Monday, 24 December 2012

Season's Greetings!

Just getting everything ready for Christmas . . . which means cleaning the house from top to bottom (almost done), wrapping the presents (done), decorating the tree (done), making the puddings (done several weeks ago), icing the cake . . . oops, I knew there was something I still had to do!

So, I'd like to send best wishes to all of you and say thank you for reading my blog over the past year. 

Photo © Martinased | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Festive Spirit - a Personal View

Christmas is just two weeks off . . . although the shops have been displaying Christmas goods since September (and, in some cases, August).  Christmas lights have been switched on - and in one English town, at least, there were complaints at the poor quality of the display.  One of our local superstores has already run out of Christmas trees.  People are replenishing their drinks cupboards, parents are spending huge sums on whatever the latest craze is that the kids are demanding, and numerous presents are being bought  that, once Christmas is over, will be consigned to the bottom of a drawer or advertised for sale in the local paper.

Now, I am not a Christian, so I'm not coming at this from a faith-based angle.  But, even so, I find all the commercialism of Christmas rather sad.  Yes, it's great to buy presents for those you love . . . but somehow each year there seems to be a compulsion to spend more and more.  And giving things isn't the only way to show love.

Because, as a non-Christian, I believe that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of someone whose mission was to bring more love into the world.  I'm a great admirer of the Salvation Army whose idea of a good Christmas is to ensure that lonely elderly people and homeless people have a hot Christmas dinner and a happy day, feeling wanted and cared for.

And I'm also a great admirer of the entrepreneur Andrew Reynolds.  Not because he's a self-made multi-millionaire (although that, in itself, is admirable) and not just because of his enthusiasm in encouraging others to follow in his footsteps.  But simply because he is a great philanthropist and works tirelessly for charities including Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Make A Wish Foundation and has helped many people in South Africa to achieve a better standard of life that, without his help, would have been unattainable.

But there is no doubt in my mind that internet marketing can encourage greed . . . think of the marketers who sell worthless packages, or who don't offer a money-back guarantee, and the retail companies and eBay sellers who sell substandard goods.  There are so many people trying to make a living through the internet, there is so much competition, that I feel that it's very easy to lose sight of what it's all about.  Because, as one of my other marketing 'favourites', Armand Morin, always stresses, it's not just about making money, it's about providing value.

And so, when I'm feeling jaded about the internet, it's good to be reminded of how it can bring people together and make life easier.  And when that reminder has a Christmas theme, so much the better.  I first saw this YouTube video last Christmas and loved it then.  Not everyone does, and if you don't like it, then I apologise.  But if you haven't seen it, please have a look at the Digital Story of the Nativity.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

A Cautionary Tale - or How Not to Set Up a Website

I have just spent an hour ordering some wine as a Christmas gift.  Not different bottles going to different people.  I wasn't even choosing individual bottles.  Just sending a case of six wines that I should have been able to order and pay for in a few minutes.

I had browsed a couple of websites and discovered that Wines Direct was offering a £30 off voucher for new customers at Laithwaites which meant that I could send something really nice rather than just quite nice.  So I clicked on the case I wanted, filled in my details and clicked the big red button saying 'continue'.  Which brought me back to the main page.  Eventually, after doing this a few times, and realising that 'continue' really meant 'discontinue'  I discovered three links at the top of the page for 'delivery', 'summary' and 'payment'. 

I clicked 'delivery', filled in the details of the recipient, and clicked 'payment'. I put in my card details and my billing address plus the voucher code and clicked ‘make purchase’. A message came up to the effect that the recipient’s name and address were missing. I backtracked and put them in again (and this also required putting in my card details again). The same thing happened.  I tried it a third time and, yes, you’ve guessed it . . . it didn’t work.

Finally I gave up and rang the company.  The girl I spoke to was helpful but knew nothing about the vouchers on the Wines Direct website and I spent ages hanging on while she asked her colleagues about it.  She said it must be a Virgin Wines voucher.  I read out to her what it said on the Wines Direct website and told her that clicking on the voucher code brought one to the Laithwaites - not Virgin - website.  I gave her the url of the voucher offer.  The only thing that stopped me giving up and starting again . . . with Virgin Wines or another website . . . was the fact that, with £30 off, this case of wine was very good value.

Eventually we got it sorted and I paid for my wine.  I put a little message in with it . . . it had to be little because Laithwaites allows only a measly 70 characters (including spaces) - half the length of a Tweet!

So I think this is a lesson to anyone who has a direct sales website, especially at Christmas when you sell products that might be sent as presents.  Your website has got to work.  I wonder how long it is since any Laithwaite employee has checked out the website and tried ordering something to make sure that it's possible without the customer tearing his or her hair.  I wonder why the customer service staff on the 'phones don't know about all the voucher codes available - surely someone could print up a list for them.  I wonder why they are so mean about the size of the message . . . surely a few more characters would cost them nothing.  And I wonder how many customers they lose simply because of the inefficiency of their website.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

It's not easy to find time to read everything

There is a huge amount published every week on the internet on the subject of internet marketing, affiliate marketing, using social networks, blogging . . . and the all the paraphernalia of making money online.  Some of what's written is interesting, some is informative, some is both interesting and informative. 

I read a lot of it and, as you'll know if you read this blog regularly, I like to share things that I find helpful.  So about three months ago, I started to compile a weekly newsletter containing twenty of so of the stories and articles that had caught my eye during the past seven days.  I offered it to the people who were already on my list and, three months on, more people are reading it each week.

I haven't advertised it at all but the response I've had to it has now prompted me to mention it here in case any of the readers of this blog would like to subscribe to it.  It's free and all you need to do is click here and then fill in your name and email address on the form and click 'sign up'.

