Author: Scott K. Wilder

Long Live the Funnel

Reaching SMBs

Contrary to what you might have heard, rumors about the Marketing Funnel’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

The Funnel is alive and well. And it should be leveraged extensively by Marketers. It provides a consistent and universally understood (and somewhat accepted) framework. The funnel does come in a variety of shapes and sizes and colors – with different twists and turns. Despite this variety, few Marketers really leverage this powerful model.

The funnel enables Marketers to have an almost universally understood visual representation of various customer touch points, and makes it easier to track and score a person’s behavior. The Marketo funnel provides a good (although, not the only) framework and consists of six key stages:

  • Awareness: This is the universe of people who know anything about Marketo no matter what social network they participate on, what articles they read, etc.

  • Inquiry: This is when we finally know something about the…

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The Human Channel

Today, I am sitting in the Starbucks on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. I am watching everyone ear-plugged in and laptop ready. This is what I call the Starbucks Generation – Gen Y or millenials who work from anywhere there is an internet connection.To successfully reach this Starbucks Generation, it’s important to leverage the various Digital Channels, especially The Human Channel.

The Human Channel enables face-to-face interaction via the internet – either on a one on one basis or in a group setting. This is especially true on collaborative projects, such as demoing a complex product, troubleshooting a customer issue, or reaching influencers.

With more personal technologies, such as Google+ Hangouts and Skype, online human interaction is moving to the next level. Google Hangouts, for example, will fuse together best practices of call centers and digital marketing to create one type of Human Channel. Sarah Hill, a woman who has mastered the art of human media and is making a name for herself by being one of the most popular users on Google Plus, believes this technology will take customer service to the next level. She’s right. To learn more about Sarah Hill

Even Amazon, which once stated ‘the best service is no service’ offers personal human interaction on their Kindle. Their new feature Mayday, which is a single-click, that lets users work with a remote tech support representative to solve problems with their tablets: As Techcrunch recently pointed out “The service allows you to see a remote tech support person in a small window on your screen and also displays your screen on the support person’s computer where they can watch what you’re doing online, annotate the screen, and even tap through the interface”. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said it’s like “actually very similar to having someone standing next to you” and offering tech support. Imagine a company like Amazon moving in this direction. See their video about the service:

I recently did a Follow-Me-Home, Intuit’s term for watching customers use your product in their office environment, and played the role of a customer service rep at a client’s office. While on the phone, a customer couldn’t interpret or implement my suggestions for solving his problem. It wasn’t his fault. The client’s product is complex and requires creative problem solving to decipher the sites features.

I suggested to the customer that we get on a Google Hangout so I could watch how he used my clients application. The result was magical. I could see where he was clicking. I could listen to him describe how he used the program (it’s always valuable to hear the words a customer uses to describe their problem). But most importantly, I could record our interaction (yes, I asked for his permission to do this), so I could share everything I learned with the product development team.

Being face-to-face online improved our communication and our understanding of each other. It also opened up the opportunity to upsell or cross-sell additional services because I had his visual trust. I repeat: I had his visual trust. While there is a real and substantial opportunity to use Google+ Hangouts as a next generation customer service tool, it should also be thought of as a new sales channel.

One caveat: You need margin to spare if you are going to integrate this platform into your daily customer service, training or product demo operations. It might be costly to do one on one support using Hangouts. However, having a tutorial for many participants at once might not be as costly for a company. It’s expensive to do one-to-one training.

Despite this, the Human Channel will increasingly become important as companies begin to explore the digital space. In time, it will not only been an asset but a necessity for companies to  leverage the human channel. As tech savvy millennials get older, the need to reach this them through technology will become greater and greater. The Human Channel will enable companies to continue in their quest to humanize their offerings and get closer to their customers. It will also serve as a tool to reach a targeted audience.

