SOPA – The Pirates Are Coming to Loot…Are you Ready to be Plundered?

It has been intriguing to see the comments and analysis of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) over the past few weeks. For the most part, this legislation has been viewed as a speech squelching, entrepreneur killing, economy halting piece of legislation. After personally reading SOPA (yes, all 78 pages), I find some merit to these arguments and it appears that too much power would be put into the hands of the government and allow them to compel and force online businesses to shut down portions (or all) of their websites without proper Constitutional due process. Jack Sparrow Lego

SOPA reminds me of a scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest movie, when Jack Sparrow and Will Turner are discussing plans to retrieve the mysterious key from Davy Jones. (NOTE: If SOPA had passed last week, I would have had to find a more witty way to prove my point here for fear of copyright infringement):

Jack Sparrow: So what’s your plan, then?

Will Turner:  I row over, search the ship until I find your bloody key.

Jack Sparrow:  And if there are crewmen?

Will Turner:  I cut down anyone in my path.

Jack Sparrow:   I like it. Simple, easy to remember.

With SOPA, the government will have the ability to raid a business’s “ship,” find the forbidden loot, and have no problem cutting down others in their path. While the plan seems to be a simple and quick solution for conquering piracy, it fails to address other complexities that are a reality for businesses, especially entrepreneurs and internet start-ups. One thing SOPA does is emphasizes the ability for the government to exercise injunctive powers in stopping a website from functioning due to third party actions. Injunctive powers consist of such things as court ordered temporary restraining orders (TROs), preliminary injunctions, and permanent injunctions. Among other things, I see the big issue lying with temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions, which allow an “offending” party to come to a judge, explain and justify their offense, then request relief via a shut down of the website even before the owner of an “offending” website is brought into court and/or the case is finally reviewed and decided upon. Depending on the judge’s discretion, a TRO could be granted right there on the spot until matters are further reviewed by the court. While these injunctive powers can certainly be found Constitutional and do find their rightful place in our society, it seems that SOPA would expand the justifications and legal limits for exercising these injunctive powers that could shut down or filter websites.

First, this is a dangerous power that reminds me of time when a British government was sending their soldiers into citizen’s homes to seize their “houses, papers, and effects” without justification and at the whim of a complaint from any third party. For these very reasons, the American Founding Fathers put in place the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to protect citizens from these types of oppressive government actions, thus providing a proper venue for reviewing complaints and allowing fair due process before stripping someone of their rights. Under SOPA, I’m afraid that the real pirates will become the government as they “pillage and plunder and don’t give a hoot” of e-silencing websites without proper due process and in the name of the threat of piracy.

Second, SOPA regulations could cause existing, well-established businesses to take enormously expensive precautions that deter foreign invaders from posting infringing content on their websites. Businesses would essentially have to provide an additional army of content monitors, attorneys, and others to babysit those visiting and using their website. A likely scenario could be that a business would find it difficult to provide an adequate army and would take the safest precautions for removing any content that had any inkling of potentially infringing a copyright, trademark, etc. This could be a killer for large companies such as Reddit’s social news site. If a business isn’t quickly assassinated, then the affects of having to fend off the government’s discretionary ability to censor could certainly slowly bleed a company to death or change it to something less innovative.

Third, the powers granted in SOPA could have a drastic affect on the inception of small internet businesses. Under SOPA, these internet start-ups would require an arsenal of attorneys and consultants to assist in navigating their new venture. Additionally, these new business would have to take additional precautions to ensure that their new venture was not violating any minute portions of SOPA that could trigger a complaint from a cash-flushed corporation or others bent on taking out the competition. All this would require additional upfront money and could cause many to give up on their brilliant ideas because of lack of funding, for fear of being legally punished, or just not wanting to deal with the headache and stress of additional regulation. Think of all the major internet businesses that have changed our lives, including many that we use on a daily (if not hourly) basis. Many of these companies were started in someone’s bedroom, with the idea of two students, or by some whiz kid. In a SOPA world, these new ideas, the innovation, and entrepreneurs could be quickly drowned in facing the reality of having to address so many unknown legal issues, having to fight a claim or complaint from a third party, or by the decision of the government.

I think it is important to understand that most of SOPA’s supporters are NOT advocating piracy in any form and it is a real issue sucking money away from innocent victims. However, supporters are not prepared to give up their Constitutional rights for this threat or to bring a crushing blow to the businesses and innovation that have shaped our lives and made them better. There definitely needs to be an effective approach to address the piracy problem, but legislators need to consider the detrimental effects of SOPA, or any other piece of related legislation, on businesses and resolve to protect those interests. Fortunately, SOPA’s vote has been postponed for at least another month, which gives additional time for supporters to voice their opinions and stave off an impending attack.