Recent articles have included:
  • 5 easy ideas for increasing blog traffic
  • 7 reasons to join Pinterest for Business
  • A report on the new Facebook purchase tracking tool
  • The secrets behind great business websites
  • Best practices for SEO content writing
  • Making money with social media
  • 6 Insider Secrets to a Winning Affiliate Marketing Program
  • How to Build an Online Business From Scratch
  • 10 reasons for using videos for marketing
  • How to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing on Pinterest
  • 10 ecommerce turn-offs to avoid
  • Why businesses fail online
  • How to make your online branding brilliant
The Sphinx House Newsletter comes out every Monday.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Does Anyone Here Understand the Rules of Twitter?

My Twitter account was just suspended.  Fortunately it's not a big hoo-ha to get it back . . . you just have to tick some boxes saying you'll be a good girl (or boy) in future.  But it's the reason I was suspended that puzzles me.

The page . . . and yes, it is a 'one size fits all' page . . . said I had been suspended because I'd been following aggressively and there had been a large number of reports of my spamming.

Now first of all, I'd like to say I abhore spam.  However, it seems that Twitter's definition of spam is very different from what most of us might understand by that term.  According to Twitter, you are spamming:
  • If you have followed a large amount of users in a short amount of time;
  • If you have followed and unfollowed people in a short time period, particularly by automated means (aggressive follower churn);
  • If you repeatedly follow and unfollow people, whether to build followers or to garner more attention for your profile;
all of which sounds, to me, identical to their definition of 'aggressive following'.  But spamming covers other actions as well - in fact, there's a long list - and one of these is:
  • If your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates;
which is also troubling because I do post links in almost all my posts - they're to articles and news items that I think may be interesting or helpful and which, I believe, my followers are following me in order to see.  I hope that what Twitter means is just links without some text saying what it is . . . but it's not clear.

As far as the 'aggressive following is concerned',  my following habits have remained exactly the same for at least the past six or eight months and I've never been suspended before.  I always follow roughly the same number of people each time . . . and only every other day, never ever two days running.  So why now?

And what also puzzles me is who these large number of people who reported me are.  Because a very large proportion of those who I follow, follow me back - usually around 70 to 80 per cent.  And, although I guess quite a number will automatically follow back anyone who follows them, I'd like to think that a lot of those who follow me do so because I post links to interesting articles and news items.

So, yes, I'm quite offended to have had my account suspended for aggressive following and spamming.  Of course, one of the problems is that no one outside Twitter actually knows what aggressive following consists of.  The guidelines say  "if you don’t follow or un-follow hundreds of users in a single day, and you aren’t using automated methods of following users, you should be fine."  (Notice it says 'should' . . . not 'will be'.)  But how many hundreds is 'hundreds'?

One Twitter expert I know used to teach that you could follow up to three hundred a day for three days in a row.  And some bigwig at Twitter had assured him personally that it was OK to do this.  But I know someone who was suspended for following 200 two days in a row and then, once she was reinstated, two days later for following ten!

I find it difficult to understand what Twitter hopes to gain by being so vague.  It would, after all, be quite easy to say "You may not follow more than 200 people once every two days" or something of the sort.  Then we'd all know where we stood.  But, sadly, this seems to be the way things go online these days (if you've read the posts I wrote in January about Google adwords, you'll know what I'm referring to).  And I wonder whether ultimately it's just about power . . . knowing that they have a hold over so many people who are anxiously pussy-footing around, trying not to break rules that haven't been fully explained.  Sadly, we'll never know.

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Value of Stepping Back

I've been away for a week.  During that week I've had some thoughts about the new business I've been working on.  Not that I've been consciously sitting down and thinking about it . . . I was, after all, on holiday . . . but just odd thoughts that came into my mind.

From the physical distance of 100 miles and the much greater mental distance, I was able to take stock of what I was doing.  For the past few months I have been focusing mainly on building up - and maintaining - my list in this new niche.  Using the same techniques over and over again, this has been working well.  But other aspects of the business have been slower to take shape.  For example, I've had very little time to design my website and that's holding up some of the other things I want to do.

From a distance it became quite clear how I can re-assign my time so that the list building continues but I can also start on other aspects of the business.  Having become aware of this, I also became aware of how easy it is to get bogged down in just one part of building a business.  And I could see that it would have been much harder to realise this from within the work, so to speak.

So I have learned a lesson and now, from time to time, I shall allow myself to step back and see how what I have been doing looks from the outside.  Perhaps this is the real secret of successful business - to be able to see the whole picture and to maintain a balance within one's work.  We shall see!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

It's About Time!

Internet marketing, particularly when you're starting out, can be very time consuming, especially if you can't afford to outsource any of the work.  And, in my experience, many training courses tend to play down the amount of work that's going to be involved.  I'm not just talking here about courses on internet marketing.  When I applied to train as a counsellor, I was invited for an interview at the college.  As with every interview I've ever been to, at the end the interviewer asked me if I had any questions.  I knew that the teaching part of the course involved going to the college one day a week  but said I'd like to know how much work was required in addition.  "About half a day a week" was the reply.  Actually, it turned out to be closer to two and a half days a week and, in the last months of the course, even more.

I've noticed the same sort of trend in some internet marketing courses . . . "you can achieve this in three months working two hours a day".  Well, perhaps some people can.  But I'm equally sure that a lot of people can't.  I think there are several reasons for this . . . firstly, if you're a bit of a perfectionist, like me, you'll want to get everything 'right' before you move onto the next bit - and that, in itself, can slow the process down considerably.  Or maybe your concentration isn't that good or your environment is such that you're constantly interrupted.  Or perhaps you're so new to internet marketing that you have a lot to learn about the basics before you can even start . . . or you can't afford to invest in all the time-saving software and have to take the slower route.  Or possibly you're just disorganised and don't make the best use of your time.

Now some courses will give you a little 'extra' in the form of some sort of time management training.  I've tried a few of these . . . and they've never worked.  For me, and my lifestyle, they are far too rigid.  Yes, indeed, I can plan a timetable but when it comes to it, I can't keep to it.  There's a great line in one of the episodes of the drama series The West Wing.  Josh Lyman is asked about a typical day at the White House, where he is Deputy Chief of Staff.  He says "There's no such thing.  There's a schedule and there's a structure, to be sure.  And to a certain extent it starts out as a nine to five job.  But you can count on it being blown to hell by 9.30."   And I know just how he feels. 

