More Digital blog

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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21

Nov 2011

Is it worth learning webmaster skills as a business owner?

Posted in Business tactics, Technology | 0 Comments

A lot of online businesses are run by a small team of people – and in some cases, just one person. That’s a lot of responsibility, but with hired help for coding and building the site, creating something that practically runs itself is going to prove to be an advantage in the long run. But sites will break, and not having the right skill-set to fix anything can really let you down in 2011.

“If you’re good at something, never do it for free,” states the Joker, in The Dark Knight. Odd place to source your advice, but I couldn’t agree more. If you’re doing something for free – i.e. fixing someone’s broken HTML – then you better be getting something great in return, or you’re costing yourself time you could be a) sleeping, b) making money, or c) not doing endless amounts of people favours with no rewards. But sadly that also means that those who are computer illiterate and trying to run a site will often run into difficulties – specifically, ones they can’t fix without forking out for a second salary.

Learning basic skills doesn’t take long at all – HTML and CSS are not impervious to the almost beginner – and even learning how to set up and manage a WordPress blog is going to help when it comes to making sure the small business you’re trying to get off the ground doesn’t falter in the early stages. After all, you don’t want to have to run to an IT-knowledgeable friend or relative (or worse, expensive freelancer) when you could be Googling and problem-solving.

The Google aversion is probably the source of 90% of the tech problems I hear. It’s so simple to Google your answer, and people are vocal and knowledgeable enough to have written about it years before you’re wanting questions answered and problems solved. Sometimes I ask questions on Twitter despite knowing I should be Googling, but it’s this knowledge – that the info I need is out there, waiting to be read, that means all is not lost if those I know personally can’t help me out.

Being a self-starter is all about being driven and committed, and making sure you can accomplish what you need to in a self-reliant manner is part of that. Starting a business means saying goodbye to the nine-to-five, and if you think any different then you’re kidding yourself. In the beginning, everything is down to you, from the accounting to getting the office internet connection set up. You don’t turn up for eight hours a day and claim a salary each month.

Sound daunting? It’s not – learning how to craft sites, deal with Paypal and forgo paid themes in favour of your own CSS artistry can actually be an enjoyable and empowering experience. It certainly has been for me – I know that after learning, Googling, asking questions and making mistakes, I can take a great site idea and actually build it into a working prototype. For every person who’ll call you a “noob” or claim you’ve no business, well, running a business, there’s someone who’s willing to walk you through the basics. Don’t get left behind – be one of the people leading the way.

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7

Oct 2011

Is streaming overtaking traditional content delivery?

Posted in Technology | 0 Comments

With the arrival of OnLive, the game-streaming technology that’s been so hotly anticipated by those who want to play great games without the cost of a console or high-spec PC, and YouTube’s announcement that they’ll be renting HD films to users, it seems that allowing users to receive a constant flow of data over a delay and a physical copy is rapidly becoming the preferred method for enjoying new media.

But what does this mean for businesses? Digital storefronts have proven themselves to be the consumer delivery method with the brightest future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s completely reliable yet. Businesses like game publisher Ubisoft have, by using controlling methods of delivery akin to a gun to the head of the user, suffered delays and outages that have permanently damaged their reputations. Users avoid streaming and download services due to the fact that if the servers die, their paid-for content does as well, and this is a valid concern.

The easiest way to battle these concerns is to take the Facebook approach – that any outage must be avoided at all costs, because a single one could scar their brand image permanently. It’s worked for them so far, and it’s certainly possible if you’re willing to invest in the hardware to back up the services you’re offering to your customers.

Streaming content is also something that’s an unproven concept with businesses who don’t have the budget or company size of sites like YouTube (Google now, really) or UStream. Funding it however needn’t be difficult at all – delivering streaming content is extremely expensive, whereas consumers who receive streamed content often get it for free – so there should be a opportunities for income and potential advertising to soften the blow of expenditure on more servers and better tubes.

It’s certainly a new way to run the local Blockbusters, that’s for sure. Especially given that physical rentals, while popular, are something that could potentially be overtaken by offering people the same content but without the hassle of dropping things in the post box every now and then. It’s also a save on the traditional storage space required for all the DVDs and games you’ll be renting out, and you’re also not even using your customers’ hard-drive space.

The challenge for any business looking into digital content streaming will be to out-do the left-right-knockout punch of YouTube and OnLive. Even major television networks in the UK have thrown their lot in with Google’s (arguably) wisest purchase, and OnLive seems set to become the standard in videogame streaming. But it’s possible to hit a niche – Vimeo seems to have done relatively well, despite its on-off (usually off) relationship with my mobile device.

