Posts Tagged ‘Online tips’


Losing Your Customer to the Dark Side of the Internet

More PrivateThe Internet is no longer a very private place for people to find resources or to shop. It has become a crowded market with millions of advertisements, pop-up websites, and sponsored blog posts. Companies try to track and analyze every click of the mouse. Businesses work hard to stay present on the customer’s screen. They use cookies and other bits of technical code that remember visitors in order to retarget them even when they have left the company’s site. (Source)

As a result, customers are increasingly voicing privacy concerns about the recording of all this information which in some cases has led to identity and personal data theft. Millions of people a day now have taken refuge in a very private place that exists until now in a shadowy corner of the Internet: Tor (The Onion Router). It was originally set up by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory ten years ago to let U.S. agents communicate secretly around the world. (Source) More recently, it has become a popular way for thieves, drug traffickers and terrorists groups to communicate anonymously.

Tor’s hidden services feature allow users to communicate information and publish websites without revealing their location. It is now used by large corporations to keep their competitive analysis and board level decisions private. General consumers have started to use Tor to protect themselves on a public Wi-Fi connection (Source).  Some also use it to combat discrimination when e-commerce sites show a price based on geography or number of visits. 

Consumers want to use Tor to hide their online identify and location, but still interact with all commerce websites. To access the Tor network, users simply need to download its browser, which is free and open sourced for all desktop and mobile platforms. However, most social media and retail sites have blocked Tor users because it prevents them from utilizing cookies and disables Java scripts to track them. For example, using the Tor private search engine, Start Page, most sites do not load or come up very slowly because the Ixquick proxy servicer is used for privacy. However, Amazon does employ Google AdWords on this search page in hopes of getting customers to go directly to their site without a proxy.

With Tor traffic expected to reach almost ten million a day, corporations are now looking at it as an new way to reach prospective consumers (Source). Many are unblocking the Tor browser’s access to their site. Facebook began offering Tor users a method to connect anonymously (Source). (www.facebookcorewwwi.onion ) It seems that Twitter is also starting to let Tor browsers use the social media site without verification (Source). Reddit has donated over $82,000 to help fund Tor (Source). Given growing privacy concerns, the Tor browser may be the future for all consumer web surfing because it allows users to decide if they want to disclose their location and other personal information to be tracked. Some of this can be turned off with other browsers, but most users are not sophisticated enough to be able to do this correctly.

As privacy issues escalate, many online retailers will be forced away from traditional marketing tactics fed by cookie technology or risk losing customers when they go into stealth mode. This trend will reinforce good online marketing techniques:

  1. Ask prospects and customers to opt in to be contacted by your company again. Dont abuse the privilege.
  2. When contacting them, add value, just dont sell them your products. Publish content that they value, not just an online product or services catalog.
  3. Build a trustful relationship over a long period of time so they think of your company when they are ready to buy.
  4. Build social media connections and community with your customers that they want to participate in regularly.

What will your business do when your customer goes into stealth mode on the Internet?


Mondays with Mike: 10 Crazy and Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns

