What is California’s new consumer privacy law and could you be fined?

If you’re not familiar with California’s new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), you’re not alone. In August, an IT security firm ran a survey of 625 business owners in California and found that almost half the respondents had never heard of the CCPA and less than 12% knew whether the law applied to their business. Now is the time for your company to assess the potential impact and take steps to comply with regulations if required. 

What is CCPA?

Taking effect on January 1, 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is modeled on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and creates new consumer rights relating to the access, deletion, and sharing of personal information that is collected by businesses. The CCPA defines the responsibilities of businesses that collect and process personal information. The scope includes California businesses, as well as any business that conducts business with California residents. 

Among the rights ensured in CCPA are:

  • Consumers have the right to know all data collected on them, including what categories of data and why it is being acquired before it is collected, and any changes to its collection
  • Consumers have the right to refuse the sale of their information
  • Consumers have the right to request deletion of their data
  • Consumers have the right to opt-in before the sale of information on minors
  • Consumers have the right to know the categories of third parties with whom their data is shared, as well as those from whom their data was acquired
  • Consumers have the right to sue should breach occur or to ensure companies keep their information safe, and the state may also impose penalties for noncompliance or violation.

Which businesses are impacted?

The CCPA impacts both California-based businesses, as well as companies doing business with consumers in California. It applies to all businesses that meet any of the following three thresholds: 

  1. Has annual gross revenues in excess of $25,000,000.
  2. Buys, sells, or shares the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices. 
  3. Derives 50% or more of its annual revenue from selling consumers’ personal information.

While the $25M gross annual revenue is intended to help small businesses and startups avoid CCPA requirements, many companies already have email lists or internal databases with more than 50,000 records of past, current, or prospective customers. If you’re using a marketing automation platform (for example, tools like Marketo, HubSpot, etc.), have ever bought or scraped email lists, or have simply been in business for an extended period of time, you might find the 50,000 record count threshold is easy to reach.

Note that “sharing” can include something as simple as passing information from a website form to your email provider (as with Constant Contact and similar software) or sharing information with Google Analytics (CCPA scope includes technical information that is passed by a user’s browser when they visit your website.) Even if your organization does not currently meet the three regulation thresholds, the CCPA is expected to become a model regulation that will be adopted by other states and, potentially, at the federal level. Ignore the CCPA at your own peril.

What is the potential exposure of non-compliance?

The California Attorney General’s office is scheduled to begin enforcement by July 1, 2020, with a twelve-month “look-back period” (to July 1, 2019), with fines up to $7,500 per violation. The specifics of enforcement are still being developed by the State of California. While the CCPA will generally be enforced by the California Attorney General, private citizens can also make claims directly against a company if there is certain unauthorized access and exfiltration, theft, or disclosure of non-encrypted or non-redacted personal information. (Note that this might include such things as unencrypted spreadsheets containing customer information on a stolen laptop.)

What to do now

We recommend that our clients be proactive in assessing the impact of regulation and taking steps to become compliant if needed. While the safest advice is to ask your legal counsel, there are several steps you can take on your own.

First, simply Google “CCPA compliance” or refer to the resource links below to get up to speed. 

Second, if you believe your company is either not impacted or that the business risk is minimal, we recommend that every client still update their website’s privacy policy to comply with CCPA requirements. (You do have a privacy policy on your website, right? If not, now’s a perfect time to create one!)

Third, if you believe your organization will be subject to CCPA requirements, now is the time to inventory the information you collect (or have collected in the past and stored). Determine what information you need to run your business. If you are collecting or archiving data that is no longer useful, you can reduce your exposure by cleaning up your data and deleting information that is no longer needed.

Additional CCPA Information Resources

We’re not lawyers, but Sterling has been working with clients with GDPR and CCPA compliance obligations. If you have questions or would like Sterling’s help, please contact Mark Bonham at (408)395-5500.

The 3 rules of Wikipedia biographies

Wikipedia is a free, crowd-sourced encyclopedia that holds its users accountable for its contents. The site is all about volunteering knowledge and, theoretically, anyone in the world can post information about anything. But there are guard rails. The Wikipedia community has several requirements and unofficial guidelines that all updates and new entries must meet.

wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Autobiographies are a Non-Starter
Having a personal Wikipedia page is awesome: It’s a sign of clout, it ranks well in search engines, and it tells the world you did something worth knowing about. So why doesn’t everyone have a Wikipedia profile page? Because Wikipedia is not Facebook.

Wikipedia exists to note the notable, vetted by interested people who serve as proof that someone cares about the contents of an entry. Which leads us to the first rule for getting a Wikipedia biography about you published:

1. Have someone else post it because autobiographies are rejected on Wikipedia.

This is logical. Wikipedia is a site for useful information, not self-promotion. Someone else has to care about the content of the entry — go you! But the truth is that, even if you don’t have a single friend in the world, you could create an account under a fake name and try to post an entry on yourself (we didn’t tell you that). Even if you result to skullduggery, it still has to be a biography, not an autobiography — and it will be vetted by a volunteer army. Any chance of success comes down to language (watch your pronouns!) and verifiability, two points we’ll address next.

