The value of Twitter followers: You can’t put a price on them
The debate about how much Twitter followers are worth to organisations continues to be a hot one. Last year mobile reviews website PhoneDog tried to put a price on Twitter followers of $2.50 as it sued a former reporter, Noah Kravitz, for leaving and talking his followers with him.
The two have now settled out of court closing a case that has rumbled on for a year. Terms of the deal between Kravitz and his former employer PhoneDog were not disclosed, but the key point is that @noahkravitz will keep control of his followers. That’s another win for the employee and I think another really strong indication of who owns the followers.
The PhoneDog case echoes the most famous British example from July 2011 when reporter Laura Kuenssberg moved from the BBC to ITV, as she swapped the role of BBC chief political correspondent to ITV business editor. In the process the BBC lost 60000 Twitter followers to ITV.
When Kravitz left PhoneDog he had 17,000 followers. He now has more than 23,000.
PhoneDog has given no comment. Clearly this was not how they were hoping the story would play out despite initially thinking it had a strong case. This was based on the fact that when he left to work for a rival site TechnoBuffalo he changed his Twitter handle from @phonedog_noah to @noahkravitz.
Its argument was that surely with the company name in the Twitter handle of its staff it owned the followers? Its view was that followers were like a customer list and so belonged to it.
On that basis it priced Twitter followers like names on a customer database — something which they are not. It then came up with the figure of $2.50 per follower and said Kravitz owed them $340,000.
When it came down to legal arguments Kravitz told the court that he used the account mostly for personal tweets despite it being a work account. I’m sure he did. We all mix it up. It is standard Twitter behaviour for most of us.
He also reminded people how much and how quickly things have changed. He started at PhoneDog in 2006 when there was no Twitter account.
“In retrospect I’m sure we all wish we’d been able to foresee what was coming and negotiate specific terms ahead of time. But sometimes in this industry you have to move quickly to seize opportunities and that’s what we always did. As a result, we had to sort through some things after the fact, and I’m glad we were able to,” Kravitz said.
He added that if anything good has come of this he hoped it’s that other employees and employers out there can recognize the importance of social media to companies and individuals.
“Good contracts and specific work agreements are important, and the responsibility for constructing them lies with both parties. Work it out ahead of time so you can focus on doing good work together — that’s the most important thing,” he said.
Followers belong to staff
Kravitz makes good points, but my take is that followers below to those that Tweet.
An organisation will get more out of its staff in social media if you don’t set down draconian rules about the ownership of Twitter followers. That doesn’t encourage staff. What it does encourage them to do is set up their own separate accounts. Leaving the company with personality lacking staff accounts, which will attract fewer followers.
When staff leave companies should accept that the followers go with the member of staff unless it is a generic company account called for instance @PhoneDog or @Brandrepublic.
Building up your core social media presence should be your number one aim not worrying about individual accounts. It is a case of eye on the prize.
If staff members have grown large following it is in many cases down to the individual not the company they work for. You can’t bottle that.
Trying to retain the “value” you have placed on followers, trying to realise that $2.50, is like scooping water with your hands.
Companies should encourage their staff to Tweet about work, to share content and stories they are working on. And yes they should encourage them to build their following, which will benefit the organisation for as long as they are employees. That’s good social media policy.