Social media, find your voice

Remember when a Yellow Page ad was enough to promote your business? How about the days of broadcast faxing, or starting up a website (and if you didn’t you were obsolete)? Technology has a way of shifting and knocking us off our feet. The social web is just another such shift.

Just as organizations scrambled to build a web presence in the 90s, they are quickly adopting to the social web. Those who do it well see a huge shift in business, those who do it poorly are frustrated, and those who ignore it are becoming obsolete. Social is here and it’s changed the way people think, work, advertise, and purchase. It’s no longer good enough for an organization to have and publish a story. Now you need others to verify and restate your story.

Those of us who have been around this tech stuff for a while will remember the popularity of the BBS (bulletin board systems). These systems pre-date the Internet and were a great way to mine information and make friends online. Many organizations had bulletin board systems, and when the Internet came along they joined the Internet rather than attempting to build a new one. The same concept applies to social communities: I suggest organizations join existing communities rather than attempting to build new ones. I understand the concern of building external, publicly accessible sites where customers congregate. The "what ifs" seem endless and the risks may seem insurmountable. Trust me; inaction is far worse than any risk you can come up with.

Take every "what if" you can muster, then ask yourself, "Is someone else already taking this risk in my space?" Most likely they are, most likely they are successful, and most likely they have the opportunity to become a competitor. So hold your breath, close your eyes and jump in!

Unlike the rush to build websites, "Social" is more than a presence: it’s a relationship, or several relationships. It’s about building a personality for yourself and your organization, and maintaining a voice. Just as you might go to a cocktail party and share experiences while listening to others, you will need to build the ability to electronically mingle and become "charming" via text. It’s amazing that the same people who are so charming in person, can work the crowd, and value in-person social events often struggle with social technology. It’s actually as simple as going to a networking or social event, you blur the lines between professional and personal. You listen, share, add and learn.

Technology based "cocktail parties" are happening right now on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. You’ve all been invited. Are you attending or just shunning your customers? Perhaps you’re that uncomfortable guy in the corner just waiting for someone to engage you in conversation. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be the life of the party, you can make it through this.

First find your comfort zone, find those folks you know and trust and tag around with them. If you don’t feel that you have anything interesting to say, just listen. If you find topics you have an opinion about, it’s a great opportunity to strike up a conversation. Perhaps you find something so interesting you want to share it with others – which is encouraged. Perhaps you think it’s stupid that people are reporting they’re attending a sporting event, or catching a plane. But how many cocktail parties have you gone to where everyone is completely focused on work? Remember this is social, and you won’t offend anyone by posting your activities. In fact, it shows you’re a real person and spurs additional interest. So what do I post, "I’m sitting on my porch and two deer just ran by, nobody cares!"? Yes, exactly, comments like this combined with professional conversation allow people to know you’re real.

You have to build your voice – you can’t be automated and business only, people in the social world recommend others based on relationships. You can’t automate a relationship. You can’t build a relationship with a website, marketing brochure, or product. Building relationships isn’t easy but the loyalty and word of mouth (in this case) is well worth it.

If you’re a CPA firm, association or non-profit who needs help finding your voice and building a social strategy, DM me on twitter, or message me on Facebook and we can discuss strategies at no cost to you.

Do you have a Security Awareness Program?

I’d hazard to bet that computer security is listed someplace on every "Top 10" technology priority/concern list on the Internet. Ask anyone who built those lists and the thought of sitting through a technology best practices presentation isn’t a "Top 10" experience. Understand that I’m not advocating skipping security sessions; I just have a grip on reality, and realize the stuff can be extremely boring.

So while we all realize technology security is a priority, nobody has a want to really understand it. What do we do? First off let’s take a simple approach and hit low-hanging fruit with a general security awareness program. Security awareness programs are built to share technology information to the masses without the brain meltdown you often find in detailed security sessions.

