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September 12 2011

4 Important Considerations for Creating a Remote Work Policy

The Digital Careers Series is supported by Elance, the world’s leading site for online work. Check out Startup Cloud for tips on how to build a remote team.

It’s important for employers to put formal policies in place for remote workers so that employees are equipped with clear guidelines, enabling them to focus on the most important thing — doing their jobs.

Formal policies also give companies some rules and structure. One expert warns against sacrificing flexibility though, which is all-important when dealing with a remote workforce.

“One of the keys to having an effective remote work policy is flexibility. Because you are not going to have identical situations in remote workers’ circumstances, you have to allow for flexibility of time and place,” advises Michael D. Haberman, SPHR, VP & director of HR services at Omega HR Solutions.

“The policy needs to focus on outcomes and results. Building a policy that focuses on micro-managing will doom you to failure.”

While obvious details such as remuneration and duties should already be covered in your employees’ contracts, there are areas specific to remote working that need to be covered in your policy. We’ve highlighted four essential areas below.

1. The New Rules

A remote work policy should be drafted in addition to a standard employee contract. Due to the nature of remote working, there might be areas that contradict what has already been laid out in the contract. These areas need to be addressed.

You also need to clarify parts of the original contract which still stand, despite your employee being based remotely. More “woolly” areas — such as conduct, confidentiality, hours of work and who to report to — all have to be crystal clear so that everyone knows where they stand.

Finally on this point, make sure your employee is happy to share contact details with co-workers and business partners when necessary. Have they set up a separate phone line that they don’t mind being shared out? Are they fine with work mail coming directly to their home address or do you need to put a redirect in place? These are small details, but can make a big difference.

2. Equipment and Insurance

For office-based staff, equipment security isn’t usually an issue, but when your workforce is off premises, it becomes an important issue to address in a policy document.

How much equipment are you going to provide your remote worker? Will it just be the techie stuff — a laptop, phone, etc. — or are you prepared to help toward the cost of setting up a home office by contributing furniture, etc.? How does your employee make a request for additional equipment? Who pays if something breaks?

Does the employee need to get insurance coverage for any of your company equipment on their premises?

You must address all these issues in your policy in order to safeguard your company assets — this also ensures that there’s clarity for all involved if something goes wrong or needs replacing.

3. Expenses

Remote workers are entitled to expense all materials and equipment they use for work purposes, which can actually amount to a pretty sizable list. Are you offering your remote workers a home-working allowance? In addition to contributing toward their phone bill and electricity, you should also be aware that your remote worker will be footing the bills for incidental heating, lighting and even water costs.

You need to clarify just what you are prepared to contribute toward, and just as importantly, what you expect the employee to do in order to claim such expenses, such as provide copies of bills.

If your remote employee travels as part of his role, travel expenses should also be considered. It should also be made clear who pays the costs if the employee does have to travel to your head office, especially if it’s a considerable distance.

4. Security of Information

The level of security you need to set out in your policy will depend on what kind of business you run. Do you need to insist your employee keeps confidential documents under lock and key? Do you need to specify a secure postal address if and when they return documents to the main office? If so, will you foot the bill?

As far as digital security goes, will you be assisting your employee in ensuring they have a secure home network? Will you offer a site visit?

What happens if there is a breach of security? Does your employee know who to report it to, at all times?

No one likes to think of worst case scenarios, but if you do cover these important bases in your policy, when something does go wrong, you’ll have procedures in place.

Series Supported by Elance

The Digital Careers Series is supported by Elance, where businesses hire and manage in the cloud for immediate access to the talent they need, when they need it. Elance offers the flexibility to staff up or down, and it’s faster and less expensive than traditional staffing and outsourcing. Check out Startup Cloud to learn more.

Images courtesy of Daehyun Park, Bryce Edwards, Marie Mosley, Sean McMenemy and Horia Varlan

More About: Business, digital careers series, How-To, remote worker, remote workforce

September 07 2011

5 Tips for Getting More Video Views

Justin Nassiri is the founder and CEO of VideoGenie, a company that helps brands gather, moderate and track customer contributed video. Prior to founding VideoGenie, Justin served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, directing the operations and navigation of a nuclear-powered warship. He is a graduate of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

Video is increasingly becoming a preferred medium for online communication. Current research suggests that the emotional connection of video is the surest way to the hearts of customers. Apart from the ubiquitous phenomenon of YouTube, ChatRoulette connected all types (and we mean all types) of people; Google+ now allows users to hang out via webcam; and Netflix and Hulu are challenging cable by streaming television.

The problem is, with so much video content out there, how do you ensure that yours gets noticed? Here are five steps to ensure your audience presses “play.”

1. Location, Location, Location

The location of video content on your site is more important than you may think. Just as newspapers strategize selling prime advertising space close to the headlines, you also need to think about locating your video. Therefore, embed front and center. You can’t hide your video below the fold (or in this case, below the scroll) and expect stellar pageviews. Furthermore, don’t publish your video to a microsite and then expect viewers to migrate. Give your video prime real estate by placing it on your landing page, and then post to the video tab of your site’s Facebook fan page.

2. Tap Your Fan Base

Fans are the best resource for spreading news, and therefore, video content. You know the ones: the die-hard followers on Twitter and Facebook who are always the first to comment, respond and retweet. Make sure they feel special — send your video to them directly before it goes live on your site, and make sure to emphasize their exclusive VIP access. Encourage them to share it with their followers soon and often. Turn your fans into marketers. They’re more likely to generate unique views than a simple company tweet, for example. Finally, engaging your ardent followers will ensure that they stay your biggest advocates.

3. Share Smartly

There’s no way to get noticed without sharing content. The majority of the time, dumping your video onto the web and hoping that people stumble across it will not generate a viral movement. Be diligent about sharing your video. That means using all the obvious channels like Facebook and Twitter, but it also means sharing smartly.

For example, assume that followers likely subscribe to more than one site channel. If you plan to repost content from one channel to the other (and you should), tweak the text of your message. You don’t want to make your biggest fans feel like they’re being spammed.

4. Gamify

People love a good contest, or at least, they love being rewarded for something easy — like watching a video. Therefore, offer an incentive, or notify fans that when your video reaches a certain number of views, you’ll release a follow-up “secret” video, for instance.

You could consider offering something of value, such as a discount code, but often the promise of extra or exclusive content is enough to incentivize sharing.

5. Be Authentic

Some videos have a really high clickthrough rate, while others get barely any clicks at all. Some of the most mundane videos appeal to the widest swath of a community (remember Subway’s Jared?). However, it’s not a crapshoot: The golden rule is to make your video authentic, more than just the subject you’re filming. Commit to that authenticity from the beginning of the recording process to the final publishing phase.

At the end of the day, you can never perfectly predict which videos will resonate with your community, but a metrics-driven approach can help to simplify the guesswork.

More About: business, Social Media, video

For more Video coverage:

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September 03 2011

39 New Digital Media Resources You May Have Missed

Summer may be lazing into fall, but we’re just ramping it up! Brought to Mashable readers exclusively, we bring you the weekly roundup.

This week seems to have a peculiar culinary theme, so we’re going with the flow. Two of our editorial picks involve browser cookies and Facebook tips for restaurants. Now that you’ve got the munchies, fix yourself a plate and kick back this weekend with our favorite features.

Editors’ Picks

Social Media

5 Android Apps to Turn Your Phone Into a Mobile Document Scanner

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

Even if you’ve done everything you can to banish paper from your office, those little white sheets can still creep up on you.

You’ll want to digitize those crinkly analog fugitives post haste, but you may not be keen on splurging for a scanner — especially when you’re only taming the occasional receipt or intake form.

