Wednesday, August 31, 2011

You Should Buy a Flashdrive

Over the past decade, there have been advancements in every aspect of data storage, mobile computing, and data transfer. Every computer has a DVD/CD combo drive that can burn hard copies of data. Every computer has two or three hard drives or multiple USB drives allowing for external hard drives. There is an abundance of cloud computing allowing for data transfer and storage with ease. To truly take advantage of technology, each of these aspects should be explored and implemented. They are cheap and easy solutions that make using a computer that much easier.
There is, however, one part of mobile computing that many people do not make use of when they have the opportunity.
The USB flash drive is an amazing bit of technology that has evolved in to one of the most important pieces of technology to show up in recent years. Flash drives have grown smaller, changed colors, grown in storage capacity, morphed in to funky shapes and unique figurines, and even replaced the idea of a hard drive in some instances.
Even with these impressive changes, I can attest to seeing multiple flash drives “permanently” attached to desktop computers, sitting under a stack of papers on a crowded desk, or stashed in the front of a drawer with 3 other devices.
Personally, I have one attached to my key chain. It goes everywhere with me. It is with me in my office. It is with me at a client’s office. It is with me even when my laptop is not with me. And, the ability to have needed files with me at all times has been a life saver on multiple occasions. There are company forms, printer installer files, antivirus/antispyware programs, internet browser files, and even important personal documents.
The drives provide any number of important functions:
- Document storage and portability
- Mobile computing and functionality
- Disaster recovery (personal and computing)
- Computer security
First off, the drives are great for important document storage. Whether the documents are used on a daily basis or the documents need to be permanently stored for safekeeping. I have seen the tedious task of emailing files back and forth to yourself just to use something at home and the office. Throw the document on a flash drive and you save time and trouble with access available anywhere. If permanence is more your style, a 4GB flash drive may provide enough storage to save every important document you can dream of and, put in a safe or safety deposit box, you’re provided the peace of mind that comes with the knowledge that your life is backed up should the worst happen.
When you step back to look at more than just document storage, the versatility provided by the USB flash drive is truly limitless. Check out the following link for countless free programs available to use with these drives, flash drive programs.
Available functions or programs:
- Backup and Restore USB, among other programs, can be used to backup, restore, and synchronize files between your computer and the flash drive.
- Unstoppable Copier can be used to copy files from damaged media sources, including other portable flash drives.
- Portable Apps and Portable allow you to run programs from a flash drive as soon as the device is connected to the computer. And, when you disconnect the flash drive, the programs go with you.
The list goes on and on. There are password security tools like KeePass Portable, which allows you to carry your passwords with you if you use a common computer station. You even have the ability to put an entire operating system on your flash drive. Should Windows go haywire, an Ubuntu OS on a flash drive could give you the opportunity to access your computer even when all hope seems lost.
When looking at recovering from a disaster, whether it be a computer disaster or a personal disaster, USB flash drives can provide assistance.
To combat computer viruses, you can keep the installer files for Spybot S&D or MalwareBytes at the ready. They won’t be infected while stored safely on your flash drive and they are only a few clicks away from being run on a computer infected by a nasty virus. Dr. Web CureIt and Portable AntiVirus are also portable antivirus programs that can be run straight from a flash drive for quick and easy clean-up. As stated above, you can also carry around a Linux operating system if your Windows operating system becomes broken beyond repair. This drastic step could provide you access to your files to facilitate data recovery.
For a more pervasive disaster, USB flash drives can be used to store and save personal documents of immeasurable value. With a properly encrypted drive, you can store scans of your driver’s license, passport, bank account documents, birth certificate, social security card, insurance information, marriage license, and corresponding information for a spouse and children. Obviously, the utmost care needs to be taken with such important documents, but storing this information can protect yourself in case of a flood, a fire, a robbery, or even other massive natural disasters.
Even after all of the above options, there is still one more very interesting use for a USB device, personal security key. A program like Predator allows you to lock down your computer with the USB drive. When the USB drive is attached, the computer will work like normal. Once it is disconnected, the keyboard and mouse are inactive and the screen will dim. A tool like this can provide amazing and easy-to-use security, as long as you don’t lose that USB device!
Whether any of these options will fit in to your computer usage or the programs provide efficient use of multiple computers, there are several options that should be investigated. Options abound on what is possible with a little plastic bit of technology smaller than a pack of gum.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be.