Building the Everything Store with Many Silver Bullets

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 9.31.21 AM

In the new book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, author Brad Stone explores the rise of Amazon.com and the man behind it all, CEO Jeff Bezos. While we may all be very familiar with the brand today, the story of how Bezos and his team built an eCommerce giant from the ground up is quite astonishing. Stone states that Amazon needs ‘a chain of small advantages’ to stay ahead. I wish more CEOs thought this way. Almost all my clients look for a silver bullet that will take them to the promise land. It’s not that simple.

Unfortunately, digital products don’t work that way – the reality is that even big ideas require incremental changes via testing and fine tuning. One-Click checkout is a great example. Amazon implemented and tweaked it over time. However, they also prevented it’s main competitors at the time, Barnes and Noble (which has a preliminary injunction against them) and Borders (whose website I managed at the time) from implementing this innovative approach to shopping. In other words, implementing was one thing, preventing competitors from using it was another. Basically, Amazon won its case against Barnes and Noble, who was forced to turn their one-click into a two click approach. And Borders.com backed down and adopted the same type of functionality.

Eventually, they surrendered their monopoly on one-click, but it wasn’t until they had sufficient amount of time to establish a competitive advantage. I know from personal experience, having designed and implemented one-click checkout on eToys, Borders.com, KBtoys.com and a few other websites. It is not as easy as putting a button on web page.

To be successful, small changes require:

  • Clear definition of the product and feature
  • Agreement on the incremental, evolution change approach
  • An agile first-to-market implementation
  • A simple method for measuring ROI and Impact
  • A process for collecting customer feedback
  • A mindset of continuous improvement

With the increasing usage of mobile devices, it will be important to think in incremental improvements. What was it that Neil Armstrong said – “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

All of this requires the Bezos strategy of starting with the customer and working backward. While this sound obvious and somewhat cliche, I am constantly surprised how many companies don’t talk to their customers on a consistent basis. In fact, last year a client asked me “why would you want to talk to a customer if you already know what they are going to say.” Maybe that’s the problem. Customers often just want to be heard, But better yet, customers might even provide more insights the more you talk to them. Have you ever heard of the 5 Whys? It is an iterative question-asking technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem.[1] The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem. (The “5” in the name derives from an empirical observation on the number of iterations typically required to resolve the problem.) Here’s an example from Wikipedia:

  • The vehicle will not start. (the problem)
  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
  6. Why? – Replacement parts are not available because of the extreme age of the vehicle. (sixth why, optional footnote)
  • Start maintaining the vehicle according to the recommended service schedule. (possible 5th Why solution)
  • Adapt a similar car part to the car. (possible 6th Why solution)

If you apply this technique to eCommerce, focus groups and quarterly check ins don’t cut it in this environment. You literally need to adopt a customer and become his/her best friend.

Obviously, Amazon continues to do amazing things. I was particularly impressed recently when they beat IBM in a contract to host the CIA’s web services. Hope they accidently share customer data with the intelligence community : ).

To hear a great interview with Brad Stone, the author of this new Amazon book, listen to the interview with him at NPR’s Fresh Air.

Be like Disney

disney

Recently, one of my favorite clients told me they wanted his community to be like Disney. What did he mean by Community? Today, this tends to be reference for a branded, company managed online community or a Facebook Page or a G+ Page. I like to extend the definition a bit to other online gatherings, such as all the ‘reviews’ about an Amazon book or an offline engagement, such as a MeetUp.

