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Twitter for Business : Article for Jewellery Focus Magazine

Whenever I talk to businesses about social networking the first reaction I get is often a raised eyebrow and a comment asking me why anyone would want to read messages about what people are eating for lunch. Hopefully by the end of this article you will see how you can use social networking sites like Twitter to benefit your jewellery business.To be honest I understand the confusion. Social networking, especially the ever popular Twitter, has turned us into obsessive cataloguers, recorders and diarists. According to Silicon Alley Insider, during April 2009 there were 1.3 million active Twitter users broadcasting approximately 3 million "tweets" per day - that's a lot of 140 character messages!Looking at my own tweets (@benjamindyer) I admit, many of them are completely pointless, I see something I like or dislike and I tweet about it. However, looking at the bigger picture, this conscious stream of information from its 1.3 million active users turns Twitter into an incredibly powerful tool, especially for business.Fantastic examples of companies leveraging this information include Dell, Ford and the US cable company Comcast. These companies are actively engaging with their customers and can see and respond to what people really think about their products, brands or services.So Twitter is a mine of information and you're keen to start getting involved, but it's important to remember this information is personal. Twitter users have consciously decided to broadcast their information and as such any business using the service must respect its users.The good and the badExamples of companies getting it wrong are littered all over the internet. My personal favourite faux pas comes from the UK furniture company Habitat who arrived on Twitter last month and decided to spam the current 'trending topics' to get noticed. Trending Topics is a section within Twitter containing Tweets on the current popular theme. To indicate its relevance the standard procedure is to include a hash tag, as below.@benjamindyer: Looking forward to the cricket #AshesHabitat's Tweets however included a hashtag that had absolutely no relevance to the trending topic. This caused an uproar as suddenly discussions over the problems in Iran, Michael Jackson's death and the film Transformers 2 were being spammed with Habitat offers as in the example below.@HabitatUK: #Mousavi Join the database for free to win a £1000 gift card.Habitat's spectacular failure with Twitter was compounded by its reaction, to try to cover it up by deleting all previous Tweets and by sacking the poor Intern. Habitat did officially apologise, albeit a number of days later, but it was too late, the Twitter community has sprung into action. Popular user @DarenBBC started a worlwide hunt for the recently unemployed Intern with numerous job offers and rewards. The search is providing so popular on Twitter that in the cruelest twist of irony it has spawned its own hashtag, #HabitatIntern. At the time of writing the fabled Intern is yet to be found, the mob suspect a cover up!The #HabitatIntern debacle has just hilighted to many the need for better policing of Twitter. Spam is becoming a major problem with automated ad bots poisoning the stream. As the popularity of a topic is totally a numbers game the trending topics list is always going to be a viable target for nefarious tweets. I fully expect Twitter to introduce a level of filtering or moderation in the not too distant future.However for every horror story there is an equally good example of successful use of social networking as Comcast shows. For longer than I can remember the brand Comcast has been synonymous with poor customer service. In the highly competitive US cable industry consumer choice is huge and Comcast was heamorhaging customers. However Comcast in 2009 is a completely different animal, so how did it turn itself around?One way has been to embrace social networking. Comcast has a presence on all major networks (Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc.). This presence allows it to pay attention to its customers. A quick search for examples returned hundreds of results of satisfied customers. In fact I had to really search for a dissatisfied one, whereas this time two years ago this would have been inconceivable.One great example comes from Comcast customer @cc_chapman:"Last night I made a snide remark about the lackluster quality of my HD picture on Comcast during the Celtics game. Comcast saw that and tweeted me back minutes later. This morning I got a call from their service center. This afternoon someone came out. Now my HDTV rocks! THAT my friends is customer service and how it should work all the time."Listening to customersListening to customers is an essential part of your business, but it's a very scary prospect. Five years ago consumers had a fairly limited and one-sided channels for feeding back to a business: phone, email or letter. Social networking has turned this on its head and suddenly your customers can talk and interact with your other customers, discussing anything and everything about your business. You have to ask yourself, do you want to be part of that conversation?However Twitter and Facebook are so much more than an additional customer service channel. Listening to your customers is essential, but listening to your competitors' customers is research! One such example is Intuit, the maker of accounting software QuickBooks. Intuit monitors Twitter for mentions of its competitors' products and often contacts the Tweeter to offer its own product or service. Now this is a fairly aggressive and it may not work for your jewellery business but its another example of using this mine of information.Further tips for starting out with Twitter:Find your customersBefore you go hell for leather into Twitter (or Friend Feed or Facebook) do some research. Social networking can be a time sink and to do it right takes effort, so make sure this effort is concentrated in the right place. Find out which network your customers use.Involve the whole business and be human!No one likes listening to a corporate tirade of why your product or service is the best in the world. In fact, just listing your world class achievement is a fast route to being ignored. Instead show off the human side of your business, mix up business and social tweets and let other members of your team have accounts too.Tweet and Re-TweetEngage with others by rebroadcasting your followers' tweets. This is called Re-Tweeting or RT for short. Not only are you doing your followers a great service by recommending other people's content to your followers, but it helps build an eco-system around your areas of interest. People will come to you by engaging with others.It's not all about follower numbersDon't be disheartened if you only have a small number of followers. Unless you're a huge multi-national, or offer a product or service with wide appeal it's very likely you won't have a lot of followers. Use this to your advantage: you can be lean and reactive and get to know the people that are following you.Don't take it personallyPeople often reveal their true emotions online and it's very likely you're going to find some less than happy customers. Don't take criticism personally, and use it to improve your business. Whatever you do always maintain the higher moral ground. Arguing and criticising others online isn't an attractive proposition for future customers!Tell everyoneIf you're going to have a presence on any social network you need to tell people! Consider adding a Twitter link to your site and your @ username to email signatures, business cards or marketing content - make it easy for people to find you. Also consider including your 'chatter' on your website. Frequently changing content demonstrates you are active and it’s also great for helping your search engine ranking.Use a desktop toolTo manage your Twitter traffic, investigate free tools such as TweetDeck, Seesmic or Twhirl. These utilities keep the high number of tweets manageable and have features enabling you to set up predefined searches and alerts (e.g. for your company name).Twitter is hugely powerful, it has the potential to revolutionise the way you interact with your customers, so give it a go!