The solution — wait for it — could be in the palm of your hand. Your Android smartphone has all the photographic and processing power you’ll need to snap up those docs and get them into the cloud where they belong.

Here are a few mobile document scanning solutions we put through their paces.

1. CamScanner

CamScanner is a breeze to use, and you can test out the free version via the Market link above. Snap a photo of your document and pull up the cropping tool. The app will auto-detect the edges of the paper, but the slick drag-and-snap guides will help you fine tune the dimensions.

The processing enhancements are smart, and will compensate for low light and bad focus reasonably well. Though the app generates a cropped and toned image, it will also hang onto the original photo -- handy, in case you accidentally cropped your boss' name off the letterhead.

The app has built-in integration with Google Docs, Box.net and Dropbox, but for the less fancy among you, it's easy to pipe scanned docs straight into email.

The main issue we encountered was with PDF creation. The original image is stored as a JPEG, but the option to convert it to a PDF simply opened the phone's default PDF viewer. The file is viewable, but we found no apparent way to save or share.

The paid version promises to make things easier in this department, but you should see how the free version performs on your device before purchasing.

Price: Free / $4.99 for full license and features

2. Document Scanner

This app scans directly to PDF with ease. The interface couldn't be cleaner, and while the cropping tools aren't as snazzy as CamScanner's, they get the job done.

There are image enhancement features, but in our testing, they weren't as precise as CamScanner's.

Document Scanner also lets you upload directly to Google Docs, DropBox, and Box.net. It even has Evernote integration -- a nice touch. Scan multiple pages in succession and email them to your heart's content.

The trial version will only last you seven days, but that should give you the time to decide if you're ready to throw down four bucks on the real deal.

Price: Free / $3.98 for full version

3. Droid Scan Pro PDF

Droid Scan works similarly to the aforementioned apps with one exception -- it'll send you out to the system camera to grab the image. No big deal -- in reality, the other apps are simply wrapping the native camera with their interface.

Once you're done shooting, Droid Scan picks right back up where you left off and gets down to image processing quickly.

The app has smart edge detection, intuitive (if small) color and contrast controls, and a final menu that lets you select the docs you want to save down as either JPEGs or PDFs (though PDF functionality is only available in the paid version).

Price: Free / $4.99 for PDF functionality

4. Scan to PDF

Scan to PDF scores big on interface simplicity. It's easy to start scanning or adjust the settings right from the first screen.

The app jumps over to the system camera by default (though you can adjust this setting), and offers great image processing and enhancement, even in low light.

The cropping function is intuitive but can be awkward -- rather than dragging and snapping at the corners, you'll have to pull the edges. Occasionally, your fingers will run out of screen or they'll accidentally drag the entire frame away from the edge. However, This quirk is far from a deal breaker, and the excellent gallery viewer more than makes up for it.

The free version of Scan to PDF does it all, but if you like it and use it regularly, you can show the devs a little love with a $.99 upgrade.

Price: Free / $.99 optional purchase for a job well done

5. PDF Scanner

For those looking for the dead-simple option, PDF Scanner is the way to go. This no-frills app cuts right to the quick.

Add pages by hitting scan. The camera viewfinder that appears has no buttons, so you'll have to just tap the screen to focus and snap.

The camera makes use of your phone's flash, which is helpful when scanning in low light. But be sure to frame and focus your image carefully because there's no crop or image enhancement here. Snap away until your document is complete, then email the PDF to its destination.

Regrettably, there's not trial version of this app, but if you're looking for a way to generate PDF scans quickly and easily, have no qualms dropping your coin here.

Price: $1.99

More Small Business Resources From OPEN Forum:

- 15 Keyboard Shortcuts To Enhance Your PC Productivity
- 5 Services For Building Websites On A Budget
- 10 Accessories To Boost Office Morale
- Top 5 Foursquare Mistakes Committed By Small Businesses
- How To Use Social Media For Recruiting

More About: android, business, Mobile 2.0

For more Mobile coverage:

September 02 2011

September 01 2011

July 18 2011

Mashable Weekend Recap: 29 Stories You May Have Missed

It was a weekend for the record books.

The FIFA World Cup Final made some big news this weekend with Japan beating USA in the final match Sunday. We saw tons of people commenting on the outcome of the game on their social channels, and as it turned out, Twitter users set a new record with the number of tweets sent per second.

Of course, we can’t forget about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 either. The final film in the Harry Potter franchise released in U.S. theaters late last week, but it continued to make news as the weekend progressed. Fans set a box office record for opening night and eventually box office records altogether.

And as far as useful resources go, we’ve got the ultimate guide to Google+, Google’s new social layer. You’ll find some other handy tools for Google+ too, including how to set up an RSS feed and how to follow Mashable staff.

News Essentials

Carmageddon Approaches: Here’s What It Will Look Like [VIDEO]

Netflix Heading to Europe in 2012 [REPORT]

LinkedIn Revamps Profiles for Students

The Rise of Mobile In-App Ads [INFOGRAPHIC]

This Week in Politics & Digital: Cyber Security in The Spotlight

Dual-Screen SpaceBook Laptop Up for Pre-Order [UPDATED]

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Breaks Box Office Records

Is Google+ Becoming More Female?

Reaching 200 Million Accounts: Twitter’s Explosive Growth [INFOGRAPHIC]

Spacecraft Orbits Protoplanet in Asteroid Belt, a First [INFOGRAPHIC]

World Cup Finals: USA Loses to Japan, the Web Reacts [PICS]

World Cup Final: A New Tweets Per Second Record

David Beckham’s Baby Photo Debuts on Facebook [PICS]

Helpful Resources

HOW TO: Add Mashable Staff to Your Circles on Google+

19 Essential Google+ Resources

46 New Digital Media Resources You May Have Missed

Google+: The Complete Guide

Top 10 Twitter Trends This Week [CHART]

5 Tips for Group Deals Success

5 Ways Journalists Are Using Google+

8 Crucial Elements of Startup Success

15 Rad Retro Office Accessories [PICS]

HOW TO: Make RSS Feeds for Google+ Profiles

Tips For Negotiating Employee Equity

Weekend Leisure

Can Web Video Views Predict Box Office Magic for Harry Potter?

Jerry Seinfeld Joins Twitter

Discovered a New Band? Find Out Which Songs To Check Out First With GoRankem

Android App Displays Brain Waves Via Wireless Headband [VIDEO]

3 New Digital Apps For Offline Fun

More About: Google Plus, harry potter and the deathly hallows part 2, Weekend recap, World Cup Final

For more Social Media coverage:

July 17 2011

8 Crucial Elements of Startup Success

Bill Clark is the CEO of Microventures, a securities broker/dealer that uses crowdfunding to allow investors to invest between $1,000 and $10,000 in startups online. You can follow him on Twitter @austinbillc.

Most people understand that a high percentage of startups never make it. So what if you could give yourself a leg up on the competition? Below is a list of tips that may help your startup get to the next level. These ideas are not revolutionary, and many successful startups already have these qualities. Why not ensure yours does too?

1. Hire Great Coders

If you don’t have the skills to code, make sure you find someone with a solid programming background who can implement your idea. You want to make sure that person has built successful websites with features similar to your own vision. That way, you know they have the right skills for your startup. An inefficient coder will take a long time to launch the site, wasting time by making minor changes and fixing bugs. You will lose valuable time and potentially miss the opportunity to capitalize on first-to-market advantages.

2. Launch Your Product Site Quickly

Sometimes you’ll encounter a last-minute opportunity to add features to your product. However, this can delay the launch. You might consider it worth the wait, especially if the added features will further engage customers. However, make sure to launch as soon as possible with the critical functionality. You can always make later changes to improve your site and product. Furthermore, you’ll be able to start gathering valuable feedback from your customers. If you’re insecure about a hasty launch, let customers know they’re viewing the beta version of the site, and they can expect improvements soon.

