Twintangibles - IP & IA in the Social Media Age


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Twintangibles - IP & IA in the Social Media Age

  1. 1. Twintangibles IP and IA in the Social Media AgeStructured AbstractPurpose – Social Media (SM), basically defined as those media "whose major functions areoriented toward sharing of information" (Web 1 Marketing, 2010), is undoubtedly transformingbusiness, creating both new challenges and unprecedented opportunities.This paper will provide an overview of the findings of a survey conducted by the authors, aimed toidentify broad trends in the adoption of SM by organisations in the UK. The survey will then seek toanalyse how considerations of Intellectual Property (IP) and Intellectual Assets (IA) issues mayhave influenced their decisions and attitudes to making use of SM tools.Design/methodology/approach – There is a range of perspectives on the implications for IP andIA in the implementation and exploitation of SM tools. At one extreme there is the perspective thatSM can offer innovative models for the generation and harnessing of a companys IA. At theopposite extreme though lie the perceptions that the same tools are a great threat to traditionalmechanism used to generate, manage and protect IP, and should, therefore, be avoided. Wepropose a survey-based approach that will seek to examine how IA and IP considerations affected:- the decision to adopt SM or not;- for those that chose to make use of SM how far IA and IP considerations affected the choice ofthe SM tools and the general’s approach and guidelines for their use;- if post adoption issues relating to IA and IP had been identified that had led to an adjustedapproach;- the relative success or merits or otherwise of adopting SM in relation to IA and IP.Originality/value – Some of the more compelling early examples of business success through theapplication of SM, as cited by writers such as Tapscott and Williams, did advance and highlightvery novel IP and IA models. However, little has been written subsequently that analyses the levelto which these new approaches have become embedded as common business practice and theimplications this may have for traditional IP and IA management models. The analysis of thesurvey responses will draw general conclusions on all of these issues and it will includeconsiderations of any perceived sectoral differences that might be apparent, these include industrytype and public/private sector splits.Practical implications – As a conclusion, the paper will try to assess the general attitude ofbusinesses and organisations towards the usage of SM as a business tool, and will try to outlinefuture trends.Keywords – Social Media, Intellectual Property, Intellectual Assets, Innovation, Co-creation
  2. 2. 1 IntroductionSocial Media (SM), basically defined as those media "whose major functions are oriented towardsharing of information" (Web 1 Marketing, 2010), is undoubtedly transforming business, creatingboth new challenges and opportunities.The penetration and demographic spread of the adoption of Social Media (SM) continues to growrapidly: for example within the past year, access to Twitter by UK users alone has increased by974% (Goad, 2009); with more than 400 million active users, Facebook would be the 4th largest“country” in the world; Generation Y will outnumber Boomers by 2010 as the largest generationalgroup: 96% participate in social networks. The question is now being asked, “Is social media afad? Or is it the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution?” (Socialnomics, 2009).The recent AIIM Survey of Social Media Activists (AIIM, 2010; Mancini, 2010) suggests that 30% ofits respondents use Twitter for business networking at least once per day. Whether SM has avaluable role to play in business or not is not in the scope of this paper. The authors sought insteadto understand some of the patterns of adoption of SM in business, looking in particular into a rangeof perspectives on the implications for Intellectual Property (IP) and Intellectual Assets (IA) in theimplementation and exploitation of SM tools.IA are defined as those items of "knowledge that have some market value for a company".Examples could be brand, staff expertise, market intelligence, trade secrets (Intellectual AssetsCentre, 2010). Social Media could act both as a conveyor of all those assets to the market, and atbest as a means to exploit and manage them.IP is defined as the “right of a business to control creativity and innovation” (Intellectual AssetsCentre, 2010). Users are making their own content available to the world, but most of the user-generated content unavoidably creates IP rights’ ownership issues, as well as liability for trademarkand copyright infringement, and last but not least rights of privacy and/or publicity. Anecdotally, animportant concern of decision makers is the reputational risk and threat to traditional models of IPmanagement posed by the use of SM in the workplace. How to effectively exercise such a controlappears to be becoming a major concern amongst businesses, and the growing number ofworkshops