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Innovate Like Google

January 6, 2012

Google has long been respected as an innovative company.  According to Jaime Casap, Senior Education Evangelist at Google, they had 217 updates to Google Apps in 2010. The operating system for Chrome Books is refreshed every 6 weeks.  How do they do it?  How do you create a culture of innovation?  Here are a few insights from Jaime that Google uses to help keep the creative, innovative juices running at Google.

  • Collect data – Data is used to solve user problems.
  • Hire the best – Providing a creative and innovative environment attracts the best employees.
  • Share the Information – Google leaders communicate information shared at their board meetings, as much as possible, to staff. Employees feel connected and inspired when they all share the vision of the company.
  • Morph ideas, don’t kill them – Even the failures have some important learnings that can be reused.  Some of the technology behind Google Wave has been incorporated in Google+.
  • Speed Matters – Google launches products when they feel they’re about 80% done.  This allows them to ‘launch early and iterate’.
  • Data drives ALL decisions – Google collects data on all products and uses that information to create better user experiences.
  • Users come first – All users must be considered.  Software engineers are thinking about solving user issues across the globe.
  • 20% Projects – Google’s engineers and thought leaders are encouraged to spend 20% of their time on anything.  While not all results from this 20% time have resulted in Google products, there have been a few.  Google’s Gmail was given as an example.
  • Creative Environment – Google’s physical work environments are very deliberate.  Slides, nap pods, pool tables and more provide an environment where employees are encouraged to be relaxed and approach problems from a creative perspective.

Want to learn more about how Google works?  Jaime suggests reading the book, In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives.

How do you foster an innovative environment at your business?

‘Make stuff that doesn’t suck’.

January 20, 2011

It’s so easy to get caught up in the ‘tools’ for business.  Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, blogs and surveys.  They’re all fun.  They’re ‘shiny’. The tough part of starting or running a small business is to manage all of the day-t0-day operations, sell and market, pay the employees and clean the toilet. There’s so much to do, sometimes it’s difficult to focus on the most important part of your business.  Your product/service.

Fast Company featured an article about Jimmy Whales, founder of Wikipedia.  It was titled Wikipedia Founder’s Advice to Brands: “Make Stuff That Doesn’t Suck”. In it, Jimmy talks about how customers, now more than ever, have a platform and are eager to talk about products THAT SUCK.  When you start focusing on the tools and trying to  manage what people’s perception is about your product, you’ve lost control of the only thing you can control.  Your product/service.

I was reminded of this concept this week.  Our home warranty, by Home Warranty of America, took over 10 days to fix our heater during the coldest part of the winter.  Now, we didn’t freeze, we live in AZ, but the part that frustrated me the most was the fact that WE had to initiate the calls to find out what was happening, when the HVAC company was coming out, etc.  My husband received a call from HWA with a customer satisfaction survey.  He answered with less than satisfactory answers and provided his phone number for follow up.  To date, we have heard nothing.  The funny thing is, our warranty is coming up for renewal.  Do I want to renew with a company that ‘makes stuff that suck’?

Shhh. Listen.

January 11, 2011

How many times do we hear/see that listening is important?  I’ve lost count.  The funny thing is, it really is important to listen.  I found a great post about the Five Things Learned From Twit Stalking Competitors. Lisa Barone provides some great ideas about learning from your competitor.

She mentions her learnings come from checking out the user’s account info, Twitter tools used, conversations, the kind of Twitter user they are and other social media tools used. Some of the thoughts she talks about are things I’ve followed for some time. For example, I do not auto-follow people.  Each time someone follows me, I look at their profile to learn more.  In other words, really listen and look at what’s going on.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the quick answer or automated answer.  But there’s real people and competitors behind these ‘words’.  Learn about the tools she mentions and find those that make sense for you.  Understand the rational behind the analysis of Klout, Twitanalyzer and Twitter Grader. Take the time to listen and learn about what you’re doing before you plan.

Today, Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter, announced their long-term vision of the company.  He stated  ‘Twitter is about connecting for a purpose, not just connecting.’ So, listen first and learn.  What is your purpose of social media?

QR Codes

January 7, 2011

This week has me thinking of a couple of things. QR codes intrigue me.  They look geeky.  Another one of my thoughts is I hate business cards. Why are we still exchanging paper?!!

After a discussion with my brother-in-law about what tech things we’re most looking forward to this year, we both mentioned the use of QR codes and it’s growth here in the US.  This prompted my research about QR codes with the specific intent to solve my frustration with business cards.

Here is what I’ve found so far.

VCards are what Outlook uses to store contact information.  You may need to set up the vCard template and then copy the text to the QR generator.

A couple of the QR code generators that I found and liked were BeeTagg and Kaywa.  Both generate QR codes for URLs, Phone, Text and SMS.  BeeTagg also gives the option to create a contact page that can be used for people to add contact information to a web page for use with many smartphones.  It even allows you to add a logo and even a message. Once the QR code is generated in BeeTagg, users are sent to a page like this:

The BeeTagg contact page can be then saved into a contact file without manual entry.

The vCard is really text that is sent and recipients of the contact info will need to save the file as a .vcf for their Outlook Contacts.  Of course, you may also just save your contact info as text and have recipients copy and paste the info to their files.

Remember, you’ll need to download a QR reader for your phone.  I’ve been using QRReader on my iPhone and it seems to have read codes fine and it’s FREE!

I’m not the greatest typist so I think I’ll save a vCard option and use my page in BeeTagg and start putting my ‘geek’ on for my next round of business cards.