I remember my first desktop computer that I purchased brand new. Not some second hand machine but one I configured and ordered myself. At a price tag around $2500, I purchased a desktop and a nice big 15 inch monitor. I expected that thing to last for several years and it did. I actually paid it off before it died!
That was when developments in processing power and software weren't moving at the blazing speed it is today. Now, I can purchase an iPhone with over 1000 times more capabilities and functionality than that desktop for $199.
Moore's law postulates that now computing performance will double every 2 years through 2015 or later. That explains why your electronics and computers aren't lasting as long as they used to when they cost thousands of dollars.
So, look at the Windows computer you use to run your businesses. Statistically, you are probably looking at them and saying "The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be."
  • If you can't remember when you bought it, processing power has more than doubled since it was built.
  • If it is running Windows XP SP3 (please don't use it even to finish this article if it is less than SP3), XP was released in 2001 and SP3 in April 2008. So your OS patched version you are running is between 3 and 10 years old depending on how you look at it.
  • If it is running Windows Vista, Vista was release to consumers January 2007, so a very long 4 years of OS troubles are under your belt.
Your systems can't continue to run the devices and software being written for newer technologies forever. They may run but they aren't running efficiently. If you are clicking and waiting forever and you aren't using a machine that runs Windows 7 that is less than 3 years old, it is time. Time to think about putting that old gray mare out to pasture. She just can't run with the fillies and be expected to win.
A word about Apple Computers:
Apple computers are more expensive than Windows PCs and they definitely last longer. As they say "you get what you pay for". There are still reasons to make sure you don't expect it to last two or three times longer without upgrades and updates. They are not immune to Moore's law either.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Social Networking and Your Marketing Strategy - Part 3

In parts 1 and 2 of this Social Media Marketing blog we have touched on the reasons to consider using social networking as part of your marketing strategy and described the familiar faces of social media marketing sites for businesses. Lastly, I will try to explain why using social media sites in your marketing strategy could be a win-win for your small business.

There are several inherent advantages to consider when deciding whether to incorporate social networking in your marketing strategy. Social media is an inexpensive platform for businesses to use - You can't beat free! It can help keep your "brand" and company name at the top of your followers' minds and it's a fun way to interact with people. Typically social networks are stand alone networks but several integrate with each other. For example, Foursquare integrates with Twitter and Facebook. By checking in at your favorite local restaurant, your location update can be sent to both Twitter and Facebook. The major search engines today are not only searching traditional websites, but also sites that contain all forms of media, including social networking sites. Therefore, having a presence on these kinds of sites can help your search marketing optimization efforts.

Information about your company needs to be able to be found and shared. Traditionally, all the information about your company was stored on your website. If you have a social network presence online, you should have links from your website to all your social media sites and vice versa. After all, social networks are where people are gathering, spending more and more time, and very well could be the where someone is first introduced to your company.

Remember when I said that using social networking in your marketing strategy is “free”. That’s not entirely true - after all, time is money. To use social marketing right, you need to build and keep a “following”. To do so you will need a good strategy, a devotion of staff time, giveaways, and advertising. So you should approach social media with the same thoroughness as you would other marketing options. It doesn’t do much for your company’s image if you have an unmaintained social media presence. Businesses need to consider the costs and potential returns of social media before jumping right into it.

