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Terrific tools that help me work better.

Ok, so first the disclaimer: I unabashedly love test driving new apps and I absolutely cannot resist trying out a cool new tool that promises to help me become better organized, to better manage communications and to create better work flows. (Especially when they’re pretty!) Shiny new distractions come and go but I have come to rely on a few really great inexpensive and free tools that I use all of the time. These are the workhorses I use for my business and that I share with my clients to help them work smarter and better.


What do you do when you need to share a file that’s too big to email? I use Dropbox, a free service that lets you easily share photos, documents and video. The files you upload to Dropbox can be accessed through their website, or as an app on your iPad, iPhone or Android. When you put files into Dropbox they’re automatically backed up online and synched to all of your devices so you can access them anywhere, anytime. But the real power of Dropbox is sharing. Simply drag and drop files into a Dropbox folder and share it with co-workers, a client, or friends by sending them an email that invites them to view and upload your file, and they don’t even have to have a Dropbox account. Sharing is completely secure and couldn’t be easier. A free Dropbox account includes 2 gigs of storage.


Managing social media sites can be time consuming but with Hootsuite, you can manage all of your social media accounts in one place. Update multiple Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts without having to switch back and forth or log in and log out of separate sites. Through Hootsuite’s intuitive dashboard, you can monitor, update and track your updates, scan your feeds and lists, and schedule and send messages from different networks. Hootsuite’s free version allows users to add up to five different social network accounts.


Lack of clear communication is the absolute number one challenge I hear about from my clients. Everyone working in silos, creating their own priority lists and expecting others to provide the support they need to reach their goals. Google Apps offers a suite of hard working and customizable solutions including online email, a calendar, documents and, my favourite, a great shared wiki space where organizations can collaborate, share documents, define project timelines and milestones, brainstorm and assign tasks with deadlines. For small non-profits and businesses, Google offers a host of cool tools that are free.


Finally, if you’re not using Evernote to remember absolutely everything that you would otherwise forget, it’s time for you to check it out. This is where I save and categorize my ideas, interesting articles, photos and research studies, business contacts – and recipes of great dishes I want to create!. When I see something interesting that I want to remember, maybe some cool donor-recognition signage I see an organization using , I take a quick snapshot with my iPhone, add a couple of tags so I can easily find it and, presto, Evernote does all the rest. It automatically dates all of my notes and can even pull the location of where the note was taken so I don’t have to remember where I was. Evernote’s amazing search function can even recognize images and handwritten notes. The free version of Evernote includes 60 megabytes of uploads a month, more than enough for my needs.

These are just a handful of the tools I rely on every day. What tools are you using?

Is your organization ready for Facebook timeline?

Love it or hate it, by the end of this month everyone – including pages – will be converted over to timeline, Facebook’s new format that replaces the traditional profile and wall. With timeline, a visual, scrolling reverse chronology will display the images and events of your life either as Facebook has recorded it, or as you choose to tell it. And there is lots of opportunity to shape your own personal story.

I’ve been playing around with timeline for a couple of months now, and here are just a few things I think will be important to brands:

1. With an impressive 850 x 315 pixel top-of-the-page banner, timeline provides a huge opportunity for brands (check out the Sierra Club‘s page) above the fold. BUT, the banner will not scroll down as you explore the timeline, only the thumbnail image will do that. So, it’s important that the smaller thumbnail be a strong image, possibly your logo. Coca Cola does a great job on their page.

2. Underneath the banner you’ll see your custom apps. The disclosure drops down to allow you to rearrange your apps, an important feature that will let you maximize the top row of apps with custom content that visitors to your site will see. 

3. Underneath the banner to the right you’ll see your friends who also like the page and, beneath that, you’ll see posts your friends have made about the page. In this way, every viewer will see your page a little differently because everyone has different friends. 

4. Pay attention to the 150 character “About” box. This is your elevator speech, make it count. Local benefits provider GreenShield says it well in 8 words!

5. Remember that Photos displays your most recently uploaded images so upload a new photo daily to make sure you optimize what your page displays. 

6. The admin panel has been reformatted. You’ll still see notifications but you’ll have more to tweak, including the option to upload photos that are now 110 x 74 pixels. You’ll be able to decide where posts go – inside a box or randomly scattered. And, moderating  posts will now be an option for admins who may wish  to review posts by others before they go live – not something I’d recommend, but it is an option. 

7. Private messaging, whether or not you like a page, should prove a wonderful opportunity for customer support and for visitors to get help without sharing confidential details on your wall. 