Who: Everyone is a potential victim and you’re only as strong as your weakest link. It just goes to reason that everyone should be included in your security awareness sessions. You might be surprised what people bring to the table.

What: Security awareness sessions aren’t meant to be all-inclusive technology security programs. They’re designed to distribute easy to understand security best practices. They should allow attendees to gain knowledge about current threats, share experiences, and ask questions about best practices.

This isn’t a way to beat security terms and acronyms into attendees’ heads; it’s a way to share the basics. Topics like firewall and antivirus configurations are off limits. Examples of topics that should be discussed include but are not limited to phishing schemes, social engineering, and identifying malware.

When: New security threats appear daily. It’s just not practical to hold awareness sessions every time a new threat appears, however, a good technology awareness program does have a recurring schedule. Depending on your industry, you might consider monthly or quarterly security awareness meetings.

Where: Sessions should be held live to allow discussion. Keep in mind that this isn’t a news push, and it needs to be a discussion. If you can’t meet live, you should use online tools that allow two-way communications.

Why: The majority of security breaches occur through simple vulnerabilities and/or internal threats. Educating staff about identifying and combating simple threats will have a larger impact on your technology security than any hardware, software, or consulting plan ever will.

Security awareness programs are a simple, inexpensive, and effective way to combat the majority of security threats. If you don’t have one, you should.

If you would like more information on building a security awareness program come see me at OSCPA Accounting Shows, or at OSAE sessions. Do you work in a CPA firm, association or non-profit organization? Contact me about how I can help you build your plan at no cost to you

Office Live Small Business

Another flavor of Office Live hosting is Office Live Small Business. This tool was designed to offer small businesses some common benefits of MS Server applications without the cost and headaches associated with network management.

Office Live Small Business offers a free version that includes:

  • A professional website hosting solution with 500MB of storage
  • An intuitive website design and management system
  • Website traffic reporting with statistics, page views, top referrers, and more
  • Contact Manager (Limited CRM) that tracks sales opportunities, contact information, and customer interactions
  • Business Applications including Document Manager, Project Manager, and Workspaces

Paid upgrades include:

  • E-mail hosting solutions with 100 company branded addresses
  • E-mail marketing including newsletters, promotions, and updates to customers and prospects
  • An e-commerce engine to promote and sell goods
  • Keyword advertising

Office Live Small Business offers a good solution for companies or individuals who are familiar with MS Server solutions. They offer deep integration with both MS Windows and MS Office and require very little staff training. I’d still advise looking at one or more competitors like Google Apps for Business before making your final decision.

Office Live Workspace Add-In

clip_image002A while back I wrote a piece about Office Live Workspace that explained that any MS Office user had access to online file storage and sharing capabilities. Office Live Workspace gives each MS Office user 500 MB of storage (about 1000 average sized documents) free. It sweetens the pot by allowing files to be shared with up-to 100 different people. Unlike most of the MS products we’re accustomed to, Office Live workspace is cross browser and OS compatible.

If 500 MB of free storage isn’t enough, and collaboration with clients and co-workers doesn’t impress you, Microsoft also offers the Office Live Add-In. This add-in toolbar enables MS Office products to seamlessly save and retrieve documents from Office Live Workspaces.

The Office Live Workspace is a great solution if you’ve already invested in MS Office products. Utilizing the solution requires no additional effort on users or staff and extends the value of your software by enabling new storage and collaboration options.

Technology Tupperware (Data Collection)

Masters of data storage databases are critical technology tools in nearly every organization – storing data regarding customers, materials, products, content and more. Over the years data stacks up, information becomes stale, and before you know it you’ve created nothing more than Technology Tupperware.

Real value in the databases goes well beyond simple storage – it’s the ability to use the accumulated for business intelligence and analysis. Simple enough. Just use the data you’ve collected throughout the years and start writing some snazzy reports that spit out all the answers. This is normally when businesses open their eyes only to realize that data “spoils” over time. Worse yet, they have plenty of ingredients but always seems to be missing the ones they actually need. This raises some serious questions about the data collection, storage, and use.