Get Neutral
Most of the time, it’s insulting to be called a fence sitter. On Wikipedia, however, maintaining a neutral position is imperative to getting published. Words like terrible or great don’t fly — your entry should read like hard news, not an Op/Ed. Which leads to the second Wikipedia rule, one we affectionately call the law of Sgt. Joe Friday:

2. Stick to the facts, not your opinion on them.

Following this language rule will ensure your submission’s tone of voice is consistent with the Wikipedia community’s expectations. It will also conveniently make it much easier to comply with the third rule for having your own Wikipedia entry…

Show the Receipts
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, 12 references are still required for it to get its own Wikipedia entry. Verifiability is the lifeblood of Wikipedia entries, and it is earned by linking to reputable external sources. With the spirit of a scientific research paper but the flexibility of a creative blog post, sources on Wikipedia can include articles, company websites, books, TV shows, podcasts, YouTube videos, other Wikipedia entries…you name it. But prestige counts for a lot:

3. Reference credible, well-known news publications as much as possible.

This, of course, implies that you already have an online news presence. We’re here to help if you need assistance with that.

The case for content marketing: Bridging the gap between earned and owned media

People associate public relations (PR) with the pursuit of “earned” media coverage. Whether it’s writing and distributing press releases, pitching stories to reporters and editors, or submitting clients for prestigious awards or speaking opportunities — you are effectively looking to earn media attention. The goal is to inspire credible third parties and influencers to tell your tale and share your message (or a version of it, anyway). Traditional earned media is still the backbone of PR, but in our highly digitized world, a well-rounded communications strategy should also address “owned” media — specifically, content marketing.

Owning Your Story
Content marketing refers to the practice of creating content for a targeted online audience to establish a relationship with them. Put simply, it’s a process for getting attention from the right people — not unlike public relations. However, because it’s created in-house for web distribution and is not subject to outside interpretation, self-published content affords greater control of message delivery. Basically, owned media in the form of digital content marketing lets you tell your own story. But to be effective, it has to be a story worth telling.

Below are several best practices to consider for your content marketing program.

1) Who are you talking to?
Content marketing is not meant to be about you, your brand, products, or services. It’s about your audience. Who are they? What do they care about? Start by doing research on your customer. Determine how your story can provide real value and how best to deliver it to them.

2) In order to sell something, don’t sell anything
Content marketing is inherently meant to be helpful over promotional. It is not synonymous with traditional marketing collateral that touts a company’s offerings or accolades. Instead, it uses how-to articles, whitepapers, case studies, e-books, videos, infographics, and webinars to provide answers to customers’ questions or solutions to their pain points. An important cornerstone of content marketing is that by helping other people succeed, you too will see a return on investment. Offer unique insight or helpful takeaways consistency throughout content marketing materials to establish trust with your audience. Offer credible information and share your expertise. This practice ultimately strengthens customer relationships and encourages loyalty.

3) Begin at the beginning
Before you even think about creating content, make sure you have identified your target audience, objectives, search-engine optimization (SEO) considerations, and brand voice. Each of these elements will inform your content marketing strategy. A content marketing strategy — which typically includes an editorial calendar, story matrix, content map, and style guide — should align with the overarching goals of your communications/PR strategy. Additionally, outline key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will use to measure success and/or reevaluation requirements.

4) Amplify your content
If you publish a blog post, share it from your Twitter account. If a piece of content is not performing well on one channel, explore others that may provide increased exposure to your desired audience. Leveraging the content you create across various web ecosystems provides multiple opportunities for your target audience to be exposed to your message. For example, it’s not uncommon (in fact, many argue it’s best practice) to share outstanding PR results on all your owned channels (brand social media accounts, website, blog, etc.).

5) Don’t forget SEO
Your customers are asking questions, and they use search engines to find answers. You want your information to be at the top of those search results. SEO ensures your content is easy to discover via search engines and helps drive the curious to your website. Common SEO best practices include diligent tagging (descriptions in the HTML code for how your content is presented on the web) and appropriate keyword propagation (identifying the terms people use for searching specific topics online and deftly using those keywords in your content marketing text).

A successful content marketing program will result in enhanced visibility and customer trust. When properly nurtured, the symbiotic relationship between earned and owned media builds brand reputation, boosts web traffic, and generates new business opportunities.

Learn more about content marketing here.

