Sep 082014
 
old-typewriters

This post is the final of a series of four sponsored stories brought to you by Nuffnang.

Boring is the comment often used about business websites, however smart companies are using blogs to spice up their sites and boost marketing, customer retention and employee engagement.

A blog can make a company’s website more dynamic and a destination for visitors, it’s an opportunity for an organisation to demonstrate its depth of expertise and the qualification of its staff.

Best at this are the big global companies like GE, Cisco and IBM that have large pools of experts who can contribute to the company blog. These enterprise blogs are sprawling sites that cover multiple markets and industries which the companies operate across.

More than a marketing tool

For smaller tech companies, particularly Silicon Valley startups, their blogs have become vital marketing platforms where they often describe the company’s journey and new features being added.

Some companies, like Uber and Nest, use the company blog as their press channels with entries acting as media releases. This is particularly useful for smaller businesses without a PR agency or in house communications people.

At a more tactical level, blogs can be used as a weapon in a fight for marketshare. One of the toughest battles on the internet at the moment is going on between accounting software companies MYOB and Xero and their blogs are at the forefront of this fight.

In this battle MYOB are the incumbent with over a million users in the Australian business accounting market and a small army of Certified Consultants to help clients with using the software while Xero is the well funded cloud computing service that grew its Australian customer base by nearly 50% to 147,000 so far this year.

Small business thought leadership

So the battle is intense with both companies using their blogs to show their thought leadership in the small business space. Both of the blogs illustrate each company’s strengths and weaknesses.

MYOB’s blog is the longest standing and is more of a generalist overview of small business and accounting issues while Xero’s focuses on the new features being added to the product, both have fiercely passionate followers which shows in the comments fields of their blogs.

Blogs though need not be about pure marketing or advertising functions, in fact the best small business ones are those that just tell their customers what’s on. These are particularly good for the hospitality and retail industries.

One plus with business blogs is they help employees understand their business better, particularly when staff are invited to contribute.

Blogging isn’t just about lonely geeks or bored mums sitting in their spare rooms. A well thought out business blog can be a great tool for engaging existing customers, motivating staff and building new markets.

Apr 282014
 
old-typewriters

“Charts are our version of cat videos” says Kevin Delaney, co-founder of the Quartz news website, in an interview with Richard Edelman, president and CEO of the Edelman PR Agency.

Keep stories short and snappy or long and in-depth with Delany seeing 500 to 800 words as being a ‘dead zone’ for online stories. Interestingly, Edelman’s piece comes in at 760 words.

In future, I’ll be keeping blog posts either very short or extremely long on this site.

Sep 042012
 
what are the rules when asking for something for free

Something went badly wrong in Samsung’s PR department last month as their strategy of engaging bloggers turned into a series of embarrassing arguments over control.

First, a pair of Indian bloggers found themselves stranded at Berlin’s IFA 2012 fair after arguing with Samsung then French blogger France Quiqueré told of her similar encounter with Samsung’s control freakery at the London Olympics.

Both encounters raise the issue of what is expected when a journalist or blogger is given a free trip to a conference or event.

Freebies are always a difficult issue, the blogger or journalist is always going to be in a conflicted position and the organisation paying the bills has an interest in what they report.

In an ideal world, we’d all follow Sarah Lacy’s example where no-one accepts freebies. The problem with that is that most media companies, let alone bloggers, don’t have the funds to attend high priced conferences in their own cities and going to one half way across the world is out of the question if someone else doesn’t pay.

Sarah’s journalist model works fine when you have a well funded operation like Pando Daily’s VC investors or someone prepared to work for nothing – the digital sharecropper model.

With the collapse of newspaper revenues, most media companies long ago gave up their ethical objections to accepting paid trips to conferences – in sections like travel, tech and motoring the freebie has been well established for decades.

Basically, if event organisers didn’t pay the bills for journalists and bloggers their conferences or product launches won’t get much media attention because most of the reporters simply couldn’t afford to attend.

This is simple economics and where disclosure comes in. If a blogger or reporter has been given free travel or accommodation so they could attend an event then readers should be told.