Planning a timetable that's set in stone means you've got to be certain that nothing urgent is going to pop up and need attention.  It also means that you've got to have a rough idea how long each task will take.  And it means clock-watching to ensure that a session where you're working on task A doesn't overrun into time allotted to task B.  And, apart from being distracting, that can be quite annoying if task A is going well and you want to continue until you've finished it.

So I've generally ignored any suggestions of time management schemes . . . until a few weeks ago when someone recommended The Pomodoro Technique to me.  It's a remarkable book written, so I understand, by a young man who was trying to organise his university studies.  The scheme is imaginative and flexible and doesn't require clock watching and - best of all - it works!  I've been using it now for two or three weeks and have found that not only has my productivity improved but I'm also far more aware of how much time certain tasks need, and I'm managing my time very much better.

The scheme entails the use of a kitchen timer (the 'pomodoro' of the title).  Instead of this, I've downloaded a free timer to my computer.  The alarm sounds are programmable . . . so I have beautiful flute music and birdsong telling me when a working period has ended . . . what could be nicer!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Why Linkedin Worries Me . . . part 2

Since I wrote the last post, two things have happened.  The first is that more people I don't know have endorsed me for my skills and expertise, of which they have no personal knowledge.

The second is that I have received an email from someone asking me to endorse him.  Now, I've received a few requests of this sort in the past and have replied to say that, as I don't know the writer, I'm unable to.  But this latest email was more than just a request.  It was headed "LinkedIn endorsements offer more credibility behind skill sets" which, as I pointed out in my last post, I am starting seriously to doubt.  It began by thanking me for being part of the sender's network on Linkedin and then gave a list of "Tips about How Linkedin Endorsements can Help You and Me".

Tip 3 stated "It's important to get endorsements, as anyone looking at your profile and comparing you to your competition will see them.  Endorsements create an instant overview that is easy to compare with your competition.  Obviously, you want to look the best."  And, according to tip 4, if I were to endorse him, his connections would see a link to my profile when looking at his profile and this would mean that "In SEO it will rank your profile when my profile has been ranked" (actually he put "when my profile is been raked" - a reminder that one should always read through an email before sending it).

The email concluded with a very long list of skills that the sender considers himself to possess, and a request that I spend at least five minutes endorsing those skills!  Needless to say, I did not endorse any of them.  For all I know, he might be very good in all the areas that he lists . . . but, equally, he might be the only person who thinks so.

I'm tempted to try a little experiment . . . to list one of my skills as ballet dancing (something I've never done in my life), and to see how many people I can get to endorse me!  But, on a more serious note, I'm wondering why there's been this sudden rush of endorsements and requests for endorsement.  Is there someone teaching that this is a good way to get oneself noticed?   Strangely enough, Linkedin seems to have no ruling about endorsements, saying only that "Skill endorsements are a way to endorse your 1st degree connections' skills and expertise with one click."  Admittedly, it does suggest that one should only link directly to people one knows personally (but open networking rides roughshod over that).  So is it, perhaps, time for Linkedin to put its house in order and decide exactly what it is that it's offering because, at the moment, I'm finding it hard to understand.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Why Linkedin Worries Me

I joined Linkedin a while back.  Someone suggested it was a useful way of making business contacts.  He also suggested that I put myself on the Open Networker listing.  This means that I'm happy to connect with anyone who invites me to do so. 

Since I became a member I've linked to over 3000 people, some of whom share my interests.  But, overall, I've wondered about the value, for me personally, of being a member.  I can understand that for anyone who is job-seeking or wanting to make contacts within a specific industry, it can be useful.  But I'm self employed, both as a counsellor and in running my internet marketing business, and that's quite a different kettle of fish.

But what has worried me recently is that people have started to 'endorse' me for my 'skills and expertise'.  I have been endorsed as a doctor, writer, broadcaster, hypnotherapist, public speaker, internet marketer and integrative counsellor by several people who have never met me and don't know me from Adam!

Now, this is very kind of them, and I appreciate the gesture.  But what sort of message is it giving to others?  It implies, surely, that these people know me and trust me.  But, for all they know, I might have made it all up  . . . I might be a book-keeper or an insurance salesman or a ballet dancer just playing with an imaginary alter ego.  (Actually, if anyone's worried about it, I am exactly what I say I am on Linkedin.)

So how valuable can Linkedin be for making genuine and trustworthy business contacts which, as I understand it, is the whole point of the website?  I'm beginning to wonder.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

I Need Some Aspirin - My Head is cyPOPping

It seems to me that, since Facebook and Twitter started to prove themselves so popular, you can hardly take a breath without another social networking platform popping up somewhere on the internet.

Wikipedia lists 202 of what it calls major active social networking websites but notes that the list is not exhaustive, excludes dating sites and consists only of notable, well-known sites.

Personally, it took me quite a while to work out all the ramifications of Facebook - something not helped by the new 'timeline' format which was introduced some months ago.  But at least I could understand what Facebook was about - what it's rationale was, so to speak.

Twitter, of course, is relatively simple.  Once you've worked out how (and who) to follow and unfollow and how to use direct messaging and tweeting, you've more or less learned it all.  Perhaps that's why I like Twitter.

Because, to be quite honest, I don't have a lot of time.  I work long hours and, if I'm going to use something online, it's got to be both straightforward and useful.  I don't want to have to waste time trying to work something out, particularly if I can't see the point of it in the first place.

Which brings me to cyPOP.  I can't remember how I first came across it.  I think it was mentioned in an article I read, and it sounded intriguing.  It describes itself as "a uniquely designed online destination where meaningful content, engaging conversation, and vibrant images are all centered on like-minded people with similar interests".  It tempted me to investigate further.

