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February 07 2014

14:00

15 Smartphone Apps You Should Have

With smartphones now enabling more mobile Internet accessibility, you are given limitless opportunities- and smartphone apps you should have on your smartphone. The mobilization of the Internet access has provided people with unlimited opportunities.

Imagine these scenarios: You’re in café and you suddenly wanted to check an e-mail? Pick your iPad or tablet PC, and voila, you could read what the e-mail is. You’re on a bus trip to the other side of the States and your best friend told you to check out his new Facebook photo. You pick your iOS7 phone and start browsing. You want to tweet in a conference, your Android phone is yours for the taking. With a readily available Internet connection, it has become easier to browse the Web.

Live View (iOS) – A great graphic designing and prototyping tool that allows a remote screen view.

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What the Font (iOS)  – Want to know what font your favorite brand is using? Take a picture of it and let this tool do the magic.

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Palletes (iOS)  – Create charming color schemes anywhere, anytime. You can also determine the color of a particular image and use it on your website. Just open the app,  pick a color from a photo or website that you like and add it to your color palettes for future use.

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HTTP Status Codes Free  (iOS) – Troubleshoot your webpages by identifying the HTTP error codes.

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Coffee Script at Once (iOS)  – Develop HTML, CSS and JS languages using your phone or tablet.

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Free WiFi Finder (iOS)  – Use it to locate WiFi hotspots closer to you. Great for outdoor browsing!

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iFreelancer (iOS)– Are you a freelancer? This app will help you search, save and apply for freelancing opportunities out there!

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HTML5 & CSS Quick Look Guide (Android) – This will provide you with the basic training you need in CSS and HTML5!

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920 Text Editor (Android) – Want a text editor that is e-reader enabled, multilingual, particularly easy to use? 920 Text Editor is the one for you. You’ll never know when that coding itch bugs you.

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Sketcher (Android) – Do your page layout or simple graphics anytime, anywhere. With Sketcher now saved on your phone’s memory, you will easily sleep at night and not worry if the computer has a virus or something. And, you can sketch all you want!

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WordPress for Android (Android) – Love WordPress? This is the best app for you. You can blog anytime or anywhere. Perfect for travel bloggers!

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VT View Source  (Android) –  A fully functional app, compatible with all browsers, that allows you to view the underlying HTML code of the website

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Magic Color Picker (Android) – Sometimes we are too engrossed in designing and we find it necessary to look for the color hexes of things. This one is made to do it. So in case you want to know what kind of orange does an orange have, this one is perfect.

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Fontroid (Android) – So, I heard you like fonts? Maybe you’ll want to make one right? Try this!

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Adobe Photoshop Express (Android) – Edit photos wherever you are using your mobile phone. Experience the power of Adobe Photoshop right at your fingertips. Editing your selfies has never been better with this app!

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Conclusion

With all these apps available over the Internet, I’m pretty sure web designers can never be happier. It’s possible that, someday, we’ll even be able to actually design a website using our mobile devices. And that is not a far shot. But for now, let’s indulge ourselves with these. Easy to access, mobile and equally powerful applications that will make our good lives, better.

February 03 2014

11:00

Social Polling by Opinion Stage: One-Year Pro-Account for Free


  

Votes and polls are nothing new. But before you yawn and turn to the next article, give me two seconds. Votes and polls done with Opinion Stage are not the ole fashioned feedback tools your mind first thinks of. Opinion Stage integrates the social component as it lets you interact with Social Media. The deeper insights you are about to receive are beyond comparison. Better even, today we give away two annual Pro Plans, worth 228 dollars, for free. All you need to do to win is place a comment below the following article.

December 30 2013

15:59

What You Need to Know Before You Expose That Bad Client

If you’ve had a bad experience with a client, you may have thought about using your blog or social media to shame them.

The practice of client shaming seems to be growing. Just in the past month, I’ve seen at least four blog posts and social media complaints about companies who did everything from not paying the freelancer to using the freelancer’s work without permission. And let’s face it, it some cases making a client’s transgressions public can feel pretty good to a frustrated freelance web designer.

Of course, there’s the popular Clients from Hell website that could also be fueling the trend. While the clients are not identified on Clients from Hell and the stories are posted anonymously, I always wonder if clients ever read it and recognize themselves.

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While the decision to publicly expose a bad freelance client is a personal one, you should be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of doing so before you decide to do it yourself.

In this post, I share three reasons why some freelancers choose to expose a bad client publicly and three reasons why you might not want to do it yourself. I also list five alternative to going public with your client problems.

If you liked this post, you may like How to Evaluate Prospective Clients and Choose the Best Ones.

3 Reasons Why Freelancers Expose Bad Clients

Personally, I don’t recommend publicly shaming a bad client in most situations. My own opinion is that shaming is usually unprofessional and can easily backfire. That being said, I also understand why some freelancers do it.

Here are three of the most common reasons why a freelance web designer or developer may choose to vent publicly about a bad client:

  1. Puts pressure on the client. Some freelancers hope that the pressure from publicly shaming a client will pay off–literally. They want to embarrass the client into paying them the money they are owed. Sometimes the tactic works, but not always.
  2. Warns other freelancers. This is the altruistic reason why a freelancer might shame a client–because they don’t want others to have the same bad experience. This could be a valid tactic when you believe a client has behaved in a fraudulent manner.
  3. Feels good. The plain truth is that venting publicly can feel pretty darn good to a frustrated freelancer. Getting “even” by exposing the bad client may even feel like a form of justice.

You’ve just read some of the reasons why freelancers decide to expose a bad client. You may feel tempted to expose a bad client yourself, but hold on. There are some definite negatives to calling out a client publicly.

3 Reasons Not to Expose a Bad Client

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Venting about a client in social media or on your blog may feel like the only solution to your client troubles. But, in some cases, exposing a troublesome client could actually bring on even more problems than it solves.

Here are some negative results that you should consider before you expose your bad client in public:

  1. Ends relationship. Calling a bad client out publicly is almost certain to end any relationship you have with that client. So, it’s not a good strategy to use if you want to do business with that client in the future. Also, remember that what you put online is there for a long time. Even if you delete it, someone else may have made a copy.
  2. Could have legal repercussions. In some cases, companies have sued people who shared negative content about them on social media or blogs. The article, 5 Easy Ways to Get Sued for Social Media or Blogging, from Deb McAlister on the blog Marketing Where Technology Intersects Life has some good information. So, unless you want to be sued, be careful about what you say.
  3. Scares away prospective clients. Many freelancers don’t think about this, but publicly shaming a client can scare away other clients–and not just the bad ones. A potential client may wonder if the company you are shaming had a justifiable reason for not paying. Or, the prospective client may think that you are a troublemaker.

It’s a good idea to take these reasons into consideration before doing something rash.

5 Alternatives to Exposing a Bad Client

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Fortunately, there are some alternatives to publicly humiliating a client who doesn’t keep up with their end of the bargain. Here are five of them:

  1. Pester them. You have their email, their phone information, and maybe even their Skype address. If they are seriously late with their payment (usually over 60 days late), or if they are using your work without paying you, start to ask for the payment often. You can contact them at least daily using one or all of the above methods of communication.
  2. Charge in advance. I’ve always recommended collecting at least a partial payment from new clients before beginning work. Due to how common the problem of non-payment has become, many freelancers have adopted the practice of requiring clients to pay for 100% of the project before work begins.
  3. Small claims court. Depending on where you live and where your client is located, you may be able to take a non-paying client to small claims court. The advantage of a small claims court is you don’t need a lawyer. Dollar limits for small claims range from $2,500 in Arizona to $25,000 in Tennessee. (See this chart at Nolo.com for more information.)
  4. The Freelancer Payment Protection Act. The Freelancer’s Union is supporting a bill to help freelancers and other independent works get paid. From what I’ve read, the bill would only apply to freelancers in New York–but it could also pave the way for national legislation.
  5. Use an attorney. It’s expensive, but if you are owed a great deal of money suing your client could be worth it. Just make sure you have good documentation (such as a written work agreement or contract) documenting your grievance.

Your Turn

Personally, I’ve never shamed a client. In fact, in all my years of freelancing, I’ve only had one client who didn’t pay me for the work I did (because they went bankrupt).

What are your thoughts on exposing a bad client? (Please don’t leave any client names in the comments.)

December 26 2013

18:59

20 Great Google+ Web Design and Web Development Communities

Google+ Communities are a great way for freelance web designers and web developers to connect with others.

Joining a community can strengthen your freelancing business in the following ways:

  • Networking. As a member of a Google+ Community, you have a chance to interact with others with similar interests and a chance to build relationships.
  • Reputation. By providing helpful insights and tips to other members of the community, you can enhance your reputation as a professional.
  • Resource. If you have a problem or question you can’t solve, ask the community. The insights shared by peers can be very helpful.

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Choosing the right community can be tricky, though. While there are literally thousands of Google+ Communities, not every community will be helpful.

Even if you narrow your choices down to just communities related to web design and web development, not every community will be a good fit. Some will be too small, others will be too large, and some may be inactive.

In this post, I list 20 great Google+ communities that I think most web designers will find helpful. At the end of the post you are invited to share your own favorite Google+ Communities.

How to Find the Right Google+ Community for You

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Are you looking for a Google+ Community to join? You’ve come to the right place. I’ve compiled a list of 20 of the most popular communities for web designers and web developers. You’re sure to find several that interest you.

For your convenience, the list is in order of approximate community size at the time I wrote this post. (Although keep in mind that community sizes are constantly changing.)

Here is the community list:

  1. Web Developers, Web Designers, Web Coding, Over 67,000 members. The discussion here is divided into sections by tool. There is an area for general discussion too.
  2. Entrepreneurs, Self-Employed & Small Business. Over 35,000 members. This community includes many different types of entrepreneurs and small businesses. It can be a great place to network.
  3. Developing with Google+. Over 31,000 members. This community is for those who develop mobile or web apps and who are interested in the Google APIs.
  4. Web Development. Over 29,000 members. This active community includes discussions on the various web development tools as well as tutorials and tips.
  5. SEO+ Search Engine Optimization/Website Design. Over 18,000 members. Although the title of this community includes web design, it seems to be mostly about SEO.
  6. WordPress. Over 14,000 members. Members here share hints, tips and tricks as well as ask questions.
  7. Graphic Design. Over 9,400 members. This is a great place to go for inspiration. Topics include Typography, Branding & Advertising, and of course there is a topic for Web Design.
  8. Web Development. Over 9,000 members. Members are encouraged to discuss the latest web development technologies and trends.
  9. Web Design. Over 7,000 members. This community for web designers encourages members to discuss all topics related to web design.
  10. UI Design. Over 5,000 members. Another forum focused on the user interface. This particular community has an emphasis on mobile apps.
  11. WordPress. Over 3,900 members. This community is devoted to discussions about WordPress and has sections for developers as well as a place for people to post jobs.
  12. UX & UI Design. Over 3,700 members. This community focuses on user experience and user interface for those who specialize in mobile design.
  13. Graphic and Web Design. Over 2,900 members. Members discuss web design, but also related topics such as branding. There is an area for critiques and also one for free resources.
  14. Graphic Design. Over 2,900 members. While not specific to web design, this is a good place to discuss design-related topics. There’s even a section on Poster Design.
  15. Web Designers. Over 2,800 members. The community includes discussions on tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator as well as a section for sharing inspiration.
  16. Web Hosting, Web Domains, Web Design, SEO. Over 2,500 members. A web design community that seems to be created by the folks at the popular Webmaster Peak Forum.
  17. Mobile Web Development. Over 1,600 members. This community is specifically targeted to those who specialize in developing for the mobile devices.
  18. Responsive Web Design. Over 1,400 members. One of the latest trends in web design is responsive design. So it only makes sense that there would be a community dedicated to the topic.
  19. Adobe Illustrator Club. Over 1,000 members. Do you use Adobe Illustrator? This community was created for those who love or need to know more about Adobe Illustrator.
  20. Graphic Design Resource Centre. Over 1,000 members. This community was created as a place for web designers to share resources. There are many freebies listed here.

