What’s in your window: improving the view through your website

Window-within-window, Machu Picchu, Peru

View visitor needs through the lens of the business

I’ve been viewing the world through multiple windows lately.

During 10 days in Peru, I watched scenes composing and dissolving through the oblong windows of the train climbing to and descending from Machu Picchu, through the big blocky windows of the tour bus, then through the dustier versions on the smaller shuttles. These were followed by the vistas revealed by the openings in the ancient granite walls of Machu Picchu and other Sacred Valley wonders. I sometimes double-framed these views with my camera lens, drawn by what the window-through-window revealed.

The days before this trip, my focus had been on less compelling, virtual views—as I overhauled my business client’s window to the world—their national website.

That too was a journey across varied terrain and differing perceptions best met with a detailed plan; a receptive, can-do attitude; and attention to travellers’ needs.

For six or seven years, I managed a large and very successful intranet with many sub-sites, where our customers—our employees—were inside the company. And, like good websites on the internet, our customers depended on us to provide content—information—that was current, reliable and complete. The quicker they could find the information or answers they came looking for—and get on with their job—the better.

Out on the internet, however, stickiness is a factor. Yes, you want your website to give visitors the quickest route to whatever they’re seeking. But in business you also want to keep them on your site, enticing them to explore and leading them to take action such as ordering a product or signing up for your newsletter. And it was with this lens that I began evaluating Sunbelt Canada’s existing site this past March. Continue reading

Facing Facebook: part two of the seven-month itch


Photo by Michael Runtz

Did you get cold and hungry pulled over on Basin Road in Algonquin Park waiting for my return?   Sorry. I had some trouble along the way.  For one thing, my power supply got zapped.  Let’s roll back the wheels of our vehicle a bit.

We were stopped with my biologist brother, Michael, and his spouse, Ann, to investigate a downed poplar.  Let’s ease ourselves out of the car.  Careful, don’t slam the doors!

We hear the crunching and munching first. Then, almost within touching distance we spot one, two, three beavers vigorously shredding their hard harvest.  After a while, they swim away, branches in tow, their destination hidden by the dense growth.

True master builders, the beaver applies mud, stones and branches with an innate grasp of what’s needed and where.  I, on the other hand, an apprentice builder, was heading to what was decidedly unnatural,  to construct my client’s Facebook page.  With code. Continue reading

Giving in to the seven-month itch: two blogs and one Facebook page later

Canadian beaver

photo by Michael Runtz

These past weeks, I have indeed been beavering away, working hard  on creating a blog,  Facebook page, newsletter and the first of a series of newspaper articles, all for a client,  in my new (communications consultant) body.  And you’ll see that my own blog has gone from black to white.   Literally.

Maybe it’s the seven-month itch,  building over months of learning, then billowing like Marilyn’s skirt in a whoosh of sustained activity.

Coraline called out,  piquing my interest with a scrubbed, clean  face attached to a well-muscled frame. Continue reading

Taking up ProBlogger’s 7-link challenge

7-link challengeFour days ago, ProBlogger Darren Rowse challenged fellow bloggers to publish a post based on the following seven themes.  Hooked by the idea, I rolled up my sleeves and got to it.  Then I read Darren’s own seven-link post.  If you don’t already know, Darren is a highly successful blogger, speaker consultant and founder of several blog networks and blogs, including ProBlogger, which features tips on blogging.  His Wikipedia entry notes that “as of 22 May 2009, Problogger was listed as number two on Technorati’s most favorited blogs list and number 40 on the most linked to blog.”

I reconsidered my participation in the challenge. It seemed audacious to hoist my hand — I’ve only been blogging for five months. However, the whole point of the exercise is to learn by doing.  So, here’s my contribution.

