Creating the Complete Social Media Experience for Your Meetings and Events

I am presenting a webinar with Boston Conferencing/Peach New Media next Tuesday at 12 Noon. The title is Creating the Complete Social Media Experience for Your Meetings and Events: Effective Practices from the Leading Edge of Association Social Media. From the description:

Learn how to plan and implement the complete social media experience for your next event, conference or meeting in this unique webinar. C. David Gammel, CAE, will lead us through the entire process from beginning to end, helping you to identify the specific value you wish to create with social media at your events and how to make it happen. David will share cases and examples from associations and others who have effectively used social media to enhance their meetings and events.

Should be a fun program, hope to see you there!

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Hedging Software as a Service

With marginal (and some formerly healthy!) companies being forced out of existence these days, it’s important to assess any technologies you use as a software as a service (SaaS) model.

The beautiful pro’s of SaaS-based services is that companies and organizations can access technologies and services at an affordable price point, paying monthly rather than massive annual licensing and support agreements. You also avoid needing to run or lease your own hardware for the service. A lot of companies can use tech that wouldn’t be availalbe to them otherwise.

However (you knew that was coming!), there are some risks that are much greater today than when growth was much easier for everyone. The primary risk is: what if the company providing the service goes under or ceases to offer the service you rely on? The more central that service is to your core operations, the higher this risk becomes.

That’s not to say that SaaS is a bad model. It’s a great one for many organizations and situations. Given our current economic environment, it’s good to assess your risk and do what you can to mitigate it.

Here are a few suggestions for minimizing and controlling that risk:

  • Back-up your data to your own storage. Your storage should be backed up as well
  • Identify other vendors who can potentially step into the breach. If the worst does happen you’ll need to get back up as quickly as you can. Knowing who is out there in advance will save you some valuable time.
  • Have a plan. What, precisely would you do if you had one week’s notice? How about no notice? For core services, this kind of disaster planning is critical.
  • Talk to your current SaaS provider frequently. Touch base at least once a month to see how things are going. Firms that are going to fail often give some clues before it happens if you are paying attention.

Proper planning and preparation can help hedge your SaaS risk to a great extent. The worst will still impact you but you’ll be able to get back in business much faster than you could otherwise.

Implications of Ecommerce Sales Slowing Down

The New York Times has had a couple of stories recently about ecommerce sales slowing down along with everything else. Here is a blog post from the Times on this. They are still growing but at a much slower pace.

There are some implications here for anyone who makes direct sales via their web site. The primary one is that the usability of your online store is more important now than ever. When times are good, it’s easy to ignore some loss of sales due to challenging interfaces. When numbers are no longer growing or even contracting, however, you can’t afford to lose anyone who wants to give you money.

Here are a few things to look for:

  • Review your web traffic reports and conversion rates. Identify any steps in your processes that tend to lose people.
  • Personally observe several people completing transactions on your site and note any areas where they get confused or slow down.
  • Have an expert mystery shop your store and identify where you can improve. (I can help you with this, by the way!)
  • Talk to your call center staff and see what issues they hear about from customers who call them.

Once you have identified some improvements, drop everything until they are done. Otherwise they are less likely to be implemented. I’ve seen instances where a single small change had a 6-figure impact on revenue.

Online Career Centers in the Current Economy: Huge Opportunity to Offer New Value

The employment market is dramatically changing as the drumbeat of layoffs and a shrinking economy continue. The potential value of online career centers is, counter-intuitively, skyrocketing at the same time. Here is why:

  • Employers may have fewer positions available but the ones they do have open are likely to be extremely important;
  • Employers will have to sift through a much greater number of applicants for each position;
  • There is going to be an influx of new job seekers who are highly qualified without recent experience in job hunting.

Online career centers have greater value for both the employers and seekers in this market. Think about what additional value you can offer to each.

Can you help employers to more easily sift through a large number of applicants to find the hidden gems?

Can you help the newly unemployed to present themselves in the best light?

Can you offer special services to senior executives and the recruiters looking to cherry pick the best talent in this market?

You get the idea.

The career centers that offer the most value now will be the ones that surge forward with the most energy when the economy inevitably improves and organizations begin hiring in much greater numbers. What are you doing to be ready?

Chrome – New Browser from Google

Google has announced a new web browser they have produced: Chrome. The application is open source, which means anyone can use the application for free and adapt the source code to meet their needs.