How to Get the Most from Any Google+ Community

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So, have you found a few communities you’d like to join? Good for you.

Before you dive right in to the Google+ community of your choice, it’s a good idea to review the following tips designed to help you get the most from any Google+ community:

  • Check moderation. Before you join a community, make sure that your community of choice is well-moderated. A good community moderator should keep spam and off-topic posts to a minimum.
  • Read the guidelines. Most Google+ communities have posted guidelines for that specific community. It’s important to read and adhere to them. Not doing so could get you banned from the community.
  • Think twice about self-promotion. While some communities are specifically about networking and self-promotion, many others prohibit self-promotion. If you’re not sure about your community, look at the community guidelines.
  • Lurk before you leap. Before posting your comments and questions, look around to see what others are sharing. You may find that your question has already been answered. Communities tend to dislike dealing with the same questions over and over.
  • Discuss, don’t broadcast. Discussions are the key to making a community work. Don’t simply broadcast links you want to share. Instead, respond to other’s questions and comments. The more you put into a community, the more you will get from it.
  • Don’t overextend yourself. You may be tempted to join every single Google+ Community we’ve listed. Don’t do it. You won’t be able to keep up with all of them. Instead, be selective. Focus on several communities that interest you the most.

Your Turn

Now you have a good selection of Google+ Communities to choose from, plus a few tips for success. It’s your turn to add your thoughts.

What are your favorite Google+ Communities? Share them in the comments.

December 10 2013

15:53

Social Media: Finding the Balance Between a Waste of Time and Necessary Networking

Ah yes, the all too constant struggle of networking with social media. It’s one of those necessary evils that everyone, from job seekers to freelancers to name brand companies, have to rethink constantly. This is why it is one of the most commonly discussed topics across multiple industries. We all know just how important social media is, and most of us continue to struggle between making it a successful marketing avenue and a waste of time.

As a freelancer who has struggled with wasting hours on social media and completely ignoring it for a month (or more) at a time, I have learned a few ways to help me narrow this gap between the two extremes. Now, have learned how to better focus my efforts with social media. It’s still not perfect, but I am on the road to tightening down my efforts and am already seeing results. And for those of you social media skeptics, even when I was only flailing along with social media, I gained enough clients through my exposure via Twitter and Google+ that I haven’t had to search for clients since I became active in several social platforms.

If you are a business owner, freelancer, or even an individual simply looking to build up a strong network in your search for a career, you may find the following tips to help you better take advantage of the benefits that social media has to offer. Hopefully, some of the resources below will help you greatly reduce the time-suck trap many fall into with social media. Use your own experience in combination with these tips, and like me you may find clients knocking down your proverbial door.

So, take a look at the following 10 tips and resources and get ready to re-adjust your social networking plan into one that will waste less time and build more positive results for you and your business ventures.

Schedule Social Media Time

This is one tip that I still struggle to maintain. Yet, it’s advice that social media experts give over and over again. One of my, and I’m sure others’, biggest problems with social media is letting it interrupt other daily work tasks. This is why setting aside a half hour, an hour, or any other necessary block of time for social media can be so beneficial. You can even schedule social media time every hour or twice a day. Just find what amount of time works best for you and stick with it. Keep out of all of your accounts except for during that scheduled time. Having a certain time set aside for social media keeps you focused and, consequently, more productive.

Don’t forget that some social media tasks may require a bit more time. For instance, scheduling posts ahead of time (see the next section below) may require a longer time slot than, say, responding to comments. And weekly you may need to set aside an extra block of time for catching up just in case you have extra activity that week. In the following tips, you will find quite a few resources for helping you cut back on the extra time you need for those tedious social media tasks.

Sign Up with an Auto Post Service

There are lots of different resources both free and paid that will save you mega-time on daily or weekly posts. The extra benefit of these services is that you can schedule your posts for the month at a single time, and then essentially forget about posting until the beginning of next month. You can either go with a service that only posts for one platform, or one like Hootsuite that will take care of your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and other social media pages. I have found Hootsuite very easy to learn, and it comes with free and paid account options. SocialOomph is an excellent one that is free for Twitter. With a Premium account, you can also incorporate Facebook and LinkedIn, auto-post your blog posts, conduct emails, and more. You may want to try Post Planner if your focus is on Facebook and Twitter, since it allows you to scan what is popular in your niche and even allow you to share other’s posts in your scheduled updates.

Use Paid Promotional Options

There is a huge misnomer floating around that social media is a completely free method of marketing yourself online. However, between time-saving resources and now the promotion options provided by the top social media platforms, you really need to set aside at least a small budget for social media marketing. Facebook’s Promoted Posts are really the only way to ensure that your followers are ever going to see your updates in their news feeds. LinkedIn has Sponsored Updates, and Google+ even now allows for posts to stretch across both columns in the news feed – for free!

Now, of course, you shouldn’t pay to promote every single one of your posts. However, the really important ones you should definitely promote, and this should be on a semi-regular basis, like once a month. Promoted updates are also a good idea if you feel like you simply need that extra burst of exposure every now and then, even if you don’t have a truly groundbreaking announcement to make.

Download Mobile Apps

Make sure to have mobile apps of each social media platform you use. The purpose of apps is not so that you can waste even more time on social media, although the social media platforms certainly love this. I have found that having the apps on my phone makes it easy for me to catch up on some networking while waiting – in line at the bank, in line to pick up my kids from school, at the doctor’s office.

All of the main social media platforms now have free apps. And there are also some great apps for managing several sites from your phone, such as Hootsuite. Eliott Marrow provides an incredible list of social media apps on the Jeff Bullas blog that definitely are worth checking out.

Filter Spam from Relevant Contacts

Many Twitters users have an auto-direct message feature that goes out every time someone follows them. This is just one example of a spam-like message that warrants no need for a response. On Google+, users have the option of emailing contacts when they share a post. And Facebook of course emails you every time you get mentioned in an update. Some of these direct contacts you will certainly want to follow up on to keep your contacts happy. Plus they are a more productive way to remain active on your accounts, as opposed to just browsing through a news feed and responding to random posts.

However, they will require filtering, especially if you have multiple accounts and lots of contacts on each. On Google+, for instance, don’t worry about commenting on every single shared post. Sometimes you may just want to +1 it. The same goes with Facebook, simply Like an update unless it really calls for a comment. Just practice making that judgement call in the amount of time it takes you to glance at your email preview or notifications and keep moving.

Use Software and Apps for Finding Shareable Content

Personally, I don’t do a whole lot of sharing of others’ content, which isn’t exactly the best practice. However, I am a writer so have an overabundance of my own content to Tweet and share daily and weekly. If you don’t have your own blog or a ton of your own work to share, then a great way to find content to use in your auto-post service is with an app made specifically for this purpose.

An excellent tool for finding content across multiple channels of social media based on hashtags is Tagboard. It makes finding content fast and easy, and it’s also a great tool to use for getting involved in conversations in your niche (i.e. building connections in real time). Another great one is Swayy. This tool drops the most interesting or relevant content into a single platform, which you can then immediately share via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

One note to make: even if you do schedule content once a month or so, it doesn’t hurt to save a bit of time on the front end. If you finish scheduled tasks during your social media slot with time to spare, then you can always browse for content and save it a document for your next month’s content. Of course, if the content is timely, you are better off just sharing it the moment you find it, but many niche content can be reshared months after the first publication and still garner lots of feedback.

Spend Less Time Finding Images

We all know how vital images are for making posts stand out in a news feed. My biggest drawback to including images is how long it can take to find them. Of course, when you are in a huge hurry, you can just use the auto-thumbnail selection when posting links to Facebook or Google+. But a large image does draw a lot more attention.

You can save time finding creative commons images (those pictures that the author has marked free to share) with tools such as PhotoPin or Compfight that allow you to search creative commons Flickr images by keyword. If you have trouble finding images in the right size and don’t have a clue as to how to use an image editing tool, Smush.it is a very quick and easy way to quickly reduce your image size and resolution to improve load time.

Quickly Manage Twitter Followers and Un-Follows

Twitter is one social media platform that is highly effective for gaining exposure and building a network but also can be one of the greatest time-wasting sites. What I found to be the hardest part to manage on Twitter was my followers. There simply is no quick way to look at your followers and follow them back. This is where a Twitter tool becomes very necessary.

One of my greatest time-savers has been Tweepi. This cool, free little tool allows Twitter users to very quickly follow back other users and to even un-follow the ones that are not following you back – among other very helpful time-saving Twitter tasks. Another great social media tool that provides follow and unfollow help along with analytics and more is ManageFlitter.

Track Results

To really know if you are spending the right amount of time on the right activities in social media, you will need a way to track your results. Thankfully, there are plenty of free resources available for quite the robust tracking. Google Analytics is probably one of the most popular free tracking tools. It does take some time to really learn, but the good folks at Google have provided plenty of help for you to quickly get your analytics up and running.

Klout is another excellent way to not only see how influential you are across various networks but also to see what niches you influence. Plus, you get lots of cool discounts and freebies, called Klout Perks, when you reach certain milestones.

Socialbakers’ Analytics Pro helps you see what actions have given you greatest growth in your social media networking. But this isn’t the best feature. It also shows you what content is the most interesting for your connections – and what gets them involved the most. It works for tracking Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and while it isn’t free, Analytics Pro does offer a free trial.

Eliminate Time on Irrelevant Social Media

Not all industries benefit from the same social media sites. For instance, I have found that Google+, LinkedIn, and especially Twitter are my greatest sources of relevant connections. Facebook and Pinterest are simply voidless time-sucks, and YouTube and Flickr take too much time with little results. You may find that MySpace, Pinterest, and Flickr are your greatest sources of helpful connections. Or maybe Facebook is the only one that is worth your time.

However, this does not mean that you can simply ignore the rest. You simply need to put almost all of your time into those sites that provide you with the best results. The other ones you can simply fill out your profile and check on your notifications to make sure you haven’t had a prospect contact you. At the very least, make sure you have a full profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, even if none of these are relevant to your industry. The reason is that signing up on these big four make you more visible, both to prospects who just happen to only have an account on one of these sites and to Google and other search engines.

Have you learned some ways to help you spend your time wisely on social media tasks? Please share below!

Social media cloud photo credit: daniel_iversen via photopin cc

December 09 2013

07:30

December 05 2013

14:53

13 New Social Tools for Your Web Design Business

Is bigger always better?

Nearly every web designer knows about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest. And it’s not a bad idea to have a presence on those sites.
woman in office pointing at plasma panel with social media

When it comes to social networks, the newest players are smaller and more exclusive. Some are invitation only. Others are niched–available only to members of a specified group. Most of them are mobile-friendly. They may even leverage other social media platforms.

Today’s new social media sites may become the giants of tomorrow. Witness the rise of Pinterest. For that reason alone, it’s worth checking these new tools out. But I think that you’ll agree with me that your web design business will benefit right now from the use of some of these tools.

