More Digital blog

16

May 2012

The MoreDigital Guide to Communication: Websites

Posted in Books and Guides, Business tactics | 0 Comments

The MoreDigital Guide to Communication - website section header.There is no faster way to reassure a potential client or customer that your business is twenty years behind than to present them with a terrible website. GIF files and clip-art from the Nineties, blocky design and the most difficult-to-navigate cluster of pages possible will tell me that you have no interest in the following:

  • Your company’s image
  • Modern technology
  • Making everything your company offers accessible to those they want to grant access to
  • Common sense

Keep customers on your site

I’ve rung the common sense bell at least once before, but I’ll give it another good old ding-a-ling anyway. In 2012 – you know, before Google’s Glass project renders all websites obsolete and we simply live behind a screen attached to our heads – your website is the most important first impression you’ll ever get to make. Compare it to your opening few jokes in a stand-up comedy routine – the first joke sets the tone for the rest of the performance. Similarly, the amount of immediately available, well-presented and easily-navigable information on a company site can make the difference between a one-off visitor and a regular user.

‘Bounce rate’ is a webmaster term that gets bandied around a lot – it simply means how many people are going to find a page on your site and then leave, rather than navigating around to see more interesting stuff. Usually, most people tend to come to a page for a specific answer, or to research one thing in particular. This means, funnily enough, that every single page on your site has to be informative – people should learn something every time they read a page on your website. You should not, under any circumstances, decide to just waffle on about your company or your products. Keep people interested, and you’ll keep them on the site.

People also go to websites to buy products and services. Should your site be selling something, then it’s not a bad idea to have a look at how easy it is for the average person to actually do that. A clear price, a well-designed shopping basket system and an easy-to-navigate catalogue will do wonders for people’s willingness to shop at your site. Don’t hide prices or postal charges, either – you wouldn’t do it in-store, so there’s no reason at all to do it online. Small print and hidden charges aren’t going to make anyone trust you or your site, and poor feedback in a public forum is – you guessed it – bad for your company image.

Personalisation, community, and plain old looking good

One of the things that I really enjoy on a website is the ability to really personalise my experience depending on how I’ve interacted with it in the past, but I find it’s a double-edged sword.  For example: when I’m using Amazon, I’ll find that my logged-in homepage is full of items related to the stuff I’ve shopped for. However, if I’ve recently been browsing gifts for others, most of the items the site presents to me are now completely irrelevant to my interests. At the same time, I do feel like it’s attempting to show me stuff I’m interested in, and while I can see through the “Buy this! Give us more of your money!” sell on the site, it at least lets me know that the site is paying attention.

Another aspect of websites I like is a strong community. Not all companies will be able to make this work, but again, Amazon does it well with user reviews and discussion threads. Some commercial websites are actually built around the idea of community and discussion – see Etsy for a great example. If it does work for your site, however, then you will have to motivate people to get involved. Custom titles for those who post a lot, a reputation system, even allowing people to voluntarily moderate (although I recommend giving them rewards or considering just paying them – free labour should feel awkward to anyone).

Most importantly, however, is that your website does not look bad in terms of its actual aesthetics. You’ll notice that as of 2012, a lot of successful sites tend to be quite clean and minimalist in their appearance, and technology is often the same. As a result, cluttering up your homepage and other pages with information, sidebars and info-boxes could well tire someone out if they’re just trying to navigate through it. Make everything feel spacious. Here are some good examples.

There are many ways to test your site, the most thorough being to run strictly controlled user tests. Alternatively you could simply to unleash five (Jakob Nielsen reckons ‘five users is enough’) really picky, pedantic, annoying, easily frustrated people – five of myself, basically – on your site and see what comes back. People who click everywhere, who look at your source code because they’re nosy or jealous of your good design (again, me). Whenever you create something, you need to get people to try and break it to see where the cracks appear. Making sure those areas are fixed and reinforced is going to help once the site itself launches. So good luck, test hard, don’t design a site for someone surfing in 1994, and for God’s sake realise that people might want to hang out on your site. Don’t be afraid. The future is clickable.

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30

Apr 2012

The MoreDigital Guide to Communication: Phones

Posted in Blogging | 0 Comments

MoreDigital Communications Guide header - phones.In the past year, I’ve had several things come up that required me to call a lot of people, or call one company in particular, on a regular basis for about a month. If you’re working the phones and I’m calling, I guarantee you that I will be the highlight of your working day. I don’t moan, I don’t swear, I don’t hang up, I don’t make demands – I’m happy to sit on hold for a while, and listen to you while you’re talking. The reason for this is that I know that working the phones must be one of the least desirable jobs at any company, ever.

