You surf to the online home of the New York Times every morning. You scan your Twitter account for messages from friends, family members, professional athletes, and celebrities. You read the gossip and news at the Huffington Post daily. And before you turn out for the night, you check out the antics of your favorite celebrities at TMZ.com.

Consider yourself lucky. There are citizens across the globe who can’t access any of these sites. That’s because they live under authoritarian regimes that block at least some of their access to the Internet.

Restricting access to the Web

Students in China, for instance, might not be able to log onto the Web home of the New York Times during times of political unrest. Government protesters in Iran might not be able to send messages to each other through Facebook. And residents of Burma might not have access to the global Internet entirely when political protests are taking place in that country.

Unfortunately, authoritarian regimes have several ways of blocking their citizens’ access to the Internet, and these methods have evolved over time just as the Web itself has evolved.

Blocking access to Web 2.0 apps

For instance, governments might block either permanently or temporarily the access that their citizens have to such Web 2.0 applications as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Often, such blocks occur during political protests, election seasons or the violent crackdowns to protests that too often occur in such countries.

Countries can also be more subtle in squeezing off access to the Internet. Some, for instance, have restricted connection speeds. This, in essence, makes it impossible for users to download, share, or even see audio and video files.

Some authoritarian governments use what is known as technical filtering to prevent their citizens from accessing content that uses specific keywords. Others use this technology to block their citizens from logging onto specific domain names or Web addresses.

Human censors

This might sound surprising, but some governments even employ actual human censors to monitor and manually remove forum and blog posts that the government finds objectionable. Often, these censors will eliminate blog posts or forum messages that criticize government leaders or policies.

The United States, of course, has plenty of flaws. However, we can all be proud to live in a country in which the Internet remains largely unrestricted.

 

Collaborate on Documents without the Headaches

On December 25, 2014, in Business Technology, by Staff Contributor

Many companies employ workers across the globe. These workers – separated in some cases by thousands of miles – must at times collaborate to create mission statements, marketing plans, and other important work documents.

This can lead to headaches. What often happens, as writer Dawn Foster with the Web site Gigaom points out, is that collaborators send their documents to each other through e-mail messages. Eventually, this leaves companies with several versions of their documents, many of them conflicting with each other as workers make changes simultaneously but without consulting with each other.

This can lead to confusion.

Fortunately, there are steps businesses can take to simplify the document-collaboration process. Foster, in fact, points to a pair of key tools that can help make collaborating on documents a drama-free task.

The power of the Wiki

Foster writes that Wikis are great tools for companies that boast large teams that are all working together on documents. With Wikis, any member of a team can edit documents whenever they want. Their changes are then saved to a master document that is stored in the cloud, where other team members can also access it and edit as they see fit.

Companies can also use Wikis to share their documents with a large audience. Again, companies can determine exactly who gains access to their Wikis, making it easy for all team members to collaborate and share ideas with one another.

Google Docs still a top choice

Foster is also a fan of Google Docs… and with good reason. This popular free program works especially well for companies that want to share a limited number of documents with a smaller team. Google Docs also happens to be one of the best ways for team members to collaborate on spreadsheets, presentations, and other documents.

Again, after team members make changes to a document, they simply have to “share” or save it to make the changes or suggestions available to all other team members.

No more headaches

Both Google Docs and a Wiki can significantly reduce the headaches associated with collaborating on documents. And in doing so, they can make everyone’s work days a little less stressful.

 

Manage Your Employees the High-tech Way with These Apps

On December 23, 2014, in Business Technology, by Staff Contributor

Starting a new business is no easy task. It’s why so many businesses fail during their start-up years.

However, you can give yourself an edge in at least one area – how you manage people. Inc. magazine reviewed some of the best apps for managing employees. By using these apps, smart business owners can reduce the time they spend on making sure that their employees are as productive as possible.

If you’re not using the apps listed below, then, you’re not giving your small business its best chance to succeed.

Here is a look at three key apps for best managing your small business’s employees.

Labor Time Tracker

As Inc. says, it seems a bit old-fashioned to have your employees punch in and out using physical time sheets. A better option is Labor Time Tracker, an app that costs about $4.95 a month for every employee.

With this app, employees punch in their hours on a virtual card. This lets you see immediately who is working and who is out for the day. Labor Time Tracker also tracks overtime hours and pay. It will work, too, in multiple time zones.

Trello

As Inc. notes, Trello is one of a large number of organization apps designed to keep business owners on task, but Trello does differ in one important way: It lets business owners add employees and contractors to their various to-do lists. This way, everyone in a company can see these lists and keep track of what needs to be done throughout the day.

Trello also lets business owners assign tasks to their employees and send them messages related to the business’s various to-do lists.

TribeHR

TribeHR ranks among the best human-resources apps out there. Even more importantly, it’s inexpensive – just $2 a month for each user.

