Don’t Make the Internet Angry: Important Considerations About Using Social Media as a Marketing Platform

social-media

As a sheer marketing platform, social media brings with it a host of advantages that can’t be ignored. According to one recent study, there will be 2.5 billion unique users worldwide on social media networks by as soon as 2018. Right now, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have the potential to effortlessly connect you with approximately 70% of the United States population.
However, social media also presents some challenges, too – particularly if you insist on taking the “tried but true” marketing techniques of yesteryear and trying to cram them into a social media-shaped box. If you want to unlock the real potential that only social media can provide, you’ll need to keep a few key things in mind.

Different Users Are Looking for Different Things

One of the most important things to understand about social media networks is that they aren’t all created equally. Someone who uses Facebook isn’t looking for the same TYPE of message that someone who uses Twitter is. The same goes for LinkedIn, Pinterest and more. While they’re all “social networks” in the strictest sense of the definition, they all have their unique strengths.

Twitter users are looking for shorter, bite-sized bits of information while Facebook users prefer longer, more thoughtful posts. A piece of marketing collateral that you designed for Facebook won’t necessarily play well to Twitter’s audience, and vice versa. You have to understand the channel you’re using, play to its strengths, and adapt across the board. Even if you’re presenting the same message on each network, you have to make sure that the delivery mechanism is optimized for the platform you’re working with at the time.

Think Young

One of the most mission critical things to understand as you move forward with social media is the fact that 90% of young adults today (defined as people between the ages of 18 and 29) are social media users. Not only that, but a third of them say that social media is one of their preferred methods for communicating with businesses in general.

In essence, this means that if you want to create the type of loyal following that will carry your business far NOW, you have to start playing to their habits on social media today. These younger users will continue to age, and if you can hook them young via social media, you’ve likely hooked them forever.

Social Media Demands Honesty

Finally, one of the most important considerations about using social media as a marketing platform has to do with what happens if things go wrong. Because of the intimate, constant connection that social media generates, anything less than honesty is not welcome. If customers have a concern, address it. If a legitimate problem arises, do what you can to make it right. If something bad happens with your company – be it a negative run-in with a customer to a full-fledged PR disaster – don’t just try to sweep it under the rug and pretend like it never happened.

Gabe Newell, a former Microsoft employee and founder of Valve Corporation, said it best when he said “One of the things we learned pretty early on is ‘Don’t ever, ever try to lie to the internet – because they will catch you. They will deconstruct your spin. They will remember everything you ever say for eternity.”

In essence, this means that while social media can bring a lot of positive attributes to your company regarding the sheer marketing power it offers, it is also a slippery slope. If you want to use social media to develop meaningful, lasting relationships with your target audience, you can’t assume this is a given. You have to earn it, and you can never take it for granted.


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Goals are Not Just for Sports

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In school and at work, we are often told to create goals and to strive to reach them. After all, achieving our goals is a measure of success and a method of how to pursue our dreams. Goals are a big part of managing marketing and sales in most companies, and they are the markers of who is producing and who is not. Not everyone has the same training in hitting goals, however, nor do goals create motivation for everyone.

What Can We Learn from Goals in Sports?

The easiest way to demonstrate goal setting is to look at sports. Every sport has a goal to reach to win the game. Goals can be achieved through hitting a ball out of the park, into a net, throwing it into a basket, or even by racing to a finish line. Most of these goals are made from years of preparation, training, and study of the game they represent. No athlete achieves success without that training, no matter how easy the achievement looks to the spectator. Athletes work through injuries, bad days, failures, and practice. Achievements are the culmination of hours and hours of work.

Obstacles

The point of a goal is to help you achieve success even with the stumbling blocks and barriers that stand before you. A goal is a guiding light to keep you on your journey or path. Henry Ford said that “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” The obstacles will always be there to keep you from making the goal. You may not have the experience, the education, or the opportunities that your peers or competitors do, however, you can still achieve your goals if you are willing to keep working towards them.

Applying Goals to Business

Like sports, business goals can be short-term or long-term. For instance, you can have a goal of getting ten items completed by the end of your work day. That is a short-term goal. A long-term goal is establishing 100 new customer accounts by the end of the year. An even longer-term goal is becoming the top business in your category in the city by 2020. The key is establishing goals that are reachable, measurable, and trackable so that you can follow your progress as you work towards the goal.

While wanting to be the best business in the city by 2020 is possible, a more reasonable goal is to triple your income from your business by 2020. With this goal, you can create the steps that will lead to the goal, and measure your progress as you continue your journey. You will know when you hit your goal by the numbers you achieve without any arbitrary or ambiguous measurements.

