Articles for August 2011

12 Social Media Tools Recommended by the Pros

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
August 31st, 2011

Are you struggling to make social media work for your business? Sometimes a few well-chosen tools are all you need to get your social media marketing working for you.

In our recent Social Media Success Summit, there were presentations that covered all the key topics you need to make your social media marketing easy. In this article, I’ll share 12 of those tools that were recommended by the pros.

Tools to Refine Your Visibility and Engagement

Here are three tools recommended by Mari Smith during her first presentation on increasing your visibility and engagement on Facebook.

#1: Socialbakers

Get useful stats from SocialbakersSocialbakers offers paid services to monitor your Facebook statistics, but it also provides useful free statistics for Facebook and LinkedIn.

socialbakers

Check out the useful marketing data on Socialbakers.

#2: Kurrently

Find out what’s being shared on social media with Kurrentlya free, easy-to-use, real-time search engine for results from Twitter and Facebook. “Companies can capitalize on just-in-time marketing and social CRM opportunities like never before.”

kurrently

You can search through Facebook or Twitter or both.

#3: Blekko

Select the sites you want to search with Blekko. You can create “slashtags” for groups of URLs, friends, experts and communities and you can “slash in” what you want and “slash out” what you don’t want to search.

blekko

With Blekko, you have more control over your search results thanks to the slashtags you create.

Tools to Measure Specific Social Media Goals

Jay Baer gave a fantastic presentation on measuring social media. He clearly identified the different goals a company could have on social media and recommended tools to use to monitor results for each specific goal. Here are three of those tools.

#4: Social Mention

If social awareness is your main social media goal, then be sure to check outSocial Mentionwhich allows you to set up social media alerts so you can measure awareness for specific keywords.

socialmention

"Social Mention is a social media search and analysis platform that aggregates user-generated content from across the universe into a single stream of information."

#5: Klout

Klout is another tool you can use to measure awareness on Twitter and Facebook.

klout

Check out the different graphs for your score results on Klout.

#6: PostRank Analytics

If customer loyalty is your main social media goal, you can use PostRank Analytics to measure results in improving loyalty.

postrank analytics

PostRank Analytics is a favorite tool of social media marketers.

Tools to Get the Job Done

Frank Eliason gave an overview of how to use social media in business and shared two of the tools he’s found useful.

#7: Blogsearch.Google

Use Blogsearch.Google.com for better search results than Google Alerts. There are many tools to monitor keywords. Don’t forget to use this one!

google blogs

Remember to check out what blogs are writing about you through Blogsearch.Google.com.

#8: Twitterfall

Use Twitterfall when you need to show executives how you can monitor what’s being said about your brand on Twitter.

twitterfall

Twitterfall specializes in real-time tweet searches.

A Useful Tool for Twitter Marketing

Hollis Thomases showed businesses how to use Twitter marketing to grow using this tool:

#9: Friend or Follow

Friend or Follow helps you improve your Twitter marketing. It tells you who’s not following you back on Twitter and who you’re not following back.

friend or follow

Use Friend or Follow to craft a stronger Twitter presence with your audience.

Tools to Make Video Blogging Easy

Steve Garfield always makes video blogging easy for everyone. Here are three tools to create on-the-fly videos to enhance your social media content.

#10: Wetoku

Sign up for Wetoku to make the popular side-by-side video interviews. All you need to do is sign in and send an invite code by email to the person you want to interview.

wetoku

Wetoku is an easy tool to use for interview videos.

#11: Socialcam

If you have an iPhone or an Android phone, be sure to check out Socialcam. Steve says this is the easiest way to share videos with your social networks.

socialcam

Socialcam combines video sharing with social communities.

#12: Stupeflix

Use Stupeflix to integrate after-effects and photos to your videos. If you want to do editing without using editing software, this tool is for you.

stupeflix

Stupeflix is an easy way to make your videos more appealing.

