Who Owns Relationships?

In July, PhoneDog.com filed a lawsuit against its former employee, Noah Kravitz, for violating trade secrets and misappropriation of the company’s Twitter account.

Kravitz managed the PhoneDog Twitter account, which was also his personal account, while with the company. Well, PhoneDog filed suit to reclaim his 17,000 followers, claiming that they are actually PhoneDog’s. The lawsuit is for $340,000 or $2.50 per follower.

Owning Relationships

Now, the question has bee raised around who really owns the relationships. Kravitz continued to tweet about PhoneDog even after he left the company because he left on good terms. He put a lot of work into the account and built the following on his own. However, part of that growing following could be attributed to the fact that Kravitz was associated with the brand. 

Was it his hard work or his association with PhoneDog that built the following? It’s likely a combination of both, so now the question of who owns the relationship is being decided by the courts.

Instincts tell me that the relationships are with Kravitz, not PhoneDog because people want relationships with other people. Kravitz was the one they interacted with and got to know, not PhoneDog. This is the danger of putting a real human behind a company’s social media presence. Even though it’s a danger, it’s still a very valuable way to build deeper connections with customers. However, I understand PhoneDog’s perspective as well.

Value of Relationships

The $2.50 per follower number is interesting. There’s certainly no shortage of studies out there that claim a follower or fan is worth a certain number, but the problem with this $2.50 number and any other value of each follower study is that they assume ever person is equal.

Not all followers are created equal. People follow and fan for different reasons, and many may never see the brand’s content. In addition, not every brand’s followers are equal. One person may be more valuable to one brand than they would be for another brand. It comes down to purchase frequency, size of purchase, business model and so on.

The outcome of this case will be very interesting, but the true value of each follower depends upon the brand. Every follower is worthless unless the brand does something with them such as converting them to purchase, providing customer service to maintain loyalty and turning their follow into revenue-driving actions. Don’t assume that just because they’re a follower, they’re valuable because that is not the case.

Establish the Ownership Before Relationships

The issue with PhoneDog and other organizations is that they didn’t establish the rules early on. Much of this issue could have been overcome with a social media policy that 1.) outlined who owned a brand account and the relationships with customers, 2.) who was authorized to engage on behalf of the brand and 3.) how social platform management transitions would take place if needed.