Who owns influence?

It wasn’t too long ago that news of lawsuits involving employee use of social media in the workplace dominated tech headlines. In fact, I’ve written on the subject. We’re far from hearing the end of such issues. This latest one takes the proverbial cake and is far from resolution as more companies get social.

PhoneDog.com is suing former employee Noah Kravitz over the followers he earned tweeting on behalf of the company as @PhoneDog_Noah. Kravitz has since changed the name of his Twitter account to @NoahKravitz. PhoneDog argues that the substantial following Noah has built belongs to them in the form of a customer list. A publicly-displayed list. A publicly-available list that wasn’t necessarily vetted as actually consisting of actual customers. A publicly-available, non-vetted list that PhoneDog wants money for.

Being fairly expert myself on how Twitter is used, and more importantly how social influence works, I argue that PhoneDog’s customers who followed @PhoneDog_Noah were more interested in what Noah had to say than with what his employer had to say. Moreover, can PhoneDog (or Kravitz for that matter) state with any certainty the intent of why these folks chose to follow (and thus be part of this list)? It’s all opt-in folks.

Influence in terms of building community or in sharing content is largely based on individual and personal connections. It’s all about personal brand.

Companies should realize their employees bring their own brand to their jobs. It might not be stated, but folks have always been hired on that notion. Even if social accounts are specifically created on behalf of an employer, the value lies in the brand the employee brings to the table.

If the concern is on the potential worth of the folks on this list, are you measuring ROI? Do you know the actual value of sales generated through social? What does your social media policy state?

To use @EMCcorp as the example, it’s policy that employees not use EMC marks or logos on personal accounts, and instead rely on their own personalities and brands to speak about their expertise. Of course, we also have a robust process for empowering and branding official social presences.

From EMC’s Social Media Policy:

Remember that EMC’s brand guidelines prohibit the personal use of EMC’s logos and trademarks, so you should keep these off your personal blog and social media accounts.

We don’t expect that our rockstar employees will remain in our employ forever, but on the flip side, we hope so and aggressively recruit the best talent. If these folks happen to be socially-active as a professional in EMC’s space, we certainly hope they bring influence to the table.

Here’s an interesting chat with Noah Kravitz via KQED in San Francisco:

Anyway, PhoneDog.com has already reaped a bounty on this matter. The little-known mobile review site is now in the limelight, without an advertising budget.