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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Three Controversial Uses of GPS Tracking

GPS tracking is an amazing technology that evolves constantly for new uses beyond navigation. The law enforcement community and businesses have begun using GPS tracking in ways that worry privacy experts.

Because GPS tracking allows someone to unobtrusively monitor a vehicle in real time, some question if the practice is ethical.

Monitoring Devices

Nicole Ritchie had one because she drove drunk. Lindsey Loan wore one during rehab and after for her legal problems related to substance abuse. Football star Michael Vick wore a bracelet after he got out of prison for his role in a dog-fighting ring.

The criminal justice system commonly uses GPS monitoring devices to track individuals on probation, parole or house arrest for a variety of crimes. In several states, registered sex offenders are required to wear a tracking bracelet even if they are no longer under state supervision.

These monitoring devices are designed to be intrusive. While someone convicted of a crime may prefer electronic monitoring, it is not a foolproof system. If someone removes the bracelet or if its battery is not charged, the bracelet is useless.

Sex offenders who are no longer under any sort of legal restriction are not likely to be inclined to keep the bracelet on and in working order. This leads some members of the public to question if it is cost-effective or even useful to continuing this monitoring.

Fleet Tracking

What is fleet tracking? When a business has multiple vehicles driven by employees, it often installs GPS tracking on each vehicle. Aside from the obvious benefit of routing vehicles and locating them if stolen, employers are using the trackers to increase worker productivity.

With GPS tracking, businesses can tell how fast employees drive, the number of times the vehicle has stopped, as well as the location. Because employers can purchase systems that broadcast in real time, they immediately know when an employee spends an excessive time at a service call, parked in one location or on lunch break. Employees may not like this tracking, but most employers inform employees. Employees are free to accept the policy or find other employment.

Under Cover Surveillance

Police have conducted surveillance on criminal suspects for years. Previously, most surveillance relied on someone following someone and taking photographs or video. Now, a person can be under surveillance without someone physically following them. Courts have ruled that police don’t need a warrant to place GPS tracking devices on the vehicle of a person of interest.

If someone parks a car and goes inside a building, police or anyone else can place a small tracking device under the bumper or in some other location not highly visible. From this device, they may be able to track the vehicle in real time. On other occasions, police retrieve the device the same way they placed it and then have location data to use. Expect continued court battles over whether this type of surveillance continues to be possible without a warrant.

Any technology has benefits and drawbacks. GPS tracking is no different. We have security of mind knowing we have directions to our next destination. Unfortunately, the same device allows others to identify where we are going and when. A balance of safety and privacy is important in the use of this technology.

Peggy Crippen, a guest blogger, regularly writes about business and technology, including GPS tracking.

 

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How to Read Your Customer’s Mind

Do you know what your customers are thinking about your company right now? Have you ever checked to see if they are supporters or detractors? Would they recommend you to their friends or business associates? A person on the street?

If you haven’t asked your customers what they think lately (or at least not recently), you are in need of customer survey.

Why subject your customers to meaningless questions like: “On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate your experience with us?” and then follow-up blank box: “Please tell us how we can do better.”

How many of those kinds of questions attract answers, let alone answers helpful for improving your business?

Are you ready for honest feedback that could completely change the direction (and the prosperity) of your company.

Surprise your customers with questions like these. Customize them for you business. Involve as many employees that you can in the process. You might just like what you hear from both them and your customers.

How Do Your Customers Perceive Your Company?

  • What do you say to people if about our company?
  • What is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear our company name?

What Do Customers Think of Your Products?

  • When was the last time one of our products delivered something unexpected?
  • If you wanted to buy another product from our company, what would it be?
  • What would you do if one of our products was no longer available?
  • What do you need that we don’t provide?
  • What’s the first thing you do with our products after you purchase them?
  • Which of our products would you like to have but can’t afford?

How Good Are You At Providing Service?

