If selling a business, can its social media accounts form part of the assets?

A recent question from one of our clients regarding selling their business which primarily evolved round their Instagram following made me take a look in to this relatively new subject – Buying and selling social media accounts.

I saw this coming I must say, back in the dark days of social media where abuse was thrown at anyone saying they used it for business – Why do I want to know what people are having for breakfast and similar were the usual taunts.

Look at things now, only a few short years on, and we are now valuing some businesses on the reach that they have on social media, in fact some businesses would not be around to be valued if it wasn’t for the likes of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube (again, I can put my hand up here too for all of my businesses).

So, if in today’s world where businesses are being bought and sold, just how important is it that we secure the social media channels they use as part of the overall assets?

Simple answer to that, especially the companies who have built up strong audiences and have their company names are their usernames, is it is very important to research their social media channels. Is it though easy to transfer ownership? Domain name is one thing and these have been made easier for transferring in recent years, but third party platforms is another thing altogether.

All these third party social media channels will set out within their terms and conditions the restriction of buying/selling/transferring of user accounts. It would be seen that the person who creates the account, ie who has the email address ownership at the time, would be the one who is granted usage of the account exclusively – We must also be aware that any kind of foul play could see you have your account suspended or even worse, terminated altogether.

I see it that when using social media you have two main areas to consider, intellectual rights to the content which has been shared on the account and also the access and admin of the account rights.

Though you may have some rights to your accounts, it will be the social media channels themselves which own your accounts (just like a domain name which is leased and not owned outright). Consent from these social media channels are not all the same, though in the whole they remain cautious about users transferring ownership of accounts. You are advised not to share your log in details with other people and nowadays you will even be alerted if you sign in to your accounts using a different router / internet accessing device.

Social media channels will all have dedicated pages to what you can and can not do and do usually highlight the buying and selling of accounts – Though it will not be easy to contact them directly to ask individual questions regarding your accounts unless you are contacting them re copyright issues.

Transferring social media accounts:

No legal advice here is offered, these are just my suggestions and do note that any such requests to transfer social media accounts should be directly solely to the social media channel in question.

I have contacted social media channels before when it comes to trademarks and also regarding changing names of accounts or even to acquire a name already in existence by someone else which have always worked in my favour. It may be less likely you get a response, as mentioned previously, if you are attempting to buy and sell accounts as most platforms will see this as a breach of their agreement with you.

  • If you are buying a business with social media accounts connected the I would make sure that the successful transfer of them is included within your terms of purchase as it is not guaranteed that you will obtain the rights to them. This could also include you adding extra terms in such as the seller as to do all that they can in order for you to obtain these social media accounts.
  • Just because you now own the email address of the business you have purchased, the social media channels may still see this as transferring account ownership without permission so beware that you may still not legally have ownership.
  • You can at least get the seller to agree not to carry on using the existing accounts or close them down if preferred – Yes you will be losing followers / likes / members, but then you at least know that the accounts associated to the business you have just purchased are not in other people’s hands.
  • The simplest solution of course is to contact the social media channels well in advance and seek their permission to transfer ownership.

Christopher Walkey

Founder of Estate Agent Networking. Internationally invited speaker on how to build online target audiences using Social Media. Writes about UK property prices, housing, politics and affordable homes.

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