Category Archives: Social Media

Three Rules Of Small Business Computers: Backup, Backup, Backup

There’s a big chunk of Dance Among Elephants missing and that’s because I broke one of the cardinal rules of small business–or any business for that matter–I did not back up my data.

I have regular back ups of my projects and all their attendant materials. There is also a complete backup for my financial system. I even maintain a backup system for my personal photos and that big library of MP3s I ripped from my old CDs and vinyl records (Jimmy Hendrix and Patsy Cline just sound better taken from vinyl). But I never considered backing up the blog to be all that important, especially when it is hosted on line.

DUMB.

Stuff happens and this time it happened to me. Some glitch hit the blog and it was empty. I restored from my backup and then realized that I was kind of busy this summer and had not backed up since May. I keep rough copy in text as a way to quickly jot thoughts and save links for the blog, so I can slowly rebuild from those notes and probably have much better writing, but this is still a set-back and you should not have to suffer this.

So, lesson learned once again: back up everything. Now this includes material that does not even sit on my hard drives. Somewhere in that mess of blogging missing from earlier this summer is a post of two about the need to back up in multiple geographic locations, including online. I think I’ll rewrite that material as quickly as possible and take my lesson from there.

Enjoy the business day!

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Business, Business Technology, Social Media

My First Anniversary With Twitter

Yes, I’ve been on Twitter longer than I’ve been blogging; although I think we can safely say that Twitter is a short-form blog, so maybe Twitter counts in my blogging  timeline.

What have I learned in this first year?

Twitter is something I really enjoy. I follow a small group of tech industry analysts, a few Web 2.0 proto-celebrities (a couple of whom I’ve known for a few years), a group of marketing and communications workers like myself, some new media workers, a large number of Portland, Oregon-area tech industry workers, and a few good friends that have no connection to technology other than using it on  a regular basis.

As a feedback mechanism, Twitter works pretty well. Twitter has a Virginia Woolf stream-of-consciousness about it that can be distracting, but it also gives a good feel for the emotions of the day outside my office. And I’ve gotten instant news reports on Twitter that beat the timeliness of any other communications medium.

Could all this Twitter stuff fall into group-think and garbage? Yes, but I think that depends on who you follow and pay attention to. I follow as many people as I can keep up with and I drop those who add nothing valuable to the daily conversation.

So, the first year with Twitter is up and I’m giving it a successful rating, with an expectation that the next year will be even better. Hope I can say that about my blogging activity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business Technology, Social Media

Even Better Package Tracking

Twitter seems to be the newsiest item around these days, but there’s good reason and it isn’t just for the geekiest of consumers. There is a great new application using the Twitter API that could have a major play for small business–TrackThis.

TrackThis is easy to use, just follow @trackthis on your existing Twitter account. If you don’t have a Twitter account, now is the time to sign up. Once you follow @trackthis, you get automatic updates on all the packages you want to follow. You can use this to track packages you are expecting, or track those packages you sent to customers.

Using TrackThis is simple, there’s only one page of information and two frequently asked questions. You can decide which or how many Twitter accounts you want notified to separate the different packages being tracked. You also decide how you want to receive the information, by email or the online Twitter screen or by SMS on a cell phone.

For instance, track that package of architect renderings scheduled to be presented at a meeting of city planners. Or rest assured that the RMA is on it’s way back to your facility. Or keep track of those handmade specialty items you shipped cross-country. This is a real benefit for small businesses of any size or design, as long as they use shipping services.

A sole-proprietor might want to follow packages ordered by SMS in order to more closely time a presentation or project due date, while a shipping department might simply want an on-screen update for all packages they have going to customers. There’s lots of opportunity to put this to use in business.

Tracking packages has traveled light years since the days when we would travel across our respective city to the shipping company office, fill out multi-part forms–taking care not to smudge black on our white shirts from the carbon paper–and then phone the tracking number to the receiver so they could track the receipt of the package. Let us know in your comments about the uses you come up with.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business Technology, Social Media

Can Twitter Drive Business?

Last week I had drinks with some ex-Intel friends, mostly folks like me who left Intel during the recent layoff of the last year or so. Some I have not seen since the layoffs, so we got to talking about the work we do now.  I mentioned some of the work I am doing bring social media to small business, like using Twitter, which started a short debate.

With any tool there are personal uses and business uses and Twitter also has two sides. My friends were a bit wary and there were a couple of incredulous looks and references to MySpace trash. One of our group has started a series of small businesses in Vernonia: a bed and breakfast; a newspaper; and a couple of other ventures. So I set about explaining how Twitter could help her.

The newspaper was an easy target for using Twitter. This is a monthly newspaper, Vernonia is a small town without the typical big city news stream, but the advertisers are trying to get the paper to move to bi-weekly. I explained that Twitter could help build a news stream for the paper as well as build community conversation during the weeks in-between the publishing cycle. There are journalistic advantages beyond building a news stream, Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb has a great blog entry covering journalism uses of Twitter, check out his story.