As on any of these sites, you can't find out much without actually joining, so I filled in the form . . . and read the initial instructions on how to use cyPOP.  It appears that an interest forum - perhaps equating to a Facebook page - is known as a cafe.  You can set up your own cafe or join other people's.  To join a cafe I would need to search for topics I was interested in, locate a cafe I wanted to join, and click the 'join cafe' link.  Seems straightforward enough.  I was a little put off by the fact that the owner of the site (or whoever had written the instructions) didn't know that the plural of cafe is cafes and not cafe's but, what the heck, I know a lot of people have problems with apostrophes.

So I clicked on the 'members interest map' and started to look for things that interest me.  And couldn't find them.  There was a heading for 'classical music' but no cafes.  Similarly a heading for 'Buddhism' but no cafes.  And there wasn't even a heading for 'antiques'.  The closest I could find was 'collections' which came under 'hobbies' but comprised of three sections entitled 'PEZ', 'Bobbleheads' and 'Transformers'.  On which, your guess is as good as mine . . . or perhaps better because I have no idea what they mean.

OK, so it looked as though there weren't yet many people on cyPOP with my interests.  Perhaps if I started a cafe for antiques, say, other people might join.  I looked at the 'how to set up your own cafe' instructions.  I was told to click on the 'create a cafe' link, then select a unique cafĂ© url, an interest category and then select the privacy settings (public, private, by invitations only) and finally to click on 'Create Your Cafe'.

But what, I wondered, if I couldn't find the category I wanted?  Eventually I worked it out . . . using the main heading of 'arts' and the subheading of 'crafts and decorative arts', I was then allowed to put in a further heading of 'antiques'.  I chose whether I wanted my cafe to be public, private or by invitation only . . . and there it was.  My cafe.  Except it still needed to be formatted - I would need to create discussion categories, provide shortcuts, edit my home page layout, edit the main page add content and invite other members.  At which point I gave up.

If I want to chat about antiques, say, with other enthusiasts I can do so easily on Twitter or on Facebook, or on a dedicated forum.  After all the work that setting up a cafe on cyPOP entails, what would be the advantage?  Quite honestly, I could see none.  So I left my newly created cafe undecorated and unfurnished, with the door still firmly shut, and walked away.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Value of the Internet

There are days when I wish computers had never been invented . . . those are the days when my computer keeps crashing or freezing, the days when I can't find a particular file I need, the days when I can't remember the url of a certain website and the bookmark seems to have disappeared, the days when I'm in a hurry and everything seems to be on a go-slow.  We all have those sort of days. 

And then there are the other days.  The days when a subject can be easily and fully researched without having to make a trip to the public library (which, frequently, didn't have the right material anyway).  The days when I'm able to chat to friends around the world, courtesy of forums and chat rooms and email.  And the days when I learn something amazing. 

Today was one of those days.  I received a tweet which said "please help me spread the word that seizure alert dogs save lives" and it gave me a link to this article.  Now, I'm a doctor, and yet I knew nothing about seizure alert dogs.  I read the article and retweeted the tweet.  Hopefully, others will retweet it, too.  And I realised that this is the marvel of the internet . . . the ability to spread information around the world.  And, also, of course, the ability to campaign.

I belong to an organisation called Avaaz.  It describes itself as "a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere."  It has been in existence for five years, has over 16 million members, campaigns in 15 languages, and has a core team and thousands of volunteers on six continents.  It is member-led, wholly member-funded and democratically accountable, and campaigns on a vast range of issues.  For example, in April 2011, 500,000 Indians signed an Avaaz petition which set wheels in motion towards a new anti-corruption law in India. In November of last year, half a million members, together with more than 1,000 indigenous protesters, got Bolivian President Evo Morales to halt construction of a highway that would have sliced through the heart of the Amazon. And in January 2012, over three million members worldwide signed a petition opposing a bill that would give the US government the right to shut down any website. 

For as much as there are anxieties about the internet contributing to the spread of child pornography and making it easier for sexual predators to find victims, the internet has also proved itself a valuable tool for good, raising awareness, bringing together people of like minds and giving them a way in which they can make their voice heard.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Why Anti-Malware Software is so Important

Some time ago tweets started to appear on Twitter to the effect that Facebook was no longer going to be free to use after a certain date.  Not true, of course.  Now similar tweets are being bandied around, saying that Twitter is going to start charging its members.  "Sign the petition" or "Read more" say the tweets and, indeed, it's tempting to do so.  However, even though the links given look authentic (having been shortened by they actually lead to a potential source of malware.  If you click and your computer isn't protected, you could be in trouble.

I discovered some time ago how important it is to have anti-malware software as well as anti-viral software.  A piece of malware got onto my computer and I had an awful time trying to remove it.  A pop-up box kept appearing telling me that my computer was infected and that if I clicked the link and paid however much was being requested, I would get access to software to remove the infection.  Of course, it was the pop-up box itself that was the malware . . . but I've heard of people who, in desperation, did pay up in order to have it turned off.

I was fortunate in that I have access to a second computer.  Using this, I searched for some information about the pop-up box and its demand for money.  It led to me to where there were instructions on how to remove it, without having to pay any money to anybody.  After that, I installed Malwarebytes software.  Since then, on several occasions, it's stopped me from going to potentially dangerous sites.  After all, one url looks much like another, particularly if it's been shortened to fit into a tweet.  So it's becoming easier and easier to click on a dangerous link by mistake.

I find it sad that there are, apparently, so many people 'out there' trying to disrupt other people's computers.  But I'm profoundly grateful that there are some equally clever people who are dedicated to keeping our computers safe.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Why Twitter Makes Me Smile

I'm finding Twitter very entertaining . . . and perhaps not for the reasons you might expect.  Sometimes it reminds me of a busy market - or a Middle Eastern bazaar - with all the stallholders shouting their wares.  Not "Buy my lovely juicy oranges" or "Best quality spices" or even "Carpets handmade by my family" but "If you need capital for your business - we have it", "Check our pet sitting services" and "Have a look at our training course".  So you have to look for the tweets of real interest, because there's a danger of them not being heard above the street-cries of all the vendors. 