As Inc. says, the app allows business owners to track employee time off, schedule performance evaluations, manage recruiting efforts, and update employee profiles. In short, it does just about everything you’d expect a full-fledged human-resources department to do at a fraction of the cost.

If you’re trying to build a small business in today’s challenging economy, you need all the help you can get. Take a look at the people-management apps available today. You might be surprised at how powerful they are.

 

Don’t Drain Your Smartphone’s Battery

On December 18, 2014, in Business Technology, by Staff Contributor

Smartphones are wonderful tools. They let you watch movies while you’re taking the train to work. They let you make reservations at that hot new French restaurant, map out the quickest route to the theater in the next city, and give you access to the hottest online games.

But there’s one weakness that almost every smartphone shares: short battery life.

This is a frustrating problem. As you’re logging onto the Web, checking your e-mail messages, and making phone calls, you’re draining your phone’s battery. With many of the top smartphones on the market, you’re fortunate to make it home after the workday with enough battery life left to squeeze in one quick call for take-out food.

As PCWorld magazine explains, the problem comes down to this: Smartphones do too much. And by doing so, they consume more than their fair share of power.

There are steps, though, that you can take to increase the life of your smartphone’s battery. And PCWorld shares them with you. By shutting off some of your phone’s extra features, you might be able to squeeze enough extra juice out of your battery to keep your smartphone humming all day long.

Dimming that smartphone screen

First, PCWorld recommends that you dim your cell phone’s screen. A bright, cluttered screen display sucks the life out of batteries. By switching your screen’s brightness level to the lowest you can stand, you’ll already be doing much to boost the lifespan of your smartphone’s battery.

Screen lighting

You can save battery power, too, by adjusting how quickly your screen stays lit after receiving an input such as a screen tap. The longer your screen stays lit, the worse it is on your battery life.

Bluetooth

PCWorld also recommends that you turn off Bluetooth when you aren’t expecting a call or when you aren’t driving in your car. Bluetooth, because it is constantly listening for outside signals, is another major drain on your battery. By shutting it off, you’ll again significantly increase the life of your smartphone’s battery.

 

See These 5 Social Media Errors You’ll Want to Avoid

On December 16, 2014, in Business Technology, by Staff Contributor

At this point everyone knows that social media isn’t an option, but a necessity, but at the same time many aren’t sure how to go about it with any degree of effectiveness.

Social media is amazing in its ability to extend your reach beyond what you might generate on your own, but that is also the same way that it could hurt you. Let’s take a look at 5 mistakes you could be making that will hurt.

5 Killer mistakes to avoid in your social media marketing

  • Not being visual - These days people are all about wanting to view, not read. So whether you have a video, cool image or unique infographic, rest assured that your visual content will be read more, engaged with more ,and ultimately be acted upon much more.
  • Constantly selling - Put yourself in their shoes: do you like to have sales messages in your face constantly? No. Neither does your audience. Strive to make your sales pitches no more than 20 percent of your content at most.
  • Making negative comments disappear - This is a big no-no. If people determine that you are managing your social media in this fashion, they’ll not trust you at all. It just looks as if the complainer was right, and you’re attempting to hide it. Instead use this as a chance to show awesome customer service!
  • Don’t buy likes and fans - While this appears on the surface to be an easy way to pump up the volume on your social media, in reality it will have the opposite effect. The social networks won’t like it, and any real fans or followers you have will see right through it.
  • Don’t use LikeBait - LikeBait, as its name implies, is the act of bating people to like your post or page by crafting a controversial or otherwise titillating headline to get people to click or like. The main problem is, there is usually not real or relevant content behind the headline. Facebook hates this also, and is changing their algorithm to exclude it.
 

Words matter, and nowhere is that more evident than when it comes to the words you prefer to close your sales with. Frequently a single word or phrase will kill the deal, and you’re left holding the bag. (Literally!)

The words we select to build our sales messages need to create a mindset that is conducive to persuading the prospect to click the purchase button. There is a wealth of thought that has gone into the science of conversion, and the psychology behind it is very interesting.

That’s why it’s crucial to make sure we are making the most of this opportunity. Let’s examine some words and phrases that can get more conversions for you.

5 Types of phrases that sell

Using the Assumptive approach – Asking the prospect “How many of these do you want today?” assumes the prospect is buying and puts them in another mindset entirely, one in which they are on the road to delivery, and no longer making a decision. If you’ve done a good job of selling prior to this, this works well.

Asking directly for the sale – Often times it’s best to take the direct approach. If you’ve managed to make a good case for your product and have answered all the negatives you can imagine, just be bold, (not pushy!) and just ask for the sale.

Fear of loss close – Nobody wants to miss out on something that will truly help them, and this close is ideally suited for when the cost of not buying is more than the cost of the item. Fear works wonders, especially when the market is competitive.

steps

Alternative close – Oftentimes if you have several products that may fit the bill, you can “help” the customer decide by phrasing your copy like “So after looking at which fits your needs better at the moment, do you want to go with Product A or Product B?”

