What’s the value of Twitter followers?
To PhoneDog.com, it’s a cool $340,000 –or $2.50 per follower, per month for eight months — that it says it seeks from former employee Noah Kravitz. The mobile phone website claims Kravitz kept and renamed a company-owned employee Twitter account he maintained for them after his employment ended.
Here’s how it went down, according to a story in the New York Times.
Allegedly, Phonedog claims Kravitz amassed a huge amount of followers — 17K — under his Twitter handle Phonedog_Noah. Kravitz left PhoneDog in 2010, but said the company asked him to keep tweeting for them.
This is what Kravitz told the NYT:
PhoneDog asked if he “would tweet on their behalf from time to time and I said sure, as we were parting on good terms,” adding Phonedog told him he could keep his Twitter account.
That all changed, Kravitz claims, when he switched his handle to @NoahKravitz — and kept all of the company’s followers that he had amassed uner his old emploieye Twitter handle. Phonedog sued in July, citing their Twitter followers as their customer list and that Kravitz twitterjacked their account.
And this is where the whole case gets interesting — and murky.
“The costs and resources invested by PhoneDog Media into growing its followers, fans and general brand awareness through social media are substantial and are considered property of PhoneDog Media L.L.C. We intend to aggressively protect our customer lists and confidential information, intellectual property, trademark and brands.”
Kravitz claims PhoneDog has overestimated the value of its followers — and that the real issue is back pay and his 15% stake in PhoneDog’s ad revenue. Further, Kravitz claims that Twitter is the legal owner of the tweets he is being sued for — not PhoneDog.
Setting Twitter Precedent?
With so many companies outsourcing their social media accounts — whether to a freelancer, Twitter ghostwriter, spokesperson or even delegating the responsibility to an employee — what is the legal law about taking a company’s followers or even maintaining a page? Who owns content? And, what, if any, paperwork, must be signed off on in order for someone to maintain social media accounts? Are Twitter followers customer lists? When you leave, do you take your tweets — and followers– with you?
All thorny issues that only a judge and jury can decide.