Interview With Blogher Business 07 Panelist Nina Kaufman

by Marianne Richmond on March 14, 2007

Next week at this time I will be on my way to NYC for Blogher Business 07 and I am very much looking forward to it. Not only will I get to catch up with old friends of the non-blogging variety but also many blogging friends, some for the first time face- to- face. The latter is one of those value added benefits to blogging which I will cover in my response to Toby’s tag.

I am especially excited to be moderating the Day 2 Panel , How to Keep Out of Real Trouble with three experts, attorneys Megan Belcher and Nina Kaufman and Google’s Karen Wickre. This panel is part of the How to Get it Right the First Time Track.

I have interviewed Megan and Karen over the last several days, and today will post my interview with Nina Kaufman. Nina is the co-founder of Paltrowitz & Kaufman LLP a New York law firm that serves as in-house counsel to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Nina also is the founder and President of Wise Counsel Press, LLC which publishes articles, guides, and podcasts on legal issues for entrepreneurs. In addition, Nina is a stand-up comedienne. No joke.

Marianne: The Blogher panel that we are on is called "How to Keep Out of Real Trouble." Keeping out of trouble when it comes to blogs seems to be top of mind with lawyers for large corporations. You work with entrepreneurs and small businesses; can you give an overview of real trouble as it relates to your clients.

Nina: What’s "real trouble" for small business? A lawsuit. In particular, a big ugly complicated lawsuit (especially) with a large company on the other side. Or, involving someone who has stolen your valuable intellectual property. Small businesses don’t have the war "chest to fund" these legal battles. So, like the old adage, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," small businesses are well served trying to avoid the snares of defamation, copyright infringement, and privacy lawsuits (among others) that social media can engender.

Marianne: Over the last several weeks it seems as if use of Twitter has increased exponentially. All of this "what are you doing?" information is shared not only by bloggers but even presidential candidates. Do you see any cautionary notes that need to be extended to users and participants?

Nina: It reminds me of my mother’s warning about getting a tattoo" "Twenty, thirty, forty years from now…are you really going to want it? And will it look good?" {The answer was no} While today, people may think it is cool to have their exploits around the world, tomorrow, this information will still be available. it will be cached some place, on some server, accessible somehow. And when tomorrow comes, they may not be so thrilled with the fact that the information is still available, or how it may be used against them because of the ways the laws have changed (which we can’t predict today).

It presents a particular challenge for political candidates who are demanded by the public to be "transparent" and then castigated when they provide " too much information." Do I really need Twitter to provide me with a minute by minute update of where John Edwards is?

Marianne: It seems like the increased use of the internet for business collaborations, "always on" accessibility, increased participation in social networks and communities, a constant stream of new technologies, and the flattening world in general… and the frequent lack of clear definition for intellectual property ownership might be leading to a huge increase in legal disputes. Do you see this as a possibility?

Nina: The internet and social media are shaking up a lot of our expectations bout the way we work, what we can control, and how to protect it. It is not clear where the dust will settle. While we’re in this in-between stage, I think there will be a lot of disputes. The boundaries between what is acceptable (legal) and not are in flux. For example, there are reports of bloggers who have been hit with lawsuits by major companies for posting negative comments. Is this an attempt to chill free speech or have the bloggers over stepped the defamation line?

Also, our ability to firmly control our work product and company reputation has decreased as we have become more interconnected. Look at the way that former Edward’s campaign blogger Amanda Marcotte’s musing on her personal blog affected her employment (and employer).

Marianne: What advice and warnings can you offer those at risk?

Nina: There are a handful of important guidelines that I think entrepreneurs should keep in mind when using social media for business.

  • First, before they jump on the bandwagon, they should carefully consider whether it is really necessary for their business growth. Don’t do it "just because" or because "everyone else is." Blogging, podcasts, ezines, social networks–all can take copious amounts of time to breathe, update, cultivate, and grow. if you don’t stay on top of it and publish regularly, you lose credibility.
  •  Second, be professional. for most entrepreneurs, blogging isn’t your business–it’s an aspect of marketing you business. Are you presenting the right image for your company by posting scathing comments on your competitors’s blogs? Just because you have the freedom and the readily available technology to say something, doesn’t mean you always should.
  • Third, be original. Simply because information is available on the internet doesn’t mean that you have the right to copy it wholesale. You can go a long way to avoiding copyright infringement lawsuits, for example, if you create your own content.
  • Fourth, if you have any reason to think that your next step could be a real doozy, consult with an attorney in advance.

Marianne: I noticed that you offer flat fee/package for your clients. This seems to make such good sense for both attorneys and clients…would you please discuss how this has worked for your practice.