13 New Social Tools

Here are some new social tools that web designers and others may be interested in (in alphabetical order):

  1. BeFunky. This Instagram competitor is both social media and a software app. The easy-to-use tool lets you modify your photos using wide variety of built-in filters and overlays. When you’ve got your photos just the way you want them, use the tool to share them on Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Twitter. There’s also a BeFunky gallery where you can display your best images. A basic account, that limits your resolution, is free. Paid premium accounts are also available.
  2. Bloomfire. This community-based tool is all about sharing information. It uses a collaborative approach to gather relevant and accurate information to the needs of businesses. It’s also not free, although they offer a free trial. Technically, the company refers to their product as a knowledgebase, not as social media site. It also integrates with many established social networking sites. This type of paid sharing site may well be the future of online social communities.
  3. Branch. The purpose of Branch is to foster high quality conversations. As opposed to the typical status updates found on most social media sites, I suppose. The platform makes use of other social media tools, most notably Twitter. To participate in a conversation on Branch, you have to be invited. However, anyone can see a Branch conversation. A Branch conversation can be embedded into a post, such as this one found on a post at FastCompany.
  4. Flipboard. Did you ever wish there was a magazine designed just for you. This mobile-friendly app lets you aggregate your online favorites from your social networks in a simple, yet compelling magazine format. It’s a great new twist on social bookmarking. Designed for a mobile environment, your Flipboard will run on your iPhone or iPad. However, Flipboard recently announced that magazines created through Flipboard can be seen through most web browsers.
  5. new-social-media2

  6. Ghost. Ghost is an open source blogging platform that launched in 2013. The concept is to make blogging and journalism easier and more accessible. It’s mobile-friendly. It’s free, and it’s designed to compete directly with WordPress. Before you ask yourself whether we really need another blogging platform, consider that all current platforms started somewhere. And Ghost has some pretty big names behind it. If you currently design themes, you’ll want to keep an eye on this.
  7. Inbound.org. This site is niched. The niche is content on inbound marketing related topics such as SEO, content marketing, and social media. You can see a graphic illustrating the Inbound.org topics here. It was created by one of the founders of SEOmoz and one of the founders of Hubspot. It works in conjunction with Twitter, and in fact, you’ll use your Twitter account to create an account and sign in.
  8. Medium. Medium is a new collaborative writing platform founded by some of the same folks who originally created Twitter. It’s also a very elite platform, with in-house editors. Like many of the new social media networks, Medium falls into a gray area. Users and others wonder, is this an online publication or social media? Of course, we shouldn’t expect new social sites to fit into the old mode. Take a look at Medium if you’re looking for a different way to present your ideas.
  9. Nextdoor. What if there were a social media network for your neighborhood? Well, now there is. This network is limited to those who live in your neighborhood. Personally, I love the idea of empowering neighborhoods, which this social network has the potential to do. Getting to know your closest neighbors is also not a bad idea from a business perspective.
  10. Social network, media and marketing

  11. Pheed. This free mobile social microblogging platform was launched in 2012. It allows users to share a wide variety of information including images, videos, texts, audio, and more. In fact, it can aggregate all your social media in one location. You can also purchase content through Pheed. Proponents of Pheed tend to like either the slick and easy-to-use interface or the ability to promote and sell content. It also has the reputation of being popular with teens.
  12. Sgrouples. Sgrouples has two main strengths: its ability to create groups and its strong commitment to privacy. In fact, their commitment to privacy is a big part of their online brand. They even feature a Privacy Bill of Rights on their site. You can use the platform’s group feature to connect with clients, colleagues, or prospects as well as friends and family. The tool includes personal cloud storage for each user as well as the ability to aggregate content from other social sites.
  13. SlideShare. Having been founded in 2006, SlideShare’s not exactly new. But most people still don’t realize its social media applications. Designed to create presentations, those presentations are increasingly being embedded in blogs and making their way onto other social media platforms. Maybe that’s because SlideShare partners with most social media platforms. The user base for this tool is large, with over 51 million viewers a month. It’s also being used by everyone from the White House to NASA.
  14. Thumb. Did you ever need to know what others thought of a piece of artwork, music, or even clothing? If so, the mobile social site Thumb was designed for you. The goal of Thumb is to allow people to ask questions and get quick answers. When you log in you are immediately given the opportunity to ask for an opinion or give an opinion in various categories. Art, Design & Photography is a category. You can also participate by voting (thumbs up, thumbs down, or neutral).
  15. Vine. This new mobile social tool from the owners of Twitter allows you to create and share short videos. So far, video length is limited to under seven seconds. Once a video is created, it can be shared. Finished videos can be posted on Vine, Twitter, or Facebook. This social tool was recently updated. The good news is that Vine is still free.

Your Turn

Did I miss any of the newest social media networks or tools? Have you used any of these new social sites?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

November 18 2013

06:59

Why You May Need a Social Media Specialist

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Businessman drawing a social media diagram on a whiteboard

Do web designers and web developers need the services of a social media specialist?

The answer is…it depends. Here are some key questions to help you find out if you need the services of a social media specialist:

  • Do you want to grow your business?
  • Do you have a product to sell?
  • Do you operate a blog for profit?
  • Is the traffic to your website or blog lethargic or dropping?
  • Do you seem to get the wrong kind of reader?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, then your web design or web development business could probably benefit from the services of a social media specialist. (If you answered “no” to all of these questions, you are probably staying busy and don’t need any more clients or customers. Why fix it if it’s not broke?)

I’ve been creating web content for multiple sites for several years. One thing I’ve noticed is that the websites that are the most successful also have the strongest social media presence. That’s not an accident. If you want a strong social media presence, you probably need help.

In this post, I’ll examine what a social media specialist is. I’ll also describe some common social media myths and mistakes. Finally, I’ll discuss how to hire a good social media specialist.

What Is a Social Media Specialist?

Social media is an extremely new profession, and as such is commonly misunderstood.

Many people think that because anyone can create a social media account, anyone can be a social media specialist. This is similar to thinking that because anyone can pick up a paint brush anyone can be an artist. Or thinking that because most people can put a sentence together, most anyone could be a writer.

There’s actually a vast difference between creating a Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr account for fun and knowing how to leverage social technologies to promote a business. Many people who have logged hours on social sites playing games and posting personal photos don’t have a clue about how to effectively promote a business.

One problem is that the role of a social media professional is so new that there’s no real defined qualifications for this type of position yet. Some social sites are just now starting to come out with social media qualifications. Here are a few examples:

  • HubSpot Academy has started to offer certifications for some social media related specialties including Inbound Certification.
  • HootSuite University also offers an opportunity for certification. They offer video-based courses and list certified professionals in their directory.
  • Mediabistro offers not one, but two separate social media certifications. One is a master certificate in Social Media Marketing, the other is simply a Social Media certificate.

Individuals who have completed one or more certificate programs typically have more invested in their career and may be more knowledgeable about the business aspects of social media than those whose main qualification is that they spent hours playing on social platforms.

Shell Robshaw-Bryan has posted an excellent description of what a social media specialist does in her article on Social Media Today titled Social Media Management and the Myth that “Anyone Can Do It”. Her post makes the point that there’s a lot more to social media than you might think.

So, as you can tell, social media specialists have a lot more to offer than most people realize. The myth that anyone can do it is not the only myth surrounding social media, either.

The Myth of Viral Spontaneity

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Another common myth surrounding social media is that all excellent content will spontaneously become viral.

As a content creator, I’ve encountered this myth fairly often. Everyone loves to think that fantastic content or a terrific product will automatically draw an audience without any effort whatsoever to promote it. This idea is simply not true.

Even in those rare occasions when it is true, it isn’t always desirable. For example, once in a while a post or video about a “train wreck” may go viral. But your failure and mistakes probably aren’t what you want your web design business to be known for.

Content, no matter how fantastic it is, won’t get shared unless someone sees it. And in today’s crowded Internet, where everyone is trying to draw attention to their own materials, it can take a concentrated effort on the part of a professional to get your materials in front of the right eyes–those of your prospective clients.

Of course, you could try to do social media on your own. But the odds are great that you’ll make a mistake, and in today’s economy you may not be able to afford a mistake.

3 Common Social Media Mistakes

Social media is an area that many businesses get wrong, including web design businesses. Here are some of the most common mistakes that I see:

  1. Becoming a broadcaster. This is probably the biggest mistake that I see. Sometimes even large brands make this mistake. Companies and organizations share their own content repeatedly. There is never any interaction with others and the user never responds to anyone. However, successful use of social media requires interaction.
  2. Posting tons of crappy content. Another mistake that website owners often make is to equate quantity with quality. Instead hiring a professional writer to create high quality content and a social media specialist to promote the content, they create tons of low budget and low quality content in the hopes that they will attract enough attention by frequent posting.
  3. Giving up. The final mistake that many make is to simply give up. I see this happen with a lot of freelance web designers and developers. They create social media accounts, but they simply do not have the time to keep them active and run their business at the same time.

The best way to avoid making these or other mistakes is to get some professional help.

How to Hire a Good Social Media Specialist

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If you’ve decided to hire a social media specialist, it’s important to get a good one. Your wife’s nephew who has spent hours on Facebook playing Candy Crush probably isn’t qualified to be your social media specialist.

Instead, examine each potential specialist’s background carefully. Here are some things to look for:

  1. Training. Is the potential social media specialist self-taught or do they have formal training? While being self-taught isn’t always bad, a self-taught specialist should have strong experience and be able to point you to current clients. As far as formal training goes, look at the programs that the specialist has taken. If they have a certification, what does that certification include? How well does their training match with what you actually want them to do?
  2. Experience. How long has the social media specialist been working in social media? If they have little to no experience, it may be difficult to determine their ability. And of course, their experience should not precede a social media platform itself. For example, no one should claim knowledge of Facebook before 2004, although some specialists may have worked on predecessors such as forums or chat rooms.
  3. Current Clients. A good social media specialist should have a list of clients and references. You should be able to determine what type of social presence their clients have. They may also be able to provide statistics such as number of social shares and point to an increase (over time) in web traffic. Pay particular attention to what types of platforms the specialist is familiar with. As a minimum, most social media specialists should be familiar with Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Your Turn

Have you hired a social media specialist for your your web design or web development business? What tips would you add?


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October 15 2013

13:30

Everything in Its Right Place: An Interview with Ahava Leibtag

These days, it seems that nothing’s more hotly contested than the role of content within our organizations: content is the brand, content is conversation, content is king. It’s a confusing landscape even for content strategists, those of us who specialize in the stuff! And that’s what makes Ahava Leibtag’s last book so special: Ahava takes the problem of “crafting good content” head on.

In addition to being President and owner of Aha Media Group, Ahava Leibtag is a content expert, focusing on content marketing and strategy. In her recent book, The Digital Crown, Ahava provides a whirlwind of brand and messaging best practices, examples of successful persona creation and messaging architecture, and even shares advice on how to present content strategy to C-level execs.

After reading the first chapter (free!) of The Digital Crown, we were keen to interview Ahava and get a deeper understanding of her motivations and influences in bringing this book to content marketers and content strategists. Join us as we learn from Ahava’s experience—and then find out how you can get a free copy of The Digital Crown!

You begin your book by comparing a website to a conversation, a comparison that author Ginny Reddish also made in her classic, “Letting Go of the Words.” —
The idea of content as a conversation definitely came from Ginny, although it was also shaped by The Cluetrain Manifesto’s conception of the Web as vast marketplace.

Another one of the guiding principles I advocate in the book is aligning your content with your business objectives. I know that seems obvious and most organizations think they are doing it, but oftentimes they aren’t. Instead, they’re creating content to satisfy stakeholders (rather than customers).

Thinking about content as a conversation between the brand and an audience gives businesses a pragmatic framework.

What other books and ideas inspired you as you wrote The Digital Crown?
Other books that were very inspirational to me were Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson, many of Gerry McGovern’s ideas, and Switch by Dan and Chip Heath. Kristina’s book is foundational; it covers a lot of the details of how to do content strategy; Gerry really wants us to focus on our customers (something I also stress in the book); and Switch spoke to me because, so often, content professionals are tasked with shaping organizational change.

One of the things I write in the book is, “In essence, a company has to experience a cultural shift in order to create outstanding, winning content. Shifts only happen with guiding principles and support.” I learned more about how to do that from reading Switch and I think it’s critical for any content professional—whether in-house or at an agency—to understand how to suggest those changes for organizations.

n one of your examples you discuss the infamous “United Breaks Guitars” video, a shining example of a conversation in which a company lost control. Many companies are criticized for being too controlling of the brand (and losing valuable free advertising), however, such as when Microsoft sued a fan for getting a tattoo of a Halo character. How do companies find the right balance?
Businesses need to decide when to get involved based on risk assessment. We can measure damage in the past, but it’s a lot harder to measure the positives that might have been. (That’s why it’s a good idea to have post-mortems after things like this!)

