December 28th, 2011
06:28 PM GMT
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London (CNN) – Who owns a Twitter name and the followers that go with it? Such an obvious question, but suddenly one that has companies and lawyers scratching around to reach an answer.

It seems obvious if it's just your own name and you use it for purely personal purposes but what about if the account is also used to help promote your employer’s business?

Noah Kravitz posted tweets under the name @phoneDog_Noah but changed when he left the employ of PhoneDog which is now suing him for damages for the 17,000 followers, claiming they belong to the company. They are claiming $2.50 per month for every follower.

This has every one of us who tweets as part of our personal and working life scratching our heads and thinking about it. Who does have the right to benefit from my Twitter followers' names?

It raises questions. Are they following me because they like me? Or because I am on CNN? If I were not on CNN would they still follow me to wherever I might end up?

The British TV journalist Laura Kuenssberg moved from the BBC to ITV and at the last moment a deal was reached so she could take her 60,000 followers along too.

Her last BBC tweet was @ITVLauraK Laura Kuenssberg Thanks you for all your messages excellent followers! My last tweet as @BBCLauraK – shortly to become @ITVLauraK

However these individual cases are resolved, the bigger, wider issue is that the corporate and legal world is coming to terms with the very fast moving social media blogosphere.

A universe where the old rules seemingly don't apply and yet - we have no real hard and fast new rules to follow. Companies are twisting and turning themselves trying to make sense of it all and not lose out.

I have always known that those who follow me obviously do so because I am on CNN and it is through my work that most of them came to know of me.

The fact they stay following me is because they like what they read, they enjoy the debates we have and they feel a part of what I am doing. So whether that makes them my followers or CNN's really depends on which side of the fence you sit.

In any event, I want more of you following me, to join in our community covering the world of how we earn and spend our money. @richardquest is where we can talk and debate.

By the way, PhoneDog is claiming $2.50 per follower, per month which, if I ever leave CNN and take all my followers with me, they could claim $170,000 per month. Good luck getting that from me.

So where do you stand? Where is your loyalty as a follower?

soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Anonymous

    "T'was the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a Mouse" because the Cheshire Cat was grinnin' from ear to ear knowing what lies ahead for these mischievous mice turned RATS from "infectious greed" and gluttony of excess $ gained through fraud and lies...
    That night I had a dream of not a Santa nor reindeers creeping about the rooftop but RATS running wild from fear that their "pyramid scheme' will crumble to the ground like the twin towers of 9/11...For Santa reminded them of this "simple truth" that NO PINNACLE will gain success nor stay atop a foundation that is weakening by the load of the pinnacle's greed, gluttony and lies...although these RATS face extermination in 2012 there is a faint glimmer of hope on the horizon for those holding up the top of the pyramid...those on the bottom REFUSE to give up...they REFUSE to see their fellow human being in despair and pain...they REFUSE to see their fellow human being beaten up and beaten down...they REFUSE to see their fellow human being lose the FUNDAMENTAL CORE of survival...the foundation & strength of their family, community, country can only survive by helping each other, understanding the pain of their fellow neighbors and sharing...Happy New Year!!!

    December 28, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  2. ClearAndPresentThinking

    Never mix personal and professional on the same account. Besides. tweeting is for twits who can't count above 140.

    December 28, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  3. DONNA

    First of all HAPPY NEW YEAR ..and now in your article very intristing you see all business/.and this i like to you ..a truth if i don't have CNN and i see everything from this channel..i didn't know how are you..last day i make funn with you and sorry if was not kind..YOU DO GOOD JOB and all CNN..i have satelite in home..and i can see everythink but for news and business or P MORGAN ANDERSON and GBS i follow just i don't know how much money can in tweet make ..i.dint see like this thank you i have to see diffrent i think ....

    December 28, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  4. Dirkje

    All a bit moot. Somehow people think earlier rulings don't apply to them in the digital age.
    Content produced while under paid contract are property of the one who pays. Quite simple. One cannot twitter or wrtie anything in working hours, not even from a bathroom, and think these texts are your own.

