What’s New in QuantumCMS 5?

Over the past few years, my role at Algonquin Studios has expanded to include the front-end development of QuantumCMS, our in-house content management system. In that time, QuantumCMS has changed a lot. We’ve crushed bugs, added new features, and enhanced the user interface

The release of QuantumCMS 5 is slated for May 1, 2013 and I’m really excited about this version. Not only have we redesigned the interface, but we’ve also added new features, vastly improved some existing features, and upgraded the code under the hood.

Here’s a look at some of things that you can expect in QuantumCMS 5:

New Interface

We’ve given the interface a clean and fresh look that’s easy on the eyes, but the layout is largely the same as previous versions, so you won’t have to hunt around for anything.

Dashboard

dashboard

Edit Page

page

Site Tree

We’ve built a new site tree control from the ground up. In addition to new icons and styles, the tree now includes drag-and-drop page moving and sorting in all supported browsers. We also added a feature to indicate when a page has drafts. In such cases, a small pencil is displayed over the page type icon.

tree

File Manager

This release will introduce a brand new file manager. The file manager is no longer available as a tab in the left pane, but now opens in a new window so you have more room to work. The new file manager supports drag-and-drop for moving files and includes basic image editing features like resize, crop, and rotate. In modern browsers, you can even drag files from your computer into the window to quickly upload them to the server. And yes, I said files! With the new file manager, you can upload multiple files simultaneously.

files

Sections

We’ve added a set of new screens that can be used to help define business rules and manage content that is specific to an area of the site. A section is simply a page and all underlying pages. In QuantumCMS, you can define any page as the root of a section and apply custom content like Linked Pages and Properties that will appear on all pages within that section of the site.

Although there are many potential uses, we believe that this will be particularly helpful for sites with multilingual content, mini-sites, or both. Making use of this feature requires some template updates, because the functionality must be coded to match the site’s business rules.

sections

Linked Page Images

We noticed that a lot of web sites associate images with their links so we’ve attempted to make that easier by adding a Link Image file picker to the Linked Pages screen. Much like Sections, the Linked Pages feature is implemented uniquely for each web site so template updates are necessary to make use of this feature.

linkedpages

Open Pages in New Window

You may have noticed that there is now a check box on each page that is labeled, “Open in a new window.” By checking that box, all links to that page in the navigation, search results, and site map will open in a new window automatically.

Site Speed

I’ve saved perhaps the best for last. In QuantumCMS 5, we’ve made a bunch of code updates to streamline the page rendering process. That ultimately means that sites on this version will load faster. Additionally, we believe our new Sections feature will further this for those clients that make use of it. We’ve made major strides to accomplish this and we believe that it will pay dividends for our clients as well.

I hope that you enjoyed getting a sneak peak at our upcoming release. Please feel free to share your feedback!

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The Brand Called You – Growing Professionally

Back in 1997, Tom Peters authored an article titled The Brand Called You for Fast Company magazine. I first read the article in 2005, and while I didn’t (and still don’t) agree with everything in it, it contains plenty of valuable career advice to consider. I recently re-read it and humbly suggest a few more strategies:

Grow Your Web Identity

The place most people will go to find more information about you will be the web, especially if you’re in the IT field. Set-up a LinkedIn profile and get connected to people who you befriended during school and your career. Don’t go overboard filling in every professional detail (that’s what your resume is for), or spamming requests to everyone you’ve ever met. I like to think of my LinkedIn contacts as people who would know who I am if my name came up in conversation.

Use Twitter as a way to keep a pulse check on the professionals that you may or may not know, projects or groups of interest, and local events related to your field. Feel free to use it as a way to broadcast things you’re currently up to — blog posts you’ve written, things you’re working on, events you’re attending, etc. I recommend adding a touch of personality to your tweets. Don’t be unprofessional, but don’t be boring either. Be sure to voice your opinion on current topics and trends that you care about.

