Google+ pushes businesses toward personal branding


Whether businesses can require employees to use social networking profiles for business purposes is a legally difficult question. Image: Flickr / foiabarea / CC-BY-SA

Google+ has kicked almost all business profiles off its social network and has suggested that businesses find a single person to take up the mantle of a business profile. Apparently Google believes in the old adage that “all business is personal.”

Google+ kicks off businesses

Google+ and businesses have a difficult relationship. Businesses immediately began creating profiles when the social network launched, and just as quickly Google+ removed them. This week, Google began systematically removing business profiles. Google Profiles have always allowed for non-personal profiles, but now Google+ is suggesting individuals take up the mantle of business profiles until a business profile infrastructure has been created.

Problems with personal identity as brand

There are many legal social, and personal questions surrounding the question of business versus personal identities. As social networks become even more important in branding, some brands are asking employees to use their personal social networks for the benefit of the company. The National Labor Relations Board has been behind several cases settled out of court where businesses taking action on the basis of employees’ social networking actions has been found to violate an employee’s freedom of speech.

Online presence still occupies a legal gray area. Employees being required to use or maintain their social networking profiles could be construed as employers requiring employees’ use of personal resources. If the employee is hourly, then that time must be compensated. Secondarily, any use of a social network for business purposes must be disclosed, otherwise it could violate FTC rules about compensated marketing. Before employers require use of a personal social networking account, a contract that outlines employee and employer responsibilities on the social networking account should be written and signed, lest the employee’s private actions on these accounts lead to work consequences. When an employee uses a social network for business purposes, all the actions of that employee may be associated with the business.

Questions about Terms of Service

On many social networks, maintaining dual profiles for individuals is not allowed. If an employer requires an employee to create a second, business-based social networking profile, it is technically violating the legally binding terms of service of the network. This mostly applies to a few of the major social networks, such as Facebook and Google+. In short, businesses requiring employees to use personal social networking profiles for business is a sticky legal situation that should be carefully negotiated.

What this means for affiliates and small businesses

When an individual business owner operates the social networking profiles for the business, the business owner can make his or her own decisions on how to mingle business and personal. Once you hire a freelancer, an employee or have a friend helping out, you should outline expectations for social networking. If you choose to mingle business and personal profiles, be careful to lock down your personal social networking profiles so only the information you are comfortable being associated with your business is shared publicly.

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