Why? Well, it’s not because the actual job isn’t enjoyable, most of the time (telemarketing certainly seems to maintain its own personal circle of hell). It’s mostly because the vast majority of human beings have no concept of how to talk to other people over the telephone. Interrupting, being rude, demanding, impatient, too casual, or not casual enough are all obstacles between you and a caller being friends, and you and a caller never speaking again as far as your business is concerned.

Funnily enough, you want people to like calling you.

So how do we go about solving this, and what are the different approaches to phone conversation?

The Call Centre

If you run a call centre, and some of you might, then you’ll know that your employees are going to have to deal with a lot of people who will likely be extremely impatient because they know they’re calling a customer service line, which will set them against you from the moment they pick up their phone to dial your number. The secrets to keeping them happy are as follows:

  1. Don’t transfer them around endlessly. Really, don’t, because it implies that none of your staff have any idea who the ideal problem-solver is, and if your phone line is an 0800 or similar, you’re wasting someone’s money because your staff aren’t trained to use the right tool – or person – for the job. Not a good impression to make.
  2. Meet demand. If you constantly experience a high amount of call traffic, hire more staff. If you’re worried about the cost, then charging for customer service lines will outweigh the cost of your new customer service employee (ironic, given that they’re the psychosocial equivalent of fire-fighters). If you can’t figure out supply and demand but you own a call centre, it might be time for you to take a course in basic business management.
  3. Be free? It’s not the cheapest option in the world, sure, but what it lacks in revenue it makes up for in a group of customers who know that they’re not paying to listen to your hold music.

That’s just a start, but I’d advise you to remember the purpose of a call centre is to help people. If you can’t do that, go into politics.

The Direct Client Call

It’s five twenty-five, and a client rings to talk about an upcoming deadline just as you’re hunting around for your coat. Do you ignore it? Do you answer and be brief? Or do you make the effort? Pro tip: the first two are the wrong answer, but only to a point. If this is the tenth time today a client has rung you (i.e. they’re control freaks), let it run to answerphone. But otherwise, pick up, and take the time to talk to them and ask them what they need and how you can help.

I’m a writer, so I tend to call people quite a lot to ask them a lot of things, like “can I interview you,” or “where is [editor name here]?” It doesn’t help to repeatedly have my calls ignored, or have someone tell me they’ll call me when they’re ready, despite the fact that we both know that not answering my questions now means we will both miss a key deadline. If you have gone to the effort of offering a client your desk phone number, answer your calls. Unless you’re in a meeting (and don’t always be “in meetings”, it doesn’t make the caller feel very important) or on the phone already, deal with it now so you’re not having to deal with it at five twenty-five.

Common Sense Isn’t Here Right Now, If You’d Like to Leave a Message…

Fundamentally, phones are still your lifeline. You’ll still get tens of thousands of emails, I’m sure, but having a human being who can talk sense and give people the right information is still a requirement in 2012. That is, until they attach Microsoft Sam to an artificial intelligence, but by that stage I’d wager we’ll be too busy running away from killer robots a la Terminator to worry too much about whether or not customer #412937292 is still on the line.

If you have a decent phone network set up, then good for you – it’s going to save you a lot of hassle in the long run. But if there’s no number on your site, and only the receptionist seems to have a phone, then you might be going about your office communications set-up the wrong way. Pick up, or pack up.

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20

Apr 2012

The MoreDigital Guide to Communication: Email

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

MoreDigital Guide to Communication - email header.Email is, without a doubt, the most important form of business communication there is in 2012. Forget phones, forget social media or SMS or the postal system – email dominates the workplace, and how we learn to use it can define how efficient we become as employees or business owners. But so many people tend to misuse it, or have clashing email etiquette – it’s not uncommon to send an email written in a formal tone to receive a quick response and a smiley face in return.

One of the things I think a company needs to focus on more than anything else is what I call the “instant image”. When your email arrives in my inbox, and you’re a company, or a journalist, or a PR rep, the word “Gmail” or “Hotmail” will lead me to one of two conclusions; either you are computer illiterate, or you are not willing to invest time, money and effort into your communication. Both of these are serious failings, to me. Let’s look at a potential solution.