3. Identify Your Users

If you’re developing a product, make sure you truly understand the needs of your end users. You might assume that potential customers are seeking your particular solution, only to discover after launch that your product might be too expensive or doesn’t precisely repair the problem. Make sure that you take some time to understand exactly what your users need, and what they are willing to pay for.

4. Don’t Target a Small Niche

Solving a problem for a targeted niche is not a bad idea — the smaller the niche, the less competition you may face. The downside is that you might not gain enough users to render a profit. Make sure to perform market research to understand the scale of consumers interested in your product. Also, plan to expand the niche once you service its need. When you evolve your original idea into adjacent markets, you will increase the probability of exponential growth.

5. Raise Enough Money the First Time

As most startups know, determining how much money to raise is difficult. Raising enough money in your seed round will carry your business through inevitable growing pains and redesigns, but it’s important to retain enough money to develop the final product your users will love. You don’t want to spend all your time convincing investors to sign that next check that will keep the company afloat. Investors would rather you spend it further developing the business and getting them a timely return on investment. You want to raise enough money initially so that you can hit a major milestone and have something to show investors.

6. Don’t Waste Money

As obvious as this one sounds, startups waste money every day. They often overspend on things that can wait until later, or on a tool that doesn’t get them the expected results. By outsourcing a variety of activities, however, startups are now becoming less expensive to launch.

One area in which startups waste money is hiring too many employees too fast. You need to make sure you can fill up the entire day of each (indispensable) employee. Early on, only hire people who add required functionality that cannot be fulfilled by current staff. You should also determine whether a person can be hired as a short-term, temporary resource (i.e. outsourcing), or whether hiring a full-time employee is the right, long-term solution. Employee salaries contribute to high overhead expenses, and should be carefully controlled at the beginning of a successful startup.

7. Have Multiple Co-Founders

A startup can be very time-consuming. Although you envisioned its concept, you may lack the required skills to launch your idea into reality. Therefore, divide the work among trusted partners with necessary skills sets, and be able to bounce ideas off each other freely.

Dave McClure states that the ideal startup has a hacker, a hustler and a designer. The hacker can code, the hustler brings in the business, and the designer architects the concept to make it appealing to a consumer or investor. You may have one or all of these skills, but often not enough time in the day to wear all of the hats. If you can’t convince a co-founder to come on board and fill a role, it may be a red flag that your idea needs tweaking.

8. All Or Nothing

We’ve all heard the saying “don’t quit your day job, kid,” but in the world of startups, any time spent focused on outside tasks is an opportunity for competitors to beat you to market. You need to focus all your time on your startup if you want it to succeed. And this may mean quitting your day job.

If you’re building a product, targeting customers, and trying to attract investors all in your spare time, you don’t have your priorities lined up. If you dedicate all your time to your startup, you will have more drive to successfully get it to market, because now your livelihood depends on it.

This list doesn’t guarantee that you will succeed, but it will give you some benchmarks to compare yourself against. Can you think of any additional characteristics that successful startups have going for them? If so, leave them in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, RichVintage

More About: business, finance, launch, MARKETING, startup, tips, web

For more Startups coverage:

July 16 2011

46 New Digital Media Resources You May Have Missed

Get ready for Mashable‘s weekly roundup! This week, we’ve performed original Google+ analysis, prepared you for the Mac OS X Lion release, and pointed you toward the best fictional Twitter accounts. We’ve celebrated startups and mourned space shuttle finales.

So review the list of important resources you may have missed over the past week. Tune in for more great stories and tools coming at you sooner than you can say “Spotify.”

Editors’ Picks

Social Media

For more social media news and resources, you can follow Mashable’s social media channel on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

Tech & Mobile

For more tech news and resources, follow Mashable’s tech channel on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

Business & Marketing

For more business news and resources, you can follow Mashable’s business channel on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.


Image courtesy of Flickr, webtreats.

More About: business, List, Lists, MARKETING, Mobile 2.0, social media, tech, technology

For more Social Media coverage:

July 15 2011

5 Best Practices for Applying Game Mechanics to Your Website

Craig Ferrara is a senior gaming & UI expert at Gigya, where he designs the integrations of Gigya’s technology into clients’ websites. Gigya makes sites social by integrating a suite of plugins like Social Login, Comments, Activity Feeds, Social Analytics and now Game Mechanics into websites.

Conversations about game mechanics — the rules that govern how enjoyable a game is — are changing. Formerly a topic mostly discussed by game designers and gamer geeks like myself, gamification is now part of the business discussion as marketers look to apply it to websites.

One concept that has remained constant, regardless of who is having the conversation, is to identify ways to keep players engaged and games fun. This applies to your site as you encourage social user participation via gamification tactics. Let’s break websites down by their common social tools, and target ways to effectively gamify them.

1. User Generated Content

Increase content generated by users on your site. By incentivizing content creation, the user becomes more engaged, thereby making your site richer and more dynamic, as well as improving its SEO. Content is mostly submitted through simple vehicles like comments, ratings or reviews. These are basic ways to get feedback from users based on the content you produce and present.

For example, reward top commenters, but also look for alternative ways to reward commenting on pages. Perhaps allow “weighted commentary” — that is, permit users to sort comments based on each commenter’s respective “rank,” with the most highly ranked users’ comments appearing at the top of the feed. While this kind of reward falls outside the scope of badges and points, it gives the most active users something just as desirable: clout.

2. Sharing

Aside from being both repetitive and easy, sharing can prove incredibly useful in syndicating your content. With gamification elements, users feel even more compelled to syndicate your content. While sharing naturally lends itself to gamification, content publishers should be aware of one potential pitfall: rewarding the user simply for sharing is in violation of many of the major social networks’ terms of services. Social networks prohibit immediate incentives for clicking the share button in order to prevent users from spamming their feeds with random content to earn points.

One way to work within this system is to have users work toward a larger overall goal or ranking as a result of sharing. Instead of prodding your visitors to “click to share and earn ten points,” sharing can be a means to bring users toward an achievement. Doing so gives visitors the idea that sharing has value, but does not drive toward mindless clicking. Instead, they’ll share what actually matters to them instead of just spamming their networks.

3. Feedback

The Facebook “Like,” Google’s new “+1” and other reaction buttons serve as both content contribution and sharing tools. They allow users to express an opinion with just one click. Furthermore, you can incorporate gamification by rewarding users for “liking” content on your site — prioritize the opinions and feed activity of highly ranked users. For example, when a website’s activity feed displays popular articles and top user reactions, a visitor will likely feel more compelled to click. Think in terms of Roger Ebert giving “a thumbs up” to a movie versus relying on someone less influential.

The benefits of showing ranked reactions in the activity feed are two-fold here — not only will the user expose content to others on the site, but they will also showcase their rank, thus encouraging others to achieve the same status.

4. Social Login

Social login brings an invaluable layer into the game: a user’s social graph. A basic principal in game mechanics states that users are more inclined to participate if they have some real world benefit behind the rewards. This can be as simple as increased reputation within a community. Once a user logs in via social APIs such as Facebook Connect or Twitter, she can then compare herself with gaming friends as well as social network friends, all in one space.

Now your visitor knows some people in the site community — but they’re still new to the game. How can we encourage participation? Maybe award them small amounts of points just for clicking around, or more points for remaining on a page and consuming content. Therefore, a user who may have no initial interest in earning badges will still be able to advance in the rankings given their increase in participation points. As soon as they recognize the value in earning points (perhaps their comment appears higher in the activity feed), they’ll get hooked and consciously participate. Keeping users involved in the game without any effort on their behalf is a great strategy for converting them into active gamers.