Be a “Something” Expert

What’s your competitive advantage? Find something that interests you, and become a knowledge expert on it. Maybe it’s integrated marketing, database performance tuning, quality assurance, or Salesforce. Immerse yourself in it. Know the options, and be able to list the pros and cons for each of them. Get involved in conversations and share your knowledge. Ideally you’ll be able to apply your expertise in your current organization, but if not, that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions on ways to improve current processes or procedures related to your knowledge area, and don’t be discouraged if you encounter resistance either. If you present your ideas in a clear manner and validate your claims with good evidence, you’ve done your part.

Be a “People Person”

I feel like people skills are becoming a lost art these days. Our society has become accustomed to communication through text message, email, or instant chat conversations. When trying to validate a claim, keep a project on track, or get the nitty-gritty details ironed out on something, I still believe the best way to do it is in person. If that’s not an option, you should at least pick up the phone and hash out the details with a conference call. And even though everyone’s busy these days, carve out some time to drop a “Hi, how is everything going?” now and then. Don’t limit this to clients — your co-workers and contacts matter too. Human interaction will always be more meaningful than digital communication.

Stay Current

Things change–quickly. You should do your best to stay current in your field. It’s not reasonable to expect to be an expert on every new topic or trend, but you should at least be aware of them. In addition to the updates I find on Twitter, I devote time daily to scanning through information technology articles and blog posts just to keep abreast of new tools and trends. My goal isn’t to know everything about everything, it’s to know where I can find more information about something should I need to. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dive into something new every once-in-a-while, too.

Remember…

Ultimately, your growth as a professional in your field is your responsibility. Make the best of your opportunities, and continue to nurture your career by embracing change and improving your skill sets. Make yourself more valuable by strengthening what makes you unique compared to your peers.

App Store Meta Tags

Screen shot of Dominos home page on Nexus 7.
Why yes, Dominos, I’d love to tap again to get your real home page to order a pizza when I could have done it right here, below your over-sized app pitch that could be done in a tiny ribbon.

This is an adapted and updated version of a blog post on my site from last week. This post includes a real-world example of the feature.

This may be old news to some of you, but I haven’t found a place that collects this in one spot.

One of the most offensive experiences I have when surfing a site on my mobile devices is being forced to click through an advertisement for the site’s app in the iTunes store (even moreso when I am surfing on a non-iOS device). There is a fair number of sites I have tapped away from because of this (I also don’t expect to be served the page I came to see, but instead shunted to the mobile home page).

If yours is one of those sites, whether promoting your entire user experience or just a product, there is a less offensive way to present your pitch to users on iOS and Windows Phone.

Platforms

iOS 6

Safari on iOS 6 and later devices can promote your app with a standardized banner. Essentially you stuff a custom meta tag into your page that references your App Store ID. If the user already has the app installed, then the ad becomes a launcher instead.

The code is pretty simple:

<meta name="apple-itunes-app" content="app-id=myAppStoreID, affiliate-data=myAffiliateData, app-argument=myURL">

  • app-id is required and references your app’s identifier.
  • affiliate-data is optional and uses your iTunes affiliate string.
  • app-argument is also optional and can allow users who have your app installed to jump to a specific place in your app.

More details at Apple’s developer site: Promoting Apps with Smart App Banners

Windows 8

Microsoft offers a similar feature for users of Windows 8 in non-desktop mode who are also using Internet Explorer. I have not tried it, so I cannot explain how this works as the user changes modes nor how it works with the “charms” feature of Windows 8.

This code is relatively simple as well, though it requires two meta tags and supports up to five:

<meta name="msApplication-ID" content="microsoft.build.App"/>
<meta name="msApplication-PackageFamilyName" content="microsoft.build_8wekyb3d8bbwe"/>

  • msApplication-ID is required and references your app’s identifier.
  • msApplication-PackageFamilyName is required and contains the package family name created by Visual Studio.
  • msApplication-Arguments is optional and lets you pass arguments to your app.
  • msApplication-MinVersion is optional and can direct users with an old version to the Windows Store.
  • msApplication-OptOut

More details at Microsoft Developer Network: Connect your website to your Windows Store app (Windows)

Google Play, BlackBerry App World, Etc.