How to Keep Your Goals in the Forefront of Your Mind

Weekly meetings to keep everyone on your team on track may be boring, but their function is to make sure the team members are still striving towards group goals. You can do the same with your personal business goals. Remind yourself daily what goals you are working towards and what you need to accomplish that day to move in the right direction. Remember that keeping your eyes on the goal will help to remove the obstacles.


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Outsourcing Employee Training – When does it make Sense?

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When you first started your company, you likely had some vision of what the customer experience would look like. Depending on your market, it could have looked something like the highly polished Front Desk staff of New York’s Plaza Hotel, or maybe the sarcastically surly wait staff of San Diego’s Dick’s Last Resort. Whatever the market, you definitely wanted to create a distinctive customer experience.

Fast-forward a few years… You’re standing off to the side of your restaurant/coffee bar/bookstore/clothing boutique and you realize, despite your best efforts at conveying your vision, your staff is just not “getting it.” If that’s the case and you want to distinguish your establishment, it may be time to bring in some training experts.

The big question is this: What makes more sense for your business – doing your training in-house or outsourcing your employee training?

Market Placement and Reach

Your decision on whether to insource or outsource your employee training is typically impacted by how many people you need to have trained. Is it a set number of people at exact intervals? Many businesses can take advantage of on-demand training to reduce costs and ensure your employees are trained quickly and properly by having an external provider handle the training function.

Additionally, if you have trainees located in geographically diverse locations, a vendor can easily take a classroom-learning module and create web-based training. This can be hosted in-house or remotely, depending upon your business needs.

Outsourcing Training May Cost Less

If you have full-time employees that are specifically dedicated to training your staff, it can be a costly endeavor. Many small and mid-sized companies just don’t have the monetary resources to dedicate man-hours to development, design, implementation, and evaluation of training for their employees. There’s also the management and tracking of these functions to think about.

Instead of hiring one or two employees dedicated solely to training, it may make more economic sense to use an outside organization to send your employees to before you let them loose with customers.

Risk Reduction

Training your employees is not just about creating that distinctive customer experience. You also want to ensure that your employees have the proper tools to do the job efficiently and safely. Think of training as a way to safeguard your business and reduce the risk of injury, loss, and (gasp!) lawsuits.

There are a host of web-based training programs out there addressing topics like proper money handling, OSHA safety, and dealing with difficult clients.

Access to Expertise

Training takes a specialized skill set. Vendors that specialize in training have the ability to create customizable training systems at a fraction of the cost of having them built in-house. The individuals that design, develop, and implement training are professionals that know how to transfer knowledge to a wide variety of learners.

The bottom line here is that these outside vendors are in the business of training. In-house training is hard to beat if you have the financial means and the ability to keep a steady stream of projects in the pipeline. However, if this is not the case, it may make sense to look to outside options for excellent employee training. However you choose to train your employees, taking the time to ensure your employees know their jobs well will mean your customers will thank you!


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The Art of the Pivot

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No matter what business you’re talking about, most companies usually begin life in the same way: with an idea. You wake up one morning, have an idea for a product or service that you’re sure will be the “next big thing,” and you get to work. You fully commit yourself to building an infrastructure, developing and expanding on your idea, and eventually, you bring your product or service to market.

And then things have a habit of sometimes not going necessarily how you’d planned them.

Maybe people are using your product, but they’re not using it in the exact way that you intended. Certainly not in the way you built your strategy around. Maybe your product or service isn’t popular at all, but the underlying idea is still a solid one. In these situations, you have two options: you can pack up your ball and go home, or you could do what some of the most successful companies in the history of planet Earth have done: you pivot.

The Art of the Pivot in Action

A few years ago, an online role-playing game was founded called “Game Neverending” – you’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of it. The premise was simple – users would travel around a digital map and find other people to buy, sell, and build items with. Included inside the game was a photo-sharing tool, which quickly became one of the most popular parts of the experience. Though the developers loved their idea, users weren’t quite so kind. People were spending less and less time on the “buying, selling, and building items” part and more on the “photo-sharing” part, causing significant problems for the company’s long-term goals.

While you’ve probably never heard of “Game Neverending,” you ARE no doubt aware of a service called Flickr – one of the most popular and widely used photo-sharing tools of the digital age. The developers behind “Game Neverending” realized that they were never going to get people to love their RPG the way they did, so they did what any entrepreneurs would do: they pivoted. They threw out everything except the proven-successful photo-sharing technology and started from scratch. One acquisition by Yahoo! later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Let the Market Be Your Guide

The key takeaway from this is that you need to be willing to listen to the market and allow it to guide you through execution, even if that execution is at odds with your original intent. Remember that the market is telling you “We like this, but it would be better if it had X, Y, and Z features” is different from pivoting. If users enjoyed the RPG experience of “Game Neverending” and the developers just kept adding game-related features, we might not have Flickr today.

