In the age of social media, it seems everything is transparent. In the case of social media contacts, which can be visible to the public through sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, there are questions as to whether that information can, nonetheless, be deemed a trade secret, and if so, who owns the trade secret.

“It was only a few years ago when businesses began incorporating social media in their marketing strategy,” says Yuri Mikulka, chair of the Intellectual Property Department at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. “Now, it’s recognized as one of the most powerful marketing and PR tools for companies, whether big or small. In fact, when positioned well, social media data can serve as an important asset of the company, especially for those relying on Web traffic and member lists to generate revenue.”

Smart Business spoke with Mikulka about ensuring social media information receives the highest possible protection and remains an asset even when employees leave.

What constitutes a trade secret?

Generally speaking, a trade secret is information that derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not readily ascertainable through, proper means by the public. A company can enforce its exclusive right to possess and use such information as long as reasonable measures are employed to keep such information secret.

Can you protect your social media profiles as a viable trade secret?

This emerging area of law was preliminarily addressed in two recent court cases. Christou v. Beatport, LLC centered on ownership of a MySpace list used by a nightclub to promote its events. When an employee opened a competitive venture, the club sued him for misappropriating its MySpace profiles. The employee responded that MySpace is public and cannot constitute a trade secret. The Colorado federal court disagreed, noting that ‘Friend- ing’ a business or individual grants . . . access to some of one’s personal information, information about his or her interests and preferences, and perhaps most importantly for a business, contact information and a built-in means of contact . . . ’ and that this information is not necessarily public.

Another case in a California federal court, PhoneDog v. Kravitz, centered on a Twitter account maintained by an employee on behalf of the employer. The departing employee kept the account for his own use but changed its name and erased any reference to his former employer. The employer sued, seeking $340,000 in damages, allegedly based on an industry value of $2.50 per follower. The court rejected the employee’s argument that a Twitter follower list cannot constitute a trade secret.

These recent decisions seem to indicate that even if social media profiles are visible online, they can receive trade secret protection — as long as some portion remains inaccessible to the public and employee passwords and login are required to view the information. Nonetheless, because these decisions were issued during early stages of cases, keep an eye out for new cases in your jurisdiction on these issues.

How do you protect social media information as potential trade secrets?  

Here’s what your company can do:

• Put in place policies, procedures and employee agreements that outline and define acceptable and prohibited use of social media.

• Make it clear in writing that any work-related social media is company property.

• Have employees sign a social media policy. At least one court recognized the importance of the employee’s signature in determining whether the company owned social media contacts.

• Get employee buy-in to effectively enforce your policy by providing training and seeking participation to protect the company’s confidential information.

• Maintain employees’ login and password information to company-related social media, and change it when employees leave.

• Periodically monitor employee online activity because trade secrets lose protection when disclosed. If disclosure is inadvertently made, quickly take down the information.

• Consult an attorney to review your social media policy, agreement and practice.

• Periodically update your policy because law and technology are changing so fast.

Yuri Mikulka is chair of the Intellectual Property Department at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Reach her at (949) 725-4000 or ymikulka@sycr.com.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth

Published in National

On November 28, the 2012 Midwest Social Media Summit will be held at Executive Caterers at Landerhaven in Cleveland, OH. This one-day-conference will offer tips and insights from social media experts and top business leaders who will help you reconsider your strategy or validate your approach.

For more information and to register, click here.

And as a special bonus to our Smart Business readers, we're giving away five FREE tickets to the event! To enter the contest, simply do one of two things:

  • Visit the Smart Business Twitter page and follow us. Then just send out a tweet that says, "I don't want to be anti-social. I want to attend the 2012 @Smart_Business Midwest Social Media Summit!"
  • Visit the Smart Business Facebook page and like us. Then post to the page, "I don't want to be anti-social. I want to attend the 2012 Smart Business Midwest Social Media Summit!"

We'll draw the winners on Monday, Nov. 19.

For additional information, please contact Anne Hydock at ahydock@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7041.

Published in Akron/Canton

You couldn’t avoid technology if you tried. It reaches into our everyday lives, and even undetected technology has embedded itself in such a way that it is impossible to ignore.

In fact, embracing technology has become a necessity for all segments of your business. And never before have technology and related social media platforms been so instrumental in your company’s ability to find, recruit and manage key talent, says Jim Dodgen, vice president, candidate services at Executive Career Services.

“One question you should be asking is whether your management team is leveraging the search for talent by using the latest tools?” says Dodgen. “And if they are not, how would you know that?”