In addition to Google Play, BlackBerry App World, I looked for similar features for the Firefox OS and Ubuntu Mobile stores. I know there are other mobile platforms out there for which I did not look.

If you know of other app stores that offer similar features, please let me know so I can update this post.

Real-World Example

One of our spin-off companies, SWRemote, has an app available for iPads. There is value in promoting the app to visitors of the site but not in blocking their access to the site content with a splash page or an extra click, especially if they are not on iPads. The SWRemote web site is powered by QuantumCMS (yes, I am promoting our web content management system), which makes it about 30 seconds of effort to add the necessary meta tag to the site.

Screen shot of the QuantumCMS custom meta tag screen.
Screen shot of the QuantumCMS custom meta tag screen.

If you are already a client of ours on QuantumCMS, all you have to do is choose Site Configuration from the Settings menu and pop into the Marketing tab. This is the screen that allows you to add custom meta tags. Press the Advanced button and you are off to the races. In the Name field, for this example, I just entered “apple-itunes-app” and in the Content field I provided the custom ID for the app appended to “app-id=.” As soon as I hit Save the web site was showing the app bar to visitors:

Site on the iPad3 without the app installed. Site on the iPad3 with the app installed.
Screen shots of the SWRemote site on an iPad3 both with the app installed and without it installed, showing how the bar changes its message.

Oddly, even though the app runs on the iPad Mini, which is running iOS6, the app bar never appeared on the site when viewed on the iPad Mini. On an iPhone 5, the app bar started to appear and then disappeared — probably as the device recognized that there is no iPhone version of the app.

If/when there is an app available for Windows Phone, the process to add this feature will be the same, allowing the site to promote both apps dependent on the audience. QuantumCMS helps make the process easier, with no need to code any changes to your site templates.

Related

There are other places where custom meta tags are used to display targeted content. One example is used for Twitter Cards and another example is used with Google News. While you can build support for them, neither Twitter nor Google is going to use them unless you have been vetted in advance.

Blogging For Business, Part 2: Choosing the Right Platform

In my previous post, I wrote about whether corporate blogging is right for your business and broke down the benefits and risks. In this post, I’ll take a look at some of the available platforms.

Simply put, there are a lot to choose from, but all platforms should provide two basic features:

  1. the ability to post content (usually including photos and videos)
  2. the ability to receive and display comments for each post

Those are the basic cornerstones of blogging. However, many platforms (certainly the best) provide additional features that may prove essential for your blog, including:

  1. the ability to customize the look of the blog or choose from a set of themes
  2. the ability to add extra features through plugins (widgets built by third party developers that can be embedded on your blog)
  3. the ability to allow content to be posted by multiple authors
  4. the ability to audit content written by other authors
  5. the ability to moderate comments

There are a slew of platforms that offer these features and many more, and they do it for free. In fact, because there are so many quality platforms to choose from that at Algonquin Studios we’ve actually decided not to implement blogging features into our content management solution, QuantumCMS, thus far, and simply work with clients to pick the best platform for them and integrate the blog with the main site as needed.

So, without further ado, let’s look at some of the best options out there.

WordPress

WordPress is a free blogging platform that offers a ton of built-in features, including all of those I mentioned above. I don’t have the statistics for it, but if WordPress isn’t the #1 blogging platform today, it seems to be on its way. Indeed, this blog as well as my personal blog are built on WordPress and it’s generally my preferred choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

The reason that I like WordPress in particular is because it has a simple yet rich interface and is constantly updated with bug fixes and enhancements by a dedicated team of developers. They also offer two hosting solutions: you can host your blog with WordPress for free or you can download the codebase and host it on your own server if you need extra flexibility or want to integrate with other sites.

