Small Community Social Media

If you’ve been following the news at all, then you know about the flooding in a little town by the name of Caddo Gap, Arkansas. Before this weekend, it was never a town that was on the news, and it wasn’t exactly listed on any of the local maps. Before Friday, this part of Arkansas has never gotten a bit of national news coverage, and suddenly, it’s a town inundated with CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News. While for many of you, it’s just a sad news story that you see, but for me, it smacks me right in the heart, because that’s home.

Through all the sadness I can’t help but find an interesting study in community here. We talk about social media and how it’s a community, how we are all connected and how we help out when we need to, no matter what the cost. Twitter campaigns have been successful in events like the Nashville flood and the earthquakes in Haiti, and through communication, we have created sub-communities that stretch across oceans. What I’ve come to realize this weekend, is we treat Twitter like a small town community, not a large social network.

I truly believe that each of us, even if we can’t send money, we can send thoughts – we watch a news program and a story can touch us in a way that we didn’t expect. What you heard all weekend were rescue/recovery attempts and survivor stories – but what you didn’t hear about was how a small community pulled together to help out total strangers. I know this because I know people that were involved in the rescue as well as some who were affected personally by the tragedy. In a small community, the ties run deep.

Think about someone you might talk to a lot on Twitter, even if just about mundane things. Recently, a woman in my friend’s list daughter went missing, and though I didn’t know her, I found myself retweeting her “Missing” posters and joining the Facebook page for her daughter. Could I help? Probably not, but may someone who reads my Twitter would see it, and forward it to someone who could. It’s the small community idea – one person picks something up and runs with it and soon, everyone is pitching in. That is how Twitter is like a small community – we help strangers like we would family.

How do you treat Twitter like a small community? Do you reach out when someone needs help?

Know Your Strengths

I read a great blog over at Outspoken Media by the great Lisa Barone on how the power of competition can be a great motivator to start laying out a game plan. Lisa freely admits that she is a fierce competitor, but not in the crazy way – in a way that has made her a better business woman.  In order to win on the web, you must be competitive. 

Lisa talked about many aspects that your competitive sprit can help you come out swinging and kick some butt, but the two that I think are the most important are to know your strength and know your team. Since I’ve never been competitive in the traditional sense, I’ll give you a different scenario – Intercollegiate Debate. We fought with words and quick wit, thinking on our toes. So, with Lisa’s thoughts in mind, how can I define my strengths and my team in terms of what I learned in debate. 

Strengths

In debate, everyone you could go up against more than likely has the exact same facts and words ready to twist the tables around on your argument. (Remember 8Mile when B-Rabbit said all the things the other rapper could say about him and completely threw him off – yeah, it’s a lot like that.) We all had words – we couldn’t use those right out of the gate, and what I learned was my strength was to wait for the right time.  I knew when to make those twists and I have been told that I never looked like I was that “fierce” of a debater.  Many of them ignored the pant suit clad, glasses wearing nerdy looking girl who was sitting at her desk, prepping. By being surprising, I knew I had an edge. 

Here I like to keep the element of surprise in how I do things. I’m dealing in another world where everyone has the same words, and it’s just going to take something to flip it around. I always liked being that something.

My Team 

Before rounds, there were piles of college students with laptops and books (yes books) looking up information regarding various topics. Those who were seasoned debaters were with the novice kids, teaching them how to prep fast and go into what could be their first ever round to compete. Our team never had any drama and we always had a great time on tournaments. There was always something to celebrate, even if we didn’t break out into out rounds, we were proud of the work we had done that day. 

Now, in the working world, I feel like our team does the same thing. If I have a question, there are a number of people I can ask, and if there’s something I can’t fully explain, someone will teach me how to explain it. And when that doesn’t work, I can transfer the customer to speak to the person who handles the question. Not only will the customer be happy, but he will also come out and show me what he sent to the customer, so I can understand it better, should the issue ever arise again. 