A lot of these advertisements come in the form of direct messages (that is, messages sent to an individual rather than tweeted to all one's followers).  And, occasionally, some abuse comes that way as well.  When someone follows me on Twitter, I send them a direct message offering them four free ebooks on internet marketing (the same books that I offer on this blog).  The other day I had a message from a young man who said "F**k your book with your weird hair due!! Im not her for promotions of others to promote too I provide the wise words to live by".  (I should point out that the asterisks are mine.)  I couldn't resist replying that he might be more successful in providing wise words if he were to refrain from abusive language and learn to spell!

A while back, I wrote about some of the possibly virus-related messages that were turning up - such as "this user is saying horrible things about you..."  Interestingly, these don't seem to turn up so frequently now but new messages have appeared which purport to lead to a Facebook link and which suggest that something the message recipient has done has been covertly filmed.  These have a more amateurish feeling about them - I don't think I've yet seen one whose spelling is correct - and include statements such as "your in this" and "heh u didnt see them tapping".  And I can't help wondering whether anyone is fooled by any of these - or, indeed, whether the original writer truly thought that they would be.

Also as direct messages come the requests to validate oneself through TrueTwit, which I've written about before.  I continue to do this, although the jury's still out as to whether it makes any difference to who follows me and who doesn't.  But I do find TrueTwit itself interesting.  It's not the straightforward captcha code that you find on other sites.  They used to present a picture which was in two sections and you had to move a slider to align them.  Then (after a couple of episodes when the captcha supplier sent them the wrong codes and nothing was being validated) they changed to words.  Sometimes you're asked a question and are told what answer to put in the box.  Other captchas consist of a question such as "which is hottest" and there's a drop-down box with possible answers such as "ice cream", "frozen yoghurt" and "hot soup"!  My favourite is the one that asks you to describe a certain brand of which they show the trademark.  The first few times this came up, I didn't have a clue because I'd never heard of the brands.  But then I discovered that the actual brand is immaterial and one can put "ok" or "rubbish" and it's accepted.  Most of the time, though, the captcha just asks you to copy a phrase or saying.  But I've noticed that in recent weeks these seem to be getting longer and longer - regularly up to five or six words.  I'm wondering how long it will be before one is asked to copy out the Gettysburg Address!

I suppose the reason why all these things increase my enjoyment of Twitter, rather than diminishing it, is because it takes Twitter away from being a regular forum where people are polite and advertising isn't allowed and turns it into something that frequently resembles a madhouse.  But there are some very nice people there as well as those who take your breath away with abuse.  And there are some very interesting tweets as well as those which are pure advertising (and to be perfectly honest, I do tweet the occasional ad myself!).  Twitter is unpredictable and eccentric - you never know what's going to turn up.  And that's what I like!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Hooray for HootSuite!

You may remember that a while back I took HootSuite to task for what I considered to be a confusing and uninformative video announcing some new feature.  But, despite that, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that HootSuite is the best social media management system around.

I've tried out a few recently because, with its free version, HootSuite allows you only five social profiles.  I now have six streams I want to follow and thought I'd check out some others to see how they compare.

I Googled "social media management tools" and came up with a number of systems - although fewer than I thought there would be.  First I found UberVU which describes itself as a "social intelligence platform" and whose basic version offers five streams - and costs $499 a month!  OK, I'm sure it has all sorts of bells and whistles that HootSuite doesn't (well, it'd have to for that money!) but I was looking for something simple to keep track of my various Twitter and Facebook accounts and to post to them as and when I want to.

After UberVU I looked at PageLever.  But this, I discovered, only covered Facebook and cost $99 a month.  SproutSocial, at $39 a month for up to twenty profiles was the cheapest I'd found so far.  It promises to "deliver relevant messages from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs & Articles, competitor insights and more directly to your dashboard" and declares that you will no longer be "hunting across multiple sites/tools for important messages–everything you need in one, perfect inbox".  Now, I haven't tried SproutSocial and it may well be that it lives up to its promises.  But who decides which messages are relevant and important?  Microsoft Outlook (of which I have complained before on this blog) promises to put spam into my junk mail folder and deliver all genuine messages into my inbox - and singularly fails to do so even after I have told it that a particular sender should be whitelisted.  Perhaps SproutSocial has better software . . . but I would always be worrying that I had missed something.  Also, I have a suspicion that I would find having all my profiles in one inbox or stream somewhat confusing.

Then I came to Gremln.  This wasn't bad, although I found the green typeface in its streams hard to read.  I signed up for the free version (maximum 5 profiles) to try it out.  It was fairly easy to schedule tweets but I discovered that, unlike HootSuite, a link-shortening facility wasn't built in unless you invested in the $19 a month version.  On the free version you had to hop back and forth between the page and the message page which, if you're trying to schedule a number of tweets, is irritating and time consuming.

There was a similar problem with TweetDeck.  In addition, I found the scheduling screen fiddly to use.  Perhaps what annoyed me most about TweetDeck was that you don't see the whole message in the 'messages' column but have to click on each in turn and then click once more to return to the main column.

And finally there was Ezeesocial.  I got a free subscription to this as part of a training package I bought a while back.  It seems to be trying to be all things to all people and includes an autoresponder as well as a wide range of social media tools.  But it's so confusing that I found it worse than useless.  In addition, its design - or lack of it - is such that boxes overlap each other and the message box for the autoresponder is so small that it's well nigh impossible to work with.  So you have to trust to luck that you've got it right - because there doesn't seem to be a facility to send yourself a preview.  When my free subscription expires, I shall not be paying $320 a month to renew!