Rolls of US one hundred dollar billsI’m always intrigued to research the offbeat business concepts that find success in the increasingly popular crowdfunding arena.  It’s an endless supply of inspirational stories, as well as encouragement to find ways to follow your dream.  Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Chatype.  If you have any doubt that people have visceral, emotional relationships with fonts, look up some of the reactions to Comic Sans.  The Chatype campaign raised funds to cover the licensing of the official font of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and now the distinctive lettering can be found on everything from bike lanes to library flyers.
  2. Pizza Brain.  Located in Philadelphia, Pennyslvania, Pizza Brain is the world’s first pizza museum and restaurant. It houses the largest collection of pizza memorabilia – like a pizza cutter shaped like the USS Enterprise.  It’s also serving up award-winning pizza.
  3. Inman Park Squirrel Census.  Yep.  Squirrel counting.  What may seem like a trivial and mundane endeavor not only united an Atlanta, Georgia community, but it also inspired a line of census-themed t-shirts and infographics.
  4. Griz Coat.  Add this garment to the list of things you didn’t know you needed.  According to the campaign, “It’s not a costume.  It’s a lifestyle.”  You can embrace your inner grizzly with the original design, or you can opt for the newer wolf or polar bear designs.
  5. Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum.  In response to the shocking (pardon the play on words) lack of a museum dedicated to the brilliance of inventor Nikola Tesla, this Indiegogo campaign raised over $1.3 million!
  6. Bug-a-salt.  Begone, flies and mosquitoes!  This wildly successful Indiegogo campaign funded the production of air-powered guns that blow away bugs using ordinary table salt as ammunition.  The original campaign sold more than 20,000 guns, and a new campaign is underway to build the new and improved Bug-a-salt 2.0.
  7. Rob Ford Crackstarter.  The Website Gawker created an Indiegogo campaign in order to raise the funds necessary to purchase the video of Toronto mayor, Rob Ford smoking crack.  Although Gawker lost contact with the owner of the video, the funds they raised were donated to Canadian charities that work to deal with the problems associated with illegal drug abuse.
  8. Breathometer.  An app that’s both a party game and a safety measure, this campaign enables users to turn their smartphones into a breathalyzer.  You can determine your BAC, record, and track your results.
  9. Yellow Jacket.  Based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this campaign – started by a former member of the US Army – funded the production of an iPhone case that not only protects your phone, but also turns it into a 650,000-volt stun gun.  Intended to be used for personal protection, the Yellow Jacket was built after the campaign raised over $100,000.
  10. Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium.  London’s first cat emporium, Lady Dinah’s provides a home for rescued cats, as well as a way for visitors to enjoy a relaxing cuppa with the resident felines.  The venue provides pet first aid courses, as well as yoga classes, and it is currently taking reservations for tea up to 50 days in advance.

In addition to providing simple entertainment, this list of successful crowdfunding campaigns is a reminder that you can find success in unusual niches, as long as you tell your story in a compelling way.


Mondays with Mike: The 10 Most Powerful Cloud Tools

Young entrepreneurs having a creative business meeting in a cafe

So, not only is the decision to move your business to the cloud a difficult one, fraught with anxiety about security and reliability, but in addition, deciding which tools and applications to use can be simply mindboggling.  There are practically an infinite number of options – but some are definitely better than others.  Let’s take a look at ten of the best, most consistent cloud tools you’ll need to keep things running smoothly.

  1. Salesforce.com (Cloud Sales Management) – Number one priority – making sales! Salesforce.com efficiently manages all your sales needs in a logical, intuitive interface.  You can monitor your pipeline, track your sales, design auto responses, integrate your email, and enable multiple mobile devices.  Salesforce.com is the category leader in sales management.  There’s also an awesome free email app called Yesware that has lots of useful functions like email tracking, templates, and even automated reminders.  Yesware integrates perfectly with Salesforce.
  2. Rackspace.com (Cloud Storage & Data Delivery) – Storage and data sharing are fundamental to operating on the cloud, and Rackspace is robust enough to handle all your needs and then some.  You can move your apps to the cloud, share all the data  you can imagine, and continue to run your business without missing a beat.
  3. QuickBooks Online (Cloud Accounting) – You sell to make money, and then you have to track where it goes.  QuickBooks is the tested and trusted leader in the category, and lets you and your staff work, sell, bill, and ship from anywhere on the planet.  Freshbooks, Netsuite, Wave and Xero all offer similar functionality.
  4. Hootsuite (Cloud Social Media Management) – You are using social media to promote your business, right?  If not, then we need to have a serious talk!  But it can be time consuming to manage Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the others if you do them individually.  Hootsuite lets you manage all your social media accounts from one platform.  You can schedule posts and reply to messages all in one place, making your marketing efforts much more coherent and efficient.
  5. Google Drive (Cloud Drive) – Not only does Google Drive integrate seamlessly with Gmail, but it also lets you and your staff store and share files, as well as collaborate from anywhere in the world.  Google Drive is used by more folks every day, and the ease with which you can securely share files is constantly improving. Dropbox is a popular alternative cloud drive.
  6. Microsoft Office 365 (Office Applications In The Cloud) – No matter which devices you use, Microsoft still makes the most powerful office products.  Word, Excel, and Powerpoint are consistent, reliable, and now available on the cloud.  With a Microsoft 365 subscription, you can use the programs on multiple devices and work wherever and whenever the need arises.
  7. Backupify (Cloud Backup) – Do not neglect this tool!  If it would inconvenience you or cost you money if you lost a file, then you need to back your files up.  Both Backupify and Carbonite provide secure, reliable storage for your critical data.  Being able to restore data from the Cloud gives you peace of mind and if you need it, the service will pay for itself several times over.
  8. Gmail (Cloud Email) – There’s really no better choice than Gmail, for lots of reasons.  From powerful, logical spam filters to customizable options that permit you to personalize your email, you can’t find a better, more reliable email service.
  9. IFTTT (Cloud Logic) – IFTTT, If This, Then That, is a super cool tool that creates logic to permit all your cloud apps to work together smoothly and consistently.  As we bring more and more of our business and our personal lives onto the cloud, integration becomes even more important.  IFTTT helps you juggle multiple tools and apps easily.
  10. Cloudability (Cloud Cost Contol)- So you’ve assembled all the critical components you need to run your business on the cloud, but then you discover that it’s not free.  Heck, it’s not even cheap.  Track and manage your costs easily with Cloudability.

