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
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

There’s no finish line in technology, and Brian Deagan loves it.

“Nothing’s ever done; something new is always being created and that just intrinsically creates opportunities to build companies,” says Deagan, co-founder and CEO of digital marketing services and software developer Knotice Ltd.

But along with that comes some growing pains. The company over the past five years has exceeded 500 percent growth in employees and annual revenue; however, the need to hire at a quick pace is not the only concern Deagan has.

“Keeping up with some of the basic changes and things that are going on in the market can be disruptive organizationally, but at the same time, you need to be able to stay ahead of everything, stay on top of it and stay at the pace you are at,” he says.

One of the keys is not just a business plan, but one that is derived from an operational model that is used and leveraged on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis.

“That is one of the key things to keep the business headed in the right direction and on track,” Deagan says.

The model should drive the plan, but it tends to be more operationally oriented than, for example, a 40-page business plan, which is used more as a communication tool.

“Don’t confuse something that is a communication tool versus an operational tool,” he says. “Have them related and driven by the operational plan but don’t try to have one be both.”

The business plan is important to be able to communicate the plan of the business to external and internal constituencies. The operational plan’s role is to be effective in defining growth targets, meeting those targets, and then modeling out what is needed to support that growth.

The operational model in synch with the business plan gives a one-two punch to fight threats to derail growth.

“That is one of the key things to keep the business headed in the right direction and on track,” Deagan says.

The term “on track” for Knotice means a five-year goal of going from $10 million in revenue to $100 million.

“The primary way to do that is just sort of keep your eye on the ball and build the company brick by brick,” Deagan says. “So often, when you are growing and you are building something, if you are not really focused on the here and now, you have to have an idea where you’re going.”

If you spend too much time worrying about the future and not just building the business the way it needs to be done today, you’re not going to go anywhere.

“There is a point when you are supposed to climb up to the top of the trees, get a good lay of the forest and understand where you need to create that path through the forest,” he says. “But at some point, you just need to get back down on the ground and start chopping down trees.”

Hire a complementary management team in terms of personal and skill sets, and it will serve you well over the years.

“It’s much different when you’re in a room with six people banging something out to take the company to the next level versus when you are closing in on 100 people and you need to take the company to that level,” Deagan says. “I think it’s important that as the company evolves, you are tapping the characteristics and qualities that are most important to company growth. I’m a firm believer that everybody can do that to some extent. You just need to be conscious and aware of it.”

Weighing feedback

Consumer trends rise and fall daily, and a company needs to be aware of huge shifts that may influence its long-term direction.

By evaluating customer feedback, it can help you sort out consumer behavior to see if it is a trend or just a fad.

“There may be a consumer behavior or a new technology that you need to address in the short term, and you work with your customers to understand how to help versus just reacting to a trend in a manner that might not be prudent or well-thought-out,” says Brian Deagan, CEO of Knotice.

Categorizing customers may involve some judgment decisions, but it is necessary.

“It’s critical to get feedback and engage customers that are both early adopters, as well as customers who aren’t, to make sure the things you are going to do have a broader appeal and don’t just focus on a specific niche,” he says.

Getting perspective from both is a key step.

“You may not necessarily want to do something for an early adopter ? and it could be indicative of the future, but it could also be indicative potentially of a niche segment,” he says. “Get feedback from different segments of early adopters and the majority users and balance accordingly.”

How to reach: Knotice Ltd., (800) 801-4194 or www.knotice.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 17:16

Get in the game

Imagine your biggest competitor announcing that it is shutting down its website and will no longer participate in “the Internet experiment.” I suspect you would find it foolish and look for ways to capitalize upon your competitor’s mistake.

Many companies, however, are failing to define their brands and engage with consumers across social media — a decision that is just as foolish.

The Internet became all-important to dialogue with consumers at the turn of the century when 50 percent of U.S. households achieved access. Companies that resisted or were too slow to adapt to the changing digital marketplace suffered losses of brand equity and market share, especially with young tech-savvy customers and early-adopters.

According to the Pew Research Center, today more than half of all Americans use the Internet to participate in one or more social networks. If your competition is engaged and delivering a positive brand experience in the networks and your company is silent, you are missing out on powerful consumer touch points. You may also be alienating the people you are spending marketing and advertising dollars to attract.

Missed opportunities are one of many downsides to your company being absent in the social network. Douglas Karr, founder of DK New Media and author of “Corporate Blogging for Dummies,” advises that, “These conversations are now becoming part of the public record.”

Social media dialogue can be indexed, organized and discovered in a search engine in a matter of seconds. People are paying attention to what’s being said, both good and bad, and a simple mistake made by your company can turn into a major problem that affects your company’s reputation.

While things can happen in the blink of an eye, the landscape of social networking can be a tough one to navigate. It is hard work. Consumers’ appetites for information are insatiable and less-than-immediate responses can be viewed as lackadaisical or even rude.

There are tools that can help to simplify managing your brand across social networks, but there is no substitute for thoughtful, genuine conversation with your customers.

Authenticity takes time and effort. Underestimating the resources required to be effective is one of the most common missteps in social media brand management. You wouldn’t put an intern in charge of your accounts receivable, but at far too many companies, it is interns and other low-level employees unfamiliar with the company’s history and culture driving social media participation. Management should recognize the necessity of staffing the social media function with a professional or professionals who can speak with authority, resolve customer service issues and accurately project the company’s brand position.

Jay Baer, founder of the Convince & Convert blog and author of “The Now Revolution,” which looks at the impact of real-time business on organizational structure and process, considers CoTweet by ExactTarget and HootSuite to be two of the leading “response” systems that allow companies to engage with customers effectively on multiple social media platforms. Both allow you to schedule tweets and offer simple options for replying, retweeting, sending direct messages and other features.

CoTweet’s dashboard allows for “co-tagging,” which displays the user’s initials in a tweet to identify who is answering — a helpful feature for the reader and the user both. CoTweet also allows you to assign the task of responding to a tweet from the search pad. Because so many companies discover technical support and other customer service issues through mentions of their brand name, this is an increasingly important management tool.

Other tools, such as HyperAlerts, which sends you an e-mail when someone posts something to your Facebook page, can save you time by eliminating the need to log in over and over to search for new content. Websites like TweetFX.com are great resources for more Twitter-related websites and services that can help you manage your brand on the social network.

James L. Jay is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. Jay also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in 12 Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, Jay has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.

Published in Indianapolis