5. Keeping Score

Any good game mechanics implementation goes out of its way to educate users on achieving and advancing within a system. For instance, offer instructions alongside every badge, and show an indicator of their progress within that achievement. At the same time, you don’t want to bombard site visitors with constant, blazing reminders. Instead, consider using simple JavaScript notifications that don’t monopolize valuable site real estate.

Of course what good are all these badges and points if you can’t show them off? By integrating game mechanics into activity feeds and leaderboards, you allow your users to do just that — all while putting a human face to the game. Activity feeds not only allow users to find their friends within their social graph, but also to view their friends’ badges. In turn, those participating in the game learn how to unlock badges for themselves. Any good game mechanics implementation should go out of its way to inform the user about how to level-up.

Follow these pointers to connect your site’s social elements with game mechanics that allow you to reach both your passive and enthusiastic “gamers.” Keep in mind that tying rewards to your existing social elements is just as important as the rewards themselves. Just as with social games like FarmVille or World of Warcraft, participants should feel as if they’re part of a community through which they can proudly syndicate their achievements.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, yurok

More About: business, game mechanics, gamification, incentives, social media, web

For more Business & Marketing coverage:

HOW TO: Establish Business Credit

Nellie Akalp is CEO of CorpNet.com. Since forming more than 100,000 corporations and LLCs across the U.S, she has built a strong passion to assist small business owners and entrepreneurs in starting and protecting their business the right way. LIKE the CorpNet.com Facebook page for exclusive discounts and giveaways! To learn more about Nellie and see how she can help your business get off the ground quickly and affordably, please visit here.

For the small business owner, trying to navigate the credit and lending world can feel like a vicious Catch-22. Most commercial banks and traditional lenders are reluctant to loosen their purse strings until you’ve proven yourself with a strong credit history. But it’s difficult to develop that good record when no one will lend to you in the first place.

Many small business owners rely on the strength of their personal credit to fund their businesses. But when you use personal credit, your mortgage, auto loan and personal credit cards all affect your ability to qualify for a business loan. Using business credit separates your personal activities from that of the business. Your business credit is dependent on your company’s payment history, assets, cash flow and other financials. It doesn’t include your personal debts or other personal financial obligations.

A strong credit history is the foundation for success, as it can lower your interest rates and give you access to more capital when needed. To start building your business credit, here are the initial steps you should take.

1. Set Up a Business Entity

There’s no such thing as a business loan or business credit for a sole proprietor — that’s a personal loan. In order to receive a business loan or investment, you must separate the business from its personal owners by setting up a legal business entity — a corporation or LLC, for example. Your CPA can advise you on the best legal structure for your particular situation, as your choice in entity can have some pretty significant tax implications.

2. Get a Tax ID Number (EIN)

Every business must have a tax ID number, just like each individual has a social security number. The Tax ID number (or EIN) is a nine-digit number assigned by the IRS to business entities operating in the U.S. You’ll use this number to open your business bank account and build your business credit profile. Apply for your business’ EIN online through the IRS site — and don’t worry, the process is fast and simple.

3. Establish a Business Bank Account

Your business needs at least one bank reference. Ideally, if you need to apply for a loan, your bank account will be at least two years old (of course, there’s not much you can do to change this situation other than apply for a business bank account as early as possible). More important than your account’s lifespan, your business bank account should show a cash flow capable of taking on a business debt. Of course, the optimum average daily balance of your account will depend on your type of business and the amount of financing you’ll be seeking.

4. Get Listed with the Business Credit Bureaus

Dun & Bradstreet is one of the main business credit bureaus and runs its own business credit score. D&B gives businesses a separate credit file number (known as a D&B or DUNS number) that rates your credit profile. Go to their site to find out if your business is already listed and has a score. You can also begin the process by applying for a free DUNS number once you’ve established your business entity and have your EIN. The number is how lenders will determine your business’ credit worthiness (most business credit card and lending companies will ask for your D&B number during the application process).

5. Establish Business Credit History

Check if your trade vendors are reporting your payment history to one of the major reporting companies, like D&B. Just like with your personal credit score, the more vendors that report a good payment history, the better your business credit will be. It’s common that small trade vendors won’t report your payment history to D&B. In this case, you should compile a trade reference sheet with at least three references (include their name, contact information and credit limits) to augment your official business credit report. In addition, you should open a business credit card (in the name of the business) and use it wisely — meaning keep your balance low and always pay on time.

6. Maintain a Good Personal Credit Rating

When you’re a relatively new or small company, creditors are going to be looking at the personal credit of the person who owns the business (or any shareholders with more than 20% ownership of the company). In today’s lending environment, you should expect to be asked to sign a personal guarantee on any kind of loan or credit of the business. This isn’t always mandatory, but it has recently become common practice in the lending industry. As a result, anyone with a 20% or higher share in the company should keep a close eye on his own credit rating.

The most important thing to remember is that you can’t build business credit overnight. Business owners should think about their business credit from day one. Even if you’re self-funded now, you never know what challenges or growth opportunities will develop down the road. Having access to credit can only help you adapt to changing conditions and position yourself for success.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, idrutu

More About: business, credit, establish credit, finance, loan, startup, tax id

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July 13 2011

HOW TO: Turn Fans Into Brand Ambassadors

The Behind the Social Media Campaign Series is supported by Oneupweb, an award-winning agency specializing in search marketing, social media and design for mid-to-enterprise level brands. Download Oneupweb’s free whitepaper, “Measuring Social Media’s Contribution to the Bottom Line: 5 Tactics.”

The introduction of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point in 2000 was a tipping point in its own right. Ever since that book was published, marketers have been obsessed with cultivating influencers — those members of the public whose messages go further than most.

The Tipping Point preceded social media as we know it today, but Gladwell’s model of “connectors + mavens = marketing success” fits well in the age of Twitter and Facebook. For a marketer, the mission is pretty simple: Find a bunch of influencers, get them charged up and then sit back and reap the rewards.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Just look at the range of brands in the market. On the one hand, there’s Apple which has a cult-like following that is so pervasive and dedicated that it doesn’t even need to be on Twitter or Facebook. But if you’re marketing something less buzz-worthy, like paper towels or frozen pizza, you might find that cultivating brand ambassadors is a bit more tricky.

Nevertheless, experts on social media marketing have a few tips that any brand in any category can use to create a devoted following. Here are a few.

Rate Your Fans

Dave Balter, the CEO of BzzAgent, a word-of-mouth marketing agency, says the first thing you should do is take stock of your existing fan base. “Understand who is a fan and who is already an advocate,” he says. Of course, there are tools on the market, like Klout, that let you do this. Audi USA is one of the first brands to integrate Klout scores on its Facebook Page, letting you earn a desktop or a ring tone based on your score.

Klout uses an algorithm based on various factors to create its rankings, but it’s tempting to try to short-circuit the process by looking at which fans have the most followers. Balter says a better metric is sharing: “It’s important you place value on elements like how often they share and how often others engage with what’s shared. Another, simpler way of identifying potential brand advocates is to simply ask them how likely they are to recommend the brand to a friend. When rated on a 1 to 10-point scale, that is known as the “Net Promoter Score.”

Give Them Something to Do

Getting people to “like” your brand on Facebook is great, but you still have to generate discussion and activity. That can be fairly easy to achieve. Last year, for instance, Oreo got its fans to weigh in on a Pandora playlist, and Philadelphia cream cheese spurred conversation by soliciting ideas for recipes and offering how-to videos.