Since I really respect this person, I took his request on as a personal challenge to figure out what this meant and what it would take to accomplish it. Originally, his creativity kicked in and he had some great ideas for center stage. However, Disney creates the magic because it not only focuses on the Center Stage, but also on the Back Stage. Great ideas come to life on center stage but it all depends on the operations that happen behind the scenes.

disneybackstage

According to the Disney Institute, there are four key areas Backstage:

  • Guestology (which I call SMBography), which means that every employee (who touches a partner or a customer) should know and understand what that customer wants. One way to do this is to have employees active on in our online communities and social networks. To do this, you also need to treat each social network as a listening outpost so that you can better understand your ‘guests’ (members). Actions and decisions should also be data-driven so that you are not aiming in the dark. We should be prepared to invest in a pair of Big Ears, in the form of tools, resources, manpower.
  • Quality, which means we white glove (like Mickey Mouse) everything. This requires training our employees, our call center folks, and anyone who interacts with a user to go the extra mile and provide an unforettable experience. You need a road map of enhancements that consists of all touch-points, from the service desk to the boardroom, from your ecommerce store to the your customer service team.
  • Delivery, which means that your platforms, people and processes need to run efficiently. Decisions need to be data driven and constantly benchmarked against your previous results and your competitors track record.
  • Integration, which means that you need to take a more holistic approach in how you manage customer service, community, and commerce. You need to map out the Customer Journey and your Guests interactions — Map out while individuals from different parts of the company are in one room with laptops and cell phones off.

For more about these topics, read Be Our Guest (Revised and Updated Edition): Perfecting the Art of Customer Service by The Disney Institute and Theodore Kinni

For most companies, implementing the above requires a significant cultural change. However, it is necessary if you want to be successful in the digital and social world. It’s important to make sure your backstage operations are a well-oiled and managed machine. Otherwise, your inefficiencies will be apparent on center stage.

Implementing these changes is also crucial to be able to compete competitively. As more and more

companies perfect “the art of customer service”, users will not only expect quality from you but demand it. In the long term, these practice will be required to make your business sustainable.

If you have chance to visit Disney — online or at a theme park., take a moment to notice the little things that make the experience what it is. That magic doesn’t just happen. It’s built, cultivated, and perfected.

The Starbucks Generation!

starbuckslogo2Staffing is one of the most critical parts to the success of any company. While finding and attracting the right talent can be tough, it’s not as difficult as it once was. As the free agent economy continues to grow, there are more and more options to building your workforce, for both the short and long term. As I build my own company, I am now practicing what I have been preaching for years – that you can find great talent online.

In recent years, there have been a surge of websites that act essentially as online job marketplaces for freelancers. Sites such as ODesk and eLance provide companies access to thousands of talented and well-qualified independent contractors. These sites can not only provide additional staff to larger companies but they can also provide tremendous value to the small business economy, especially if you are targeting what Go Daddy calls “The Very Small Business”. I often tell my clients to look at these sites and study the behavior of the different verticals available, such as Sales and Marketing or Copywriting. By reading the job descriptions and analyzing the types of words and language used, companies can gain insights into how to position their own marketing communications.

As site like these continue to see success, it is obvious that the free agent economy is not only booming but also it is continuing to grow as a rapid pace. Some corporate leaders do fear these independent consultants because they have their doubts about telecommuting, require hands-on supervision, they spread themselves too thin across multiple clients, and  that they could potentially really act like free agents, going to the highest bidder. The reality is that a blended workforce — combining both free agents and loyal full-time employees is probably the best solution. Many high tech companies have proven this to be a viable model.

Big companies can no longer ignore the independent contractor market. MBO recently came out with its annual report and some of the key statistics seem to prove this point.

For example:

  • Today, 17 million people are independent contractors. This number is scheduled to grow to 24 million by 2018.

  • 77% of Independent contractors are committed to remaining free agents.

  • 64% are highly satisfied with their current situation of working out of their homes, at Starbucks, etc. The flexibility of working from home, working on your own time, etc. is a driving factor in the growing number in independent contractors and leads to the high job satisfaction rates, which equals happier employees and better quality work

  • Close to $1.2 Trillion have been generated by this segment. This is up from 20% in 2012.