  • What is something we do that you prefer how a competitor does it?
  • When was the last time you were angry over something our company did?
  • If we didn’t respond to your call about a problem, what would be your next action?
  • When was the last time you were surprised by something we did?

Anything Else to Add?

  • What else do you have on your mind?
  • Should we have asked you anything else?
  • What would you think if the head of our company contacted you?
  • What did you think of our survey?

Take every answer to heart. Make sure you take immediate action on the most important ones. If you weren’t prepared for what you heard, tackle one that’s relatively easy. Any visible changes you make will let customers know that their opinions are important.

Amy holds a strong belief in customer oriented business as a means to success. Through her work with a local Albany Credit Union, she advocates customer owned banking in her home area.

 

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Car Insurance for Business Vehicles — What You Need to Know

When using a vehicle for driving to work, parking outside the office, and returning home after work, it is fairly simple and straightforward to find the proper insurance coverage for your vehicle. Usually, all you will need is general coverage against physical damage and liability, and you’re legally clear to drive.

However, when work takes place in a vehicle – such as meeting with clients at lots of different locations, delivering a product with the vehicle, etc. — that is a much different situation. In these circumstances, it can be much more complicated when it comes to getting auto insurance. But finding the right car insurance for business vehicles can become simpler and easier to understand once you have done some research and are more familiar with the subject.

Distinguishing Commercial Vehicles

Regular car insurance is sometimes known as “SDP cover.” That abbreviation refers to the car’s primary use, at least in the estimation of insurers, as something for “social, domestic, and pleasure” purposes. That can mean shopping or social events, visits to family and friends, or transportation back and forth to a single work location. All of these uses are normal, everyday, common, and they are all expected to fall somewhere under the usual auto insurance policy.

Commercial auto insurance is a separate and specialized type of insurance coverage for a different situation entirely. Maybe a certain person must use their own vehicles for work, and they must purchase insurance to properly regulate and legitimize that use. He or she may have to attend meetings, conduct seminars, or hold conferences far away. And the transportation to get him or her there must be properly insured.

It does not even matter how much the vehicle is used for business-related purposes — occasionally, regularly, or exclusively — just that it is at all. No matter what the degree or frequency of the use happens to be, car insurance for vehicles used for any kind of business purpose is a must have.

Buying Commercial Auto Insurance

Once it is clear that the vehicle you use needs an insurance policy that covers its use at work, the next step might be to look into your options for purchasing a commercial auto policy.

To maintain a good cost for the insurance (low premiums, high discounts), the most important thing to do is to communicate clearly, right away, with your insurer. Just be up-front on how the vehicle will be used. Will it be occasional or regular business use? Will it be total commercial use and not used at all for personal purposes? With this information, you’ll be able to avoid under-insuring (or over-insuring) your car.

There are also some strategies for you to help keep insurance costs down:

Establish a good mileage limit. Do your homework on the area you’ll be covering professionally, and plan the driving carefully.

Choose a safe location to park. This is important, especially with a business vehicle that you won’t be around to protect all the time. The insurance company will want to know how safe the parking area is.

Make sure your vehicle itself is secure. Use an alarm or other device to make sure the vehicle is always safe from intruders, no matter where it might be parked.

Shop around and compare rates from several different commercial auto insurers. It is not uncommon for rates to vary widely between insurers. It may also be helpful to work with an independent insurance broker that is able to find you the lowest rate among several insurance companies. This could save you some time in finding the best rate.

For more details on buying commercial auto insurance, read “A Guide to Business Car Insurance,” an article from insurance advice organization Break Down Cover:

Commercial Auto Insurance & the Law

Almost all states in the US have compulsory vehicle insurance. Vehicle insurance is mandated to make sure that damage from auto accidents will be fully compensated, or as close to fully compensated as possible.

