Is your business follower friendly?  Consider Google Plus.

By Brittany Robinett

With so many online mediums being used by today’s consumer, establishing a footprint in this digital landscape has become more important than ever.  For a largely tech-savvy generation, social media networks dominate in an Internet-focused society where users have begun demanding easy ways to look up and connect with products and companies that they enjoy.  Simply put, having a website doesn’t cut it anymore when it comes to making a business well-known and well-reputed throughout the online community.  For this reason, it is becoming imperative that small businesses establish an online presence through social media, and that those businesses familiarize themselves with those media outlets in a way that maximizes their presence.

GoogleplusFor a business trying to make a name for itself online, social media provides a way to not only advertise to your customers, but it also provides an opportunity to start a conversation with them.  Online networking provides an avenue to interact with customers by posting information about the company and updating the community and followers on its services and products.  Rather than simply “putting yourself out there” and hoping that people like what they see, networks like Facebook and Twitter permit you to gauge whether customers actually like what they see by giving you access to feedback, such as “comments” and “likes.”  Both of these forums allow user interaction, as users can voice opinions through polls, apps, and even be invited to “events.”

Many small businesses have realized the growing importance of not only building up a business physically, but building up a business digitally.  Those same businesses have recognized this trend and created Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts as a means to interact with a consumer-base.  Many businesses flock to Facebook, as it holds title as the dominant social networking platform.  (In fact, Pew Research Center recently released a study showing that Facebook is used by roughly 57% of American adults and 73% of Americans between the ages of 12 and 17.)  Twitter, although lagging behind Facebook, has received growing attention from businesses who appreciate its short-and-sweet communication style.

Unfortunately, many businesses overlook an undervalued social media provider – Google Plus.  Sure, several of us remember all of the hype surrounding Google Plus before it went public in 2011, only to see that excitement quickly fade.  However, Google Plus has the second largest membership numbers for any social networking site.  (Given, it is used less, although by a more industry-focused user base.)  Although Google Plus might not be the preferred forum for personal networking, it certainly provides advantages that other media outlets do not.

First and foremost, it improves your business’s chance of coming up in search results.  Each time you create a new post, a brand new webpage is created.  With each post, there is a greater chance that your page might appear in a Google search.  Having a highly-trafficked or highly-followed page on Facebook or Twitter does not make your page more “searchable” on search engines like Google.  As explained by Google Webmasters, Google does not have any signals in its web search ranking algorithms that allow it to return “popularity-based” information (such as number of likes or followers) in its search results.

Further, it attaches a “person” to your business.  Unlike other sites, Google Plus allows business pages to be attached to creator profiles.  Particularly with smaller businesses, customers want to see the “man behind the curtain.”  The ability to link your business profile to your personal profile provides that avenue and can give an additional dimension personality to your brand.

Does this mean that services such as Facebook and Twitter should not be used to build up your personal business?  Certainly not.  There is undoubted value in each of these networks, as each is unique and can be tailored to advertise your business.  It is important to consider who your audience and customer base are and decide the best way to target that cohort.  These considerations may drive your business to focus on more “popular” media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, or more “focused” media sites, such as Google Plus.  Do not, however, discount your options based off of the idea that “one should be enough.”  The Internet’s bounds are endless, as should be the possibilities for your company’s growth.  When in doubt, you can never go wrong with being present in more than one place, so long as an earnest effort is made to maintain that presence well.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Google_Plus_logo.png

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/04/Google_Plus_logo.png

Bexley Law Firm, LLC
http://www.bexleylawfirm.com

About the Author:  Brittany Robinett is a rising third year law student at the Georgia State University College of Law.

 

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BYOD – Making Mobile Devices Work for Your Business

By Brittany Robinett

Today, many businesses are implementing “bring-your-own-device” policies, which permit employees to conduct company business on their own mobile devices.  Encouraging the use of employee-owned devices can save employers the costs of purchasing and maintaining technology, while motivating employees to work harder through increased flexibility and mobile access to the workplace.android-199225_640

Decreased overhead expenses?  Increased workplace productivity?  Sounds like a win-win.