Only time will tell us how well streaming performs, but with broadband speeds consistently rising, there’s little argument against streaming becoming better and easier as we move forward.

It’s odd – I was discussing topics for today with my editor, and we spoke about the importance of a certain individual who sadly passed away this week; one Steve Jobs. It seemed fair to mention him this week, to mark his passing, but it wasn’t clear how. That’s until it hit me that realistically, without Steve and the team at Apple, we wouldn’t have seen a great deal of the inventions we now celebrate as some of the best technology around. There wasn’t a single person with a love of technology who didn’t feel a sense of shock and sadness this week. Whether iTunes intends to pursue streaming is another matter entirely, but consider this a mention with the utmost respect for the wealth of content put out about him this week already.

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1

Jun 2011

Has Twitter usurped Facebook as the better platform for businesses?

Posted in Business tactics, Social Media | 0 Comments

For some time, it’s been argued that the social network every business should be tapping into is Facebook, but is this really the case?

Social Media Examiner states that “with 500 million people on Facebook, chances are more of your customers are active on Facebook than any other network.” Aliza Sherman of GigaOM claims that in terms of advertising, “there’s no question that Facebook wins.”

It all appears so clean-cut, and it’s interesting reading when you get into the reasoning behind their championing of Zuckerberg’s platform. The ease of viral promotion, the size of the existing community, and the way in which Facebook constantly pulls users in towards it because it’s so central to modern social communication.

However, a recent study by Three_D, the social media arm of PR company Threepipe Communications, has revealed that 65 companies on the FTSE 100 use Twitter instead of Facebook. While they may only represent sixty-five companies out of countless millions across the globe, a majority vote for the small blue bird from a hundred of the most successful companies in the UK is a significant statistic.

Twitter is no longer the novel concept it was in 2006. It now has over 300 million accounts – a growth of 60 million a year. This stands in comparison to Facebook’s 500 million accounts, accumulated since 2004, a growth of 71 million. The difference isn’t all that great, relatively speaking, and the immediate accessibility of the Twitter platform means it takes minutes to set up a company account, rather than the longer period required to adequately establish a Facebook fan page.

Sherman concedes similar points within her article, and her differentiation between the two platforms is key to understanding what some businesses prioritising their Facebook presence are missing: the reasons consumers connect to your company. “The way you accumulate page fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter is different,” states Sherman. “You might gain a fan on Facebook just because someone sees someone they know becoming your fan. You gain followers on Twitter — genuine and engaged followers — because they actually want to hear what you have to say.”

Twitter is a feed of information that the user selects themselves, rather than another group affiliation or sign of consumer appreciation to be hung on the Wall of a Facebook user. Businesses are no longer seeking those who are willing to give them no more than a nod of approval; they want people to connect with the company out of personal interest.

It’s also not surprising to learn that potential customers are leaving Facebook along with the companies now devoting themselves to the 140-character marketing effort. The New York Times suggests that there are several factors at work driving people away from the social networking site, amongst them the overlapping of personal and business relationships, and the “inevitable” Orwellian undertones of Facebook’s aspirations to usurp Google as the central hub of today’s online society.

Twitter certainly seems like the better option, at least from my own perspective. There’s a sole purpose to a Twitter account – to tweet i.e. to communicate. There’s little else to do, nothing in fact, if you discard personalising your display picture, your small bio or your website link. It’s a streamlined experience that separates itself from the Facebook morass of Mafia Wars, Wall comments, privacy paranoia, and the endless struggle for the consumer’s “like” click. Perhaps the pro-Twitter trend will extend beyond the FTSE 100 in future. If the New York Times’ exodus analysis is anything to go by, it’s almost certain.

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16

May 2011

The small business value of SEO

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

Every so often, it becomes clear that small businesses are taking increasing steps to widen their knowledge of search engine optimisation. The SEO discipline is, when put to good use, a veritable goldmine of consumer attention, increased website traffic, and a boost in the industry’s awareness of your business.

BusinessWeek‘s Karen E. Klein states that SEO is especially important for “small businesses with limited brand recognition.” Promoting the brand should be any small business’s number one goal – without brand awareness, there is no foundation upon which to build a successful company. Encouraging not only awareness, but loyalty can ensure that your business meets its long-term goals in addition to boosting sales of its current product and service range.