If you have an accident while driving for business (no matter where the damage is or whose fault it was) and you only have a conventional, private insurance policy with you, then the insurer may decide not to cover it. This is because the cost of that insurance doesn’t cover the risk associated with business-related travel.

It is imperative to have the right type of insurance for the type of driving you’re doing, so that you don’t end up having an accident and later finding out you didn’t have the proper kind of coverage.

Another important consideration is that you may be more likely to suffer an accident in the first place when driving commercially. Since your use of the vehicle might increase once you’re using it for work, the risk of an accident, as well as the necessity of insurance, increases exponentially.

All of the work involved in understanding, researching, and buying car insurance for business vehicles may seem like a difficult task. However, it is necessary to make sure and obtain the right kind of coverage for your situation. After doing thorough research and having a good idea of what kind of coverage you need, you will be in a better position to make an informed decision and get the proper coverage for your business vehicle.

Jim Wright is a freelance writer for Zonar.  Zonar provides fleet management software for fleet management companies.

 

Hard Thoughts About SEO & Link Bait

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Is creating link bait good SEO? Emphatically, yes! If it does not get links it is not link bait. If it does, then people are finding value, which is exactly what the search engines want to reward. Whether you call it white hat or ethical SEO, link bait fits the bill.

 

But what is link bait, what makes it work and why does it fail?

What Is Link Bait?

Link bait is content designed from conception to go viral. The goal is to produce something so awesome your friends will share it with their friends, your friends’ friends will share it with their friends and so on.

In theory, if you to create the perfect viral link bait, people keep sharing and sharing until everyone on the Internet sees your creation.

Perfect link bait distribution

 

In the diagram above, you send your link bait to four people. Each of your friends share it with four people. Each of them shares with four more and so on. Four become Sixteen. Sixteen becomes sixty-four. Sixty-four becomes 1,024. In this perfect distribution, 1,108 people will see your content and it keeps growing.

Great link bait earns links. Those links increase domain authority. Higher domain authority generates better search engine rankings. Or at least that’s the SEO theory. But as we are about to discover, one cannot simply decide to publish link bait and have it work.

Just like SEO, making link bait work is difficult. If fact, you’ll quickly realize that link bait means different things to different websites.

Link Bait Strategies

Over the years, link builders have identified a few common link bait strategies. Lists vary, but they generally look like this:

  • News Stories
  • Debate Articles
  • Attack Articles
  • Resource Lists, How-to Articles and Infographs
  • Humorous Stories
  • Incentive Pieces (Contests, Awards)

A good place to learn about each strategy is The Link Baiting Playbook: Hooks Revisited by Todd Malicoat.

Link Bait Is About Links

For SEO purposes, we are interested in sharing. You want people to write about your link bait on their websites, blogs and on their social media accounts. It would be a shame if 10,000 people saw your link bait yet none of them actually linked to it.

While sharing on Twitter and Facebook is a good start, the gold standard is to earn permanent links on websites and blogs. This is why tutorials and infographics are popular. Website owners and editors only link to content that they think their readers will find useful.

Before you spend time and effort on production, identify specific websites that might post and link to your content. The folks at Distilled recommend you get five actual commitments from bloggers before you spend a dime on your link bait. That’s sound advice.

While you want dozens, hundreds or thousands of tweets, shares and links, try thinking like a sniper instead of a B-52 bomber. Every country has snipers. Only a few can drop the bomb.

If Link Bait Is So Terrific, Why Doesn’t Everyone Do It?

The sad truth is even the best link bait flops more often than succeeds. For many, this leads to disillusionment and surrender. To succeed, you must commit to the long-haul up the river into the heart of darkness.

Link bait is like baseball. If a professional ball player gets on base 3 times for every ten at bats, he becomes a star and hall of famer. Today, the on base percentage for the entire Major League is 32%. That means even pro players fail seven out of ten times.

Set reasonable expectations and don’t beat yourself up when you know that you did a good job.