Blogger

Blogger is Google’s blogging platform. Right there, you probably already know what to expect. Recently, Google has taken steps to standardize the interfaces of its most common tools including Mail, Drive, and Blogger. That means if you have used any of Google’s other products, then Blogger should feel pretty comfortable to you.

What I like about Blogger is its simplicity and clean interface. It’s a tool designed for the non-technical user so it’s very easy to use. Despite that, Blogger is a fully featured tool, although it does not have quite as many configuration options as WordPress.

Tumblr

Tumblr is a what I would call a “quick and dirty” blogging platform, but what most people call “social blogging.” Tumblr makes it really easy to share the awesome stuff that you find online or in life. Tumblr blogs are often full of photos, videos, and links. In some ways, it’s more like Twitter than it’s like other blogging platforms, although there’s no limit to what you post.

What I like about Tumblr is just how easy it is to share content. However, I’ve found that the interface is not as intuitive or robust as other platforms. It’s also worth noting that Tumbr blogs tend embody a more casual attitude that is perhaps more appropriate for individuals than most corporate businesses, but if you just want to post photos, videos, and other neat stuff, it’s probably the best fit.

Posterous Spaces

This is another popular solution that I’ve not personally used, but is described as somewhere between WordPress and Tumblr. Like Tumblr, Posterous tries to make posting content really simple (even via email), but has more advanced features like WordPress.

Twitter

Okay, Twitter isn’t truly blogging software, but it is considered “micro blogging.” If the idea of writing content gives you pause, you might consider starting with a Twitter feed, where you never have to write more than 140 characters.

Bringing It All Together

If you decide that you’re up for the challenge, don’t just pick a platform and go. Check out some of the available options first. Take a look at example blogs on each platform and the available features. With just a little legwork, you’ll find one that works for you and you’ll be blogging in no time.

Blogging For Business, Part 1: Is Blogging Right For You?

Over the last few years, I’ve been asked many times by clients about blogging. Blogging is nothing new, of course, but starting a corporate blog is a bit different than starting a personal one.

A corporate blog requires planning, writing guidelines, and, often, an approval process. It also requires some degree of skill and dedication. Can you write meaningful content that engages readers? Can you keep to a schedule and post content even when you are busy and have other priorities?

Benefits

If you can keep up a blog, then you may be rewarded for your efforts. The most obvious benefit is increased awareness of your business and traffic to your web site, which could translate into increased sales or revenue.

Without getting too technical, having a blog and posting meaningful content gives you another way to draw users to your web site. In all likelihood, that user will read your content and never return. That’s part of the nature of blogging. However, if that user finds your blog in a web search and finds the content to be helpful, he may then visit your web site and, potentially, engage your services, buy your products, or refer a friend or colleague to your site.

Having a blog may even elevate the search ranking of your main web site. By cross-linking the main site and your blog, you can potentially build clout in search engine ranking algorithms, especially if your blog generates a lot of traffic.

Risks and Pitfalls

Before jumping in, you should also consider potential risks. What if an author writes something that makes the business look bad? What if a post incites negative comments? Negative feedback could turn away potential customers, degrade your credibility, or even drop your search ranking, but that doesn’t mean you should disable the commenting feature. Instead, you’ll have to determine the appropriate solution for your business.

You should also avoid a classic pitfall: the temptation to use your corporate blog as an extension of the sales department. Users typically stumble upon blog posts when looking for information and overselling your services may turn off users from returning or make them question the credibility of the content.

Tips for Success

In most cases, a corporate blog should provide expert information or advice about topics in the respective field, or provide customers an inside look at a business’ work environment or philosophies.

Don’t put that all on one person’s shoulders. Allowing multiple employees to contribute will lessen the load and will fill your blog with a variety of topics and opinions.