    December 28, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  5. Mr. Idoko ogbeyi Adams

    Mr. Richard Quest, I will start following you on tweet now that i have retrieve my account on tweeter.
    Thank you.

    December 28, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  6. thatguythere

    Wouldn't this be similar to an actor touring conventions in costume?

    December 28, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  7. Seun Olakunle-Kasumu

    Your article poses a very valid question that a lot of people have not given thought to. Haven thought about it objecctively, i do believe that the followers are by default the company's (maybe with exception to family members who will follow you any way whether you work there or not).The flip side would be to argue that your doing d job so well is what makes people follow you. Depending on why you are leaving the organisation, sentiments might influence the organisation leaving you to "take" with you the followers. Though some organisations can be bearish in nature. Yes, followers are theirs.

    December 28, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  8. John

    I would never follow Quest – can't stand his reporting. He acts like a clown.

    December 28, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  9. HiroGuest

    While the topic is a valid issue for companies and corporate employees it really falls on the followers to decide who they are following.

    In this case I'm following Richard Quest, regardless of him currently working at CNN. Thus, if Richard Quest leaves CNN I will simply follow him to his next tweety account. But I'm sure there will be cases where followers are following a specific news feed regardless of who is actually tweeting, in those cases they are the company's followers.

    So, I guess you could say if the feed is exclusive to the person followers will more than likely become that person's. If it's a feed that is used for a specific type of content and specially if said feed is shared with other contributors then they followers will more likely than not remain.

    But again, it's the followers' decision, not the person's nor the company's.

    December 28, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  10. Mehran

    It's simple. Twitter was conceived as a personal means of communication. If you tweet with your personal name (i.e. RichardQuest), as opposed to the company (i.e. CNNInternational or CNN_Quest), then the account belongs to you. If it is the latter, then clearly the account belongs to the company, because you're affiliating your own name with that of CNN's.

    Sure, people follow you because you're on CNN – but that's simply one of the perks of the job.... fame. People subscribe to your thoughts and opinions and aught to know it's merely yours and not necessarily endorsed by CNN. Now, if you decide to promote CNN content, good for you, I do it all the time.

    December 29, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  11. mungchacha

    If the question is who owns the followers of someone's tweets, then the answer is that Nobody owns them. Followers can come and go as they please. Is the tweet world some kind of a gang? Once you follow someone or something you must always follow them? Most people follow because they are interested in the person who is tweeting. But they do not belong to any person or group or organization.

    December 29, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  12. MIMI

    Am gonna stand with mungchacha. As long as it has an organizations name,it belongs to d company.

    December 29, 2011 at 5:53 am |
  13. Ken

    Both has a stake, the person and the company. The company is like the main advertiser, and the person adds that personal touch that attracts that many followers. If a company's twitter account is administrated by a robot, it's boring and unappealing. If an unknown person tweets about something, it lacks credibility and exposure. In many cases, excluding celebrities, people follow someone because he's with a company that is related to their interests, so they can have updates, infos, etc. If that same person leaves and join another company which has nothing in their interests, then there's no point following still, unless that person has developed his own persona that people continue to follow because of him, not the company. In any case, if someone tweets on behalf of the company, that twitter account should belong to the company, but he shouldn't have to pay compensations or fines, just surrender that account over to the company.

    December 29, 2011 at 6:14 am |
  14. IFE

    Its the personality they follow (in realation to their work).

    FOR EXAMPLE: its like following Bill Clinton when he was in office and then unfollow him after his team expire (no way!!!)... but if Bill Clinton starts blogging about golf alone, most people would UNFOLLOW him lol.