Unfortunately, as Klein states, the SEO tutorial network is rife with “bad information.” There are countless so-called “SEO experts” who are nothing more than self-proclaimed industry figureheads whose Twitter follower numbers are unfortunately often only an indication of a large void in which to cast their ideas. SEO agencies, however, are a far more reliable source of guidance and assistance, and will allow you to take advantage of the countless benefits of good SEO whilst negating the risks of bad advice.

SEO is, by and large, a method of turning a search-engine’s algorithms to your advantage. If you find that you rarely appear in the first page or two of results for keywords that describe your what your business offers to the letter, than perhaps an enquiry to an agency may be a wise choice.

Klein recommends SEOMoz and other sites containing beginner’s guides, but it is imperative that you consider the sources of such information. Like the wave of traditional marketing “experts” before them, many SEO magicians can offer little more than parlour tricks, preferring to rely on vague allusions to “community branding” and “generating a positive consumer experience,” minus the useful examples required to put these positive-sounding first steps into practice.

As with any new discipline within marketing, however, SEO has often been branded hogwash by those who prefer a more traditional approach, but it is easy to highlight the ignorance of such remarks. Figures from Search Engine Land indicate that as many as eighty-eight billion searches per month were made via Google alone in 2010. Statistics like this are hard to ignore – with the potential to reach as little as 0.1% of these individuals, the traffic drawn to your site would be enough to fund every single aspect of your business model, provided you are capable of generating revenue through advertising.

If your intention is to school yourself in SEO, and there are sound resources that make this possible, consider that it is not a monetary investment, but one of time and effort outside the day-to-day running of your business. Consider if you can justify this against the cost of hiring an SEO agency – after all, if you are capable of spending ten hours a week working on your SEO skills, it is equally justifiable that those hours could have funded a day-long SEO briefing at any number of competent agency offices. The financial benefit of the latter, you will find, more than pays for the cost of a DIY approach.

Soon, the digital age will reach its pinnacle and traditional businesses will have to re-shape their approach to marketing their brand. But until then, those small businesses who choose to take swift advantage of the benefits of search-engine optimisation will find themselves rewarded, and ahead of the game when their competitors finally join the online sphere.

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28

Mar 2011

Has eBay given up on being eBay?

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

Two-point-four billion dollars. The highest purchase eBay’s ever made, and now GSI Commerce is theirs, they’ve got access to a mind-numbing amount of brands, in an ongoing attempt to transform themselves from the site that’s sold everything from your old wardrobe to one person’s virginity and someone else’s blackness, to something more similar to Amazon.

Sadly, it’s not going to work. If you found yourself on the principles of an open market, an auction house that allows anyone to sell almost anything, and find success beyond your wildest dreams, you have one main advantage: your service tends to make Amazon’s Marketplace look fairly bad.

A crisis meeting may have been called. Evidence that Amazon Marketplace is, in fact, very reliable, was probably shown to company directors. And of course, most eBay users do not log on to buy anything from eBay itself.

In their new direction, I think this may be what eBay are missing – they are not an online shop to most people. They are the site where people sell their stuff, nothing but a middle-man. To start selling products out of their own garage is going to throw people, slightly. I’ve seen their brand pages, and even after getting over my aversion to eBay a wee while back (my old argument being it’s being run by anonymous users with infinitely less accountability than corporations – incorrect, I know), I wouldn’t touch them with a tent pole.

It’s worth asking what makes me feel that way, and I guess the answer would simply be that they’re not a company I buy things from, just a site I use to buy things from random people around the world. I’d stick with that angle, because no one’s ever going to out-do them.

Competing with Amazon, even if you’re just as big, if not even bigger, is a fairly silly idea. As is Microsoft’s attempt to rival Google’s eponymous engine with Bing. It begs the question of why, exactly, companies this large haven’t yet realised that they are their own brand. Amazon is “buy new stuff, at a shop on the web.” eBay is “bid on auctions”. They all have their unique angles, and bar Apple and Google, no one’s done that well by attempting to branch out.

Arguably, the range of brands is impressive, with GSI Commerce having deals with everyone from Ralph Lauren to Hewlett-Packard. The problem this raises is that sellers are now going to need to slash their prices.

It’s a buyer’s market – if I know eBay’s doing a Ralph Lauren polo for £80, I can guarantee someone’s selling it, with postage costs included, for £75. It looks like a bizarre eventuality, of eBay competing in a price-war with its own users. Then again, if it wasn’t going well, it wouldn’t be expanding, so we’ll wait and see.

Still getting my new stuff from sellers and Amazon, though. For now.