  1. My first post: Go slow, just don’t stop.  The date was March 6, 2010.  I shared how I was setting out on a brand new course in life, to learn to apply social media, out of my job and comfort zone, and how I planned to research and learn from the best, using the blog to distill and demonstrate my findings as I go.  I wrote:   Step four is harder—where to go online?  It’s a bit like entering a packed exhibition hall or a Saturday-morning market, full of noise, bright colours and lights, a sea of rows/directions. I didn’t mention how anxious I get in crowds!
  2. A post I enjoyed writing the most: The not-so-obvious: visiting the Shrute farm and learning to blog.  Writing this post was fun, inspired by a Consumerist news item tied to the TV program, the Office.  Newcomers to social media can feel like outsiders.  As I wrote in this post:   It’s just as easy to “not get” a key element or step when you’re learning to blog.   If you’re new to social media tools, the language that’s tossed around online, especially on discussion floors, can be confusing.  You’re there in your Walmart sneakers and they’re bouncing around in their spiffy Air Jordans. Continue reading

Put the beef into your social media identity

Put the beef in your social media identity

Photo by Karen Runtz

Think about the volume of email you create or respond to.  What if every one of those messages had links to your social networking profiles.  Connecting your email signature with your social media identity is a great marketing tool, especially if you customize by audience.

I mentioned the Social Media Examiner as a great resource in my last post: 11 voices worth listening to.  One of their new posts talks about the top six mistakes in social media and how to fix them.

Mistake #2 is “hiding your social media presence”.  The writer, Kristi Hines, shows simple ways of promoting social networking profiles by displaying them on websites and business cards, as a signature in forums and through social links in email.

My eyes were pulled to the clean but effective email example shown.  My email signature already had a link to my WordPress blog but compared to Kristi’s example, my signature block was an Angus burger without the beef (or the equivalent for my vegetarian friends).

That’s now changed.  I’m happy to have a much meatier signature that shows my social media connections as well as an RSS link to my latest blog post.  I’m leaving it “basic black” for now, but I can accessorize as I want.  I’ll be adding the coordinates for my Facebook page, for instance, once it’s done.

Karen's email signature

Karen's email signature

WiseStamp is a free add-on for Firefox, Google chrome and works with any webmail service such as Gmail, yahoo, aol and  hotmail.  Their website notes that set ups for Safarai and Mac are coming soon and that they’re “working hard” to expand WiseStamp into other browsers and email clients like Outlook.

To set up the signature you can either select one of the templates or follow the WYSIWYG editor to create your own, which is what I did.  One tip: if you want to add the RSS feed for your WordPress blog, you need to add the backslash and feed as in “/feed” to your blog address.

WiseStamp also allows you to add your signature to just about any webpage (as long as it supports HTML). Continue reading

11 voices worth listening to

Northern House Wren

photo by Roger D'Anjou

It’s 5 a.m. and the staccato bursts are making it impossible to sleep: tch tch tch tch tch tch TCHI… tch tch tch tch tch tch TCHI.  The tiny but loud Northern House Wrens have a young family in the tall bluebird house near my office but their voices seem to penetrate no matter where I am in the house.   The Chippewa Indians called this bird O-du-na-mis-sug-ud-da-we-shi, meaning big noise for its size! No kidding.

Since I started this blog in early March, I’ve discovered other voices that have become invaluable in my journey to learn and apply social media.  These voices I want to keep close by, as the tools and techniques for the channels change at a frequency that makes my head spin.  Some I follow through RSS feeds, others through Twitter, Facebook or a combination of these channels.

Blogging voices

  • The first of these voices is @timethief.  Clear, current and correct, her onecoolsitebloggingtips is one of the best resources for WordPress-hosted blogs.  I frequently revisit her posts, like the recent three-part series on changing themes, as new needs arise.   My second blog is now in progress using Cutline and I’ve suggested a friend check out the Structure theme to improve the look and feel of her web site.
  • Both Darren Rowse at ProBlogger and Brian Clark at CopyBlogger can be counted on for great blogging tips. Continue reading

Loop-the-loop, fly backwards: dragonflies and Facebook

photo by Karen Nichols

An excellent and strong flyer, the fast-moving dragonfly can loop-the-loop, hover  and fly backwards.  Its eyes contain up to 30,000 individual lenses.

It would have been easy for an acrobatic dragonfly  to keep a bead on Facebook’s  manoeuvres this week as they first created, then removed restrictions on landing page tabs. A struggle, though, for a mere human to follow.

Of course the news of the  restrictions broke right after I’d given myself a high-five for  adding a custom landing tab to my brand new “dogs who love posties” Page,  a personal YEAH, I did it! moment.

@MariSmith’s tweet sounded the alarm, tanking my success. The  story continued to knit over the next 12 hours or so, until a Social Media Examiner post declared that:  “Facebook seemed to have backtracked on custom landing tabs for pages. I think your loud & clear voice of opposition made a difference.”  Later Tweets from additional  sources confirmed it and Facebook issued an apology .    WHEW!

