March 24, 2016

Pinterest as the visual microblogging version of Twitter

Pinterest has quickly become one of the popular social media tools among other top contenders such as Twitter and Facebook. The founders of this San Francisco-based startup have created the equivalent of a Twitter-lilke microblogging platform — except through images. Rather than a 140 character-limit, users are allowed one image, a short message, and a URL.
social media marketing seoPinterest is an extremely effective social media marketing and SEO tool than many businesses have yet to discover. Pinterest “pins,” an equivalent of a post, but with image emphasized, become indexed in Google searches, and therefore, posting Pinterest pins can be a great way to market your business and products.
What’s more, humans are visual. On Twitter, one trick to getting more noticed is attaching an image to your tweet. On Pinterest, all posts are visual, so it’s easier for the human eye to navigate, identify, and highlight.
Many retailers have discovered that Pinterest is a great tool on which to sell their products. With keywords that describe an item, a prospective customer can quickly get a visual of the item on Google, click to Pinterest for a brief description, and click on the photo to direct to the business site.
If you aren’t using Pinterest to market your business, you should consider it. Like all social media sites, not every business should market on all sites, but if your potential customers have a better chance of finding what you sell through Pinterest, it’s a tool you might explore.

July 9, 2014

How to Create a Strong Password

Good Passwords

Choosing a good password
Photo by Dev.Arka on flickr
In recent news, many prominent companies, such as eBay Inc. and Adobe Inc., have reported user accounts being hacked, requiring customers to change their passwords. In most cases, personal data was compromised. In some instances, such as with Adobe, financial information was also stolen. People with Yahoo or AOL accounts often find their email accounts hacked, but due to more sophisticated techniques used by current computer hackers, users must now fear that any website and user information may be compromised.
How can you protect yourself? Create a good password.
Tips for Creating a Secure Password
In some cases, you won’t be able to prevent hackers from accessing your information if they breach a company’s firewall and get access to client databases; but you can ensure it will be much harder for them to hack into your personal account via password if you create a password that is extra secure.
Here are some tips for creating a secure or “strong” password:
  1. Do not use any personal information in your password that can be guessed. Examples: your name, company name (yours or theirs), birth year, your maiden name. Ideally, you don’t want to use any recognizable word in your password. Birth years are easy to hack because they can be easily guessed (e.g., 1960, 1984, etc.).
  1. Create a password with at least six (6) characters. Some companies are now requiring eight characters because the longer a password, the more secure it is.
  1. Create a password from a phrase that you can remember. Example: “I love my dog Spot very much” .becomes: IlmdSvm.
  1. Spell out a word but replace some of the characters with numbers or symbols. Example: R0llerc0@ster.
  1. Remove some letters from words. Example: Tmbktu from “Timbuktu”.
  1. Misspell words. Example: MustengCarr.
  1. Use long words. Example: Automysophobia (fear of getting dirty).
  1. Use a combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and symbols (!@#$%^*-_+=). This will create the strongest password. It may be harder to remember, but a combination password is harder to hack.

9. Use multiple passwords for all your accounts. Do not use one password for all websites, especially when there is financial information at risk. For instance, if someone acquires the password for your eBay account, would they also be able to access your PayPal account? Additionally, if a hacker has your email address, they can log into that account and reset passwords for your other accounts?
By following the above tips and examples, you should be able to create secure passwords to better protect your accounts. Also, NEVER give out your password to ANYONE, not even the company your account is with. Your password is for your eyes only and to make sure your private information remains confidential.

May 6, 2013

Moving toward the clouds

How cloud computing will lead us to a document-free society

This week, at the Adobe MAX Creativity Conference, Adobe announced its newest version of its popular Photoshop photo-editing software line: Photoshop CC.

What astonished many Photoshop fans is the fact that Photoshop CC is completely cloud-based. Part of Adobe's new Creative Cloud suite of applications, the Photoshop CC software, tools, fonts, and user documents are completely online, meaning all files are located on Adobe servers rather than your desktop or laptop computer. All work is performed online or "in The Cloud," through an internet connection, but users can choose to download files in various file formats to their computers or mobile devices.

There are many cool advantages to cloud computing. Because applications and files are on a remote server and accessible through a browser, users can retrieve and make changes to their documents from anywhere they have an Internet connection. Through compatible Adobe mobile applications, this includes being able to retrieve and modify files through mobile devices such as an smartphone or tablet.

The wave of the future is "The Cloud" and truly portable, remotely-accessible computing. Intuit was an early contender in cloud-based applications by releasing its popular set of financial software applications Turbo Tax and Quickbooks in an all-online form. I foresee more software companies following suit, eventually becoming the standard. Equally, like Google's Chromebook, which predominantly runs and stores files in the Google set of cloud applications (and is a top selling platform at $199), cloud storage systems will become the norm, as local hard-drives shrink instead of continuing to grow larger to compensate for the greater amounts of data we now store electronically.