  • There exists a multiplier effect because independent contractors tend to hire each other

The report also goes into the demographics of each of these groups and it may surprise you. For instance, Gen Y or millennials, which I refer to as the Starbucks Generation, make up 20% or almost 4 million people of this segment. To understand more about this generation, read my book Millennial Leaders. I call them the Starbucks Generation because they represent today’s assembly line. Unlike the past when assembly lines existed on the farm or in factories, today’s specialized labor exist behind the counter in Starbucks, Peets’, and McDonalds.

Each week, I work out of four different Starbucks in my neighborhood and each one employs several well educated college graduates. They kids (I can call them that cause I am over 50) are great — motivated, talented and trying to make a dime. In future posts, I will share some of my interviews with them.

Yes, independent contractor are everywhere.

Adoption ‘Technology’ Curve for Small Businesses

When building a new community or functionality on a social network, one of the first questions I ask is ‘tell me about the people who will use it.‘ I want to learn more than just their demographics, their psychographics or even what we called at Intuit, their firmographics (how many employees are at the company, how much revenue have the generated, or their occupation such as purchasing agent or IT professional).

And I also want to know where on the technology adoption curve the target audience(s) reside. And I want to know about the words and phrases they use in their ever day business.

A few years ago, when we introduced Podcasts on the Intuit Community website, nobody clicked on the word ‘podcast.’ So we did some tests in usability and learned that our users — who tend to be older and not residing on the cosmopolitan coasts of the USA — didn’t know what that term meant. Instead, we learned that they related better to more common phrases, such as Radio-on-Demand, so we used that term. We also learned (a few years ago) that they had no idea what a blog was and they had no interest in blogging.

So, it’s important to understand where your users (the people) are on the adoption curve.

As the above chart shows, Geeks started using Blogs a lot sooner than Small Businesses. Sound obvious, right?

It was until we started talking to people that manage online communities and social media activities. At that time, everyone wanted to build a blog, write a blog, and ‘do the blog.’ But we resisted at Intuit because our typical Small Business owners were not ready at the time. Today, they might just be ready. However, Business.com recently did a survey listing out the top social media tools for different vertical/industry segments. And at the top of some of the lists were Webinars. Who knew that something so old web school could still be popular?

I am working on compiling a list of examples like the ones above. So, feel free to send them my way.

Employee Engagement: What’s the ROI

Clock is ticking for Small Businesses to leverage Social Media. Can they speed up time.

Clock is ticking for Small Businesses to leverage Social Media.
Can they speed up time.

A few years ago, I was called into my supervisor’s office because of her “concern” about my commitment to the company. When I asked what triggered this concern, she said I did not have any “pictures of my family or plants” in my cubical. Instead of telling her that she was looking at me an old-school corporate  lens different than her own (my last two years at Intuit, I worked out of a locker and didn’t even have an office), I uploaded some pictures of people from Google Images and put them on my iPad, which I displayed by my desk. Ironically, that seemed to do the trick.

When it comes to engaging employees, the biggest ROI is to think of your staff just like you would a customer: seek to understand their interests, their rituals, and their ways of communicating as well as how they want to be treated.

Your employees are key stakeholders in your company’s success. Several studies show that an engaged and happy worker can reduce a company’s overall health insurance costs and take less vacation time (not sure that’s a good thing). There’s an even more important impact, though. As a recent Tempkin Employee Engagement Study showed, high employee engagement impacts the bottom line:

  • Companies with strong financial results report employees to be engaged 75% of the time —compared to organizations with weak financial results, which report an employee engagement rate of 47%.
  • Engaged employees are more than twice as likely to go the “extra mile” at work. These folks stay late, collaborate with colleagues, and recommend organizational improvements.
  • 96% of engaged employees responded that they “always or almost always” try their hardest on the job (while 79% of non-engaged workers responded similarly).
  • 75% of employees at companies who report better-than-average customer experience levels are highly or moderately engaged, while only 34% of employees in companies with lesser customer experience levels are highly or moderately engaged.