Keep a schedule. Your employees are busy and it may be difficult for them to contribute regularly. Set up a schedule that allows them to contribute as possible, based on workload.

Bringing It All Together

Ultimately, as a business owner or marketer you have to weigh the pros and cons to determine whether a corporate blog is right for you.

Keeping up a blog isn’t easy. You need to be dedicated and willing to write content, often. You also have to be prepared to accept the risks. But, done well, a blog can boost your business and your reputation in the field.

Client Engagement… In The Face of Summer Hours and Vacations

We’re in the midst of the Dog Days of Summer. It’s been so, so hot lately and, here in Buffalo, it hasn’t really rained in what feels like a year. Certainly, just getting to work can feel like an accomplishment on these 90 degree days, but once I am here, one of the real challenges of any marketer’s job begins – keeping engagement rates up in a time of summer hours, long lunches, and 2 week-long vacations.

Based on research conducted by our email vendor, I’m proud to say that Algonquin’s email outreach attempts are usually incredibly successful. We consistently record email open rates of approximately 12% higher than our industry’s average, with click-through rates at an even-higher 15%. Come summer, these numbers drop a bit, not unexpectedly (thanks to those pesky vacations, I’m sure), but we still record rates well above the average for other companies in the consulting and professional services fields.

How? I’m so glad you asked…

Consistency
Once upon a time, the marketing team here at Algonquin picked a monthly newsletter “publication” date and we’ve stuck to it. While our choice was random – the second Wednesday of every month – I don’t think the results we’ve seen are. By consistently delivering content to our clients and prospects at the same time each month, we’ve set an expectation that we’re now living up to. When our newsletter pops up in their mailboxes, our recipients aren’t surprised… they’ve been expecting it. In fact, I like to think they’ve been looking forward to receiving it and are excited about reading its contents and learning more about what’s happening at Algonquin Studios.

Quality
Obviously, we could provide the most consistent schedule of emails known to man, but if they didn’t contain interesting, relevant information those emails would probably never get read. While it’s easy to generate sales copy touting the next great idea or product, offering real substance is more difficult but it’s also what keeps clients listening. Here at Algonquin, we like to feature recently completed projects, as a way to both showcase our work and give clients ideas about how we might be able to help them; we always include information about our non-profit soccer program, so that clients and friends are kept up to date on the exciting work Buffalo Soccer Club staff and volunteers are doing with children in the City of Buffalo; and we offer information on the user groups and webinars we run to help clients get the most out from their technology.

Loyalty
If you’re a regular reader of the Algonquin Studios blog, you’ve probably heard us talk about our relationship-building approach to business. Here at Algonquin, we’re not looking to be a quick fix or one-time vendor for our clients; we want to establish a longterm relationship with the companies that need our services, getting to know their businesses and pain points and providing consulting and web and software development that will make real, positive impacts on the way they do business. Our focus is on these longterm relationships, not flash-in-the-pan interactions and I think our email recipients may be more likely to read our emails because they know and trust us and understand that our communications will provide value, rather than simply being a vehicles to drive sales.

Fun
This last one might seem a little silly (how appropriate), but having fun is an important part of the way we do business. Afterall humor is one of the Four H’s we espouse here at Algonquin. So, we try to make sure there’s something fun in our monthly newsletters. For example, every month we run a trivia contest and offer our readers the chance to win a prize (this summer, we’ve been giving away 4 packs of tickets to Buffalo Bisons’ games). It may seem like a little thing, but most of us like to win things and if the trivia contest keeps people coming back from more Algonquin Studios news, I’m ok with that!

So, now that you’ve heard about how we do things here at Algonquin, tell me… How does your company work at engaging clients and keep them coming back for more?

Getting Started with Google Analytics

Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful asset for marketers, site administrators, and business owners, but with a seemingly infinite quantity of data points, graphs, segments, and reports, it can be completely overwhelming.