What really matters in all of this are the audience and the reporter’s ethical compass. If the readers or viewers can trust and value what reporters produce and in turn the reporters are comfortable within their own moral boundaries then everyone is a winner.

The danger is getting the balance wrong. If readers lose trust, PR people start taking liberties (as Samsung tried to do) or bloggers and journalists are uncomfortable with what they do then it’s time to stop doing it.

One quick way to destroy credibility is for PR managers to expect those blogger to act like performing monkeys in return for ‘winning’ a competition or believing that ferrying a journalist to an event will guarantee fawning coverage.

Any decent journalist or blogger who respects themselves and their audiences won’t do that, if only because it will damage their brand or career prospects. This is the lesson Samsung have learned.

For the record, I do accept freebies and disclose them at the bottom of any related blog posts. If an investor would like to bankroll a down under Pando Daily, you know where to contact me.

Aug 112011
 
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

Our retailers, the media and many other industries are struggling as a new generation of entrepreneurs are springing up from home and changing the way we shop, work and socialise.

Whether you’re looking at starting your own business or looking to grow an existing business, you need to understand how these free or cheap online social media, local search and cloud computing services can help you.

Join Paul Wallbank and Tony Delroy on ABC Nightlife to discuss how our work and business is changing and how you can use these powerful online social media, local search and cloud computing tools.

Aspects we’ll discuss include;

    • How can someone take on the big boys from their spare room?
    • What sort of costs are involved?
    • How difficult is it to setup an online business?
    • Are juggling home and business demands likely to cause problems?
    • What are the challenges of keeping the kids off your home systems?
    • How do you stop hackers and security risks?
    • How can existing businesses adapt to this new world?

If you’d like to add to the list or join the conversation with your on-air questions or comments are welcome, phone in on 1300 800 222 within Australia or +61 2 8333 1000 from outside Australia.

Tune in on your local ABC radio station or listen online at www.abc.net.au/nightlife.

You can SMS Nightlife’s talkback on 19922702, twitter @paulwallbank using the #abcnightlife hashtag or visit the Nightlife Facebook page.

Jun 162011
 
ebusiness; seven steps to online business success

Is your business website a money pit? A source of frustration? A time waster?

Does your business even have an online presence?

It’s time to get your website working for you and making money.

The web and social media have become the new shopfront where customers, staff and suppliers look to find people to do business with. eBu$iness will help anyone who want to set up and maintain a professional web presence by showing you how to:

  • Choose and register an effective domain name
  • set up your own free or low cost website
  • use social media to your advantage
  • optimise your website so search engines and customers can find you
  • take advantage of free local listing services and much, much more

Whether you already have a website or you’re just starting out, eBu$iness gives you the tools and know how to save time and money and will help you grow your business and make a profit.

The eBu$iness book helps businesses and organisations of all sizes understand and use social media, cloud computing, e-commerce, web service and other Internet tools to make sure their business is successful in the online marketplace.

eBu$iness is available from all good bookstores from 1 July and you can place pre-orders with our online partner Booktopia.

Jul 042010
 

As much as we’d like to think we can do everything, the truth is we can’t. Even the biggest organisations don’t always have the right skills for a task that needs to be done. Enter the consultant.

Consultants have had bad press in recent years due to a combination of misunderstandings and misuse by big and small organisations. Ideally the consulting company will bring a fresh set of eyes and skills to projects that are not central to the daily running of your business. So how do we go about choosing a consultant?

1. Do they show up on time?

If a consultant is unreliable when they are chasing your work, what makes you think they will be any better when you hire them? If you’re hounding them for quotes and proposals then you have to wonder if they are really capable of doing the job. The time required to reply to an enquiry is a good way to whittle down the short list.

2. The internet is your friend

An experienced consultant will have a digital footprint with articles, white papers, blogs and a website. These are a good guide to the areas the consultant is an expert in. For consulting firms, those white papers can be powerful marketing tools to show off their expertise.

3. Read their public utterances

Reading into articles will dig up that consultant’s or their staff’s views on the market and different solutions. Comments on other peoples’ sites by the firm’s principles and employees is a great way how deep their expertise is and how they are regarded in the industry, this is also a good check that their values align with yours.