Use a custom landing page to deliver strategic messaging

I won’t be personally coding their Pages but to advise others I do need to understand the best options.  Custom landing tabs give Page owners the means to deliver a strategic, targeted message to first-time visitors and provide them with incentive to join/like your Page.  Without it, first-time visitors land on your wall, without any context, like being dropped in the middle of conversations.  You want to be able to influence your visitors’ first impressions. Continue reading

Any requests before we dine?

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Frogs are fun. Dancing, fluting, grinning—they lend merriment to our gardens. And today, one jumped right into my blog, requiring me to learn about adding galleries and slide shows.

It began late last night when I was doing some catch-up reading on onecoolsitebloggingtips.com. I came across something somewhere about the new Inuit Types theme.  That set me off to explore other related items, one being Noel’s  blog post with a gallery set up as a slideshow.   I loved it, but I couldn’t stay up any longer–it was already 2 a.m.

Stuck at my computer this morning, I struggled to write a business text. The words weren’t coming so I grabbed my camera and left. Two hours and 80 images later, I returned. I hadn’t gone far—just my own yard. But that yard includes no less than 30 gardens.

Clumps of bright tulips, swathes of hyacinths, cheery daffodils, and woodland wonders—mayapples, bellworts, bloodroot, bluebells, cohosh, foamflower, meadowrue, to name just a few. The unfurling of ferns, hostas, Solomon’s seal, emerging from their winter cocoons. The array of wonderfully patterned leaves,  the toothy elderberry to the baby-sized barrenwort,

A cool grey frog shouldering a large tuba caught my eye, commanding a closer look. This smooth operator was staring down a young pasque flower whose petals were standing on end. No wonder—Mr. Frog had a distinct yellow smudge at the corner of his froggy mouth. He was clearly telling the frightened flower, any last requests before we dine?

That’s how I saw it.

So the tuba-playing frog joined my photos of the day and inspired this blog and gallery. Amazingly, I managed to get the gallery and slide show running smoothly right from the get go.  I supplemented the wordpress.com instructions with information I found on gammagirl’s blogContinue reading

Peepers and tweeters, mating and muting

spring peeper

photo by Cameron Rognan

The loud chorus of tiny Spring Peepers punctuated the warm night air, proclaiming their presence to potential mates with a shrill peep, peep, peep.   Incessantly.

Yet, standing close by as we waited for owls to return our calls, the noise was somehow soothing and wanted.  Unlike the silent but nerve-jangling twitter tweets that burst from my computer screen throughout that very day, coming at me rather than to me.

Peepers and tweeters do have common ground though:

  • Both emitters are small but mighty.  The spring peeper is the size of a thumbnail but FrogWatch
  • Both peepers and tweeters compete to attract attention, and I’m discovering both have their place and purpose. There are many many blogs and articles on how to use twitter for marketing and PR as well as CRM. And they’re tweeted out of course!

Wikipedia says their chorus can carry half a kilometre.  The twitter tweet is 140 characters or less. This powerhouse has some 75 million users, of which 12 million sent a tweet last December, according to online measurement firm RJMetrics.

But I clearly need a lot of  field experience  before twitter changes from a predator to a pet.

I know there are tools that help you tame the noise–tracking, sorting, scheduling, analyzing, all elements I’ll need to learn before I can assist others in their businesses.  I’ve been researching them.  And in all honesty, I have been getting many leads to social media tips and truths in the few weeks I’ve had a twitter feed.

Yet there were days, especially recently, when it became disruptive and distracting, raising my anxiety level, making me feel out of it rather part of it.  As everyone was touting “see me, see my new iPad”, I was struggling with 803 registry errors unmasked by the system scan of my aging and failing desktop.  Finally, I just shut it off.  After five days of silence, I’m ready to bring it back.  I’ve discovered that I can check it out as often or as little as like.

Some of my other findings.  It helps to be selective in those you’re following.  Avoid the I follow you, you follow me to build followers–I check out the profile of everyone who follows me to see if I want to follow them back.  I’m now following 76 people, a mix of influencers/authorities and individuals/subjects of interest– bloggers, Web designers, researchers, lifehackers/frugal living, infographics sites, local news/resources/events.

I found some of these through the list of influentials.  The twitter list directory at listorious is another source. Continue reading