Whether you’re already operating on the cloud, or whether you’re considering making the transition, your best bet is to listen to the experts about which tools are the most valuable and reliable.  Don’t risk your valuable time, money, and security on apps that promise the world, yet fail to deliver.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 3 Simple Ways to Connect With Customers Online

12-23 Online customers smallIf you sell a product or service that requires some time and persuasion to sell—like custom furniture, personal training or landscaping services—getting customers to buy isn’t as easy as getting customers to your website and having them click on the “shop now” link.

However, smart use of Internet marketing can get customers to interact with your company so that they learn more about your products or services and get interested in buying. Here are three ideas.

1. Learn from customer surveys. Customer surveys can not only gauge customer satisfaction, but also tell you a lot about what products and services customers are interested in. Each time you make a sale, send an email to your current customers asking them to take a customer satisfaction survey. At the end of each survey, include an option for customers to tell you what they’d like to see more of from your business or what they’d like to buy that your company doesn’t currently offer. Also ask if they’d like to be contacted by your company and/or are willing to share their contact information.

Suppose a customer of your landscaping company says they’d like to see you also provide patio covers, a product you don’t currently offer. Save the contact information and, if your company does start offering that product, you can contact those customers to let them know and provide more information.

2. Offer price quotes or estimates. A lot of customers who don’t want to call a company and engage with a salesperson because they fear getting stuck with someone pushy may be willing to fill out forms online to get estimates or quotes. For example, if you sell personal training services, you could send prospects an email offering a free online fitness assessment, or advertise this on the top of your website. The link would go to a page on your website where customers fill in a form with information about their current fitness level, their health and fitness goals, how much time they have available to work out, and so on. Of course, they’d also provide contact information.

Based on the information they check off on the form, your website could then offer prospects different levels of service, such as intensive “boot camp” training, moderate training, group training or once-a-week training, at different price points. This menu should include both click-to-buy options and click-to-call options (for the customer who now wants to talk to a salesperson).

3. Provide valuable information. Webinars, e-books or other informational offerings aren’t just for B2B companies. They can offer useful information to consumers, too. For example, a custom furniture company could hold a webinar on how to decorate a home or create an e-book on maximizing living space. The information you provide shouldn’t be a hard sell, but it should subtly show prospects the value of the product or service you offer.

For instance, a custom furniture company’s webinar could talk about making the most of a small living space. At the end it should include a link to learn more about building custom furniture to fit your needs. Prospects could either click-to-call and speak to a live representative, or click to fill out an online form and be contacted later.

By using these three methods, you’ll not only make more sales to your prospects, you’ll also learn more about what they want—and isn’t that the foundation of good customer service.


How to Get Customers to Buy from Your Facebook Page

12-19 Facebook sales  smallMillions of small businesses have Facebook pages, but most have no idea how to use them to make sales. The page may have hundreds, maybe even thousands of “likes”, but without sales to match, it is not very valuable.