Three Reasons Video Isn’t Just for Marketing Anymore

The data is clear. Video is a must-have component of any modern-day strategic marketing plan. But in case you’ve been stuck with your nose in a paperback book lately, here is some of what we know about the impact of video:

  • 90% of users say that seeing a video about a product helps their decision-making process;
  • 65% of execs visit websites and 39% of them call vendors after viewing a video, according to Forbes; and
  • 80% of users recall a video ad they viewed in the past 30 days, says the Online Publisher’s Association

So, given that videos produce such great results, why aren’t we regularly using video more broadly in the organization? That’s the question I asked myself last year. I’ve watched Sterling’s creative team produce beautiful, inspiring, and compelling client videos for years now, and frankly, I was jealous. Silicon Valley is a tight labor market where conveying a sense of corporate culture in within a minute can be a tremendous competitive advantage. So, I pushed for creating a series of employee- and candidate-centered videos. Here’s what we’ve learned from the process so far:

1. A good recruiting video is a great way to attract the right talent in a tight market. If you think about it, marketing to top talent is just as important as marketing to your customers. And, at Sterling, we’re always on the lookout for the right “fit,” not just the right set of skills. A well-produced authentic video that captures and conveys your company culture will definitely set you apart; moreover, it will attract the kind of people who will thrive in your company. As importantly, many poorly suited candidates will self-select out. And, as an added bonus, employees are not just willing, but eager to share fun videos about themselves and their company…so the network effect can be huge. (more…)

10 Tips for Taking the “Work” out of Networking

 

If you’re like most people, walking into a room of relative strangers—especially without a wingman (or wingwoman)—can be a daunting prospect. Whether scouting for your next job or widening your professional circle, it can take steely resolve to push yourself onto the networking stage and perform. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tried and true tips to help you become a more successful (and less stressed out) networker. (more…)

Mastering the Art of Storytelling

creative storytelling

Here at Sterling, we share a love of storytelling. A great story engages people and commands attention, sticks in the mind—it’s the gold standard in communications. As such, storytelling underpins our professional strategies—both for ourselves and for our clients. But conjuring a compelling tale isn’t always easy.

We all encounter crises of imagination from time to time, and it often materializes in the form of writer’s block. In our business, you need to produce words to tell stories, but sometimes the words won’t come. Don’t let the daunting emptiness of a blank page intimidate you. With the following easy-to-use practices and tips, you can increase your productivity and perfect your craft—whether in press releases, blogs, web copy, scripts, or contributed articles. To keep your wellspring of inspiration bubbling, practice the art of conscious creativity.  (more…)

Digital Spring Cleaning Tips for Professionals

Sterling Communications Spring Cleaning Tech PR - Piling System

Spring cleaning typically means getting to work on dusty windows, stained carpets, and frighteningly full closets at home. But spring is also a good time to tackle neglected chores in your digital life. Let’s be honest, a lot happens in the average workday, schedules are packed, and it’s easy to let non-urgent tasks fall through the cracks. Putting them off for too long, however, makes them much more unpleasant and time consuming when you finally have to tend to them. No more procrastinating! Here are a few digital spring cleaning tasks you can (and should) conquer today. (more…)

Making the Most of Google Analytics

Sterling Communications -Google Analytics on Computer

If you’re building or managing a website, Google Analytics is your best friend. It provides voluminous insight into visitor behaviors, demographics, and traffic on any site. Of course, because it’s such a robust tool, Google Analytics can also be challenging for new or inexperienced users; there is simply too much data and it’s hard to know what’s important. Categorization terminology such as “source,” “medium,” and “unique page views” can trip up new users or send them down time-consuming and unproductive rabbit holes. Furthermore, Google Analytics supports multiple ways to do similar things, which only adds to the confusion. All that said, I’ve found the most prevalent source of befuddlement for new Google Analytics users stems from not knowing why they are looking at the data. The question you should always ask yourself before diving in is, “What am I trying to find?”

Be specific. What exact problem do you need to solve? What key question do you need answered? What specifically do you want to know? Once you define what you’re looking for, you can target your use of Google Analytics. It will give you insight, and you can knowledgeably adjust website content or design to improve overall user experience.

If you’re a beginner, here are the three most important categories to focus on:

  • Location, which tells you where your visitors are coming from
  • Medium, which tells you how they got there (social media? Google? another site?)
  • Site content, which tells you what interests them most

Focusing on these three brackets will give you a solid foundation for understanding: 1) how your site is functioning in the greater digital ecosystem; 2) whether you’re drawing the visitors you desire; and 3) where to direct any improvement efforts.

Best Practices for Google Analytics

While every Google Analytics investigation is a unique endeavor, there are best practices for using the tool. My tips for new users are: (more…)

4 Steps for Turning Customers into Social Cheerleaders

Turn your customers into social cheerleaders with these Sterling PR tips

Photo Credit: Mike Morbeck, Flickr

Social media for business comes down to one thing: creating brand advocates. Knowing that, why do so many companies make the same mistake of spending too much time targeting non-customers, and too little time engaging existing customers?

The New York Times best-selling author Jay Baer points this out in his article “The Truth About Social Media Strategy.” Ultimately, he proposes, “The role of social media is to turn people who like you into people who love you.” Why? Because people who love your brand are more inclined to bang the table for you in conversations, both online and offline. (more…)