Google Apps

I’m a copywriter, and hence, I have a company email account. I also have many other accounts, for shopping, for freelance, and so on – not one of those, bar my required Google account, is free or generic. They are all set up using custom domains, and this is because I want to be able to brand myself, to show people that I am part of a unit that I built, or at least one that does not match your elderly relatives who just needed a cheap, quick email solution.

I’m not knocking GMail (I will knock Hotmail – it’s archaic and, in my eyes, nowhere near as slick as its Google counterpart), by any means – all my email addresses run through the GMail system via Google Apps, and it’s this tool that can help you set up a custom email in no time at all. Let me show you the steps you’ll need to take.

  1. Make sure you own a domain. This will cost you a varying amount dependent on the value of said domain, but an original domain can be as low as about nine dollars a year. If you can’t afford to spend that, you’re in big trouble already.
  2. Second, head over to Google Apps and register. Once you have done so, choose one of their many verification options to prove your ownership of the domain in question, and they’ll start setting up your account for you. Standard includes a wide range of apps, from email to calendar services, and Business (a paid subscription – standard is free) includes additional tools from Google, sitting alongside a considerable wealth of third-party applications.
  3. You’re done! Either use the GMail interface, or enable IMAP/POP to run your email through a client, like Outlook or Thunderbird.

It really is that simple – take it from me, as I set up Google Apps for every domain I have and it only takes me five to ten minutes to get it set up, give or take a while for Google to verify domain ownership so you can finish the registration and setup process. There’s no excuse for a free email account in 2011 if you’re running a business, however small. So once you’ve set up your domain-hosted email accounts, all that’s left is to start using them. Unfortunately, for some people, that’s another obstacle altogether.

Learning to Write

Yesterday, I was digging into a Kindle ebook sample by a successful novelist. The writing was solid, and I was enjoying the work, when I stumbled across the writer’s confusion between the words “role” and “roll”, and which one to use in a particular context. Given that this is a professionally produced work, and I’m planning to pay for it, their job is to make sure I think they can speak the language properly. If you can’t do that, you’re stuffed.

A lot of people claim grammar isn’t an issue, and of course, it’s not, if you’re having a conversation with your friends. However, if I see the following in a business email:

hi Cristos

Just a quick ntoe, need those files for Momday.

Bob

I’m not going to take you seriously if you write like this. There are countless university graduates looking for work, and many of them can write really well. So to have a high-level employee of Company, Inc. write to me as though they’re back in primary school is unacceptable. Would you write a legal contract or a client proposal this way? If I’m a client or a co-worker, taking the time to word yourself properly and check your grammar is a subtle sign of respect that few are aware of – until you don’t bother, at which point, you look lazy. Small businesses who look lazy do not do well.

Can business emails be friendly?

In addition to this, there’s the conundrum of when to let your guard down and be a little more casual in an email after you’ve known someone for a while. I say simply keep it formal until the other person lets their guard down, although this could potentially foster the “you first” scenario where both people are waiting for the person they’re emailing to throw a “heya” or a “cheers” in there at some point, but most will usually relax eventually.

There’s nothing wrong with starting out with a friendly tone, but it’s important to remember that this is generally reserved for people working in roles where being friendly is a job requirement – PR is a good example.

Lastly, don’t do any of these things. I cannot agree with that webcomic enough, and I recommend you frame it and put it on your desk if you are, as an adult, making any of those errors. I wish you the best of luck – setting up an email account doesn’t guarantee you’ll become the next Facebook, but it can’t hurt your chances, either.

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30

Mar 2012

The MoreDigital Communication Guide

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

The MoreDigital Guide to Communication.In 2012, there are more ways to send a client a proposal than there have ever been before. But astonishingly, there are still businesses out there (and what’s worse, some of them are actually web-savvy) that are using @gmail.com for their email addresses. This, my friends, is not how you do professional in the new millennium. So how do you go about making your business communication look a little less thrown together?

Firstly, do you own a domain? Yes? If so, why aren’t you using either hosted email, or if it’s just a domain with no hosting, Google Apps? That’s right – all the functionality of GMail, but with your @mybusiness.com email address, not to mention a synched calendar and other tools that Google provides for free. No, really, free. Nada. No money.

The reason you shouldn’t use an email address that isn’t generic and very obviously free is simple: you look cheap, and you don’t stand out from your crazy Aunt May who also happens to have an @gmail.com account. I really do mean that – the two of you look about as professional as each other if I have your email address alone to judge you on – which a company often does, if that’s your first point of contact with them.