Instead, the market communicated loud and clear: “We don’t like this game, but we do enjoy this one thing that the game lets us do.” These are the types of moments you have to be not only willing to listen to, but also to allow them to change your idea of what your product or service could become.

Listening to the market and being willing to pivot, even if that was the furthest thing from your mind at the time, is not a bad thing. Indeed, history has proven that great things have been born out of it time and again. Because if you release a product or service and are unwilling to change based on the ideals of your users, you’ll wind up hemorrhaging users pretty quickly.

And without those users, what are you left with? Little more than a good idea in search of a purpose, which isn’t anything at all.


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Create An Environment That High-Value Employees Want To Work In

work-environmentIf you tasked most business leaders with sitting down and making a list of their struggles, attracting high-value employees would more than likely fall close to the top. Finding those versatile, well-rounded, and driven candidates is one thing – getting them to come aboard is something else entirely. Making sure you’re not just a “stepping stone” in someone’s successful career is also a lot easier said than done. If you want to attract the type of high-value employees that will carry your organization forward, you have to start from within and create the kind of organization they want to work for in the first place.

Would You Want to Work for Your Business?

If you want to attract high-value employees in a marketplace that is growing increasingly competitive with each passing day, you need to start by putting yourself in their shoes. What are some things that 21st-century talent may be looking for that you aren’t currently offering?

Thanks to things like SaaS (software-as-a-service) and IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service), the ability for businesses to allow employees to work remotely has become a significant priority for quality applicants. Even if you don’t feel comfortable bringing someone on and allowing them to work from the home full-time, see if having them work remotely two out of the five business days is something you can manage.

Likewise, BYOD (bring your own device) has become a significant priority for younger employees. It lets them bring their own smartphones, tablets and other devices to work that they already feel comfortable using, thus increasing the overall quality of the work they’re able to generate. It also helps save money for businesses, as you no longer have to pay to purchase and maintain a computer for an employee if they’re already bringing one from home. These small changes to your existing policies can go a long way towards creating the type of environment and culture that attracts the talent you’re after.

Get Competitive

Another one of the core ways to attract valuable employees these days involves being as competitive as possible when it comes to job perks. Apple, for example, has a now-legendary attraction strategy that includes not only traditional perks like healthcare, but also things like educational reimbursement as well. Not every company has the type of bankroll that Apple does, but it’s always important to remember that making an investment in your employees through competitive perks is ultimately an investment in the future of your company.

These are just a few of the many ways that you can create the type of environment that makes it easy to attract high-value employees and even easier to retain them for the long haul. Remember: quality employees don’t grow on trees, and the difference between someone who is “just punching a clock” versus someone who is putting their blood, sweat, and tears into the task at hand is an immense difference, indeed. By putting yourself in their shoes and creating the type of company they can’t help but want to work for, you, in turn, create the kind of company clients can’t wait to do business with.


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Protect Your Business While On the Move

VPN text on metal with red lock symbol -- Virtual Private Network or Internet security concept

VPN text on metal with red lock symbol — Virtual Private Network or Internet security concept


Even if you’re not working for an organization that requires you to travel on a regular basis, there is still a high likelihood that you will work from home at some point during your week. Giving people the ability to work remotely not only increases worker productivity but also drives efficiency, lowers stress, reduces employee turnover, and more. However, all of these benefits come at a pretty significant cost: giving employees the ability to work while on the move also increases the chances of a cyber attack pretty profoundly.

Organizations that want to leverage the power of modern technology with as few of the downsides as possible would do well to learn three specific letters as quickly as possible: V, P, and N.

What is a VPN?

Short for “virtual private network,” a VPN is exactly that – a private network that extends across either a public network or a larger, global network like the internet. Think of it as a lane on a highway that only you and your employees are allowed to use while on your way to work. Sure, there are other cars out on the road trying to get to various destinations, but YOU are the only one who gets to enjoy that one, special lane.

This may be a bit of an oversimplification, but this is largely the idea at the heart of a VPN. It allows users like yourself to both send and receive information over public networks like the internet with all of the privacy and security they would expect if they were connected to a smaller private network in their office.

Many businesses use VPNs to help increase security as more employees work remotely. Using a VPN, remote users can connect back with the head office, or regional offices can connect with one another, without worrying about anyone with malicious intentions intercepting their traffic.