How Are Your Customers Behaving?

A new post for Business Zone.businesszoneHop into my Tardis, I want to take you back to those heady, glorious, recession-free days of 2007.Two of the largest deals that year were based around advertising. Google acquired online ad company Double Click for a $3bn. In the meantime, and keen not to be left out, Microsoft stumped up $250 million for a less than 2% share in FaceBook. Sure, these figures seem a little crazy today, but the truth is that online marketing really works.Last year, online marketing accounted for 25% of total UK advertising outlay. Back in 2007 when those deals were going through, the British business was spending £3bn a year in this space. Now, in the midst of a recession, companies look like they will shell out more than £5bn. In 2008 Google made nearly $20bn just from advertising. That’s $50 for each man, woman and child in the US!It is clear our appetite for online marketing is only getting bigger, but what are the current trends?The hot technique at the moment focuses around behavioural targeting. In layman’s terms, you make your advertising more effective by targeting only those that are most likely to buy. It’s nothing new. There is a reason adverts for feminine hygiene products appear during Judge Judy and you don’t see them on reruns of Top Gear on “Dave”.As a former website developer I used to spend hours dedicated to SEO. It is hard work and doesn’t always cut it. As a result, and especially in the world of ecommerce, PPC schemes continue to blow natural search out of the water.Within this market Google doesn’t just dominate, it obliterates. However, if Google is Goliath, FaceBook is certainly making an attempt to be David. If it’s not doing so already, I believe FaceBook advertising will put a serious dent in Google's finances. Looking at the HitWise reports for last month, one in every 20 UK web visitors ended up on Facebook. That’s staggering.So, how do FaceBook ads stack up against Google?I recently experimented with a five-day ad campaign on FaceBook as well as the more traditional PPC schemes of MSN and Google. This is my third attempt at advertising on FaceBook, and I am happy to report that it has significantly moved forward.The very first thing to notice is the ability to segment your advertising into demographics. Usefully, the merchant I was testing this for had spent a lot of time analysing product sales and speaking to customers, and knew his core market - UK males aged between 20 and 30.The budget for this experiment was low, but looking at the results, FaceBook managed to serve up ads a phenomenal number of times. In fact, I was frankly staggered that it was around one thousand times more than traditional PPC. The result is that both the average cost per click and the cost of visitor acquisition are significantly lower when compared with Google.Diving a little into the results, I was very keen to understand just what had happened. Analytics tells me the visitors spent about two minutes on the merchant site. However the key stat turns out to be the percentage of visitors that instantly left the site, the bounce rate. Bounces from FaceBook visitors were 50% less than Google and 60% less than MSN!The answer is simple; It’s all about behavioural targeting. FaceBook is delivering adverts to the most relevant people. No wonder Google wants to know more about all of its visitors!So, looking back at 2007 again, maybe that $250M was the more sensible investment.

The Real Thing?