There’s also the issue of phones. If you’re working from home, that’s fine, but give out your landline number – personally, I always find it somewhat disconcerting to be offered nothing but a mobile number unless myself and the person I’m due to meet or do business with is actually on the move on the day of the meeting. A landline gives the image of permanence, and it’s also cheaper to call in some contexts, too, which can be important for other small businesses like yours who will want to keep costs down.

There’s also the more subtle forms of communication that a lot of people don’t seem to consider, such as:

  • How easy-to-interpret your website is.
  • The quality of communication on your social networking accounts.
  • Email signatures.
  • Language within an email.
  • Your domain name quality.
  • Your site/page summary as it appears in a Google search.

There are many more, but these are the first six that came to mind. I see countless small business websites – all of us do, and the ones that grab me are clear, concise, neat, modern, and if or when I want to get in touch, there’s a custom email address and a variety of social media options available to me. Once I contact that business, they respond with a well-written email, I’ve got a signature with their details in it, if I Google them to check up before we proceed I can see great summaries which points to an SEO-tuned brain somewhere in that business… There are so many factors at play here, and it’s vitally important that the first impression you make is good. Otherwise, how will you progress from “small business” to just “business”?

Now, without providing step-by-step and deep-thought examples of what I’m talking about, you’d have the right to say I’m just making demands of small businesses that are either unfounded or unreasonable. So, in order to prove to you that these things matter, I’m going to go into depth. A lot of depth. Starting this week, I’ll be publishing a series of articles on communication, starting with email.

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16

Mar 2012

How can you secure your social media accounts?

Posted in Blogging | 0 Comments

Thousands of people log into Facebook and Twitter every minute of everyday, whether it’s for personal or business use, which unfortunately makes it even easier for spam, viruses and hackers to attack hundreds of accounts.

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28

Feb 2012

How have celebrities been used in fake advertising and what are the consequences?

Posted in Blogging | 0 Comments

One of the most powerful advertising platforms around at the moment seems to be Twitter. Companies have taken advantage of its viral abilities by paying celebrities thousands of pounds for posting just one tweet mentioning their brand or product. This shows the extent companies will go to attach their name to a famous person.

Read the rest of this entry »

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15

Feb 2012

A Tale of Hashtag Hijacking – infographic

Posted in Social Media | 3 Comments »

Words! Pictures! From us, to you!

 

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14

Feb 2012

A newbie’s guide to Twitter – infographic

Posted in Social Media | 0 Comments

 

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9

Feb 2012

Social media overtakes television – what does this mean in terms of news consumption?

Posted in Blogging, Social Media | 2 Comments »

News Consumption

A recent study that was carried out by internet marketing company Click Consult has shown that social media is now more popular among 16-24 year olds than television. Of the 1,300 people surveyed, a total of 65% said that surfing social media sites is their favourite past-time, which significantly outweighs television, at least among this age group. What, then, does this mean for news consumption? There is a big difference between television and the internet, which is why people are moving across to the latter.

Passive consumption – When news is consumed through television, it is experienced passively. The viewer sits back and watches whatever the broadcasters have chosen to show them, and while they do have the freedom to change the channel or turn off the set, the news programs are not catered for their specific needs.

Active consumption – When news is consumed over the internet, the surfer has much more scope for freedom. They can choose what they want to be involved with, and can move away from things that do not interest them.

  • Niche news sites - back in September 2011, the New York Times reported that web giants like Yahoo and AOL are losing traffic to smaller sites that cater to specific audiences. It is all very well reporting all of the news to everyone, but you are less likely to find passionate followers that way. Those who go to niche sites go there because they are interested in a specific topic, and they will keep coming back to learn the news that they are really interested in. These types of sites are numerous on the internet, whereas the news that is broadcast on the television is a lot more mainstream and less likely to capture focused attention.
  • Personalised news - Going to sites with a specific type of news allows consumers to personalise their entertainment and avoid things that do not interest them. They can subscribe to RSS feeds of certain sites, so that the news is brought to them, but only the news that they want to know about.
  • Push-pull strategies - Television ‘pushes’ information to the consumer, with them having no opportunity to interact with it. However, the internet ‘pulls’ consumers towards it, giving them the chance to get involved and demand information, creating interest and increasing popularity.