Nina: Small businesses like certainty, especially when it comes to their budget items. They are certainly worried about legal fees and how they can spiral out of control. There are certain assignments that we handle with great frequency: business partnership agreements, company formation, certain contracts/business transactions. There’s no reason that we should have to reinvent the wheel when answering the question "What do you charge for______?" It makes it easier for business owners to decide the sequence and timing for building a sold legal foundation for their companies.

For us, it takes the guesswork out of that part of our pricing structure. When you quote a flat fee price, you help remove a worry (among many) from a business owner’s shoulders….creating an environment of safety and trust within the attorney-client relationship.

Thanks to Megan, Karen and Nina for this pre-conference discussion. And thanks to Toby for the idea. We will be MCing the Case Study Lab on Day 1. See you in New York!

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Interview with Blogher Business ’07 Panelist Karen Wickre

by Marianne Richmond on March 13, 2007

In anticipation of next week’s Blogher Business 07 Conference in New York City, I am posting interviews with the participants on the panel that I am moderating on Day 2, How to Keep Out of Real Trouble.  This panel is part of the track How Do I Get It Right The First Time which focuses on issues that should be discussed in the planning stage in order to launch the most effective social media initiative.

Yesterday, Megan Belcher discussed potential real trouble issues relating to employment law, her field of expertise. Today, Karen Wickre, managing editor of the Official Google Blog has answers for a few questions.

Marianne: The panel that we are doing at Blogher is about how to keep out of real trouble with social media. You oversee all 40 of Google’s corporate blogs and are managing editor of the Official Google Blog. How top of mind is the concept of "keeping of real trouble in your daily life at Google?"

Karen: It’s simply not a daily issue. Corporate blogs-those created and maintained by one or more people on behalf of a company featuring the company’s news–aren’t particularly racy by definition. We’re clear at Google that our family of corporate blogs are a PR vehicle–a more direct, friendlier, speedier and perhaps more candid platform than companies have had in the past, but a PR mechanism nonetheless. As such, its not a risky business.

Marianne: Continuing with the "keeping out of real trouble theme"…how frequent is your interaction with the legal department; or said another way, how involved is legal with Google blogging?

Karen: Legal submits its own blog posts! That is, when we have a policy or legal issue, such as privacy or perhaps a lawsuit we’d like to comment on (here are two examples):

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/02/response-to-doj-motion.htm l

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/06/germany-and-google-books-library.html

The legal group wants to get out viewpoint out there via the blog. In non-legal matters, an attorney related to, for example, a specific product launch may review an upcoming post, in the course of reviewing all public communications. Beyond that we only reach occasionally and vice versa.

Marianne: There are many ethical issues that surface in the blogosphere on an ongoing basis. There are also ongoing discussions about adopting a blogger code of ethics. Some of the issues are covered in things like the WOMMA code of ethics but there is no universally agreed upon code of ethics. Disclosure seems to the basis of many of the ethical issues. Currently, as you know, social media is more or less unregulated. Do you see the need for the adoption of a code of ethics?

Karen: Personally, I’d like to see a code of ethics for several reasons. In this I speak as an inveterate reader of blogs, a writer and a media junkie. Disclosure (about work for hire and other reward consideration) is one reason a code is needed, in the case of bloggers who are crossing the line into journalism but not agreeing to all of its traditional tenets.

I also want some ground rules about the identity of the person who is blogging…so often I can’t find a name, a profile, a bio, or even an email address for some blog I read, which discounts it immediately in my mind. And for those who "do" fancy themselves reporters, I’d like to know if they will or will not be honoring press embargoes, and if they will cite their sources responsibly when possible (there are good reasons for tech bloggers to do this).

For all these reasons, I’d welcome a code.

Tomorrow, look for the interview with our third panelist, Nina Kaufman.

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Interview with Blogher Business ’07 Panelist Karen Wickre

by Marianne Richmond on March 13, 2007

In anticipation of next week’s Blogher Business 07 Conference in New York City, I am posting interviews with the participants on the panel that I am moderating on Day 2, How to Keep Out of Real Trouble.  This panel is part of the track How Do I Get It Right The First Time which focuses on issues that should be discussed in the planning stage in order to launch the most effective social media initiative.

Yesterday, Megan Belcher discussed potential real trouble issues relating to employment law, her field of expertise. Today, Karen Wickre, managing editor of the Official Google Blog has answers for a few questions.

Marianne: The panel that we are doing at Blogher is about how to keep out of real trouble with social media. You oversee all 40 of Google’s corporate blogs and are managing editor of the Official Google Blog. How top of mind is the concept of "keeping of real trouble in your daily life at Google?"

Karen: It’s simply not a daily issue. Corporate blogs-those created and maintained by one or more people on behalf of a company featuring the company’s news–aren’t particularly racy by definition. We’re clear at Google that our family of corporate blogs are a PR vehicle–a more direct, friendlier, speedier and perhaps more candid platform than companies have had in the past, but a PR mechanism nonetheless. As such, its not a risky business.