As accessing and sharing electronic documents becomes easier in The Cloud, paper documents will decrease ("Yay," say the trees!). Users will be able to select a document and email or share it with individuals or groups. When electronic signatures become part of this process, paper mail (perhaps, save those loads of ads and coupons) will trickle down to a minimum. The USPS will have to create a certified electronic mailing system if it wants to keep up.

What are the downsides? For every positive, there is often at least one negative, and cloud computing doesn't come without any concerns. The foremost is security. While it may be more convenient to have all of one's files stored remotely, protecting all this sensitive information becomes an issue. If hackers can break through virtual walls to access confidential government and financial data, they might certainly be able to access the entire collection of private files of any individual. Related, verifying the signature of shared or cloud-sent files will be important. As cloud-based computing grows, so does the need for more secure IT practices. 

August 24, 2012

Yelp engaged in unethical business practices?

San Francisco based Yelp Inc.'s business practices are being questioned. Multiple business owners have reported that the company has contacted them on numerous occasions, asking them if they want negative reviews on their profiles removed – for a price.

A Livermore, CA nail salon owner reports she was shocked at Yelp's proposal, and stopped taking their calls. "They wanted a lot of money to remove the bad comments. They would call every day and ask for the owner. I just started telling them [the owner] wasn't here," she explains. "My husband [who works with me] said to them, 'This is not Asia!...This is USA! We have ethical businesses here!"

Another East Bay business owner, a chiropractor, complains of the same Yelp practices, and warns other business owners about them.

A San Francisco Bay area fast food franchise owner claims that she knows "more than one business owner who have been 'bullied' by Yelp into advertising so that good reviews showed up."

Yelp also has some interesting policies on how it handles customer reviews. When responding to a complaint that "positive" reviews are not showing up, Yelp customer service responds, "not all reviews make the cut, even some legitimate ones." Even after multiple requests, the business owners, a real estate team, still can't get Yelp to post the two additional positive reviews submitted by their clients. The last complaint was ignored entirely.

Comments by both business owners and users suggests that Yelp "blackmails" businesses by suggesting that if they pay for advertising both negative reviews will be removed and positive ones will show up.

It seems that the word is getting out; So is Yelp's reputation - and it doesn't look good. In April, 2012, in response to business and user complaints, Yelp felt it necessary to make two adjustments to their site. Their corporate blog announced, "...we're adding the ability to see reviews filtered by our review filter and we're discontinuing the 'Favorite Review' feature that's part of our advertising package." This means that reviews that were previously hidden by yelp (whether positive or negative and whether businesses paid Yelp anything before they were removed) are now available but only by going to a special area site (which this author still hasn't found). The "Favorite Review" feature displayed more positive reviews first.

How effective have Yelp's changes in response to such customer complaints been? Its questionable. The default sorting for yelp reviews is the "Yelp sort." To see reviews by date or rating, the user must make a conscious effort to seek out and click on a button for that sort. And clearly customers and businesses are still complaining about the company's practices.

It sounds as if Yelp needs to do a better review of its policies and see what other changes are needed to avoid continued complaints, a questionable future – or even worse, a legal inquiry.

April 28, 2012

Facebook Timeline - Helpful or Hurtful?

In January 2012, Menlo Park, CA based Facebook Inc released a new user interface (UI) called Timeline. Timeline replaced the current UI for Facebook Fan and Group pages, but still remains optional for individual profiles.

The new UI overhaul is a vastly different look and feel from the previous Fan/Group pages and current, optional previous profile pages. According to the Facebook blog, Timeline is "where you can tell your story from beginning, to middle, to now." Appropriately, there's a vertical timeline-esque feature on every page, where  users can click through the history of posts from the day the page was created until the present.

Surely, Facebook spent quite a bit of time and money into the new look. But did they truly deliver what users want? The answer is debatable.

Many people don't adapt well to such great leaps and bounds of changes. Do an Internet search on "timeline" and you'll find all sorts of varied opinions on it. Some think it's "snazzy" while others say it's "so much work." A few have even started Fan pages on how much they dislike it (see "I hate FB Timeline, and want to disable it ASAP)."

Given so many disgruntled comments and extreme reactions, one might truly wonder how much time Facebook actually spent on developing Timeline, researching user desires and reactions to the overhauled look. When we think of Google interfaces, generally, we feel they "did it right." This is because (this author happens to know) Google spends a lot of time on UI research, employing people with big, fancy PhD titles to manage the efforts.

