June 15, 2011

Back to Work on Social Media Ethics Issues for Lawyers, Judges, Jurors, and Others

Posted in Best practices, Courts and social media, Facebook, Judicial misconduct, Jury misconduct, LinkedIn, Twitter, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 11:05 pm by bizlawblog

Writing Class 1photo © 2008 Karen Chichester | more info (via: Wylio)
It should be obvious from looking at the date of my last post on this blog that I’ve taken something of a leave of absence from actively posting here. I have been periodically updating the best practices page, but other than starting several articles I’ve not yet finished, I’ve not been actively and regularly posting here for quite some time.

On the other hand, I’ve been pretty active on Twitter, having recently passed the 3,500 hundred Tweet mark (not that this is necessarily “a good thing”), mainly about social media issues and applied entrepreneurship tactics, and developed a little band of “followers.” I’ve likewise assembled an impressive group of “smart folks” who I follow and read regularly. The Twitter ecosystem of experts is impressive if you can figure out how to sort through all the snake oil salesmen.

During my “leave of absence” from this blog, I’ve likewise posted thousands of articles on the two groups I started on LinkedIn, Applied Entrepreneurship and Social Media Search and Forensics. I also started a Facebook group on Applied Entrepreneurship. I’m even starting to raise my Klout score to a respectable level, but that has not left me much time to tend to this blog, and I’m sorry about that and I plan to remedy it.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on presentations for the Louisville Bar Association and a series of CLE seminars for the Kentucky Bar Association on ethics and social media forensics issues for attorneys. I didn’t mean to leave the judges or jurors out, but with the opposing ethics opinions in Kentucky (saying it is OK for judges to have attorney “friends” on Facebook) and Florida saying just the opposite, I’m going to leave the judiciary alone for a while. I’ll get back to them shortly, and have started an article about some of the good and bad things judges are doing with, and to social media. With regard to juror misconduct involving social media in some way, articles now pop up every day, and I periodically add citations, in the comments, to my earlier post, Social Networking Threatens Another Jury Verdict.

What I have also done is to add a couple of files via the box.net widget at the bottom of the right hand column on this blog and on my LinkedIn profile page. One file is an Excel spreadsheet I had kept updated until early last year, giving title, author, date, and URL for hundreds of articles I “curated” on social media issues. I’ve just started to update that with dozens of additional articles, now reaching a total of over 500 articles related to social media issues. I have many more I have not yet had time to add, but will work on that in the next week. I have also started to include the URL of ethics opinions available online, started to refresh my tags column so one can sort the articles a little better by topic, and even added a jurisdiction column so ethics opinions will be “sortable” by state.

Also available from the box.net widget is a Social Media Glossary” in Word format, which I created for a Louisville Bar Association seminar I did last year on social media. I’ve added a number of terms and definitions to it, and it can likewise be downloaded.

If you liked what I was posting but wondered what happened to me, I hope you now know a little of what I’ve been up to. I hope the improvements to the resources, along with an effort to post on a more regular basis, will allow you to forgive my absence.

May 27, 2010

Could Social Media Plug the BP Oil Leak? Can Social Media Clean It Up?

Posted in Best practices, Facebook, LinkedIn, Productivity, Social Media Tools, Social networking policy, Twitter tagged , , , , at 10:28 pm by bizlawblog

The title of this post notwithstanding, I’m not asking if:

  1. dropping all the Facebook  “friends,” LinkedIn “contacts,” and Twitter “followers” into the ocean directly above the horrific BP oil leak would plug it; nor
  2. if there might be a possibility that turning a year’s worth of online digital chatter into pieces of paper containing those messages would bury the leak so much as to stop it.

Granted, there are statistics indicating:

  • Facebook is said to currently have more than 400 million active users; 50% of whom, as active users, log on to Facebook in any given day; the average user has 130 friends; people spend over 500 billion minutes per month on Facebook; there are over 160 million objects that people interact with (pages, groups and events); the average user is connected to 60 pages, groups and events; the average user creates 70 pieces of content each month; and more than 25 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) shared each month.

These statistics come from Facebook.

  • LinkedIn may have over 65 million members in over 200 countries; have a new member join approximately every second, and and be able to boast that executives from all Fortune 500 companies are members.

These statistics come from LinkedIn

  • Twitter is said to have 105,779,710 registered users; new users signing up at the rate of 300,000 per day; and 180 million unique visitors coming to the site every month.

These statistics come from the Huffington Post

Some might say these statistics are inflated. That would certainly be a surprise wouldn’t it? The Tweet Twins, yes, you read that right, put these statistics, as of December, 2009 at:

  • LinkedIn users at 24 million unique U.S. visitors;
  • Facebook users at 23 million unique U.S. visitors; and
  • Twitter users 116 million unique U.S. visitors

Any way you slice it, these are some hefty numbers. What I’m wondering is, with all those folks using social media to connect, learn, and more, why does social media seem to have so little a role in solving the BP oil catastrophe?

I searched the BP Web site and failed to come up with an easy way to offer a suggestion to BP on how to fix the problem. I’ve heard on the news that everyone from actor Kevin Costner to some of our most brilliant scientists have tried to make suggestions, but have had a difficult time getting anyone at BP to listen to them. How could that be in a world with such robust social media platforms designed specifically to facilitate communication?

“”They’re clearly out of ideas, and there’s a whole world of people willing to do this free of charge,” said Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of InnoCentive Inc., which has created an online network of experts to solve problems.”

When I searched the BP Web site for information on the oil spill, I found very little, if anything, to allow one to post a suggestion. BP America has a Facebook page and a presence on Twitter. The official Deepwater Horizon Response has a Web site. It states:

“A Unified Command has been established to manage response operations to the April 20, 2010 “Deepwater Horizon” incident. A Unified Command links the organizations responding to an incident and provides a forum for those organizations to make consensus decisions. This site is maintained by the Unified Command’s Joint Information Center (JIC), which provides the public with reliable, timely information about the response.”

Below that statement are the names of fifteen .gov sites one might initially think were intended to facilitate the process of transmitting one’s brilliant, problem solving ideas to the “proper authorities.” Not so fast. All you get here is links to the home page of these fifteen government agencies.

The Unified Command Web site contains a link to an Alternative Technology Response Form, posted online. It also has a suggestions page where it says:

“BP has established a process to receive and review submitted suggestions, on how to stop the flow of oil or contain the spill emanating from the Mississippi Canyon 252 well. Proposals are reviewed for their technical feasibility and proof of application.”

“More than 7,800 ideas have been proposed to date. Given this quantity of technical proposals suggested by industry professionals and the public, it may take some time to technically review each one.”

Maybe they don’t need our input, with all those suggestions. As a student of how social media can be used by businesses, I find it hard to believe that putting up an essentially static Web page with a limited information form is the best way to get meaningful input. It took a while to find out how to offer a suggestion and the Web site says they are apparently overloaded with suggestions. Traditional media channels are full of stories about people who have suggestions but can’t seem to get anyone to listen.

BP seems to tout its expertise. BP America’s Web site maintains that:

“BP strives to minimize the environmental impact of its activities by applying management systems and standards and using innovative technology in its operations.”

If BP is innovative, they have not yet proven it in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill response. As of this writing, they were still struggling to find an effective way to “plug the damn hole.”

Perhaps they have not seen the wisdom or potential application of James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of  Crowds. Surowiecki says:

“If you put together a big enough group of people and ask them to ‘make decisions affecting matters of general interest,’ that group’s decisions will, over time, be ‘intellectually [superior] to the isolated individual,’ no matter how smart or well-informed he is.”

If BP is actually getting too many suggestions to handle well in a finite amount of time, what would they have to lose by giving the wisdom of the crowd a shot? One of my favorite examples of how a business can use the wisdom of the crowd to be successful comes from Threadless. As Max Chafkin says in his article about the company in Inc. magazine, The Customer is the Company:

“…[t]he lesson of Threadless … demonstrates what happens when you allow your company to become what your customers want it to be, when you make something as basic and quaint as ‘trust’ a core competency. Threadless succeeds by asking more than any modern retail company has ever asked of its customers — to design the products, to serve as the sales force, to become the employees. Nickell has pioneered a new kind of innovation. It doesn’t require huge research budgets or creative brilliance — just a willingness to keep looking outward.”