Find the Tools You Need

One of my takeaways from the summit was that you don’t need to use all of the tools available. Businesses have different cultures, different goals and are at different stages in integrating social media into their marketing mix. These social media pros found the tools that worked best for them.

Do you think any of the tools above can make your social media marketing easier to execute? Please let us know in the comments below if you’re going to try any of them.

 

By: Cindy King

Facebook Users Have More Close Friends (Study)

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
August 27th, 2011

A new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reveals some interesting details about social networking users, debunking the myth that people who hang on Facebook a lot tend to have less real-life friends and contacts.

Someone who uses Facebook several times per day, the study found, has on average “9% more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other internet users.” Furthermore, Facebook users tend to get more emotional support, companionship as well as instrumental aid (meaning they’re more likely to get help when sick, etc). Finally, Facebook users tend to friend other users with whom they’ve actually met in real life; the average Facebook user has never met only 7% of his/hers Facebook friends.

Since the study was conducted during the November 2010 elections, it revealed that Facebook users also tend to be more politically active than other internet users. A Facebook user that interacts with the site multiple times per day was two and half times more likely to attend a political rally, 43% more likely to have said they would vote, and 57% more likely to persuade someone on their vote.

 

 

 

 

The study also shows that Facebook is, by far, the most engaging social platform out there, as 52% of Facebook users engage with the site daily. For comparison, 33% of Twitter users engage with the service every day, while only 7% of MySpace and 6% of LinkedIn users do the same.

 

 

 

 

The report is based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from October 20 to November 28, 2010 on a sample of 2,255 adults, age 18 and older.

More Facebook Brand Fans Say They’re Loyal Followers

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
August 20th, 2011

Social media friends and followers still say they’re more likely to buy

 

Early research on becoming a fan of brands on Facebook or a follower on Twitter indicated that social media users with brand connections were more loyal and more likely to say they would buy the brand’s products than average. Over the past year, those kinds of connections have become more common, and many brands have grown their fan pages and Twitter followings significantly.

Longitudinal data from ROI Research suggests that growth has not diluted the power of social media connections, which still have a link with customer loyalty.

In 2010, 32% of US social network users told the research firm they were at least somewhat more loyal to brands they were fans of on Facebook. This year, that percentage ticked up slightly, to 34%.

 

US Social Network Users Who Are More Loyal to Companies or Products They Are Fans of on Facebook, 2010 & 2011 (% of respondents)

 

Similarly, 40% of respondents in 2010 said they were more loyal to brands they followed on Twitter, rising to 46% this year. There was also a significant drop in the number of users who disagreed with that claim, from 21% to 13%.

 

US Social Network Users Who Are More Loyal to Companies or Products They Are Followers of on Twitter, 2010 & 2011 (% of respondents)

 

At least half of Twitter and Facebook users said they had become more likely to talk about, recommend or purchase a company’s products after they began following the company on social media. And Twitter users showed a greater level of engagement than Facebook users across all these metrics, as well as in willingness to link to an ad for the product or attend a sponsored event.

Still, many users might want less communication from brands. More than 40% of social network users told ROI Research that brands should communicate with fans only once or twice a month, and another 26% thought weekly communication was sufficient. Only 10% of respondents wanted to hear from brands at least daily.

 

eMarketer

Ric's Restaurant in the Camarillo Village Square shopping center

by Ventura County Now

August 18th, 2011

Walking into Ric’s Restaurant and Lounge in the Camarillo Village Square Shopping Center in Camarillo, you immediately can see why this restaurant is a local favorite. The laid back atmosphere makes everyone feel at home and the bar setting and big screens make it the perfect spot for watching your favorite teams play.

And, oh the food! You get great portions at an even better price. I found that everyone can be satisfied with their wide range of menu offerings; from burgers with sweet potato fries, to pub favorites to even more romantic dinner offerings like fresh ahi and mouth watering prime rib.  They also have a great happy hour with their amazing signature martinis and ice cold beers on tap.