Smart Business spoke with Dodgen about how to determine whether your company is using social media to recruit talent and how to maximize technology to reduce costs and improve market intelligence.

How can a company determine whether it is maximizing its resources in the hunt for talent?

One clue might be your HR professionals continued insistence on using and defending pricey internal online recruiting solutions when a site such as LinkedIn offers the ease and free access to thousands of qualified candidates. When you are looking to fill an executive position, one of your first calls might be to your recruiting firm, as you and your staff realistically may not have the time or expertise for the search process. And for high-level or difficult-to-fill positions, a retained recruiter is an obvious strategy.

However, outside of the people who are already in their queue, even those recruiters use LinkedIn as their No. 1 source to find candidates.

LinkedIn has become such an easy and effective way to find key talent, at all levels, that companies are increasingly using it as a resource. A quick key word search in the ‘People Search’ bar on the upper right hand corner of your home or profile page in your LinkedIn account will net a nice list of qualified candidates who are ‘advertising’ themselves via their LinkedIn profiles. There’s no better way to get up-to-date information about a candidate’s work history and the person’s value proposition, or branding statement.

LinkedIn is the place where candidates articulate their professional achievements and their industry savvy. You can tell a lot about candidate who is active on LinkedIn, which is why this resource has become so popular.

How important is it for a business and its HR department to be on LinkedIn?

If you and your HR department are not on LinkedIn, you’re missing out on streamlining your talent acquisition process and cutting your recruiting costs. If you want to use LinkedIn and still ensure that your privacy is protected, you can keep your LinkedIn profile to a minimum, set your profile searches to anonymous and still use the candidate search tools to identify potential employees.

How else can a business benefit from LinkedIn?

Not only can you use LinkedIn to find qualified candidates, but you can also engage in numerous professional/industry conversations in the Group section of your LinkedIn account. You can easily join as many as 50 industry or functional groups, where getting to know the players is only a click away. Go to the ‘Group Search’ bar in the upper right hand corner, making sure the ‘group’ pull down is selected. Then insert a key industry or functional word.

Immediately a list of related groups will come up. Select the ones that you want to join and click on ‘join this group.

Once you are ‘approved’ for a closed group, or automatically accepted in an open group not requiring approval, you can start looking over the member list to see with whom you might want to make a ‘first degree’ connection. You can also search the individual group member list by location to further refine your choices, as it makes sense to connect with those in your geographic area who share your professional and industry affinities.

The discussion streams are usually interesting and engaging, and if you have a subject matter expertise, you can easily and effectively gain acclaim among peers and leaders. As well, following group discussions can help you keep your finger on the pulse of new and developing trends.

How can someone get started?

If you’re new to LinkedIn, my best suggestion is to visit its ‘Learning Center,’ where you will find a dozen or so one-minute videos that explain the basics of the site. Technology can be daunting and downright intimidating, but a quick run through these videos will help you better understand the excellent resource that LinkedIn can be.

To find the LinkedIn Learning Center, you’ll first have to get your own account, which is an easy and free process. Once you are signed in, click on ‘Home’ and scroll to the bottom of the page. Then click on ‘Help Center’ and scroll again to the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the link to the ‘Learning Center,’ where you can click away at the generous topics and FAQs.

With more than 120 million business professionals currently on LinkedIn, isn’t it time you got on board?

Jim Dodgen is vice president, candidate services at Executive Career Services. Reach him at JimDodgen@ecscpi.com.

Insights Human Capital Solutions is brought to you by Executive Career Services

Published in Orange County

Technology makes it faster, easier and more economical to find the most qualified candidates for your company. In addition, it can help you anticipate future staffing needs and prevent bottlenecks from occurring when you have expanded production needs.

“We’ve come a long way since the days when the search for employees was limited to snail-mail, phone and fax,” says Jeremy Wilcomb, operations manager, The Daniel Group. “Today, you can be interviewing highly qualified candidates within days.”

However, there can be pitfalls.

“You can be a victim of information overload during the background screening process,” he says. “And you’re even at risk of offending candidates if technology goes awry.”

Smart Business spoke with Wilcomb about how companies can address these cautions while also taking advantage of the benefits that technology offers.

How has technology changed the way companies seek new employees?

In addition to traditional recruiting methods, technology enables us to utilize different search medians (e.g., LinkedIn, CareerBuilder, Twitter, Indeed, etc.) to seek out candidates. Today’s technology helps companies get the best candidates to the hiring manager’s table quickly. Social networking lets us get to a larger audience faster. No longer do we have to call one person and wait for that person to call someone else. In addition, we have access to larger pools of candidates.