Why is a VPN So Important?

For business professionals on the go, VPNs are important, thanks to one simple, little word: security. While connections to the internet are a dime-a-dozen, SECURE connections are much harder to come by. If you hop onto the Wi-Fi network at your local Starbucks to send some important files to a client, anyone on that some network could potentially “snipe” that file out of the air and gain access to it if they know what they’re doing. This is because Starbucks’ network was designed to be public so everyone could use it, which unfortunately means any and all traffic going over that network is essentially up for grabs.

However, if you used that same Starbucks Wi-Fi connection first to connect to your VPN, the kid with the laptop three tables over trying as hard as possible to read your emails can “hack” all he’d like, but he won’t be learning your trade secrets anytime soon. VPNs allow businesses to extend the security of their local intranet while located out of the office, allowing remote employees to be as productive as they need to be without worrying about something like a data breach.

These are just a few of the key reasons why VPNs are so important for today’s modern business world. When dealing with something as inherently volatile as the internet, the security and privacy benefits alone are more than worth the investment, even – and before you begin to think about the added level of protection this gives to employees working out of the office. In an era where data breaches are all too common, and concern with data privacy is at an all-time high, virtual private networks are one of the single, best ways to remain protected and productive at the same time.

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Travel Tips for the Tech-Savvy Professional

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For many professionals, finding themselves on the road (or on an airplane) has quickly become a way of life. With more and more jobs requiring extensive travel regardless of industry, staying productive while away from the office has become of paramount importance. Luckily, technology has stepped up to answer this particular call, and things like the cloud have made it easier than ever to get all of the work you need to get done regardless of location – even if you’re halfway around the world away from your office. As with most things, however, this does require you to keep a few key things in mind.

There’s File Sharing, and Then There’s Secure File Sharing

In the last few years, file-sharing solutions have become a lifesaver for anyone who needs to remain as productive as possible even if they can’t physically make it to the office to do so. More and more traveling professionals are turning to cloud-based providers to do everything from collaborating on documents to sending files to clients for approval and more, all while on the go. The most important thing to consider in this regard, however, is security. This is particularly true because as a traveling professional, you’ll likely be spending a great deal of time on public Wi-Fi networks.

While a cloud-based file-sharing provider itself may be secure, your connection is most certainly not. All it would take is someone connected to the same public network that you are with a little knowledge to pluck every kilobyte of data you’re sending and receiving out of the air, exposing you and your enterprise to harm. If you’re serious about file sharing, invest in an FTP (file transfer protocol) solution for your business.

You still get all of the file-sharing benefits you’ve grown accustomed to, but you get the added benefit of both at-rest and in-transit encryption. Even if someone were to intercept an important, confidential file you’re working on or transmitting, the data inside would be impossible to access without the encryption keys that only the sender or the recipient have.

Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS, is something that tech-savvy traveling professionals should look into if they’re serious about doing as much work as possible on the go. IaaS takes the same concept as file sharing only it extends these benefits to EVERY last part of your digital life – from the software that you use to the hardware you use it on and more. All of your mission-critical services are delivered in an on-demand capacity over the internet, meaning that the program you use to get work done in the office is the same one you use to get work done while on vacation.

Because everything is hosted online, you don’t ever have to worry about creating a file in one version of a program that turns out to be incompatible with the one you use when you get back home. This also removes the reliance on a single operating system from the equation, turning EVERY computer or mobile device into essentially a carbon copy of your work computer at any given moment.

These are just a few of the tips that the tech-savvy traveling professional can use to remain as productive and as proactive as possible while on the go. Technology is a great thing, but it is NOT a magic bullet – you still have to be careful so that you don’t find yourself on the receiving end of a data breach due to lax security protocols (or worse – user error). As long as you understand that “productivity” and “security” are two terms that will always be closely related, you’ll find that geography is no longer your biggest inhibitor of productivity any longer

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Inspiring Company Cultures: A Great Place to Work

business people fun playing office chair race man push woman colleagues casual group competitive team

How often do you dread coming to work in the morning? Even for business owners who love what they do, sometimes getting out of bed and coming to work can be a chore. Putting a priority on developing a company culture that inspires your employees to have fun at work can help take the dreariness out of the everyday mundane. While not all businesses have a budget to implement all of these ideas, you can find some creative juice from what these companies have put in place to make their workers enjoy the workplace.

What Makes a Great Place to Work?

Sparks, a marketing company, creates activities that make work fun for their employees. Some of the activities they have implemented include:

  • Mix & Mingle – A program that coordinates employees from different departments having lunch together.
  • Food4Thought – Focuses on lunchtime presentations from various departments and what they are doing.
  • Events – Creating parties for holidays and other occasions.