At Algonquin Studios, we encourage all of our clients to sign up for Google Analytics because of its many benefits and because it’s free–it really is a no-brainer–but that’s just the first step. Once you’ve signed up, then what?

Step 1: Understand Your Web Site

In order to use Google Analytics successfully, you need answer one big, general question about your web site:

What is the purpose of your web site? Why does it exist?

At this point, there’s nearly universal agreement that if you run a business, program, charitable organization, or pretty much anything else, you need a web site. But why? Are you hoping to sell products, promote to a larger audience, or just make it easier for people to find your phone number? There could be any number of reasons and you may have many, but, in order to get the most out of Analytics, you need to understand what they are.

It’s also useful to identify your target audience. What group of individuals are you hoping will access your web site? Doctors, grandmothers, hockey players, men in general? Try to be as specific as possible.

Step 2: Identify Your Goals

Let’s say that you’re a partner at a law firm and you’ve identified that the main purposes of your site are generating leads and reinforcing your firm’s reputation. From there, you can identify the following goals:

  1. Build interest by providing information about services and related content.
  2. Capture leads (via email or phone).
  3. Reinforce qualifications through firm history and accomplishments.

Step 3: Pick Your Measurement Tools

At this point, you can determine the data points and reports in Google Analytics that will help you measure the success of your site. These are often referred to as Key Performance Indicators or KPI. For example, here are some indicators that could be useful to your sample law firm:

Time on Site/Page – Since many of your goals are related to your site visitors reading content, you can examine how much time they’re are spending on your site and its individual pages to determine if they’re actively engaging with that content. It will be especially important to review the time spent on the pages you’ve deemed most crucial to your goals of building interest, capturing leads, and reinforcing your qualifications.

Bounce Rate – Another indicator that will show whether users are actively viewing pages and continuing to interact with your site is Bounce Rate. Your bounce rate is the percentage of visits that only include one page view. A low bounce rate indicates that your visitors are viewing several pages before exiting and implies that they are interested in your content and and engaging with it in a meaningful way.

Visitor Loyalty – If your law firm is attempting to reinforce its qualifications, you may expect to see a high percentage of return visitors. Strong visitor loyalty implies that your content is engaging and can help strengthen your position as a trusted resource. However, a high percentage of new visitors implies that a lot of potential clients are viewing your site. In general, it’s healthy to have a mix of each visitor type.

Keywords – The Keywords report identifies the search terms that drove users to your site from Google or other search engines. While returning visitors will probably access your site directly or search for your firm name, new visitors may be searching for services that you provide or for a firm in your geographic location. If you’re not seeing the results you expect, this indicator may show that you need to adjust your content to include better search terms.

Location – Geography-based reports and segments allow you to see where your users are located. This can be particularly important if you are targeting users from a specific area and may even influence your traditional marketing initiatives.

Step 4: Set Targets

Once you’ve determined which indicators will most accurately help you to measure success, you should set appropriate targets for each goal. These targets may be for a day, week, month, or longer, or they may even be for a specific time of the day.

Determining what your targets should be may not be easy at first, but you’ll get a feel for it over time. The key is to have a  goal number to work towards and compare against. The actual numbers are less important than the trends you’re seeing in the data.

Step 5: Identify Segments

If you want to take it a step further, try identifying any segments that could be applied to make certain reports more valuable. For example, you could segment the Landing Pages report by Keyword to see the keywords that are driving users to your top entrance pages.

Step 6: Review Your Data Regularly

There are many ways that you can utilize Google Analytics to measure your data. You can set up Goals, Alerts, Custom Reports, Advanced Segments, or Filters. You can even create reports that are automatically emailed to you on a regular basis. Or you can simply log into Google Analytics and review the default reports, focusing on the KPI that you’ve determined are important.

The key is reviewing your data on a regular basis. You can evaluate the success of your goals by measuring your KPI for a given period and then comparing them against past performance. Remember to focus on the trends, not the actual numbers.