Another, simpler, way to create engagement is by asking fans questions. “You have to create a compelling dialogue,” says Paul Longo, vice president and group digital director at MediaVest, a media-buying firm. Such give-and-take should fit in with a brand’s image and make the fans feel like insiders who “get” the brand. Here are a couple of recent status updates from the Skittles candy brand’s Facebook Page. Both got tens of thousands of “likes” and thousands of comments: “If you drop Skittles on the floor, you should abide by the 3 million-second rule,” and “I need to stop adopting every octopus that follows me home.”

Use Exclusivity

Give your fans exclusive opportunities to make them feel special. For example, Walmart has been known to court mommy bloggers by flying them to its Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters and letting them test new products. On the other side of the marketing universe, Howard Stern lets his self-proclaimed “Superfans” host a call-in show on Sirius XM’s channel 101 once a week. “One quick way to turn someone into an advocate is to ‘bring them into the fold’ and to help them feel part of the deeper community,” Balter says.

Pamper Your Advocates

Walmart doesn’t just give its Walmart Moms exclusive products and experiences. The company also hosts a blog and YouTube channel for them, using its huge media reach to reward its most loyal brand advocates. Similarly, Oracle has a program called Oracle ACE that spotlights various IT pros as Oracle experts. SAP’s equivalent is the SAP Mentor Initiative, which recognizes SAP experts and gives them a forum (an SAP site plus a YouTube channel.)

Go Up a Lifestyle Level

So if you don’t market new computers and smartphones, how do you get people to care about your brand? Jeremiah Owyang, a partner at Altimeter Group, calls this practice “going up to the lifestyle level.” For instance, it may be hard to get people excited about a tile cleanser that gets rid of soap scum, but keeping a house clean and germ-free is something people can feel passionate about. That’s exactly what Lysol, the disinfectant spray, is doing. The brand has more than 460,000 fans on Facebook, whom it engages with live chats and tips on how to keep your house clean.

Beyond those basic tips, MediaVest’s Longo suggests something counterintuitive: Doing nothing. At least for a while, he says, let your fan base breathe a little bit and avoid heavy-handed interactions. “In general, brands are so caught up in the technology because it’s so cool right now,” he says. “But don’t rush into anything.”

Series Supported by Oneupweb

The Behind the Social Media Campaign Series is supported by Oneupweb, an award-winning agency specializing in search marketing, social media and design for mid-to-enterprise level brands. Download the Oneupweb sponsored Marketing Sherpa free study, “Measuring Social Media’s Contribution to the Bottom Line: 5 Tactics” to learn how to cut through the clutter and be sure to catch up with them on Facebook and Twitter.

Images courtesy of Flickr, bnilsen, navets, Daehyun Park and iStockphoto, terraexplorer, Yuri_Arcurs

More About: 360i, altimeter group, Behind the Social Media Campaign Series, facebook, Malcolm Gladwell, MARKETING, twitter

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July 12 2011

5 Ways to Encourage Customers to Share Your Content

Sanjay Dholakia is CEO of Crowd Factory, the leading provider of crowd-powered marketing applications that add a quantifiable social boost to every digital interaction.

Nearly every brand has realized that integrating social elements into most or all of its marketing programs is essential. Companies are also thinking about social media as an integrated element that spans all of its campaigns and channels – not as its own silo. But enabling people to share a campaign with friends is only half the battle; you’ve got to give them a compelling reason to socialize.

Here are five creative ways to motivate social sharing. We’ll provide insights as to how you can structure campaigns to encourage more people to share, alongside examples of brands that are getting it right.

1. Increase the Payoff When People Share More

With the advent of DIY group deals, you can create campaigns in which the more people share among themselves, the more they all save. The idea of collective benefit also plays to team dynamics: people will mobilize when lots of folks can get a benefit.

Oscar Mayer’s recent program for its new Oscar Mayer Selects hot dogs provides a good example. Oscar Mayer offers consumers a coupon to try the product, and encourages them to come back to share a “Taste-a-Monial” (essentially their personal review of Selects Hot Dogs) to get a second coupon. But this second coupon is progressive in nature: for every 5,000 people who share their Taste-a-Monial, the value of the coupon will increase by $0.50. The value continues to increase until the deal becomes a free pack of hot dogs, or until the promotion ends on August 15. At that point, everyone who shared a Taste-a-Monial will be rewarded their coupon.

Snoop Dogg made headlines recently for the progressive group deals he runs from his Facebook page’s “Shop Snoop Now” ecommerce tab. Each day, one product is featured for a special group deal – the more “Likes” the product gets, the lower the price for the product.

2. Give Them Something Exclusive

Giving people something unique or exclusive in return for sharing can be a powerful motivator — we all want to feel privy to something special.

For example, in a recent campaign to build awareness for recording artist Cady Groves, RCA offered fans a free song download for registering on the Cady Groves website. RCA also incentivized fans to share Cady’s music with their friends by offering a free merchandise pack to every fan who convinces five people to download the song.

Many brands are also rewarding fans by providing early access to content. For example, a big trend we’re seeing in the music industry is “share to reveal,” where fans get advance access to music videos or song tracks in return for sharing with friends.

3. Appeal to Their Altruism

People are inherently good. If you make it easy for them to help, they often will — and your brand will get a major boost along the way.

For example, Clarisonic recently ran a fundraising campaign for “Look Good, Feel Better,” a program that helps women battling cancer cope with treatment-related skin changes and hair loss. It contributed a $1 donation for each new “Like” on its Facebook page. The campaign made it fun and easy to share the program with friends by designing different “calls to action” that visitors could choose to share. As a result, Clarisonic generated over 30,000 new Likes on the page.

Of course, many fans will share simply because they love the cause and want to spread the word — so make sure you’ve at least added social elements to all your customer touch points.

4. Let Fans Help Create the Offer

Giving fans the ability to choose which version of a product should be offered, or to vote for the discounts or special offers they want to receive, helps ensure they’ll share it. For example, HarperCollins’ Bookperk website, which keeps readers up to date on new books and special deals, lets members select which books will be offered at a discount. Once members have chosen a book, they have the option to log into Facebook and share their selection with friends, therefore spreading the word about the discount.

5. Identify, Recognize and Reward Superfans

Humans are inherently social beings, and like to be recognized for their expertise and achievements. Recognition can be a powerful motivator for social activity.

In the Cady Groves example mentioned above, not only was the campaign successful in getting many fans to share with their friends, but furthermore, quite a few “superfans” took sharing to the next level. They generated their own tweets, direct messages and Facebook posts. Some individuals managed to recruit several hundred new fans to the Cady Groves website and Facebook page.

These superfans aren’t necessarily motivated by the incentive; they’re interested in promoting the artist, getting free merchandise for their friends and establishing their reputation as someone in the know. Smart marketers will look to identify and reward these superfans on an ongoing basis, and further provide them with ways to carry on their message.

Once you’ve identified your superfans, make them part of your marketing mix. Give them preferential or early access to new items, and reward them with recognition on your Facebook page, Twitter or your website.

Whatever your methods, find a way to incorporate a social element into every marketing campaign you run by finding compelling reasons for people to share. That’ll make every dollar you spend on marketing look like two.

Disclosure: Cady Groves, Clarisonic and HarperCollins are clients of the author’s company.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Anne Helmond.

More About: business, Contests, ecommerce, facebook, incentives, sharing, social media, twitter

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July 11 2011

HOW TO: Measure the Success of Group Buying Deals

Jonty Kelt is CEO of Group Commerce, a white label group buying platform that enables publishers and media companies to succeed in the daily deal market. Before cofounding Group Commerce, he led DoubleClick’s search technology and services businesses in Europe and Asia, through the acquisition by Google.