If you are ever on the area, I recommend stopping by Ric’s to catch a game or enjoy a drink and stay for a great meal.

 

Flash Websites - Pros and Cons

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
August 13th, 2011

Flash is a very intriguing technology to add interactivity and flashy graphics to a website. Learning to write good animations and forms in Flash can be difficult and time-consuming, so developers who know Flash are motivated to use it in every situation. But as with all technology, Flash has some drawbacks for many readers and putting up a site in Flash can be a detriment to the site rather than a draw.

If you are planning on putting up a Flash website, you should know both the positive aspects of Flash as well as the drawbacks. This, combined with your knowledge of your customers, should help you to decide if creating a site in Flash or using Flash for certain elements of your site is a good idea.Using Flash can be risky too, as some customers are immediately put off by a Flash website and while search engines it can be very difficult to get an all-Flash website to rank high in search engines.

 

Reasons to Use Flash
  • Cross-platform compatibility
    Flash is well-supported on the Web browsers out there, and if you build a site or application in Flash, you know that it will be viewed correctly by anyone who has the Flash plugin. It is operating system and browser independent.
  • Animations
    Flash was originally used primarily as an animation tool, and that is what it is best suited for. It is easy to create animations in Flash, and then easy to view them.
  • Games
    Games can be fun, and Flash games don't have the browser support issues of Ajax the bandwidth limitations of server-side games written in CGI.
  • Vector graphics
    Vector graphics can look smoother and more attractive and Flash allows developers to create applications with smooth lines requiring that the customer have a vector-graphic tool installed on their hard drive.
  • Image replacement for special fonts
    Web designers who need a special font family in their Web designs can use an image replacementtechnique called sIFR (or Scalable Inman Flash Replacement) which replaces text in the design with Flash to get specific fonts.
  • Flash applications can perform script actions, collect data, and do most of the same things that server-side scripts can do.
Drawbacks to Using Flash
  • Bandwidth and Speed Limitations
    Unless the designer works very hard to optimize Flash most Flash applications and websites can be very large and slow to download. In many situations, the entire Flash site must be downloaded before it can be used. And while it is possible to add in graphical countdowns and other features to make the time pass more quickly, many people still won't wait.
  • Not Viewable on many Smart Phones
  • Usability is impaired
    One of the most important buttons on a Web browser is the back button. It is used all the time by most people browsing the Web. But a Flash site typically removes that functionality. When a customer hits the back button after delving deeply into a Flash site, s/he is taken back to the website they were on before they visited your site. Then if they return to your Flash site, they have to renavigate to where they were. Some people might be willing to do their work twice, but most won't.
  • Accessibility is also impaired
    Because most Flash sites are based on images, and don't generally have a lot of alternative text, they can be very difficult or impossible for a screen reader to read.
  • Search engines can't read them either
    Search engine spiders are a lot like screen readers, they can't parse images. Plus, many of them have trouble following links that are not standard HTML links - and most links in Flash are not in HTML - they are in Flash. Because of this, many Flash developers have a very difficult time getting their Flash sites to rank high in search engines. In fact, most Flash sites that do rank well, do so because they have two versions of the site - one Flash and one HTML. And then they have to maintain two copies of the same website.
  • Flash requires a plug-in
    While a large proportion of Web browsers have the plug-in pre-installed, the fact is that Flash does require a plug-in which some people and companies don't allow.
  • Some people just don't like Flash pages
    Similar to sound and animated graphics, Flash has developed a reputation among some customers as being more of an annoyance than a benefit to a Web page. This is especially true when the Flash serves no purpose other than to decorate a page - such as an animated banner or splash page. While these customers may be less common than those who don't care, they are often more vocal and more likely to sway opinion away from your site if you use Flash gratuitously.
Resolution

Should You Use Flash?

Only the designer and site owner can make that decision. Flash is a wonderful tool for adding games and animation to your Web site, and if those types of features are important, then you should use Flash.