Step 7: Adjust Your Site as Needed

As you review your data, you may identify areas of your site that need to be updated to improve user engagement or search engine performance. Ideally, you’ll see trends that reflect site growth and success, but you’ll need to set aside time to review the data and update the site on a regular basis.

Conclusion

Google Analytics can be a powerful tool, but to get the most out of it you need to know where to begin. Understanding your site and setting goals will get you on the right track. Then, you just need to pick your key indicators, set your targets, and get analyzing. Easy, right?

If you are new to Google Analytics, I highly recommend checking out Google’s educational library, but you should also consider just logging in and getting your hands dirty. It may seem overwhelming at first, but if you stick with it, the rewards will be well worth it.

Shankman in Buffalo – Part Two

In yesterday’s post, I covered the first two tenets of Peter Shankman’s recent presentation in Buffalo “The Next Revolution Will Happen in Your Pocket” or “Social media is providing your customers with what they want, when and how they want it. And that is great customer service.” Today, I’ll recap numbers three and four:

3) Be Brief and Learn How to Write Well!

Easily my favorite of Shankman’s points started out with a tidbit about the attention span of the average American today – a shockingly low 2.7 seconds. Coincidentally, the same amount of time it takes to read a headline… or 140 characters. And so, Shankman encouraged us to practice brevity in order to gain our prospects’ attention.

But the real take-away from Shankman’s third point was his belief that bad writing is destroying America. I couldn’t agree more, Peter.

Shankman believes that the art of writing well is all but lost today and that businesses need to make sure that everyone in the organization is committed to improving their writing. Competition abounds and it’s difficult enough to set our companies apart; Shankman espouses the idea that great writing is hugely impactful and helps people see you as knowledgable and trustworthy. I think he’s right on target.

4) Stay “Top of Mind”

Shankman’s last tip was to make sure you’re the first option people think of when they think about what you do.

He told a great story about when Barry Diller joined Paramount Pictures as CEO in the 70s. The studio was the least successful in Hollywood but Diller was committed to turning the tide. According to Shankman, Diller went in to work every morning, pulled out his rolodex, randomly selected a few cards, and called those people just to check in. Provided you were someone of reasonable “standing” in show business, you could expect a phone call from Paramount’s CEO a couple of times a year.

So, when you had a new script you wanted read or a hot young actor you wanted to audition for a role, who would you turn to? Shankman points out that you could either hope and pray that someone at another studio would talk to you or you could simply return Barry’s call. Because Diller frequently reached out to his contacts with no motive other than to say “hi” and no sales agenda in his back pocket, he stayed top-of-mind for many in the industry and helped turn his studio around.

Shankman wants us to reach out to our customers, not just with attempts to make sales and announce new products or services, but simply to stay engaged. And he reminds us to really listen to what our customers are saying when we do check in with them.

You can check out Peter Shankman’s site and blog for more of his unique perspective on social media, marketing and PR, and customer service.

Shankman in Buffalo – His Basic Tenets for Great Customer Service

Last Thursday, the Advertising Club of Buffalo hosted a night with marketing and PR guru Peter Shankman. Shankman, founder of Help a Reporter Out and The Geek Factory, a boutique marketing strategy firm in NYC, is also an author, keynote speaker, and consultant to both NASA and the Pentagon. Needless to say, he knows his stuff and is pretty well-respected in the marketing world; I certainly feel lucky that I got the chance to hear him speak.

Shankman’s speech was little bit rambling and more than a little bit funny. There were times the laughter in the room was so loud, I couldn’t hear what he was saying. There were also times I wondered “where’s he going with this?” But, at the end of the presentation, I knew exactly what his point was and I felt excited and empowered to bring the takeaways back here to Algonquin and put them into practice.

Shankman’s main point was a simple one: in the face of exploding social media options and instantaneous news outlets the most important thing a company can do to stay in business is provide good customer service. And he provided four basic tenets for making sure you’re staying ahead of the game; I’ll cover the first two today and visit the others tomorrow.