That’s back up right there. For me, that’s the strongest part of any company – your people know their strengths, and the higher ups are willing to get involved in order to have our backs. So now I ask you – are you putting your own strengths and teams to work to get the best out of them and the best out of business?


Innovator and Didn’t Know It

I love history. It’s one of the things that I am very passionate about. One of the reasons that I love history is because everything that is done, it can be traced back to something that happened many years ago. Thanks to the History Channel, I’ve been getting a reminder of some of these inventions that, when we look back now, seemed like child’s play, but they were the basis for many of the technological advances we have today. Here are some of my favorites:

Cotton Looms: The cotton mill is the birthplace of binary code. In the 1800’s the machine was plugged with punch cards that told the machine when to turn “on” certain colors and when to turn them “off”. As the machine read the holes in the card, it knew what color to use in the fabric. This is the basis for binary code, which changed the way the world operated.

Fun Fact: A laptop computer of today, to have the same computing power, would have had to be the size of a passenger bus in the 70s to have that kind of output.

Oil Drilling (Naturally): The United States first mined oil in the early 1900’s, and it caused a shift in the way everything was done. The price of gasoline plummeted, making cars and electric lighting wildly available to the masses. Steam power was long forgotten and traded for gasoline and oil powered machinery.

Fun Fact: In the 1920’s, more money was spent on advertising than education.

Hoover Dam: Frank Crowe’s massive undertaking to block the Colorado River not only gave jobs at a time after the Great Depression to men who were willing to work, but it also provides power to the states out west; AZ, CA, NV, etc. The Hoover Dam also serves as a connector over the Colorado River, continuing the merger between east and west.

There are a lot of things in our past, both in the United States, and across the world that has changed the world. I bet the first person to use the cotton loom didn’t think that they were using what was, in essence, a basic computer system. Stories like this are the reason why I am passionate about history in the first place. You never can tell what’s going to change the world. What are some of your favorite stories in history and what did you learn from them?

Evo From an iPhone User

This morning the boss men ran out to Sprint and picked up the new HTC EVO. I gave them a couple of hours to use it, before I started to pester them for information.  I also opened my Twitter account up for questions and received one from @brandingme that I'll go ahead and answer and then I’ll highlight some of the differences.

@brandingme asked: “do you have iphone users who are testing out the htc evo's? if so, what do they think?”. Yes, both of the boss men have had the iPhone since the 3G first launched and today is the first day with a new device since. So far, the feedback on a transition from one to the other is that if you like to “tinker” with a device the transition would be easy.  Those who do not consider themselves to be “tech-savvy” might find the transition difficult.

There is a kickstand. I have to point this out first, because it made my day. There is a kickstand on the EVO. That is awesome and needs to be specially pointed out. Here are some of the highlights that were mentioned:
• Email is a little smoother layout. Instead of having to use the “back” feature over and over again, all of your inboxes are in the same menu; you just select the one you need from the dropdown menu.
• Music menus are essentially the same on the EVO as the iPhone, but the thing I really like is when you do a “search” for a band, it automatically pops up the keyboard.  I’ve never liked the search feature on the iPhone and tend to use the shuffle feature more than anything; those tiny letters on the side of the screen were hard to navigate so I like the auto pop-up of the keyboard, rather than the scrolling feature.
• The keyboard on the EVO is an improvement over the iPhone keyboard.
• The camera has flash, which is an improvement, but we’re still in debate over if the quality is better. I think it is, but we still haven’t come to a full determination if the quality is better, but again, it has flash, so win.

There’s a quick run down of the HTC EVO as compared to the iPhone – bottom line, tech savvy people will find it to be an easy transition, but if you don’t consider yourself to be a tech person, you might consider sticking with your iPhone for now.  Let me know if you have any other questions about the EVO. Have an EVO? What do you think?

AT&T Data Changes

AT&T is trying to fix the network problems. By trying, I mean, changing everything so you'll use less on your data plans. Anytime you offer something "unlimited" users are going to test the limits and it's exactly what happened with the iPhone 3G.

