----------------------

Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Going Virtual

In Tips, Tools on December 10, 2010 at 6:23 pm

For four years, REACH has kept its nose to the grindstone and produced some nice work (at least we think so) without paying a dime of rent. We’ve had project teams as large as five people and scattered from Irving to Beijing. We go days, sometimes weeks, without seeing our coworkers in person. When I mention that to other business owners, they look shocked and, sometimes, appalled. And they inevitably ask, “How does that work?” Here are six keys we’ve discovered to making a virtual office run smoothly.

1. Meet. As much as we like the virtual setting, we do realize that there is value in sitting down to a table with coworkers. In-person communication is better, clearer and more rewarded. Is it always necessary? No. But it’s necessary to keep personal contact in the mix.

2. Stay In Constant Contact. No, not the poorly-designed email marketing system (sorry CC users, we’re not fans). I mean keep in close contact with the team. This has a lot to do with technology. At REACH, we do this with several tools that allow us to keep in close contact at all times. We use Basecamp for project management, Dropbox for file sharing, iChat for instant messaging, videoconferencing and screensharing, and of course email and phone. Almost all of our files, deadlines, messages and plans are available in the cloud. And all of those technologies are available on our laptops and mobile devices so no one ever has to say, “Let me check on that when I get back to the office.” There is no office.

3. Use the Tools. It’s one thing to have communication tools listed above, it’s another thing to use them. We’ve developed a “virtual open door” culture. We check in with each other often, and often it’s for no reason. A quick iChat conversation can start with “How’s it going?” “Whatcha workin on?” or “Did you see the Basecamp notes on Project X?” We don’t need an agenda to say, “Hi.” It’s the virtual equivalent of stopping by someone’s desk which, in many workplaces, is how a lot of collaborative work gets done.

4. Get It In Writing. Since much of our communication is via chat, Basecamp message, or text (rather than office chatter or in-person meetings), we’re forced to articulate our ideas, opinions and reports in written form. I think this is a good thing. What it loses in body language and voice inflection, it makes up in clarity and accuracy. Admittedly, I’m partial to written communication, but I think not meeting sometimes helps us have better meetings.

5. Lay Off. As much as we work at staying in touch, solitude is also an advantage for our agency. Since we’re free to choose our own workspace, we can find or create spaces that facilitate our work. For creative work, that’s often at home with no distractions and no one around. Creatives love to “crawl into a hole” to dig into their craft. And it’s easier to do that alone at home than it is with office chatter and an open cubical.

6. Use Temporary Spaces. Finally, we do have spaces available when we need them. Sometimes, there are client meetings or sales presentations that just don’t work as well at a Starbucks. For those, we use a virtual office called Intelligent Office that let’s us pay for office or conference room space by the hour. It’s professional and convenient. And it tells our clients we’re serious about our business.

So that’s how we do it. No offices. No cubes. No TPS reports. We have all of the tools we need and none of the stuff we don’t.

What do you think? Could a virtual arrangement ever work for your business? Why not?

Advertisements

Google News

In Tips, Tools on September 9, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Google made a couple of changes to its most popular services this week. If you’re responsible for marketing you company and haven’t heard about them, here’s a summary.

Google Instant

“The Goog’s” most popular feature – its web search engine – just got a lot more frantic. Google Instant pulls up a list of search results as you type your query. You’re already familiar with how the query bar itself displays possible search terms as you type them and displays them below the bar. It looks like this:

Now, Google has extended that feature so that the search results start to appear as you type and adjust as you continue to enter the search term. So if you’re searching for “football”, you’re going to see results related to food when you get to “foo”, and shoes when you get to “foot”.

It’s remarkable that Google’s engine can work fast enough to produce relevant results even before I can finish typing the word, but in my opinion, this doesn’t really add any benefit to the user. It’s just more noise.

What does this mean for marketers?

More than likely, it won’t mean much, but if your company is using sponsored search, it’s worth keeping an eye on. Here’s why: Google AdWords (the Google Pay-Per-Click ad feature) gives every ad a score based on several features. That score is used to determine the order in which the ads display on a page. So you can’t just bid more per click and automatically have the top PPC spot. You have to prove to Google that your ad is relevant and “worthy” of that juice.¬†As usual with Google, no one knows the exact algorithm but one of the factors used to determine an ad score is Click Through Rate (CTR). This is a ratio of the number of times an ad is displayed against the number of times it is clicked. Since AdWords ads appear and disappear as results do in Google Instant, there’s a good chance that your impressions could go way up but not pull the number of clicks up with it. That drives your CTR down which means a lower ad score, which means lower rankings, which means bad news.

The good news is that all AdWords accounts face this same dilemma so, presumably, a dropping tide sinks all boats. Also keep in mind that the folks over at Google usually think of everything so this isn’t something that is sneaking up on them.

Gmail Priority Inbox

In case you weren’t sure if Big Brother Google is always watching, here’s proof. Gmail’s new priority inbox ranks and sorts your email messages based on which conversations and senders you most often read and reply to. When Gmail users log in, now they see four sections of their inbox representing four tiers of importance. They are:

  1. Important and Not Read
  2. Starred
  3. Important and Read
  4. Everything Else

For instance, when I look at my Gmail inbox, emails from my wife are sorted into the “important” pile because I always read them and usually respond. Emails from companies or marketers are sorted into the “everything else” section. And I can mark emails with a star if I want to come back to them later. If you’re not a die-hard Inbox Zero guy, this might really help with productivity.

What does this mean for marketers?

Again, there may not be a huge impact across the board but there are definitely implications for email marketing. If any of your email subscribers use gmail, there’s a good chance your communications will get pushed to the “everything else” section. It might be a good idea to warn your subscribers and ask them to move you out of that pile. It might be a hard sell and may require an incentive, but it’s better than just hoping.