Audience Size & Popularity

If you or I tweeted, Today, do something good for someone you do not know, we might get a handful of retweets. But what if certain other people posted this; what might happen?

Popularity matters because it creates leverage. Having more people to message directly increases the opportunity for content to go viral.

Guy Kawasaki and I could create and publish virtually identical inforgraphs, but Kawasaki’s version is far more likely to go viral because he has over 300,000 followers on Twitter, plus one of the most read blogs on the Internet.

Lady Gaga'a link bait is more popular than your link bait

 

If you ever wondered where the value is in making connections on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media sites, here is an important example of ROI potential. Your friends and contacts are your first generation. The more friends and contacts you have, the greater your link bait success rate will be, assuming that you publish quality link bait.

The ROI here is not sales, it’s influence. You are publishing and promoting link bait to get links, not to make customers. Influence leads to links. Links lead to rankings. Rankings lead to lead generation. Lead generation leads to sales. The investment, by the way, is networking and friend making.

You don’t have to be Lady Gaga either. Sure she can launch a thousand ships, but her fans don’t create content. Focus your friend making efforts on Web editors and writers in your business space and you will grow the type of influence your need.

Help your link bait travel. Add embedding code and social media sharing icons. Tell people to pass it along. Make it insanely easy for people share your content and give them specific calls to action to do exactly that. Ask three times. Before your link bait, after and alongside your share buttons and embed code.

Noise

The social Web is a busy place. Chances are good that you scan through posts and messages, looking for things that grab your eyes. Your time is limited so the more friends you have online the less carefully you scan. Those posts you pass over, I call noise.

Noise can turn this:

Perfect link bait distribution

Into this:

Imperfect link bait distribution

 

When it comes to link bait your content must stand out above the noise. There is no average, just outstanding or meh.

Noise increases over time too. When I began promoting events and content on Facebook I was a lone pioneer. Today Facebook feels like a raging river of marketing messages. I can barely keep my head above the torrent. Twitter is the same.

Is your link bait truly delicious? If you cannot be your own harshest critic, then make sure you have blunt, honest advisors to run your ideas and drafts past.

All link bait gets accompanied by messaging. Whether it is on your blog or social media account, make certain you make your accompanying text as enticing as your link bait.

Timing

Be careful if you use social media to promote your link bait. If you are not on Twitter when a friend posts, you may never see it. The half-life of a bitly link is three hours. This is why people carefully select when they post important links.

Some strategies involve tweeting when Twitter is busiest so more people will see the posts. Other strategies prefer tweeting during off-peak traffic times or in weekends, with the hope that less people posting will make it easier for a message to get seen.

Pre-write and schedule your posts. I like to tweet important links three times — morning, noon and evening. However, I am not going to tell you that my strategy is the best for you. Every market is different. Watch you social media space, try different strategies and figure out what will work.

There are tools that automatically schedule tweets and other social media post for you, supposedly when they will be seen by the most people. I don’t trust them. Apparently they work for some people, but I think this is because using the tools make them change their behavior and tweet more often.

Hope & Prayer

I see a lot of link bait released into the wild with a hope and a prayer. People who do this know they don’t have a big audience to get the viral snowball rolling. What they are praying for is this:

Link bait distribution through an influencer

 

They want an influencer, someone with a large audience, to see and share their link bait with her audience. Because so much content gets put out on the Web every day, this is a low percentage gamble.

By now, you probably know what I am about to advise. Invest the time to connect with influencers and get to know them well enough to ask if they will share something before you even roll-up your sleeves and work on your link bait.

Who should you connect with? Watch Twitter and see which influencers converse with their friends. Neil Gaiman is a huge influencer, except he has over 1.6 million followers, so it’s going to be rather difficult to enjoy a virtual cup of tea with him. Look for people like Ian Lurie who has eight-thousand followers, engages in conversations and links to cool stuff.

