Small Business Attorneys Revisited

Back in November, we wrote about the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) going after an ambulance company for firing an employee over Facebook comments she made about the company and another employee.

Avoiding a letter from a federal agency like the NLRB is enough to justify an attorney’s expense.   I had the opportunity recently to consult with a local tech company on their employee handbook, but even a big document like that isn’t effective insulation.  The feds decided in in this instance that the company’s rules regarding all the after-hours activity like Facebook and blogging were too broad.  This was a case where the decision was justified by the company’s internal documents that the US government decided was unacceptable.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that the company involved in this issue is not a small business, but a company with a billion in annual revenue.  The Internet and globalization is already democratizing the playing field between small and big business.   Don’t give away your advantage by not working with an attorney.  This company will keep rolling.  Yours may not faced with a similar financial settlement.

Source:  ”Why You Should Consult…“, Silver Beacon Marketing, 11/4/10
Source:  ”Settlement Reached…“, NLRB.gov, 2/8/11

Google, Bing and Moe: The Search Engines

uneven balanceWe’ve beat the drum about a search duopoly since before the Yahoo-Microsoft search alliance was finalized.

A duopoly is a market condition when there are two competitors serving many buyers.  Literalists will insist that Yahoo, Ask, AOL and meta search engines still receive a very large number of search requests.

That’s true.

What you need to know as a small business leader is that comScore’s latest data shows that Google or Bing “powered” 93.8 percent of US search in December.   There is an awful lot of money to be made in the fringes that remaining 6 percent or so.  But in January 2011, make sure you understand that web search is a two player game.

Yahoo! is reinventing itself into a content company as fast as it can.   AOL isn’t far behind.  And we’re not counting searches on entities like Facebook, Amazon or eBay.  One could argue that an Amazon search is in many ways a proxy for a commercial search–certainly among its core categories.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to remember that even Google says search engine optimization (SEO) is an ongoing process and you have two different companies in which to position your company’s goods and services.   That’s the first, ultimate priority because you reach 94% of the United States that way.

Source:  ”December 2010 Search Engine Rankings“, comScore, 1/14/2011
Image:  Balance by Stephen Stacey

Why You Should Consult An Attorney Before Writing Policy

Small businesses may be more prone to hair-trigger responses than giant global corporations because those big companies have layers of rules and bureaucracy.  I’m not a fan of those layers, which is why Silver Beacon works exclusively with small businesses and non-profits, but there’s something to be said for an army of attorneys on the ninth floor.

The Legal Times blog is reporting that an ambulance company in Connecticut terminated an employee who made negative comments about her supervisor on Facebook.   Other employees reportedly participated in the Facebook discussion, and the woman. Here is the worst part.  Just four months ago, the local newspaper ran an article about the company sponsoring the employee’s 60 mile fund-raising walk for breast cancer.  Yet if the Legal Times article has its data right, the employee didn’t quit for health reasons.  She was terminated a  year ago.    And if that’s the case, why did the company have anything more to do with her?

Now the National Labor Relations Board is involved and has issued its own press release, announcing that it has investigated the original incident and will conduct a hearing January.   (pdf of that release here)

This isn’t the forum to debate or discuss the case.  Your takeaway as a small business leader is to recognize that the passion you feel for your business is your greatest asset and a potential liability.   Mistakes are made by organizations of all sizes, but a small business that many not want to spend on attorney fees is especially susceptible.

Critical in this case is the government agency’s finding that the company’s

blogging and internet posting policy contained unlawful provisions, including one that prohibited employees from making disparaging remarks when discussing the company or supervisors and another that prohibited employees from depicting the company in any way over the internet without company permission

If you’re nodding your head right now that the company should be able to tell paid employees that they are not allowed to disparage the company on the Internet, then you are underscoring the point about seeking counsel before writing policy.  The law isn’t about what’s right or wrong and while any business owner can empathize with a business that terminates someone that it may believe is a bad employee, writing and policy without assistance can lead to a federal agency publicly finding fault with your company and opening up the gates for potential fiscal liability.