And so we come back to HootSuite - which, unlike TweetDeck, covers not just Twitter and Facebook but also Google+, LinkedIn, foursquare, MySpace, WordPress and mixi.  The streams are clear and readable and easily customised.  Scheduling is easy and a link-shortener is built in to the message box.  And for $9.99 a month, it gives you unlimited social profiles.  While I was searching on Google, I came across an article on social media management systems in which the author said "My favorite aspect of HootSuite is how long it’s been around. Any social media tool with the longevity of HootSuite has to be taken very seriously because there has to be a reason it is still around with all the competition out there."  Having browsed the competition - and seen their prices - I can see why Hootsuite is still going strong.  It's easy to use, it does everything that I require, and it saves me time.  So I have signed up for the Pro version and would recommend it to anyone else who wants to keep track of their social media profiles cheaply and effectively.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

What Do We Need to Do to Get Customers to Trust Us?

It's a common complaint in the world of internet marketing . . . that there are people out there selling the "secrets" of their own methods - without having had any success with them themselves.  I've been amused recently by a number of tweets on Twitter that proclaim the writer's excitement at being able to get thousands of new followers in a very short space of time.  The implication is that they have tried it and it works.  Out of curiosity I looked at the number of people following these accounts.  Not one had more than a few thousand.  Two which proclaimed "get 10,000 followers today" had, respectively, 2247 and 3350.  Which begs the question, if it works then why haven't you used it.  And, if it doesn't, why are you advertising it?

In my life outside internet marketing, I work as a counsellor where 'congruence' or authenticity is very important.  We don't hide behind a facade because we can't help clients if they don't trust us. Similarly, I believe that in internet marketing we need to prove to our customers that we are trustworthy.  If you're buying a high price item, would you rather buy it from someone you've dealt with before and whom you trust or from someone you've never heard of?

But how do we build this trust?  Well, obviously, first of all, by not making false claims.  And secondly by being absolutely open and honest in our dealings.  Offer a money-back guarantee if the customer isn't satisfied - and make it a no-quibble guarantee, even on downloadable items that can't be returned.  Yes, certainly, a few people will rip you off by asking for their money back when they intend to use the product, but they are few and far between and offering a guarantee will mean you’ll gain far more than you’ll lose.

Another way to build trust is to give good value (something that I was writing about a couple of posts ago).  It's all about perceived value, which is why so many internet marketers offer 'free bonuses' with products.  Now I'm not sure about bonuses.  Obviously, it’s important to offer bonuses that are totally relevant to the product.  But I believe that it’s equally important that they don’t appear to be just a continuation of the main product because otherwise the prospective customer may wonder why they’ve been offered separately.  In such a case,  the bonuses could actually have a negative effect, diminishing the value of the product itself.  After all, you wouldn’t expect to buy a book and find that the last chapter was being offered as a ‘free bonus’.  

I also believe that it’s very important to appear professional.  This doesn’t mean to pretend we have more experience than we actually have but, rather, not to make elementary mistakes that set people to wondering exactly how much we do know about the subject.  So, for me, it’s vital to check spelling, punctuation and grammar.  If I’m irritated by the typos and the poor grammar on a sales page, I’m not going to want to buy the book it’s trying to sell.  Similarly, the page needs to be well formatted.  WordPress themes have made it so easy to construct a good-looking website that anything less than that can appear amateurish.

And finally, I believe that it’s very important to communicate with customers.  If they have a question, answer it.  If they’re not sure how to use a piece of software you’ve sold them, explain.  Let them know that you (or your staff) are real people who understand their needs and will always  give good service.  This has always been how small businesses have built up a loyal customer base and, as far as I can see, whether it’s a bricks and mortar business or one that’s online makes no difference at all.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Does the Klout Score Really Have Any Clout?

Oh I had to laugh!  I've wondered for a long time whether a Klout score has any real value.  And I've just read an article, which seems to think it does.

Near the beginning, the author says: "Klout is a simple online influence analysis platform which gauges, pretty accurately, how much influence you have in the online world within your niche field of specialism."  (Note the use of the word 'accurately'.)

So I thought I'd check out a couple of big names in internet marketing and see what their scores were.  Mine is 51, so I would expect them to be in the high 90s.  But instead of that, I found that Derek Gehl has a score of 47 and Armand Morin has a score of 57.

According to Klout, I am only six points behind Armand Morin (multimillionaire, universally respected internet marketing teacher - and probably one of the most successful internet marketers on the planet) when gauged for my influence "in the online world within my niche field" which is, of course, internet marketing.

Now Derek Gehl is perhaps not as well known as Armand Morin but he's certainly a very successful internet marketer and teacher of internet marketing.  So what have I done to earn a place four points AHEAD of him on Klout.

Well, if you look at the Klout website it will tell you that scores are assessed according to the number of:
  • Mentions, likes, comments, subscribers, wall posts, and friends on Facebook
  • Retweets, mentions, list memberships, followers, and replies on Twitter
  • Comments, +1's, and reshares on Google+
  • Connections, recommenders and comments on Linkedin
  • Tips done on foursquare.
  • +K received on Klout
  • Page importance, inlinks to outlinks ratio and number of inlinks on Wikipedia

Now, the Wikipedia references, fair enough.  If you're well known and influential you are likely to have a larger presence on Wikipedia.  But, as for the rest, it's just a measure of how busy you are in social media.  If you don't use it, or use it to a limited extent, like Armand and Derek, then you're not going to achieve a high score even if, like them, you're a world-class teacher.  So can Klout really claim to be an accurate gauge of influence online?  Well, not in the area of internet marketing.  Because, if you're a top marketer and you teach numerous people every year how to do it, you ARE influential online whether you use social media or not.

Perhaps in other fields - gardening or antiques or the theatre, say - the Klout score would be more accurate because the internet is not an integral part of these fields.  But as far as internet marketing goes, I think we need to take the scores with a pinch of salt.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Are We Losing Sight of the Importance of Good Value?

I went to a car boot fair this morning.  It's a large one and a lot of the stallholders are antique dealers who use the fair to sell off their less valuable or smaller pieces.  I was talking to one of the dealers who had some nice vintage glass.  He was bemoaning the fact that the distinctions between local prices and international prices are being blurred by so much being sold on eBay.  It reminded me of the Oscar Wilde quote about the cynic, who is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.  