    December 29, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  15. chimezie paschal

    am fellowing your tweets am my complement z that him supose to lean hw to reach ordas

    December 29, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  16. newper

    No – I think PhoneDog is wrong - they didn't assign the twitter account to another employee which leads me to believe that they did make that agreement with Kravits and they just didn't realize what they were loosing. Kravitz changed his twitter handle from @phoneDog_Noah to @noahkravitz as agreed. Social Media specialists are just like any other artist, not everyone can do what they do and often they bring their own following with them when they join a business. I think this is going to bring PhoneDog a lot of negative press - this may back fire on them

    December 29, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  17. ana

    As the first, you must as an employee of the some company be faced with their own´s rule if they have it. Then somebody have a right put a some objection or even sue you if you don´t follow the company´s rule...Certainly that we follow you as a part of CNN´s team. But we follow you at the same time because of you personaly Sir Richard...and it willl stay that it doesn´t matter whatever company you would work. We wish you that you have as many followers as you want...

    December 29, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  18. Kristy

    I wonder can it goes another way round? Hand over the account and ask company to pay for the efforts made that attracts so many followers. I wouldn't mind selling company my account if they think it is so important to them. Hahaa~! Well, whether or not the followers will choose to stay will be their choice.

    December 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  19. Rich

    This is just too simple for today's "Occupy" mentality, I guess.
    But it's easy: if your acct says @[company name][your name] then it belongs to the company.
    If it says @[your name] then it's yours.
    If you change it from [company name] to [your name] you have stolen it.
    And if you tweet from the bathroom whilst at work, well... you're just sick.

    December 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  20. josh

    IMO the one with the email account has possession. If it were setup under a company email address then they could control the account and no question about it. did they not realize this is probably the worst publicity they could have gotten from the whole ordeal?

    December 30, 2011 at 5:42 am |
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    So I recommend a great Polish site for people looking for a job, on which you wll find ebooks for your future career, really helpful, I use the site since 2009 and I am a happy office worker thanks to one ebook

    December 30, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  22. brit

    Dirkje, this is not so simple. I don't think it is obvious that twitter followers can be considered "content." The tweets he sent while he was working there are content, but the actual act of someone choosing to follow a twitter user is a behavior of the follower and not necessarily content as described in previous rulings. I'm not really sure that a twitter follower can even be owned. The easiest and most obvious resolution to this problem would be for Noah to send a tweet stating that he is not affiliated with phoneDog and it is his personal account and users who wish to follow phoneDog should follow someone affiliated with the company. He already changed the name to his own personal name with no mention of the of company. There are a few other problems with your assuming that this equals content.

    1. celebrities who become famous while working for a certain film or TV company bring all their fame and celebrity status with them when they leave their affiliation with said company. That fame was earned while under the employ of the TV company but it would be impossible to make the famous person pay back all the money they earn due to their fame when they leave the show. It's just not possible, and this situation is incredibly similar.

    2. One can choose to follow as many twitter accounts as they want. So, each follower of Noah can also choose to follow someone affiliated with phoneDog if they want. So, you couldn't argue that Noah keeping the followers he has takes anything away from their company. They don't lose anything. So it seems extremely difficult to prove damages unless choosing to follow someone on twitter must be an exclusive choice and no others can have the benefit of that follower. I don't see any damage done to phoneDog. If Noah was constantly slamming the company and sending out false, misleading, or proprietary INFORMATION on the twitter account, there might be a tiny bit of room for an argument, but as the case stands, I think this needs to be ruled in favor of Noah Kravitz.

    The only thing that is going to danage phoneDog's reputation is this frivolous lawsuit.

    January 1, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  23. eun young

    January 1, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  24. Ann

    Hi Richard

    A very good New Year to you. Great reporting. Keep up the good work.

    January 2, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  25. Michael Dundas

    My loyalty is almost always with the individual, not the company. At times I might realize a person exists because of a particular company, but if they move, I'll follow them. I may or may not continue to follow the company, but that really depends on the company. I wrote about it here:


    January 4, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
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    June 23, 2012 at 5:19 am |
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Quest Means Business airs Monday to Friday, 1600 New York and 2100 London, and is hosted by Richard Quest.



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