Use Flash Where It's Effective

There are very few sites that benefit from using only Flash. The drawbacks to SEO, accessibility, and customer satisfaction make it impossible for me to recommend using Flash for your entire site. In fact, even Google recommends only using Flash in select situations if at all.

Never Use Flash for Navigation

It can be very tempting to create Flash navigation because you can add exciting transitions, rollovers, and vector graphics using Flash. But the navigation is the most important part of your Web page. If your customers can't use your navigation for any reason, they will simply leave - bandwidth and accessibility issues can both contribute to a Flash navigation structure being unusable. 

If your business needs help with with web design please contact us today. Ventura County Now is a co-op of local businesses: web design, video production, photography, seo, programming, and marketing. Our services are designed to fit any business owners budget. We take the guess work out of the web and are here to build for you.

Give us a call today 855-826-2999.

 

Social Networking Accounts for 1 of Every 6 minutes spent online

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
August 8th, 2011

Social networking use has doubled since 2007, and it’s all thanks to Facebook, Twitter and an array of other social companies reaching record traffic highs.

comScore’s latest numbers are out, and they paint a familiar story: social networking is on the rise. It’s the rate of growth that’s surprising, though.

According to the web analytics firm, the average online user in the U.S. now spends nearly 16% of his or her time on social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr or Twitter. That’s up from just 8% in July 2007. In the last year alone, social networking use has increased by approximately 25%.

The biggest reason for the increase in social networking is Facebook and its 700+ million users. In August 2005, Facebook was tiny compared to MySpace, its primary competitor. Facebook attracted less than 10 million monthly U.S. visitors, compared to MySpace’s 20+ million.

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t until May 2009 when Facebook finally caught up with its competitor, and ever since then Facebook has been on the rise, while MySpace has experienced a dramatic fall from grace. In May 2011, Facebook garnered 157.2 million visitors, more than four times the size of Myspace (34.9 million visitors). Facebook now reaches 73% of the U.S. Internet population each month, while MySpace has lost nearly 50% of its audience in the last year alone.

It’s not just Facebook that’s doing well, though: LinkedIn, Tumblr and Twitter all hit record highs in May, 2011. LinkedIn now attracts 33.4 million U.S. visitors, more than Twitter’s 27 million and Tumblr’s 10.7 million. Tumblr is the fastest-growing of the three companies though, boasting 166% growth in the last year. LinkedIn’s U.S. audience rose by a strong 58% in the last twelve months.

The spotlight is shining bright on these companies, thanks to a string of successful IPOs. LinkedIn shares soared during its public offering, while Pandora upped its share price twice due to heightened demand. The light is brightest for Facebook though, which could be one of the largest IPOs in history. comScore’s data contradicts recent reports that Facebook’s growth is slowing down.

Are you surprised by comScore’s numbers? Do you think social network’s growth is sustainable? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

by: Ben Parr

 

9 Things You Need to Know About ICANN’s New Top Level Domains

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
August 6th, 2011

On Monday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), approved the creation of generic top-level domains(TLDs) for brands and organizations.

Historically, only 22 general use-approved TLDs, which include .com, .org, .net and a host of others, have existed across the web. A number of country code top-level domains (like .me and .ly) also exist and throughout the years, many individuals not from those countries have used those domains to give their domain or brand a more memorable (or in some cases, shorter) URL.

The promise of more generic TLDs is immense because it could conceivably open up new domain extensions and opportunities for a wider variety of brands, organizations and services.

 

SEE ALSO: How Big Is the Web & How Fast Is It Growing?

 

Still, the entire TLD process is complicated and difficult to understand. We’ve been sucked down the rabbit hole of ICANN and the gTLD application process in the past, and it isn’t something we recommend for the faint of heart.

We read (or at least skimmed) the 352-page draft New gTLD Applicant Guidebook [PDF] to get to the bottom of what the gTLD process is, how much it costs, and ultimately, why regular users should care.


1. How Many New TLDs Will Be Issued?


ICANN has said between 300 and 1,000 new gTLDs could be created per year under the new program.