However, allowing employees to conduct company business on their own devices can prove less than cost-effective, as it subjects businesses to multiple security and liability risks.  The greatest of these risks are caused by the removability of devices from the workplace, and the accessibility of confidential company data outside of the workplace.  Employers can mitigate these risks by creating protocols to decrease dangers posed by using personally-owned devices.

Allowing employees to conduct business on their personal devices puts stored data at risk, because that data leaves the workplace.  This non-stationary data may fall prey to wandering eyes, as employees may connect to public access points or private access points that are not properly configured.  Plus, mobile devices are frequent targets of theft.  Passcodes and other security features are not foolproof, and they do not necessarily protect the contents of memory cards or hard drives.  Some of these dangers may be eliminated by requiring employees to use a VPN (or a “virtual private network”).  A VPN allows employees to access their employer’s intranet securely when working remotely.  These networks require authentication prior to access, which helps protect against data breaches.

Employers should always have breach response plan in place.  These plans should focus on complying with regulation requirements, assessing risks of potential breaches, and preventing future breaches.  When it becomes clear that data has been compromised, immediate action should be taken to determine whether federal and state regulations require the data to be reported.  Once a determination is made, necessary parties must be immediately notified.  Even if no regulations demand notification, it is important to determine what data has been compromised, what risk the compromise poses, and what steps could have prevented the compromise of such data.  Encourage employees to report any breaches; it should be remembered that they, too, are exposing themselves to greater legal liability, and should be punished for blatant wrongdoing, not necessarily accidents.  Employers can encourage reporting by providing employee training to recognize at-risk situations data apprehension.  (Note: As the use of mobile technology within the workplace is a growing trend, it is important to keep abreast of new regulations, as the government has given the topic a great deal of attention.  Attorney consult can ensure that nothing goes unnoticed and save employers the hassle of conducting their own research.  They can also provide oversight in drafting company protocol and employee consent agreements.)

Companies should lay out clear frameworks for data preservation and destruction on personal devices.  Personal devices present a unique problem when it comes to preserving data for legal discovery.  Legal counsel can help businesses determine whether a preservation duty exists and what that duty requires.  Employers may demand that employees sign consent agreements, recognizing that their devices may be subject to search and seizure should litigation require it.  Signing a consent agreement puts employees on notice that their devices could be subject to future search and seizure processes.  (This is especially important, as personal and professional information often become intermingled with the dual-use of mobile devices.)  Also, business owners are advised to maintain duplicates of all company-related information from employee devices.  That way, data can still be produced, if not from the original device.

Once a duty to preserve disappears and data is no longer needed, employers should make sure that company data is properly destroyed from device storage.  Simply “deleting” data, such as documents, emails, and contacts from a memory card is not always enough, as the device’s internal storage may retain information.  For this reason, employers should require that devices be restored to factory settings prior to an employee parting with a device.

Bexley Law Firm, LLC
http://www.bexleylawfirm.com

About the Author:  Brittany Robinett is a rising third year law student at the Georgia State University College of Law.

Preserving Privacy in a Publicized World: Maintaining an Online Presence while Protecting Personal Data

By Brittany Robinett

We live in a world where phonebooks are obsolete, maps rest in photo frames instead of dashboards, and online reviews are given preference over word of mouth.  When locating a carpet cleaner, people use their iPhones.  If they can’t MapQuest Peking Palace, they will order takeout from MuLan’s instead.  When choosing a doctor’s office, they choose the location with the highest Healthgrades reviews rather than trusting their co-worker’s opinion.

To summarize, Internet presence is everything in today’s business culture.  Why?  Because a business’s online image serves as its face and reputation; the more publicized the presence, the greater the trust consumers are likely to have.  In what Forbes refers to as the “mobile app culture,” small business owners are keystrokes away from countless, affordable advertising and marketing opportunities.  Yet, surprisingly, small business owners fail to maximize their online business opportunities for two reasons:

  1. They do not utilize the Internet to their fullest extent.
  2. They utilize online services without protecting themselves from legal oversight.

In her article “How Small Business Owners are Wrecking Their Own Chances of Success,” Forbes contributor Erika Anderson notes that only half of small businesses maintain a website or social media presence.  Although less shocking, those that do maintain an online presence do not take the precautions necessary to protect themselves from data breaches.  Some business owners are reluctant to develop an online presence, particularly where a website would be used to gather personal information from customers.  Such reluctance, though understandable, could be alleviated if businesses protected themselves by obtaining legal counsel.

