How’s Your Reputation?

September 26, 2011

The Age of the Internet is an interesting thing. Never before has so much information about so many things been so readily available to us. In a statistic from a few years back ago, we were told that we now have more information available to us in one day than people 100 years ago had in their entire lifetime. That’s a pretty fantastic statement, don’t you think?

With so much information out there, it’s more and more important that companies are paying attention to what’s out there about them. The reality is, not only the information that your company puts out about itself is getting to your customers or potential customers. Whether through an online review, a survey, a mention in a blog post, or a check in on a social network, chances are if you do a search online for your company or organization you’re going to get more than just your website or Facebook page.

Consumers are smarter than ever, thanks to the internet. Websites like Yelp, for example, have enabled people to write and read reviews for the businesses they choose to spend their money with. Today’s comparison shopping is more apt to take place in the comfort of your own home, in front of your laptop than it is to be out going into different stores. If your customers are doing searches and looking for your company, chances are they’re finding you – the good, the bad, and the ugly. The question is, do you know what they’re going to find?

Companies talk a lot about handling PR nightmares – how it should be done, who should do it, what tools and skills are necessary, etc. Our position is a little simpler – deal with these things before they become nightmares. Monitor your online reputation. Know what’s being said about you and your company. Ensure that you’re a part of the conversation that exists about your brand/company. It’s much easier to deal with a question or complaint than it is a viral spoof of your ad campaign because it struck a wrong chord with your customers. It might take a little more work and a lot more patience, but there are simply some bells that cannot be un-rung.

Does your company or organization monitor its online reputation? Is your finger on the true pulse of what’s going on? What tools or measures do you use? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

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Jumping Out Of A Plane

September 1, 2011

No, we’re not jumping out of a plane. Quite frankly, I feel that jumping out of a perfectly good plane is just plain silly – I’m also terrified of heights, so that might factor in there somewhere. No, no skydiving for the Sandy Bay crew, alas. I bet you’re wondering “Then what’s with the title?”, right?

I wanted your attention. 

Every day we’re overwhelmed with a steady stream of information. Tweets, Facebook status updates, LinkedIn updates, news headlines, scrolling tickers on tv, text messages…the list is long. Our brains are constantly bombarded with information; it’s the new world. My question to you is this: How much of it do you actually notice?

When every day is filled with things trying to grab your eye for a split second, what sticks? What makes you click a link over another? What makes you stop switching channels? What makes you stop in your tracks and actually think about something?

It’s been a long-known fact that newspapers and tabloids spin their headlines to catch your attention – how else can they compete, right? Wrong. Their main way of competing should be, in our opinion, being the best at what they do. Sure, an eye-grabbing headline once in a while is worth its weight in gold…but what about the aftermath? Once they’ve got you, can they/should they/are they able to keep you?

Think about it. And uh…sorry about the headline, but we’re worth it. 😉

When I was a kid, I was notorious for multitasking. I say multitasking sarcastically here – truth is, I was simply not paying attention to what was going on around me. I’d be playing, reading, watching tv, antagonizing my brother, leaving a trail of toys, books and whatever else I got my grubby little paws on behind myself. I thought I was doing a bunch of things at once; the truth is, I was doing a bunch of things one after the other after the other, not really putting my whole heart into any of them. (I’m sure my brother was happy about that, at least…)

No doubt you’re wondering where I’m going with this, correct? I have a point, I promise! Think about being a kid. Think about the hundreds of things you’d do a day. Think of how you’d attempt to get your homework done at the same time you watched tv. Were you really getting it done as well as you could have been, or was the tv a distraction you would have been better off without? When you played a game that required imagination, would it have been as interesting if you’d tried to sing a song at the same time?

Probably not.

I recently watched a TED talk in which the speaker said, “Multitasking is a myth. It’s a fictional, made-up thing.” When I heard that statement, a little lightbulb went off inside my over-stimulated brain. Consider it for just a moment…truly consider it. The human brain is simply not built to do more than one thing at a time, cognitively. We’re not computers, we’re humans. Yet we live in a world where every single day we ask our brains to perform a function that it simply cannot do….and then we label that impossible action multitasking. Because our brain simply doesn’t possess the ability to do what we’ve asked it to, we flit from item to item, topic to topic. Maybe it’s done so quickly that we don’t realize that’s how it works, but it is. Our brain isn’t doing all of those things at once – it’s doing them concurrently. We like to pretend they’re all at once, but they’re just not.