In today’s daily deal market, rigorous performance measurement often takes a backseat to sensational success stories. A fascination with these “blockbuster” deals is understandable; even more than the millions of dollars in revenues they generate, they embody the promise of this emerging space.

As is often the case with new markets, these incredible stories, widely reported in both tech and mainstream media, have helped galvanize excitement around (and entrants to) the deals industry. However, this enthrallment with revenue leads to a critical misunderstanding — namely, that the relative success of a deal can best be measured by the number of deals sold (and revenue generated).

While revenue is an important indicator in any industry, it’s also frequently among the most deceptive. As Group Buying 2.0 takes shape, partly fueled by traditional publishers keen to introduce deals programs to their large audiences, participants are increasingly looking to determine which metrics should be prioritized in evaluating program efficacy — specifically, which numbers are going to tell you the whole story.

Over the past few months, my company has been particularly interested in the “send-to-conversion” rate on offers, which measures how well a certain group of people responds to an offer. This is a classic ecommerce metric that has been previously used to evaluate send-to-targeted lists for coupons, emails and other uses, and is now providing invaluable insight into analyzing the performance of deals. The STC calculation has been and continues to be widely used to monitor the effectiveness of group deals.

The send-to-conversion of a deal is calculated by dividing the number of offers sold by the number of emails to which the offer was sent:

Clearly, a number of different variables have an impact on the STC rate of a given deal: price, discount and relevancy to the defined group all play into this calculation, along with a number of other merchandising factors (e.g. seasonability). Additionally, and perhaps most critically, STC is particularly useful because it prevents daily deal providers from being deceived by list size, and helps place the focus instead on engagement and program efficiency.

How so? Well, one question we hear a lot is, “How large of a local list is needed to make a deals program profitable?” The answer depends largely on the list characteristics. If the list has a highly-engaged, vertically-focused audience in a tight geographic radius, then 30,000 emails could generate real revenue — and far more efficiently than a more general list sent across a wider geography. In fact, one of our clients recently released an offer to its modestly-sized, vertically-focused local Facebook list. The offer sold out in less than three hours, achieving an extraordinarily high STC rate.

In addition to maximizing program efficiency (specifically, revenue per dollar spent on program), tracking STC is critical precisely because deals are a new type of content. Sending an irrelevant deal to a publisher’s audience can be off-putting, and will increase unsubscribe rates and reduce traffic. Even if more offers are sold by sending to a larger list, the send-to-conversion will be lower than with a more concentrated list, and audience apathy can eventually devalue the larger list.

Finally, it also should be noted that the denominator in the send-to-conversion calculation also has implications for sales force compensation, which can be based on total revenue from a deal or on deal revenue per email sent. In the latter case, a large, untargeted list will result in low revenue per email, making the work of sourcing offers for that list unappealing and further driving down the quality of offers.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to remember that price-point has a strong impact on STC. For example, a $1,000 deal on a spa getaway is going to convert at a lower rate than a $6 deal for movie tickets, but may ultimately result in greater revenue per recipient, and therefore represent a better offer for the client. As a result, STC gains additional accuracy by normalizing with revenue per email — a process that we’re still refining in my line of work.

As with any emerging industry, new metrics will continue to be developed. It will be critical for both merchants and publishers participating in the space to respond by evolving their respective approaches. More than anything, the diversity of opinions surrounding Groupon’s planned IPO highlights the difficulty inherent in achieving consensus in the current climate. How will the next generation of metrics inform the valuation process of players like Groupon? Time will tell.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, mattjeacock

More About: business, group buying, groupon, MARKETING, metric, send to conversion

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10 Tips for Better B2B Community Management

Business Network

Maria Ogneva is the Head of Community at Yammer, where she is in charge of social media, community programs, internal education and engagement. You can follow her on Twitter, her blog, and via Yammer’s Twitter account and company blog.

The communities most of us are familiar with tend to be customer or fan-facing. However, business-to-business (B2B) communities are also an important part of the social media experience.

Social media has changed the way we relate to each other, and even when you talk to business users, you are interacting with people inside those companies first and foremost. To ensure success in managing your community of business users, here are 10 best practices.

1. Know When to Create Your Own Community

It doesn’t always make sense to create your own community. Depending on your intentions, you may opt to join an already existing community. If you plan to lead conversations focused on serving your industry in general, just join that community and take a prominent role there. If, however, your community is more narrowly focused around your product, you will probably want to create a unique destination.

2. Think Through the Purpose

If you opt to create one, remember that each community should have a purpose and a vision — otherwise, chaos will ensue. Are you creating a user community or a broader best practices forum for your industry? Do you want to foster a better dialogue between customers or inform the product road map and gather feedback? Or both?

How will community members interact, contribute or learn by being a part of your conversation? Will it revolve around vertical applications of your product? If so, you may want to think about having several vertical-based communities.

3. Establish Membership Guidelines

Think about whom you want to invite and how people should join. If you’re aiming to create an industry-wide best practices exchange, you may opt to have a completely open community. If your community is more of a value-add for VIP clients, with personalized help from their account managers, you should opt for a private, invite-only community. You should also figure out if your membership will be open to employees of your company, and if so, which ones. Your community’s purpose should drive these guidelines.

4. Understand Your Members

It’s imperative that you understand what business users and their employees need from your product. When your community serves business users, its job is to help those people get their jobs done. Think about how you can make them look like rockstars in front of their peers and managers.

5. Outline Roles

Depending on your type of community membership, you’ll need to structure participants’ roles. This is especially necessary for a newly launched or relaunched community. In a large community, a subset of superusers can become moderators or take on an advisory role. This status promotion should be aspirational. Make it clear how someone can achieve that status, and empower the community to “self-police.”

If you have a more intimate community where both employees and top customers participate, place employees in consultative roles, but beware of clashing objectives.

6. Establish a Vision and Charter

The clearer you are from the beginning, the better off the community will be. Establish a charter and a set of goals driven by your community’s purpose. Let members know which behaviors are frowned upon, and which will not be tolerated. Share all of this with the community as well as internally with your company.

7. Success Metrics

Now that you’ve stated your purpose, membership and roles guidelines, decide how you will measure success. You should track community health metrics, such as growth, engagement and the percentage of active users. Additionally, make sure you align your success metrics to overarching business objectives. If a better customer experience is the primary goal, you should measure the impact of your community on satisfaction scores and customer sentiment. If education via best practices is a goal, you should see fewer support tickets and higher usage and renewal rates.

8. Have a Community Manager

Each active community should have a designated community manager. Although you should empower your community to self-sustain, active community management establishes accountability.

9. Establish Internal Processes

You should work cross-functionally to ensure that the community doesn’t operate in a vacuum. You will probably have amazing insights and feedback coming from inside the community. Ensure you are sharing insightswith the right teams internally to facilitate dialogue.

10. Enable Sharing

People love to share their successes, whether for bragging rights, to be viewed as an expert, or to help others. On the other hand, listening to others’ successes helps people visualize success. This is especially key for business users who are often tasked with proving ROI and who need to point to demonstrable examples of someone else’s success. In your community, encourage members to share their successes publicly and point these stories in the direction of other community members who are grappling with a similar problem.

Of course, there are basics of solid community management that apply across both consumer and business communities. You should be building up community advocacy, facilitating (not forcing) the conversation and monitoring engagement. Ask yourself if your community helps people do their jobs. If the answer is no, course-correct, and you will be on your way to success.

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, studiovision, max_carpenter

More About: b2b, business, communities, community management, forums, List, Lists, online communities, social media

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5 Ways to Develop a Company Culture for Remote Teams

The Digital Careers Series is supported by Elance, the world’s leading site for online work. Check out Startup Cloud for tips on how to build a remote team.

