How much is a Twitter follower worth?
The question being raised in what could become a landmark lawsuit in the United States where a company (Phonedog.com) is suing a former employee (Noah Kravitz) who left the business and took his 17,000 Twitter followers with him.
When he left the company, he kept his Twitter account but changed his username from @Phonedog_Noah to @NoahKravitz. According to the New York Times, Kravitz was told he could keep the account as long as he tweeted about the company from time to time. Eight months later, Phonedog filed a lawsuit against him, claiming the followers list was essentially a “customer list” and he owed them $340,000 – or $2.50 a month per follower for eight months.
Check out Noah’s interview on CNN:
I contacted Noah today via Twitter with a couple questions I thought you’d be interested in:
1. Did the company you worked for have any sort of social media policy? Did they ask you to sign anything?
No. In fact, Monday after I officially left the company, they published my farewell post and video, both of which directed people to follow me @noahkravitz if they wished.
2. Did you tweet during and after business hours?
Yes. I tweeted on a wide variety of topics at virtually all hours.
3. What advice would you give those interested in social media but afraid of legal ramifications?
Make sure that you’re versed in your employers’ social media policies before you agree to do anything, including publicly associating yourself with the company. If you’re the employer, make sure you have clearly-defined social media policies and whatever legalese necessary to go with them.
Most importantly, communicate ahead of time! Be up front about what belongs to who, what time is company time vs personal time, and so forth. Be very clear about the ramifications of using a company name in any of your online handles (Twitter handle, Facebook name, etc). I can speak from personal experience: Break ups can cause people to do things you never could have imagined back when everyone was best of colleagues and friends. Cover all the bases you can before you start tweeting or posting so you can hopefully avoid a situation like mine later.
And don’t forget that a big part of why people follow various Twitter accounts is the personality behind the account. At Technobuffalo, where I work now, we have an @technobuffalo account but then the individual writers keep personal accounts as well. The personal accounts are personal – not company property – but we’ll use them to talk about content on the site. Followers like to read each of our perspectives on a single issue, and also get to know us on a personal level. I report on consumer tech, but I tweet a lot about things like food, music, sports and whatever’s going on in the world at a given moment. It’s fun and it creates a shared connection that can be valuable to author, follower, and “company” alike. It’s a delicate balance between what’s personal/public and company/individual, but it’s worth figuring it out. So long as both sides are honest and agree to terms (and, I guess, uphold them), social media is a fascinating evolution with a lot of value to the world.
4. Where can people find you online?
What do you think? Do you think Phonedog has a right to Noah’s Twitter account? I think Noah 100% owns his account and has every right to keep it. Please keep in mind everything Noah mentions above when tweeting on behalf of your law firm. Stay tuned for more details!