Okay, so what does this have to do with hearing versus listening, you ask? Everything. Let’s say a customer walks into your store or office. You’re likely in front of a computer, you’ve got a telephone, a cell phone, there are people milling about. When that customer or client starts talking to you, you hear them; but are you listening? If your answer is “Of course I’m listening!”, consider this: Are you still typing? Are you reading your monitor? Are you paying attention to who’s walking by? Are you thinking about that project due at the end of the day? With the pace of business today, it’s highly likely that you could answer “yes” or at least “partially” (be  honest!) to at least one of these questions – or to something else that’s a distraction around you. This brings me back to my initial point; you believe you’re multitasking, when in fact what you’re doing is hearing without listening.

Food for thought, isn’t it? Now you’ll have to excuse me…I have some listening to do.

We Have A New Name!

August 16, 2011

Sometimes, change is a good thing.

Over the last few months, we’ve noticed a trend while talking to people. We were told a number of times, as well as saw it ourselves, that our name led people to believe we dealt with hardware. While we certainly could deal with hardware, that’s not the direction we’ve chosen to take. We consider ourselves a web development and interactive agency – “Sandy Bay Networks” just wasn’t making this clear.

As of today, we have made the official change to…..*drumroll….* Sandy Bay Interactive. We feel, through speaking to our peers and clients, that this change will be a positive, clarifying action – both for us and for our partners.

This leads me to pose a question of you, dear reader: What do you think of change within an organization? Do you think it makes sense to listen to customers and peer suggestions? Do you think it makes more sense to “go your own way”? Obviously we’re big believers in listening to what people are telling us, but I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Before anything, let me say this: It’s AUGUST!

I have no idea where the last seven months have gone. Literally none. When I started here at Sandy Bay, we were in the midst of a cold, snowy winter. Here we are in August, dealing with high humidity and as much rain as I’ve ever seen in a Nova Scotian summer. It’s almost surreal that we’re about to welcome autumn, falling leaves, Halloween, and crisp, cold temperatures to our lives.

Once in a while I feel the need to “take stock” – to look back at the last few months and see what’s really been going on. I did a lot of that last week and I must say, I was pretty impressed. Sure, we’re a small company – but our efforts this year have been anything but. Between new projects, learning new ways of doing things, getting ourselves better known in our own community and our regular in-office jobs, we’ve been a very busy crew! I have to admit that I was a little surprised when I started thinking about it – I knew we kept busy, but I hadn’t realized just how many things we had going on at once.

It made me start thinking about the way we look at productivity in general. Most of us have a sort of built-in gauge that we use to measure our efforts – something that lets us know if we’re on the right track. While you can sometimes ignore it for a while, it always seems to pop back up, somewhat like a gopher in your vegetable garden. “I’m here!” it exclaims, loudly enough to take you off guard. “Don’t forget I’m paying attention to when you planted those carrots!”

My question to you is this: Do you think it’s possible to measure your productivity by means other than those results that are actually tangible? Meaning, can efforts that haven’t yet panned out be counted as productive as say, a sale?

I’m interested to hear what you think!

FuzeCMS – A Primer

July 6, 2011

No effective website should be without a proper content management system (CMS) to manage it. Once your website is up and running and you’re dealing with customers, you’ll want the ability to easily make changes. These could be very small, such as changing a staff member’s email address,or adding a news item, or larger scale items such as adding a whole new product line, a new division or even re-assessing the direction of your business. This is when implementing a CMS becomes an important part of your online experience. Working quietly behind the scenes, the right CMS gives you the ability to maintain your own site using web-based tools that work much like Word does. Choosing the right CMS can enable you to treat your website as a living, breathing part of your business strategy. Choosing the wrong CMS can impede your ability to compete in the new world of online marketing.

A well-designed content management system makes your website work for you, not the other way around.

FuzeCMS is the perfect balance of freedom and control, making it an ideal solution for small to medium-sized businesses. In everyday use, authorized users of the FuzeCMS system are empowered to edit the words and images on their website, but are required to ‘colour inside the lines’. These constraints are needed so that anyone editing the content stays within the bounds of the website’s original design. This ensures that your brand is respected and that the look and feel of the site remains true. Other content management systems can hamper efficiency by adding bureaucratic approval processes or they allow users so much freedom that their website can start to look like a completely different site altogether before long.

Here at Sandy Bay Networks, we ourselves use FuzeCMS on a daily basis. This helps ensure that we are constantly thinking of ways to improve our product – and pass those improvements on to our clients. Because we developed FuzeCMS from the ground up, we have the knowledge and the expertise to implement changes quickly and correctly. FuzeCMS  is completely separate from the website’s visual design, so our team of designers, business analysts and software developers can create a unique website for your company using the FuzeCMS platform. FuzeCMS simply acts as the ‘caretaker’ for your website while never forcing you to compromise on your design.