A post for Marketing DonutlogoYou can argue that the aim of marketing is to build momentum. You need to raise awareness and establish how people perceive your brand. Traditionally this worked well, but I have news for you — attempting to set perceptions is becoming an increasingly dangerous strategy.You may recall a marketing campaign that had the sole intention of altering your perception of a brand. A soft drinks manufacturer who specialised in blackcurrant-based drinks had complaints about the sugar content and related tooth decay. This caused it to launch a low sugar version. It even had the cojones to sell it as “Toothkind”. The rebranding promoted health benefits and claimed four times the vitamin C levels of rivals.The inconvenient truth proved the product wasn’t good for your teeth and one drink in the range had negligible vitamin C! This little oversight cost the company significant sums of money. But the real stinker was the “corrective advertisements” it was forced to run on national television.It’s always been dangerous to try to build a false perception. Now the rise of social networking has upped the ante. There has been a seismic shift in our abilities to interact and talk to each other, and to build or rubbish brands that annoy us. We are the mob, and the mob is now all seeing. If you are bluffing, it won’t take long for people to find you out.It’s simple; the quality of your offering builds the perceptions. These will be based on fact and customer experience, not marketing spin. Ignore this at your peril.

.Net Magazine - Issue 190

net190cover130Big Question time again, poor old pirates, original here.What are your thoughts on the Pirate Bay verdict?It’s been a bad time for pirates. If you’re not getting banged up for linking to a few movies, you’re scanning the horizon to see if the US Navy has their next target painted on you. I guess that there’s a sort of reaping of the whirlwind going on here.Really, though, I was a disappointed with the whole Pirate Bay affair. Having followed the case closely, I was half expecting the doors of the courtroom to burst open with pirates to the left and the right. Instead, the whole thing seems to have gone down with a whimper. I guess that retro pirates are the only ones engaging in proper skullduggery these days. While I can’t condone piracy, I also can’t help but root for the underdogs. The verdict seems a little suspect, especially as the judge appeared to have a conflict of interest. After all, he is a member of the Swedish copyright association. The hard-handed tactics and tough verdict are likely to strengthen pirate resolve. Expect a team member to be elected to the European Parliament as a protest.

Freelance Job Ad - Data Migration

Job ad, if your interested just reply with a comment or email me direct with your time and cost estimates.I am looking for a freelancer to help me export Amazon Seller Central inventory into an Actinic e-commerce import CSV. This can be done via whatever means necessary such as Yahoo Pipes or any other mashup, however it has to be simple to run on a regular basis.Data to export includes product information, images, ASIN and barcode data this is all held in Amazon Seller Central. The Actinic import CSV is pretty simple, I will provide this, but it could be held in Google Spreadsheet as an example.Also advertised at getafreelancer.com.

OpenWeb Southampton

last night was the inaugural Southampton Open Web event held at the Harbor Lights Picture House in Ocean Village, Southampton.logoWith a full to bursting conference room, three speakers and a chance to meet with some of the web glitterati of the south coast it was an opportunity many couldn't miss, even if it was on the same night as Twestival.Organized by Dan and Rob from Southamptons newest digital creative agency Slipstream Studio the evening was a highly refreshing change to the London based unconferences and a great indicator for future events.As with all unconferences the evening was very relaxed, this was especially helped by the brilliant Campaign Monitor agreeing to pick up the tab via their 'Give Back Scheme', so props to those guys, we were all raising a glass to you!Speaking at Open WebI was very privileged to be asked to speak at the event, and to be honest this was quite a challenge due to the mixed nature of the audience. Coming from Actinic I am constantly in touch with a number of businesses, developers and designers predominately in the E-Commerce space, so I was keen to keep it relevant for the OpenWeb crowd, you can watch a podcast of my presentation if you feel so inclined (gave me a good excuse to try Screentoaster.com).Lance Wicks gave a great overview of the distributed social networking tool NoseRub, I would describe it as a network aggregator, although I did have my wrists slapped for that. I suggest you head over to Lance's blog for an overview.The third keynote was from Ross Woodham, a solicitor from Shoosmiths specializing in Terms and Conditions for businesses operating online. Ross gave a great overview of some of the risk and mitigating steps you can take to protect you and your brand. I know a lot of Actinic powered businesses read this blog so just get in contact if you want to talk to him.To summarise, it was a fantastic event, I am already looking forward to the next one!PS: Congrats to @Mallmus for making me hold a Foxy Cart T-shirt!Flicker Stream : Twitter Buzz