The announcement is less than a day old. Nicholas Carr has the most interesting analysis I’ve seen so far. An excerpt:

Although I’m sure Google would be thrilled if Chrome grabbed a sizable chunk of market share, winning a “browser war” is not its real goal. Its real goal, embedded in Chrome’s open-source code, is to upgrade the capabilities of all browsers so that they can better support (and eventually disappear behind) the applications. The browser may be the medium, but the applications are the message.

Twitter Misplaces Their Network

Twitter gets a well deserved rap for downtime and other hiccups related to their exponential growth. However, their most recent tribulation is really bad for a social networking service.

Yesterday they lost a bunch of the data in their system about who follows whom on the site. These connections are the core conduits for the value of the system. It’s as if your address book erased half your entries and your phone no longer accepts their calls to boot.

They are still trying to reclaim the lost data but it appears to be slow going. My connections are not back to what they were just yesterday.

And, yes, I’ve gone active on Twitter after a long hiatus and now with a new account. You can follow me @davidgammel.

Wiki Markup: What You See is Hard to Do

James Robertson has point out the obvious weakness of wiki tools: Wiki markup has no future:

The lack of WYSIWYG editing is a big barrier to adoption within organisations, and on the wider web. There are only a limited number of users that have the time, skills and inclination to learn wiki markup. It’s a fundamental usability problem, and the spread of wikis will always be niche as long as wiki markup remains.

This is a rather heretical point of view among wiki aficionados, however it is right on the money. If the outcome of using a wiki is to make content creation easy for a distributed group, wiki markup gets in the way of achieving that outcome. Most people can use a WYSIWYG editor if they have used a word processor in the past. This covers most Web users, especially in a corporate environment. Using obscure text code is an unnecessary and anachronistic hurdle to put wiki users through.

Stop Blocking!

Shel Holtz has started a site that encourages corporations to not block their employees from large chunks of the Internet: Stop Blocking!. From the site:

Companies everywhere are blocking employee access to the Net, fueled by questionable research and irresponsible pronouncements of self-serving individuals and organizations. This site is designed to serve as a hub information resource for those who believe the benefits of providing access far outweigh the risks.

Shel was kind enough to post a link to my idea about making online holiday shopping a benefit rather than an infraction. Shel’s initiative is combating all the misguided rules put in place instead of actual good management practices. Bravo!

Not to mention the damage companies do their employee’s ability to engage online on their employer’s behalf. Plus the recruiting implications. Think the generation coming out of college now will take well to corporate nannyware?

A final aside. Discovering Shel’s Stop Blocking initiative only happened because I wrote an entry and someone commented on it pointing to Shel’s site. I love the serendipitous discoveries that blogging creates for me.

Shopping Online at Work

I am quoted rather extensively in a West HR Advisor feature article on whether and how to monitor employees shopping online at work.

This article won’t be available online for long, so check it out now if you are interested. Funny how the president of an internet usage monitoring system recommends tracking both time spent online and content viewed by your employees. Gee, why would he say that?

My rebuttal:

Given the pros and cons of time-based monitoring, employers should put more effort into performance management. “Employees should be evaluated on how well they are achieving the outcomes they are supposed to do for their employer, not how long they spend surfing the web. If someone is meeting or exceeding their goals, who cares how long they spend online at work?” Gammel asks.

I even get the bottom line quote at the end:

“Ultimately, those who want to goof off will find ways to do so even if the web isn’t viable. This is a management and motivation problem, not one of monitoring,” Gammel says.

You have more fundamental problems in your business than online shopping if you have to go Big Brother on a regular basis. Installing nanny software may seem easier in the short run but it is not going to help improve the value of your employees’ contributions to the organization.

Here is an idea: if you know your employees are going to be shopping online during the day anyway, why not make it a benefit?

Announce that each employee is encouraged to spend up to 2 hours shopping online for the holidays. Tell them they have to work out coverage and scheduling with their bosses but that you want to recognize all they do for you year round by making their shopping a bit easier. You gain good will and scheduling efficiency while losing nothing that wasn’t going to happen anyway.

Stikipad Losing It's Stick

I have recommended Stikipad as an inexpensive host wiki service for the last few years. As far as I can tell, the owners of the service have abandoned it since June and it’s performance is degrading. If you are using it I highly recommend migrating your stuff to another site before it goes away. Such is life with using start-up web-based services.

Here are a few alternatives:

  • Google Docs (free, wiki-ish, web-based, Office clone)
  • PB Wiki ($500/year for up to 5 users)
  • Wikispaces ($50/year for one wiki, unlimited users)
  • Confluence ($500/year for up to 15 users)
  • SocialText (Free for up to 5 users, call for pricing otherwise*)

* Come on SocialText! At least put entry level pricing online.