A writer’s personal brand is becoming increasingly valuable. As a freelancer, I establish my brand through networking – both in person and via social networking. I spend a lot of time showing people what I know, what I do and how well I do it. I have a website. I blog. I post links to my stories and I comment on relevant news topics on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. My hope is that as people get to know me, they will come to appreciate my talent, knowledge and judgment, and thus when they need my services, will hire me.
Full-time staff writers and editors also are out there promoting their brands. They post under their own name on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ to promote their articles. They also post professional items that are of interest to other journalists. And they post about their daily personal lives as well, just as I do.
We’re all trying to build up high numbers of high-quality connections, or “followers.” However, full-time employees are also promoting their employers. Employed journalists are expected to post stuff to promote certain articles in their publications and events sponsored by their publishers. So, whose followers are they? The writer’s or the employer’s?
That’s the question at the heart of a lawsuit brought against Noah Kravitz by his former employer. In 2010, Kravitz quit his job at Phonedog.com, a publisher of news on mobile devices and platforms, and took his 17,000 Twitter followers with him. The company is suing, saying the list of Twitter followers is a customer list, according to the New York Times.
There are some wrinkles here. Kravitz started the Twitter account and built up his followers while he was a full-time employee, under the Twitter handle Phonedog_Noah, according to the Times. When he left he changed his handle to NoahKravitz, but says that his employer agreed that he could take the followers if he twittered about the company from time to time. Apparently, though, there is nothing in writing.
Lawyers in several news reports say the Twitter handle is key to who’ll win the lawsuit. They imply that if he’d tweeted under his own name all along, then he would own the followers. But, would he? It’s one thing if the writer came to the job, bringing his followers with him, or if he had developed a following for tweeting about something besides his full-time employment. But what if he developed his expertise and his followers while at the employer? The employer may have a good argument for retaining the followers.
Freelancers may be a bit more aware of how our ability to attract an audience increases our value. My editors have told me they want me to write another story for them because of how many hits my stories get. I don’t have a particularly stellar social network, but most of my editors do want me to tweet and post about that story of mine that they are running this week. At writers’ conferences, I’ve heard book publishers say that they consider the number of Twitter followers and other social media numbers of the author when they are evaluating whether to publish a book. Who doesn’t want a ready-made readership? In fact, I won’t be surprised if that eventually becomes a standard question in job interviews.
So I’d like to poll my own social network on this topic. Does anyone know of other cases where a journalist left his job and tussled with his employer over his social network? For my full-time employed colleagues: do you think you’re more valuable to an employer because of your numerous followers? Does it help ensure your job security? Does it make you more attractive to your next employer? Freelancers: how helpful is your social network in impressing editors?