AT&T announced yesterday that they will be rolling out new data packages, right in time for the OS4 launch. These new data plans are DataPlus ($15.00/month for 200MB) and DataPro ($25.00/month for 2GB).

I figured up the usage on my iPhone plan and I realize that it might actually benefit me to decrease down to the DataPro plan. I don't know if I've ever used 2 or more GB a month, so I wouldn't mind saving a couple of bucks a month on my cell phone bill. If I do go over my plan, then it's only an additional $10.00 for each GB over. The likelihood of extreme usage is low in my case, so it's something to consider.

These data plans are not meant to affect what I would consider to be a regular user - in fact, according to USA Today, only 3% of smart phone user's account for 40% of the data usage. The data plan package change is not directed to users like me, but instead to these 3%. These are the users who cause the network outages, and AT&T must get control of them.

If you have a massive amount of data use each month and you know that it’s going to affect your bill and make it higher, you might want to call AT&T now and get everything squared away. My unlimited plan will be grandfathered in but it might be worth it for me, in price, to go ahead and change. We all were screaming for AT&T to do something, now that they have, how do you feel about it?

Note: I spoke with an AT&T rep that let me know that if I decide to change my voice plan down the road, it will not force me to change my data package to one of the DataPlus/DataPro plans, just in case you were wondering if that would make a difference.

It’s (probably) Going to Cost You

One of the things we let our customers know about is the concerns that they should have when using VoIP (voice over the internet protocol) with our conference call system. We have nothing against VoIP, in fact, its technology and we embrace it around here, but in my experience, it can be troublesome for sound quality and connection reliability. We have so many questions about using VoIP with our system we wrote a useful guide about VoIP.

The one thing we cannot advise clients about is the security of VoIP. Unfortunately, for us, there are too many carriers out there for us to do a comprehensive review; however, I did come across this from VOIPSA, a nonprofit organization who want to spread the use of VoIP, while identifying the risks – and what is being done to prevent security breaches. 

VoIP is, in essence, low cost phone service that travels through the internet lines to reach the destination number. The Insurance Report released from VOIPSA makes one thing very, very clear – “all internet servers are susceptible to hacking”. Much like a Trojan attack on your computer, VoIP can be left open for cyber-attacking: theft, hijacking, rerouting calls, eavesdropping, you name it. If you’re calling “overreaction”, I want to think for a few minutes to the kind of information you give out over a VoIP phone, and now think about what could happen if someone with malicious intent was listening. Javelin Strategy and Research reported that by 2009, 1 in 10 US consumers had fallen victim to identify theft, costing an average of $500/person.
 
I think its cause for concern; you wouldn’t buy anything online from something that wasn’t PayPal, VeriSign, etc., secured would you? So why are we choosing to make phone calls on environments that are not secured? If you’re going to use VoIP be sure that you ask whoever is carrying your call some important questions:

Is security guaranteed?
If there is a breach, what is the carrier’s liability for any subsequent fraud/loss funds/etc.?
Do they have any suggestions to help secure your phone lines?


The service might be cheap, but you get what you pay for right? The first step to improving the security of VoIP is to classify it as “telecommunications” as defined by the FCC – this will force regulations and requirements. Until then, you might as well be reading your credit card off through a megaphone in the middle of Times Square.

What do you think – are you scared? Or is everyone just overacting?

Tech Wars Google/Apple VS Yahoo/ Nokia

Let’s get ready to rumble. Today, in a move that reminded me of doing dishes for a month if my brother helped me take down the evil Empire of Dad in a game of Risk, Nokia and Yahoo announced an alliance that they hope will change the way the user experiences their networks. The long and short of it is that Nokia will power Yahoo!’s map services and Yahoo! will help Nokia power their Mail and Chat services. Carol Bartz, chief executive of Yahoo! says this deal could be a “winning combination” but I think she might be about 10 years too late.