Strong businesses develop a matrix—something unique to their company—for when and how to should get involved. I also think companies think “control” means directing the conversation, but control can also mean just letting fans know that you are watching, letting people know that you care.

Brand consistency is a very hot topic addressed in your book. What recommendations do you have for companies whose brand is shifting, if the current employees don’t exemplify the new brand?
Brand training. Training is critically important. It’s also important to have employees on the front lines—what about making them do a shift in the call center or going out to the retail stores to learn what is going on?

Being in touch with the customer is vital. In chapter one I tell the story of Brian, a salesperson who initially sells products really well because he focuses on customers. When he goes to product training, though, he starts focusing on products and soon learns he can’t sell a thing because he’s shifted his focus from what the customer needs to what he’s trying to sell.

If all else fails, I think companies are right to change employees, especially when those employees don’t get the brand personality. Let the employee find a job better for them and let the company fulfill its goals. J.C. Penney is the perfect example of this: they hired the wrong CEO, their profits dropped precipitously, and they got rid of him. Right decision. I hope it doesn’t sound ruthless. At the end of the day, employees are paid to do what the company needs them to do.

I love that you compare a brand to a promise. What should a company take into consideration when choosing the right “promise” to make?
Three things:
  • Can employees actually deliver it?
  • Do they truly believe in it?
  • And can they easily communicate what it is to everyone in the organization?
Marshall McLuhan famously suggested that the “medium is the message.” How do you think that relates to the work that we do? Does crafting a unique brand—or a unique message—require crafting our own medium?
I actually cover this exact phrase later in the book, but think it’s the other way around—every unique medium means we need to tweak the messaging. For example, visual content does really well on Facebook because it shows up in the news feed. On Twitter, providing a link to a picture may or may not do well considering how well the link is teased and if people feel like clicking on the link.

Our job is to make sure that content is fueling the sales process (or the achievement threshold: increasing donors, patients, students, public health downloads etc.) I’m not sure how we would craft our own medium, but I do think we need to choose content formats wisely so they appeal to the right audiences in the right place at the right time when they are primed to buy or listen.

Last question! Many companies struggle with the gap between “how they’re perceived” and “how they want to be perceived.” How do you recommend companies deal with this gap?
I have an entire exercise called identity pillars and articulation statements that comprises the bulk of Chapter 7, called Framing your Content. I talk about how to create identity pillars (a tool I created for just this type of brand management), messaging architecture and voice & tone. When you have those three tools, as well as your customer personas fleshed out, you’re ready to start creating some killer content that will convert your web traffic into customers.

Many thanks, again, to Ahava for sharing her insights with us! If you have a question that wasn’t answered above, feel free to ask it in the comments below.

Want to win a copy?

Interested readers can pre-order a copy of Ahava’s book, The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web, on Amazon.com. If you’d rather just win a copy, though (and who wouldn’t?), simply follow @uxbooth on twitter and leave a comment with your twitter handle below, answering the question: what is your greatest challenge with content? How do you hope The Digital Crown will help you address that challenge? Ahava will review the responses within a week of this post, and we’ll contact one lucky winner over Twitter. See you in the comments below!


The post Everything in Its Right Place: An Interview with Ahava Leibtag appeared first on UX Booth.

September 06 2013

16:03

Are You Failing at Social Media?

You may be on social media and still see no benefits for your web design business. How could this be true, you might wonder.

To answer the question, let me share a childhood memory from my school days. Many of my teachers started each class period by taking roll, calling out the names of the students who were registered for the class. If you were there, you simply answered “present” or raised your hand when your name was called. Of course, nobody answered for the students who were absent that day.

social-media-participation1

Being marked “present” was important because it meant you would receive credit for the day’s activities in class. If you were simply enrolled in the class, but never showed up, your chances of passing were slim.

When it comes to social media, some web designers are like those students who were enrolled, but never showed up. They may have a social media profile out there, but when it comes to social media participation they’re failing. To make effective use of social media for your web design business, you have to take part.

In this post, we’ll take a look at five steps to help you use social media to build your web design business.

Step #1: Define Your Social Media Plan

As with any other business venture, it’s important to have a plan for using social media. Your plan doesn’t necessarily have to be in writing, but you should have some basic strategies and goals. Don’t expect to get results if your social media usage is haphazard.

Here are some questions to help you develop an effective social media plan for your business:

  • Who are my clients and prospects?
  • Where do my clients and prospects interact online?
  • Who are the online influencers in my field?
  • How do I want prospects, clients, and other web design professionals to perceive me?

As you discover answers to these questions, the direction your social media plan should talk will start to become obvious.

Step #2: Build Your Social Media Presence

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Where should you build a social media presence? If you asked the questions I suggested in Step #1, you have a pretty good idea where your clients and prospects interact online. You definitely need to be where your clients and prospects are.

For U.S.-based web designers, I always recommend the big four social media platforms as a bare minimum. Here’s a brief description of each:

  • Facebook. This social platform ranks #1 in most lists of social media site popularity. The most recent statistics are from eMarketer, as quoted in Shea Bennett’s recent post on social media statistics, published on the AllTwitter blog. Facebook’s own statistics put the number of users at over one billion.
  • Google+ . Recent studies show that Google+ is now more popular than the older social networks of Twitter and LinkedIn. While Google+ is relatively new to the social media, it has been growing quickly and offers many benefits (such as hangouts and connectivity to Google Drive) to small businesses and freelancers.
  • Twitter. This is a unique social media tool built around micro blog posts of 140 characters. Despite the character limitation, the social platform has been extremely popular with celebrities, writers and journalists, and many others.
  • LinkedIn. This platform is significant for web designers (or anyone looking for work), not only because of its size, but because of who is on it. LinkedIn was designed to appeal to professionals. Nearly every Fortune 500 company is represented here as well as the CEOs and key decision-makers for many smaller companies.

You shouldn’t necessarily limit yourself to just the most popular social networks, however. There are a number of smaller communities that are very active. If you find a forum or site where your prospects interact with each other, that is a good place to be.

Step #3: Complete Your Social Media Profiles

Who are you, according to your social media profiles?

Guess what? For many prospects, what appears in your social media profile is exactly how they’ll perceive you. Your social media profile is the very first impression that they’ll have of you–and you can’t make a first impression twice.

Examine each of your social media profiles carefully to make sure that it is complete and reflects your business goals.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Image. First of all, your profile should have one. Lack of an image is a sure sign of a fake account or a spammer. Your profile image should be professional. It’s okay to use a logo, but people respond better to a face.
  • Description. Your profile should describe your business. Tip: If you have an about page on your website, try condensing it to the most important points to come up with a powerful social media user description.
  • Contact information. Even if you have a professional image and a good description of your business in your social media profile, prospects need a way to contact you directly.
  • Links. Include links to your website, blog, and portfolio. Linking to blogs where you’ve written authoritative posts in your specialty is especially important on Google+.
  • Participation. Last, but not least, your social media profile should reflect some recent activity. We’ll discuss this more in Steps #4 and #5.

Step #4: Examine Your Social Media Shares

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Social media sharing as a freelance web designer or small business owner is not the same as the way you probably shared on social media in college. Avoid posting about wild parties, your latest escapade, or even mundane details such as where you ate lunch. Your prospects aren’t really interested in those things, and in some cases sharing them could actually harm your business.

One strategy that many freelancers and small businesses use is to regularly share information that you know will be useful to your target market. Naturally, this would include information from your own blog, but don’t simply broadcast your blog posts and press releases. Include information from other leading sources of information. You’ll know you’re doing it right when someone thanks you for your helpful shares.

Also, be on the look out for prospects who ask simple questions that you can easily help them with. Naturally, you don’t want to provide extensive free consulting through social media (at least not on a regular basis), but you’d be surprised at the number of simple questions that are asked that would only take a few minutes of your time to answer.

When it comes to building an online presence for your web design business, you are what you share.

Step #5: Control Your Social Media Interactions

Are you enrolled in social media, but fail to show up?

A surprising number of web designers are. Like my childhood teacher who didn’t give participation grades to kids who were absent, you can’t expect to benefit from social media unless you actually take part. It’s not enough to simply have a bunch of inactive profiles.

By take part, I don’t mean that you have to live on social media 24/7. There are many large and even medium-sized companies that can afford a full-time social media specialist, but odds are that your design business isn’t one of them. Don’t even begin to compare yourself to those who are on social media full-time–you’ll only get frustrated.

Fortunately, by interacting intelligently with others on social media you can still reap benefits in just a few hours a week. Sure, you may not rake in thousands of leads like a major brand would, but you can connect in a meaningful way with a handful of targeted prospects every week.

How Do You Participate?

What is your best social media tip? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

August 15 2013

04:30

What Web Designers Need to Know About Social Media Influence

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influence

What does influence mean in the context of freelancing and design? For web designers and other freelancers, the term influence is most often used to refer to social media influence. Influence refers to the ability of a person (such as a web designer) to persuade others to take a particular action or to feel a particular way.

Imagine being able to guide a large number of people to a goal of your own choosing–for example, purchasing your web design services. Would that be beneficial to your web design business?

You bet it would. The benefits of influence for any business or organization are great and that’s why social influence has been the topic of a number of recent studies, articles and even books. There have even been a number of tools developed to measure social media influence.

Is social media influence important for web designers? What should a web designer know about social media? Let’s find out.

Are You Influencing Others? Are You Being Influenced?

You may think you’re immune from being influenced, but you’d be wrong.

You’re exposed to factors that influence you all of the time. All of us are. Social media is just one of those factors. Social media influencers can impact what we buy, what we do, how we vote, and even how we feel.

According to a press release from the Advertising Research Foundation, a five-month study of over 2000 shoppers found that for 22% of those studied, social media was a significant factor in purchase decisions. That’s slightly less than one out of four consumers who are influenced by social media–a number that’s likely to grow over time since social media participation continues to increase.

And of course, many of us may not even be aware of how we are being influenced, or by whom. But with growing evidence of the importance of social media influence, web designers can’t afford to ignore how their social media presence affects their own business. In fact, for a growing number of us, our social media influence is part of our brand.

Influence, Branding, and Trust

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Whether you’ve given much thought to it or not, your design business has a brand. Your brand includes what others say and think about your business. The more trusted you are, the more likely you are to have influence.

Here are some tips to help you increase trust for your web design brand and become more influential in your field:

  1. Be transparent. Some folks think transparency means sharing everything about yourself, but in my opinion what it really means is being the same person in all situations. For example, if you treat your friends and family badly, odds are that you will treat clients the same way. And sooner or later, fakes are usually found out.
  2. Be first. When it comes to the online marketplace, being first carries a great deal of authority. That’s why it’s important to stay current with trends and new technology. Early adopters and those who successfully implement new ideas are more likely to become influential.
  3. Be top-notch. Delivering poor service and bad web design has never been a good way to run design business. Word-of-mouth can spread like lightning online. Your clients may have contacts and connections you aren’t even aware of. Don’t give them any legitimate reason for complaining about your business.
  4. Be relevant. If you want to gain influence, focus is critical. You need to be sharing and learning about topics that are meaningful to your intended recipients (for us, that usually means clients and potential clients). Random sharing rarely works to achieve your goals.
  5. Be deliberate. Most of us don’t think much about our brand or our level of social influence, which is a shame because we really should put some thought into it. Understanding your brand and taking steps to move it into alignment with your business goals can definitely produce results.

With the growing importance of social media on branding and influence, it’s no wonder that a number of tools have been developed and are being developed to measure social media influence.

Influence Measurement Tools

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Although the study of the impact of social media is fairly new, a number of tools have been developed to measure social media influence and effectiveness.