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22

Oct 2010

Bing/Facebook vs. Google: the social media battle continues

Posted in Social Media | 0 Comments

This week Bing seriously upped their game by teaming up with the Facebook developers to try once again to make Bing search results more social.

The idea is that after someone conducts a search on Bing, they will be able to see which of their Facebook friends have ‘Liked’ whatever it is they have searched for. The results which have been ‘Liked’ by your friends will come up at the top of the search results. Bing believes that this will make the results mean more for users who will gain more from the search.

At the moment it only works in the US, but if it does well Microsoft and Facebook plan to bring it to the rest of the world.

But what about Google, which currently has the market dominance? Google has added a ‘Shared by’ link. Their SERPs already incorporate real-time results and the number of times people have shared the article. It also shows you mentions on social-networks.

The difference between Bing and Google’s offerings is that Bing will show you which of your friends ‘Liked’ something, so you don’t just know that it may be popular but can put a face to the ‘liking’.

The question is, do we really need to see which of our friends have ‘Liked’ something we are searching for on Bing? Is it not enough to see that they like your mate’s picture or your amusing status update? And will it really make any difference to your consumer choices?

According to Bing we are constantly calling on our friends to make decisions. For example what was the film like? Do you think that dress is nice? We want to know their opinions and while they might not make up our minds for us, they will probably influence our choices.

At Microsoft’s Silicon Valley headquarters in Mountain View earlier this month, Mashable was live blogging from the event and reported the following:

‘Zuck is going back to when Facebook got started. “From studying psychology, I knew that a huge amount of people’s brains is focused entirely on processing information about people.” Emotions, expressions etc. This is the most interesting information that people track around the world — it’s hard-wired into us.’

There is certainly something of the truth in this, we do want to know about others around us. However what happens if, to take the example used by Bing, we are looking for a good steak restaurant in San Francisco? We search for it in Bing, the results come up and we’ll probably just choose one of the first results. But with the integration of Facebook, we will see what our ‘friends’ on Facebook have ‘liked’. This of course relies on the fact that our friends are searching for similar things that we are.

Also, I don’t know about you, but a lot of the people on my Facebook are not actually my close friends. If for example someone who I believe has bad taste ‘Likes’ something, I will be even less likely to visit the place. I don’t know whether this means I should do some serious ‘Friend’ culling on Facebook or whether there is a flaw in Bing’s latest developments.

But let’s face the hard facts. In the UK google has roughly  a 90% share of the search engine market, whereas Bing has about 4%. In the US Google has a 71% share and Bing has about 10%. So, we’re not talking about Bing merely being a little behind Google in the market, it is a long way off being the most-used search engine.

By joining up with Facebook though, Bing is upping it’s game. Facebook is, as we know huge and constantly growing, and the network certainly has an impact on internet trends and what people are doing and buying. But it may need more than that to compete with Google. Especially as Google is realising, that it doesn’t matter what size your business is and how well you are doing, you need to get involved with social media or you’re going to get left behind.

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24

Sep 2010

Consumers: biting the hand that Tweets it

Posted in Blogging | 0 Comments

For the most part, social media benefit the majority of small businesses. They are fantastically popular with the public – but what happens when various forms of social media fall out of favour with their users? And what does it mean for small businesses?

Yesterday, social networking giant, Facebook, went off-line, leaving some users unable to use the site for up to two hours (yikes!). Facebook Software Engineering Director, Robert Johnson, reportedly said it was “the worst outage we’ve had in over four years”. Almost as soon as the site was back up and running, the backlash began. Despite Facebook offering a free and largely reliable service, public outrage at the disruption was quickly vented for all to see.

Meanwhile, many users chose to complain about the inconvenience on rival social networking site, Twitter. Customers and clients of any business can be incredibly fickle, yet the rise of social networking makes any such complaints much more public, causing potential damage to a company’s reputation.

The detrimental effect of public opinion was certainly felt by global oil company BP during the catastrophic spill off the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. In this instance, social networking websites were not the victim of negative publicity, but simply the vehicle for it. Perhaps none more so that Twitter, which was host to the @bpglobalpr account, run by a comedian known only as Leroy Stick.

Stick used satirical humour to provide other tweeters with a platform from which to vent their anger at the situation. Whilst the company quickly set up an official account (@bp_america), they received only a fraction of the amount of followers gained by Stick and his fake account. Once YouTube got in on the action, with users posting a plethora of satirical videos on the site, it was game over for the company’s reputation.