Without coming out and saying it, the merger hopes to offer some competition to Google and Apple both of which are dominating the web search and mobile phone markets. Sure, it’s a good idea to throw your hat in the ring, but if you’re throwing down the floppy straw while the people are fighting in trendy fedoras, you might rethink your steps. Let’s run down some of the pros and cons of this alliance:

Pro: Nokia broke the mold on the smart phone in 1996 – so you have to believe that if they can get a piece of the pie, they’ll make it the best darn piece of pie ever tasted. Nokia remains the largest mobile phone maker in the world with Apple at #3, behind Samsung.

Con: You can have my iPhone back when you pry it out of my cold dead fingers – even with the unreliable network. Apple provided me something that was easy to use and did everything (and more) I could imagine my phone doing. Why would I change?

Pro: A lot of people never made a transition fully to GMail. I have GMail, but I prefer using my Yahoo! address. Why? I’ve had my Yahoo! account forever and the hassle of telling everyone “Hey I’m at this email account now” was just annoying. So I stuck with Yahoo! Mail – I’m sure a lot of people have – I’d be tempted to see a phone that made my personal email easier to manage.

Con: Yahoo! and Nokia are so far behind the game, there’s a chance that they will never catch up. Nokia didn’t release a phone for 2 years – the 1680 classic in 2008 and didn’t release the 1800 until 2010. Anyone can tell you that disappearing for two years will not make you an industry leader.

I think that while as exciting as Yahoo! and Nokia are, and despite my “root for the underdog” nature, Apple and Google are too far ahead of Yahoo! and Nokia in “techie popularity”. Is Yahoo! being pulled into the middle of a nastier battle? Maybe Yahoo! and Nokia will get lucky and Apple and Google will tear each other to shreds. Plus, if memory serves, my brother always took advantage of me when we made deals to take down our dad, so it usually backfired in his face when I refused to do the dishes. What do you think? Does the alliance of Yahoo! and Nokia stand a chance?

How to Get and Use Feedback

Your conference call has been planned, executed, and now you’re sitting back, enjoying the endorphins that are flowing through your system after a successful presentation. It was successful, right? You think it was because you managed not to forget what you were talking about or get derailed, but did you remember to ask what participants thought? Here are five easy steps for asking for feedback and what to do once you get it.

1.) Ask for feedback.  If you’re not providing the channels for your attendees to give you feed back, you’re not going to get any. Make it easier on them by polling them throughout the web conference, providing an email to send feedback to, or encourage them to use social media by liking your company page on Facebook or a hashtag on Twitter.
2.) Respond to the feedback. Nothing sucks worse than feeling like you’re not heard. When you get feedback from someone, respond to them, thank them, or ask for more information. The more you know about how they developed an opinion, and compare it to your other feedback, the better you’re going to know what works and what doesn’t.
3.) Implement the suggestions. This is important especially when you have a repeat conference with repeat clients. What is the point of asking for feedback if you’re not going to make changes based on what your clients feel? Meet with the other conference organizers and see what the participants said and how you can make the changes – if you can at all. There will be some changes you can’t make, but you should evaluate all the suggestions.
4.) Invite the clients who gave you feedback to another conference. Once you’ve evaluated the changes you can make and implemented them, invite the people who had feedback to a session for free. Let them see how you took the suggestions they made and implemented it into further conferences.
5.) Follow up with the participants. Once the conference has ended, don’t be shy to send them an email and ask them how you did. If they have more suggestions, they’ll let you know. 

The most important thing to remember is that you can ask for feedback all day long, but unless you do something about what you’re given, it’s empty question. What’s your preferred way to ask for feedback and how are you responding?

Five Ways Educators Can Use Conference Calls

In sixth grade, I remember our teacher telling my class about the importance of working in a team. It was the new thing when I was in elementary school – breaking into groups and doing projects together. We had to assign managers, reporters, and the like in order to get the best grade. She always told us that it would be the most important lesson we would learn, something we would appreciate when we got out of college and into work.

