Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Putting Audio to Work for You

Audio is a good way to present yourself and connect with your site visitors.

I read recently that sound is the #2 most powerful connection to memory. Smell was #1 and I don't know how to do smell online. So I think about sound.

In the past I have used mp3's when I used sound only. The problem with this is it takes time for the listener's browser to open the mp3 player on the local computer. The benefit is the mp3 can be downloaded and transferred to the listener's i-Pod or other portable MP3 player.

I suppose I could use Flash. That is what I have gone to for video. Flash is in all modern versions of PC browsers so it solves the problem of the time it takes to open a local player to run the video.

A new online tool from has been brought to my attention by Kip Bodnar over at Digital Capitalism. I thought I would try it out here and let you compare a traditional MP3 audio to an Utterli audio.

Here is the Utterli audio...

Of course Utterli is more than just a way to record. It is also a community site where your recording can be shared with other similar to Twitter. That may or may not be a plus for your use.

Here is the more traditional MP3...

Listen to my MP3 here. Rmember to wait for your media player to open,

I am sure there are other solutions to audio online. Let me hear about them in the comments.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Social Media in the Real World of Everyday Business

Most of you should know I am a true believer in the use of social media and online collaboration tools as the future of your business. But because I spend so much time thinking about it, I am certain I can be a droning noise to family and friends.

The truth is the only opinions that will matter about the importance of your use of social media is your customer's and potential customer's. So what does the "average person" get from social media?

Kipp Bodnar had a great posting yesterday about social media and the real world. You can read it for yourself at Digital Capitalism .

Here is some of Kipp's post...

"So what do people want from social applications (which for most of the people was Facebook)? They want to reconnect with people, to understand the major changes in peoples lives since they last saw them. People wan to know about the big stuff: vacations, kids, job changes, moves, deaths and they other major events that fill our lives. This reconnection is how most people want to use the social web today."

"The one thing that people love about social media even if they don't know they are using it is discovering new things. Discovery is the common ground across the entire group of people I spent time with of the holidays. People want ways to discover new things and this isn't new, but this does drive main stream adoption. Think about most of the mainstream social applications: Facebook, Digg, Amazon, Flickr and they all facilitate discovery and that is why people love them. Most of the people I listened to are completely in love with Amazon's recommendations feature both online and via e-mail."

As you start thinking about how you will use all the great social tools to better connect with your customers you should keep Kipp's thoughts in the forefront of you mind.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How to Use Twitter for Your Business

Yesterday I challenged you to start doing something concrete about your business communications.

Here is a good start from Dan Englander at ShoeBoxed.

Here are the highlights...

  1. Strengthen Your Brand
  2. Inform People of New Products and Services of Your Company
  3. Link to Your Website, Blog, Press Releases
  4. Weigh in on Conversations Others are Having About Your Company
  5. Engage with People Talking About Your Field
  6. Promote Events
  7. Provide Customer Support
  8. Inform communities when other communications fail.

If this seems foreign to you, please take the time to read it.

Also remember Twitter is a tool you can use from your computer, cell phone - heck, even your I-Pod Touch.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

2009, the Economy, and You

I have felt for about 12 years that the world economy has been experiencing deflation. It has shown in bits and pieces.

The price of a pair of blue jeans at WalMart has been a good gauge. As free trade moved jobs, as Y2K opened up outsourcing, the basic price of so many goods and services have been on a consistent downward fall.

There were many things that masked this but in 2009 I feel there will not be anything to mask it.

What are the retailers going to do to get rid of their unsold goods. I would assume cut prices. But I also assume they will cut orders for new goods.

What are car manufactures going to do with cars as old as 2007 still on lots as new cars? I heard somebody say they were shipping unsold cars to Russia to get them out of the US market. Even so, I think they will make a lot fewer cars in 2009.

So my feeling is that price deflation is going to be a force in 2009 for anything that is a physical product which does not spoil. Food is safe. Blue jeans not safe.

Services like car repair, car towing, non elective health care - things you just have to have will likely grow in 2009. These places will not add jobs, they will just have more business.

Products like car insurance or homeowners insurance will probably see price increases. We have seen so many insurance company's investments drop so much in value that insurance companies will need to increase prices to get their surplus rations back in line. This price increase will take up surplus that in the past few years has been used to write new business. I think many insurance companies will cut back on trying to grow market share as a result.

In area's where goods are not being sold and so not being ordered, manufacturers will have to reduce employment. Fear of job loss is already part of this current slow down in sales. Higher unemployment in 2009 will make this fear stronger and cause the continued slowdown in spending by consumers.

If you are an insurance agency what should you do? Your customers are going to have less spending money and not be in a mood to spend it. You companies are going to be raising prices so your customers are going to shop.

If you can keep you customer base you will actually be in a great position to grow in 2009. How are you going to keep your customers?

Now is the time to start spending a part of everyday learning how to use the fantastic communication tools that have come into the market in the last decade. And you are going to need to learn by doing.

I used to sail with two friends. One was a top administrator for the EPA. The other was a regional director for a mental health agency. They liked to study problems before taking any action. so when we would be coming up on shallow waters in the North Carolina sounds they would like to have a committee meeting about what to do. I would yell "Ready about", "Hard alee" and turn the boat.