Still, this number assumes ICANN can process and deal with that many applications in a timely matter. Thousands of applications could take years to evaluate and process.

ICANN says it is limiting the first batch to 500 applications and subsequent batches — or rounds — will be limited to 400 applications.


2. What Is the Application Period?


Applications will be accepted for new TLDs between January 12, 2012 and April 12, 2012. This will be for the first round — or batch. Subsequent application periods will become available in the future.


3. How Much Will Registration Cost?


The evaluation fee from prospective applicants is $185,000. According to the gTLD Applicant Guidebook, a $5,000 deposit is required “at the time the user requests an application slot within TAS, and a payment of the remaining $180,000 submitted with the full application.”

This is just to start the evaluation process. Additional fees may be required during the course of the application review process, and this fee doesn’t include additional infrastructure fees that a gTLD may generate.


4. How Long Will the Evaluation Process Take?


ICANN estimates that the evaluation process could be as short as nine months or as long as twenty months, depending on the application, intended usage and other issues.

ICANN expects the first new gTLDs to appear within the year, but it’s likely going to be 2013 before end users see the new domains in action.


5. What Happens if Two Entities Apply for the Same gTLD?


It depends on the timeline. If one of the users has already completed process before another party has applied, the TLD will be delegated on a first-come, first-serve basis.

If neither applicant has completed the process, ICANN has a more detailed resolution process in place. The applicants will be given points in four different categories. The applicant that amasses the most points, based on this set of criteria, will win the domain. In the even of a tie in points, an auction will take place and the TLD will go to the highest bidder.

Additionally, community-based applications (that is, applications from an organization or entity and not a specific brand or company) will have the opportunity to have a priority evaluation in this process.

ICANN will notify applicants who are part of a contention set. Applicants can decide to try to reach their own resolution together (for instance, a compromise might be able to be reached for a more generic TLD like “soda” or “pizza”).


6. What About Trademarks?


This is going to be a very, very tricky situation for ICANN to mitigate. Although users do not need to own a Trademark to apply for a new TLD, the evaluation review will take any existing trademarks (from all over the world) into account when looking at the application.

Users cannot “reserve” a TLD of a trademarked name, they must go through the same process as everyone else. In addition to checking for trademarked names for a TLD, ICANN will also look at similar names that may be trademarked or might be confusing.

Additionally, trademark owners or other interested parties can file an objection during the evaluation process.


7. How Much Does Filing an Objection Cost?


The Applicant Guidebook is still just a draft, so we don’t have the final figures; but it will cost the thousands of dollars to file an objection — not including any additional mediation or court costs.

One of the reasons that ICANN is charging so much for its evaluation fees is that it is doing lots of due diligence to try to settle the feasibility of a TLD before granting it to an organization. Moreover, ICANN wants to prevent domain squatters from grabbing TLDs.


8. If I Get a New TLD, Do I Have to Let My Competitors Use It?


Once a new TLD is granted, the owner essentially becomes a registrar. That means that if he or she wants to let anyone willing to pay a registration fee get their own domain on that TLD, they can. Alternatively, the owner could limit the use of the domain to certain entities or prevent people without certain qualifications from gaining access to the TLD.


9. Will This Have Any Real Impact on My Life as a Web User or a Brand?


Not in the immediate future. However, it’s important to remember that it took years for the current TLD structure to become a viable and affordable strategy for individuals and non-Fortune 100 companies.

Twenty years ago, it wasn’t common for brands, small businesses or individuals to have their own domains. Today, a staggering number of registrars exist. It took a long time for the TLD market as we know it today to really start to open up.

I bought my first domain name in 1999, I think I paid $45 for registration that first year. Prior to 1998 or so, domain registration was a multi-hundred or multi-thousand dollar investment. I now pay $8 or $9 for a .com or .net domain, and that includes private registration.

It will take time for the process and oversight aspect of the new gTLD policies to be worked out and automated. However, we expect that community-driven TLDs for things like .music, .sports and .film become more available in the future.

