Archives for March 2009


Trend Watch: How can Facebook and YouTube help you promote your brand?

What do Obama, a 6-year-old Girl Scout and a 93-year-old grandmother have in common? They are leveraging social media tools -- tools like Facebook and YouTube -- to promote their "brands." Whether their motivation is to be more transparent about what they are working on, to share cooking tips that might otherwise be locked up in a recipe box, or to show their leadership qualities by finding innovative new ways to sell their products, they all recognize that the traditional business models for reaching their audience and creating a brand needed to be jazzed up a bit.

Wondering what they did? Well, they utilized Facebook and YouTube to market, promote and share information. Not only are these tools effective in reaching mass audiences (YouTube), and even targeted audiences (friend lists in Facebook) but they are also free. 

So, how can you use social media tools to leverage your brand? Here are a few steps we'd recommend to get you started: 

Research - Uncover the success stories and challenges others have faced when using these tools. To get you started, this Forbes article is a good read about how Dell is navigating through the digital world and using social media tools to connect with its customers.

Track - Before you can start engaging with your audience through social media, you must track what has already been said. Try searching Twitter for topics that are relevant to your business and also check out Alltop to drill down into what's being said in the blogosphere on a variety of topics.

Prepare - Social media is about having conversations and engaging with your audience - you must be authentic. There are many different social media platforms. Pick one or two that are right for you and your audience to start with first. Next, you should pick a few people on your team that you'd like to be the voice of your company to ensure there is an actual contact for your audience to engage with - @comcastcares does a good job of this on Twitter. 

Engage - Reaching out to your audience doesn't just involve posting to your own blog or uploading videos, you should start leaving comments on other people's posts and engage with the community. Join Twitter, follow interesting people and your favorite news organizations. Search Engine Land just published this Twitter 101, which breaks down Twitter to the must-know basics.

How are you using social media to promote your brand?


Twitter, file sharing, and free stuff @ SXSW 2009

The music portion of SXSW 2009 wrapped up yesterday, bringing the festival to a close for another year. By some accounts the festival was lower-key and less well attended this year (not that you'd know it by the performance of the AT&T network in Austin), but there was still plenty of news for those of us interested in the convergence of tech and content. 

Here's a roundup of some of my favorite stories from the week:

Anything I missed? Share your favorites in the comments section below.


Recession Smarts

Yesterday I read an interesting story in U.S. News & World Report on industries and/or products that are *winning* (read: doing relatively well or poised to do well) in the current economy, the topic du jour for nearly every reporter and blogger. OK, make that the topic du jour for the general public. The story came to me by way of Anderson Cooper's blog and I happened to stumble on it after reading a story in the Washington Post on recession chic (and, in case you're wondering, I was inspired to read that thanks to a take-me-back-to-childhood tweet). 

All this reading has me thinking about my own spending and saving habits. I tried to help the economy a little when I bought a new car in October and I've since purchased lots of personal goods that, frankly, I don't need. I also support nearly all my local restaurants with a high level of frequency -- and I'm talking about breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Let's not even talk about my support, through a variety of wineries, of grapes. That alone should pull the country out of its slump. But, alas, times are indeed tough and everyone is looking for ways to save...present company definitely included. 

In addition to being inspired and amused by the U.S. News story that lists home gardening, condom makers, public universities, chocolate companies, and the Golden Arches  as winners today, I was also inspired to do some of my own research and look for ways to save. Almost every story has tips and tricks: bring your lunch to work, eat out less, turn off lights when you're not in the room, use coupons, carpool, buy in bulk, and on and on we go (and, yes, let's not forget about the environmental impact some of these things can make, too!). But I also came across some stories that offered interesting ideas that I hadn't thought about and that don't pop to the top of the lists I have read. So, I thought I'd share a few:

1. Getting rid of your landline at home and relying solely on your cell phone could save you up to $60 a month, which equates to an annual savings of $720. I couldn't do this because I need my landline to let guests in through my building's intercom system, but I did recently consolidate web/phone/cable and ended up saving closer to $100 a month.   

2. When driving, make sure you do so at a moderate speed to save on gas. According to Consumer Reports, "driving at 55 mph instead of 65 or 75 will save you money. When [they] increased the Camry's highway cruising speed from 55 mph to 65, the car's fuel economy dropped from 40 mpg to 35. Speeding up to 75 mph cost the car another 5 mpg. One reason is that aerodynamic drag increases exponentially the faster you drive; it simply takes more fuel to power the car through the air." Interesting. 

3. Do your laundry with cold water and you'll use 90 percent less energy than washing in hot water. And as an added benefit you might just save even more money since you won't need to replace those shrunken shirts and jeans. 

4. Taboo subject, especially here in California, but...quit smoking. According to MoneyCentralif you have a pack-a-day habit you could save close to $2,000 a year by kicking it. And an added bonus is that it helps your health! 

5. Call your credit card company and ask for a rate reduction. While you're at it, call your cable, cell, and internet providers too. 

6. Throw the mother of all garage sales! Who doesn't have a few things laying around that perhaps someone else might actually use? If I think seriously about all the stuff I have in my collective closets, I'm guessing I could net a couple grand. And make someone else happy in the process!

7. Cancel unused club memberships. It's great to keep paying the gym -- when you actually go to the gym -- but if you find that you don't, it might be time to call it quits and look for other ways to work exercise into your life. 

8. Make gifts instead of buying them or think of more creative gifts (or services) to give. Perhaps your sister needs a night off from the kids? Offer to babysit. It'll give her a break and you'll get to spend quality time with your nieces and nephews. I only wish I could offer this up! Unfortunately for me, any babysitting would require a five-hour flight. 