Many organizations tend to collect as much possible data in a single instance. This trap is easy to fall into without an understanding of future goals or alternative means of data collection. It’s also an easy way to store enough information to make your database a security management nightmare. In the past, it was acceptable to store Social Security numbers, birthdays, and credit card information for a customer. However, with current security threats this is no longer the case. Another issue organizations face with this type of data collection is the “20 Questions Scenario.” Too much data collection slows down points of contact with the customer, therefore diminishing the customer experience.

Balancing the needs of the organization with customer experience can be difficult but it’s far from impossible. With minimal effort you can quickly enhance your data collection and customer experience by adding simple automation and using information differently.

Start with simple steps:

  • Identify and ask for the information that has the most value first
    • Full Name – Can be parsed into the chunks you require in the database
    • Street Address, City, St – Should identify the zip code automatically, or street address + zip should return the city and state
    • Phone Numbers – Collect the one most likely to be accessible – cell phones have the greatest value and also provide SMS connectivity
  • Identify information that may change often and tie this to alternate touch points
    • Surveys - Electronic surveys are one of the most misunderstood technologies on the web. Most often used to evaluate a product or service with an average score. The individual responses or inconsistencies in responses give you a view of customer attitude, interests, and changes at any given point in time.
    • Time Date - Store the time and date of when customers contact you, it gives you a view into how and when they work. Targeting marketing should be done when the customer is most likely to be open to it.
    • E-Mail – If you collect an e-mail address, send a welcome or confirmation from the system to populate communication preferences. This is far easier to do if you are opting customers in automatically and offering opt-out capabilities.

Simple solutions like these can shave several steps off of your data collection processes and enhance customer experience.

Regardless of your data collection and maintenance, sometimes you need additional information that just can’t be obtained from the customer. Free or low costs web services can help fill in some of the gaps, and in some cases Web 2.0 communities can also offer a wealth of information.

While filling the gaps isn’t as easy as adjusting data collection strategies, it allows organization to build more robust reporting and business intelligence.

In the next Technology Tupperware segment we will look at reporting tools and strategies.

Can we meet?

Groupware solutions like MS Outlook contain great time saving features such as appointment free/busy views, but to get all of the extras you normally have to run an expensive server solution like MS Exchange. Even with the extra expense of a server, you’re normally locked inside of a single organization or network. Luckily some new web applications make it possible to break out of the fence, and utilize these value added tools across the Internet.

TimeBridge is a calendar sharing plug-in that allows users to synchronize appointment information from Outlook or Google calendars and create a shared free/busy view. The service strips meeting details out of the shared view, and those you invite can see your availability. More importantly, the service can cross organization and application boundaries when needed. Rather than sending multiple e-mails or making multiple phone calls, you can simply view when attendees are available and propose meeting times.

Those using MSN or Hotmail to host calendars might consider trying the new Microsoft Office Outlook Connector. The Connector allows you to use MS Office Outlook to manage MSN or Hotmail accounts, adding Groupware features to your free accounts. Once you’ve installed the connector it’s not much of a leap to install TimeBridge to add free/busy features.

If you’ve ever had difficultly pinning down meeting times, TimeBridge is worth a try.

Brother HL-2140

Somehow during my recent home computer upgrade I overlooked the fact that my new machine didn’t offer the old standard LTP port. Needless to say my trusty old HP LaserJet 6L was reduced to a very large paperweight and I needed a new printer. 

I’m not one who does a lot of fancy printing so I just needed to find a “low cost” blackHL-2140 and white laser that would fulfill some basic speed requirements. 

The Brother HL-2140 did just that, at about $50.00 this simple printer offers 23ppm and decent quality B/W prints. If you’re looking for a simple inexpensive home office printer the HL-2140 might be for you.

Find out more information at brother-usa-.com.

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