About the author:

Shaine has always been fascinated with how people interact with each other and shape the world around them. The internet and social media has brought a whole new sphere in these communications and has produced a world our past would have never imagined possible. He is finishing his law degree and plans on being a licensed attorney by August 2012. He will continue helping businesses navigate around pitfalls and have the most success possible. (NOTE: Any information provided by Shaine is in no way meant to be a legal opinion and/or legal advice. It is important to contact a licensed attorney to obtain proper legal advice for your situation.)

Staffers Gone Wild – Protecting Your Business from Damaging Social Media Content

Social Media Policies
Caution: Follow Me At Your Own Risk

Recently, an episode of “Staffers Gone Wild” played out on the internet with the unbelievable tweets of government staff members being broadcast for all to see. Isn’t it comforting to know that your hard earned tax dollars are being spent to fund the watching of Nirvana videos or support drinking while on the job? I’m not here to talk about the politics of this behavior, as I will leave that up to the political pundits to comment on.

What I do want to talk about are some potential legal ramifications that exist in businesses with easy access to the thousands of open eyes and ears reading your posts and tweets. We all know that social media marketing, imaging, and messaging are extremely important in shaping your brand. It takes a lot of time and money to get others to see you as you want them to. However, with one simple tweet your whole plan and message can be compromised, leaving you open to liabilities and harming your brand. Additionally, there are a host of legal pitfalls awaiting you.

It is important to know that each of your employees using social media accounts can be potentially viewed as “agents” of your company. While the law recognizes various types and levels of agents, it has been generally defined as basically someone who is authorized to act for another and/or someone that the outside world would reasonably believe is working on behalf the company (each state has its own “agency” laws and a licensed attorney should be contacted to provide proper legal advice regarding your situation). Any employee tweeting or posting may potentially become a liability to you. Regarding a private (social media) account, employers are somewhat limited in controlling an employee’s personal posts. However, there may be an issue if employees are posting company-related information on their private accounts.

Regarding social media content, businesses need to be aware of laws that govern and limit what can be posted. One of the laws is the Federal Trade Commission’s truth-in-advertising rules, which require businesses to not make misleading, false, or deceptive claims in their advertisements. There are also many intellectual property and copyright laws governing what you can use for your own business without infringing on another company’s ownership rights. Additionally, defamation and harassment laws limit what can be said without invoking other types of legal action from companies or individuals.

So what are some things that you can do to help protect your business?

  1. Understand Your Legal Limits – Before employees can understand what information can and cannot be use online, those at the top need to understand first. Seek out those laws that affect your business and understand your legal limits. Of course, if there are any questions, consult a licensed attorney that can address your questions.
  2. Empower Your Employee Policy Manuals – In all of your employee policy manuals you should have clear and detailed policies regarding social media use, including who is and is not allowed to post content. When hiring 3rd parties to post content for you, be sure to have clear communications regarding what is allowed and prohibited. It is highly recommended that you hire a licensed attorney to review or write your policy manuals and to draft and review your employee contracts/agreements to minimize your legal risk.
  3. Train, Train, Train – Have immediate training with new employees and frequent follow-up training that communicates clearly what can and cannot be said online regarding your business. You should also train employees regarding the potential risks that can occur when using their private accounts, such as defamation, trade secret disclosure, etc.
  4. Monitor Content – Depending on the size of your business and the amount of content being generated, this may be a difficult one to accomplish. However, it is extremely important to know what information is going out to the public regarding your business. Have someone in your company that is knowledgeable of the risks to oversee posted content. If something detrimental does go out, the damage may already be done. However, damage control can be better executed the earlier damage is caught.
  5. Plan for the Disaster – No one likes think that something bad will happen to them. However, if damaging content does go out, do you have a plan in place? Depending on the harm of the content the plan can range from a quick apology, to reprimanding or firing an employee, to quickly consulting an attorney to defend yourself from legal action. Sit down with your staff and determine what detrimental scenarios can occur from detrimental content and put an action plan in place that can be quickly executed to handle any issues. It is also wise to consult an attorney to review your plans and ensure that proper protections are in place.

(NOTE: In any business, legal issues are not to be trifled with. This information is in no way meant to be construed as a legal opinion and/or as legal advice. The author has provided the information provided herein simply for informational purposes only. It is important to properly plan, prepare and protect yourself from legal issues by contacting a licensed attorney to obtain legal advice for your particular situation.)

About the author:

Shaine has always been fascinated with how people interact with each other and shape the world around them. The internet and social media has brought a whole new sphere in these communications and has produced a world our past would have never imagined possible. He is finishing his law degree and plans on being a licensed attorney by August 2012. He will continue helping businesses navigate around pitfalls and have the most success possible. (NOTE: Any information provided by Shaine is in no way meant to be a legal opinion and/or legal advice. It is important to contact a licensed attorney to obtain proper legal advice for your situation.)