And that, in turn, got me thinking about the cost of the courses and software and so on that we sell as internet marketers.  I have noticed that there are some marketers who charge the same price for pretty well everything they produce  . . . it's all £197 or £247 or whatever.  (I remember hearing a year or two back that someone had actually done a trial and found that things sold better if the price ended with a seven rather than a nine, say, or a zero.  Go figure!)

And, certainly, I have heard it suggested that, if you're producing a new product, you should look to see what other people are charging for their products and price yours accordingly.  Now, in one way, this is sensible - you don't want to charge £300 if everyone else is charging £50 for a very similar product.  Nor would you want to undersell yourself and charge too little compared with similar items.  But I wonder whether, in all this, we are losing sight of the importance of quality and value.  If our product is genuinely better than everything else available, should we not charge more?  On the other hand, should we not make an effort to be aware of the shortcomings of our products in order to avoid charging more than they're worth?

I believe that some products being sold online are greatly overpriced.  I've written recently about the cost of buying Camtasia compared with the low cost of a subscription to Screencast-o-Matic.  I have no personal experience of Camtasia but certainly some reviewers seem to think it's not worth the £299 price tag.  On the other hand, I think there are some pieces of software that are genuinely worth their high prices.  Adobe Photoshop, for example, retails at around £500 but it can do things that (as far as I'm aware) other photo editing software doesn't.  I have used it myself and, for someone who does a lot of work with photos and graphics, I think it's worth every penny.

Similarly, I have seen internet marketing and other courses which, while useful and informative, are - to my mind - not worth anything like the £297 being charged for them.  I have seen single instructional DVDs that I would happily pay £8 or £10 for but not the £20 to £25 being asked by some sellers.  Conversely, I have bought courses from some people (such as Armand Morin) which, despite being pricey, have been such good value that I've gone back again and again for more.   

And that, surely, is what it should be about - offering good value to our customers so that they return time and time again.  It's all very well learning about the 'funnel' - lure them in with an inexpensive product and then promote increasingly expensive ones over a period of time - but if the first product is rubbish, they're not going to come back, no matter how cheap it was.

This, of course, is one of the problems with affiliate marketing.  We have to promote the product at the prescribed price and, if we want to be sure that it's worth the money, we have to buy it first and spend time reading it or watching it.  So although producing our own products can be hard work and time-consuming, it does give us much more control.  In the past I've sold my own products and I've sold other people's and, shortly, I'm hoping to launch a website where I can offer a range of quality products at  reasonable prices.  Value is everything in this business.  And, as Armand Morin - one of the most successful internet marketers ever - always teaches, give them more than they've paid for and they'll buy from you again and again.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Holiday, Car Boot Fairs and Selling on eBay

We're just back from a holiday in Devon and I've got a lot of catching up to do!  I had intended doing a little work while we were away and had taken laptop and dongle.  However, when it came to it, I couldn't get a signal at the place where we were staying.  So one day I took the laptop out with me and sat on the top of Dartmoor doing some work, surrounded by beautiful moorland and sheep.  Which was glorious.  But eventually the battery got low and I decided I'd rather get on with the holiday and . . . well, you get the picture.  I recharged the laptop but, for the rest of the holiday, it stayed in a cupboard.  Hence the catching up.

One of the things I love to do (not just on holiday) is go to car boot fairs.  I'm never sure if this is a purely British institution so, in case it is, I'll explain that a car boot fair is exactly what it sounds like.  It's an open space (field, car park or whatever) where people congregate to sell stuff out of their car boots (trunks).  Usually they pile their bits and pieces onto folding tables or onto groundsheets and you get an amazing mixture of stuff . . . antiques, kids' toys, second hand clothes, books, cds and dvds, electrical equipment, jewellery, bric-a-brac . . . you name it, you can probably find something.  I've not been to many fairs this year because the weather's been so bad - loads of wet Sundays - but, even so, I've had some good finds ranging from some limited edition teddy bears to an out-of-print and very sought-after tarot deck . . . and all for just a few pounds.

So when we go away, I like to know where the local boot fairs are and, for that, I buy a magazine called, appropriately enough, Car Boot & Fairs Calendar.  The reason I'm mentioning it is because, in the July/August edition there was an interesting little article.  It reported that on eBay US (and likely to be introduced on eBay worldwide) there is now a demand that all "top rated sellers" offer a one working day handling time for postage - something that, as the writer pointed out, is just not a sustainable option.  "Weather, transport, strikes.  Power failures, illness . . . however many miles round trip to the post office to mail just one low value sale in time . . . differences in public holidays from country to country."   And, asks the writer, if you're selling to a different time zone, which working day is the start point?

Finally he notes that, for parcels over 2kg going overseas from the UK it's cheapest to use FedEx or DHL but both of these usually need two days' notice for collection so if you're sending somehing that weighs 2.65 kg, you might have to charge the customer an extra £40 for postage, just to keep within the new rules.

As he says, it hasn't been thought through properly.  But my feeling is that it may not last very long.  I remember another rule that was brought in a couple of years back which certainly hadn't been thought through properly.   It was decided that anyone selling books on eBay had to offer them postage free as their standard rate.  The "thinking" (for want of a better word!) behind this was that people buy books on impulse and if they don't have to pay for postage they're more likely to buy.  (Really?  I've never been aware that paying postage puts people off from buying on Amazon.)  It was at this point that I stopped selling books on eBay.  Because the only options were either to distort the price of the book by including the postage cost, or else to lose money.  A hefty paperback may cost two or three pounds to post, so you can't start the bidding at 99p.  Similarly a set of hardback books may cost twenty or thirty pounds to post, particularly if you need to include insurance.  So the whole thing was ridiculous.  I think a lot of booksellers must have agreed with me and stopped using eBay to sell because, when I looked recently, I noticed that all the books on sale are quoting postage costs once more.  At least eBay seems to learn from its mistakes . . . well, some of them!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Bringing Online Marketing to Offline Businesses

I don't know about you, but I find it quite annoying when I want to look up a local business and find that it doesn't have a website.  There are, of course, plenty of directories which list businesses and give your their contact details.  But I want to know more than that.  I want to know their opening hours and I want to know whether they're offering the particular goods or services that I want.  And I find it surprising that there are still a lot of businesses that don't have an internet presence.