Developing a company culture can be a challenge for any business, but especially for ones that employ remote workers. However, it’s crucial for long-term success to have a strong set of values and principles to give your company a unique character that your staff can believe in.

Despite the difficulty of distance, it is possible to grow a company culture when your staff are dotted around the world. You just have to work a little harder at it.

We’ve spoken to two HR experts to bring you five ways to develop and sustain a company culture for remote teams. Have a read and share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

1. Write a Mission Statement

It’s not enough to have vague guidelines — you need to have a strong mission statement backed up by a company philosophy that outlines your entire ethos.

Your mission statement should be short and memorable, and it should use your philosophy to expand and explain. In addition to sharing it with staff during the initiation process, put the statement on your company website for all to see and refer to at any time.

Also, you should internally share company goals for the future. Whether these are based on success metrics or less measurable aims, these insights provide the team with direction and empower staff to make educated decisions.

2. Hire the Right People

To develop a strong company culture, every member of staff — from the CEO down to an intern — has to be on board with the philosophy. Add questions into your interview process to determine whether candidates are on the same wave-length as the company.

This is especially important for remote workers, as these teammates will have minimal supervision. You need to match your workers with your company culture. By employing people with the “right” values form the get-go, you’ll have a lot less work ahead of you in making your culture a success across state and even international borders.

In addition, you need to be sure that candidates can cope with remote working. “To aid creation of a virtual culture, and also to help employees decide whether remote team working is for them, it is recommended that organizations first educate themselves and their employees in what the positive and negative implications are,” advises Hilary Blackmore, a chartered occupational psychologist.

“In this way, continuity can be supported for those who subsequently decide to move to a remote working arrangement, as it will help them conceptualize the shift in identity that may be required, reducing the risk of threat.”

3. Create a Close-Knit Team

A close team with shared values is always going to be more motivated than a loose collection of loners. It’s your challenge to try and get your remote team as tight-knit as possible, despite the miles between them.

“Despite the fact that remote workers like the freedom of their work, they still like to be included in the team. There are a number of ways this can be done. If the team members are relatively new and don’t know each other, you can have them do a presentation on themselves to show their interests, family, hobbies and passions,” suggests Michael D. Haberman, SPHR, vice president of Omega HR Solutions.

“One company manager had his employees send a photo of their work area at home and they had a contest with the team members trying to guess whose work area was whose.”

4. Give Your Staff Independence

Give your staff as much autonomy as possible. By letting them make their own decisions based on knowledge of your company philosophy, the corporate principles will be cemented far more effectively than if they just read them and have decisions made for them by more senior staff. Don’t micro-manage.

“There are many ways a manager can still micro-manage a remote team. Instant messaging, phone calls, tracking computer time, times in system, etc. all constitute micro-managing. And that sends the wrong message. Remote teams need to be measured on productivity. Are they getting the work done? If the answer is yes, then leave them alone. If the remote worker is the type of person who needs micro-managing, then the manager made a poor selection choice in that employee,” says Haberman.

5. Recognize and Reward

If one of your staff members does something that is a great example of your company culture, then be sure to highlight this action. Whether you mention it on a team call, write about it on the company blog or just send a group email, recognizing and rewarding staff is a great way to boost morale and keep your company culture strong.

Series Supported by Elance

The Digital Careers Series is supported by Elance, where businesses hire and manage in the cloud for immediate access to the talent they need, when they need it. Elance offers the flexibility to staff up or down, and it’s faster and less expensive than traditional staffing and outsourcing. Check out Startup Cloud to learn more.

More Startup Resources from Mashable:

- 4 Tips For Interviewing Long-Distance Job Candidates
- 4 Reasons a Remote Workforce Might Be Right for Your Startup
- 5 Tips for Keeping Remote Workers in the Loop
- 8 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Get More Out of Twitter

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, pailoolom, Sarah, Mr Spielbrick, Poppy Thomas-Hill, Stephen Jones, Steven Depolo

More About: business, company culture, digital careers series, remote worker, remote workforce

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July 09 2011

40 New Digital Media Resources You May Have Missed

Whew! This week was awash with news. So, we transformed that news into advice, tips and how-to’s that you can reference for years to come.

Take Facebook’s video chat launch — we’ll guide you in setting it up. Or the space shuttle launch — we provide the Twitter accounts for dozens of astronauts and space experts. And Google+ has been on the minds of millions — we present its pros and cons. Mashable not only releases breaking news, we help you learn how to apply it to your business, your interests and your personal life.

If spare time for reading didn’t exactly factor into your busy week, here’s a roundup of resources that appeared on Mashable.

Editors’ Picks

Social Media

July 08 2011

11 Startups That Found Success By Changing Direction

Nicholas Thomas is the Director of Business Development at Docudesk Corporation and is passionate about user experience, design, and innovation. You can follow him on Twitter @nicholaswthomas and read his blog at NicholasWayneThomas.com.

Although some discount “The Pivot” as an overused buzzword, for a startup, pivoting can mean the difference between becoming the next success story and joining the deadpool. The principles behind the pivot apply to any industry. With lean resources, fickle users and quickly changing markets, startups have the most to gain from pivoting, and the most to lose from missed opportunities.

The reasons for changing course are often varied, and there are many factors to take into consideration when making the decision. Some companies have discovered that their products need to be significantly tweaked — or even scrapped all together. Others found that they had the right products, but have marketed to the wrong audience. For some, the only thing they had right was their team.

There may be some valid criticism in the over-usage of the term. Some of what can be identified as pivoting may just be the natural evolution of the company. The technique is not new though, and many established companies look significantly different now than in their early days.

Fortunately for today’s startups, pre-existing companies provide examples of successful adaptation.

1. Yelp

When most people need recommendations for a good doctor or a good movie rental, they ask their friends. Jeremy Stoppelman started a company and asked millions.

Along with cofounder Russel Simmons, the company began in 2004 as an automated system for emailing recommendation requests to friends. Although the duo received $1 million in funding from PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, the idea fell flat with their audience.

However, users did viewed the system in a way they hadn’t expected: by writing reviews on local businesses just for fun. They decided to change course, capitalizing on the new “blue ocean strategy” of online reviews for local businesses. The original “Friendster Yellow Pages” now sees over 50 million users a month, with 17 million reviews online.

2. YouTube

Lean startup wisdom says to start small and focus on niche markets. But when you have a great team in place though, focusing on the bigger picture can be worthwhile.

Founded in 2005, YouTube began as a video dating site called "Tune In Hook Up," similar to HotOrNot.com. When the site failed to gain traction, the founders scrapped the idea, and instead focused on simply sharing videos online.

Acquired by Google for around $1.65 billion in stock, YouTube users now upload over 35 hours of video per minute.

3. PayPal

Arising from the merger between two companies specializing in financial services (X) and cryptography (Confinity), PayPal originated as a way to exchange money via Palm Pilots. Peter Thiel is credited with seeing the potential to solve a much larger problem - an easy way to transfer money online.

After securing a relationship with eBay, PayPal was soon handling over 40% of eBay transactions before being acquired by the company in 2002 for $1.5 billion. PayPal now has over 100 million active accounts, and is again bullish on the mobile strategy, expecting to process over $3 billion in mobile payments in 2011.

4. Woot

A successful pivot can begin as a simple means to an end, or as a solution to a purely internal problem.

Woot.com began in 2004 as a way for Matt Ruttledge’s 12-year-old wholesale electronics distributor to clear out unsold inventory. The result was a new model for online shopping that combined bargain hunting with scarcity and urgency, all while maintaining a sense of humor that would become a company trademark.