Encourage Staff to Get Up Out of Their Chairs

Limeade, an employee engagement platform, tries to get their workers out of their chairs by using standing desks, walking meetings, puzzle stations, coloring stations, fitness challenges, and even Nerf wars.

Let Employees Play Games

TinyPULSE, a performance review company, has office games that the staff play together to relax and de-stress throughout the day. Two of their favorite games are Werewolf and Eat Poop, You Cat. These games can be played by the entire staff at short intervals one at a time. Team members can take a few moments away from their job to have a bit of fun. You can find instructions for the two games at the links below:

Create Activities that Employees Can Enjoy After Work

SnackNation, a healthy snack company, designs activities for employees that they can do after work or on weekends. Most of those activities involve fitness at some level. Activities include going offsite to nearby parks such as Big Bear, scooter races in the parking lot, yoga in the office, boot camps, and Friday Happy Hours.

How Can You Develop Your Company Culture?

Even small companies can develop their business culture to bring employees together and make work more enjoyable. It doesn’t take a large budget to implement some of these ideas. While you may not be able to sponsor a weekend trip, you can certainly add some games into your day that only take a few moments away from the stress of work. You can find a lot of unique team-building games on the internet with a quick Google search, many of which take minimal money to run. Some take only a piece of paper and a pen. These types of games help your staff solidify by laughing together, and they will feel more comfortable working together later on. Additionally, work can be stressful. Taking the stress away will help staff become happier at work which will give them the incentive to stay with your company longer.

You can implement team lunches to share employee recognition or talk about what is going on in the company. You can also help employees build camaraderie with lunch-time sports. Think about how you can make small changes to create a positive, fun atmosphere in your workplace. If your staff is having fun, that attitude will translate to your customers who will enjoy coming into your office.

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Data Security: What Your Business NEEDS To Be Prepared For

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We now live in an era where the vast majority of our personal and professional lives are playing out on the Internet. This is particularly true in terms of business, where cloud-based collaboration tools and hosting providers make it easier than ever to access our mission-critical documents from any location on the planet provided you have an active Web connection at the time. Because of the increased amount of faith that we’re putting into the digital realm, data security is of the utmost importance. There are a few key issues regarding data security that your business NEEDS to be prepared for moving forward.

Passwords are Going Away

Simple passwords have long been considered by experts to be woefully inadequate as far as actual data security. This is especially true now that everything from bank account statements to medical records are being stored electronically. All it would take is someone with a little knowledge and the right hardware to guess even the most stringent of passwords, which is why the practice is poised to go away for good sooner rather than later. Many businesses are turning towards other options, like SSH-key authentication, which uses a security key in conjunction with encryption to increase the safety of information stored digitally.

With SSH-key authentication, all data is essentially scrambled via encryption algorithms both in transit and at rest. In order to “decode” that information and gain access to the data inside, a computer needs the appropriate SSH verification key. Without that key, even someone who had the password for an account would essentially find all of the data unreadable, which is why this is one security trend that is increasing in popularity and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Security as a Service

One of the main obstacles regarding maintaining security in the digital world has to do with the massive effort required on behalf of business owners. Maintaining security patches, upgrading and monitoring network-based security hardware and more can be a full-time job for an IT employee – if you have an IT employee to begin with. Instead of constantly engaging in the uphill battle of trying to maintain security on their own, many businesses are turning towards third-party security as a service for this very reason.

Under this type of situation, you would pay a third-party company to take over complete control of your network security infrastructure. They would be responsible for auditing, disaster recovery, real-time detection, maintaining security patches and more – giving you complete peace of mind as a business owner knowing that A) you are as protected as you can be against cyber threats and B) you don’t have to devote a huge amount of time, money, and energy in order to get to that place.

Device Policies

Allowing employees to bring their own devices to work is increasingly common, but it is not without its disadvantages. If an employee accesses mission-critical information on their personal iPhone and then that device is stolen from them, the data they were accessing is potentially compromised. This is one of the many reasons why businesses are enacting strict device enforcement policies governing what types of personal devices can be used at work, what information can be accessed on them and what happens to that device if an employee suddenly becomes an ex-employee for whatever reason.

These are just a few of the important factors to consider about data security in 2016 and beyond. The Internet and technology, in general, brings with it a host of different benefits for businesses that can’t be ignored, but there is a seedy underbelly to the proceedings as well if you’re not careful. The key to cyber safety involves knowing what type of battle you’re engaging with and making smart, actionable decisions in a proactive way.

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