and seminars offered on the subject is the first and most immediate sign of that.Since Tapscott and Williams offered a view of a potentially profound re-working of existingbusiness logic in the seminal Wikinomics, many commentators have offered perspectives andexamples of how this new way of thinking is working or, alternatively, is not. One of the mostradical pieces of thinking was that the traditional approaches to innovation and generating valuefrom that is, by the nature of the typical commercial exploitation models, internally focused,predicated on talent recruitment and retention, and bounded by a secrecy necessary to preventadvantage being lost to a competitor and to ensure that disclosure was suitably constrained so asto secure rights of ownership. Tapscott and Williams felt the model was up for change. As they putit:“The old notion that you have to attract, develop and retain the best and brightest inside yourcorporate boundaries is becoming null. With the costs of collaboration falling precipitously,companies can increasingly source ideas, innovations and uniquely qualified minds from a vastglobal pool of talent.”(Preface to Wikinomics Expanded Edition 2008)Li and Bernoff continued that theme in Groundswell – highlighting how SM tools are key tounderpinning and enabling this revolution.If we accept that there are some excellent examples of the use of SM tools to underpin radicallyaltered approaches to innovation and value generation, it is worth asking how pervasive the impactis in business generally. How far has this percolated from the exemplars to the generality? Is itgenerating heat and light in equal measure or - to stick with a fiery metaphor - is it a Prometheus
  3. 3. unbound or firmly shackled? Can we yet talk about the age of twintangibles?The authors sought a little more clarity on these questions by developing and deploying a simpleonline questionnaire that was made available, and is still available, to any willing participant. Inparticular, the survey sought to capture the scope and nature of the use of SM in a businesscontext, gaining insight into an organisation’s perspectives regarding the opportunities and threatsoffered by SM for the generation of IA and the attitude towards the related IP issues. The intentwas to gain an “as is” view, establish if regional and sectoral trends exist and identifycommonalities that have resulted in a positive perception of SM.This paper summarises some of the findings of the survey and it is hoped that, over time, asrespondents numbers becoming ever greater, trends will be evident that give us a greaterunderstanding of this area.2 MethodologyTo ascertain the business adoption of SM, a questionnaire was created and made available onlineover a 6 week period between February and March 2010. The authors conducted a survey toobtain data on how businesses and organisations use and manage SM to maximise the value oftheir IA, and how they deal with IP issues involved in the use of SM. The questionnaire containedtwenty-one questions; a mixed methodological approach was conducted using both open andmultiple choice questions. Businesses were evaluated on different levels, reflected in the threesections of the questionnaire: Awareness and Use of Social Media; Intellectual PropertyConsiderations; Intellectual Assets Considerations. Within these holistic topics, a number ofquestions related to the management of knowledge within the organisations. The resulting numberof respondents was 136 at the time of writing.The survey sought to analyse how considerations of IP and IA issues have influenced thedecisions and attitudes of the organisations to making use of SM tools.The extent to which these IP and IA considerations are factored into a decision to make use of SMor not are also influenced by the general level of awareness of general IP and IA matters by thosemaking a decision. Therefore, the survey aimed also at placing respondents on a scale ofawareness of IA and IP generally.The analysis of the responses tried to draw general conclusions on all of these issues, includingconsiderations of any perceived sectoral differences. As a consequence, the paper assessed thegeneral attitude towards the usage of SM as a business tool, outlining future trends and posing thebasis for further research.3 General FindingsIn the recent AIIM, Survey of Social Media Activists (AIIM, 2010;Mancini, 2010) taken in February2010, 76% of respondents agreed either strongly or very strongly with statement "I think thatbusiness social networking tools help me to do my job better" and 62% felt that "it’s becomingincreasingly important for my job that I am active on social networks".In conducting our survey, we identified a number of points which appear to support and refutegeneral perceptions of the use of social media within the business environment. The majority ofcompanies (86.3%) are using SM in the workplace for work-related purposes; the percentage iseven higher when Micro-Enterprises are considered (90.6%). Of the companies who responded toour survey, the prevalent usage of SM is social networking, with an overwhelming 81.9% ofrespondents using websites such as Facebook, Linked In and Bebo. Over half of respondentsnoted that social networking websites were used for networking with individuals external to theorganisation, however the focus was especially upon using social networks for Marketing purposes(61.2%). For example, the majority uses Twitter for raising brand awareness. Also, the usage of