Additionally, the paper’s advertisers could monitor Twitter for comments on their products and services, and give instant feedback on problems and questions. Instant feedback can be a real help in a rural setting, you never know when someone has time to drive to town and a business gets an immediate read on the feelings of it’s customers. This type of use has been reported constantly over the last few weeks. I’ve heard reports on Cnet’s Buzz Out Loud podcast, Leo Laporte’s TWIT netcast, even a tweet this morning from Jeremiah Owyang about his Dell computer needing a repair brought a return tweet from Circuit City–OK, maybe that’s getting to the edge of creepy, but it is forward-thinking and maybe it will grow into a useful and acceptable format.

Using just this single tool, the newspaper can extend it’s reach into the Vernonia community, mesh more tightly with the community, gain more community support, build business for it’s advertisers, and serve the community even better than before, all without adding major expense to its current operations. The community growth and business involvement should also support a jump from monthly to bi-weekly, by making more news available and adding to the community engagement.

Of course, I wanted to add blogging, real-time Flickr news photography, and a few other tricks to the equation, but the my beer glass went empty and it was time to head home. I plan to follow up with my newspaper mogul during our next get together, whether it is at Mint or some other local establishment, maybe she will have started something with Twitter or one of the other ideas I passed along….or maybe she’ll ask me to get it all started for her, we’ll see.

4 Comments

Filed under Business, Business Technology, Social Media

Building Your Customer List

McCormick & Schmick’s is a nice restaurant, really an upscale fish house, that started in the Northwest and now has tentacles reaching across the U.S., now with probably two-thirds of it’s restaurants east of the Mississippi River. One of the oldest McCormick_and_Schmick_logorestaurants in the chain has occupied it’s current location since 1892, but this business understands how to treat it’s customers and has made the leap into their third century of business.

I placed a dinner reservation there just this morning. The hostess took the usual information and then asked if I wanted an email confirmation sent to me. Now, email confirmations are not unheard of, but this one happening in my own neighborhood restaurant triggered my senses: McCormick’s has shifted their thinking to include drawing their customers into an online relationship.

Customer relations are fickle and a business needs to keep up with the trends and customer preferences. McCormick’s also recognizes that cooking and serving food is not their real business, their real business is being a place of entertainment for their customers, the food is one part of the entertainment customers expect when they come to a restaurant.

How does this idea inform your business? And what is your real business, the parallel to McCormick’s actually being in the entertainment business?

Addendum: Of course, I said “yes,” and I’ll give a report back on what McCormick’s actually does, now that they have my email address. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Social Media

Over-The-Wall Contact When No One’s There

Many more people today work alone or in “branch offices”. These can be small rental offices, one of the new shared office spaces (see CubeSpace or Souk in Portland, Oregon, or check the co-working wiki for similar arrangements around the U.S. and the world), or even from home.

Do you feel disconnected from the rest of the world while you work solo? Do you squint at the clock, anticipating the moment when the mail arrives so you can glimpse another human? A complaint I hear on a regular basis is that people miss the camaraderie of the office family, this even gets reported somewhat regularly in the news media on slow news days.

I tend to work somewhat silently, I rarely even play music because it interrupts my writing focus, but I do remain connected with people around the world using a number of different methods. I spent ten solid years living in a cubicle farm–it actually was named “Jones Farm”–where we regularly “prairie-dogged”* over the cubicle walls to call out for help, someone with whom to grab fresh coffee, or make a snide comment about the intelligence of the person on the other end of the just completed phone call. This is generally a great source of organic office knowledge, but it disappears when no one occupies a nearby cubicle or when one is working in a solo situation.

Assuming everyone reading this has access to and uses email on a regular basis, this is pretty much the low end of staying connected, much like writing a letter. But the drawback is that email takes a formal commitment to sitting and writing a coherent message, very unlike the quick conversation at the watercooler.

By now, almost everyone over the age of 30 has discovered IM, people under the age of 30 don’t remember a time when IM did not exist. IM, or “instant messaging”, in case you are as far over 30 as I am at this time, is a great way to maintain a connection with one person, but it does have a drawback of operating mainly point-to-point and lacking the social aspect of a shared conversation similar to the prairie-dog activity. (My favorite IM app is Pidgin, you can reach me at mmathews on AIM, both open source and multi-protocol.)

Twitter has taken over IM for me (follow me on Twitter). It’s quick and easy. I stay updated through my browser online or through SMS by cell phone, regular cell phone, not one of those fancy “smart phones” or iPhones with their million-dollar service plans. I can decide whose tweets to read and whose to avoid.

Today I may have found another–and possibly better, though denser–method for keeping up with people and having a quick over-the-wall encounter: FriendFeed. Feel free to add me, I am mmathews and I promise I won’t clutter up the feed too much, but you will be able to see new blog postings and tweets and a few of the other things I work on regularly.

Let me know what you use to gain that sense of office family and how well you think it works.

* To “Prairie-dog” is to raise one’s head above the level of shared workspace cubicle walls to see what is happening around the area of the cubicle, including to make a comment to someone in a neighbor cubicle.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Business Technology, Social Media