Twitter has been a tool where once it was about letting people know your mundane tasks like eating breakfast or walking to the shop. After several political revolutions and breaking news events, Twitter became a mainstream tool.
As Twitter’s influence grows, so does the baggage of increasing responsibility and complicated dilemmas. Take, for example, this recent story, first reported in the New York Times, in which a former writer for PhoneDog, Noah Kravitz, was sued for $34,000 over his followers.
Kravitz, started on Twitter with this username @PhoneDog_Noah, and over time, he gained 17,000 followers. When he left PhoneDog in October 2011, he changed his Twitter name to @NoahKravitz and continued to tweet from his renamed profile. He says PhoneDog gave him its blessing to continue to tweet from that account.
Fast forward eight months and PhoneDog decides to sue Kravitz for violating trade secrets and interfering with PhoneDog’s business. PhoneDog claims the followers he amassed during his stint at PhoneDog is PhoneDog’s customer list.
This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened. When CNN sacked Rick Sanchez last year, his popular Twitter account, @ricksanchezcnn, had about 150,000 followers. But in avoiding a high profile legal spat, CNN allowed Sanchez to change his handle to @ricksancheznews and keep all his followers.
The question is would Kravitz have amassed his Twitter following if he didn’t write for PhoneDog? There is no one definite answer because it’s still a very young issue. In my opinion, PhoneDog and Kravitz mutually helped each other’s brand but one could argue that with new media, Kravitz could have built his own media entity. But the $34,000 question is would he have been as successful?
What are the lessons to be learned? Many writers spend a great deal of time and effort creating their own brand on social sites such as Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook and would throw a fit to hear that all that work would stay at their former company if they decided to move on.
No matter what industry you are in, if you are to include the business name in your username, make sure straight off the gate that you have this important conversation with your employer over who owns what.
Lessons always come with potential pitfalls as well. If your company agrees to let you keep your account but demand you change your username, the danger for that organisation is that they lose all those followers to a rival company. The next pitfall is by taking over a departing employee’s account, they can also risk losing those loyal followers because the person who has been tweeting from it is no longer doing so.
It’s a new legal issue that I am sure will be increasingly discussed and scrutinised in 2012. With new territory comes complex issues.