Can Twitter followers form part of a client list? This is a question the courts will have to answer as Noah Kravitz, an ex-employee for US mobile news site PhoneDog is being sued by the firm for £235,000 or rather, £1.60 for each follower for each month; approximately 17,000 followers.
Noah claims that his ex-employer had given him permission to continue using the account after he left, saying that he had been allowed to make the account personal as long as he agreed to "tweet on their behalf from time to time."
Eight months later and PhoneDog claims that "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."
This may seem as though the firm had suddenly realised it had made a blunder and wanted its money back, however, Noah is now working for competing site TechnoBuffalo and has taken his followers and their associated revenue with him. For someone who apparently "parted on good terms" with and agreed to tweet about the PhoneDog from time to time, the actions certainly don't appear to stay true to the original intent.
Noah claims that the law-suit was in retaliation to his claim to 15 per cent of Phondog's advertising revenue as a vested partner, along with claims for back pay for his previous position as a video reviewer and blogger for the site. This case is certainly a difficult one, if Noah had been employed as a contractor as PhoneDog insists, then he'd hold no right to the advertising revenue, however, unless he had been specifically contracted to form a client list on PhoneDog's behalf, this client list may very well belong to him personally; conversely, had Noah been an employee/partner, whilst being entitled to the advertising revenue, there seems little doubt that contacts formed during his time with the firm would belong to the company, as is standard practise.
The importance this case no doubt holds for many is as a potential precedent setter; are Twitter followers considered clients? We may very well find out in the months to come.