8. Also with timeline, you’ll be able to highlight an important story or event by increasing the size of the update box simply by clicking on the star in the upper righthand corner of your update. Or, you can keep an important update current by clicking on the pencil and adjusting the date. This will bring the story back up to the top of your page for seven days. 

Finally, a note about what you can no longer do:

1. You will no longer have an opportunity to set a custom landing page like Mayo Clinic did so well on their page (Note, this old format will be gone shortly). Facebook has banned the use of arrows to point to “like us” or “share” to create a better user experience that is consistent wherever you are within the site. 

So start thinking about how you’ll tell your story through images, your relationships and milestones. Spring and the new timeline are right around the corner. 

What changes are you looking forward to?


How are you promoting your Non-Profit through Social Media?

Today is a very exciting day. I volunteer on the Board of a local non-profit literacy organization that has been quietly doing really good things in my community since 2004. Like many non-profits, our budget is limited, if not non-existent, and we struggle to find an audience to share our message.

Thanks to my good friends Jose Guzman and Alan Crouse at Generator, today we launched our online welcome page and contest, “What’s the best book you ever read” Facebook campaign, that we hope will raise our profile and get us some more friends(!) in the community. 

You see it every day; another not-for-profit, do-gooder, community organization jumping onto the social media bandwagon. Somebody–a c-suite, upper echelon, board member–decrees that yesirree, we have got to get into social media. The task is duly assigned to either the youngest person available, or the eager-beaver-social-media-guru who volunteers to take it on.

The vehicles vary but the usual suspects chosen are Facebook and Twitter. The page is created with enthusiasm and then everyone sits back and waits for the results that will bring success. More often than not “success” remains elusive and the site sits dormant. What happened, they wonder. Where is everybody? [I know, I’m sounding like a broken record here, but really! When are you going to listen!!]

What happened is that no one ever defined what “success” looks like. No one came up with a business case and plan that would align with the organization’s existing marketing and communications plan. The young person who was chosen to take on the project uses Facebook with her 1,295 personal Facebook friends but she has no idea how to use social media strategically. And the keener social media maven? With little, if any, online marketing experience, she hasn’t the technical or strategic skills necessary to build relationships in a space that she’s unfamiliar with. 

At the risk of sounding redundant, ok, I’m definitely sounding redundant, there is no magic sauce for success online. But give the following a try: 

  • Promote offline events on your online platforms – website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Promote your online presence on your print materials.
  • Create visible partnerships with your sponsors, funders, partners – they want and deserve the attention and you may garner some yourself through their established networks.

In the meantime, please “like” us and say hello at Pediatric READ and follow our journey as we celebrate reading, writing and literacy in Windsor-Essex. You know we’ll “like” you back 🙂


I Created a Page…Where is Everybody?!!

So you’ve set up a beautiful page for your company on Facebook or Twitter. You’ve carefully chosen the perfect photo for your avatar, written some brilliant factoids about your company’s mission statement and values, and posted your first update which you feel is truly poetic. You enjoy a moment of pure pride and satisfaction as you review the page for the 37th time.

Then it hits you. What next?!! Who is going to come and see your fabulous page. What will you post on your page next? Days pass. Your two best friends have “liked” your page and you’re now becoming so desperate you’re considering asking your kids to do the same. Where is everybody?!!

It’s a very common scenario…Facebook is littered with abandoned sites begun with enthusiasm and the best of intentions. All they needed was a little coaching. My clients invariably want to know how they are going to find people who will become their “friends”, “followers” or “likes” and what they are going to post about. This is the fun part, the brainstorming session that always involves discussions about the company’s brand attributes and marketing goals.

How can you promote your page? A contest, promotion, fundraising event or paid ads on Facebook are great places to begin especially if you sell a service or product. Once you start developing an audience, you can make a list of possible ideas for updates.

Other ideas for promoting your sites:

  • promote your offline events on your social media sites
  • promote your online sites through your offline marketing perhaps on your vehicles, sandwich boards, external signage and window clings at your place of business
  • offer coupons that are exclusively for your online audience
  • connect your social media sites to an e-mail campaign

Finally, measure your social media efforts through google analytics to make sure you’re achieving your goals. Never forget that social media may be “free” but it takes time away from other activities.

How are you promoting your business online?

The Golden Rule of Facebook Privacy:

There are currently more than 600 million users on Facebook and most of them access the space unfazed by rumours about security and privacy issues. Facebook is, after all, all about sharing, so worrying about privacy would be sort of like diving into the sea and then complaining that you got wet. 