Killer Competitive Research – Going Beyond Back Links and SpyFu

I got asked a lot of great questions at Pubcon after my Competitive Intelligence session a while back, so I wanted to take some time and answer a lot of those questions here.  If anyone else had questions that were not answered, or I just forgot (in my defense there were A LOT of questions) feel free to fire them away in the comments.  Hopefully this covers everyone that came up to me and asked a question (or that I promised something to).

A lot of times when online marketers think about doing competitive analysis we just look at the SEO and PPC side of things. But if you really consider yourself to be an “online marketer,” you need to look beyond just the two obvious channels. You should also try to figure out what your competitors are doing for testing, retargeting, and any other advertising networks they might be using.

It won’t be possible to figure out everything your competitor is doing, but by doing a little detective work you can get an idea of at least some of the tactics they’re using. Once you have that information, you can then evaluate and see if there are additional tactics that you should be using as well.

The key to finding out if your competitor is using any of these tactics is simply to dig through their code and see if you can find the right signals.

Split or A/B Testing

There are a lot of tests that a site can run on it’s content, but in the end the goal of doing testing is to make changes to your site that lead to better conversion. If you can find out what your competitor is testing, you can then evaluate it to see if it’s something you should be testing as well.

Some of the common testing platforms include:

Each of these platforms will require the site to install a snippet of code for it to work. One of the great things about code snippets is that lots of times the default version will have a comment tag identifying what the script is. For example, in the instructions for Google Website Optimizer this is the beginning of the code that they give you:

<!– Google Website Optimizer Tracking Script –>
<script type=”text/javascript”>

Good pages to look for this kind of code would be any landing pages, product pages, or shopping cart pages. Testing almost always has to do with conversion, so look on the pages of your competitor’s site that are focused on conversion.

If you find a snippet of code that you don’t know what it is, search for it in Google and you’ll likely find a tutorial about it identifying what platform it belongs to. The best way to do this is to copy a generic part of the code. For example, if you search in Google for “mboxCreate()” most of the search results have something about Omniture Test&Target. But if you just do a search for ‘mbox’ you’re going to get a lot of electronics products in your search results, which obviously isn’t very helpful.

A lot of the testing companies will also require you to put a snippet of code around the element that your testing. If your competitor is using this kind of platform you can easily see what they’re testing. If they are using a more advanced system, you will want to try cacheless refreshes, or coming to their site through different channels and see if you notice any changes to the page.

Retargeting Pixels

If you’ve been reading online marketing blogs or gone to any Internet marketing conferences lately, you’ve likely heard a lot about retargeting. It’s a really hot topic, and for good reason – if done right it works really well!

So how do you know if you competitor is using a retargeting network? Once again, HTML comments are your best friend. For example, here’s a sample code for Google Remarketing (one of the most popular remarketing networks):

google remarketing code
Google Remarketing Code

As you can probably guess, there are a lot or retargeting networks out there. The nice thing is that these tracking pixels will almost always be at the bottom of the HTML code. So once again, go to a product or lead page and look at the bottom of the code to see what kinds of scripts you can find. Then, search for a generic part of that includes words that might identify the company.

Here’s a list of some retargeting company names to watch for when looking for retargeting snippets:

Conversion Tracking Pixels – The Goldmine

The goldmine for this kind of detective work is in the shopping cart, or the lead confirmation page. Think of it this way: if you’re doing any testing, retargeting, or advertising with some kind of specialized network you have to be able to tell if a visitor actually converted or not. This is the same for different banner networks, PPC, and anything else that you’re tracking conversion rates on.

For example, if someone converts you don’t want to retarget them for a regular sale anymore. If someone came to your site through a banner ad you’ve placed on a site, you need to be able to tell if that banner helped lead to the conversion. All of these conversion pixels are found on the receipt of lead confirmation page.

HTML comment tags are once again your best friend since most conversion pixels will have an identifying comment before and/or after them. If they don’t have a comment, you will most likely be able to see the name of the company in the code since most companies will include their company name in their function names.

This is one of the only ways that you can really find out what kinds of specialized banner networks your competitor is advertising with which is another reason why I call this the goldmine.

Who’s Smarter – You Or Your Competitor?

As you can see, by digging through the code of a site you can learn a lot about some of the additional online tactics they are using. And this can really help you understand how sophisticated and advanced your competitor is.

In some cases you’ll find that you’re ahead of the game and they aren’t doing much. But in other cases you’ll find that you have a lot you can learn from your competitor. Make sure that if this is the case, you take the time to learn the lesson well and further investigate what networks and technologies they’re using so you can become a more sophisticated competitor to them.