Last year, I was hired by a major software company to help them use social media in their recruitment of college graduates. Like a good consultant, I convinced the company to expand its focus and concentrate on understanding their potential employees as a unique tribe (audience) and to reconsider how the company treated them. I pointed out that even if we did great job-recruiting candidates, the biggest challenge is engaging them in their work (a Gallup poll reports that 70% of first year employees do not feel invested/engaged at work).

Based on my recommendation, the company realized that to achieve a higher level of employee engagement, it needed to think of its staff as a human beings or ‘tribes’ of humans, who have specific and diverse needs, desires, and wants.  The company understood that employee engagement starts during the recruiting process, continues through training, on board, and even after the employee leaves the company. Yes, there is even a possible ‘reincarnation’ phase when an employee returns for a second tour of duty. Schwab calls these “Boomerangers.”

Besides looking at the employee through a realistic life cycle lens, there are several factors that improve employee engagement, a few of which I learned during my tenure at Intuit:

  • Create a Learning Environment. Today, when older employees have to reinvent themselves and learn new skills and younger employees have a desire to absorb information and learn new technology, it’s important to give employees the room to do this. Intuit had a great approach called “Learn-Teach-Learn.” It was a modified version of Noel Tichy’s virtuous teaching cycle. While Tichy and others focus on management playing this role, Intuit was able to bring this philosophy to the front line workers, meeting one of the key needs of its employees.
  • Believe in Voice of the Employee: After working with more than 10 Fortune 1000 companies in the last two years, it’s clear that very few of them allow their employees to have a voice at the table. Although corporate business decision-making is not always a democratic process, it’s important to let every group be heard, otherwise, you could find yourself in the middle of an Arab Spring. (OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration : )
  • Create a creative environment: Employees from any department at Intuit, for example, could sign up for ad-hoc problem-solving pow-wows called “Idea Jams” that lasted a couple of hours. This “unstructured time” ultimately proved productive, enabling workers to apply their brainpower to any challenge that interests them.
  • Reward does always require money : While everyone loves to make an extra buck, sometimes symbols and rituals can go a long way. Intuit created custom imprinted poker chips that were small, easy to carry, and colorful, with each one highlighting one of its 10 company “core values.” When employees witnessed a co-worker living an intuit core value, they awarded them a poker chip. According to Brand Alliance , employee engagement scores increased 10% after their introduction.
  • Identify their personal goals. First time employees on my teams are always shocked when I ask them: “What are your career goals, and what skills sets do you want to learn for a future job at our company or somewhere else?” Google attempts this with their 20% time, but I try to get the employee to be more specific about what skill sets they want to acquire.
  • Allow Social Media participation. Years ago, I presented a How-To-Blog workshop at Dell to a large group of employees. Afterwards, the VP of Marketing stood up and reminded everyone that they could blog “only if corporate reviewed their content first.” When I heard that I felt sorry for Dell’s staff, especially because I came from a corporate culture that encouraged employees to participate in social networks. It is important to trust your employees (after all, why did you hire them in the first place?) and to know that whether you like it or not, they, like everyone else, are social media ambassadors for the company. For better or worse, many people spend a great part of their day expressing their views on social networks. So instead of constraining them, provide guidelines, guardrails, and guidance so they know the implications of posting online.

High employee engagement scores will reduce the potential employees’ misbehavior in social networks. After all, you don’t want your staff bad mouthing you on Facebook or Twitter. Imagine how a happy and engaged employee might represent the company on social networks. At Intuit, we provided an opt-in training program for employees that focused on how to participate in the latest and greatest social network as well as information on the legal and privacy implications of their online activities.

I hope old-school managers, like the one I referred into the first paragraph, reads this blog post, and realizes they need to wake up to the needs of today’s employee.

Community Playbook: Today’s tips

Some key plays for building a good community. All of which take place in the trenches.