News sharing

  • This brings us on to the topic of social media and the idea of passive vs active consumption. Passive consumption – information that is ‘pushed’ at us – gives the consumer no opportunity to get involved, however as we have already seen with niche news sites, the internet gives users just that opportunity, and social networking sites allow for even more participation.
  • Moving even further away from traditional methods of news consumption, we have the 75% of people who actually use social networking sites or e-mail to find news. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have revolutionised the way they we share news as trust shifts from news organisations to individuals that we know. You can use Twitter to follow specific news sites, and as a result build your own personalised news stream.
  • Not only that, but friends can also share news by posting specific stories to each other’s Facebook walls. The internet is not only a place to search for news, it is also a place for people to share things that they find interesting, this involving themselves in the actual process of news broadcasting.

Opinion sharing

  • As well as sharing news, social media sites allow users to offer their own opinions on the news of the day. Passive consumption is changing into something else entirely, with active involvement and contribution ranking high among internet users. So users are not only getting niche news, but in some cases they can access opinionated news, and in turn offer their own thoughts.
  • Opinions are growing and we are becoming more than just a consumer society. The internet now offers us the chance to get involved, create blogs and interact with others.

Convenience

  • Yahoo Finance has revealed that the UK has the highest rate of mobile news consumption in the world. Of the traffic to UK newsapaper websites, almost 10 percent comes from non-computer devices, which suggests that many people are now using mobile phones and tablets to access news on-the-go.
  • This is another reason why people are moving to social media, as the internet can be accessed in many places while television-sets are pretty much confined to the home. With more and more people commuting to work everyday and living busy lives, it stands to reason that they would want to move their entertainment out of the home and into the outside world. Public transport and cafés are becoming the new news-consumption areas, and the way to do this is via the internet and often social media.

The fact that young people are moving away from television and towards social media, shows that the prospect of involvement is more attractive than passive entertainment. Opinions are growing and individuality is being nurtured in a way that changes the way we consume news and enables us to share and comment, thus becoming pro-active. Is this better than just watching the news on television? Social networking sites certainly encourage people to develop their own opinions about issues, and to share things that they thing their friends might like. You can avoid the boredom of learning about sports news when you would rather hear about the arts and you can access your personalised news feed pretty much anywhere.

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8

Feb 2012

Five things I wish people would stop saying about Twitter

Posted in Social Media | 2 Comments »

Picture of a somewhat clueless looking blue bird.It almost feels like five is too low a limit, but there you go; I’m sticking with it. Without further ado, five things people tend to say about Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks (no point in mentioning them by name, as they’ll all be gone in a year or two) that I wish they wouldn’t.

1. It’s a waste of time. Whether you’re an author, an SEO consultant, or a person who just likes to tweet about their day-to-day existence, social media is not a waste of time. If you’re getting something out of it, it’s not wasting your time, is it? Connecting with people, sharing ideas, learning about the world, following the news – yes, clearly this is all pointless. C’mon!

2. Team follow back! I don’t know who invented this bizarre trend of following someone to gain a single follower back, but let me smash through your preconceptions of how amazing that is, and explain something to you: a non-celebrity with 50,000 followers, and 50,000 friends, is not good at social media. A non-celebrity with 50,000 followers and a hundred friends definitely is. Why? Because lots of people follow that person because they are interesting, or funny, or both, or other cool things. They follow a few people, because to follow 50,000 people means your feed will be utter garbage.

3. Twitter analytics are informative when it comes to potential sales. No, they’re not. Tweeting to your 100,000 followers about a new laptop doesn’t mean you’ll have sold a hundred thousand laptops by the time you leave work. It means that most of the people following you will see it (some don’t check all the tweets gone past in the time since they last checked, some follow too many to keep up with). Social media works similarly to any other kind of advertising. You could have a tweet on the TV screen, half-time at the World Cup. Doesn’t mean everyone watching it thinking “right, off to the shops”.

4. It is only for self-promotion. You know what happens if fifty people shout their thoughts into a room with earplugs in? No one actually hears anyone else, and everybody leaves the room none the wiser. This is what happens when people assume that Twitter is a DIY RSS feed. Talk to people. Respond to people. Don’t plug your stuff all day long – it’s monotonous and makes you look incredibly self-centred. This goes for businesses, too.

5. Automation is fine. No, it’s not. Seeing a clearly automated tweet on my feed, whether it’s from some site charting what game someone’s playing to an announcement by FourSquare that someone’s out of their house (nice job – burglars will be pleased to hear that) drives me up the wall. It’s one thing to have it link to a blog post, and sometimes that … on the end of an automated blog announcement can be intriguing, as I recently found out. But can the rest of it. It makes you sound generic and thoughtless.

That’s just five – I’m glad I didn’t title this list “five things I wish people would stop saying on Twitter”, as five thousand would not be a long-enough list.

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