We’re not geographically limited, either. We can search domestically, even internationally. We can get very specific in our searches and the locales in which we want to search.

How can technology help companies that experience seasonal or other unique staffing demands?

Companies with those kinds of requirements can work with a staffing firm that can then develop an inventory of candidates for that particular client. The staffing firm can prescreen candidates and then, when the employer’s need arises, the firm can contact the people they’ve prescreened to see if they are still available. In some cases, the company’s needs can be met within 24 hours.

When done correctly, this can help a company prevent production bottlenecks. This approach really helps with seasonal work and/or from a production standpoint. It can give managers peace of mind that there is technology out there housing candidates, so that the candidates will be there when the company needs them.

Are there other benefits of working with a professional firm in terms of the technologies these companies use?

Most staffing firms can generate reports that help you develop a full view of your staffing needs from the financial side, the project management side and even the training side. You’ll see how much it costs to source the candidates and how much you’re saving through more efficient processes. The firm can identify where it’s helping and even point out staffing issues it thinks you’re going to face in the future.

What is your advice for using technology to learn more about a candidate’s background?

Technology can help improve the quality of candidates you find. We have more information available to us about everyone these days. But it depends on how you use the technology. If you use every ounce of information available, it can be counterproductive. On the positive side, it gives us a better opportunity to match a candidate to a culture. For instance, if you’re a company that makes hunting and fishing gear and you’re looking for a salesperson, you can find candidates who list hunting and fishing as interests. On the flip side, you can get too much information and talk yourself out of someone who might be a great candidate.

What are some of the newer technologies being used in the hiring process?

Video resume technology lets companies get a feel for candidates who might be located, say, in another state. You can hear how they would answer a few questions and visually experience how they present themselves, as opposed to just seeing them on paper and hearing them on the phone. A lot of people are interviewing over Skype now, too.

You still lose seeing the candidate in person, though. The candidate might not be as relaxed as he or she would be in person. The lighting or transmission might be poor. You have to take those factors into consideration.

Is the personal touch still important?

Indeed it is. And you have to be careful here. There is technology today that lets you develop a spreadsheet, press a button and do a mass email to a particular group of individuals in order to see if they are available for work. With this technology, you can even get to the point of hiring someone without ever talking to them. This can be offensive to some people, because mistakes occur. For instance, you could send a warehouse opportunity to a petroleum engineer.

Are there other drawbacks with technology?

Be careful what you do in the social area. Don’t overscreen and don’t bypass someone over a particular event. Also keep in mind that the laws in this area are changing all the time.

Finally, if you have technology available to you, make sure you are using it to its fullest capacity.

JEREMY WILCOMB is operations manager at The Daniel Group. Reach him at (713) 932-9313 or jwilcomb@danielgroupus.com.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by The Daniel Group

Published in Houston
Monday, 14 November 2011 21:03

The changing role of salespeople

A salesperson’s job is to make contact with those that are potentially in need of the products or services the salesperson has to sell. They need to utilize as many tools as possible to find a way to make contact with the “right” person.  Historically at Blue Technologies, our sales force would hit the streets, knocking on doors and talking with businesses within their territory to find out what they are currently using for their office equipment needs. Typically, they could find out enough information during that cold call and use that information to get a chance to show their products.

The rapid advancements in technology have given consumers and businesses the ability to connect faster than ever before. The fast growth comes with a downside, however — the options are now endless. Users must sift through mountains of white papers and case studies to determine what the best option is. A number of users seek out references and opinions on the best products and services on the Internet. But, users and sales forces now have a tool that can help them connect in ways they never could have before — social media.

An example of how social media has changed a salesperson’s role is our Managed Print Services (MPS) division. This group has recently gone through a transformation as to how they do their prospecting. MPS allows us to monitor and manage a businesses’ printer fleet. This has become an asset to companies, as it relieves the amount of time that their IT staff spends just maintaining their output devices. We have seen a change in how we need to approach and sell this service. The process begins with a list of companies that have a high number of employees, or more specifically sixty printers or more in their network. The MPS professional’s job is to make contact with the right person at these companies. They now utilize tools such as LinkedIn, Jigsaw and Twitter to find out as much information as possible prior to even making a phone call. The amount of research that can be done prior to the first meeting has allowed our sales professionals to already know something about the person, both personally and professionally. When a salesperson can make a connection with a prospect because they share an alma mater, colleague or friend, that is priceless. In an industry that is flooded with competitors, differentiating  yourself is one of the most important keys to setting you apart from the competition. The bottom line is that people buy from people. In today’s world, buyers would much rather buy from someone that they can trust, and if, for instance, their brother’s best friend knows the sales rep, then that trust bond can be built faster than ever before.