  1. Launch and learn – each team  member must needs contact with users
  2. Understand the importance of sharing learnings directly to the developers (better yet, let them hear it from users)images
  3. User involvement in the development process never stops, never ends (especially as more and more web products are developed)
  4. Community is a great place to test new product development processes
  5. Change is never constant, it is always happening
  6. It is great to collaborate with your heavy users and most valuable customers, but don’t leave out other users, especially since you need to develop to the lowest common denominator, the less experienced and knowledgeable users
  7. Verbatims are just as important as ‘numbers and scores’ (Yes, everyone on the team should read them!)
  8. Find a users problem and solve it well!
  9. Make sure to do a post mortem after your failures and learn from them.
  10. Solutions are not always transferable from one product/service to another. (you can not plug in a previous approach to ratings to this group of users

And remember: This all sounds easier than it is. It takes hard work and constant effor

Future of Work Interview: Robert Brownstone, Technology, eDiscovery and Computer Forensics, Fenwick and West LLP

This interview was written up while drinking a Soy Latte at the Swank Bar in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood.

A “Make Your Own Major” Type of Job

For the last 18 months, I have become interested in the emerging fields of Digital Risk, Crisis Management and Cyber Security. So, I decided to reach out to Robert Brownstone (@ediscoveryguru) from Fenwick and West, LLP. I know Robert from when I sought his advice on the Internet and the Law. Normally, we share stories and exchange ideas while eating Chinese food on Castro Street in downtown, Mountain View.  Our meetings remind me of George Costanza and Jerry Seinfeld, engaged in this intense conversations at Monk’s Cafe. Today, however, I telephoned him from the Human 1.0 office in Cambridge, MA, where there is only one restaurant (Italian, not Chinese) within walking distance.

Brownstone started his career on Wall Street as a white-collar crime litigator in fraud cases. He then became law school professor and program director while working as a part-time lawyer. For the last thirteen years, Brownstone has been working out of Fenwick’s Silicon Valley office where he has his hand on the pulse of legal and technical issues impacting, some which impact of the most innovative companies in America.

Bill Fenwick, the firm’s founder, originally hired Brownstone as his “experiment” and gave him the title Knowledge Manager.  He wanted to take a law teacher and litigator, and as Brownstone describes it, “pump my head with as much computer knowledge as possible in hopes that I would continue to spark some new developments and opportunities for the firm.” Fenwick asked Brownstone to focus on electronic discovery, IT, Data Security, and Legal issues with the intention of sharing these learnings in two ways: “in house” with Fenwick attorneys and “out-house” (really called “outsiders”) with Fenwick clients.

Brownstone characterizes his role at Fenwick as a “make your own major type of job,” where he has often finds himself immersed in issues such as intellectual property, the protection of trade secrets, data security strategies, and employer-employee disputes over data. To make all this new information useful, he says, “the secret sauce is understanding  (our) clients’ business and how their internal information systems work.”

Digital Law: Riding the River

In representing many high-tech and life science companies, Brownstone has found that his main challenge is in the area of Digital Law, which is in flux right now with the Courts wrestling with some major issues, such as:

  • How to protect data secrets and information and what to do when their use is in dispute
  • How to handle electronic information over a lifetime –from creation to usage to destruction
  • How to handle electronic information issues when a company gets sued or when there’s an electronic discovery (e-discovery) request 

Clog That Drain: Prevent Data Leakage and Cut Your Losses 

According to Brownstone, there are essentially three ways information can leak from a company:

  1. An employee or some other insider is intentionally trying to harm the company and puts information in front of the public (sometimes via the Internet). The most highly publicized examples would be from the Wikileaks site. Basically, someone is trying to harm an organization through disclosure or an accusation.
  2. An intentional disclosure becomes unintentionally harmful.  An employee, executive, or other insider posts something (i.e. a photo or a tweet) but he or she does not know the FTC prohibits specific kinds of disclosures under certain circumstances. [Having managed online communities and social networks since my AOL days in the mid-1990s, I would say this happens at lease once or twice a year for many companies.]
  3. An unintentional disclosure. Confidential Information gets out via a smart phone, laptop, device, or paper when the item is stolen, hacked or lost. There is no malice or intent on the part of the employee or client, but the information still gets leaked.