If you are not familiar with the Threadless business model, it would be fair to say it is one in which the customers create the product. Threadless makes T-shirts. They don’t think up the designs, however. They let the customers do that. Anyone who wants to can design a shirt. Once the designs are in, customers have an opportunity to engage in a “popularity contest” and pick their favorite design. Threadless then produces the winning T-shirts for a group of potentially interested customers who are already prequalified buyers.

Could BP do worse than they are now? What would they have to lose by opening up the potential solutions and letting the world vote on the best solutions? If the “best” solutions didn’t work, it would seem they and we would be no worse off. Maybe Kevin Costner has the solution. Maybe Joe Shmoe does. I don’t know. What we do know is that BP has apparently not come up with one yet.

Maybe it is time for the wisdom of the crowds to take a shot at resolving the continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Could social media be used to “plug the damn hole?” Could the use of social media be helpful in finding ways to more effectively remediate the damage the oil spill has and will cause?

I don’t know, but could BP do worse than asking?

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

If you are really interested, I just started yet another free group on LinkedIn, Social Media Search and Forensics. Many of these articles and discussion about them are posted there. Please join us

May 24, 2010

Social Media Best Practices

Posted in Best practices, Facebook, LinkedIn, Productivity, Social Media Tools, Social networking policy, Twitter tagged , , , , , at 11:30 pm by bizlawblog

I seem to be getting more and more organizations asking me to talk on the issue of using social media for business. As a result, I have been collecting articles, so I can try to impart the wisdom of others upon the neophytes. In many ways, as the social media ecosystem continues to grow and mature, we are all neophytes. I have tried to learn from what others have said. I have occasionally found their wisdom too obscure or irrelevant for my purposes, but have also found some gems along the way.

This page is devoted to starting a formal catalogue of the articles I have found to be most useful or insightful, in hopes of helping others find their way.

There is so much “wisdom” and so little time, as they say, that I’d like some help building this list. If you have a favorite piece you would like to recommend for others to read, in order to find their way down the path to more a useful social media experience, please add your comments. I will add the best to this list and keep this going as long as I can.

Social Media Practices, in General

Social Media for Business

Blogging

Facebook

LinkedIn

Twitter

Filtering and Accelerating Social Media Monitoring

*For an updated and extended version of this post, click here or on the link under “Pages” in the upper right hand margin of this blog: Best Practices – Tips on Social Networking

Please take the survey on best social media “best practices” article you have read.

December 17, 2009

Employer Ownership of Employee Social Media Accounts

Posted in Best practices, Courts and social media, Employee issues, Facebook, LinkedIn, Productivity, Social networking policy, Twitter, Uncategorized, Web 2.0 tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 1:13 pm by bizlawblog

Over the last 35 years, I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with disputes between employees and their employers. I’ve been on both sides of the table, drafting and enforcing non-compete agreements, and helping employees break those, which did not adhere to legal or moral principles.

In “the old days,” some of the primary issues related to whether the employer could keep an employee, or former employee, from using information the employer said was “proprietary” and, in many cases, whether the now departed employee had been using that information, while still employed, to set up or assist a competitor. With the onset of social media, many “prospectors” are now using social media to find business prospects and to maintain a relationship with them.

In some cases, the employer will mandate that employee are to engage in using social media channels, such as LinkedIn and Facebook to hunt for prospects or deal with customer service issues. In some cases, it is the employee who suggests this tactic or uses it, often outside of the office environment, to do the prospecting. As is the case with the enforceability of non-compete agreements, there is a great deal of misinformation and confusion about what the law says about all this. As is also the case with non-compete agreements, what the law says may be different in different jurisdictions. In Kentucky, for instance, the case law has matured in different directions on some non-compete issues, between the state court system and the federal courts in Kentucky. This is great for lawyers, but not necessarily so for those trying to find their way.

The relatively new world of social media adds a new layer of complexity to this, and the ownership of social media accounts, as well as ownership of the contacts and other data contained therein, has become an increasing source of questions for employers and their lawyers. Many employers ban the use of social media, on site or off, and particularly prohibit unauthorized references to the employer, brands, other employees, “the boss,” etc. Some of these fears, as described in David Kelleher’s article, 5 Problems with Social Networking in the Workplace, are well deserved, and some are not. Fortunately for employers, most, if not all of this is easily clarified with some basic but well drafted documents.

Long before the advent of the social media age, employers routinely required employees to sign non-compete and non-disclosure agreements. If properly drawn, these agreements defined what intellectual property, including clients, prospects, and other proprietary or “sensitive” information belonged to the employer and was prohibited for post employment or other unauthorized use. Likewise, courts have dealt for many years with the issue of the employer’s right to monitor and screen employee communications, including e-mail.

What is relatively new these days is the ownership of social media accounts and content. I have represented many client groups, such as those in the insurance business, where it is relatively common for agents to take their “book of business” or client accounts with them from agency to agency. In many cases there are non-compete agreements binding the parties. Since moving around is so common, however, many agencies will agree to allow a well-networked agent to come in, with the option to take their “book of business” with them upon departure. Only new clients generated at the new agency, or other particular “house accounts” might be protected, in order to induce a successful agent to come on board. This too can be easily defined, and I’ve drawn up hundreds of these agreements over the years.

The ownership of an employee’s “personal” LinkedIn accounts and contacts, however, has not been well defined by the courts, at least on a specific basis. Likewise, Facebook and Twitter accounts are becoming some of the most valuable tools in the hunt for prospects and retention efforts to maintain current business. In many cases, these accounts have been created by an individual prior to the employment situation in which they are used. In some cases, it is the employer which provides the basics, and may even be setting up the account used by the employee. Witness the note from Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, providing employees with a Beginner’s Quick Start Guide and Tutorial to Using Twitter. Once again, a clear employee use policy and non-compete agreement and NDA can resolve the issues to avoid most disputes and win the rest. Having a well thought out damage control procedure is also helpful.

For those not endowed with good legal and HR backup in these areas, social media sources can provide the answer to the many of the problems involved in their use. Typically, the cases involving confidentiality revolve around the expectation of privacy. A subset of this issue relates to whether a policy is in place, existence of password use, and other indications the social media content would normally and reasonably be anticipated to be private or something in which the employer had an interest. This has been the primary rule on e-mail accounts and content for many years and has been often litigated, even prior to the relatively new federal rules on e-discovery. This is not much different from court decisions indicating an employer can secretly videotape an employee on the job.

Beth Harte’s nice article on this, Who owns your Twitter or Facebook Connections?, is a good start. As she points out:

You might not like what I am about to say here, but I believe that if a company is paying you to connect with people online on their behalf…they own those connections…

Take my Twitter/Facebook accounts, I am Beth Harte on both. If I were to join a company in marketing capacity and continue to increase my connections while they are paying me, I believe those connections are the property of my employer. Or are they?

How do we address this potential issue? Here’s one thought…

Prior to accepting a job, negotiate that all followers/friends (existing or new) will remain your property and that the company has the right to “borrow” your accounts and connections for the period of your employment.

Using the example of my insurance agency clients, Harte’s suggestion would probably be:

Prior to accepting a job, negotiate that all followers/friends (existing or new) will remain your property and that the company has the right to “borrow” your accounts and connections for the period of your employment.

Does that work? Would employers buy into that? Would we need to prove the value of our accounts before they would accept those negotiating terms?

Blogging provides an even more interesting set of problems. Some, such as Chris Gatewood, feel “Employers cannot control their employees’ online conduct away from the office, and for the most part, they should not try.” In many cases, employee blogs are primarily personal, but may contain statements about their employer, the employer’s products or services, and sometimes about policies, other employees, etc. Likewise, it is easy for a current or former employee to “slip” and post something about a new technology the person has worked on, or other information the employer would consider proprietary. Once again, a good non-disclosure agreement can deal with these issues in advance.