Do Not Campaign

Lots of marketing is done as campaigns. It has a start and an end. Social media is not a campaign. You cannot decide to turn-on social media, drop a dozen link baits, then turn your social media off.

Just like you cannot ignore the friends you go to bars and ball games with, you must keep nurturing your online relationships. This is why I call social media networking friend making.

Know The Value Of A Link

While it is practically impossible to know the actual value of a link, this is important because you’re spending actual money on your link bait.

At some point, the value you receive must exceed your costs. Since link bait is for SEO, links are the best measure of success. Therefore you have to know the value of your links.

There are lots of ways to price links, none of them perfect. But try telling that to the CFO. I suggest estimating how much it would cost to place each link as small banner ad since this is a white hat approximation.

Get an experienced Internet media buyer to do this estimate for you and only count links on actual article pages. Your link will fall off any page that changes over time.

Since link bait is for SEO, treat any sale from a link bait referral like a direct credit. Add the amount of any sales to your earned-links ROI estimate.

Don’t be afraid to make up-front investments, especially when you are starting out. But at some point, though, you need to look at your wins and losses and decide whether or not you are having a winning season.

If you spend $10k and get 1,000 links, that’s $100 per link and a steep price to pay. If you get 30,000 links you spent 34₵ a link, much more palatable. 100,000 links? 10₵ a link.

Last Word

I have one last thought for you. All infographs may be link bait, but not all link bait are infographs. They may be all the rage right now, but infographs are expensive, few designers do them well and there’s a heck of a lot of competition out there.

Why not start with some excellent blog articles with some outstanding images? If you ask ahead of time for some link commitments it will be just as effective and much cheaper. That could save you from burning out before achieving success.

 

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Start Your Email Marketing Campaign Now

Dentists are not internet marketing specialists. For this reason, when a dentist encounters the term email marketing, it’s only normal for him or her to ask what that is all about. Basically, email marketing is the same with sending direct mail only that you make use of the internet. Dentists are familiar with that need to interact with patients and to be constantly in touch with them. But costs of direct mail have become prohibitive and impractical. On the other hand, email marketing will allow dentists to send out promotional materials, newsletters and holiday cards in just a matter of minutes without having to spend anything on postage or printing.

“But my practice is not yet ready.”

This is one of the more familiar reasons that dentists use to put off launching their own email marketing campaign. But email marketing is so simple that you do not have to make that many preparations to have everything in full swing. And you do not have to put in too much of your time to get your e-newsletters ready. You can devote maybe ten minutes a week to come up with fresh content for your bi-monthly or monthly e-newsletter.

Also, you’ll need to come up with a list of patients’ email addresses. You do not even have to bother yourself with this. You can ask your front desk worker to collect email addresses from cooperative patients. Make sure to send them a “thank you” email soon after.

You can start out small but expect your list to grow in months’ time. As your list expands, you get to share your expert opinion to more people and you’ll boost your practice’s exposure.

“It takes a very long time to see results”.

This might be a legitimate excuse but still not a good one. Email marketing is different from those one-time marketing campaigns because it is constantly ongoing. This is basically because you are not really just marketing your practice to your patients and prospects; you are also building long-term relationships with them. Unlike other marketing campaigns wherein it seems like you’re persistently talking to a blank wall, email marketing allows you to genuinely connect with those who are interested to avail of your services. Because if they were never interested to begin with, then they should not have opted in, or they should have opted out by now.

Elliot Pearson, your author, writes on technology and SEO and wites for Dentist Identity who supplies Dental Office Marketing and Dental SEO services to top dentists worldwide.

 

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Five Common Roadblocks to Effective Workplace Communication

Whether in one’s personal life or professional life, effective communication is paramount to success in creating and reinforcing a positive relationship. In the work environment, communication impacts both immediate goals and long-term mission completion. Meeting or exceeding project standards, promotions and employee turn-over rates are directly affected by either poor or excellent communication skills, regardless of positions hierarchy. When customers or clients are involved, it can present additional challenges and rewards.