Even if the law does not require it, companies can reduce their risk and exposure when it comes to data leakage. Two ways to reduce a company’s risk exposure are:

  1. Role-Based Access Control or what IT folks call RBAC, which essentially means that not everything within the virtual or physical world is open to everyone in the company. For example, different permissions granted to folks who need to access databases, etc. Brownstone calls this approach “narrowing the risk of leakage.”
  2. Encryption, particularly for company-issued devices (laptops, phones, etc.) to the extent the data can be encrypted. Two purposes are served. One: companies can prevent someone who steals or finds a lost laptop “from sucking out, bit by bit, the data on that drive and booting it up in another machine.”  This measure is important.  First, companies want to protect their employees and their data. Second, companies will not have to take a hit financially or in the court of public opinion by having to announcing a data breach. (Note: some States handle this differently and for customer-relations reasons, many companies choose to voluntarily disclose breaches to their users).

The Mobile Horse Has Already Left the Barn

The ubiquitous usage of mobile devices makes controlling a company’s data even more complicated and gives Information Technology (IT) leaders multiple headaches. Brownstone advises companies to consider issuing a second phone and to officially notify, educate, and remind employees that “Anything which involves your company device” is the company’s property.

Brownstone states “this is the cleanest way under the law to handle data on a mobile device – it is a clean way to deal with a complex issue.” He points out, however, “It gets tricky because most organizations, especially hi-tech companies, are in the mode of not wanting to stifle employees from being able to hook as much as possible into the network at any time wirelessly or otherwise” and from their devices of choice.” 

Leaving employees to (literally) their own (mobile) devices exposes the company to multiple security issues. If a company decides to follow this route, it can be difficult to change how employees operate. Brownstone points out though “If the horse is already out of the barn in a data security situation, then it is a lot trickier in advance to establish good practices.” In most cases, employees are already using their own phones for work so it’s a challenge for a company to regain control. 

Warning: You Have The Whole World In Your Hands

Other significant mobile-related considerations involve location services:

  1. Due to GPS technology, employers can potentially track where their staff is and has been and has been at all times.
  2. The frictionless sharing of Facebook, for example, means that employees download an app and opt in to sharing, or when they log-in to a site that uses Facebook credentials, their personal information gets shared.
  3. The Fourth Amendment has not prevented courts from allowing law enforcement to seize an individual’s mobile device.  In some instances, officers practice computer forensics and carry a tool that can do bit-by-bit capture of certain types of data off of a mobile device, e.g. employee data, and by logical extension, employer data. This significant information becomes not just mobile, but able to be seized by law enforcement.
  4. Remember: Not everything stored on a mobile device is encrypted!

Potential Disasters and Detours

I ask Brownstone about some of the more organizational challenges his clients face. He mentions:

  1. Sales people negotiate and close business deals by sending instant messages. If there were ever a dispute about a contract, one General Counsel feared she might not have an actual copy of the final terms of the contract. She asked Brownstone to write her a new policy, forbidding negotiations over IM.
  2. General Counsel and the CIOs/CTOs are not alwasy on the same page (or even in the same meeting). Brownstone illustrates this concern with a story about how he witnessed an IT leader telling his executive team that he had thought he was following Legal Department orders when he had captured, stored, and logged all employees’ instant messages for the prior three years. This turned General Counsel red in the face and feared all of the information would be available if the company were ever subpoenaed and had to collect, process and review all the information. The discovery process alone could cost more than any lawsuit.
  3. Brownstone cites an article that says “Lawyers are from Mars and ITs are from Venus, so you need a translator.” Both groups are infamous for their acronyms and jargon. Getting them to work together during discovery can mean interplanetary mayhem. (You can find the article here as well as some material Brownstone-co-authored on that theme).
  4. Anticipate all the potential data leaks and make a prioritized list. Brownstone recommends working through them over time. Don’t try and conquer the law in one day.