You need to take this "turn the boat" attitude this year. You will get better by practice and doing.

Concrete steps to take:

  • Start an agency blog. Post at least twice a week.
  • Oh - if you do not have a web site, set up a web site.
  • Start reading online forums for the types of customers you have. You can find these simply by searching for the topic plus the word forum. Example "tow truck forums".
  • Start using email to distribute a newsletter - or blog updates for subscribers.
  • Learn how to make a short video and post it on

This is not a complete list. It is a work in progress. The important issue is you need to begin communicating pro-actively with your customers. Get out ahead of them. Be sure they know it. Don't let the next communication you hear from them be about how they are moving their business because the price went up.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

First Steps to Connect

Actually you probably already have a first step. It has become so basic that it no longer stands out. I hope the things I talk about here will fall into that category very soon.

The first step in connecting is to have a connection point. What most of us have today at a minimum is e-mail. That gives you a basic tool through which to communicate.

I am going to assume this is a baseline starting point and call it step zero.

Step one is to have a platform to launch e-mail, or other communications. For a business this platform is your client's basic information as relates to the products or services you provide that client.

In the mass online space this would be the equivalent of a FaceBook or MySpace profile. In the typical business space this is the equivalent of your in house customer database system.

Here are the problems with using these for connecting.

Social networks such as FaceBook or MySpace are intended to be wide open. When you are transacting business you need more customer privacy. Sometimes the privacy is legally required. Sometimes - all the times - it is just appropriate and expected behavior.

Back office customer databases are just generally not built to be open to each individual customer. The entire system design is usually a small improvement on the best of the 1980's IT thinking. Trying to move it into the real time, keyword based, social tagging, online 24/7 is more or less like adding a GPS to Great Granddad's horse. You can do it but it lacks a certain something.

What you need is a platform that is built for the web. Not retrofitted.

I am going to talk about the platform we have built and are continuing to enhance. I know this will sound like a commercial - it is to a small extent. But mostly I am going to talk about that platform because I know it best. It is being built in steps that have a reason behind the sequence of releases. It is not something that may fit your situation. It is designed for insurance agents, so most folks that read this will have no use for it and will also have to insert their own industries needs.

The first step is creating user profiles for all the folks with whom you need to connect. These profiles can be changed by each user once they start using them to collaborate with you. But you need to create them initially.

In our little corner of the world - insurance - we have three basic profiles. The business, the employees of the business, the clients of the business. Your business is probably about the same to this point.

So for us step one is to create a business profile.

Here is what our systems agency (the insurance business entity) profile looks like.

Notice that the first thing we show is the business logo. The web is a very visual space now that everyone assumes high speed connections. Your logo is part of your brand and should show on every communications you have. In our system it shows in the top left had corner of all screens you will use to collaborate with others.

Next you put in your basic name, address, phone, web site, e-mail and mailing address information. Remember, this is a communication platform. All this information is about how to connect with your business.

Step Two is to create a profile for the folks that work at the business.

Here is what our Agent (the employees of the Agency) profile looks like.

Again, this is a visual medium so we have a picture for each person that works at the business. this way when your co-workers or clients are connecting or collaborating with you, they can see you. That's a good thing by the way.

The rest of the profile is information to allow connection and communication.

Third Step is to create a Client Profile for each Client.

Here is what our client profile looks like.

Notice the top left image is a picture of the client or something about them. The lower picture is the agent (employee) who is primarily responsible for this client. Now when anyone is working in the space, they can see the other parties visually.

You will also notice that the client profile has much more information connected to it. There are all the tabs at the top of the profile for more detailed information. There is also a Map Link to pass information from this profile out to other useful services. In this case Google Maps. Remember, there is no need to build services that are already easily available. That is part of collaboration also.

So this is the first part of Connect, Collaborate, Compete. Getting things started as it were.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Connect, Collaborate, Compete

My pause in this blog was to get work going on my project "Connect, Collaborate, Compete".

And, boy howdy, am I pleased with what we have gotten done. OK, so mostly the other folks I work with have gotten done.

This past several years have been about exploring the amazing new technologies that have shown up online. Now I am focusing on concrete steps to implement these in a business setting.

My focus is going to be on small business and/or businesses that have this kind of project driven by some one other than the IT Department. Mostly I will be focused on all of us who do not have any IT department.

My belief is that if the technology is not simple enough to be set up and run by just about anyone, then it is not really ready for the prime time revolution we are already in.

What do I mean by Connect, Collaborate, Compete?

I mean the steps every business or organization needs to be taking to effectively provide your product or service to your customers or members.

Connecting requires a presence. You have to be "there".

Collaborating means you have to be interactive. You have to be "there" and "talking with not to" others.

Compete means just what it sounds like. As they said on the TV show Monk about the lottery "You can't win if your not in". This is not a lottery. This is work. But like the lottery, if you are not "there", you can't win.

Starting with my next post I will focus on very narrow specifics. Not always in any particular order, but at least toward a larger whole.