Social media channels allow the salesperson to become a consultant to their users. Our sales force now utilizes LinkedIn as much as possible. They are connecting with their customers and posting events. They are sharing their knowledge with their connections and providing a resource to buyers seeking out their products.

Knocking on doors to find out information still happens today and will not go away,  however, now when we knock on the door we can already have the ability to know who we need to ask for and possibly what problems their organization is currently experiencing. Knowledge is power — the more you know the better it is for both buyers and sellers.

For more on social media and business:

Social media and recruiting

Social media and marketing

Embracing social media

Kelly Waite is the Marketing & Database Manager of Blue Technologies. Reach her at (216) 271-4800 or kwaite@btohio.com. Visit Blue Technologies on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 14 November 2011 20:48

Embracing social media

You are now officially out of excuses. Social media is here to stay, and if you're not on board, your business may be left behind. Even presidents and CEOs who previously had no idea of the major impact social media could offer are realizing the importance of timely and direct customer interaction.

Blue Technologies started incorporating social media in their business practices over a year ago. At first it was to have an online presence in each social media channel. However, they needed to get more out of it.

Blue Technologies brought in a recent college graduate to serve as a marketing intern. It was natural that they assigned her to take over the social media outlets, because she had already been using them in her personal life, and it was an easy cross-over to business social media. From there she was able to teach the staff how beneficial these programs could be to the company and how to utilize them in their sales efforts.

The social media world was meant to be fun, hip and young, but with its ever-growing popularity, all generations of employees must get on board. The ability to connect to current and new audiences and attracting them to your brands is priceless. Incorporating Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter in your advertising materials and websites is a simple and cost-effective way to send your message to places you never could have before.

It's true that young people invented social media and are generally the ones that eat, drink and breathe it. And yes, they might be the only ones who truly get it and are able to use it to its full potential, but that's only because they have made social media a part of their everyday lives. All it takes is a little time and effort and you too can become proficient in social media.

It’s not a secret that younger generations want to showcase their social media skills — it makes them feel important; like they have something to offer since they don't have much — if any — real life work experience. Companies would be well-served to take advantage of this enthusiasm to enhance and grow business. Bringing in a younger person to spearhead your social media efforts is win-win. You get all the benefits of a social media presence, and for the employee, social media is not a job, it's fun.

Also, utilizing social media as a means for research has cut down the amount of time one has to spend looking for information to provide to current/future customers, as well as potential job candidates. Connecting the social media generation to the baby boomers allows for an easy transition of being able to share knowledge from one generation to the next.

Social media isn’t our future, it’s already here. Embracing social media is a way that all generations can come together and learn how to better understand and better improve business practices.

For more on social media and business:

Social media and recruiting

Social media and marketing

The changing role of salespeople

Kelly Waite is the Marketing & Database Manager of Blue Technologies. Reach her at (216) 271-4800 or kwaite@btohio.com. Visit Blue Technologies on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Published in Cleveland
Thursday, 10 November 2011 12:15

Social media and recruiting

Cleveland, Ohio-based Blue Technologies is the title sponsor for the 2011 Midwest Social Media Summit. As a part of that sponsorship, Smart Business sat down with Blue Technologies to see how they have implemented social media into their business.

In the video below, Betsy Meyerson, Sales Trainer & Recruiter for Blue Technologies, discusses how a company can utilize social media in its recruiting efforts.

For more on social media and business:

Social media and marketing

Embracing social media

The changing role of salespeople

Betsy Meyerson is the Sales Trainer & Recruiter for Blue Technologies. Reach her at (216) 271-4800 or bmeyerson@btohio.com. Visit Blue Technologies on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Published in Cleveland
Thursday, 10 November 2011 12:07

Social media and marketing

Cleveland, Ohio-based Blue Technologies is the title sponsor for the 2011 Midwest Social Media Summit. As a part of that sponsorship, Smart Business sat down with Blue Technologies to see how they have implemented social media into their business.

In the video below, Kelly Waite, the Marketing & Database Manager of Blue Technologies, discusses how a company can utilize social media in its marketing efforts.

For more on social media and business:

Social media and recruiting

Embracing social media

The changing role of salespeople

Kelly Waite is the Marketing & Database Manager of Blue Technologies. Reach her at (216) 271-4800 or kwaite@btohio.com. Visit Blue Technologies on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Published in Cleveland