Something that catches out a lot of the self-proclaimed “social media experts” and marketing people is they often show their talk of trust and openness is little more than talk. If a consultant’s tweets, comments or Facebook wall posts are at odds with what they are telling you, then that should be a danger sign.

4. Check references

The consultant’s website will cite the clients they have worked for. Pick up the phone and talk to them, did the consultant really do this work? How effective were they?

If your consultant is an individual, part of that digital footprint is social media. Tools like LinkedIn and Facebook help in checking references as well.

LinkedIn in particular has a recommendations section that is handy quick reference checker. Don’t be shy to contact those people to check the veracity of their recommendations.

5. Understand their biases

We all have biases towards certain solutions. As the US industrial psychologist Abraham Maslow said, “When all you own is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail”. In technology this is particularly pronounced as consulting firms small and big have made a substantial investment on one platform or another. This isn’t a bad thing but keep their biases in mind and ask questions why they are proposing a certain course of action over alternatives.

6. Know their expertise

The whole point of hiring a consultant is to do a task you aren’t familiar with. If you ask the consultant to do something outside of their immediate area of expertise then your fees are paying them to train in a new area. Good for them but not for you.

7. Are they too agreeable?

If the consultant agrees with you all the time, then there’s little point in hiring them except for self-validation. A good consultant will be prepared to gently steer you away from silly decisions. On the other hand one who screams at you or puts your staff’s views down is best let go.

8. Trust your instincts

If something doesn’t work for you about a particular proposal, individual or organisation then look elsewhere. If you’re uncomfortable before signing an agreement, imagine how you’ll be when the invoices start arriving.

9. Price should not be the factor

Choosing a consultant purely on cost is risky. As I addressed in a recent blog on the crowdsourcing revolution there are real traps in going for the cheapest option. Invariably, the cheaper and inexperienced consultants will require more handholding and demands on your management time.

A good consultant is worth their weight in gold and finding one is a great help for your business. A little due diligence through the hiring process makes sure you get the person right for your needs.

Jun 262010
 
workers in a building site

Yuan Yandong is a Guanzhou factory worker who is saving to open a hotel management company. The New York Times recently followed him through a night on the Foxconn hard drive assembly lines.

The New York Times article asked “is an unlimited supply of Chinese workers waiting to migrate from the poorer provinces”? Joseph F. Coughlin, Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, points out this isn’t the case and China has a demographic hump far bigger than our own baby boomers.

Recognising their workforce problems, China is beginning to move up the value chain as we see with Yuan’s ambitions and the recent strikes in Guangdong factories challenges our assumptions that China will just be the world’s centre for cheap T-shirts and electronics. These changes in countries like China and India were among the topics discussed by the speakers and attendees at last weekend’s X Media Lab in Sydney, in fact X Media Lab itself relocated from Sydney to Shanghai a few years ago.

China’s aging population though is tomorrow’s problem; Japan has this problem today and Western Europe isn’t far behind which means it’s going to get far harder to find workers anywhere in the near future.

For Australian businesses, this means we can’t rely on importing young workers to overcome skill shortages as we have since World War II. The Big Australia idea of using immigration from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East to fix our workforce shortages ignores the competition we’re going to be in with other nations and regions facing much bigger challenges than ours.

In that competition, we don’t offer a great package; traditionally we’ve ignored all non-British qualifications and expected new immigrants to drive our taxis regardless of their skills. Unless we recognise the contributions professional arrivals bring, we’ll struggle to attract those workers.

As businesses, this means we need to be investing and training and making sure our own workplaces and the nation’s workforce are as productive as possible. The first step on an individual business level is to understand what is happening in your sector and how technology is changing it. Regardless of what your industry is, technology is changing your supply chain, customer and supplier behaviour and you need to be understand those changes and how you can profit from them.

Your competition is no longer down the street, it’s around the world and there are millions of young, hard working people like Yuan Yandong looking at your industry right now and thinking how they can do it better. How is your business going to deal with competition like that?