Of course, Google doesn't always get it right (remember Google Buzz?). Like Google, it's suspect that Facebook has entered that period where they are so cash-heavy, they are now looking for ways to spend it. Unfortunately, this can lead to romantic and narcissistic visions of grandeur and designing products that companies (or leaders) think users want -- rather than really delivering what they need.
Hopefully, next year, Facebook users will either forget their UI was ever changed or fall in love with it. Right now, however, I feel sorry for the Timeline Product Manager.

Timeline: good or bad? What do you think?

May 19, 2011

Yelp helps drive local business accountability

As more consumers look to the local business review and rating site, Yelp, merchants and service providers are finding themselves reviewed like never before. Yelp was founded in 2004 and built "to help people find great local businesses like dentists, hair stylists and mechanics." From 2007, site reviews grew from less than one million to about four million by 2008.

Initially, Yelp seemed to spark popularity for restaurant and coffee shop reviews, but the range of businesses being reviewed has increased dramatically as its number of visitors has increased. Do a local search on Yelp now and you'll find reviews for practically anyone who sells goods or provides a service, from moving companies to psychiatrists.

Many companies who've heard about Yelp have signed up for their free account, manage their profile and -- if their smart -- attempt to manage customer feedback. This includes damage control, when a customer leaves a negative review. Yelp allows businesses to comment on reviews and send messages to reviewers. Often, a reviewer will update negative feedback with a positive comment about how the business apologized or compensated for some lack of service. Some businesses take it a step further and ask their customers right after purchase to leave a review on Yelp.

Sadly, it also seems that some businesses aren't yet informed about Yelp or don't care about negative reviews. And that can hurt them. A co-owner of a San Francisco based moving company says, "Oh that Yelp....I don't pay any attention to it." I'm guessing he didn't like what some people had to say (and some reviewers can be harsh with their comments). Unfortunately, what business owners like this fail to realize is that customers care about what others are saying and they're making informed decisions on what businesses to patronize from Yelp reviews.

August 9, 2010

Consumers dramatically increase their leverage with social media complaints

Before social networking, consumer complaints were limited to a phone call, a letter, or an email to one audience: the company whose product or service they were complaining about. They had little power over the actions the company would take. Would the company give them a refund or other desired result? Would they even respond to the complaint?

The sad truth is that most complaints were never satisfactorily resolved in the favor of the consumer through old media channels. Buyers had very little leverage. Unless the complaint received attention from a large audience - e.g., newspaper or TV media - most companies got away with delivering mediocre products or service. But social media has changed that.

Social networkers are the new global advertisers, evangelists and consumer "watchdogs."

Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers have become the large audiences that Television, Radio, and Newspapers once supplied. Through social media channels, consumers have dramatically increased their leverage. What used to be a solitary, one-line complaint in an email to Customer Service can now be a 140 character product killer.

Companies who've caught on to the power of social media are now carefully monitoring sites, especially Twitter and Facebook pages where audiences can reach the multi-thousands. Dell, Wells, Fargo, and Eddie Bauer are some of the companies who have set up Twitter accounts or Facebook pages (often both) to deal with both consumer accolades and complaints.

Jessica* who had problems getting a refund by Dell found quick success through Twitter. "I emailed Dell customer service repeatedly and got nowhere," she recalls. She then decided to tweet her frustration on Twitter and heard back from Dell via a Twitter reply in less than 30 minutes. "They took my information and a check was sent in a few days. It was so easy."

Jessica was successful because she has a lot of Twitter followers, but on Facebook, buyers can receive equal attention through company Facebook group or fan pages, which boast hundreds to thousands of followers (note however that unlike on Twitter, Facebook moderators can delete user posts).

Melanie*  discovered how leaving a comment on the Lands End Facebook page received her the attention and answers she desired much more quickly than if she had called or emailed them. "They not only acknowledged my complaint on their page, but also immediately sent me a private message."

Successful companies know that customer satisfaction is a big component of company sustainability.  Now that social media makes consumer opinions so transparent, buyers have a lot more power than they used to. This also means that companies need to pay more attention to how they handle consumer complaints - online and through traditional media to avoid social media complaints in the first place. I suspect those companies who are keeping up with the social media bandwidth will fair much better than those who ignore it. News travels much faster and much further today thanks to global networking sites.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

February 19, 2010

U.S. Americans are socializing like the rest of the world - thanks to and Social Media

For many years, socialization among US Americans has been a topic of particular interest for me. Perhaps, it's because I've socialized with friends from around the world since I was very young, yet born and raised in the U.S., and noticed some key differences (and because my degree is in Psychology).

For me, it started with pen pals - from Greece, France, and Japan (I'm still in touch with my Japanese friend after more than 20 years!). In college, my pals were from Germany, Nepal, Greece, and who had multiple citizenship with the US, France, and Italy. I spent a Semester Abroad in Paris and hung out with students from all over the world. After college, I befriended a group of South Americans from Chile, Argentina, and Peru. For the past several years, I've also enjoy my Brazilian friends, as well as those from Scandinavia.