How can a small business turn virtual “likes” turn into real purchases? Here is where to start:

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Post about Products and Services

Facebook is primarily about engaging with customers and forming a relationship with them by posting educating articles, photos and videos that relate to the company’s brand.  However, no business can expect to make sales if they never post about their actual products and services. Don’t always feel the need to disguise a sales pitch. Sometimes a direct message is the best way to catch a prospect’s attention and convert a sale.

2. Tell a Fun Story

Tell a story that includes the product. Connecting a company’s product or service to “fun” will always get more engagement. The best example is the BlendTec’s “Will It Blend” series. It’s not only funny, but it made people want to buy the blender. Post a preview of the story on the Facebook page, and link it to the full version on the website to make purchase conversion simpler.

3. Connect Online and In-store Activities

An integrated approach to online and offline marketing will drive likes and engagement as well as more visits to a physical store location. These types of posts can influence fans and consumers at the beginning of their purchasing cycle. Make sure what is featured in the store for this month is reflected on social media. Make parallel online announcements when sales on products and discounts are offered in-store

4. Offer Exclusive Deals to Facebook Fans

Another way to encourage purchase activity is to provide products that are available exclusively to Facebook fans. This could include special limited editions or new product launches that are offered to them first.

5. Offer a Subscription Tab

Add a tab on the company’s page that makes a free offer if the visitor “likes” the page and signs up for a mailing list. This way, that Facebook friend can be converted to an email address which can be marketed to through traditional online campaigns.

6. Learn from Facebook Insights

Small businesses need to learn about who visits their page and which content is most popular.  Use the “Insights” tab of the company’s Facebook page on a regular basis. Insights makes it easy to monitor what’s working and what’s not effective. It provides information on the people who like the page and are engaged with the posts. It also enables the tracking of competitive pages for comparison on a weekly basis.

7. Provide an Incentive for Fans to Share Their Experiences

According to Hubspot, ninety percent of people on social media trust and believe recommendations from both strangers and friends. Harness this power by encouraging fans to submit photos with their newly purchased products along with reviews, advice and where to find it. Spark discussions between customers about the service they received.  Use discounts or bonuses to customers who post on Facebook after their purchase.

Companies can also use traditional Facebook advertising to boost posts for increased customer engagement.

What tactics does your business use to convert Facebook “likes” to purchases?


Mondays with Mike: Secure Your Data On The Cloud

12-15 Secure cloud data smallI’ll be honest.  One of my biggest concerns about converting my business to run on the Cloud was the security of my information.  And lest you think I’m unduly concerned, you should know that I used to work in computer forensics.  My background in retrieving information that people most definitely didn’t want recovered has taught me one lasting lesson: absolutely everything you do on your computer leaves a record – even if you try to eradicate it.

So I know a thing or two about how information is stored, recovered, shared, and protected.  I knew that data security was a potential problem when I moved all of my apps and programs to the Cloud.  It turns out that if you’re going to work on the Cloud, your information is vulnerable – simple as that.  What you can do, though, is take some steps to protect your valuable files.

First, for files you store online, consider encrypting or encapsulating particularly sensitive information.  It turns out that one of the biggest companies for online storage was opening files in order to extract information for a preview function.  Dropbox neither asked nor disclosed that user files were being accessed, but when a few users employed a program that notified them when files were opened, the practice came to light.  Now Dropbox didn’t have an ulterior motive, but clients who thought their materials were completely private and inaccessible were, well, wrong.  Encrypted and encapsulated files are safer.

But even if you take steps to protect the information you store online, what about your personal device when you’re accessing those files?  Even if you take the smart step of password protecting your computer, if you walk away while you’re signed in, the documents you’ve opened – or the sites you’ve saved passwords for – are vulnerable.  Make sure you take steps to protect the individual devices used by you and your staff when you access sensitive information.

Another big vulnerability arises when we access information stored on the Cloud while we’re using public wi-fi.  You stop, grab a latte at Starbucks, and you check an email, review and edit a proposal from a colleague, and you get back on the road.  The problem is if you’re not taking practical steps like disabling automatic file sharing or using a VPN (Virtual Private Network,) then you’re making it far easier for unscrupulous folks to access your data via a shared, public network.