Oh look! Now I’ve scared you. Maybe you like the social media marketing concept but are unsure whether you should take the leap on your companies small budget. No worries, there is help on the web - Roost is one online company that seeks to help you get those word of mouth referrals and loyal customers that will help increase your business. Roost can help you decide what to post of your social media sites - from how many pictures to post, articles to share and even questions to ask. You can also set up a schedule as to when Roost will post the articles, photos and messages automatically for you throughout the week. Roost boasts that it only takes 20 minutes to set up your campaigns for the week. And it's free -- Free is still good, right?

These days people are less likely to trust the many types of advertising messages, instead preferring to trust what each other has to say. As I've mentioned a few times already, word of mouth has great influence and therefore is the most effective advertising medium. The key is to find out who is doing the talking, what they are saying and where are they saying it. Knowing this information you can create a campaign to deliver your message to those influential people where they are doing the talking. So, grab the attention of your audience and encourage them to share your message. By getting followers to share your message, your message is considered as coming from a "trusted source" and therefore becomes a very valuable part of your overall business strategy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Social Networking and Your Marketing Strategy - Part 2

In part 1 of Social Networking and Your Marketing Strategy, we discussed the uses of social media sites in society today and how it is a viable option to consider including as part of a business marketing strategy. Now, I want to give you an overview of the more familiar social media outlets and explain how they can be used in your overall marketing strategy.

According to a recent marketing poll conducted by social marketing platform Roost, most local businesses prefer a social marketing (71.4%) to other marketing channels such as search engine optimization (57.9%), print advertising (20.7%), paid search marketing (15%), review sites (10%), and display advertising (5.7%). Furthermore, most businesses feel that social media is an important piece of any successful marketing strategy.

Here is a brief look at a few of the more familiar social networking sites and how they can be used for marketing your business:

Blogs are basically a journal on the web. They consist of regular entries of opinions, information, comments, etc. arranged in chronological order from the most recent “post”. They aren’t necessarily as cool as Facebook and Twitter but are important as a marketing strategy for small businesses in that they are a means of controlling communication from your company. You can control the look, feel, and content of your blogs. They can be used to deliver company messages from the owners, create a conversation with folks who have something to say about your company, collect feedback from customers, and even serve as a means of damage control. There are many blogging websites including Wordpress, TypePad, Xanga, as well as the one we use at Kardon Technology, Blogger.

Facebook is the largest social network in the world today with over 750 million active users. Users create a profile, add other users as friends, exchange messages, even receive automatic notifications when someone changes their profile or posts a new message. Also, users can join groups in which they share a common interest, play games, upload pictures, post upcoming events, etc. When companies create Facebook pages, their friends are called fans. A fan can click a “Like” button on your company page, and are in essence advertising your company to all their friends – there’s that word of mouth advertising again. Facebook businesses profiles can perform all the same/similar functions as individual users can as well as create marketing campaigns such as photo contests for prizes, fun quizzes for their fans, and giveaways of apparel or other gear. It’s also fairly easy to get stats regarding user activity on a company page.

Twitter is another social networking and microblogging website. Users send and read messages called tweets, which are small posts (up to 140 characters) of text displayed on a user’s page. Twitter is used by those who want to find and follow interesting people or issues or who want to be that interesting person to be followed by others. Businesses can use Twitter to post corporate accomplishments, convey press release news, create buzz of a new product or service, distribute links that take followers back to the company website, or even just listen to what’s being said.

LinkedIn is considered more of a social network for business professionals. Users, typically white collar professionals, create a profile that lists their skills, education background, and current and previous jobs. A LinkedIn profile can allow you to have more control over what appears in Google results when people Google your name. Professionals can also stay in touch with colleagues and friends, find experts and exchange ideas, and explore career opportunities with other professionals. Businesses commonly use LinkedIn sites to find leads, grow their business, and find the right vendors to connect with. Other uses include finding industry associations and networks to participate in, find a company to outsource services that they aren’t experts on, keep in touch with people who care about your business, and obtain new customers through recommendations and word of mouth, get answers to business questions, acquire business referrals, and keep your friends close and your competition even closer.