How to Work Your Way Out of Corporate America Hell

Yes, this is a post targeted directly at some of my closest friends who are still tied down by the chains of Corporate America. I probably don’t speak to them often enough; it’s not because I don’t like them, it’s simply because each time we meet and begin talking, the conversation turns negative nine times out of ten.

Why is this you might ask?


I personally don’t think I’m a negative guy. In fact, when I worked in “Corporate America” I was given the “Best Attitude” Award…ha ha!

The reason things tend to turn negative, in my opinion (IMO), is because my friends know that what I’m doing as a self-employed entrepreneur is EXACTLY what they want to be doing…but they’re afraid to take the leap from that “security”.


It’s also because, due to the “chains” that have tied them down, there really aren’t a lot of positive things for them to share with me.

In an effort to give you more than just my own biased opinion about self-employment, I reached out to some of the people I look up to in this world of self-employed freedom. Here’s what they had to say:

I worked as a consultant for two years, in those two years I saw my dress sense, hygiene, sleep patterns, health and body go to complete shit. I was working all the time I wasn’t sleeping, and I wasn’t sleeping enough, I would wake up and start working often without showering or dressing, often without having breakfast, never at the same time, I would order in and eat unhealthy foods, and I was almost completely sedentary.

So my advice, have a room in your house that is a dedicated office space. Make sure you wake up at the same time every day and start work at the same time every day, make sure you have breakfast, shit/shower/shave and dress appropriately. Cook your meals, take frequent breaks and go for walks, do stretches, etc.

Do everything the opposite of what I was doing. I was young and learned it the hard way. I was wide-eyed at the prospect of working from home but honestly, you have to pretend you’re not at home so you work smarter if not harder, work in an office space (don’t forget it’s tax-deductible), make sure you don’t let yourself get distracted by kids/wife/tv/anything else.

Muhammad Saleem

To get all of the influential people in his/her life on board with the decision being made. You need to make sure that everyone understands the decision you have made, why you have made it, and that you simply can’t deal with detractors and doubters over the next couple of months/years.

Dave Mink

In the words of Nike: Just Do It – make sure and have a plan though, set goals and work your ass off to achieve them. Leave all fear behind. There is no room for fear in self employment. Network. Use your connections and social media to let the world know what you are doing and how they can help. If you do, you will realize quite soon how much money you were losing by limiting yourself to a 9-5 … Be prepared for trials, but know after much adversity comes much success.

Mat Siltala

  • be out of debt
  • be willing to lose
  • have the funds to make educational “gambles”
  • be smart, if someone can do it better than you, hire that person to do it
  • stay connected with your market
  • be flexible
  • and work with your pants off


Paul Barker

From time to time I get to work with clients who are classic “Corporate America”:

  • They have to asked permission to speak in turn
  • They have to bring in 5-7 people to make simple decisions and get everyone’s complete buy-off
  • They have to use lots of acronyms and corporate “jargon” to sound more sophisticated
  • They use lots of cliches like “Win Win” and “ROI” and “High-Level”

Granted, there may be some “Corporate America” jobs that are to die for. But in my experience and in talking with many others, they are definitely few and far between.

So what can be done?

Gary Vaynerchuk, one of my favorite social media rockstars, shared this advice:

The key concept you have to take away from all of this advice is you have to WORK; you have to WORK; you have to WORK! Continuing to work at your crappy day job and doing your self-employed dream on the side for a while is ok.

But don’t fall into the trap of “someday I’ll take that leap” because that someday may never come.

I took the self-employment leap over a year ago. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned a lot of things.

Here’s my list of suggestions on how you can take that leap and work your way out of “Corporate America Hell”…

The Hell-Hole Release Formula

  • keep working on your businesses while your at work (or before or after hours if that’s more safe)
  • set specific, measurable, reachable goals and HIT THEM
  • make a list of ALL your contacts
  • make a list of all the special skills you have that you can offer as services
  • set up a freshbooks account:
    • it’s a free invoicing tool that helps you keep books as you do work
    • it also has a timer to keep track of hours you’re working on projects
    • it took me a bit to figure out how to best use it, but now it’s basically something I HAVE to use to keep up on book keeping
    • it will save you money from paying a slimy accountant the beaucou bucks
  • use a tool like to keep track of progress
  • write out what you would LOVE to do if money weren’t an option
  • write out what you’d love to do for work if you could pick one thing
  • learn how to sell, sell, sell
    • EVERYTHING starts with a sale
  • Most Important Tip: go to all your friends who have taken the same path and ask them lots of questions (ie. insurance, accountant, tips, tricks, any partnership opps, etc.)



What do you think?