The last really big hole in your cloud defenses is your email, and that’s no small thing.  We correspond about sensitive information every day, and here’s the thing about email:  you can practice good password hygiene – changing it regularly, not using your dog’s name or your birthday – but there’s no foolproof way to ensure that email is secure both on your end, and on your recipient’s end.  You should be careful about your email security, but here’s the best advice I can give:  never, ever put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want plastered on a billboard.  It’s simply impossible to protect everything from everyone, whether it’s someone inside our outside your company.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Now don’t take all of these warnings and recommendations as another excuse to delay converting your business to run on the Cloud.  The Cloud’s not going away, and in fact, it’s more common and more useful every day.  Best practice is to go in with your eyes open and with a plan to protect the information that’s most vulnerable and most valuable.    


Mondays with Mike: 7 Ways To Banish Spam

12-8 spam smallI used to hear people complaining about telemarketers who always seemed to call at dinnertime.  Fortunately, we don’t get as many phone calls from people trying to sell us something, but those calls have been replaced by a plague of junk email – spam.  It clutters up our inboxes and can prevent us from seeing all of the important email that needs our attention.  Worse yet, some spam contains viruses that can infect our computers. 

Never fear, though.  These 7 steps will help you eliminate spam permanently!

  1. Use Gmail.  It’s simple.  Gmail is the best email service in terms of automatically blocking spam.  It sorts known spam producing addresses into your spam folder without your having to lift a finger, and it also lets you identify senders you want sent to that folder in the future.  Gmail also sorts promotional emails – ones with offers you may actually want to see – into a Promotions folder, keeping your inbox reserved for more important emails.
  2. Unsubscribe.  It may take you a few minutes and you may have to go through a couple of steps, but reputable companies will respect your unsubscribe request.  Just make sure you unsubscribe from all of the emails each sender generates.  Some companies make it a little tricky to completely unsubscribe, so take your time and make sure you do it right. 
  3. Blacklist spammers.  Blacklists permanently block emails from particular domains, servers, and senders, and if you use a blacklist, you’ll never hear from the senders on your list again.
  4. Use a spam filter.  You’d be surprised how many people complain about junk mail and don’t bother to use a filter.  Mailwasher Pro and SPAMfighter Pro are both great products that give you flexible and comprehensive protection
  5. Report spam.  If you take just a few seconds to mark unwanted messages for Gmail, your email service will work behind the scenes to make everyone’s email experience more efficient and pleasant.  Think of it as one way to make the world a better place.
  6. Use your own filters.  This step is more involved and requires a little more work, but it’s very effective if you’re really plagued by persistent spam.  You list addresses from which you no longer want to see mail, and those messages get shifted to your spam file.  When you’re using custom filters, it’s a good idea to scan your spam file periodically, just in case messages you do want to see end up there by mistake.
  7.  Change your email address.  This step is a pain, but it’s the last resort for folks whose emails have been hacked or otherwise compromised and who simply can’t eradicate all of their spam.  You have to notify all the people you correspond with, and you’re likely to end up missing some messages from lazy folks who don’t change your address in their contacts, but you will be able to start fresh without any spam, at least when you first open the account.  Practicing good email hygiene can help you protect the new account from the spam buildup you had in your old account.

Don’t let a cluttered inbox frustrate you for a minute longer.  A few simple steps can clear out the clutter and make your email far more efficient and secure.


Does the “Internet of Things” Really Matter to Small Business?

12-4 the internet of things small

One of the biggest buzz words for this past year was “The Internet of Things” (IoT). This is the convergence of the digital and virtual world with the physical one. Even before IoT, there are already 16B devices attached to the Internet. (Remember, there are only 7B people on the planet.)

Today, an increasing number of wearable and home devices are being integrated to the Internet like Fitbits on the wrists, Nests in the home and crockpots in the kitchen. Oral B even has a toothbrush that is Bluetooth connected to the Internet to track brushing. More recently, Apple unveiled a HealthKit app that allows its iPhone users to track personal health and fitness data. They also announced HomeKit that will allow users to control “smart devices” in their home like garage doors, lights and security cameras.  The introduction of the Amazon Echo, an in-home personal assistant will definitely raise the profile of this category.