I recently covered four free social media measurement tools in a post titled 4 New Free and Low Cost Ways to Measure Social Media Results, published on Vandelay Design blog. To review, the tools I covered there include:

  • Twitter Analytics
  • Google+ Ripples
  • Klout
  • Pinterest Analytics

A few more low cost or free tools to analyze the effectiveness of your social reach include:

  1. Ask your client. Most of us forget this simple no-tech method of finding out what social media efforts are working. When a new prospect or client contacts you, simply ask how they first heard about you. A few won’t remember, but most will be happy to tell you how they found out about your business. Keep a record of the answers.
  2. Facebook insights tool. If you have a Facebook page for your business, you may want to look into Facebook’s insights tool, which Facebook recently updated. You can learn a lot about how successful the information shared on your Facebook page is at reaching an audience.
  3. Google Analytics. You probably already have Google Analytics set up for your website or blog. What you may not know is that under Traffic Sources there is a Social section that includes information about referrals and more. Google Analytics can be really helpful in determining which social network is driving traffic to your site.
  4. Kred. This tool is similar to Klout in that it allows users to impact each other’s scores. It also assigns an influence number to each user. I like that you get a visual image for each tweet that includes how many times it was shared. At this time, the tool seems to be primarily for Twitter and Facebook. There is a free version available.
  5. TweetReach. TweetReach Pro is not a free tool, although the site does allow you a free search, which will allow you to view a partial report. This tool is specific to Twitter. I include this tool because I feel that it can be helpful if you want to measure the effectiveness of a particular tweet.

It’s important to remember that the study and measurement of social media influence is in its infancy. It will only improve over time.

Your Turn

Have you given any thought to your web design brand or your social media influence? If you have, what tips do you have for improving your online presence?


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July 23 2013

03:40

Comment Systems and Options for WordPress Users

There are a lot of different factors that help to make a blog successful, and reader engagement is one of those factors. A blog that has a high level of reader engagement is likely to receive a lot of quality comments from readers, and a blog that gets a lot of comments is likely to benefit from that high level of engagement.

The commenting functionality was a key issue in the rise to popularity for blogging several years ago. Visitors who were accustomed to reading static pages with no option to leave their own feedback typically appreciated the opportunity to interact with the blogger and other readers. Over the past few years it seems like more of this discussion has shifted to sites like Twitter and Facebook as many blogs have seen a decrease in comment activity. However, the opportunity is still there for blogs to benefit greatly from an active comment area.

In this article we’ll take a look at the different commenting options that are available to bloggers who are using self-hosted WordPress to power their blogs. Most of these options are also available for other blogging platforms as well.

Native WordPress Comments

WordPress includes the necessary functionality to support reader comments, and no third-party plugin or app is needed. If you’re using a free theme or a premium theme, chances are that the comment functionality will work just fine without the need for any of the third-party apps or plugins that we’ll be looking at later. However, that doesn’t mean that there are not features that can benefit both you and your readers through the use of these other options.

Regardless of what theme you are using, you can probably implement any of the third-party options relatively easily. If you’re creating your own custom theme from scratch, using a third-party option may be able to save you some time, as you won’t have to dedicate the same effort to design and code the comments area.

There are a few significant benefits to sticking with the native WordPress comments functionality. First, it gives you more design freedom since most of the third-party options give you very little control over the look and feel of your comments. If you are aiming to create a comments area that involve a unique look or will make a strong visual statement, sticking with the native WordPress comments functionality is likely your best bet.

Second, there are loads of great WordPress plugins available that involve the comments area, and most of them will only work if you are using the native comments functionality. For example, CommentLuv is a very popular plugin that will automatically add a link to the commenters most recent blog post, which encourages comments.

Third, many bloggers who have used third-party options and have wanted to switch back to the native comments have experienced problems, and in some cases lost all of the comments collected through that third-party app/plugin.

Fourth, the native comments tend to load faster than any of the third-party options. While this will make a small difference in page load time, it can still be a factor.

DISQUS

DISQUS

DISQUS is probably the most popular of the commenting systems, and it comes with a number of features that make it an excellent choice. For starters, designers will appreciate that DISQUS makes it easy to add a mobile-friendly comments section to a blog, and it can be used with responsive layouts.

DISQUS offers threaded real-time comments so commenters can reply directly to others and the conversations are easy to follow. Comments can also be voted up or down by readers.

At the bottom of the comment area DISQUS will also show links to a few related posts with a comment from a reader, which is great for helping to promote other content on your blog and encouraging more pageviews.

In addition to comments, DISQUS will also track and show reactions to your posts that have been tweeted.

Intense Debate

Intense Debate

Intense Debate is developed by Automattic, the people behind WordPress.  Like DISQUS, Intense Debate also offers real-time comments. Those who have Intense Debate accounts can accumulate reputation points, which can help their comments to show up above other comments with lower scores.

Increased discussion is encouraged through the option to subscribe to replies and the option to reply to comments by email.

Intense Debate also offers a few widgets that can be used on your blog to display recent comments, comment stats, most popular posts, and more.

As far as social integration is concerned, commenters can opt to send a simultaneous tweet when posting a comment.

Livefyre

Livefyre

Livefyre hasn’t been around as long as DISQUS and Intense Debate, but it has developed a strong user base. Livefyre’s main features involve integrating your blog and social media to benefit from the popularity of sites like Twitter and Facebook.

The SocialSync feature pulls in comments/posts from Twitter and Facebook, and you can reply and interact with these comments just like you could with standard blog comments.

Livefyre also includes a friend tagging feature so you can easily invite Twitter and Facebook friends to participate in the conversation. Commenters can also share their comments on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Another interesting feature is media embedding. Comments can include things like YouTube videos, photos from Instagram, slide decks from SlideShare, and more.

Facebook

Facebook Comments

As you have probably noticed, all of the third-party options that we have looked at include some sort of functionality to integrate social media into your comments area. Well, another option is to use Facebook’s comments option.

There are some significant pros and cons to using Facebook comments. First, on the positive side, it is a great way to increase your blog’s exposure on Facebook and to increase traffic from Facebook as comments will be shown on your blog posts and also on Facebook.

On the negative side, comments are not actually hosted in your database. Also, visitors will need to have a Facebook account in order to be able to leave a comment. While most visitors will have Facebook accounts, it can feel alienating to those who don’t.

Conclusion

Like many other things in life, there is no choice that is right or wrong for everyone and for every situation. I encourage you to read the information available from each option when you are looking for a comments system, and make the best choice for your own situation. If you do a few Google searches you will find blog posts from people who love each one of these options, and you’ll also find posts from people who despise them. I’d also encourage you to read some of these reviews and posts because there may be something said that specifically applies to your own situation that can help with your decision.

For my projects I typically use the standard WordPress comment functionality as it works well and allows more freedom in terms of design and the use of other comment-related plugins. When I don’t use the standard WordPress comments I typically go with DISQUS, and from my experience it has been a good solution, and it’s the one I prefer over the other third-party options.

July 01 2013

04:51

4 New Free and Low Cost Ways to Measure Social Media Results

Do you use social media to market your design business? Are your social media efforts working? How can you find out?

Six or seven years ago, these were very difficult questions to answer.

After all, back then social media was a relatively new phenomenon. Facebook wasn’t available until 2004. LinkedIn was founded in 2003. Twitter was just getting started and Google+ didn’t yet exist.

Back then, an accurate method for measuring the effectiveness of social media participation was hard to find. If you were able to find a tool that worked, you could expect to pay a lot for such information.

Fortunately, things have changed. Social media has matured. And along with that maturity comes the ability to measure your social media results. While you can still pay good money for high quality social media analytics, there are now a lot of tools available to measure results at very little cost to you.

In this post, I profile four new tools designed to help you measure your social media results. If you like this post, you may also like 6 Ways to Use Social Media Successfully as a Designer.

measure-social-media
Image Source: Skakerman

Twitter Analytics

Recently Twitter began rolling out a new analytics feature that lets you analyze the effectiveness your individual tweets. The feature used to only be available to paid advertisers, but as of the time of publication the feature was free to all Twitter users.

To access the Twitter Analytics tool, go to the Twitter Analytics site and use your Twitter user name and password to sign in. The Home page defaults to instructions for advertisers, but don’t worry about that. Click the Analytics option on the navigation menu at the top left of the screen. You’ll see a choice between Timeline activity or Followers. Choose Timeline activity.

Timeline activity analytics basically lets you measure the effectiveness of individual tweets. For each tweet you can measure how many times other users:

  • Retweeted it
  • Favorited it
  • Replied to it
  • Clicked through to the story

So, if you’re wondering what your Twitter followers are really interested in, now you can know for sure. If you’re trying to brand your design business through Twitter by sharing relevant materials, this tool can be really handy.

The same view also displays about a month’s worth of mentions, follows, and unfollows. So, if you’re upsetting a large percentage of your followers, you can tell right away.

Google+ Ripples

Google-Ripples
Image Source: Phillie Casablanca

Ripples is a recent Google+ tool that lets you examine the reach of your Google+ posts (material that you share with others on Google+). If you’re like me, you totally missed this free feature that measures the reach of the material that you share on Google+.

Here is what you need to know about Google+ Ripples

  • You can only use the Ripples tool for information that you have shared or reshared. You cannot use the Ripples tool for material that you simply gave a +1 to.
  • The tool does not track comments unless there were reshares. It’s possible to get a lot of comments on a Google+ post (indicating engagement), and not get any reshares and so not trigger the Ripples tool.
  • Google+ Ripples only shows public reshares. If your share was reshared on a limited basis, that reshare will not show up in the Ripples too.
  • You can also use Ripples to show how post popularity spreads over time.
  • If the post was not reshared, the Ripples option will not even show up on the drop-down menu.

To use the Ripples tool,

  1. Go to your Google+ profile to see the posts that you have shared.
  2. Hover your mouse over the upper right corner of a post to see an arrow that leads to a drop-down menu for that post.
  3. If the Google+ post was reshared, the Ripples option appears last on the drop-down menu.
  4. Select the Ripples option to open the tool.

Ripples is especially helpful if you’re trying to see who was interested in a particular Google+ post. It’s also a great way to find out what material elicits the most response. Best of all, it’s free.

Klout

When Klout first came out, it was somewhat controversial. It seemed to be little more than a popularity contest. People voted you up and down in certain categories. Their judgment may (or may not) have been valid. There were also were those who worried that Klout could be easily manipulated.

If you haven’t looked at Klout in a while, though, it’s worth revisiting. Klout has matured a great deal in the last year. Klout can now measure engagement across six different social media platforms. Those platforms include:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • Foursquare

Klout was started to measure social media influence. It assigns users a score between 1 and 100, with the higher scores being more influential. While the exact algorithm used to calculate your Klout score is unknown, there’s a lot more to Klout than just your score.

The other information available at Klout is quite helpful. Of particular interest is the ability to compare your social media presence across several platforms over a 90-day period.

If you click Network Breakdown in the top left of the right column on your Klout dashboard, you will see which social media tool gets you the most interaction. For example, my own breakdown shows that 76% of my interactions occur on Twitter, 15% on Google+ and 8% on LinkedIn. (I’m actually quite proud of those numbers, because I’ve been making an effort to increase my presence on LinkedIn and Google+ over the past year. A year ago, those numbers might have been quite different.)

Plus, answering questions on Klout can boost your visibility in the Bing search engine. You can read more about how Klout affects search results in this post on The Verge from Casey Newton.

Pinterest Analytics

Pinterest
Image Source: StockMonkeys.com

Pinterest is another social media tool that has added a lot of new measurement tools.

Since Pinterest is visually oriented, designers might want to pay particular interest to the recent addition of Pinterest Analytics. This is especially true if you are using Pinterest to promote your design business.

Pinterest Analytics is designed to help you track how your website is being shared on Pinterest. It’s surprisingly full-featured, considering that it’s included for free in Pinterest as long as you set up a Business Page.

To use Pinterest Analytics, you first need to verify your website. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Upload a file to your server.
  2. Add a meta tag to your index file.