YouTube is a video sharing website that allows users to upload, share and watch videos online. Most of the videos are considered homemade movies. I’m willing to bet you’ve seen 1 or 100 of them already. YouTube can provide an opportunity for businesses to market themselves to millions of people for next to nothing. It can also be used as a medium to reach potential customers and build more personal relationships with your current customers. If you have a video camera and a little creativity, YouTube can be a beneficial indirect marketing strategy for small businesses.

Foursquare is a location based social media network primarily used to let your friends know where you are and to figure out where they are. It is also a means for users to earn points, prize badges, and eventually coupons for simply going about your everyday business. Businesses can use Foursquare as a marketing tool by creating a special offer for users who frequent their establishment. You can promote a service in your store and make it a big deal by offering discounts when people check-in using Foursquare. Each time someone check-ins, the check-in updates go out to their friends – there’s that word of mouth thing again.

Google+ is a new entrant to the social network game. It isn’t ready for prime time yet, but the tires are being kicked for you by many lucky invitees around the world. So far, the word is that Google+ seems to be Google’s answer to Facebook. Here are five key features of Google+: Circles, Hangouts, Instant Upload, Sparks, and Huddle.

  • Circles makes it easy to segregate your family and friends from you business colleagues. You can post messages or photos to certain circles versus a broadcast post to everyone like Facebook does – you probably wouldn’t want to post your family reunion photos to your business colleagues circle but you would, of course, to your family circle.
  • Hangouts is a like an impromptu video conference between up to ten people within your circle. Using a web cam and browser, you can let your friends know that you are hanging out and are available to see who might want to have a face to face to face video chat.
  • Instant upload enables you to quickly upload photos and videos automatically to a private album and allows you to choose who to share them with. We all know that sometimes getting photos off your phone is a pain.
  • Sparks is a feature that allows you to have links, blogs, and info you are interested in streamed to you automatically so when you have time you will have something cool to watch, read, and share with people in your circles.
  • Huddle allows you to turn multiple conversations into a group chat. For instance, if you and four of your friends are planning to have dinner together and you need to decide on a restaurant, you can turn all the individual text messages into a group chat so everyone can participate together in the group discussion at once.

Although Google+ isn’t ready for company profiles yet, there are some good suggestions out there as to what would be desired. Some ideas from Ford Motor company include the capability to provide product information and offer giveaways to circles of people, using hangouts for company salesman circles or designer circles, the ability to interact with readers’ posts, and capability to upload short videos. It is also speculated that Google will integrate Google+ with its Search engine allowing businesses who create a site with a lot of content rich posts to have their Google+ site found in Google search results. Another rumor is that Google could integrate Google Checkout and Google Product Search into Google+ therefore making e-commerce a viable feature. Just think what they could do if they integrated Google Apps with Google+.

In the final installment of this Social Media Marketing topic, I will give you a few reasons why you will want to consider incorporating social media into your overall marketing strategy. Furthermore, I will touch on how using a combination of social marketing sites together can give you more bang for your buck.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Social Networking and Your Marketing Strategy - Part 1

In this three part blog, we will be looking at how small businesses can effectively use social networking sites as a part of their overall marketing strategy. Part 1 will focus on what social networking is and why it has become a viable marketing strategy.

When talking about social networking web sites, you might think of some of the more popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter. However, social media encompasses many other places where individuals come together online such as blogs, forums, media sharing groups (YouTube and Flickr), location-based social networks (FourSquare and Gowalla), user review site (Yelp), and its newest entrant, Google+. The list continues to grow.

Over the last several years the social web has become very popular with individuals. It gives people a way to share thoughts, ideas, and opinions about anything and everything. Social web sites allow people to interact with one another and build relationships. Although the majority of individuals using social sites range from about 15 to 40 years of age, even my 70+ mother (Sorry, Mom J!) has a Facebook page. She is a newbie to Facebook and mostly interacts with family and people in her local community, but she now has a social voice and influence with her Facebook friends.