While Pew Research says IoT’s full implementation is still about 5 to 10 years away, a new study by Gartner predicts that entrepreneurs will drive the growth of IoT in the next five years. So where can small business owners start?

1.     Manufacturing at the beginning. Barbara Edson, General Manager of IoT at Microsoft says this sector will lead the way.  She believes it will happen through monitoring their equipment performance instantly and securely in real time. This will lead to better service to customers and an increased profit for the company.

2.     Analyzing big data. While IoT can be a big advantage in allowing sensors to track business assets, it will help analyze what the data really means and how it fits into the operation of the business. The key is to make the data received intelligent and actionable for a business. Used correctly, it will allow the measuring of key KPIs more easily and objectively.

3.     Enhancing the customer experience. With most things being a commodity, the customer experience is the future of marketing and loyalty. A company needs to use IoT to improve the experience for the customer. Intuitive and natural experiences from all devices can help make this happen.

4.     Focus on your things. Forget about the hype, Microsoft recommends to focus on IoT that are key to your business. Forget the hype of everything else.

How are you integrating IoT into your business for the future?


Top 10 Ways to Spy on Competitors (Legally)

Young Man Using Binoculars in Rockway Beach“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” -Sun-Tzu, Chinese general

Knowing about your competition has always been important in the world of business. With the Internet, this marketing intelligence has never been easier to find out, but it does take discipline and planning. By doing this type of research, you can find where your competitors are strong (so you can copy it) or weak (so you can exploit it).

Here are actions that can be done today:

  1. Follow them. Sign up for their company newsletter or mailing list. Like and follow their company pages and their personal executive profiles on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, create a special group for your competitors on these tools so it will be easier to identify what they are posting.
  2. Mystery shop. The best way to understand what your competitor sells and the customer experience they provide is to actually buy their product or service. An actual buying experience will show how good their communication is with their customers. Analyze what their product looks like when it is delivered. Explore their post-sales support to see if there are things that can be adapted for your company.
  3. Ask a question. Do this through many different communication channels like email, Twitter, Facebook, phone and their web site. Examine their quickness of response and how complete their knowledge is when answering customer inquiries.
  4. Call with a complaint. How do they respond? Do they follow up to completion or do you need to keep explaining the issues over and over again?

Here are online tools that can help:

  1. Explore ad monitoring tools. Find out where your competitors are advertising and which keywords they are targeting. Tools like AdBeat, AdGooRoo and Moat will help find out what ads and keywords competitors are using.
  2. Find their backlinks. Backlinks are still an important element in organic search engine ranking. Use tools like Moz’s Onsite Explorer and Majestic Site Explorer to find the backlinks that your competitors have on their site. There may be an opportunity to link your site to the same backlink or use them for customer referral sources.
  3. Track their website traffic. Your competitor’s sources of traffic can be an important comparison. Use tools like Alexa or Similarweb to get the information you need.
  4. Find out what customers are saying. While, it is critical to find out what customers are talking about on the web, it is equally as important to understand what they are saying about your competitors. Put your competitors name in tools like Google Alerts and Talkwalker and it will send you an email anytime a new comment about them gets posted on the web. Social Mention and Topsy can also be used for one time searches about competitors overall positive or negative sentiment analysis.
  5. Determine their social media presence. See how your competitor is doing on Facebook. Use tools like Fan Page Karma to find out their reach. A similar process can be done on Twitter with Follower Wonk.
  6. Track their technology. Determine what platform and add ins your competitor uses and where they can be vulnerable. Use Builtwith to find this out.
  7. Explore web site content changes. Want to know if when your competitor changes their website? Use Copernic to track updates or particular keywords.

Remember, assume everything is public these days. Whatever spying you are doing on your competitors, they are probably doing the same on you!




 
Nextiva Logo

phone-icon Sales phone-icon Support
Nextiva
Nextiva is the leader in Business VoIP Services. Copyright 2015 Nextiva, All Rights Reserved,
Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy, Patents, Sitemap