Marianne: Continuing with the "keeping out of real trouble theme"…how frequent is your interaction with the legal department; or said another way, how involved is legal with Google blogging?

Karen: Legal submits its own blog posts! That is, when we have a policy or legal issue, such as privacy or perhaps a lawsuit we’d like to comment on (here are two examples):

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/02/response-to-doj-motion.htm l

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/06/germany-and-google-books-library.html

The legal group wants to get out viewpoint out there via the blog. In non-legal matters, an attorney related to, for example, a specific product launch may review an upcoming post, in the course of reviewing all public communications. Beyond that we only reach occasionally and vice versa.

Marianne: There are many ethical issues that surface in the blogosphere on an ongoing basis. There are also ongoing discussions about adopting a blogger code of ethics. Some of the issues are covered in things like the WOMMA code of ethics but there is no universally agreed upon code of ethics. Disclosure seems to the basis of many of the ethical issues. Currently, as you know, social media is more or less unregulated. Do you see the need for the adoption of a code of ethics?

Karen: Personally, I’d like to see a code of ethics for several reasons. In this I speak as an inveterate reader of blogs, a writer and a media junkie. Disclosure (about work for hire and other reward consideration) is one reason a code is needed, in the case of bloggers who are crossing the line into journalism but not agreeing to all of its traditional tenets.

I also want some ground rules about the identity of the person who is blogging…so often I can’t find a name, a profile, a bio, or even an email address for some blog I read, which discounts it immediately in my mind. And for those who "do" fancy themselves reporters, I’d like to know if they will or will not be honoring press embargoes, and if they will cite their sources responsibly when possible (there are good reasons for tech bloggers to do this).

For all these reasons, I’d welcome a code.

Tomorrow, look for the interview with our third panelist, Nina Kaufman.

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Interview with Blogher Business ’07 Panelist Megan Belcher

by Marianne Richmond on March 12, 2007

I am very much looking forward to moderating the Blogher Business ’07 Day 2 Panel, "How to Keep Out of Real Trouble" with attorneys Megan Belcher and Nina Kaufmann and Karen Wickre from Google. This panel is part of the track How Do I Get It Right The First Time which focuses on issues that should be discussed in the planning stage in order to launch the most effective social media initiative.

Megan, Nina and Karen have graciously agreed to a brief pre-conference blog interview. My Show-Me State neighbor, Blackwell Sanders employment lawyer Megan Belcher, will be the first.

Marianne: The panel that will will be on is titled "How to Keep Out of Trouble". In a sense, it seems that in many corporations the lawyers view blogging and social media as trouble personified. What is your perspective?

Megan: I think that much like any innovative marketing or communication strategy utilized by companies, blogging and other kinds of social media are both a blessing in terms of their power to reach the public, and a curse in terms of the potential liability risks.

Any time a company publishes communications that represent the company’s stance on its corporate outlook, marketing message, or general media campaign, those communications may someday show up in a deposition or as a part of a trial exhibit. Consequently, corporate lawyers view those avenues of public communication as a source of liability, from tort claims based upon communications themselves, to potential regulatory infractions if the information is not legally allowed to be communicated, like in certain transactional situations.

 Much like any other strategic business decision, the company will have to weigh the potential risk of blogging or other social media with the potential benefit, making the best decision for the company at the time. Sometimes that means the company will be defending a lawsuit at some point down the line. But as they say, you have to break a few eggs. the key is to know when the risk is too great to justify the potential benefits.

As an aside. I think perhaps the most interesting paradox with regard to the intersection of social media and legal liability is that companies who are most likely to use a social media campaign, i.e. newer, smaller , younger companies, are the ones who are least likely to survive the impact of the cost and time drain of a legal challenge.

Marianne: Do you think social media…blogs, social networks and now video have added value to the job seeking and hiring process or complicated it with legal caveats?ÂÂ

Megan: In my opinion, blogs, social networks and video based services have not as yet complicated to a great extent the hiring process.

Marianne: Is there one stand out legal issue in corporate blogging that you believe is a lawsuit waiting to happen and needs to be discussed at Blogher Business ’07?

Megan: I believe the most pressing issue for companies is the effect that all of these communication outlets are having on the existing employer-employee relationship.

Employers are now in a position that they need to be revising their policies to clearly set forth the company’s position on the use of blogs, social networks and video hosting services. In addition, as time goes by, more and more employers are having to make employee discipline and discharge decisions based upon what their employees are posting on their blogs MySpace pages and sites like YouTube.

Employers are having to walk a very difficult line between maintaining the integrity of their policies and confidential corporate information, and an employees right to free speech. I believe that in the next few years, it will be very interesting to see how judges and juries alike react to claims brought by employees because of their blogs or other public communications, and how employers will respond.

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