While almost all new CMS’ successfully separate content, layout and design, FuzeCMS separates your content further into defined field types so that proper validation can be done when editing this information and the authority to edit this type of data can be controlled. This allows a more granular permissions model to be applied to each field so that on any single page of content, users can be restricted from altering specific fields. This model also ensures that any data coming from your database is always handled properly so that, for example, if FuzeCMS expects a currency value in a ‘Price’ field, it can perform the proper validation to ensure this happens. This seemingly simple feature helps set the FuzeCMS system apart from traditional content management systems and allows non-technical users to confidently make changes to the website.

Technically, FuzeCMS is deployed using a “Platform as a Service” (PaaS) model which means that the most recent stable version of FuzeCMS is built directly into your website. This means you will never have to upgrade the FuzeCMS software and you will always have access to all the new features and capabilities of FuzeCMS.  All enhancements made to FuzeCMS are free to our clients and all upgrades are handled at the Sandy Bay Networks offices. We believe that the FuzeCMS should be empowering but remain as simple and transparent as possible.

Questions? Comments? We’d love to hear them! Would you like a demo of FuzeCMS? Simply contact us here at Sandy Bay Networks – we’d love to show you how quickly and easily managing your content can be!

Part of what we do here at Sandy Bay Networks is offer free website analysis to businesses and organizations. We want to help people understand how their website should be working for them versus how it actually is working for them – the reality is that sometimes there’s a large gap between the two. Knowing if your website has specific issues going against it that are causing potential clients and customers to quickly click away is a great first step toward ensuring that you have an online presence that it actually helping, not harming, your efforts. With that in mind, we asked our followers on Facebook and Twitter some simple questions and paid serious attention to their answers. We’d like to share a few of them with our readers, and we invite your comments and questions, as well as your thoughts and reactions to the answers we got.

We asked: “What’s your pet peeve for websites to have/not have? What’s something that instantly turns you off from a website?

The responses:

“It makes me crazy when I visit a website for a business and hours of operation are NOT listed. ”

“Out of date content and links that don’t work.”

“Terrible page lay-outs and too many ads usually send me running.”

“Pop-up email newsletter sign ups that follow you down the page! My #1 web pet peeve…”

“Music i can’t turn off, color schemes that make my eyes hurt, bad content, overused greeting messages, ineffective designs.”

“When companies try to pack too much into one page it just overwhelms me. I may have a short Internet attention span.”

“A slideshow that moves too quickly, videos or music that play automatically, obnoxious flash, or 1 built 10yrs ago (or looks like it)”

“I like sites that are not too busy but implement modern web technology. Less is more-I want to get in, do my business and get out”

“Giant long lists of links. It’s overwhelming. I would rather they make larger categories.”

As you can see, there are some definite themes among the responses. A busy, overwhelming, cluttered website is likely to irritate someone who lands on it, which means they’ll quickly click away. Hard to find or non existent information is just as damaging.

Another resounding response we received was on the topic of companies interacting with their customers online, outside of their website. As one person told us, “If companies are on Facebook or Twitter is is a much more interactive avenue with them and = better chance of sales. The use of social network sites shows me a company that is forward and progressive thinking – and not the same old thing.”

We thought this was a very interesting viewpoint, so we asked, “does that translate to thinking a lack of SM involvement means less progressive/less concerned with clients?”

The response we received was, “In my opinion (and many of my like minded friends) yes. The times are a changin’ and those who don’t keep up, fall behind. Many businesses don’t want to think outside the box. They think because it always worked before why change? The next generation that is up and coming will be demanding Facebook and Twitter if they aren’t already – it will be noticed.”

In a very similar conversation with another individual, we asked about potential barriers to doing business with a company online. Her response was quite similar: “the most important thing is to establish trust. If I’m dealing with a major organization like an airline, then I expect they are trustworthy and will respond to any problems I encounter. But if it is a less known business, it will be really important for me to see that they know what they are doing, they have experience in selling on line, the system is secure and they will respond to any problems quickly and professionally.”

Trust; doesn’t that say it all? Your customers expect and require your presence, and they expect and require your company to develop a relationship, a trust, with them.

It all comes full circle at this point. People are smarter than they’ve ever been about where they spend their money. They expect more of businesses – especially businesses online. It’s not enough to have a website anymore; there’s more follow-up required. If your website isn’t working for you due to being old, out of date, cluttered, non-informative, or just plain irritating from a customer’s point of view, you’ve already lost them. If you’re not engaging your customers online, if you’re not listening to what they’re saying, responding to them, and creating a relationship with them, they’ll find someone who is. Everything goes hand-in-hand, and it’s a smart company that ensures they’re living up to their customers’ and potential customers’ expectations, needs and wants.

What are your thoughts on the matter? What’s important to you from a company online? If you own a company, what are your thoughts on the comments we received? We’d love to hear from you!