Armand Morin has started a campaign to bring offline businesses into the online world with his
Marketer CMS software and Instant Cash Flow.  It's an interesting concept.  Armand has created a piece of software which enables you to create a website just by 'filling in the blanks'.  It's a WordPress theme and, for anyone used to using WordPress, it should be a piece of cake.

Now I've never used WordPress - it's always seemed a bit complicated to me.  I've stuck with SiteSpinner to create my websites and Blogger for my blogs.   But I've just been watching some of Armand's videos on how to use Marketer CMS and I reckon I could do it, even with my limited knowledge. 

So what's so special about it?  Well, it's been created with small businesses in mind, giving them a way to promote themselves to customers who, ultimately, will be coming into their shops to buy.  It's not designed to showcase their wares but, rather, to allow the customer to get to know what the business offers and, most important, to make contact easily. 

The Instant Cash Flow course enables anyone who can use Marketer CMS to become a web-designer for local business, helping to build a company's online presence, through the well-thought out design of the site and a useful SEO plugin.  It is, for want of a better phrase, a 'business in a box' - buy the course and then market the websites to businesses near you.  It's a clever idea for anyone who's at home with WordPress and who is a good salesman.  At $1,997 it's not cheap.  But for someone with the skills to make a go of it, it could be a real money-spinner as well as offering a valuable service to the local community.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Making an Effective Video Without it Costing the Earth

After my last post, I’ve been thinking some more about what makes a good video, whether it’s possible to produce one without it costing the earth and whether, in fact, it’s worth the effort.

Andy Jenkins, a Grand Master of video production, is of the opinion that “Video can give you a fighting chance against the giants of the industry . . . Large and established companies are often quite careful about their marketing strategies, because having built a reputation for themselves, they are quite careful about how they do things.”  Smaller companies, he says, are likely to be more creative, or even controversial.  And he declares that as far as promoting a brand is concerned, video is the next best thing to SEO.

However, the video has to be done right.  Andy Jenkins lists some vital strategies:
●    be creative - the concept needs to attract the viewer’s undivided attention
●    the video needs to create an impression that’s hard to forget
●    videos work better if you can produce a series rather than a one-off
●    it’s important to make it easy for people to share your videos
●    and your videos need to be promoted to where your audience is, not just on YouTube
●    the video must be optimized with keyword tags
●    and you need to use the right tools

So what are the right tools? Well, if you want to make a simple cartoon-style video, there’s GoAnimate.  I tried out the free version and, quite honestly, wasn’t madly impressed.  It was quite fun but the electronically produced dialogue sounded very stilted and unnatural.  However, it’s possible to upload your own dialogue and music (although I think this may only be available in the paid version) or to show dialogue as speech bubbles.  My feeling is that it would take quite a lot of work to get a professional-looking video, but at $18 for three months or $58 for a year it’s not expensive and, if you like cartoons, probably worth a try.

But most people, when they think of videos, think of Camtasia, and certainly, in my experience, it’s the software that the gurus tend to recommend.  When I started to make my own videos, I had a look at it and I thought it looked quite complicated.  Great if you want to make videos with lots of bells and whistles . . . but for a simple video to put on a sales page or to upload to YouTube to advertise a website, was it really what I needed?  After all, at $299, it’s not cheap. 

On the other hand, it had been recommended by the person whose course I was following.  I decided that the best thing to do would be to look at some of the online reviews.  Now, it’s only fair to say that CNET gives it a five star editors’ rating.  But with users who registered their opinions on that site, it only scored an average of three and a half out of five.  I had a look at some of them and the glitches they described were quite off-putting.  One said “Crashes. A lot.  Sometimes when you add audio tracks . . . you cannot save, export, or even PLAY your movie so far. It will also at random remove a large section in the middle of your film.”

Another wrote “Just 5 days in to the 30-day, free trial, I have had to un-install and re-install Camtasia twice . . . Today, am having to re-install AGAIN because over 2 days worth of recording and editing have been invested and now when I play the video it runs for between 5 and 15 seconds before crashing. I have sent 7+ error reports . . . other videos produced by other people also cause Camtasia to crash. The videos don't even have audio. Just basic videos with basic editing.”

A third called Camtasia “a piece of junk”, while a fourth listed a whole sheaf of complaints such as “freezes and loses files”, “awkward file structures, naming conventions and editing processes”, “doesn't support common audio devices”, “sucks up HUGE amounts of system resources” and “the longer the video and the more edits, the greater the risk of losing the file.”  This last user was also singularly unimpressed by the customer support provided by the parent company, Techsmith

Obviously a lot of people found Camtasia excellent - maybe they were the professional video makers who knew how to deal with the glitches, or maybe they were just lucky, I don’t know. But from what I’d read, I wasn’t going to invest $299 in a piece of software that might not work perfectly.  So I looked around for something else - something that would do the basics and that wouldn’t cost the earth.  And I found Screencast-o-Matic.

For $15 a year you get a bunch of editing tools, which include resizing, cut out or insert, trim, speed change, zoom and adding captions.  For my first videos I used PowerPoint with a spoken commentary - and they couldn’t have been easier to make.  On my most recent video, though, I used a PowerPoint background and, in the bottom left hand corner inserted a small video of me talking.  Again, it was very simple to do.  (And if you'd like to see the finished article, click this link.) 

I suspect that the difference between Screencast-o-Matic and Camtasia is the same as the difference between Photoshop and one of the cheaper photo-editing programs.  If you need loads of tools to produce fancy videos and you are clued-up enough to sort out any glitches, then probably Camtasia is worth a try.  But if you just want to produce simple, effective videos to put on your sales page, I reckon that Screencast-o-Matic takes a lot of beating.