You must also switch to Pinterest’s new look to use Analytics.

Once you’ve verified your Pinterest account, you will have access to Pinterest Analytics. With Pinterest Analytics, the information you can track the following Pinterest information concerning your website:

  • Number of pins
  • Number of people pinning materials
  • Number of pins being re-pinned
  • Number of re-pinners
  • Number of times your pins are viewed on Pinterest
  • Number of unique visitors to your pins
  • Number of times visitors click through to your website

You can also track the most recent pins, the most re-pinned pins, and the most clicked pins.

As you can see, that’s a lot of information. So, if you use Pinterest, don’t ignore Pinterest Analytics.

Your Turn

What free tools do you use to measure social media? Do you use any of the tools we’ve discussed in this post?

Share your tips and experiences in the comments.

March 12 2013

11:16

10 Effective Custom Facebook Landing Page Designs

Facebook allows advertisers to create a custom page where clicks from their promotional content will lead to. A landing page ensures that your customer finds a more focused and targeted message. The more focused the advertising, the better the chances of converting leads to sales.

When it comes to landing page designs, there are some stunning examples out there. Those that use the functionalities of a landing page combined with great graphics. We’ve selected 10 stunning one’s for you here:

1. Starbucks – Blonde Roast

Starbucks - Blonde Roast

Starbucks’ Blonde Roast campaign offered coffee drinkers a free cup with their regular coffee. Each cup had an illustrated “Light Note” on it – a simple message to brighten your friend’s day. The campaign was so successful that even after Starbucks ran out of actual cups; it launched a Facebook application where people could send cards to their Facebook friends with the same messages and illustrations. The application is easy on the eyes and the mind. It’s simple and elegant with a big green button to get you started.

2. Coke – Welcome Page

Coke - Welcome Page

Trust Coke to do it right! Coca Cola’s welcome page starts off with a great tagline “Like Coke? There’s a button for that!”. A simple but effective copy that would lead fans to immediately hit the “Like” button on top. You can play songs, browse through the gallery and also visit Coke’s other social media pages. It follows the branding theme but doesn’t overdo the red. What’s more? The landing page changes according to the country you’ve specified.

3. Scholastic – The Face Literacy Initiative

Scholastic - The Face Literacy Initiative

Scholastic launched The Face Literacy Initiative to encourage parents and adults to buy books for their children to be read at home or school. Why should reading be limited to the classroom when a simple button can help you bring literacy home? The Facebook application tells you all you need to know in one click. The text is well managed with visuals with ample links to get involved so you won’t miss it.

4. Harry Potter – Gift Guide

Harry Potter - Gift Guide

Even though the movies and books have come to an end, the legacy of Harry Potter and its fans lives on. This gift guide is a sure way to excite the Potter heads who just can’t let go of it. The animated landing page app presents a book to the fans from which they can choose from a wide range of Harry Potter merchandise. The graphics are great and there is an instant call-to-action. What more could a Potter head want? Except, perhaps a wand of course!

5. Mercedes-Benz – Global Experience

Mercedes-Benz - Global Experience

Mercedes-Benz’s Global Experience page gives you a clear shot of how popular the company is. A map at the top is designed to impress – statistics (that keep growing every millisecond) and blinking dots that show you Mercedes-Benz fans around the world. Then that’s not all. Immediately below are visual links to Mercedes’ other social platforms along with some entertainment links as well. Once you get there, you’ll stay there!

6. Escape Studios – Tutorials

Escape Studios - Tutorials

Escape Studios is an online animation school which provides free as well as paid lessons for aspiring animation artists. Their ‘tutorials’ landing page on Facebook is more than just a landing page with a Like button. Instead of redirecting you to the website, they let you browse tutorials right there. Once you’ve chosen a tutorial you like, you can simply click “Read more…” and quench your thirst. The graphics are straightforward but not boring and overall the page is optimized for action.

7. Volkswagen – Think Blue

Volkswagen - Think Blue

It is no surprise that we have two car companies on the list. Volkswagen’s Think Blue championship has a thrilling landing page. The graphics tie in with the name of the contest and show the dreams of every participant at the top. A welcome message precedes a button that takes you directly into the championship itself. Below the fold is the description of Volkswagen’s commitment to a greener world. If you stumbled upon the page, you would definitely want to know if you will make it all the way to California!

8. Intel – Ultrabook

Intel - Ultrabook

Intel’s Ultrabook Convertible gets its own landing page for promotion – and uses it well. The first button on the top invites you to share it with your friends. A sleek image leads the eye into the fold below which shows an embedded YouTube ad (London version) of the Ultrabook Convertible. There are more links on the right to keep you engaged in watching more videos about the Ultrabook and find out for yourself if it suits your taste.

9. College Humor – Fired

College Humor - Fired

College Humor’s landing page for their presentation “Fired” featuring Jake and Amir is stunning and straightforward. The brand identity is sewn beautifully into the wacky graphics and a simple button takes you to the video. The best thing in this landing page is it really targets the Facebook audience with the tagline at the top right corner.

10. Facebook – Welcome Page

Facebook - Welcome Page

Who would understand Facebook better than the Facebook owners themselves? The landing page that welcomes you to Facebook is not only visually smart, but presents numerous opportunities for interaction with the fans. A ticket at the top gives you the latest updates about what’s going viral and what’s not so popular. The right hand column is dedicated solely for you to spread the word among your friends and below the fold, you can see what people are saying about their brand. Smooth landing? We think so!

In conclusion, a landing page serves its purpose well when it provides an immediate call-to-action for its fans. Graphics in a landing page can be very complicated or very simple – but they all serve one purpose which is to lead the eye around the page so that it entices the fan to explore it. These are some examples that you can refer to when creating your own custom landing page. Happy creating!

About the Author:

Noman Ali Head of Digital Marketing and SEO Manager at Apps Development Company (iPhone, Facebook and Web Apps) Cygnis Media, Interested in Research and Development contact me: noman@cygnismedia.com. Follow Noman at Twitter and Google Plus.

August 28 2012

13:00

Self-Hosted Videos or YouTube – What Should You Use?

Television is huge nowadays, even with the online videos being out there. It is the easiest way to transmit your message to people who are generally offline. The Hollywood industry is huge, even if video streaming is available all over the place on the internet – mostly for free. Even TV stations are moving to the internet today. This should give everybody an idea of  how big video really is. Videos can make the current era more interactive and send different messages across in a more powerful, easier and effective way.

Videos can also go viral very easily. Good videos usually reach their targets quite fast through sharing and word of mouth. If you look closely at how many views viral videos have, you will be surprised. Think that all these viewers can be converted into customers.

With so many tutorials available on the internet, developing your own video should not be a big problem anymore. Moreover, if you have a background in video development, you know for sure its advantages over other media and would probably like to make the most of your skills. Regardless of the kind of background you have, a video is always something useful. It can be for advertising, for entertainment or for informing people about events, products from the branch or even news. But there is always a question after developing a video. Where should you host it?

The Contest

First sight, it looks like YouTube should be the default choice. It looks much better than a self-hosted video competitor and gives you features that you normally should develop yourself. YouTube already has them installed and ready to go. It only takes a few seconds to set everything up. It is quite easy to follow all the intuitive steps and upload a video, add a description, fill in the title and even edit the video if you wish. Another advantage of YouTube is the speed of processing. You can have everything up and running in 10 minutes and you do not need any coding skills.

If you look deeper though, you will realize that YouTube has a huge disadvantage. Link baiting (content or feature within a website designed to gain attention or encourage others to link to a specific source) only works in YouTube’s favor, so they get all the fame. If you succeed in getting visitors to your webpage, you will have to somehow convince them to click on the links in the description. And let’s imagine you reach millions of views with your amazing viral video. You will probably be sorry for choosing to host it on YouTube.

But is it better to host it on your own server and display it with a custom player? Well you could do that, but first you need some coding skills. If you do not have them, YouTube is probably the best choice for you. If you have these skills however, it should not be a problem for you. But you can’t ignore the truth: self-hosting a video will require much more time and effort than just hosting it on YouTube.

Image by lusi

If you look at YouTube, it is supported by cloud computing software, it’s very fast even on slow internet connections and is tested against immersive attacks. Allowing millions of people all over the world to watch the British Royal Wedding without interruptions is something nobody has ever done before – and few will probably even take on the challenge. YouTube even has applications for iOS and Android, so watching a video from a portable device is quite easy as well.

If you reach success with your self-hosted video and will have millions of potential viewers, will you be able to ensure the same speed and quality? And how can you guarantee the server will be up all the time – will it be able to sustain such a huge amount of traffic? Remember Flash is not supported on iOS. How many people with an iPhone or an iPad will be able to show the video to their friends?

But let’s look at both YouTube and self-hosted possibilities and draw some conclusions.

Self-hosted

Pros

The fact that you have full control over the video you host is very, very important. It is something you will not be able to enjoy on YouTube. This helps you preserve your copyright on the video and allows you to place permanent links to it. Moreover, the control is even bigger when you think of how nobody can delete it. Normally a video from a self-maintained host can’t be downloaded without a special ripper, which might not be so easy to find or use. And incorporating website analytics and tracking users actions is also something you will be able to do with a self-hosted video.

Image by themezilla

During the past couple of years YouTube started to add advertising on the videos hosted at them. This is something totally avoidable if you host your videos yourself. Keeping your visitors far from ads that could distract them is a key decision. The users will be able to watch your videos without having to worry about an ad popping on their screens.

The traffic your videos will bring in is totally yours. No more fame for YouTube based on your skills and money. Moreover, link baiting is something that will work great on your site. If your video is successful, your link will be shared all over the place.

While YouTube’s design is pretty OK, you will be able to design your own player if you host your video yourself. You can make something which is more web-friendly by using HTML5 Video Converters, so that different portable devices can access the file too.

Cons

Buying a quality host with 99.9% uptime will not be cheap. If you do not have big plans with your website, it might not be worth investing the money into such a product.

As mentioned above, you will need some serious coding skills to be able to develop a video embedding software. You could, however, also use something like Video Lightbox, but your control over its functionality will be limited.

Speed is very important nowadays. It is more or less impossible to load a video on your host as fast as you would load it on YouTube. And if two thousand of people want to watch your video at the same time, you are in for troubles. The video will freeze or will simply be unavailable. This will annoy people and will reduce the chances of them seeing it through. There is a quite high risk of not being able to send your message across.

Self-hosted videos can limit your exposure. If you host it on YouTube, you will be found through the search box or through the “similar videos” feature. This is inexistent on your own host.

In a Nutshell – Pros and Cons of Self-Hosted Videos

Pros

  • Full control over your video
  • No one can simply take it down at their own whim, like a lot of original YouTube videos being taken down by erroneous DMCA complaints
  • Can’t be downloaded easily
  • You have the option to add advertisements, or avoid popups like YouTube has
  • Traffic goes directly to your website
  • You get to design your own player

Cons

  • Not cheap
  • You will need to know how to code
  • Hosting the video will be an issue when thousands begin to stream simultaneously
  • Limited exposure

YouTube

Pros

For hosting a video on YouTube you will have to pay nothing. Money is very important for a start-up company. Being able to find such a high-quality, free solution is definitely tempting. You can simply upload the video on YouTube and embed it on your website and the problem is solved. YouTube will take care of all the duties and it guarantees your video will be up incredibly close to 100% of the time.

The audience on YouTube is huge, with more than 800 million unique visitors each month. That’s more than 10% of the world’s population. Even people who’ve never heard of your website or company have high chances to watch your video. And if they like it, they will share it on social media. Thanks to relevant searches and keywords you use, you will also be shown in related videos. It is so easy for a relevant video to get views on YouTube.

People also trust YouTube videos much more than any self-hosted one, simply because of its reputation, which has grown even bigger since Google acquired the US giant.