Call your attorney.  If you don’t have one, call your accountant and ask for a recommendation.  If you don’t have an accountant or attorney, please call the local Small Business administration and ask for help in protecting yourself and your business.

Source: “NLRB Sues Company for Firing Worker Over Facebook Post” – Legal Times, 11/03/2010
Source: “Person of the Week” – The Day, 06/24/2010
Source: “Complaint alleges Connecticut company illegally fired employee… - NLRB, 11/02/2010
Image: Public domain

Search Grows, But Instant Search May Have Cooked The Numbers

As colder weather settles across the US, search engine volume begins its seasonal climb that will peak during the holiday season.

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Measurement firm comScore released its monthly Search Engine Rankings this evening and reports the number of US search queries climbed to 17.6 billion, a 4% increase over August’s totals with one fewer day.  Google’s share continued a steady climb and remains the market maker with a 66.1% marketshare.

The data behind these measurements is likely changing because of the Yahoo-Microsoft alliance.  The numbers may be further skewed by Google’s new Instant Search feature.    comScore says they’ve adjusted their counting methodology and will now count a page of search results that remains displayed for 3 seconds as another search even if the person using the search engine continues typing.

Measurement systems like comScore’s or TV ratings are often done on a “panel” basis where a particular set of users represent all users.  This is scientifically sound analysis.   It works.  And had there only been one major change this summer, tonight’s numbers might be more illuminating.

After looking at the data, I’ve decided that I want to see at least another month or two of data before completely understanding how much Instant Search is influencing the size of the market and Google’s share of that market.  For now,  the most illuminating data is that Yahoo! search queries fell from 2.72 billion to 2.68 billion.     Even when looking at the June and July numbers, which were lower for Yahoo!, it’s clear that the #2 player is fading fast.

We’ve written many times about the US search market becoming a duopoly with two major players.  Until a Facebook partnership is created with one of them, the search marketing continues crawling to that level.  Your takeaway as a small business leader is to remain aware that Yahoo!’s role as an independent, major search player is ending.

Search Share Shrinks To Two

With respect to Ask (Dr. Pepper) and AOL (fruit juices), the duopoly created by the Microsoft/Yahoo search alliance makes U.S. search a tussle between Google and Microhoo for supremacy.

comScore’s August data was released tonight and shows a minor fluctuation with Google dropping 0.4 points in market share, which were seemingly picked up Yahoo and Microsoft. If anyone you know says 4/10ths of one percent feel free to heckle them for weeks until they conceded that the change was actually 0.6%.

In the soft drink world, Coke (40% plus market share), Pepsi (30% plus) and Dr. Pepper / Snapple (15% plus) effectively control the market. Except that the companies carving out a niche in the gaps often grow profitable or threaten to and are gobbled up.

That’s the payday Fuze and Odwallla hit when Coca-Cola bought them for a combined price of more than $400 million within a relatively short 6 year span.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that you better decide whether you like Coke products, Pepsi products or both for your business. For you that means Google AdWords and Microsoft’s adCenter if you’re doing any kind of search advertising.

But there are new players out there. Bottled water (aka Facebook) is all the rage and smart companies are starting to see profitable direct response results from the social network.

And the comScore data also shows that Ask and AOL combined for 964 million searches in August. As a marketer I call that number “nearly one billion” and despite the manner in which we toss around large numbers, one billion of anything in one month is big business.

So have your Coke or your Pepsi or switch between the two.

Try some bottled water when it’s appropriate.

And if Dr. Pepper, 7-Up or fruit juices are on sale, you may want to stock up on some of those.

The comparison is overly simplistic, but the point is valid. Search advertising is now a Google-Bing world that will control more than 80% of US search engine actions this fall and winter. Other options exist, but they may not be direct substitutes.