Joshua-Michele Ross points out in his article, A Corporate Guide For Social Media:

Big corporations are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to harness the benefits of increased employee participation while mitigating the risks. Clearly there is no one-size-fits-all: If you are in financial services you have unique concerns for privacy, if you are part of the YMCA, you must be aware that having counselors “friend” teenagers is not appropriate, etc.

While there are possible negatives involved in having employees on the social Web, most employees have common sense. Begin with a set of possibilities first (increasing awareness, improving customer service, gaining customer insight and so on) then draw up a list of worst-case scenarios (bad mouthing the company, inappropriate language, leaking IP, to name a few). Modify the guiding principles for your employees below to help mitigate the risks you’ve identified.

Once you embrace having your employees participate in the social Web, give them a few basic guiding principles in how they conduct themselves.

While issues related to ownership of social media accounts and content are relatively well defined, in those cases where there are clear policies and agreements in place, as well as where the activity is clearly sponsored or encouraged by the employer, and the employee is using the employer’s resources to engage in such activities, the law is less settled in the case of pre-existing “personal” accounts used with a new employer, or used without the employer’s knowledge or resources. These can likewise be resolved easily with a good agreement, but we lawyers are waiting to pay our kids’ college tuition, dealing with those cases where the employer or employee has not been perceptive enough to resolve this in advance with a basic set of written agreements and policies.

This area of the law is rapidly changing and newer technologies, such as Twitter, and concepts such as “followers,” will provide the need for professional assistance to help manage these issues, and the risks they entail, for many years to come. Yesterday’s non-compete and non-disclosure agreement, as John Jantsch points out in his article, Do You Have a Social Media Non-Compete?, may not work tomorrow, unless it is particularly well drawn to provide for such new technologies and concepts.

I try hard to be proactive with my clients, but I “love” clients who get their legal advice, and forms, online and then have to make “The Call” to the lawyer to seek help. I believe it may have been GM’s Mr. Goodwrench commercials, which proclaimed, “pay me now or pay me later.” In these cases, the pay is much better for the lawyers “later” and for the parties, earlier.

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

If you are really interested, I just started yet another free group on LinkedIn, Social Media Search and Forensics. Many of these articles and discussion about them are posted there. Please join us.

November 23, 2009

Oh the Horror! Weighing Legal Fears Against the ROI of Social Media in Business (Part 1)

Posted in Best practices, Courts and social media, Criminal activity, Employee issues, Facebook, LinkedIn, Productivity, Social Media Tools, Social networking policy, Twitter tagged , , , , , , , at 1:15 am by bizlawblog

Social media use for individuals is becoming harder to ignore all the time. Some, like me, long avoided it, based on worries about spam and identity theft. In fact, the theft can actually exceed one’s identity. I feel concerned, when I see friends, neighbors, and clients posting online, telling the world they’re about to go on a trip for five days. Isn’t that like broadcasting to burglars? Some apparently think so. Rebecca Camber reports Facebook and Twitter users face pricier insurance as burglars ‘shop’ for victims’ personal details on networking sites.

The social media investment decision is much more complex for business strategists. So, when considering jumping into or increasing your business social media campaign, how do you weigh the potential return on investment against all those horror stories you hear about the bad things that can happen?

Less than a year ago, I received an e-mail from a business associate inviting me to “link” to him on LinkedIn. He is a client and also my associate in a “virtual” consulting business, so I “trusted” his invitation and clicked on the link in his e-mail. “Poof,” with a few clicks of the keyboard, inputting some relatively low-level contact information, I became a member of LinkedIn, my first real social networking experience. Less than a year later, I have started two LinkedIn groups, manage another one, have started a companion Facebook group, and am regularly recommending social networking strategies for my small business clients. I just had my flu shot, but sounds like I’ve caught at least one virus, doesn’t it?

We’ve all read those stories, like The Social Media Revolution is Changing the Way We Do Business, presumably leading us, as entrepreneurs, to the conclusion we should jump on the paradigm change and invest heavily in social media marketing for our company. After all, as the article says:

The number of texts sent and received every day exceeds the Earth’s population! It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million people, yet Facebook added 100 million users in less than 9 months! If Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth largest country in the world, after the U.S.  Ashton Kutcher and Ellen DeGeneres have more Twitter followers than the entire population of Ireland, Norway and Panama! These astounding facts were published recently in the YouTube video, “The Social Media Revolution”. The world of social media is exploding, bringing people to people and businesses to people in a way never before imagined; and it’s having a profound effect!

Social media is no longer a casual social interaction. Businesses nationwide are jumping into the arena, not merely to gain the ear and attention of their constituents and clients, but more importantly, to create one-on-one relationships with the public at large.

But what about The Social Media Fear Factor? Rachel Happe’s article points out that “there is plenty to be anxious about in considering using social media for business.” Among other things, there is:

  • knowing your legal and cultural boundaries and limitations;
  • being prepared to respond proactively to criticism;
  • being sure enough of your intellectual property assets to engage in sharing them, to some extent, with competitors;
  • having enough interesting content

Of course, like anything else, if you don’t know what you’re doing there is always the chance of making yourself look like an idiot. Unique, relevant content is always appreciated, as Joe Hall points out in his article, Cup of Joe: How Not To Go Viral and Look Like an Idiot.

There are, however, much worse things to fear. One of those was telegraphed by the title of Jordan McCollum’s article, Are You Breaking the Law with Social Media Marketing? Her article focused on what some consider to be new regulations or changes in existing regulations by the Federal Trade Commission with regard to self-advertising. In fact, these new guidelines, available from the FTC, really clarify existing law, which provides that if somebody is paying you to endorse a product, you must disclose it or face a substantial fine. Unless you’re trying to pull a fast one on your customers, this really shouldn’t be a problem and the “new” guidelines should be seen as assisting in preventing mistakes, rather than imposing new regulations. Nothing to fear there, so what’s the problem?

One issue is that once we publish on the Web or the social media equivalent, if we’ve made an error, it never goes away. As Eric Enge’s article points out, The Web is a Permanent Record. Once published digitally, our error is always there, lurking just below the surface (if we’re lucky and it is not on the surface) for some customer, competitor, or regulator to discover.

Years ago, I discovered the Wayback Machine, which I found very useful in litigating trademark and trade secret cases, using it to prove information posted on an adverse party’s Web site. The site’s FAQ says:

Visitors to the Wayback Machine can type in a URL, select a date range, and then begin surfing on an archived version of the Web. Imagine surfing circa 1999 and looking at all the Y2K hype, or revisiting an older version of your favorite Web site. The Internet Archive Wayback Machine can make all of this possible.

The Internet Archive Wayback Machine contains almost 2 petabytes of data and is currently growing at a rate of 20 terabytes per month. This eclipses the amount of text contained in the world’s largest libraries, including the Library of Congress.

Which of us had not clicked “Send” on an e-mail we wished we’d checked more closely before sending? Likewise, what company Web site has not posted something it wished had never seen the light of day? Knowing it can always rise from the archives to haunt us, can cause a chilling effect among the prudent. You say you are prudent so it’s not a problem. Well, can you say the same of all your employees? What about your customers and competitors? You will likely be “engaging” them by simply putting up a Web site, let alone pursuing an interactive social networking strategy with your customers and prospects.

David Berkowitz tells us there are at least 100 Ways To Measure Social Media. Is that helpful? It has to be if you know what you’re doing, but this is hardly a case of black and white. As Berkowitz says:

Some entries here can be interpreted several ways. Depending on how you define them, some of these metrics may seem redundant, while others may seem so broad that they can be broken out further. Many of these can be combined with each other to create new metrics that can then be tracked over time. It’s a start, though, so dive in and consider which ones may apply to programs you’re working on.

