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The Value of Your #Twitter Followers

March 22, 2012

There was a recent political kerfuffle over the use of the Mayor of London’s twitter account:

Labour claimed the decision to migrate the official mayoral Twitter account, set up in May 2008 and managed by the publicly funded Greater London Authority, to support Johnson’s re-election bid was potentially a misuse of resources, and swiftly referred the matter to the GLA’s monitoring officer.

Johnson’s team initially argued that the account was owned by Twitter, not the GLA, and claimed it was Johnson’s popularity that had attracted the followers to the account in the first place.

Within hours, Johnson’s campaign issued a statement saying that in light of the “hysteria” caused, the Tory candidate would no longer use the account for election purposes, although the @BorisJohnson name remains.

The account was set up after Johnson was elected and was briefly called @BorisJohnson, but within a few weeks the mayor decided to change to @MayorofLondon, according to Johnson’s team.

A campaign spokesman said the decision to change the account name back to Boris Johnson had been done in the interests of transparency. “As he entered the campaign he was determined to ensure there was no confusion between him as mayor and him as a candidate, and therefore changed the name of his Twitter account.

There is a really serious point here. Lots of people are going to be running Twitter accounts as part of their work. Now if that account is an official one as part of your job, the ownership is clear. However if you’ve set it up on your own initiative and are using it partly for work and partly for your own interests; I can see a grey area developing. How many of the people following you are doing so because of your position or because of you? How much of the time spent updating is is on work time? The classic example of such a row is the PhoneDog row:

In October 2010, Noah Kravitz, a writer who lives in Oakland, Calif., quit his job at a popular mobile phone site, Phonedog.com, after nearly four years. The site has two parts — an e-commerce wing, which sells phones, and a blog.

While at the company, Mr. Kravitz, 38, began writing on Twitter under the name Phonedog_Noah, and over time, had amassed 17,000 followers. When he left, he said, PhoneDog told him he could keep his Twitter account in exchange for posting occasionally.

The company asked him to “tweet on their behalf from time to time and I said sure, as we were parting on good terms,” Mr. Kravitz said by telephone.

And so he began writing as NoahKravitz, keeping all his followers under that new handle. But eight months after Mr. Kravitz left the company, PhoneDog sued, saying the Twitter list was a customer list, and seeking damages of $2.50 a month per follower for eight months, for a total of $340,000.

PhoneDog Media declined to comment for this article except for this statement: “The costs and resources invested by PhoneDog Media into growing its followers, fans and general brand awareness through social media are substantial and are considered property of PhoneDog Media L.L.C. We intend to aggressively protect our customer lists and confidential information, intellectual property, trademark and brands.”

There is more legal discussion of the case here, which is still ongoing. However both stories show that there is confusion here as to who owns a Twitter account when push comes to shove…

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