  4. 4. blogs (48%), Microblogging such as Twitter (49%) and Wikis (46.1%) was relatively high. A goodpercentage declared use of Livecasting/Instant Messaging tools and Video Sharing. Furthermore,more than half of respondents believe that SM helps to exploit their intellectual assets, again whatit is implied in the concept of IA is Brand AwarenessRecognition. On the same wavelength, manyindividuals declared that they use SM to interact and analyse their customers. There seems to belittle differentiation between public and private sector, again challenging expectations andanecdotal evidence with the exception of private sectors seem to use micro blogging more thanformal blogging; generally speaking, private sector uses a greater variety of tools: nothing gets azero rating whereas public sector has 6 tool groups with no use.The responses to the survey also outlined a large use of employment websites (26.5%) forrecruitment purposes. The use of SM for hiring may stem from organisations sourcing new talent oridentifying the skills in the external workforce. Conversely it could be said that individuals wereusing SM at work to source future potential employment. Without further research, this questionwill be left unanswered. The use of SM monitoring tools (i.e. Social Radar) and Crowdsourcing,even if low, has been noticed and perhaps shouldn’t been ignored with such a relatively small poolof respondents.Contrary to the author’s perceptions, a high proportion (41%) of companies have used these toolsfor more than 2 years and a total of 68% has been using them for between 1 and 2 years. 74% ofresponses stated that all staff are allowed access to SM within the work place for work relatedpurposes. Only 10.8% answered “Only Managers”. This apparent lack of constraint seems to goagainst anecdotal evidence. An overwhelming 71.1% have not introduced policies and/orguidelines for conducting business practice online.4. IP considerationsThe use of SM is undoubtedly becoming an increasingly common business practice, rapidlygaining acceptance as a new way to do business, and bringing along a series of unforeseen – andoften hard-to-spot - implications. Furthermore, the phenomenon is certainly growing fast, notalways leaving the time to consider consequences, be they positive or negative.Web 2.0, because of its fertile nature, is an environment where materials can be easily created,copied and re-disseminated, therefore it can pose major IP rights issues, which need to beunderstood so as to avoid pitfalls and explore opportunities. The collaborative nature of Web 2.0,developing on a global level, results in the blurring of copyrights ownership and infringementliability. The lack of suitable case law makes the situation problematic. Already in 2007, in thecontext of Supernova conference, a major executive technology conference, it was being said that“the promise of social networks, video sharing, and online communities goes hand-in-hand with thechallenge of unauthorized use, acknowledging the risks and urging for an accommodationbetween the explosive creativity of social media and the constraints of intellectual propertylaw” (Howell, 2007).According to the UK Intellectual Property Office (2009), when an employee discloses informationregarding a company innovation on a SM website such as Facebook, Twitter or Flickr, this couldinvalidate a potential patent application. Legal firms have long started offering a wide range ofservices regarding employment, defamation, copyright, data protection, image rights and similar,specifically related to the use of social media. As the Social Media Risks and Rewards Conferencedescribes it, “While weve yet to see a major piece of litigation stemming from social media, it isonly one inappropriate “tweet” away”.It’s not only about IP. As more employees start to use SM for work related purposes, executivesare becoming increasingly concerned with the general message their workers are conveying to thepublic, which will reflect the company’s image. A recent survey from the professional servicesDeloitte (as quoted in King, 2009) found that 60 % of the executives interviewed believe they have