Sounds like we may need an “expert” here to help us determine which metrics will tell us what we need. The search for such an expert, however, creates its own set of issues, to some of which I alluded in a previous post, Is Everyone A Social Networking Expert? Robert Strohmeyer came to similar conclusions in his article, Beware the Social Media Charlatans:

For anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand bucks, you can hire a social media consultant to come to your office and put on a training seminar for your staff. They’ll spend an hour or two pontificating about the power of social media to raise awareness of your brand and the magical benefits of building closer relationships with your customers in 140 characters or less. They’ll probably even offer you a few “insider tips” based on their “deep expertise” in the field. The only problem? It’s a load of bull.

Unless you define success by the sort of loosey-goosey standards that might make your horoscope appear to actually predict the future, the real measure of any business undertaking is that it increases your profits. But in the vast majority of use cases, neither Twitter nor Facebook stands any significant chance of doing that for business users. And if you’re a small business that depends on, say, actually selling real products and services to actual paying customers, wistfully tweeting about your daily specials is almost certainly a waste of resources.

Admittedly, I’ve probably raised more questions than I’ve answered in this initial post in a series. This is a complex, ever-changing subject, which is one reason for this blog and the LinkedIn group I started, Social Media Search and Forensics. We have just scratched the surface of trying to weigh social media fears against the Ashton Kutcher comlex. We’ll turn next to a more detailed examination of the validity of social media fears, before going on to methods to weigh those risks against the potential return on investment of employing worthy social media strategies in your business.

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

If you are really interested, I just started yet another free group on LinkedIn, Social Media Search and Forensics. Many of these articles and discussion about them are posted there. Please join us.

November 18, 2009

Can a Well-Drafted Social Media Policy Save You Money?

Posted in Best practices, Employee issues, Productivity, Social Media Tools, Social networking policy, Twitter, Web 2.0, Web 3.0 tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 2:28 am by bizlawblog

Netcraft, an Internet services company based in Bath, England, reported that, as part of its July 2009 Web Server Survey, it received responses from 239,611,111 sites, an increase of around 1.5 million sites from the previous month. I’m sorry, did somebody just say Web sites are proliferating at something like 1,500,000 per month?

A glance at Technorati’s annual State of the Blogosphere report reveals equally staggering numbers of blogs, unique visits, and Facebook members. It gets better. Jim Singer’s article on the IP Spotlight blog, Employee Blogging and Use of Social Media – Managing the Risk, notes:

Social media usage is exploding.  Recent data indicates that Facebook has over 200,000,000 users, while Twitter has over 7,000,000 users.  According to Technorati data as reported on Wikipedia, at the end of 2007 more than 112,000,000 blogs existed.

Blogs, Facebook and Twitter accounts, texting, and the use of other social media by employees can create many risks for employers.  Unlike conversations, social media postings leave a data trail — and that data trail can quickly be tracked, copied, and distributed to an unlimited number of readers.  The news headlines are filled with stories of poor judgment by employees on social media sites.  Microsoft fired an employee who published photos of Apple computers being loaded into a Microsoft research facility.  Delta airlines fired a flight attendant who posted photos of herself in a corporate uniform.  Google fired an employee who blogged about, among other things, Google’s compensation.

Singer summarizes employers’ risks from their employees’ social media activity as including:

  • publication of trade secrets;
  • dissemination of confidential information relating other employees, customers, or business partners;
  • copyright and trademark infringement;
  • libel; and
  • loss of control of business reputation

The problem for employers seems to be that they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. As marketing mavens turn from paper media, to Web, to blog, to Twitter campaigns and beyond, their corporate clients are feeling the pinch of a currently unfathomable economic slowdown, necessitating a higher ROI from potentially declining marketing budgets. One apparently easy answer may be to enlist and unleash employees with their low cost or no cost viral marketing abilities.

Although an instant army of marketing employees may seem a simple solution, Fred Abramson points out in his article, What you need to know about Defamation and Web 2.0:

Bloggers and anyone else using social media need to be aware of what they post online.  There is a serious threat of what you post can result in litigation.

I recently reported that there has been a 216% increase in libel lawsuits against bloggers.  Courtney Love’s Twitter defamation case is not going away.

Yelp, the popular review site, has been at the center of the debate because people are using the service to write reviews that are untrue.

A $1 million judgment, including an injunction and costs was granted against a defendant who persisted in posting false and defamatory statements in online forums regarding his fraudulent transactions at the expense of an online company.

OK, so maybe a little “sensitivity training” might be in order before unleashing the hordes of marketing hounds, but what if they turn on you? Deloitte LLP’s 2009 Ethics & Workplace survey indicated that:

60 percent of business executives believe they have a right to know how employees portray themselves and their organizations in online social networks. However, employees disagree, as more than half (53 percent) say their social networking pages are not an employer’s concern. This fact is especially true among younger workers, with 63 percent of 18–34 year old respondents stating employers have no business monitoring their online activity.

That said, employees appear to have a clear understanding of the risks involved in using online social networks, as 74 percent of respondents believe they make it easier to damage a company’s reputation.

With the explosive growth of online social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, rapidly blurring the lines between professional and private lives, these virtual communities have increased the potential of reputational risk for many organizations and their brands…

Could it be that lawyers may have the answer? Kate Early, corporate counsel for LexisNexis posted a nice article on her blog, “Social Networking Helps Cut Company Legal Fee Costs – How? Read on!”, which may give you a clue where I’m going with this. She notes:

Social networking is helping companies…cut legal fees by providing groups and forums for them to discuss and share ideas and answers to legal questions for free.  For instance, on Linked In, there are topic groups that you can subscribe to, like Intellectual Property.  You can then post questions and answer other people’s questions.  Human resources professionals are also benefiting.  Of course, there are issues about the lack of attorney-client privilege and there is no privacy to the questions.  However, for general inquiries that are not private … these sites can really help.

Neetal Parekh’s article, Legal Cost-Cutting and Social Networking: Strange Bedfellow, goes a little deeper:

Breaking down the buzz word “social networking” you get two core concepts of communication.  Social and networking.  Whether you are in a conference break-out session, happy hour, basketball court sideline, or company luncheon you have an opportunity to interact with others in a less-formal, more-personal way.  Similarly, social networking allows a candid flow of thought and exchange of ideas.  Just like your career counselors encouraged you to do in law school in their odes to the power of networking, connecting and sharing online is a form of networking.  And one that seems to be gaining some street cred from its offline cousin.  And though three years of legal training has drilled in considerations of liability, privacy, and confidentiality, it is up to the innovative devices of in-house counsel to find constructive and ethical uses of social networking that will inspire progress and productivity within their legal departments.

Woody Allen is quoted as saying: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Many of the financial advisors I’ve talked to in recent months, as well as wealthy clients, seem to be saying the same thing about survival in our depressed economy. Their goal, rather than making money, often focuses on not losing as much as anyone else. In the final analysis, they speculate (no pun intended), if they are able to keep from losing more of what they have than the competition loses, they’ll still be ahead of the game when things turn around, as they always do.

The depth of “expertise” of most social media consultants must be subject to scrutiny. After all, the field itself is still emerging and changing by the second. We’re all just starting to explore this murky new territory. The maps we draw for our clients to follow may sometimes be no more useful than a sandcastle built too close to the ocean surf.

Given the shifting sands on which we stand, our greatest success may come from simply failing to make as many mistakes as our competitors, and, as Woody Allen suggests, staying around for the next act.

We may not have a firm grip yet on what really works in the universe of social media. We are quickly learning, however, what doesn’t work, and how large the judgments, legal fees, and lost profits can be when we make easily avoidable mistakes. It is the avoidance of those mistakes that a well-formulated, organic social media policy can easily prevent. A good policy can encourage the cost saving benefits corporate lawyers have already found.

This is far from a perfect solution or tool, but the process of creating a social media policy for your company, getting employees and managers to buy into the process and become stakeholders in the positive results it can bring, can go a long way to making your company one of the survivors. That may be enough to make you the victor in your arena. I’ll explore this process in a future series of posts on this blog.