But there are lots of people who are dipping their toes tentatively into the popular social networking site because, heck, everybody seems to be there. Still, they worry about strangers hacking into their profiles and perhaps seeing photos of their children, or seeing where they live and knowing when they’re on vacation, and even really bad guys potentially stealing their identity.

Questions about online privacy often arise when I’m setting up accounts for non-profit groups and businesses, and I take care to walk clients through their privacy settings. In my view, it’s not much different than learning to look twice before crossing the road; we should all be social media savvy and practice safe engagement online.  

The good news is that Facebook is constantly upgrading their site to give users more options and control over what others can and cannot see when they land on their personal profile pages. The flipside of that is that once people set up their accounts, they rarely go back in and review their settings. But just like booking regular dentist appointments, it’s a really good idea to set up a “review my settings” session with yourself once a quarter.

I was going to share a few new privacy features recently introduced by Facebook but my friend Brendon Walker does it so well in this video he created for his company Centric Consulting that I’m simply going to encourage everybody reading this to take a look.

And the golden rule? Never, ever, ever post anything online that you wouldn’t put on a great big sign on your front yard. Got it? Be safe kids.


Who are you Facebook Friends with?

Way back in 2006 when I first dipped my feet into the mysterious waters of Facebook, I can’t say I had a vision of where the social networking site might lead me, if anywhere. As a communications professional I was intrigued by its offering of connectivity but for the most part I just thought, “Wow, this is a cool place to connect with my friends.” Not that many of my friends were there in those days. 

Facebook evolved as the whole world climbed on board, but I continued to protect my site from “strangers” even though others—the, ummmm, social media “gurus”—amassed thousands of Facebook “friends” to whom they could ply their wares. Meh, not for me. So what if my Facebook page didn’t provide street cred for my work, that was what Twitter, Delicious, Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, SlideShare, Yelp, LinkedIn, Ning, and my WordPress blog were for. Even on Twitter I remain fussy about who I follow. No one yet has shown me the value in amassing meaningless hordes of “followers” who aren’t sharing anything of interest or listening to anything I’m saying.

Alas, Facebook, now in its umpteenth iteration, has changed so much that I have gradually abandoned my ideal of maintaining a cozy space for family and real friends. It has evolved into an unbeatable channel for sharing news not only about what we’re doing but also about cool things going on in our communities, and there is real power there.

Are my Facebook “friends” truly friends? Some are, most aren’t.

Consequently, it was with great interest that I read a local blogger’s rant slamming Anne Jarvis for her column last week on the recent TWEPI debacle (that would be the unarguably dysfunctional Tourism Windsor-Essex-Pelee Island Board). The blogger accused City Counsellor Drew Dilkens of not doing due diligence with regards to his fellow TWEPI Board Member whom Jarvis outed as a creep with a disgusting past. The blogger insisted that Dilkens should have recalled the guy’s sensational case as it had been all over the media back in 1990. And, as further proof of Dilkens’ negligence, he pointed out that he and the offender are, GASP!, Facebook friends. Yep, clearly these two are tight.

So, just a heads up to all you Facebookers out there….keep a discriminating eye on who you “friend”, you never know when some disreputable dude with a past might incriminate you.




Of Writing, Stuttering and Speechmaking

As we all brace for the onslaught of Snowmaggedon 2011, I for one, am looking forward to spending lots of time curled up with my laptop engaged in some quality hours researching, reading and listening to those extended podcasts that tend to get shelved because life is just so relentlessly busy.

If you saw The King’s Speech and marveled as I did at Colin Firth’s brilliantly empathetic portrayal of Bertie, the reluctant but dutiful King George VI, take some time during the Storm of the Century to listen to Creative Screenwriter Magazine’s Senior Editor Jeff Goldsmith interview the film’s screenwriter, David Seidler.

It’s a long interview, but you’ll be rewarded by Seidler’s fascinating insights into the process and hard work of writing. It seems Seidler, himself a stutterer as a child, was strangely destined to write the screenplay. His journey as he describes it has been an incredible one that, like the King’s Speech itself, has been all about the delivery, and overcoming obstacles.

One particularly intriguing sidebar to his discussion is the challenge he describes getting an agency to take him on. Seems they’re typically not overly keen to hire older writers because “older writers tend only to want to write about things that are really meaningful to them.”  

Yep, I’d have to say there’s a grain of truth to that. Enjoy the storm!


Official site for The King’s Speech 

Footage of the (real) King’s Speech

Interview with David Seidler



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