  5. 5. a right to know how employees portray themselves and their organizations. 74 % of employeesthemselves, on the other hand, believe that social networks make it easier to damage a company’sreputation. Therefore, many feel it is important to effectively exercise control on the use of socialmedia polices and this is becoming a major concern amongst businesses, with the growing numberof workshops, conferences and seminars offered on the subject. A casual review of these wouldinclude sessions on protecting company’s identity in virtual world, IP and SM in general, privacyand security in social media, corporate policies for SM.In this regard, the findings of the survey are interesting as 74% of responses stated that all staffare allowed access to SM within the work place for work related purposes, whilst 71.1% of thosehave not introduced policies and/or guidelines for conducting business practice online. This resultis conversely juxtaposed to a survey carried out by CloudNet (, 2010) whichidentified that only 20% of respondents did not have a social media policy implemented.CloudNet’s survey sample size was similar to that of ours.Perhaps, more surprisingly, there appeared to be little distinction in this matter betweenorganisations in the private and the public sector which does seem to run counter to the anecdotalevidence which seemed to suggest that the public sector was both less engaged with the use ofsocial media and that this caution translated into quite restrictive practices where access toexternal SM tools was actually allowed. When the size of the organisation is considered as adifferentiating factor it seems to be the case that larger organisation have a significantly highertendency to have some form of policy in place than the small or micro organisations. This isperhaps not entirely surprising in that one would reasonably expect larger organisations to havemore formal policies in place in most areas of the organisations operation that smaller ones. By thesame tokens it would be reasonable to suggest that smaller organisations have a higher level of“trust” operating within the organisation and stronger social bonds providing a normalisinginfluence, and hence a decreased perceived need for such policies.It is possible to look a little further into the figures by way of geographic distinction where is seemsthat the UK has the lowest incidence of SM policies being in place with 78% of UK respondentssaying that their organisation had no policy, whereas in the case of the Americas this figure falls toonly 50%. We should though be cautious about drawing firm conclusions or theorising too muchfrom this apparent comparison as the number of respondents is quite low for this region and istherefore open to some margin for error.For those that did have policies the additional notes added by respondents appears to show arange of types of policy from the quite specific to the short but holistic. One comment describestheir organisations policy thrust as being “Dont give it all away”, which has echoes of the formerSun CEO and its “Blogger in Chief” Jonathan Schwartz whose alleged guidance on using blogs atSun was pithy to say the least, “Dont do anything stupid” being a key maxim. It also would appearthat there is limited detail called to mind on the policies suggestion that whilst they may be in placefew have bothered to commit to memory the detail. Some also seem to assume a policy is in placebut confess that they are not entirely sure with comments like - “I am sure the company has one.”One can speculate about this apparent lack of guidance and constraint from the centre of anorganisation as being a product of great trust, abandon or ignorance; great trust in that it ispossible there has been a revolution in the attitude of employers in the trust they place inemployees using these powerful communication tools; abandonment in that organisations havesimply abandoned any attempt to control this burgeoning phenomenon; or ignorance in that eitherthe users or employers are ignorant of the risk and opportunity that might be offered in the use ofSM in a business or perhaps that employees are ignorant of any policy being in place so unable tocomment on it in the survey.
  6. 6. Among the minority declaring to have issued guidelines, there’s little agreement about what thoserules should be: less than a half of them declared that their policies include mention/considerationof IP issues. Where those issues are mentioned, they almost always include only copyright clausesand confidentiality agreement. This reflects the prevailing concerns of respondents who wereworried about IP in a social media context.However, the overwhelming majority of respondents (76.3%) did not have concerns with disclosingtheir company’s IP through the use of SM. The survey then asked if, as a result of using of usingsocial media tools, respondents had reconsidered their stands on the implications of Social Mediafrom an IP perspective. For those who answered "yes", once again they were mainly concernedwith copyright: 57% declared they will be more careful with copyright statements on the web. Asmaller group (15%) restricted the use of SM to a part of the staff, only allowed to access SM onthe work place, and a very small percentage have created or are creating a social media policy.There is an inherent tension in the association SM - IP. If people cant take what they want out ofan online-published content and then continue the “conversation”, how can it be considered a“social” media? New IP models like Creative Commons may be the solution here. However,regardless of the reasoning, it is apparent from the responses that there seems to be very littleformal guidance for