The video servers of Google are top-notch, probably the best in the world. Google also invests millions of dollars into the infrastructure and develops video delivery technologies. YouTube is a trendsetter. Therefore videos have to load quickly. And they do! There is no reason in quitting YouTube because a video is slow to load. There is no such thing.

As mentioned in the first part of the article, no coding skills are required to host a video on YouTube. You don’t have to know anything about scripts, players, codecs, flash or HTML5. You upload the video and in a matter of (few) minutes you can already watch it. It can’t be easier than on YouTube.

Cons

There is unfortunately no control over your own video. The moment you upload it on YouTube, it is Google’s. If somebody complains about it, it can get removed quite fast, so you have to make sure your video does not interfere with any Google law or rule. Your videos can also be downloaded by everybody using an online ripper – this is quite easy to do. You only need the link and to know how to click on the download button.

Some videos may even be geo-restricted or blocked, so not available all over the world. And although YouTube advertises an almost perfect uptime, it is indeed just “almost”. If something happens to their servers, then for a probably short period of time the videos will not be available.

Seeing all those YouTube ads is annoying sometimes. Google usually makes a good profit out of popular videos by adding an advertising when the users play it. And they have no plans to share the money with you. And if you look at the problem from a user’s point of view, it is quite bugging for some of them to have a video interrupted by an ad they may not be even interested in.

By hosting a video at YouTube, you will also lose a lot of traffic, as explained earlier. Every bit of it will go to them. And users can also get distracted quite fast by related videos. Potential customers can be lost very fast, so you have to be aware of this and develop a video that will keep their interest and attention.

On YouTube there is a very small choice of layouts for the players. Sure, many times the design does not matter, as users watch a video and move on. But sometimes a customized design could be very useful. YouTube does not help you here at all.

In a Nutshell – Pros and Cons of Hosting Videos on YouTube

Pros

  • Totally free
  • Easy to embed on websites
  • 100% uptime
  • Huge audience, with more than 800 million uniques each month
  • No coding required

Cons

  • Not safe from being taken down
  • Can easily be downloaded by people
  • Regional restrictions
  • Pop-up advertisements

Bottom line

The conclusion is not so clear this time, as it depends very much on a webmaster’s needs and preferences. I prefer to host all the videos I develop on YouTube. It is so easy and I do not want to use many hours for coding when I’ve already used many for developing the video. But it might just be me… and millions other users. :-)

What do you think about hosting a video on YouTube? Have you ever hosted a video on your own website? How good/bad an experience was that?

August 22 2012

13:09

How to Properly Use Instagram and Pinterest For Your Company

After the first two Etiquette Guides for Facebook and Twitter, I’ve decided to also tell you something about two other services which, although popular, are quite new to the market: Instagram and Pinterest. If you find them difficult to use in such a way that your company will benefit, this article will most likely answer your questions and help you make better use of these two underdogs.

What’s Instagram

You’ve probably heard about Facebook buying Instagram for a billion dollars some months ago, news that was a hit in the stands for many weeks. With more than 15 million users signing up in the past year and more than 400 million photos uploaded, Instagram might have been able to put a dent in Facebook’s hopes of internet domination. So Zuckerberg decided to buy the small company with only 13 employees. It was not the features of the app, but the database of people Facebook bought that defends this astounding price. Instagram might have become more than just a photo sharing app with a reported number of 26 new pictures uploaded every second and with a new user signing up every second.

Apparently, Facebook bought Instagram for $300 million in cash and 23 million in shares. And with the updated stock values, Instagram is somehow short of $300 million.

Basically what Instagram does is simple: it allows you to take photos with your smartphone, apply filters and share them on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and other networks. Basically it does nothing more than you could do with other apps – so again, its power is translated by the number of registered users.

Who uses it?

Instagram is used by a number of companies, news channels, sports teams and so on. Almost everybody with an iPhone or an Android-based device uses Facebook’s app.

What companies like is that for every time you check-in on Facebook, you advertise them. Every time you write something about them on Twitter, you advertise them. And every time you take a photo of a product and share it with Instagram, you advertise them yet again. This is the way people tell stories nowadays. It is much easier to post a picture of a product than trying to describe it. And this is why Instagram is so powerful. And when you will go by a Starbucks and will see a Cafe Latte in the window, you will remember the picture posted by your friend on Instagram and might go in to try it yourself. And you know what the funny part is? You might post a picture of the same Latte again.

Other big companies use Instagram to run contests of submitted consumer images, such as General Electric. Thousands of people submitted their picture and hoped to win. And all of this just to win a trip to Wales where you had to take pictures of an aviation facility. The results of the #GEInspiredMe campaign were incredible compared to the prize.

Some other companies use Instagram to tell consumers more about their inside workings or to introduce new products. Engaging customers is probably the best bet a company has with Instagram.

What about you?

Now you could say that other companies were successful in using Instagram because they already have a huge database of followers. And I have to agree. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it yourself. Some tips for you? Sure, here they are:

  1. Decide on what you want to do. By just starting and posting random pictures of random things won’t make you successful. You need to know from the beginning what it is you want to do and ONLY do that thing. Have a plan. It can be showing the world how you design a website and the whole process behind it; it can be showing how you relax on your lunch breaks; it can be how your small company employees have fun on their breaks; it can be literally anything. But let it be something interesting, something part of a routine, something you will be able to share about in the following days.
  2. Establish a posting routine. When you own a blog, it is a good idea to get your readers used to a posting pattern. If you post daily for two weeks in row, then for the following two you post three times, this inconsistency might not please your readers. They usually expect something from you. They don’t know exactly when it’s coming, but they know it’s close. It is important to have consistency in posting, so keep this in mind when you make your plan.
  3. Get your followers involved. If you really want to engage customers, Instagram is one of the best ways of doing it. This is the way to ensure followers will participate and they will continue to follow you. Ask them to post pictures of your product and see what the results are.
  4. Follow uploads. While it can be very funny to ask customers to post images of their new sun glasses that your company makes, it can also be quite damaging if they get shipped the wrong product or a product in a bad shape. It is important to keep an eye on what people upload to assure that you protect your brand. If bad uploads are found, then always respond in a calm and helpful way and correct any misunderstanding. Do not EVER get into a war.
  5. Take quality pictures. You might not be a professional photographer, but keep in mind that picture quality is an important element of a good brand. If you are not good at taking pictures yourself, let someone else do it for you, or read some tips and tricks that can improve your skills.
  6. Connect and share. Integrating Instagram with other networks is crucial. I would immediately start with Facebook, Twitter, maybe Flickr and Foursquare. This way you can take images and share them using hashtags on other networks. Proper SEO will bring in many views.

What’s Pinterest?

The concept behind Pinterest might be a bit more complicated than Instagram’s. The basic idea is that you have a digital bulletin board and post everything you find interesting there . You basically have the option of creating and managing theme-based image collections (events, hobbies, interests and others) and you can like or re-pin other user’s content. The idea behind Pinterest is to connect everyone  through the things they are interested in using the tool.

Pinterest is, just like Instagram, one of the fastest growing social services in the world and can be considered a mix between Facebook and Twitter, which allows you to have lots of followers to whom you can share your interests. Although not as effective as Instagram, Pinterest has some advantages of its own.

  1. Spend the time.  There is no social media network where you will be popular right from signing up. You need to spend time on all of them. You need to prove your followers and readers you are an important and credible source of information. It takes months for even the biggest companies in the world to reach a high number of followers – and they will never reach all of their customers on social media for various reasons. Keep in mind that spending time to build a profile is important. On Pinterest you can get recognized as a profile that only posts valuable pins. If you own one of those profiles, it will be easier for you to move the relationship on another media and make the best out of it.
  2. Promote others. The first temptation for a new Pinterest profile owner would be to only post products he/she sells. But this is entirely wrong. Many successful Pinterest users declared that in order for a profile to become popular, you also need to pin tips, products from other companies and interesting news. If you only post your own products, Pinterest users will spot that sooner or later and might not be interested in your updates anymore.
  3. Learn from the elite. It is a good idea to follow big hitters on Pinterest and see what they are doing. If a huge company does something a specific way, there is definitely a reason behind it. Try to catch up on that and do the same if the strategy fits your target customers.
  4. Connect online with offline. Remember to always draw a connecting line between the online profile and the offline location. If you have a store, include some ads on the walls for your Pinterest profile (and other social media networks for that matter). And if you have something like it (and you should), then advertise all your Pinterest promotions there as well. Combining the offline with the online is a good recipe for success.
  5. Do you fit in? It is an important questions to ask when you sign up on Pinterest. Is your company really fit to use this particular social media tool? There are companies out there who are simply not a good fit for Pinterest because their target audience is not present on Pinterest. If you think the ones you want to do business with are there, then use Pinterest, otherwise try to avoid spending time on it and focus on something else.

Bonus: Pinstagram

So we’ve talked about Instagram and Pinterest..did you know that there’s a fairly new application called Pinstagram? Pinstagram is a service that lets you use and enjoy Instagram on the web and make it easy to share your photos on Pinterest. Since the two applications/services deal with photos, Pinstagram is a valuable tool to fully utilize Instagram and Pinterest at the same time!

Conclusion

Online success can be achieved with Facebook and Twitter – and it would be enough. But if you are good enough and interested in adding different networks, your audience can get much larger and you might get clients and contacts you’ve never dreamt of. Instagram and Pinterest are two of those underdogs who offer the goods only to people who want to spend time and learn how to use them. If you are one of these people, I hope this article inspired you to go out there and experiment a brand behaviour on two of the hottest social media networks out there.

So, let’s see, do you use Instagram or Pinterest? Is it for personal use or for a company? And how did you find these two in the first weeks when using them?

August 03 2012

16:03

Chi sono gli insider che stanno affossando Facebook

Dicono che quando alcuni grossi investitori proposero a Zuckerberg di sbarcare a Wall Street, Mark abbia storto il muso. Dicono anche che il boss di Facebook abbia tentato fino alla fine il tutto e per tutto per evitare quella sciagurata opzione. Ma siccome i soldi per creare il “mostro” li avevano messi le banche, Mark si è ritrovato in un vicolo cieco senza alcun margine di manovra. La storia recente la conosciamo tutti. Sappiamo come’è finita. A maggio Facebook accende l’entusiasmo del Nasdaq. Le azioni pompate a 38 dollari. Una capitalizzazione di mercato che superava i 100 miliardi di dollari. Due mesi dopo ne ha bruciati 55. Oggi vale 45 miliardi. Le azioni che stentano a rimanere sopra i 20 dollari. Una perdita del 45,11% secco nel giro di due mesi.

La cosa più curiosa è che in queste settimane di scambi concitati sono proprio gli insider ad aver affondato Facebook. A partire dallo stesso Mark Zuckerberg che ha venduto 30,2 milioni di azioni per un totale di 1,14 miliardi di dollari.

Il report è riportato dal sito Hardocp e suona quantomai curioso. Perché se sono proprio i maggiori investitori a “fuggire” da quello che doveva essere l’investimento d’oro della nuova dot economy, l’aria che tira, fatti due conti, non deve essere delle migliori.

Mark Zuckerberg (CEO di Facebook CEO): 30,2 milioni di azioni per un totale di 1.14 miliardi di dollari
Accel Partners (investitore): 57,7 milioni di azioni per un totale di 2,1 miliardi di dollari.
Peter Thiel (investitore): 16.8 milioni di azioni per un totale di 638 milioni di dollari.
DST Global (fondo d’investimento russo): 45,7 milioni di azioni per un totale di 1,7 miliardi di dollari.
Goldman Sachs (investitore): 24,3 milioni di azioni per un totale di 923 milioni di dollari.
Elevation Partners (investitore): 4,6 milioni di azioni per un totale di 175 milioni di dollari.
Greylock Partners (investitore): 7,6 milioni di azioni per un totale di 289 milioni di dollari.
Mail.ru Group (Internet Company russa): 19,6 million milioni di azioni per un totale di 745 milioni di dollari.
Mark Pincus (CEO di Zynga): 1 milione di azioni per un totale di $38 milioni di dollari.
Meritech Capital: 7 milioni di azioni per un totale di $266 milioni di dollari.
Microsoft (partner e investitore di Facebook): 6,6 milioni di azioni per un totale di $250 milioni di dollari.
Tiger Global (fondo d’investimento): 19 milioni di azioni per un totale di 722 milioni di dollari.
Reid Hoffman (investitore): 943,000 azioni per un totale di 36 milioni di dollari.