9. Cancel magazine subscriptions for those publications that only serve as props for your coffee table. 

10. Share your money saving tips with others! And check out Google’s Tip Jar

I haven't tested out all these things and I'm certain they vary in savings based on where you live, but it can't hurt to try something new! Do you have savings tips of your own? Please share them with us!


Berkman Center at Harvard Launches Media Analysis Tool

I've always been fascinated by a news cycle - how a story moves from one media outlet to the next and is re-reported in different forms. I've also spent many hours tracking this cycle for work when doing media analysis, which typically involves reading hundreds of articles to identify trends. So, it should be no surprise that Media Cloud, a new tool that launched this week, caught my attention because of the potential is has to be a valuable tool for communication professionals. 

Ethan Zuckerman, one of the people behind the project describes Media Cloud as "a very large set of data, as well as some simple tools for playing with it, obtained by subscribing to and processing hundreds of American blogs and a couple hundred newspapers in English from around the world."

Media Cloud's focus is to make quantitative data available, so you can use it in media research. Here's how it works:  

"We subscribe to the RSS feeds of a variety of newspapers and blogs. We grab every single story that is publish. We then pull the story text out of the HTML, which is an interesting hack. We throw the story text into a bunch of different tools that helps them determine what the stories are about. So we're able to get topic information. We're able to get information on people mentioned in the stories — what’s called named entities."

"And then we file this all off in a database. So if you then want to find out what the stories were on Fox News for a given week, we can tell you what the top-10 topics were. We can also go levels further and say: When a news source reported on a topic, what other topics were most closely associated with it?"

While the site seems to be in beta, you can start playing around with a few tools. For example, I used the top 10 pivot table to find out the top 10 phrases used around the term "education" in the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.  From the results, it looks like the San Francisco Chronicle used the word "education" in articles that also touched on Silda Hollis and Obama. So, I could start to answer questions like: what does education coverage look like in the San Francisco Chronicle? I can roughly conclude that the paper is focused on covering education policy. 

I'm curious to see how this tool develops over time as it gets more robust, especially around its potential to be an extremely useful tool for communication professionals doing media research, pitching and PR planning (just to name a few areas). To read more on this project, including what to expect in the future, check out the rest of Ethan's interview in this blog post. Also, be sure you visit the Media Cloud site to contribute your research ideas. The comments section is a good read, too. 


Snoozing through daylight savings

By now you've probably figured out most of the U.S. is on daylight savings time (at least I hope you have). Early Sunday morning we lost an hour of sleep to gain another hour of sunlight during the waking hours. 

There's plenty of controversy over daylight savings: the energy savings are debatable, some sources say the switch increases the likelihood of a pedestrian accident, apparently chickens don't like it and it certainly led to a lot of tired eyes on the bus Monday morning. 

This year was different for me in that I had no idea the changeover happened. I made a mental note of it Friday, but by the time Sunday morning rolled around it had slipped my mind. But a great thing happened - every one of the clocks in my apartment automatically switched over to DST. 

I was mostly impressed by my two alarm clocks, which synced with the government's official time signal and automatically accounted for daylight savings. This eliminated the need for me to change a single clock and did away with any reminders that daylight savings took place. 

This minor, but amazingly helpful, feature was an afterthought when I was shopping for a $20 alarm clock. In the smallest way this hints at how the previously "dumb" CE devices are getting better at keeping up with our lives, or simply eliminating a hassle. It's impressive that one government wireless signal with one single function can make this happen - and exciting to imagine what happens when CE devices are able to connect to a data source as deep as the internet. 

Today, the focus isn't so much on saving the daylight by moving clocks ahead as it is on saving energy for these amazing CE devices. There's a very good possibility that the first widespread application of connected devices will be driven by energy efficiency. A lot of companies are looking into "smart grid" technology and with an administration in Washington pushing this idea, our utilities may become the smartest tools in our households.

Now if only they could figure out a way to add more hours to the day... 



Tax Time (Online)

It's tax time, and according to a new study by The Conference Board, 40 percent of households are planning on filing their taxes online. The reasons, the study found, are that people are becoming more comfortable with the security of hosted software, while at the same time placing more importance on ease of use and speed of getting their refunds. Not surprisingly, they also found that once people file their taxes online once, they are likely to continue to do so.

I'm a huge fan of doing your taxes online. After college, I used the 1040-EZ form once and quickly found TurboTax boxed software the next year. Two years later I switched to their online service because it was easier than going to the store to buy the software. Much like the participants in the study, I haven't looked back. Now I can't imagine using a pen and paper.

the old way

Unfortunately, this study didn't differentiate between people who used a hosted service and people who chose boxed software, but I imagine in the next few years we'll see a drastic jump in the usage of hosted tax programs. For many people this may be the first web app that directly replaces a task that used to be solved with a pen and paper (or confusing forms, in this case).

It's interesting that the same reasons that taxes work better online mirrors a lot of the advantages of hosted software in general:

  • Instant updates: When the tax code changes, the software does as well.
  • Better data security: I don't have to worry about losing my computer with years of tax data, and I have a backup of my paper copies in case my apartment goes down in an earthquake (hey, I do live in SF after all).
  • Connect data from different sources: W2s, brokerage information, and the previous year's data  can all be fed in seamlessly.
  • A user-friendly interface: Makes the process simple and fast.


Of course, for all of hosted software's benefits, there can sometimes be a downside as well: In 2007 the TurboTax servers crashed and the IRS had to grant a 48-hour extension for users. I guess some things don’t change -- it still pays to get your taxes done early.


Some resources for doing your taxes online this year:

  • The three leading services:
  • The IRS has an extensive list of other companies that offer online tax services, including some that offer free services depending on income levels.