1) Own Your Own Stuff

Shankman argued that branding and owning everything you do – whether good or bad – is vital to the success of your business. He pointed out that, thanks to technology and social media, any good thing you produce, product or idea, can easily be snatched up and redistributed to the masses in mere moments. If it doesn’t have your name all over it, someone else can take credit and your moment of glory, and maybe even your payday, could be lost forever.

The flip side of the “owning it” coin is, of course, that you have to own your mistakes as well. Sure, you might take some heat when you admit you’ve messed up, but Shankman pointed out there’s nothing Americans love more than building up the person we were tearing down yesterday. Heck, a comeback story is always the best kind of story, right?

2) Be Relevant

Shankman rightly reminded us that the direction of a company is controlled, not by its shareholders, management, or employees but by its customers.  If we’re not giving the people want they want, they’ll find another provider and leave us for them. We have to actively ask our customers what they want (and how they want it) and then we have to give it to them. It’s the only way to guarantee continued success.

He also encouraged us to “embrace the concept, not the brand” and to make sure we know where our audience is. Social media changes daily and what we assume is the next big thing might not carry any weight with the people actually buying our products. If I’m tweeting away but my prospects are checking out my competition on Facebook or Pinterest, what good is Twitter doing me?

So, what do you think of Shankman’s first two customer service tenets? How does your company ensure you’re providing a great experience for your customers and prospects?

Google Penguin, a Focus on Better Content

In late April Google activated new ranking algorithm changes intended to help rid the world of sites and blogs that link excessively, with no regard for quality; engage in keyword stuffing; an/or publish lots of meaningless content in order to get search engine traffic.

Whenever Google rolls out changes to their search/ranking algorithms, a lot of people take notice. And a lot of those people also freak out – I’ve heard stories of small businesses laying off workers in response to the Penguin changes – but I’m pretty happy about them (well, what I know about them so far), and here’s why:

They put the focus on quality content writing.

No more clogging your content with keywords, just for keyword clogging sake. Now SEO is about giving your site visitors relevant information in a clear, concise manner and using keywords when appropriate. Try to cram more in there than necessary and you might even get penalized or removed from the search results, altogether. Focusing on useful, helpful, and educational content that provides real value will keep visitors interested and coming back for more and now, maybe more than ever, it will also keep search engines happy. This is a beautiful thing.

As a writer in the digital world, I’ve spent years arguing for relevant, engaging content that really deserves to be published. At a former job, which I held from 2002-2008, my role went from that of copywriter, editor, and proofreader to something more akin to assembly line worker –  just another cog in the machine, pushing blog posts, articles and advertising copy down the pipe toward publication without any concern for quality or content. It wasn’t that I stopped caring about the work I was producing; but my bosses and our clients certainly did. More was better, cheap SEO was the way to get traffic, and, eventually, my entire department was eliminated as management shifted to a “quantity over quality” mindset that didn’t see the benefit in an editorial department.

With Google bringing us all back to well-written, truly informative content, vindication is mine! Gosh, I love being right.

What do you think of the Penguin updates? Is your company finding it difficult to adjust to the changes or has your focus always been giving the people what they want (quality!) rather than caving to the SEO gods (optimization at all costs!)?

Check out some related info:

  • Good Design Starts with Good Content – Our report on the balance between design and content details ways to ensure you’re providing site visitors with quality, readable content that’s supported by successful web design.
  • SEO Myths Debunked – We cover our favorite myths and point out how to spot peddlers of misinformation.
  • Does Google take manual action on webspam? – Answers from Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s webspam team.
  • Five Common Mistakes in SEO – With special attention paid to Mistake # 4, which starts around the 4:45 minute mark.
  • Google’s Webmaster Guidelines – Following Google’s design and content, technical, and quality guidelines will help the search engine find, index, and rank your site.