Since the rise of the advertising age, businesses have used various forms of media to promote and educate the public on their products and services, attract new customers, create brand awareness, and to achieve customer loyalty. Traditional marketing channels include newspaper, magazines, billboards, radio advertisements, TV commercials, direct mail, etc. Nowadays, businesses are learning how to effectively use social networking websites. These sites can be utilized by businesses in much the same way as traditional advertising. Businesses can post messages about a new product line, advertise a special product promotion, create buzz about a new item added to their menu, or even provide their “followers” with a coupon redeemable upon their next visit. The real value in social marketing comes when individuals “re-post” or “re-tweet” a message. By doing so, all of the individual’s connections or relationships can see the message as well. Social networking sites act as a word of mouth advertising medium. And, good or bad, “word of mouth” is the most influential form of advertising.

Creating a social presence online is free, easy to get started, fun, and a great way to interact with customers. These factors alone can be reason enough for small businesses to consider them as marketing tools - especially those small businesses who often have limited staff and small budgets but who also want to grow their business and customer base.

Social media is continuing to increase in popularity because it’s easily accessible to anyone with internet access. Social marketing takes a “customer oriented” approach and aims to create content that attracts attention from a target audience. And therefore, it is becoming an effective marketing strategy for businesses, particularly small local businesses.

In part 2 of my Social Networking and Your marketing Strategy blog, I will describe a few of the more familiar social media sites and how they can be used in your overall marketing strategy.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Do you need a tablet?

Seemingly out of nowhere, the idea of tablet computing has exploded in the marketplace. Mobile computing, multi-device syncing, apps, mobile media, and any number of cool new activities are now possible. They are possible for the low, low price of $500-$700.

Everyone sees the commercials. Watching a video on the porch. Reading an e-book on the train. Using the camera to see and talk with a distant family member.
Galaxy Tab, Zoom, Playbook, the unstoppable iPad. They come with 10” touchscreens, two cameras, and a thousand apps that do everything from playing movies to keeping track of your diet. They may even tie your shoes (Ok, they can’t tie your shoes. No opposable thumbs....yet).

I don’t want to delve in to the world of comparing each product and discussing which one wins the day. I would rather focus on whether you need it to begin with. Is the must-have gadget for the Christmas season really the gadget that you must have for Tuesdays in April right before the budget meeting?

The most important thing, to me, is “will the tablet do something I need?” Does it actually fit in to your life? However, the caveat to that is, do I already have something that can fill that role? If you already have the piece that provides a solution, do you really want to just end up carrying more devices? This thought process can be seen in the declining sales of MP3 players. Nearly everyone has a phone that can double as an MP3 player, so why carry around two devices when I just need one?

  • What do I want to be able to do?
  • Where do I want to be able to do “it”?
  • What am I prepared to pay?
  • Do I already own a device that I can use?
  • How often am I missing the functionality?

Each of the above questions should be evaluated when considering if a tablet PC is really for you. It can also be important to look at these categories with business and casual in mind. And, the answers will be unique to each person leading to a different conclusion.

It is important to understand and investigate when and where the tablet would fit in to a person’s normal day. A good bit of advice is to spend an evaluation period determining when and where the tablet would fit in to your life. Can you find an event (say, once or twice a week) that would be improved or made successful through the use of a tablet?

At the same time, it is also important to realize what your current devices may be able to accomplish. Current smart phones can watch Netflix, play music, browse the web, check Facebook, on top of such antiquated actions like making phone calls. Current laptops replace the business computer (at work, at home, and at the coffee shop) while also providing a platform for presentations, home theater, and boring every day word processing.

It is assumed that tablet PCs would fill some combination of the above functions. They will not be making phone calls or being used to type a term paper, but the countless abilities in both casual and business settings can be limitless.

In the end, I recommend two things. First, spend some time trying to place the device in your daily life without attempting to force the new gadget in to your schedule and budget. Second, review the below chart to make sure you aren't missing out on readily available devices.