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

If you are really interested, I just started yet another free group on LinkedIn, Social Media Search and Forensics. Many of these articles and discussion about them are posted there. Please join us.

November 15, 2009

Trick or Tweet? Is Twitter a Viable Emergency Notification System?

Posted in Best practices, Criminal activity, Employee issues, Facebook, LinkedIn, Social Media Tools, Social networking policy, Twitter tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:40 pm by bizlawblog

Trick or Tweet? That question is not intended to remind you of what you hear on Halloween, when your neighbor’s kid knocks on your door and asks the annual question with a lisp.

We recently finished Halloween shenanigans, where kids disguise themselves as fictional characters and knock on doors in their neighborhood, traditionally asking if you’d like to give them a treat or risk a less enjoyable alternative. The question raised in this post, however, is whether use of social media, and Twitter in particular, is a bit of the same situation. Is Twitter being touted as a viable emergency notification system when it is not fit for that important purpose? A companion question might be whether we, as customers (i.e. The “Twitterati”), are putting pressure on this social media channel to transform itself into something for which it was not originally intended.

Many schools may start using social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook as a more regular part of their emergency notification program. A variety of vendors are coming up with way to make this happen.

In a move that plenty of other institutions are sure to follow, Oregon’s Pacific University has integrated its emergency notification system with the popular social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. The move allows the 3,100-student university to send emergency messages to students via e-mail, RSS feed, or text message to mobile phones, Blackberries, wireless PDAs, pagers, and smart or satellite phones–and now Twitter or Facebook.

The university subscribes to an emergency notification system from Omnilert’s e2Campus that allows administrators to send a single message to a designated list of recipients on a variety of devices and in various formats. In November, e2Campus added Twitter and Facebook as options–and Pacific University was the first institution to jump on board.

University Links Twitter, Facebook with Notification System

My last post, Did Twitter Replace Cell Phones for Ft. Hood Shooting News?, mentioned that even the military recommended Twitter as an emergency information source, when a sudden surge in emergency traffic crashed the civilian cell phone system in the Ft. Hood area. As a country, the United States has been blessed with fewer natural disasters than many countries. Clearly, we are still trying to digest the disaster preparedness and recovery lessons from far-reaching events like hurricane Katrina, which likewise disrupted cell phone traffic in a number of ways. Is Twitter any better?

Matt Williams, Assistant Editor of Government Technology Magazine, posted an interesting article, mentioning some of the many uses the U.S. government is making of Twitter:

When Twitter’s founders launched the service in 2006, they advertised it as a way to keep abreast of friends’ everyday lives. The idea of “tweeting” in short bursts about mundane details – “I’m watching Dancing with the Stars!” – may seem narcissistic, or pointless. But a loyal following has found novel and unexpected applications for the service. This movement includes government agencies, which are use Twitter for various functions, such as real-time alerts about emergencies, election results and even science projects.

The most practical government applications for Twitter are in public safety and emergency notification. For example, the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) updates its Twitter page with bulletins about structural fires, the number of responding firefighters, and injuries and casualties. A typical post is something like: “12126 Burbank Bl* No ‘formal’ evacuations; Firefighters maintaining 500′ exclusion zone pending LAFD Hazmat arrival…”

“The question really would be, why not do Twitter?” asked Bill Greeves, the county’s IT director. “It is 140 characters, so granted, you are limited in the message you put on there. But we’re not creating content for Twitter; we’re creating content to send out a message to the public, and we’re just taking advantage of the latest and greatest channels available.”

The beauty of it, Greeves said, is that if something better replaces Twitter or it all falls out of vogue, it won’t hurt the bottomline.

Governments use Twitter for Emergency Alerts, Traffic Notices and More

Williams’ article notes that one of the major hurdles to greater government use of Twitter may be “viewership,” but it appears even the U.S. State Department has taken note of Twitter’s potential use in an international context. An article by Lev Grossman, Iran Protests: Twitter, the Medium of the Movement, points out:

The U.S. State Department doesn’t usually take an interest in the maintenance schedules of dotcom start-ups. But over the weekend, officials there reached out to Twitter and asked them to delay a network upgrade that was scheduled for Monday night. The reason? To protect the interests of Iranians using the service to protest the presidential election that took place on June 12. Twitter moved the upgrade to 2 p.m. P.T. Tuesday afternoon — or 1:30 a.m. Tehran time.

So what exactly makes Twitter the medium of the moment? It’s free, highly mobile, very personal and very quick. It’s also built to spread, and fast. Twitterers like to append notes called hashtags — #theylooklikethis — to their tweets, so that they can be grouped and searched for by topic; especially interesting or urgent tweets tend to get picked up and retransmitted by other Twitterers, a practice known as retweeting, or just RT. And Twitter is promiscuous by nature: tweets go out over two networks, the Internet and SMS, the network that cell phones use for text messages, and they can be received and read on practically anything with a screen and a network connection.

This makes Twitter practically ideal for a mass protest movement, both very easy for the average citizen to use and very hard for any central authority to control. The same might be true of e-mail and Facebook, but those media aren’t public.

This use of Twitter in a mass crisis has apparently not gone without notice at headquarters. Twitter co-founder, Evan Williams, in comments to the BBC about the Iran-related maintenance delay said:

“We did it because we thought it was the best thing for supporting the information flow there at a crucial time, and that’s kind of what we’re about – supporting the open exchange of information.

“So it seemed like the right thing to do.”

Twitter Iran delay ‘not forced’

Is Twitter the new boss in social media town? Even networks like LinkedIn seem to be trying to attach themselves to it, as Taylor Singletary points out in his article on the LinkedIn blog, You want Tweets? There’s an App for that…:

As you’ve likely heard by now, we launched our first Twitter integration features at LinkedIn earlier this week.  For professionals who want to make Twitter part of their professional identity, you can now easily add your Twitter account to your LinkedIn profile, and seamlessly post LinkedIn status updates to Twitter, and vice-versa.

This launch also brings with it a brand new addition to the LinkedIn application platform: Tweets.

Tweets is an application that allows you to seamless integrate basic Twitter functionality into your LinkedIn experience.

Twitter itself, however, is not immune from interruption of service. Last August, it was the subject of an apparent denial of service attack. Eliot Van Buskirk’s article on Wired gives a nice outline of the event:

Twitter was shut down for hours Thursday morning by what it described as an “ongoing” denial-of-service attack, silencing millions of Tweeters. It was the first major outage the service has suffered in months and possibly the first ever due to sabotage. The outage appeared to begin mid-morning, EST, and affected users around the world. After about three hours, the service was coming back online in fits and starts.

In a denial-of-service attack, a malicious party barrages a server with so many requests that it can’t keep up, or causes it to reset. As a result, legitimate users can only access the server very slowly — or not at all, as appears to be the case here.

Not only was the site down, but client applications that depend on the Twitter API could also not connect to the service, creating a complete Twitter blackout. According to June ComScore numbers Twitter has more than 44 million registered users and its user base has been growing rapidly for months as it becomes better known in the mainstream.

Denial-of-Service Attack Knocks Twitter Offline

Twitter’s statement was, of course, less verbose:

We are defending against a denial-of-service attack, and will update status again shortly.

Update: the site is back up, but we are continuing to defend against and recover from this attack.

Update (9:46a): As we recover, users will experience some longer load times and slowness. This includes timeouts to API clients. We’re working to get back to 100% as quickly as we can.

Update (4:14p): Site latency has continued to improve, however some web requests continue to fail. This means that some people may be unable to post or follow from the website.

Ongoing denial-of-service attack

Some, such as Roberta Whitty, a member of the Gartner blog network, clearly feel it dangerous for organizations to rely upon Twitter:

The denial of service attack on Twitter should remind organizations that are automating their emergency call trees and crisis communications that a single end point isn’t good enough. Given the growth in social networking, more and more organizations are starting to think about leveraging these sites for emergency/crisis communications. But if it becomes your only end point, you risk not getting your message out when it is most needed – during a disaster.  In addition, no national telcom network has been tested for a regional disaster, so your phone messages might not get delivered either. Hence, build for emergency notification around multiple channels for best coverage. What is your organization doing to support best coverage?