Everyone’s favourite search engine, Google, have also faced the wrath of the wrath of ever-changing public opinion this week. First it was Google’s chief executive Eric E. Schmidt who faced the sort of privacy accusations that Facebook are far more used to dealing with. Speaking on US TV show, The Colbert Report, Schmidt was asked if Google was able to store information about its users, to which he jokingly replied “It’s true that we see your searches, but we forget them after a while”. Although a flippant joke, this quickly turned to negative press which could well be detrimental to Google itself. It could also affect those companies which have chosen to use the site to advertise their own business.

Google also ran into trouble this week regarding their Street View technology. Google’s ability to provide panoramic photographic images of roads up and down the country has proved particularly favourable with small businesses those looking to encourage interaction with those outside of the company, as it offers increased accessibility.

However, there are clearly those who do not welcome the idea. This was soon discovered by Google’s camera-cars as they took to the Channel Island of Guernsey with the intent to collect image data for the area, which is yet to be included in the Street View mapping. The cars were found with their tyres slashed and cables cut – not exactly a subtle indication of the hostility that some residents feel towards Google’s mapping plans.

Meanwhile, it seems that even those businesses who are not affected by the public’s fluctuating relationship with social media platforms might be suffering from technological mishaps this week. In France, thieves took advantage of the ‘pneumatic tube’ system used to transport money from supermarket checkouts in a way that is, supposedly, secure. By drilling a hole in the tube, they used a powerful vacuum cleaner to simply siphon the money out of the system…

The general popularity of various social media platforms means they are likely to remain an overwhelmingly popular and successful means for small businesses to connect with clients and customers. However, they often serve as an example of the volatile nature of public opinion, especially that which frequently accompanies the anonymity which they themselves provide – and this is certainly something which many businesses can learn from.

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6

Sep 2010

Are businesses communicating properly?

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

I know what you’re thinking. “We use email, social media, instant messaging – what else do we need?” Well, for starters, if you’re one of those offices comprised of fifteen programmers spread across the world who communicate and organise themselves and their projects digitally, you’re at a disadvantage. Working physically alongside people can often be beneficial, but sometimes, the closest we can get is through video conferencing.

Credit to www.dannyok.com for the graph.

In the first 24 hours after Google’s VOIP service launched, one million calls were placed. Of course, most of these were probably test calls placed so people could go “hey, Tony! It’s just like Skype, but with a different logo, and in Gmail, right?”, and then hang up. But it proves a point – Google experiments, but will very rarely launch something it doesn’t have the utmost faith in. Voice calling is dominated by Skype, with telephones being manufactured and built into keyboards specifically for this. In fact, it’s probably why 99% of office workers who aren’t receptionists are buying headsets.

But does that mean we’re communicating well? Do we lose the tone of voice, or the ability to physically show someone an architectural model because we’re using webcams instead of sitting there in the office with them? Some things tend to get lost in the transfer, and unfortunately it’s usually the personal side to a business. Businesses, large ones at least, are not the most personal of entities to deal with. Large, faceless corporations, often have an automated telephone network and a bored set of people on the phones. If we apply the same “once removed” strategy to our internal communications, are we really a team, an empathetic, tight-knit motley crew of people able to hit the big numbers?

I find that although I can show someone a design for a website, or a bit of content, over the web, it doesn’t always mean they’re entirely following what I’m saying. Technology is fallible, and if we return to the example of the network of programmers, what happens if the Skype network goes down? No VOIP, no face-to-face or voice-based communication, and half the meaning in human speech is lost the second their thoughts hit the keyboard. Unless, of course, they send little vlogs to one another by YouTube, but if that ends up being the case they’re probably doing more video editing than programming at that point.

VOIP is a useful tool – it doesn’t require our fingers, and this means we can often keep working, take down notes, or surf to the site they’re telling us about without having to avoid multitasking. However, if we continue to rely on communication via digital channels and phase out the good, old-fashioned phone call, doesn’t all business conducted become less human? I agree it’s a rather philosophical concept for a Monday afternoon, but realistically we need to take a look at the way we’re talking to each other. I speak to a client on the phone, or face-to-face. We understand each other better, there are no mixed messages. This is preferable when you’re meeting for lunch on a work day, but if you’re meeting to discuss a £5m contract, it’s crucial.

I’d love to try the Google VOIP system, though I’ll be waiting a while as the UK aren’t getting free calls unless it’s to the US or Canada. However, when it does go free, and it will have to if it wants, in true Google-style, to stomp the competition flat and dance on its digital corpse. Skype must be shaking in their boots right now, either that or they know something we don’t.

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