One thing that has stood out to me for a long time is the difference between how US Americans (and maybe Canadians) and other nationalities socialize. The distinction I've noticed is this: After college, US Americans tend to be very "couple-oriented" while those from other countries still socialize in groups. By "couple-oriented," I mean male and female, romantic couples (though certainly, it may be similar for non-heterosexual couples). If you're in a relationship in the US, chances are you'll be invited to dinners or outings where there are other couples (US Americans tend to be obsessed with even-ing out the number of male and females). Chances are, if you're single, you won't be invited to these same events (noticed that single folks?).

Non US Americans socialize in pairs, sure, but they also socialize quite a bit in mixed groups. For example, when I hung out with my South American friends, we would do things together, as a group. It was a mixed group of females and males, some couples, mostly singles. If, say, I wanted to go to a movie, I could call up any of the friends, male or female, and ask them if they were interested - without the platonic vs non-platonic stigma you find in North America (e.g., "She/he wants to date me"). How refreshing!

The important social psychological / anthropological point I'd like to make regarding the difference in socialization styles is the fact that I suspect that US Americans have, until recently, left out a large percentage of people from social events. This in fact, could very well have (wouldn't be surprising) led to isolation and depression in the United States (heck, if they claim that almost 19 million people in this country are depressed then something has got to be wrong, right?).

What's fascinating - and very wonderful to me - is how social media and especially sites like bring people together, create community, and foster group events with both single and partners. While groups create events for singles that may have otherwise been lacking the friends or excuses to get out, social media sites such as Facebook and MySpace foster communication between people in an unprecedented amount. It's truly a significant change in our socialization and I am very interested in seeing how those "Depression" statistics play out in the coming years.

November 11, 2009

How Adobe is Using Facebook for its Social Media Grab

I checked out Adobe's Facebook product Fan Page for Photoshop CS recently and I really like how they're beginning to utilize the power of this social media site's tools. I think it's an excellent example of a Fortune 500's consumer (B2C) social media strategy in the works.

I say "in the works" because I suspect this Facebook page is an Adobe social media study - a foot in to test the social media waters on a site that they're previously only dedicated to the Education / Students market. They don't have any other product-specific Facebook Fan pages up yet and their Adobe Fan page for Students is really lacking in interaction with their audience.

However, Adobe is off to a great start with the Photoshop CS page. They're not only promoting their products, they're supporting them with tips & tricks and inspirational design ideas. They're promoting Photoshop's extensive tool set and while doing so, supporting users to be more proficient and comfortable with their product.

Participation is enhanced through forum discussions and fan feedback. Additionally, Adobe has sections specifically for fans to post their own Photoshop images and related videos, creating a sense of fan ownership and dedication.

One of the best things about Adobe's strategy here is that they are responding to feedback from users, for example, explaining and apologizing for some website issues from an external link. I'd like to see more of that, even when users aren't complaining.

Where else could Adobe step up? A couple of ways. The Events section seems outdated since the last post was in July. They might work with third-parties who host product related events. Their Video section is also extremely lacking, with only five Adobe-sponsored items compared to 39 user posts. Adobe could be taking advantage of their large selection of in-house and 3rd party tutorial videos here, especially transferring those  they post on their Wall. That seems like an obvious direction completely missed.

But for the minor "lackings," I salute Adobe. It's a win-win for both consumer and vendor and I think a good model for other consumer companies. Keep up the good work Adobe. We'd like to see more!

October 28, 2009

Transparency and Social Media - What you should know

By now, most of us have heard the stories of employees ranting about their bosses or colleagues on Facebook, forgetting these folks were part of their Friends list and privy to everything written on their "Wall." But there's even more to consider.

Given the extent of our Twitter "tweets," Facebook and FriendsFeed updates, and similar broadcasts across the net, our personal dialogues (and who we really are) are becoming more and more transparent. Search engine (SEO) ties between social media outlets such as Twitter with search results on sites such as Yahoo, Google, and the like -- which are providing real-time results -- increase this transparency further.

And now, Google just released Social Search, which takes it even further by analyzing a person's network of friends' feeds.

Let's not forget that our updates, tweets, blog posts, forum and other comments, etc., are also archival. Have you ever searched your name and found a forum post you made a few years ago? Yep, that's what I'm talking about. And you think deleting your Facebook updates will help? No such luck. Facebook just updated their privacy policy dictating why deleted content will live on. It's an uncomfortable thought.

To put it bluntly, if you have something to say online, especially using social media, you might want to think carefully about the contents of your monologue.

Your words may not be written in stone, but they may be available to everyone, anyone, anytime.