users of SM in a business context, on any issues relating to IP with oneexception that being issues of copyright.5. IA considerationsUp to now, we have dealt mainly with IP considerations. IA also offer interesting, yet different,perspectives. We can regard IA as being something of value that cannot be physically touched,such as a brand, trade mark, knowledge assets or goodwill. Although the value of intangible assetscan be hard to determine, they can add significant value to a business (IA Centre, 2010).The authors believe that all types of IA can be created and enhanced with the help of SM. Forexample, the network of contacts that an employee builds through the LinkedIn account can bepure relational capital, valuable to the worker as well as to the company.The survey results presented us with some interesting scenario. One of the more notable featuresidentified was that only 57% of respondents felt SM had a role or was of value in exploiting IA,which seems to us to be very low. It was respondents from European countries other than the UKthat seemed to rate SM as a tool for exploiting IA the lowest, with only 40% seeing a use for it. It isinteresting to note however that there seems to be a consistent minimum 25% response in allcategories of “I am not sure” when asked the question as to whether they felt SM had a role in theexploitation of IA. Few respondents considered IA as being more than brand awareness andrecognition, considering SM useful from a marketing point of view (e.g. promotion of brand, launchof a new product). By all means, the power of Social Media as brand-builders is alreadyacknowledged and exploited at high levels, Twitter and FB docent. So perhaps, given thepredominance of marketing and communications as the apparent champions of SM in the workplace there is just a dearth of insight and imagination from other communities as to how to use SMto successfully exploit IA. Exploitation of other kinds of IA such as networking, connecting/engagingwith potential clients, knowledge sharing, co-creation, and so on, only appears in a small minorityof responses. Although almost half of respondents used SM to interact and analyse theircustomers, it’s again the marketing people to take the lead here. So again it may perhaps be anissue with the lack of breadth in the definition of IA in the minds of the respondents that could be atthe heart of the apparently low reporting of SM being used specifically for IA related purposes.From the results of the survey, there is very little awareness of issues that may be caused by SMimpact on open innovation. Just over a half of respondents declared that they were familiar with
  7. 7. the concept of user generated content and co-creation/crowdsourcing. However, those whodeclared an active involvement in any of these areas, the examples they gave to substantiate thisclaim appear rather unsophisticated. Wikis, which would be described as a user-generatedcontent, are the most commonly cited activity. As for co-creation, only one of the describedactivities met the strict definition of it, which is "market or business strategy that emphasises thegeneration and ongoing realisation of mutual firm-customer value. It views markets as forums forfirms and active customers to share, combine and renew each others resources and capabilities tocreate value through new forms of interaction, service and learning mechanisms" (, nobody registered the use of crowd-sourcing tools. Interestingly Europe (excluding the UK)with its low rating of SM for IA exploitation by contrast rates as the most positive region for enteringinto co-creation activities.The more complex and challenging and innovative approaches to crowdsourcing seem to figurelittle in the thinking of the respondents. Broadly speaking, more than 1/3 of respondents know anduse (or plan to use) idea repositories. We think that, all considered, this is a very high percentage,especially on the basis of such a small sample. This could lead us to conclude that therespondents are showing less enthusiasm for the more innovative uses to which SM can be used,when thinking of some of the examples that Tapscott and Williams would use to illustrate theopportunity. It might be tempting to conclude that this simply represents a lack of imagination oreven awareness of the opportunities these modes of innovation offer, but when we consider that30% of respondents saying they were either using or planning to use Idea repository – a relativelycontemporary and new approach to the use of SM – then this argument seems less compelling tosay the least. Could it be that certain operational and business models find it hard to adjust tocertain types of innovation?6 ConclusionsIt seems clear that the use of SM is wide, varied and relatively unrestrained from a policy point ofview. Technical constraint is not clear as whilst we did ask about use of SM for business purposeswe did not specifically require that this was actually undertaken at a place of business using theorganisations connectivity and equipment. However, given the breadth and commonality of use, itseems reasonable to surmise that – for time constraint reasons alone – a good deal of this isbeing done in work time and possible on work owned technology and connectivity.It would be fair though to say that based on the responses so far there is little evidence of greatinnovation or radical approaches with most respondents using the most common tools for the mostcommonly cited purposes.In the case of IP in its most formal sense there was little evidence of crowdsourcing approaches todeveloping unique IP, and little apparent in depth guidance on IP issues, and further areas ofconcern on IP issues beyond copyright issues. This seems to describe a relatively unsophisticatedunderstanding of or attention to IP issues. Perhaps as the use matures and dynamics of the use ofSM become more varied, then the more groundbreaking use of SM for IP generation might bemore pervasive than it appears to be at present.Once again it seems we could reasonably ask the questions we used before, those being is this acase of great trust, abandonment of traditional approaches and the embracing of crowdsourcingmodels, or simply ignorance of the potential risks presented. It is not clear from the survey returnswhich if any of these reasons prevail but the apparent lack of concern or perhaps awareness of IPrelated issues within a medium which has attracted considerable attention as a potential “gamechanging” approach to innovation is, to say the least, puzzling.The use of SM has many different purposes however the main application is by far Marketing andCommunication. As we can consider IA as having wide general presence in most of anorganisations domains, marketing and communications and brand management being but one, itseems that it could be reasonably posited that SM is being used for IA related purposes both
  8. 8. directly and obliquely, and that value is seen to be generated through that activity by virtue of thefact that the organisations have continued to participate over extended periods. However inassigning and defining the majority of activity falling within Sales Marketing and Communications inthe traditional sense, and these groups being seen as the main champions of the adoption of SMin a business environment, there may perhaps be a lack of specific frameworks and approaches tothe broader and more specific application of SM to what would be IA initiatives or activities.If twintangibles are the intangibles of Generation Y, new management thinking, which goes beyondthe apparently narrow application of Social Media in business at present, will be required, if we areto exploit their wider potential towards long term sustainable development.References • AIIM (2010) AIIM – Find, Control and Optimize Your Information [online], AIIM, • Goad, R. (2009) Hitwise Intelligence – Robin Goad – UK [online]. Experian, • Howell, D. (2007) Supernova- Will Intellectual Property kill Social Media? In ZDNet {online] [Accessed 25th April 2010] • Intellectual Assets Centre (2010) Intellectual Assets Centre (Online) Available from:, [Accessed 25th April 2010] • Kaplan, A.M., Haenlein, M. (2010) “Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media”, Business Horizons, Vol. 53, No. 1, January-February, pp. 59-68 • King, Rachel (2009), “Companies Want to Monitor Workers on Social Networks” [online], BusinessWeek, 9/05/workers_social.html?chan=top+news_top+news+index+-+temp_technology [Accessed 25th April 2010] • (2010) Survey: small businesses dont have time to use social media to generate new business [online],, • Levy, M. (2009) “WEB 2.0 implications on knowledge management”, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp 120-134 • Li, C., Bernoff, J. (2008) “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies”, Harvard Business School Press • Mancini, John (2010) 30% use Twitter for BUSINESS networking at least once per day... [online], Digital Landfill, business-networking-at-least-once-per-day.html • Mashable (2010), Mashable - The Social Media Guide (Online), Available from:, [Accessed 25th April 2010] • McNairn, I. (2009), Using Social Software to Market yourself - inside and outside the firewall [online], SlideShow, market-yourself-inside-and-outside-the-firewall • Pro Inno Europe (2009) PRO INNO Europe® [online], Pro Inno Europe, http://www.proinno- • Review Paper (2009) “Making the most of web 2.0 technologies”, Strategic Direction, Vol. 25, No. 8, pp 20–23.
  9. 9. • Social Media Today (2010) Social Media Today | A business community for the web’s best thinkers on social Media, Social Media Today, • Tapscot, D., Williams, A. (2007) “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything”, Published Atlantic Books 2007 • UK IPO (2009) IP Healthcheck Series – Confidential Disclosure Agreements [online], UK IPO, • Web1marketing Inc. (2010), Web 1 Marketing, (Online), Available from:, [Accessed 25th April 2010]twintangibles is a Glasgow based company that offers a range of Social Media services rangingfrom strategic advice; guidance and training; reporting and analysis; to active outsourced help insetting up and managing the Social Media Presence for many organisations.Contact us at:+44 7717