Don’t Rely Only on Twitter for Emergency Notification

One must also wonder how the continuous barrage of scams might impact use of any form of social media as an emergency notification system. Michael Arrington’s article, Facebook To Increase Enforcement Of Anti-Scam Rules, points out:

Facebook says that deceptive ads are a widespread problem on the Web…

Anyone who doesn’t engage in scammy behavior right now is at a monetization disadvantage. There are real similarities between this issue and steroid use in baseball. As long as the MLB didn’t really enforce steroid use among players, it was a competitive necessity to take the drugs, and so many more players took them than otherwise would.

We know that companies such as Microsoft are the target of frequent attacks by hackers. Some of these may have gained insider knowledge as employees of their targets and are thus extraordinarily effective in their destructive efforts. How could any governmental entity, however, think it might be less likely to attract detractors?

Referring to last Augusts’ attacks against both facebook and Twitter, Ryan Singel’s article noted:

They don’t make any sense.

“I’m afraid two outliers make a line and there is something going on… We have entered the third generation of denial of service attacks, and anyone that plans on the rationality of criminals is at risk.”

What does that mean? It means if you make the assumption that the bad guys online are just a new breed of bank robbers, that can get you into trouble if there are a few sociopaths mixed in.

The ongoing attacks Thursday on Facebook and the micro-publishing site Twitter likely involve tens of thousands of compromised computers under the control of a single person. Likely the attack involves asking the sites to serve up a page of search results, or some other processor-intensive requests. That makes it hard to determine if the request is a real user action or a malicious fake.

Is There Rhyme or Reason to the Attacks on Twitter?

As the title of another of Ryan Singel’s articles tells us:

Security experts say the attacks on Twitter and Facebook are nothing new under the sun and that Distributed Denial of Service Attacks — which render a web server useless to real users by overwhelming the server with fake requests, are commonplace on the net. DDoS (pronounced dee-daas) attacks are usually carried out using a zombie army of infected Windows computers known as a botnet, where the controller tells the infected computers what site to bombard with requests.

“This kind of stuff happens every day, but when it happens on Twitter, people don’t know what to do with their thumbs,” said Paul Ferguson, a senior threat researcher for security giant Trend Micro.

And so far there’s nothing to indicate there’s anything particularly interesting about the attack from a technical perspective, according to security expert Tom Byrnes, the founder of ThreatStop, a network security company.

“Taking something down on the web is garden variety vandalism,” Byrnes said. “They aren’t doing anything new … someone has a botnet and they are just pounding on Twitter and Facebook.”

Twitter, Facebook Attacks No Surprise to Security Experts

So how do we reconcile these events? The government is recommending use of social media channels for emergency notification purposes. Schools and other organizations are rapidly adopting it as a significant part of their own emergency systems. At the same time, however, disgruntled employees and political activists are focusing their efforts at bringing down these emerging communication giants, and are doing so with amazing success.

If a single hacker can bring down the Twitter and Facebook networks, what damage could be done by a terrorist organization or, perhaps one of the many rogue nations we face in our global village? We can certainly hope these social media moguls will learn their lesson from these attacks and spend more of their effort on making these networks secure. We also know that, historically, the hackers often seem to be at least one step ahead of law enforcement, network security experts, and others upon whom we rely for protection.

We have likewise read stories about illegal probing of military and infrastructure networks, including those designed to make our nuclear facilities secure. Might we not anticipate that at least some of this probing may be leading up to attempts at breaching the defenses being tested. Sure, some of this may just be teens with too much computer time on their hands, or political dissidents whose focus in on something other than world destruction. On the other hand, are we setting ourselves up for the big bang by increasing our reliance upon social media for emergency news, rather than what this media was intended for originally?

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

If you are really interested, I just started yet another free group on LinkedIn, Social Media Search and Forensics. Many of these articles and discussion about them are posted there. Please join us.

November 6, 2009

Did Twitter Replace Cell Phones for Ft. Hood Shooting News?

Posted in Best practices, Criminal activity, Facebook, Productivity, Social Media Tools, Social networking policy, Twitter tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:41 am by bizlawblog

For some time now, I’ve been seeing more and more articles questioning whether newer social media channels were in the process of replacing, rather than supplementing, more “traditional” means of communication. I know many of my neighbors, and a few of the lawyers I know, have replaced their traditional “land line” with cell phones.

When I moved my office to the ‘burbs a few years ago, after practicing downtown for nearly thirty years, I had to hire a third party phone company to “move” the phone number I’d been advertising on business cards and stationary. Otherwise, I was faced with losing my long-standing number, which most lawyers considered something of a death sentence in those days. The result was, until about a week ago, that I paid one phone bill just for the old number, and then paid another phone bill for my trunk service, internet, roll-over numbers, etc.

I am in the process of painfully shedding the now “fake” number. What I’ve found, in just a few, short years since I moved my office out of downtown, was that when anyone from my office called out, the recipient picked up the non-advertised, local exchange number. They often plugged that into their cell phone or office phone’s electronic “address book” and simply pushed one button when they wanted to call us. The number they dialed, ended up being the unadvertised, local exchange number. This made the “prettier,” advertised number something of an anachronistic situation, with fewer and fewer clients, lawyers, judges, and others using it.

Eventually, keeping the old number just made less and less sense, because advances in technology and the way people were using technology dictated a new paradigm. After all, we’re rapidly moving in the direction of virtual law firms and consultants. Because of cell phone technology and office automation advances, I’m using making less use of a “static” office and spending much more time, in my law practice, in my consulting business, and as a pro bono SCORE counselor, visiting clients in their offices. Since I typically pick up much more information about my clients’ need when I visit their office than when they visit mine, this is a “good thing” for my clients and me. The paradigm is moving for me, and I’m thinking I’m not alone in this.

“Way back” in August of 2009, Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins’ article, posted on the siliconANGLE blog, asked the question, Could WordPress Be the Natural Successor to Twitter, Friendfeed and Facebook? As we move from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 the borders between competing software applications and even between software and hardware are likely to blur. For now, however, the question remains, whether newer social media channels are in the process of replacing, rather than supplementing, more “traditional” means of communication. Recently, some friends on facebook responded to a comment I had made there, indicating this question might be increasingly likely to be answered in the affirmative. The very fact that I had posted something on facebook, being a relatively new user, and that there was a growing debate on this relatively new social networking channel, gives a premonition of where my thoughts on this lie.

Some pretty wise people have opined that you don’t really know a person until you see them in a stressful situation. It is then that you often have a better view into what makes them tick. The same is often true in business. What a company is made of is often not really seen until a crisis develops and they either come out on top or start a downward spiral. The same may be true of communication channels.

Sarah Needleman’s Wall Street Journal article, Entrepreneurs ‘Tweet’ Their Way Through Crises, demonstrates that businesses are starting to use Twitter and other social media to handle day-to-day crises. Needleman’s article points out:

The social-media service — where users send short “tweets” to followers who have signed up to receive the messages — came in handy for Innovative Beverage Group Holdings Inc., whose drankbeverage.com site crashed last month after a surge in traffic following a segment on Fox News for the company’s so-called relaxation beverage, which contains “calming” ingredients like valerian root and melatonin. News Corp. owns Fox News as well as The Wall Street Journal.

Innovative Beverage notified consumers on its Twitter feed that it was working to resolve the problem. The company also did a search on Twitter for mentions of the site crash, so it could respond with tweets describing its repair efforts.

Twitter gave us an up-to-the-minute ability to take what would normally be a crisis situation and make it just another event,” says Mr. Bianchi. “You can’t do that with a 1-800-number.”

As of Monday, drankbeverage.com had more than 1,000 Twitter followers.

