Gadget review and news site PhoneDog is suing a former worker Noah Kravitz over a Twitter account even though when he left the company he changed his Twitter handle from one which implied company sponsorship (@PhoneDog_Noah) to one which didn’t (@noahkravitz). Kravitz said he had the company’s blessing until they changed their mind after Kravitz began promoting PhoneDog competitor TechnoBuffalo.
As a result, his former employer is suing for $2.50/month per Twitter follower or $340,000 over eight months. PhoneDog says in its complaint that this amount is in line with industry standards but it is unclear which standards they are using.
Kravitz contends that a simple $2.50 multiple per follower per month is not a great way to value a Twitter account. Moreover, he argues the account itself has no value but it is the efforts related to posting tweets and the individual interest in following him which assigns the value. Moreover he says factors like the number of followers, number of tweets, content of the tweets and person publishing the tweets would factor into determining account value.
And this gets us to a new revenue model for Twitter – it seems to me that the company should be able to charge companies for accounts which they control but allow others to access under an umbrella account. This sems like a way to reduce void such problems in the future but it is really as much of an issue of policy as it is control.
Don Reisenger sums up the situation well in his post where he says:
Perhaps it’s best for companies to control their branding before trouble strikes. Rather than allowing employees to use a firm name, companies should forbid the practice. That way, if an employee leaves, the firm doesn’t have to worry about a Twitter changing of the guard.
As social networking permeates corporations expect these sorts of challenges to continue until the courts help determine who owns what. In the meantime there is a big opportunity for social networking companies and startups to help solve these problems in advance with technology.
Your "brand", personal or corporate, is very important in the Social Media Age. Embrace contracts, don't fear them. Get it in writing!