Small businesses pride themselves on providing a higher quality of care from an intimate distance.  In a globalized, computer-centric generation, such intimacy may be necessarily achieved through a readily accessible link on a screen.  While convenient, this exposes both clients and companies to risks of privacy and security breaches.  These breaches may subject businesses to liability.  With this in mind, can “high quality” truly be delivered when the risk of legal errors runs concurrently “high?”

Contrary to popular belief, hackers don’t simply target large business corporations.  In 2013, USA Today reported that over half of small businesses in the country admitted to experiencing privacy breaches.  Over half of those businesses fell victim to multiple attacks.  The constant media coverage surrounding the recent (and massive) Target credit card breach might lead one to associate such financial fiascos with larger businesses; however, credit card breach is problem that more commonly plagues small businesses.  Where they are comfortable with their internal privacy policies, smaller business owners may be more reluctant to invest in more expensive software, to conduct more far-reaching background checks, and to pay extensive amounts for liability insurance.  However, data breaches more frequently occur externally, and they require that additional privacy measures be taken.

Most states require all businesses to report data breaches to the affected individuals, although many businesses chose to ignore breaches and let them go unnoticed.  However, this can subject businesses to hefty fines and negative publicity, as well as threats of consumer lawsuits.

Clearly, it is important for businesses to abide by online privacy policies.  Unfortunately, businesses that lack legal counsel might not know what steps to take to effectively follow those policies, nor know what steps to take when following those policies isn’t enough to protect them.  For these reasons, hiring legal counsel prior to a breach is often a legally effective solution.  Retaining an attorney can also be more cost efficient than hiring after a breach has occurred.  Prior to sharing personal data with payment processors and other third parties, businesses may contract with those parties to hold them liable for breaches occurring while personal information is in their hands.  Having an attorney prepare and execute the contracts may prevent any loopholes from going unnoticed and effectively bind third parties to their errors.  This greatly prevents the risk of consumer lawsuits.  As well as eliminating risks of immediate financial damages, an attorney’s legal oversight additionally eliminates the risk of a damaged reputation arising from a litigated breach.  Further, since data breaches are not 100% unavoidable, having attorney ensures that the correct measures will be taken immediately – preventing both businesses and their reputations from harm.

Ultimately, people chose a business because they trust it.  In a culture that most values the information on the screen in front of them, make sure the business behind that screen can be trusted.

Bexley Law Firm, LLC
http://www.bexleylawfirm.com

About the Author:  Brittany Robinett is a second year law student at the Georgia State University College of Law.

Gwinnett Daily Post | Leaders find encouragement in community, even with failing mall

Gwinnett Daily Post | Leaders find encouragement in community, even with failing mall.

Gwinnett Place Mall continues to struggle to remain relevant despite the growing popularity of online marketplaces such as Amazon, Etsy, and Craigslist. Most retail giants like Target, Best Buy, and Wal*Mart even offer highly competitive online-exclusive deals, especially during the shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It is no wonder, then, that traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, especially non-franchise mom-and-pop locations, must fight harder than ever before to gain new customers and retain the loyalty of existing clients. Most traditional retailers are facing the reality of  competing against lower prices (as a result of must lower overhead and often free of sales taxes), the convenience of online shopping, and increasingly cheap and efficient shipping options (Amazon Prime, for instance offers free 2-day shipping on most of its inventory).

Therefore, it is imperative that traditional retail and service providers embrace new technology and adapt to the changing commercial landscape. However, the decision to incorporate and integrate one’s trade into the digital age can be difficult and intimidating to some. Some of these decisions can have important legal implications and having competent legal counsel has never been more important.

In future blog posts, I will touch upon how the rapidly evolving world of e-commerce and new technology can benefit your business by expanding market presence, increasing sales, and enhancing productivity. Further, I will discuss any legal issues involved with these decisions.

Robert S. Bexley, Attorney
Bexley Law Firm, LLC
http://www.bexleylawfirm.com