  1. Invite a Professor. Even in elementary school, kids are developing their likes and tastes. When I was in fifth grade, I realized I hated math and I liked learning about history. Elementary school was when I decided that I was going to go to college – without fail. It would have been one of the coolest things in the world to get to speak to someone who taught college so we could ask questions to someone who could be one of our teachers in the future.
  2. Authors.  When I was in elementary school, it was so different to have a student that likes to write. I was that kid who took writing assignments so seriously, turning in three pages when only a paragraph was required. I wanted to be a writer from a very young age and to have had the opportunity to speak to someone that did that for a living probably would have been the highlight of my life. (Up to that point, at least)
  3. Phone Pals. Remember having a pen pal? I wrote to a girl in Paris, and she never wrote me back. The point of having a pen pal is to learn about different cultures and when pen pals don’t write back there’s only discouragement. If a kid doesn’t get a response, they won’t be interested in the assignment. Instead of writing letters or emails, set up conferences with other teachers from around the world.  You don’t have to talk to people outside of the United States in order to be exposed to different cultures, and schools are full of kids who will already have different life experiences.
  4. Other Teachers. Set up a conference call with other teachers from your school or branch out to other states and countries to share lesson plans and things that have been happening in your class. If you had a student who had a great idea, you can share it with other teachers. Just because you’re not in college anymore, doesn’t mean you’re not learning something every day.
  5. Summer Reading Clubs. Okay, obviously I was that kid in elementary school. The one who was sneaking her book out of her desk and reading it intently when the teacher wasn’t watching (and sometimes when she was). It would have been fun though, since I wasn’t the only one who was a super book geek, to have been invited to a conference call once a week with other students who were reading, and our teacher advisor. You could even get with other teachers in you district, put together the same reading list and start the discussion.

Most conferencing services have some kind of discount for educational institutions (shameless plug: Get Connected) so if you’re interested in trying to incorporate something like this into your class room, be sure to give your provider a call and see what they can do for you. Are you an educator currently using conference calls? Let me know how you are using your conferences to make for a better classroom experience.

3 Ways To Set Tone With Invitations

A couple of weeks ago I (as the dutiful and wonderful daughter I am) went to my mother’s house to clean it for her while she was out of town. While cleaning up, I stumbled across these, beautiful “G” wax stamps that I used to seal my wedding invitations. It made me think about how when it’s something that we are excited about, that we put a lot of time into sending out an invitation. From birthday parties to wedding invitations, we put a lot of thought into the message these invites will send. We agonize about what the invitations look like and what we write on them. When it comes to inviting people to something that’s more “business” we forget that how we phrase the invitation is just as much a message as the invitation itself. When we send out an invitation, no matter what it is, what we send is going to affect the tone of the event you’re inviting people to.

Here are three ways that you can set the right tone with your conference call invitation.

1.) FlashCan Evites -These were cute and fun. It lets you create your own scenario using artist donated flash material. I played around for a few minutes and while they are a little on the campy side, it’s a great way to invite co-workers or close business partners to an informal or impromptu conference. The humorous tone of the invitation is going to let everyone invited know that they are joining a conference call among friends.

2.) Press Releases and Registration Page – To set a more formal tone with your invitations, publish a press release and include a registration link. The press release goes out online, or sent to individual agencies. The tone created is going to be a more serious tone, and may not be necessary if you’re hosting a training update or something with your co-workers.

3.) Handwritten Invitations – Yes, in this crazy technical world where everything can be sent out via email we should never discount the handwritten invitation. Handwritten invitations set the tone to the invitees that you are willing to invest time in them. There is a great deal of time spent handwriting and stamping individual notes, and as soon as that invitation reaches the client, they know instantly that you are willing to spend that time.

No matter what you are inviting someone too, it’s always important to remember how to set the tone. Since a conference call can be considering something that’s a business “annoyance” sending out creative invitations is one way to make your next conference call less of a bore and more of an event, without a dress code.

How are you setting the tone for your conference calls?