After establishing the framework for daily deals sites and expanding their offering, Woot was acquired by Amazon in 2010 for $110 million.

5. Flickr

A great example of a feature becoming its own product, Flickr’s roots lie in the development of an online role-playing game from gaming startup Ludicorp.

Recognizing they had developed a solution to a much larger problem, Caterina Fake and husband Stewart Butterfield decided to scrap development of the game, and focus instead on the larger potential of simplifying photo sharing on the web.

Ludicorp never actually published a game, and Flickr was purchased by Yahoo! in 2005 for an undisclosed sum.

6. Groupon

Sometimes the idea can be completely right, but the target market completely wrong.

Founded in 2006, The Point began as a platform for mobilizing groups of people towards action for various causes. Groupon was initially just one subset of another site, (even launching at groupon.thepoint.com).

The group buying aspect struck a nerve with users much more so than the social and political concept the platform. As founder Andrew Mason put it, “The Point should have been the book, and Groupon should have been the company.”

7. Shopify

Shopify is another example of a company born from solving an internal problem, but recognizing a bigger need.

In 2004, Tobias Lütke and Scott Lake needed an online shopping cart for their new snowboard business. When they found no suitable choices available, Lütke decided to write his own, and make his solution available to other small companies running into the same issue.

Shopify now hosts over 10,000 stores and is processing over $100 million in revenues.

8. Twitter

Outside pressure can go a long way in sparking truly paradigm-shifting innovation.

In 2006, podcasting startup Odeo was quickly made irrelevant after the release of iTunes and other competition. Seeing the writing on the wall, Twitter began as a side project originating from “hackathons” to identify viable new opportunities.

Twitter now has over 200 million users, with secondary market trading placing the company’s valuation around $7 billion.

9. Ignighter

Allowing your users to influence the nature of your offering can be rewarding.

Launched in 2008 as a dating site for groups, Ignighter grew modestly in the U.S., adding 50,000 users in its first year. The idea of a dating site for groups rather than individuals caught fire in India though, where the site began adding as many users in one week as they had previously added in an entire year.

In 2010, cofounder Adam Sachs made the company’s pivot official, stating, "We are an Indian dating site."

10. Intagram

At nine months old with 1.25 million users for every employee, Instagram proves that the team can sometimes be more important than the product itself.

Founder Kevin Systrom started Burbn to learn programming outside of his marketing day job, aiming to blend elements of Foursquare and Mafia Wars in a mobile HTML5 app.

After receiving funding from Baseline Ventures and Andreesen Horowitz, Systrom added cofounder Mike Krieger to the project. The duo decided to take a mobile-first strategy by scrapping the original code for a native iPhone app. The resulting feature-rich app felt cluttered, inspiring the team to remove everything except the most important features and rename the app to reflect the new use case: Instagram.

11. Turntable.fm

Although no more divergent than Twitter was to its inception at Odeo, Turntable.fm’s origin is at least equally disparate, and for the time being at least, much more mysterious.

Born out of the mobile bar code-scanning startup Stickybits, the buzz and exclusivity surrounding Turntable.fm has quickly overshadowed its parent.

What makes this pivot intriguing is not just the divergent nature of the products, or of the established players Turntable.fm is challenging, but is their team’s reluctance to talk to the press about it.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Liquidphoto

More About: business, flickr, groupon, Ignighter, instagram, List, Lists, paypal, shopify, startups, turntable.fm, twitter, woot, yelp, youtube

For more Startups coverage:

July 06 2011

HOW TO: Use CoTweet as a Marketing Tool

The Social Media 101 Series is sponsored by Global Strategic Management Institute. GSMI’s Social Media Strategies Series are the leading educational events for organizations looking to advance their online capabilities. Learn more.

One of the greatest challenges of social media marketing is juggling multiple accounts across a variety of networks. As messaging, engagement and analytics differ from platform to platform, keeping yourself organized is vital.

A great way to keep your social media presences in line is with CoTweet, a web-based social media management and analytics tool. It has a simple design and the basic plan, which has fairly robust features, is free. Like HootSuite, it’s accessed through your web browser rather than a desktop client.

Mashable spoke with Kevin Bobowski, CoTweet’s marketing director, for an explanation of how to use the platform for social media marketing.

Setup Support

While some platforms might leave you to your own devices after a product demo, CoTweet’s Services team is on hand to help you set up your account. This can be helpful if it’s your organizations first go at social media management. The social consultant will customize the setup and training based on your needs, and he or she will also record the training session, so you don’t have to worry about memorizing each step.

Already a social media management pro? You’re welcome to pass on the setup help and get your business started on the platform however works best for you.

Tweets as Teamwork

CoTweet is an excellent tool for small businesses or divisions of larger businesses that spread social media duties among team members and have a customer service approach to engagement. It has a number of features in place that ensure each employee is doing his or her work — and taking responsibility for it.

Like many social media management services, CoTweet allows updates and follow-up messages to be assigned to specific social media managers. This can make responses more relevant as team members with certain knowledge bases can handle appropriate questions and comments from followers. The responder’s initials are included at the end of the tweet, letting the follower know there’s a person behind the handle. This not only puts the follower at ease, but also the marketing manager as he or she will know who to talk to if questions (or congratulations!) arise for a specific tweet.

What’s different about CoTweet is its OnDuty status, which notes who is responsible for social streams at a certain time. Aside from organizing your social updates schedule, it allows for more passive monitoring. The person on duty can receive e-mails when something needs to be acted on, freeing him or her up to go to meetings or take calls while remaining aware of social media activity.

Campaign Conversion

The ability to track campaigns is the most important feature many marketers look for when deciding on a social media management tool. With CoTweet, you can not only manage clicks on content you publish within the application, but also integrate any web analytics platforms with campaign codes and shortened URLs.

“This provides closed-loop reporting and allows marketers to associate revenue and other success metrics to social media activity,” Bobowski says.

The platform recently launched a new Data Integration framework that allows you to extend the CoTweet application across other CRM tools, including Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Integration. This means you can associate a conversation from Facebook or Twitter with an individual’s existing CRM profile and then tag it as a lead or opportunity. The feature breaks down silos by integrating data across platforms, allowing you to create more comprehensive customer profiles and have more relevant conversations in social media.

“We’re delivering the industry’s first solution to give businesses a complete view of their customers across online, offline and social channels,” says Jesse Engle, general manager of the ExactTarget Social Media Lab, in a press release. “This will help enterprises significantly extend the benefits of social to sales enablement to better target campaigns, increase product demand, improve client satisfaction and quantify the true ROI of social media.”

Worth a Try?

Whether you’re looking for a high-level social data reporting solution or just combating “Twitter overwhelm,” CoTweet is worth a shot. The platform supports Twitter and Facebook and has an iPhone app. The Standard edition is free and allows up to six Twitter accounts. The Enterprise version costs $1,500 a month, but you can request a free demo.

Have you used CoTweet for marketing? Would you recommend it? Tell us your experience with the tool in the comments below.

Series Supported by Global Strategic Management Institute

The Social Media 101 Series is sponsored by Global Strategic Management Institute, a leading source of knowledge for today’s leaders. Learn more by visiting GSMI’s website, liking it on Facebook and following it on Twitter.

More Marketing Resources from Mashable:

- HOW TO: Start Marketing on Foursquare
- HOW TO: Start Marketing on Gowalla
- The PR Pro’s Guide to Facebook
- How Barbie & Ken Were Reunited by Social Media
- How Converse Became the Biggest Little Sneaker Brand on Facebook

More About: analytics, cotweet, Social Media 101 Series, social media management, social media tools

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