We all know the success of the twitter platform hinges on the number of followers someone can attract. Bloggers, recruiters, and even companies are spending millions of dollars to build their list of followers in order to leverage them for marketing their products, services and careers. Lets face it, as recruiters it takes hours and hours of tweeting in the hopes of generating groups of followers that may turn into future candidates. With all of the effort it takes to actually leverage twitter, the real question is – Who owns your followers?
I have been asking both recruiters and sales reps this exact question and 100% answered the same way – every last one indicated that they owned all of their followers since they spent time to develop them. Really? Does the individual or their employer own these followers?
In late 2010 PhoneDog.com filed a lawsuit against writer Noah Kravitz after he quit his job and took his Twitter account with him. With the blessing of the company, Noah changed his screen name from Phonedog_noah to NoahKravitz and kept the 17,000 followers that he had convinced to follow him while writing for PhoneDog. Noah continued his tweeting under his new handle and 8 months later was served with a lawsuit – PhoneDog claimed that the Twitter list was a customer list and is asking for $340,000, or $2.50 a month per follower for eight months.
Can you imagine the impact this could have on recruiter if the courts rule in favor of PhoneDog.com? We spend hundreds if not thousands of hours building our networks to better serve our employers, yet they may be able to strip away one of the most important tools of recruiter – the Rolodex!
New York IP attorney Henry Cittone recently told the New York Times: “This will establish precedent in the online world, as it relates to ownership of social media accounts. We have actually been waiting to see such a case as many of our clients are concerned about the ownership of social media accounts vis-à-vis their branding.”
The case of PhoneDog v. Kravitz is scheduled to go before a judge in late January of this year and will likely establish some legal boundaries which are very hazy today. Courts have long held that client lists, built up over time on a company's good name and using its resources, are company property. But do Twitter followers -- or LinkedIn contacts, or Facebook friends -- meet the same standard? "There is a huge gray area here," says Elise Bloom, co-chair of Proskauer Rose LLP employment law practice. She expects many more lawsuits like the Phonedog case before the dust finally settles.
"Because of the nature of social media, you have to share a certain amount of personal information and commentary in order to be effective," Bloom says. "Attracting lots of followers and keeping them, which of course is what your employer wants, means that, yes, mixed in with the corporate messages, you are going to talk about planning your wedding or what restaurants you like."
Fine, but it does raise the question: Is it your employer your followers are really interested in, or is it you?