All journalists, social media rockstars and PR gurus take note: Your Twitter account is apparently far more valuable than you thought.
As the New York Times reported this weekend, Noah Kravitz quit his job at Phonedog after spending four years at the site, a combination blog and ecommerce site.
While working at the site Mr. Kravitz built up 17,000 followers for the handle Phonedog_Noah. He parted with the company amicably and transferred those followers to a new handle, NoahKravitz, with the agreement that he would tweet on behalf of Phonedog.
But eight months later things soured, when Phonedog decided to sue, asking for $2.50 in damages per follower per month. 17,000 followers for eight months worked out to a hefty $340,000.
This is an issue that has not been tested yet by the courts, as we learned when Rick Sanchez was fired from CNN, where he had built up a big following under the handle RickSanchezCNN. It may begin to be part of the contractual agreements employees sign when they begin working for a firm, but for now the Phonedog case will be setting new precedent.
“We’ve actually been waiting to see such a case as many of our clients are concerned about the ownership of social media accounts vis-á-vis their branding,” Henry J. Cittone, a IP lawyer, told the New York Times.
$2.50 per follower may seem laughably high, but a big following on the service can translate directly into marketing power, for example Ashton Kutcher’s promotion of Fab, which helped them nab millions of dollars in new funding.
The larger point may be that the personal brand you build on Twitter is valuable piece of equity that you should be able to take with you, much as you rollover a 401k when you take a new job.
In the future employees may refuse to attach their employers brand to their handle without some kind of legal protection that guarantees they will get to keep some of the value they built in the event of a separation. Celebrities get the pre-nup, social media gets the pre-tweet.