to say that there is nothing to be gained from employee advocacy and having your employees promote your business via social media platforms. Employee use of social media can be a really good way of highlighting professional activities and demonstrating expertise (just watch us share this article with everyone). But the advantages need to be coupled with taking sensible precautions to ensure that your business’s confidential and commercially sensitive information isn’t inadvertently disclosed to the world. Some practical steps your business can take include:

  • Training employees on the merits and possible security precautions of social media sites (eg privacy settings);
  • In conjunction with social media training, having a business relationship policy that outlines the types of activities that the employer approves its employees engaging in, including when online in a professional capacity;
  • Implementing business protection measures in relation to employees’ access to confidential and commercially sensitive information, so that this information can only be accessed by the appropriate personnel; and
  • Reviewing your employment agreements to ensure that they have robust confidentiality provisions, which also apply when they leave employment with you—and reminding employees of their confidentiality obligations on a regular basis.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we have to return to refining our LinkedIn profiles. We’re dying to see how close we can get to Kevin Bacon …

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How to protect intellectual property in the world of social media


We live in a world where a quick online search can expose the tiniest details about your personal and professional lives. How can businesses keep intellectual property and sensitive information from making it onto an employee’s social media profiles?

Six degrees of Kevin Bacon, right? So goes the theory that everyone in Hollywood is only separated by six degrees from the (greatest) actor (of all time), and that he is therefore the de facto centre of the universe. While we won’t enter into a debate over the merits of this theory, it illustrates a similar phenomenon in our own lives. We live in a world where details of everyone’s professional careers (and personal lives, in some cases) can be found in only a few clicks. Although on some social media platforms – LinkedIn, for example – each individual’s histories are usually carefully curated to remove any skeletons from their closet, a little bit of investigation can glean a large amount of useful information fairly easily: who’s connected to who, who’s worked with one another in the past, or information about intellectual property that businesses would rather keep confidential.

This level of connectivity can potentially cause all sorts of issues for businesses. While you thought your client lists and intellectual property were confidential, you should maybe guess again. For example, your top salesperson might not be able to resist the temptation to boast online about working with their biggest cash cows. Were you excited about your business’s top secret strategy for success? Oops! Maybe the CFO shouldn’t have posted a selfie from their office with the plan pinned up on the wall behind them for all to see.

This is not to say that there is nothing to be gained from employee advocacy and having your employees promote your business via social media platforms. Employee use of social media can be a really good way of highlighting professional activities and demonstrating expertise (just watch us share this article with everyone). But the advantages need to be coupled with taking sensible precautions to ensure that your business’s confidential and commercially sensitive information isn’t inadvertently disclosed to the world. Some practical steps your business can take include:

  • Training employees on the merits and possible security precautions of social media sites (eg privacy settings);
  • In conjunction with social media training, having a business relationship policy that outlines the types of activities that the employer approves its employees engaging in, including when online in a professional capacity;
  • Implementing business protection measures in relation to employees’ access to confidential and commercially sensitive information, so that this information can only be accessed by the appropriate personnel; and
  • Reviewing your employment agreements to ensure that they have robust confidentiality provisions, which also apply when they leave employment with you—and reminding employees of their confidentiality obligations on a regular basis.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we have to return to refining our LinkedIn profiles. We’re dying to see how close we can get to Kevin Bacon …

Leave a reply

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