How much are your tweets worth?

Mobile news site PhoneDog is suing former employee Noah Kravitz, claiming it owns his Twitter followers. But what does PhoneDog owe Kravitz for his tweets?

Like more than 200 million other people, I have a Twitter account. And like many of them, I often wonder if there is any value at all to tweeting, besides the narcissistic belief that other people really care what I ate for lunch or what charming/obnoxious thing my children did that day. (Answer: They do not.)

That question of Twitter’s worth may soon be determined by a California court, thanks to a lawsuit filed by mobile news site PhoneDog.com. The P-dogs are suing a former employee, my pal Noah Kravitz, because when Kravitz left for greener pastures he took the Twitter account he’d created to promote his blog posts (@phonedog_noah) with him. He also changed its name to @NoahKravitz.

According to New York Times blogger John Biggs:

When he left, he said, PhoneDog told him he could keep his Twitter account in exchange for posting occasionally. The company asked him to “tweet on their behalf from time to time and I said sure, as we were parting on good terms,” Mr. Kravitz said.

No matter. Eight months later PhoneDog decided that it owned his Twitter followers, not Kravitz. So they sued him for the rights to them, claiming that his tweeps represented “customer data.” Because as we all know, the act of following someone else on Twitter is a deep personal and financial commitment, certain to pay off in sales of mobile telecommunications equipment.

The interesting part of this is that PhoneDog has determined what it believes that Twitter account is worth: $2.50 per follower per month. So it’s suing Kravitz to recover $340,000, based on 17,000 followers over 8 months.

Seem a little high to you? Me too. But it begs an obvious follow-up question: If the people who followed Kravitz are worth $2.50 apiece each month, how much are the tweets that Noah wrote worth to PhoneDog? Because we all know that a) nobody would have followed that Twitter account if Kravitz wasn’t tweeting his brains out each day, and b) PhoneDog didn’t pay him a dime to write those.

Using the Tynan Tweet Value Extractor (patent pending), I have determined what PhoneDog owes Kravitz.

Let’s say the average tweet contains 20 words, and assign an arbitrary value of 20 cents a word to that. So that’s $4 a tweet. Every time that tweet is retweeted is worth something too. Let’s say for sake of argument that every retweet is worth an additional $1, and that each of Kravitz’s tweets was retweeted an average of 10 times. Some of Kravitz’s tweets also contain links to photos, and those should be worth an additional fee – we’ll toss an additional buck at those. We’ll assume one out of 20 tweets also contains a link to a picture.

Kravitz has published approximately 25,000 tweets. So the Tweet Value math in this instance goes like this: Tweets (25K * $4) + Retweets (25K * 10 * $1) + TweetPics (25K/20 * $1) = $351,250.

In other words, subtract the payment for the followers list and PhoneDog still owes Kravitz $11,250. I think that’s fair. But if I were him I’d demand cash; I wouldn’t trust them to write a check.

The fact is, these people didn’t follow that account because of PhoneDog, they followed because of Kravitz. That’s the thing about Twitter – it’s personal, or at least, it’s supposed to be. (There are of course celebrities who hire others to tweet for them. They will all die in obscurity, most likely by choking on their own vomit.)

None of this matters, though, if the court finds that Kravitz’s former employer owns that Twitter account, regardless of the fact that it would not exist without him. In that case he may well own PhoneDog serious coin (and if I were him I’d pay it in pennies).

Today Kravitz offered this $4.40 worth of sage advice on Twitter:

Social Media Users: Be very careful when using your company's name in your online handles. Never know how/when your employers might react.

If anyone’s interested, I have a bit more than 4,000 Twitter followers, and I started my account about three years ago. Using PhoneDog’s math, my followers are worth some $360,000. But for you, dear reader, I’ll knock that down to the low low price of just $299,000. Order now, this offer won’t last forever!

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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