Yes, actually owning a customized TLD, like .google or .apple or .facebook might be something that only large corporations or government entities can afford to do, but with time, we expect that even that process will start to change, just as they did in the .com and .net space.

by: Christina Warren

Why Gift Cards Will Lead the Transition From Plastic to Digital

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
August 1st, 2011

Over the past several years, gift cards have become the most popular kind of gift. They are the most widely-used addressable person-to-person payment method, totaling $91 billion in sales during the 2010 holiday shopping season. We love them because of their convenience. And we hate them because they don’t truly feel personal.

The mobile digital device will help to wipe away this awkward paradox. The days of plastic-based payment and gift cards are numbered. The ability to make a payment or send a gift from any device, anytime, anywhere, in any amount, dramatically shifts the convenience paradigm. And the gift card’s shift from plastic to digital may pave the way for other forms of digital payment.

Here, we’ll take a look at the three major factors driving this shift.


1. Embracing Digital Gifting


The first is the exponential growth of businesses that are embracing digital gifting. They are doing so to extend their revenue streams and to differentiate themselves from their competitors. RSR Research reported in late 2010 that half of the top 100 Internet retailers now offer digital gift cards. In January, Starbucks estimated that digital gift cards would represent as much as 20% of its gift card business in the near future.

But there are hundreds of others shifting away from plastic as well — from global brand names to smaller regional and local retailers. According to Urban Wallace Associates, more than 6 million U.S. shoppers bought digital gift cards within the past 6 months — a 150% increase since last measured three years ago.


2. Virtual Goods


The second key trend is increased purchasing and gifting of “virtual goods.” This market — already nearly $2 billion in the U.S., according to Inside Network Research — has millions of fans who love to buy and give gifts like virtual cakes, clothing, badges and FarmVille goods.

The next logical extension is for consumers to give digital gift cards that can actually be used to buy real stuff. Facebook already sells its credits as gift cards in retail stores. As the popularity of Zynga, Facebook and digital gift card currencies grow, they may well become major payment modes in both the virtual and physical worlds.


3. Personalization


The third major trend is personalization. The digital age not only enables it but stimulates it. Plastic is a form factor that knows nothing about you, nor can it easily express your personal gifting sentiments. Digital gifting is radically different. The Home Depot eGifting program, for example, enables consumers to upload not only photos but can now also capture live video on its digital gift cards.

Mobile apps are proliferating to support creative and new forms of retail promotion and value. Digital forms of stored value offer new experiences and opportunities never before possible with plastic. Three examples illustrate how versatile and pervasive the post-plastic era is becoming. These include:

  • Starbucks Foursquare checkin: To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Starbucks gave the first 600 customers to “check in” an instantly redeemable mobile gift card.
  • IntoNow: This social TV companion app partnered with Pepsi to give users instant digital gift cards for watching certain TV ads.
  • Chase GiftShelf: Chase’s iPhone app lets you redeem credit card points on the go for digital gift cards at Gap, Chili’s, Papa John’s, The Container Store and a dozen other retailers.

Conclusion


These developments provide only a glimpse of what is possible in the post-plastic card era. Digital gifting and payments are creating new possibilities of “instancy.” If you forgot to bring your nephew a present, you can order him a digital gift card for his birthday as you’re walking toward his house. Or you can send your niece one via Facebook and personalize it with a photo or short video telling her how proud you are of her.

It is no longer a question of “if” but rather of “how fast.” Market interest is clearly there. Starbucks’ new mobile card, for example, has already generated more than 3 million transactions, proving that mobile payments using digitally stored value can work.

Skeptics remain, but they’re of the same mind as those who said people would never prefer credit cards over cash. People, however, love convenience and immediacy. In 1975, one of the major credit card companies made a name for itself with the tagline “Don’t leave home without it.” Today, you will never have to leave home without a means of paying digitally. Those in the market who support that transition will be the winners.