SOME businesses could collapse if a member of staff were to walk out the door taking their LinkedIn connections with them.

It is an extreme example of a problem that businesses need to consider, according to a Dorset law firm.

Coles Miller says employers need to have a social media policy which everyone concerned understands.

Employers without such a policy could face big legal bills and lose their case if they end up in dispute over such issues, it warns.

Neil Andrews, Poole-based head of the commercial department at Coles Miller, said many companies were encouraging staff to use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.

“In the modern age of social media, people are increasingly communicating through sites like LinkedIn and Twitter.

“They’re building up their database of communications through those networking sites,” he said.

“They’re often encouraged by their employers to do so as it’s seen as a vital part of marketing.

“If someone leaves, who has all that ‘property’?

“If you’re a sales-based business and all your leads are coming through that network, and that network walks off with the employee that’s just walked out the door, that can literally be as dramatic as the business being over.”

Coles Miller is to host a seminar on the subject, along with marketing agency Intergage and recruitment company TeamJobs.

The event, Social Media, the Wild West of Our Time, will be on February 6, 9.30am to 12.30pm, at the Hallmark Hotel, Durley Chine Road in Bournemouth.

Mr Andrews will speak at the event, along with Coles Miller employment solicitor Amy Cousineau, Team Jobs managing director Jason Gault and Intergage MD Paul Tansey.

Mr Tansey said: “Many businesses are still, understandably, adjusting to life in a socially connected world.

“The importance of social media in sales, customer service, employment, brand and reputation management cannot be overlooked by any modern business but it’s a constantly evolving world and it’s vital to keep up.”

Social media in the courts

A RECENT court High Court judgement concerned three printing firm employees who resigned to set up a competing company.

Whitmar Publications claimed damages and sought an injunction restraining them from using confidential information obtained during their employment.

The High Court upheld Whitmar’s application for an injunction pending a full trial of the issues.

Amy Cousineau of Coles Miller said: “The case represents judicial recognition that social media is a business asset worthy of protection and that – in limited circumstances – employers may have ownership rights over LinkedIn accounts established by their employees.”

There has been no equivalent case regarding Twitter, but the issue of ownership was raised in 2011, when BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg left to become ITV’s business editor, re-naming her account and taking her 59,000 followers with her to the rival station.