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.