KD Paine points out in an article on her blog, Can Twitter replace Walter Cronkite as “the most trusted ‘MAN’ in America”?, that there is a debate raging about the level of trust in the news we get these days, and, in particular whether we can trust the news and views from traditional media sources. Trust is one thing and access is another.

The horrible tragedy of the Ft. Hood shooting yesterday confirmed, for me at least, that there is a growing movement to use Twitter and other social media, rather than more traditional media, to convey news in a crisis. I heard that cell phone service essentially “crashed” during this Ft. Hood crisis, as soldiers from abroad tried to call family and comrades in the Ft. Hood area to learn what had happened. The Honolulu Advertiser‘s article, Shooting leaves 12 dead, 31 wounded reported:

The school and base were in lockdown. Normal phone lines were working but cell phones were overloaded.

“Now I can’t even get a hold of her. The cell phones are jammed. I can’t even send a text,” Biggers said. “They still have us on lockdown. I’m just staying right beside my computer with the news on and praying.”

Michael Winter’s article, A 13th death reported in the Fort Hood rampage, walks us through one version of the time line. Here’s a portion relevant to the point I’m making:

Update at 6:57 p.m. ET: Fort Hood officials are asking that family members trying to reach their loved ones should send a text message instead of calling, because phone circuits are overloaded.

Also, Twitter has three main threads for sending messages or following the story: FortHood, #FortHood and #FTHood.

Update at 6:30 p.m. ET: The Waco Chapter of the American Red Cross has a Web site where you can check on base personnel. Register here.

Eric Berlin’s article on Technorati, Fort Hood Shooting Spree: The Blogosphere Reacts, provides some insight, in terms of where all this might be headed:

The blogosphere is already responding in earnest to the horrific shooting spree at a Texas military base that resulted in 12 deaths and 31 wounded…

Twitter has become a central focus for communication, link sharing, information dissemination, and on the ground reporting during breaking news stories, so tech bloggers are looking at how Twitter is being used tonight. MG Siegler at TechCrunch speculates about how Twitter is influencing its Trending Topics feature to bring breaking news stories to the forefront immediately. “And that it may even in some way rank tweets to show more relevant ones for the topic at hand,” Siegler writes.

Twitter itself, seems to periodically question just how effective it is. An article on the Twitter Web site by Jenna Dawn, Get to the Point: Twitter Trends, even acknowledges:

As Twitter grows and the number of tweets each day continues to astound us, we’ve noticed an increasing amount of clutter in the public timeline, especially with trending topics. Trends began as a useful way to find out what’s going on but has grown less interesting due to the noisiness of the conversation.

As one cable network might say, “we report, you decide…” When the military is telling folks to try texting to get information, the Red Cross is setting up a Web site to help people check on base personnel who might have been involved in the crisis, and Twitter replaces a broken down cell phone system, I have to wonder if my original thoughts on the paradigm shift might not have been right.

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

If you are really interested, I just started yet another free group on LinkedIn, Social Media Search and Forensics. Many of these articles and discussion about them are posted there. Please join us.

October 30, 2009

What Are Your Employees Doing with Social Networking tools?

Posted in Best practices, Courts and social media, Criminal activity, Employee issues, Productivity, Social Media Tools, Web 2.0 tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 1:47 am by bizlawblog

It seems hard to find anything these days where there are not arguments for and against the proposition under consideration. Using the words “employee” and “social networking” in the same sentence conjures up both, and often with strong opinions.

In one camp, you have arguments, such as those expressed in Rebecca Kelley’s article, Why Companies Shouldn’t Block Social Media in the Workplace. She accurately points out that allowing employees to engage in social media on the employer’s nickel, as it were, can be good for morale, and even result in great marketing for the company. Pointing out the ambivalence of many employers, she says:

Ironically, according to a study cited in the article, “94% of companies are continuing to invest in online communities and social media.” Over half of U.S. businesses block social media sites at work, yet 94% of businesses are acknowledging the importance of social media and are starting to invest in it? It’s kind of like being a retail business that doesn’t let its employees buy anything.

I’m likely biased because I get paid to tinker around on social media and networking sites, but I do think that businesses should allow responsible and periodical usage of social media at work …

Employers can learn, the hard way, how quickly this seemingly good thing can become a bad one.

Jenna Wortham’s article, Internet Protocol: Overzealous Friending and IMing With the Boss points out that “the same rules don’t apply online as they do in the real world.” Although there is an ever-increasing number of articles, such as Blaine Bullman’s 6 Benefits Of Social Networking, espousing the virtues of allowing or even mandating employee use of social media on company time and with company resources, there is certainly another side to this for the employer. While Bullnan’s article talks about employees building meaningful relationships, engaging with your target audience and finding new insights from the experience, employers must be wary of what employees might be doing with those “meaningful relationships.”

A recent NewScientist article by Ewen Callaway, Brain scanners can tell what you’re thinking about, gives us hope (or fear) that some day soon, scientists will perfect “mind reading” technologies currently in development, which neuroscientists are using to combine brain scans with pattern-detection software to “pry open a window into the human mind.” They say the benefits of this technology should include “gaining a better understanding of the brain and improved communication with people who can’t speak or write, such as stroke victims or people with neurodegenerative diseases. There is also excitement over the possibility of being able to visualize something highly graphical that someone healthy, perhaps an artist, is thinking.” Acknowledging, “it’s an idea that’s as tantalizing as it is creepy,” Callaway notes “despite – or perhaps because of – the recent progress in the field, most researchers are wary of calling their work mind-reading. Emphasizing its limitations, they call it neural decoding.”

If you think this is science fiction, rather than science:

  1. Check out my reference to William Shatner’s book in the last post on this blog; and
  2. 2. Read Colin Barras’ article, Super slow-motion camera can follow firing neurons, describing development of a camera sensor able to film action at 1 million frames per second. That means it can “capture impulses hurtling through firing nerve cells, and its resolution is good enough to film the microsecond-long pulse-like nerve signals that speed through networks of neurons at up to 180 kilometres per hour.”

Bill Gates, in his 1999 classic book, Business @ the Speed of Thought, tried to answer the question, somewhat rhetorically, “So where do you want to go tomorrow?” His answer, not surprisingly, was that, thanks to technology, the speed of business is accelerating at an ever-increasing rate, and to survive, it must develop an infrastructure–a “digital nervous system”–that allows for the unfettered movement of information inside a company.

These days, we might look at this and say, “that is so ten years ago!” If we’re at the point where we have cameras which can shoot pictures at such a slow speed they can literally capture the speed of thought, as brain neurons fire off our thoughts, we’re at least well down the path of developing a “digital nervous system.” Add to that the developing technology which allow us to engage in neural decoding, a/k/a “mind reading,” then, as Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, we’re not in Kansas any more.

While Rebecca Kelley’s article may say social networking employees are a good thing, others, like Jim Singer, in his article, Employee Blogging and Use of Social Media – Managing the Risk, acknowledge there can be a downside to this. Granted, there are typically ways that employers can harvest benefits while minimizing risk, but when your employees are connected to the “outside world” on a pretty much continuous basis, both at work and outside of it, there would seem to be little chance of employers not getting slammed by them periodically.

I will explore this topic in much greater depth and in all its many facets, in later posts on this blog. I hope that most employers have at least heard of some of the headaches employees can generate for their current or former employers, through their communications online. Perhaps the oldest and steadiest of these is the damage of the disgruntled employee.

Such disgruntled employees may still be working for you, without your knowledge they are, in fact “disgruntled.” Since we’re apparently still a few neurons short of a full deck on the “neural decoding thing,” we probably can’t expect management staff to always detect just how unhappy a current employee may be, but we may get an eye full after they leave.