Your Employees’ Own Personal Pages 

Since I am conducting a social media-training program for a Fortune 500 company, I ask about employee-owned Facebook and LinkedIn pages. Brownstone states that it’s more challenging to establish rules for company-sponsored pages than address what employees might be doing with their own pages on their own time:

“The law is really unsettled…and there are some issues that cut across both arenas of company-sponsored and individual pages. For a company of a substantial size, if someone anonymously posts praise or an endorsement of (that) product, the FTC calls it a testimonial, and if they don’t disclose that they work at the company or are a spouse of someone that works at the company that actually runs afoul of the long-standing FTC guidelines for online product endorsements“. [Disclosure: I worked with the FTC on this in an advisory capacity while serving on the board of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association in 2008.]

Brownstone points out that even in the age of disclosure and transparency, publicly traded companies need to be alert: “It is very dangerous for someone to post anonymously even if they are praising the company. In some instances this is called ‘sock puppeting.’ (Read the Wall Street Journal’s article about a famous example of this involving the CEO of Wholefoods)

Brownstone recommends that companies focus on “narrowing the risk” by:

  1. Providing training for employees
  2. Implementing a Rules Based Access Control approach
  3. Using encryption as much as possible (and don’t just depend on the Cloud)
  4. Communicating with your legal advisors as soon as possible so they can advise and reroute rather than react or put out a fire
  5. Cleaning all devices before and after international travel
  6. Having a clearly identified owner for company branded social media pages. 

Note: the law is more stringent overseas, e.g. a company cannot just say they can confiscate an employees device because it is presumed that personal information exists on it.

For More Information

Brownstone speaks at conferences often, offers webinars, and publishes quite a bit. He is also an avid online reader of law and technology items, especially of what lawyers used to call “Advance Sheets.” His favorites include Law Technology News, the New York Times (especially the Business and Technology sections), Compliance Week and beSpacific. He also relies on his mentors including:

  • Bill Fenwick, whom we discussed above
  • Matt Kesner, Fenwick’s CTO
  • Browning Marean of DLA Piper, a large business international firm
  • Kevin Moore, Fenwick’s IT Director
  • Patrick Premo, a Fenwick litigation partner championing efficiency and alternative fees
  • Delos Putz, Professor Emeritus of USF School of Law

(Brownstone provided a bibliography below about eDiscovery, Computer Forensics and Technology).

Brownstone loves eDiscovery and all things “e”.  As he explains, “My wife and friends of mine say it puts them to sleep when I start talking about eDiscovery. But, I have to say as a technologist, I have seen his passion first hand. Our one-hour scheduled Chinese food lunch hours often turn into a two and half hour discussion. Fortunately, he doesn’t bill me by the hour for these talks but freely exchanges ideas as he does in his many presentations around the hemisphere.

Thank you for visiting.

Small Business Roundup for 4/1/2013

Survey: Small Business Owners Believe Economy Is Stuck In Washington Gridlock
Sacramento Bee
NEW YORK, April 1, 2013 — /PRNewswire/ — Newtek Business Services, NASDAQ: NEWT, TheSmall Business Authority®, with a portfolio of over 100,000 business accounts, announced today the findings of its SB Authority Market Sentiment Survey, 
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Small Business Must-Reads — Monday, April 1
Wall Street Journal
Getting online: Taking your small business online is no longer an option in today’s market. If you haven’t already, here’s how. The Washington Post. Soldiers story: Hiring veterans is good for business. So why don’t more employers do it? Harvard 
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Survey: Small Business Owners Believe Economy Is Stuck In Wa
By admin
NEW YORK, April 1, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — ;Newtek Business Services, NASDAQ: NEWT, TheSmall Business Authority®, with a portfolio of over 100000.
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