 

What elements do you need to have in a welcome email?

On December 9, 2014, in Business Technology, by Staff Contributor

We all get them, welcome emails. But are you up to speed on how best to create your own for your subscribers?

There are several best practices that not only will get you off on the right foot with your new subscribers, but will help them to understand and better use your services and products.

Here are 7 ways you can optimize your welcome emails to set the stage for a lasting, profitable relationship.

7 Tips for crafting welcome emails

Send out immediately - Send these out immediately. Don’t wait to batch send your welcome emails. A study by Experian found that welcome emails sent out individually rather than by batch were opened 10X more! Show you care about them signing up.

Use a reply email address - Make sure this is included. Having a no-reply email only serves to show that you really don’t give a flip about them. Also, use a recognizable name in the “From” field; company name, etc.

Split-test your welcome email subject lines - This is really easy to do, and can make a huge difference in your open rates. Wouldn’t you want to do this for a possible 15-20 percent increase in opens?

Encourage social media - Exhort your readers to follow you on social media, and make it easy for them by installing links and/or buttons on your email template.

Personalize your welcome emails - If you’ve collected names, you’re going to want to personalize your welcome emails to help you get the relationship off to a warm and fuzzy start. Don’t get overly cozy, but friendly and polite is good.

Perhaps offer an incentive - Many times companies choose to include an incentive to start the relationship off on the right foot. Perhaps a percent off coupon?

Make sure to optimize for mobile - Since around half of all emails are now opened on a mobile device, it might be a good idea to make sure you are using a responsive design so that your emails can be opened anywhere.

 

What You Can Do to Make Google Love Your Website

On December 4, 2014, in Business Technology, by Staff Contributor

We all want our web pages to rank well, and often times we think that simply putting up a wealth of great content will do the trick, but we’re here to let you know that there is a little more to the recipe than simply adding words and images.

Google loves to reward pages that are technically done well with high rankings, as they feel as though while you may have great content, if your user experience is less than wonderful, they’ll say no thank you and look elsewhere.

Let’s have a look at a 5 ways you can better optimize your pages to be more Google-friendly.

5 Tips for optimizing the technical side of your web pages

How fast does your page load? - Since we have an attention span measuring less than your goldfish, you can see why this might be important. People don’t want to wait for anything, and you can have the best content ever created but if your page takes an eon to load, they’re outa there! Google knows this, and rewards pages that load quickly.

Good internal link plan - Google will favor your page if you use an intelligent and useful internal link scheme. In addition to helping to pass Pagerank, the main reason for linking to relevant pages you own or authority pages you don’t is to optimize the user experience for your visitors.

Clean up your Schema - Schema.org has become the agreed upon Web language for search engines to best understand what your pages are all about. Your webmaster can help you ensure that your pages are Schema compliant.

Employ expected HTML - The traditional HTML elements that are used to determine what your pages are saying should be in place. Some of these would be items like H1-4 tags, image alt tags, site descriptions and a few others.

Proper use of keywords - Utilizing your keywords throughout your page in the places Google wants to see them such as in title tags, page URLs, post and page titles together with other tags and textual content will go a long way toward helping you rank for your chosen phrases.

 

These days businesses are producing visual content at an astounding rate, and the question soon arises, how and where to manage these assets? The sheer numbers of images, infographics, videos and creative web art bring into play the need for a cohesive strategy for keeping everything organized should and when you need it.

The reasons for having a practical visual content strategy are grounded mainly in time-savings and asset protection. How often have you personally looked for what seemed an eternity for a specific visual? Painful memories, I know.

Also, in this day and age of easy litigation, should you need to have the provenance of a particular image or other visual, having it easily available can be the difference in whether or not you prevail in court.

5 Simple ways to manage your visual content better

Develop a system - Whether you purchase a digital management system and adapt it for your use, or have one designed in-house, it’s extremely important to have a software system that allows you to manage this digitally.

Name your files appropriately - Naming your files with a filename that can actually identify the content is a must-do. There’s nothing worse than having to open dozens of files that are named IMG457723760 looking for one particular picture.

Create guidelines for its use - There may be a number of people who will need access to these files over the course of their useful lifetime. Be sure you provide guidelines for the proper use of your content, so that you aren’t surprised after the fact when it can be very hard to fix.

Store your content in one central location - Make it easy on everyone by storing your visual content in one location, assuming you have appropriate backups enabled. This obviously saves time and expense, and if they are stored in a cloud, there is minimal risk of data loss.

Have a protocol for how it is used - Be sure that no one uses images or videos in a fashion or manner that isn’t what you want. Eager and over-zealous employees can wreak havoc with well-meaning but misguided adventures.