August 01 2012

13:00

Pinterest for Photographers: Increase Your Photographer’s Mojo

Do you know what Pinterest really is? Pinterest is the most rapidly growing social media network. Since March 2010 when its beta version was launched Pinterest has grown to approximately 12 million users. Pinterest is a fantastic, super innovative, and fascinating place to have fun and to find something new. It’s a place where you can lose your mind for hours.

A year ago few people knew about this social network and probably even less of them thought that Pinterest was on the edge of great success. Now millions of people upload, save, comment, vote and repin photos, images and videos every day. And those particular users do business and earn real money on the basis of Pinterest. Photographers can do it even easier than other freelancers because they own the most powerful Pinterest tool: photos.

So if you’re a photographer who’s thinking about creating an account on Pinterest or an ordinary photography geek with a great passion to share your experience with the whole world, then welcome here! We’ll try to tell you some secret tips on how a photographer can gain a success on Pinterest. So let’s start with defining the reason why people use this social network.

Why do People use Pinterest?

Instead of Facebook – the most popular social network which is aimed at communication and sharing your own content – Pinterest was created to help people discover new inspirational things. So everything people want to find out on Pinterest is entertainment. Common people are not interested in doing business on Pinterest or stealing your photos (they don’t even mind it), they just want to have some fun.

How to Make Your Photos Stand Out on Pinterest

If you decided to start promoting your photos on Pinterest then you probably need some tips because this social network is quite new and we know little about it. Here are several tips which I read about on the web and some I know from experience.

  • Try to pin photos that are as close to 554px wide as possible. Smaller pics won’t probably be pinned at all and wider ones will be resized (this can cause a quality loss).
  • Be careful when cropping and resizing photos. Visual attractiveness is a key point on Pinterest and it’s very important to show people the best photos you can.
  • When pinning photos, make sure that all photographed objects are easy to discern. When you enter Pinterest you browse through small preview images which should pique your interest (at least pinners aspire to it), but most photos stay unnoticed because of a bad thumbnail.
  • Don’t pin stuff from your site only. Remember that on Pinterest people are looking for various materials and your promotional boards can irritate them. Mix your content with that which you find on the web.
  • When repinning photos taken by other photographers don’t crop watermarks even if it can improve their look! A watermark means that the person does care about his/her author rights, so don’t break them.
  • Upload your own photos and repin existing ones. It will allow you to look like an interesting and worth being followed user.
  • Take care about keywords because Pinterest pages are well indexed by search engines. There is little text on Pinterest pages, so you have to optimize them with proper keywords. Pay attention to filenames of photos you upload. (FV000256.jpg is a bad filename for both people and search engines; you should use several keywords to describe pics), images descriptions (up to 500 symbols), boards’ titles and descriptions (create several different boards with targeted names like “Still life photography by New York photographers”).
  • Like, comment and repin photos of other people, so that they get to know about your existence.
  • Follow the leaders of your niche, people whose photos inspire you and common people who appreciate your photography (if you follow someone it means that you follow all his/her boards). Don’t be too haughty and unattainable.
  • Add the “Pin it” button to your website and/or blog.

Ok, now you know almost everything about what Pinterest for photographers can bring, but in case you think that it’s not worth trying Pinterest, and if you don’t want people pinning your work, you still have control over it by just following some easy steps.

How to Block Pinterest

Pinterest is a great social network for everybody who works with graphics. It can bring additional traffic to your site, but it can also hurt your author rights (at least many people are concerned about it). So if you’re going to block Pinterest from bookmarking photos from your site you can do it in two ways:

If you want to save all your photos and website pages from being pinned on Pinterest you can use the following code:

<meta name=”pinterest” content=”nopin” />

Just paste it into your website’s header file and it’ll disable pinning from your website.

If you want to block Pinterest on selected WordPress website pages or posts then you should use Pinterest Block plugin. Thus you’ll be able to choose which stuff to protect from being pinned and which not.

10 Photographers to Follow – Pinterest for Photographers:

Here are some photography-related accounts on Pinterest. They can be a good inspiration for you or teach you how to take photos and to pose in front of a camera.

  • Jamie Swanson -  Jamie is a wedding photographer with a good collection of posing guides for couples, parents, children, etc.
  • Photoshop Tips - Probably there’s no need to explain what Photoshop is :). By the way, this account is not run by Photoshop but by Virtual Photography Studio that knows a thing or two about photography.
  • Klaus Herrmann - This photographer created different boards for photos of different colors. The idea is simple, but at the same time it’s very impressive and inspiring.
  • Jim Harmer - This photographer presents really nice photography tips and ideas. He runs a photo blog, where he shares many interesting things, including tips and tricks.
  • Kari Pryplesh - This user has many boards of different subjects. But starting from the second line of boards there are amazing photo ideas which you can try yourself.
  • Zach Prez - It’s a strange thing, Zach has only 3 boards with 156 pins, but the Pinterest community is crazy about him. This guy knows a secret about Pinterest.
  • Scott Kivowitz - This New Jersey photographer doesn’t have as many followers as previous pinners, but his photography stuff is precious.
  • Jodi Friedman - Don’t know how to edit your photos? Here you’ll find many creative photo ideas and tutorials.
  • Tray Ratcliff - This account is run by a travel photographer. His photos from all around the world are fantastic. And you can hardly find something more inspiring than his Pinterest profile.
  • Photodoto - This young account belongs to a photo blog with a long publishing history. Thus, you’ll find some interesting stuff there.

Now it seems that everything has been said and everybody’s pleased: me, because I’ve shared my experience with you, and you, because you’ve gotten to know something useful from the post (at least I’d like to think so :) ). Now I wish you happy pinning!

July 29 2012

19:27

Facebook crolla in borsa a due mesi dalla IPO: le paure di Wall Street sulla tenuta del gigante dei social

Che la IPO fosse stata un mezzo flop lo si era sgamato da subito. Che le scuse affrettate piovute da ogni parte, per mitigare la figuraccia fatta nel gran giorno dello sbarco al Nasdaq, fossero solo blande dichiarazioni, lo avevano capito perfino i più accaniti sostenitori di quella sciagurata operazione. Nonostante i ricavi siano incrementi del 32% nel secondo trimestre del 2012, il mercato non ha apprezzato i piani di sviluppo che Zuckerberg ha in mente per Facebook. All’osso, tutto è ridotto a una migliore integrazione degli annunci pubblicitari nello stream di notizie, con un occhio puntato anche alle piattaforme mobili come fonte di redditività. Stando alle dichiarazioni del CEO non ci sarebbero altri piani significativi all’orizzonte. Niente Facebook Phone, niente Facebook OS, niente di niente.

Venerdì le azioni sono crollate segnando un rosso del -11,70%. In chiusura si sono assestate a 23,70 dollari dopo una giornata altalenante che ha segnato il minimo storico di 22,28 dollari. In due mesi la capitalizzazione del social network si è dimezzata passando dai 100 ai 50 miliardi di dollari e la paura di una nuova bolla fa tremare più di qualcuno dalle parti di Wall Street e Palo Alto. Da maggio, le azioni hanno perso complessivamente il 38%. Soltanto Zuckerberg, nella giornata di venerdì, ha alleggerito il portafoglio personale di 1,6 miliardi di dollari. Complessivamente ha perso oltre 3 miliardi di dollari dal giorno della IPO.

Il segnale a conti fatti non è incoraggiante per nessuno. Durante la call qualcuno ha sparato a zero. Ha chiesto a Zuckerberg cosa pensasse dell’andamento azionario in continua discesa. Mark ha glissato. David Ebersman, Chief Financial Officer di Facebook lo ha tirato fuori dall’impaccio dichiarando un diplomatico “non siamo particolarmente felici su come stanno andando le azioni, ma siamo sempre la stessa compagnia che eravamo prima”. Come per dire non è il mercato che cambia quello che siamo. Lo vada a raccontare agli investitori che hanno sborsato il capitale. Non passerebbe felici quarti d’ora.

E intanto c’è attesa e preoccupazione per la riapertura dei mercati di lunedì nella speranza che le azioni tengano senza affondare sotto la soglia psicologica dei 20 dollari. E’ una marcia in ritirata quella di Facebook. Chissà fin quando durerà. Mentre le testate economiche guardano con diffidenza alla creatura di Zuckerberg e lanciano segnali di pessimismo. Questa volta però il botto non ci sarà. La bolla si sgonfierà lentamente senza troppo clamore. Con i venti che tirano, alimentati dalla crisi globale, è meglio non gonfiarle certe notizie. Resta solo un dato di fatto. Non bastano un miliardo di utenti se il modello di business resta inchiodato alla pubblicità. Google è riuscita a crearci un’impero direte voi. Ma è pure vero che Google è un’altra cosa. Facebook arranca. E difficilmente, solo col “social”, colmerà il divario.

May 06 2012

14:30

Perché Pinterest fa tanto bene… al porno

Lo hanno etichettato come la rivelazione dell’anno. Poi, dopo un primo sprint iniziale, ha perso quasi tre milioni di utenti in neanche due mesi. Mentre tutti ne discutevano con il solito approccio filosofico, qualcuno un po’ più smaliziato è rimasto a guardare nell’ombra facendosene un’idea diversa. Carino questo Pinterest. Con un po’ di girls siliconate impegnate in certe attività vietate ad un certo pubblico potrebbe perfino essere meglio. E tutto sommato aveva ragione.

Il modello Pinterest piace. Forse, a dispetto degli scettici, funziona pure. Non è un caso che uno dei domini storici del porno sex.com, il dominio più pagato di tutti i tempi, abbia deciso di farne un clone per il lancio del nuovo sito.

A vederlo ti viene quasi il sospetto che un insider di Pinterest abbia passato sottobanco tutto il codice sorgente in cambio di chissà quali favori.

Sex.com è una vera e propria community di internauti totalmente sex oriented con tanto di board a tema dedicati. Ce ne sono per tutti i gusti suddivisi accuratamente per categorie, dall’amatoriale al vintage. Il gusto di scoprirli lo lascio a voi. Ne avrete per ore.

Il funzionamento è semplice. Ti registri. Fai il login. Crei i tuoi board. Fai il “pin” di immagini e video – di un certo spessore e profondità – che raccapezzi tra i vari YouPorn e Beeg. Li condividi con gli altri utenti. Ricevi like e repin. Ideale per ammazzare il tempo in certe serate poco riuscite.

In Italia non se ne è praticamente parlato. Altrove, il lancio di questo Pinterest del porno è stato chiacchieratisimo. Testate come l’Huffington Post gli hanno dedicato il giusto spazio che si meritava. D’altronte anche il porno è un’industria. Non dimenticatevelo.

Il porno nel nostro paese è da sempre un argomento offlimits. Se ne parli ti guardano male come uno sessualmente disturbato. Il fatto che internet lo abbia sdoganato a fenomeno di massa mondiale, facendolo entrare a pieno diritto nella cultura “popular”, è un dettaglio che nessuno vuole considerare.

Strano però che tra i primi cinque paesi nella classifica dei maggiori fruitori del porno online a livello mondiale ci siamo proprio noi italiani. E non date sempre la colpa ai soliti quattro ignoti. Il fenomeno è più diffuso di quello che vi ostinate a negare. Non serve la macchina della verità per capire che state tutti mentendo fino all’osso.

E dopotutto un giretto su Sex.com ve lo consiglio. Se proprio non vi piacciono i contenuti, almeno il layout del sito, sono sicuro, lo apprezzerete.

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