Web sites, such as Glassdoor.com are popping up all over. That particular site, referenced by Daniel Schwartz in his article, Dirty Laundry: Airing Employee Grievances Online…And Around the World, in the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, gives us a picture of how bad this can get. In fact, to test this, I just checked Glassdoor.com, using a Fortune 500 employer one of my sons had worked for as the sample. Here are just a few of the comments I found on this employer:

  • “Maybe it was a great place once, but I hate it here now.” (technical staff)
  • “Great People, Great Ideas, but no leadership to deliver” product marketing manager
  • “really sucks no opportunity” (sales, two years ago)

No doubt, if you’re trying to recruit the best and brightest, you’ve got a problem when those folks are checking such sites before even contacting your company for an interview. It gets worse.

John Jantsch’s article, Do You Have a Social Media Non-Compete? certainly poses a very valid question. Jantsch says:

This is probably a touchy subject in some circles, but as more and more companies encourage social media participation from employees and even create job titles such as Director of Community, it’s something that marketers are going to need to deal with. Many companies have created social media policies and strategies to address things like who can represent the company and what they can and can’t say, but as companies put real faces, not company logos, on the profiles of their staff and those real faces connect and build relationships, the growing question is – who owns the content, profile and even followers?

As with most question these days regarding social media, ask a question and you’ll get a million answers. Beth Harte has one for this question in her article, Who owns your Twitter or Facebook Connections? She says:

As you know, I’ve been reviewing and questioning personal branding lately and I have one final question (or in this case, lots of questions) for you all. Quite simply, from a “You 2.0″ perspective, if you work for a company and you build up your Twitter Followers or Facebook friends from the hours of 8am-5pm (or whatever your daily work hours are)…who owns those connections made during those hours? And as you know, you don’t need to use the company network to Twitter or Facebook, so then what?

You might not like what I am about to say here, but I believe that if a company is paying you to connect with people online on their behalf…they own those connections. Even if the accounts are under your name. I mean, they paid you, right? Or is that wrong? Or is it both? What are the ethics?

Frankly, if you get to the point of even being able to talk about ethics in this situation, you’re probably ahead of the game. In my thirty-five or so years of practicing law, I’ve done quite a bit of corporate work for insurance companies. Historically, small insurance agencies become bigger companies buy buying the “book of business” of retiring or less successful agencies. In negotiating these deals, I often find my clients, and others, offering deals that would not fly in other industries.

Sometimes I find that, to make the deal work, the growing company will acquire an agency with a buy-back provision of some sort. What this means, quite often, is that the smaller agency retains some sort of residual right to the client base it brings into the acquiring agency. In case things don’t work out down the road with the “merger,” the acquired agency may very well have the right to take the client base it brought into the deal, and detach it to play the game another day, either on its own, or with another hungry, acquiring agency.

This sort of dangerous cat and mouse game is not confined to insurance agencies, but can certainly provide some college tuition for your kids if you’re one of the lawyers involved in representing the parties. One can definitely anticipate the various parties will be trying to get their best hold on the “juicy” clients during the merged period, knowing, full well, that the norm involves periodic docking and undocking from various competitors.

Sometimes it is easy to detect that somebody is playing games with you. An article too funny to let me avoid inserting it here is Michael Arrington’s Schwarzenegger Gives California Legislature A Hidden Finger.

Often, the “game” is more sinister and the results to the employer far deeper, as Carlye Adler’s article, ‘A rival stole my staff,’ indicates.

In 2004, 10 employees — or one-third of the mortgage broker’s staff — left to work for CTX Mortgage, a much larger rival. Killian claimed the employees stole 150 pending loans, worth nearly $1 million in fees, along with customer lists and boxes of confidential files. Between 2004 and 2005, Charter Oak’s revenues plummeted from more than $3.5 million to $300,000.

Charter Oak sued CTX and the 10 defectors, claiming conspiracy, unfair trade practices and misappropriation of trade secrets. Four years and some $500,000 in legal bills later, the verdict arrived in July: Charter Oak lost on all counts.

The lesson for other small businesses? Get your paperwork in order.

“Charter Oak didn’t have confidentiality agreements and noncompete contracts,” says Milford, Conn., attorney Tim Bishop, who represented Charter Oak in the original lawsuit. “They were a typical small business that grew faster than expected.”

Noncompete agreements are by their nature, essentially anti-social, in that they are designed to prevent employees and others from “socializing” with others. This would seem to be the antithesis of social networking, which, of course, is designed to facilitate folks getting together. While there certainly may be an advantage or even a necessity for employee use of social networking tools during and after work, the prudent entrepreneur must be aware of the many opportunities for mischief.

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

October 26, 2009

A Second Life for Twittering Spies

Posted in Best practices, Courts and social media, Criminal activity, Productivity, Social Media Tools tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:46 pm by bizlawblog

Social networking is apparently taking on a second life, no put intended. Social networks are obviously fertile resources for spies of all sorts. In fact, Noah Shachtman reports, in an article for Wired Danger Room:

America’s spy agencies want to read your blog posts, keep track of your Twitter updates — even check out your book reviews on Amazon.

In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA and the wider intelligence community, is putting cash into Visible Technologies, a software firm that specializes in monitoring social media. It’s part of a larger movement within the spy services to get better at using ”open source intelligence” — information that’s publicly available, but often hidden in the flood of TV shows, newspaper articles, blog posts, online videos and radio reports generated every day.

U.S. Spies Buy Stake in Firm That Monitors Blogs, Tweets

One must ask, is it a good thing that government agencies, such as the CIA, are possibly monitoring the social media networks that seem to be rapidly replacing other channels as our primary method of communication? Part of the answer may come from another article by Shachtman:

Could Twitter become terrorists’ newest killer app? A draft Army intelligence report, making its way through spy circles, thinks the miniature messaging software could be used as an effective tool for coordinating militant attacks.

For years, American analysts have been concerned that militants would take advantage of commercial hardware and software to help plan and carry out their strikes. Everything from online games to remote-controlled toys to social network sites to garage door openers has been fingered as possible tools for mayhem.

This recent presentation — put together on the Army’s 304th Military Intelligence Battalion and found on the Federation of the American Scientists website — focuses on some of the newer applications for mobile phones: digital maps, GPS locators, photo swappers, and Twitter mash-ups of it all.

Spy Fears: Twitter Terrorists, Cell Phone Jihadists

Ken Monro, however, shows us another side of the impact of social networking on spies. In his article for SC Magazine, he gives us all a lesson about  what we post online. We know that colleges, employers, and many others regularly look for facebook or LinkedIn profile information before making decisions important in our lives. Typically, we don’t even know just how much they know about us before reviewing that key application for college, making a hiring decision, or attending an important business meeting with us.

For spies, this can be a life and death situation. Monro’s article even points out:

…if you’re planning on having a second identity for undercover work, it doesn’t help if your photos, friends and real name are splattered all over various social networking sites. Try finding a student at a university who hasn’t done just that.

The UK’s intelligence agencies are worried. From schoolchildren on Bebo, through Facebook-obsessed young professionals, to well-networked CEOs on LinkedIn, having an online presence is a must in this day and age. But with the explosion of social networking sites, it has become virtually impossible to find recruits who don’t have some sort of an online trail.

Pandora’s box is well and truly opened, so how do you go about suppressing your online identity?

Social networking websites make recruiting spies difficult

Let’s add another twist to this. How do spies, or anyone else for that matter, know what is real when they snoop online? Spies are, of course, trained professionals and are presumably much better at this than the average college admission office employee or Fortune 500 employer. On hand, how do we know what a potential business partner, banker, or friend might pick up about us online?

What do we even know about our current president? The title of Jason Linkin’s recent Huffington Post article, Fake Obama Thesis Story Goes Viral, Because Of Stupidity, could give us a clue.

We know many companies are under siege from disgruntled employees and competitors, sometimes without even knowing it. Faked reports about a company’s customer service or product reliability, represent an increasing form of commercial terrorism, often communicated via blogs and other forms of social media. Social media infringement on intellectual property rights appears rampant, with defensive tools lagging well behind those used by the abusers. If you don’t believe it, check out Willis Wee’s article, 10 Brands Claimed By Twitter Cybersquatters.

Where is all this leading? Keep reading. Tracking that is a primary reason for this blog.

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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