Try them all. Don’t get in a rut.

US Search Engine Market Share

comScore Explicit Core Search Share Report*
August 2010 vs. July 2010
Total U.S. – Home/Work/University Locations
Source: comScore qSearch
Core Search Entity Explicit Core Search Share (%)
Jul-10 Aug-10 Point Change
Total Explicit Core Search 100.0% 100.0% N/A
Google Sites 65.8% 65.4% -0.4
Yahoo! Sites 17.1% 17.4% 0.3
Microsoft Sites 11.0% 11.1% 0.1
Ask Network 3.8% 3.8% 0.0
AOL LLC Network 2.3% 2.3% 0.0

Chart: comScore qSearch analysis

comScore Shows Why Search Is More Than Google

4.3 billion searches in the United States during July 2010.

That’s how many searches were handled at Yahoo! and Microsoft controlled sites for the month. Both saw modest gains while Google saw a slight decrease but the biggest message is in comScore’s new “Explicit Core Search Query Report“.

As Yahoo and Microsoft increasingly intertwine their search businesses, the companies combined for nearly 1/3 of all US searches.  And there are studies that suggest certain product categories convert better for sales or leads than a Google search or advertisement.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that Google remains synonymous with search, but ignoring a combined 33% of the market is bad strategy.  The advertising formats and frameworks are different for Google and the new Microsoft adCenter Search Alliance.  Facebook adds a third, complicating wrinkle, but search advertising is no longer Google and 5 smaller competitors.  There are three platforms with opportunities, and the small business leader will have a stake at all three.

Scaring Customers

I talked with a grocery chain employee who shared a taste of how much data the company tracked on shoppers. Her words were a recipe for making me want to pay cash at her store except there is a surcharge for not showing your frequent shopper card.

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Her chain offers a choice. My telephone company and cable company don’t offer those choices. Neither does my ISP, which will bundle my surfing data along in a neat advertising package.

Services like Gist, Blippy, Google and the ever-ubiquitous Facebook means that you probably know a lot about your customers. And if you run a small business, your client base may be segmented fine enough where a small number of clients mean big bucks.

Monitoring them online has never been easier.

Before a friend went on a job interview, I used our competitive intelligence template to put together a dossier for her on the folks she was interviewing with. She had everything from Amazon wish lists to pictures of their homes (thanks, Google Street View) to political contributions and more.

Now, picture yourself interviewing this woman who misspeaks and shares some of this information. Wouldn’t you feel a bit violated?

But her having that information was not only easy to accomplish, but well worth her time because she could familiarize herself with things of interest to interviewers. Played smartly, that’s a great strategic advantage when competing against other job applicants.

And you can create the same advantage when talking with your clients or prospecting for new clients. Bear in mind, though, that our world has far too much information available free with little effort.

Genealogy is one of my hobbies (yes, you’re shocked that a search engine marketer likes to search history too…) and the explosion of new sites and databases has made personal privacy available to the consumer market for little or no cost. Clicking a button last week brought my brother-in-law’s birth certificate from the 1960s to my computer along with information about his parents. A few more clicks brought their information, including marriage and birth records, to me as well.

This information has long been available, but it’s only been the last few years that the data is available to everyone without qualification. And by saying the wrong thing, you could easily spook someone who wonders why you’re studying them so closely.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to think about the information you compile and how you use that data. Sure, knowing a spouse or child’s name is great. By all mean talk about favorite sports or television shows. But tread carefully when you apply the information you’ve learned online to your conversation.

While you’re doing that, consider this wonderful video about what future privacy could look like. (Hat tip to Bill over at WinPatrol–a great security system– for posting the video and raising the questions again. And no, I won’t tell you how I know him)

Name Power

A bird soaked in oil. Smart naming sends "Bob", not "Robert", to the scene

Naming things is one of the most important things you’ll do in your small business.  Besides naming your company, each service and product is a unique opportunity to convey information without an explanation.