Sources of Communication Problems

There are almost as many specific reasons behind problems with communication as there are personalities on the planet. However, many general reasons are interwoven into specific instances.

1: The speaker is not well-versed in the topic. If the person speaking doesn’t have the depth of knowledge or expertise in the subject matter to articulate ideas, standards and requirements, problems will arise. Oftentimes, the speaker will become frustrated or irritated that the results weren’t what was expected or required. If you don’t know enough at any particular time to give specific and clear points, solicit discussion with the experts first. Tell them the type of results you want. Discussion can lead to clarity and solid understanding. When others and you understand each other well, everyone has communicated effectively. Then if the results aren’t what was expected, you can take action based on that performance, but poor communication shouldn’t be an issue.

2: The receiver suffers from low expertise or understanding of area involved in the communication. This can be especially trying for the speaker, but it can be minimized by having the receiver recap or rephrase instructions or suggestions. Encouraging asking questions can help also, but be prepared for little response. Sometimes, people don’t know that they don’t know enough to ask. Be open to questions during performance, and be patient in answering.

3: Cultural differences exist between parties. Cultural differences can include language comprehension. Also, cultural differences exist between genders, unfortunately, and when the sender or receiver lives under different cultural rules than the other, effective communication can be challenging at best. Act professionally and respectfully and be as clear and concise as possible. Understand and respect the other’s culture, but be aware that business is business, and the mission is paramount.

4: The receiver is not interested in either the subject matter or listening effectively. This scenario is especially difficult and aggravating. If someone actively shows disinterest or is passive-aggressive in reception, it’s time to get extraordinarily specific.

Document each communication point and directive. Include specific deadlines, standards and requirements. Delineate expectations and restrictions. Don’t allow any room for perceived or contrived error. Even a statement such as, “No personal calls allowed” can generate the reaction of not using—or answering—the phone at all. Instead, specify that they are to use the phone but for business purposes only and in a professional manner. They are to take calls from within the business directory and from customers or clients and conduct themselves to the highest professional standards while doing so.” If they fail to perform or “act out” even after that specificity, you may have cause to present the incidents to your supervisor or take disciplinary action against the receiver.

5: Time constraints prevent full communication. Time is not always on the side of the communicator. Be as concise as possible and always invite questions later. If you know that you don’t have time to be thorough at the time, let the receiver know that more detail will be forthcoming—and follow through on it. Never leave under-communication standing long. Everyone gets frustrated when that happens, and frustrated effort rarely leads to quality product or performance.

Article written by Holly Adams, who writes for Coupon Croc. Dress the part and shop online with an Asos discount code to save on the best workplace attire.

 

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A Couple of Tips for my Small Business Groups, Clients, Friends, and Internet Marketing Associates:

Content is always a premium, and a good blog speaks volumes about you.  Although I cannot always find the time to write each day, I try to publish something daily.  Since I started this my daily readership has tripled.  A great source of “guest blogs” can be found at:  http://myblogguest.com/  It is free and the quality is generally pretty good.  As always, make sure that the subject matter fits the general theme of your blog.  Mine is small business, but occasionally I drift off into some cute personal stories or a mindless rant.  Keeping on track is advisable if you want to maintain a steady readership.

 

Another great source for exposure is a discussion in the SMALL BUSINESS NETWORK on LinkedIn.  The discussion is called:  Post Your FaceBook Page Here.  It’s a great way to build a following and get your name and articles out to your community.

If you’ve got a business page on Facebook simply leave a link to your page in a comment.
This is a simple, easy, painless networking tool and can benefit everyone in the group!
I am borrowing this brilliant idea from the discussion leader, who borrowed it from another group on LinkedIn.
As an example, here is my link to my Facebook Page  facebook.com/BayIntegratedMarketing
Feel free to like it, and I’ll do the same for yours.

 

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