Have you used QR codes?  What generators do you like?  What QR readers or apps do you use? Do you find them helpful?

Another Trip Around The Sun

December 30, 2010

Of course you can’t escape the predictions for the new year during this week. I’ve been reading a lot of them and have come up with a few that I’ve seen frequently and that I think have merit.

Cloud Computing – This has been something I’ve been intrigued with for some time now. Don’t think it’s the wave of the future?  Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer stated this year that over seventy percent of their employees are doing something related  cloud computing and probably over ninety percent soon.  The use of web-based apps can help small businesses save time and money. I’ll be checking out some accounting apps such as Yendo, Outright and Xero for small business which are little to no-cost solutions.

Increased spending on websites/ITIt was amazing to me to read that only about 30 percent of small business site included options for e-commerce.   With shopping cart options in WordPress and other low-cost shopping engines, it’s a relatively easy piece to add to a site with a big return.  Small businesses are in a great spot to take advantage of lower cost technologies that fit this group like a glove.  What is the first thing you do when you’re checking out a new product or service?  Check out their website?  Exactly.  Provide as much information and help your customer buy what they want, when they want and how they want.

SmartphonesOne of the companies I work with has a software provider that does not believe mobile technology is a priority.  Yet, this is one of the trends I see again and again in the 2011 predictions.  It’s also a trend I see for myself in my day-to-day living.  I check everything on my phone.  My time on my pc has dwindled to a few tasks while the greatest amount of my ‘online’ experience is on the phone.  It is predicted that one in three people will have phones with Web browsing and application download capabilities in 2011. Will your customers find you on their phones and/or will they be able to transact with you from mobile applications?

Local – We’ve all heard about the local checkin apps from Yelp, Gowalla and Foursquare.  With the increase in mobile technology and usage, it’s all about being local.  People are looking to relevant local solutions for their searches.  Do you find your business in local searches?  What about your advertising? Are you looking at working with local advertising options?

What are your predictions or comments for this next trip around the sun?

Christmas ‘To Do List’ for Small Businesses

December 21, 2010

Everyone has their Christmas list, but this one has a twist. It isn’t a ‘wish list’, it’s a ‘to do list’.

1. Thank Your Employees – Taking time to thank each of your employees with a note or ‘pat on the back’ goes a long way.

2. Thank Your Customers – Everyone gets cards, how about a call (maybe a visit) from you to your top 10 customers?

3. Charity Remember the community you serve. What can you do to give back? Toy drive? Food drive? Fund raising? Involve your employees too. It was amazing to see the camaraderie that was inspired from a toy drive at one company.

4. Social Media – You may be taking time off for the holidays, but not all of your customers will be watching football bowl games and eating turkey. Let them know you’re thinking about them and keep the posts/tweets/etc. coming. This may be the only way you’ll be able to reach some of your customers during this time. You’ll also demonstrate consistency and dedication. Not bad qualities in a small business.

The holidays are hectic and crazy, but taking the time to remember these ‘to dos’ help remind us of the important things about being a small business owner – employees and customers!

A tale of two social media promotions

December 14, 2010

This is a tale of 2 different uses of social media and my thoughts on each. One, in my humble opinion, abuses the intent of the channel while the other embraces the appropriate use for all those involved.

You may have heard by now that Toyota is using Twitter to promote their Toyotathon. Potential customers will receive a $500 debit card if they purchase a new Toyota and tweet about it before January 3. The tweet needs to read “If I get my new Toyota during Toyotathon they’ll give me $500 just for this Tweet. @Toyota #shareathon.” Many believe the $500 is a cost effective way to spread the word about the sales event as well as incentivize customers to purchase their product.

Now it’s my opinion. I don’t want to get ‘spam’ from my Twitter friends. That will be the quickest way for me to unfollow you. Would I care if you told me that you got a great deal from a dealership or that you reviewed the benefits of a Toyota and a competitor? Yes, that is interesting to me. Getting paid-for-Twitter posts, in my opinion, devalues the concept of why I use this channel. Would I expect something like that from a brand that I follow? Yes. but I am more strategic about the brands I follow. My expectations from friends are different. I expect information, updates, news, etc. Toyota has pushed the intent of this application.

Now let’s take a look at another social media tool – Foursquare. Erin Spalling and Nicholas Hall created a checkin in Foursqare using their new Alpha 2.0 API. ‘New Year’s Eve House Party Requires Foursquare Checkin to Get In’ allows you to unlock their door by checking into their apartment. I love the use of a physical location application and Foursquare. Why do I give kudos to this application and not Toyota’s? It all comes down to the use of channel. Foursquare’s purpose is checking into a location and letting people know you’re there – friends/followers and the actual location. The information that a location can get from something like this would be interesting for a business. I also see the opportunity for more types of applications like this for businesses. What about linking a checkin to a printer at a restaurant or bar for a coupon for a free drink? This helps put a face with a ‘checkin’ for customers and a business. What about a room upgrade at a hotel for a guest checking in? This use of Foursquare maintains the original intent of the application as well as provide a value to both the customer, business without making your followers/friends feel spammed or abused.

How could Toyotathon have been executed this promotion in a better way? How about using Foursquare to checkin and get the debit card instead of tweeting about it? Not only would it still get the word out to Foursquare followers, but it also helps create a relationship with the local dealer and the customer promoting the LOCAL business to the LOCAL market.

Is there a difference in how brands should use social media and could these promotions be viewed as spam by their customers’ followers and friends? Are there better examples of brands using social media?