Three current examples show how much a simple name can convey.

BP today ousted beleaguered CEO Tony Hayward and installed a new boss. Meet Bob Dudley.

There is no doubt that the oil company executive has the knowledge to run the company.  Multibillion dollar companies don’t just choose people for their names.  But Dudley, who uses the name Robert in business and even on the BP site, has been introduced to the world as Bob.’

Bob, Bill and Tony sound a lot more accessible than Robert, William and Anthony.

The effect is subtle and usually only lasts beyond the first few actions, but BP’s message today is clear.  ”Bob, you know, from right down in the Gulf, is coming back home to look after things.  He’s ‘merican, just like you.”

The phenomenon doesn’t just extend to first names.

Think about Facebook and how the marketing team didn’t adjust the friendly, social lexicon throughout the site once the growth started outside colleges.

On LinkedIn, you have connections.
In email, you have contacts
But on Facebook, you have friends who you like.

Those were absolutely the proper words at the beginning of the company’s evolution, but when it announced business platforms and suggested connecting to people you knew at work, the word “friend” needed to be dumped.

And “like”?  Well, in an early iteration of Facebook Connect, I posted a link about a drug’s side effect that was on CNN.  The item appearing on my Facebook profile was that I “liked” the story.

Nope.

I was outraged, horrified and a little scared.

Words are powerful.  The power of the name we give things can’t be overstated.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is simple.  Examine every name in your company.  Look at how you refer to your processes and services–internal and external.  Listen to your team on the phone.  Write down unique words they use.  Then study those words.  What do they really mean?

For two years, I have toyed with an essay (not even a blog) called “I Am Not Your Friend”.    Look at your own Facebook profile.  Are the people you’ve called “friend” actually your friends or are they a mishmash of your personal and professional life scattered with people from places you’ve moved from and schoolmates.

Names have power.  If they were your friends, you probably would have contacted them well before Facebook appeared.

How Much Webmasters Make From Ads

coins with clock

Pennies and dimes add up over time

This morning’s announcement that websites keep 68 cents of every dollar spent when visitors click Google ads is the latest salvo in the company’s scramble to woo webmasters.    Google has a seemingly insurmountable lead in search.  We’ve written before that Google’s lead mirrors Microsoft’s software lead a decade ago and IBM’s hardware lead a decade before that.

Something will come along.  There’s already a shift led by Facebook which provides entertainment and Google which provides utility via search.   That’s not to say that Google is going anywhere… yet.   And I’m certainly not ready to proclaim this the Facebook Decade.

But Google VP Neil Mohan writing in what he calls the interest of transparency disclosed a number that has been hotly debated for years.  Even if the number isn’t exact or there are extenuating circumstances, one has to look at the intent behind the disclosure and ask what has changed.

The difference is the fragmentation in ancillary markets.   As a small business, you may choose to earn money on certain pages of your site (please don’t do this on your pre-sales pages!) with Google’s AdSense program.  As Mohan points out, you’ll get 68% of the earnings and if someone promises you 80%, how much more are you going to get from the trust created by the industry leader and its partner companies?

Mohan’s argument is compelling, and the number is important.  Because here is the math he hopes that you do:

Assume you have ads running on your website and that those ads generates $4.00  for every thousand pageviews.   Google’s announcement today would tell you that its advertising network receives $5.88 in advertising for those thousand views.   At 100,000 pageviews, the number is $588.  So if those pages are generating that much, couldn’t you just sell them for $600 at that level?

Sure.  But you can’t find a buyer at that level because you’re a small business and those 100,000 pageviews are your week or even your month.  That’s why there are other advertising networks:  AOL’s Advertising.com, Chitika (which works with Google and Yahoo!) and niche marketplaces like Glam Media.  In all, there are more than four dozen active ad networks.

Google’s announcement today of its revenue sharing percentages just may be the company’s recognition that this area of the business needs to be protected.