Laptop - Sponsor update

I really wanted to thank everyone who has expressed an interest in the sponsor my laptop program for Brest Cancer Care.Admittedly, sponsoring my laptop is pretty uninspiring for some, however I am amazed at the money this has raised, now over £500, with 8 people or companies donating. A number of people who have donated have also asked to be anonymous, so thank you.So, the companies who have so far sponsored my laptop are:sunstartupessentials_logo51308previewSun Microsystems - Start Up EssentialsThe Sun Startup Essentials program is designed specifically to help startups get off the ground rapidly and at lower cost. The program consists of discounted or free products and services designed with startups in mind. In addition a quick application and online catalogue delivers what you need fast.I would like to thank Stewart Townsend for this excellent donation to Brest Cancer Care. I met Stewart (albeit very briefly) at FOWA this year and its quite clear the guys 'n gals at Sun are some of the most passionate supporters of tech startups.I know there are a few of you reading this that could probably do with talking to Stewart and his team, so get in touch with him via mail or Twitter.moleendMole End - Plug ins for Actinic eCommerceMole End Software create software to work with Actinic's range of e-commerce products, yes, the very same Actinic I work for.Mole End have loads of Plug ins for Actinic, everything ranging from product feeds for the most popular e-channels to Order Processing. I have been using some of these products myself and they are simply brilliant, if you are an Actinic store owner I advise you to check out Jan's products.If you want to know more about Mole End or have questions regarding extending Actinic you should get in touch with Jan or follow her on Twitter.logo_topPaganum - Online Farmers MarketI dont know about you guys, but right now I could murder a decent steak! Well if your hungry, there is just one place you should go, Paganum Online Farmers Market.Paganum is an online farmers market supplying meat and produce from family farms and small artisan firms in the Yorkshire Dales direct to the consumer and trade outlets.Quality Mail order meat, butchered using traditional methods here in Skipton the Gateway to the Yorkshire Dales and shipped direct to you in chilled packaging by guaranteed next day courier.Heather Mitchell and Chris Wildman started Paganum produce in 2007 to bring quality local produce from the farm direct to the door, they are based in Kirkby Malham, Near Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales.They have an amazing selection of products, perfect for Christmas, you should get in touch or follow Chris on Twitter.Thanks once again to the three above excellent companies, they are making a significant and meaningful difference to the lives of people affected by breast cancer. Also those of you who have donated individually or wish to remain anonymous your all hero's.Follow these people on Twitter:Stewart Townsend - Sun - Essential Start upsJan Strassen - Mole EndChris Wildman - Paganum - Online farmers MarketIf you are interested in taking part and raising some cash for Brest Cancer Care, the original posts are here and here, just get in touch, make a donation and send me a sticker!Ben x

.Net Magazine - Issue 183

net183cover130Awesome, a triple helping of .net love this month!I answered the "Big Question" in this months .net and Chris Barling (Friend, Boss and Actinic CEO) is in there discussing what makes good customer relations.In fact .net this month is a great read, with Ben Huh (ICANHAZ) making a nice appearance.Available in all good news outlets now :)Anyway, the Big Question:What was the best site/app you came across in 2008?There are already a lot of sites and apps that are so good that they have become part of the fabric of online life, and this year a further influx has jumped onto my ‘must visit list’. However, for me there is only one clear winner, which is the Twitter search app, formally known as Summize.Twitter search is fantastic for research - who is talking about who, what and when. But its core power lies in real time and this, for me, was illustrated at The Future of Web Apps conference. A search for FOWA not only provided the latest rock star developer sightings, but also real-time opinions on the various topics and speakers. The result is powerful and empowering, at least until the famous Fail Whale turns up.

Leave it to the experts

Those of you who know me will be very aware I have been in this old web business of ours for a long time now. In fact I found an old CDROM while tidying up my office yesterday, curious to discover what was on it I popped it into the MacBook only to discover it was my first ever site, an Intranet site for Siemens Plessey, the date, June 1995. Interestingly enough it was almost valid W3C compliant, the only things failing were common mark up errors, not bad for a text editor on HPUX 9.Anyway, the point I am trying to make (in a rambling only Ben would write this way style) is I am incredibly proud of the fact I was so involved with the web at such an early stage. I learnt how to write (almost) valid HTML, then how to store and retrieve data with ASP and Access DBs followed by revisiting my design roots with CSS. Being an online Jack-of-all-trades has served me well; having the ability to just get on with it is a rare thing.However much I like to keep my hand in I have recently had to admit defeat, juggling a great job, random projects, social networking, traveling, family life and dare I say it a tiny social life is tough, so I have called in the experts!As some of you know Emma my wife runs an online sports shop (www.sportiesonline.com), it’s a site I build using a heavily modified CactuShop set of scripts. It was fun building the site, however Sporties is on the move (and CactuShop seems to have fallen off the face of the earth), we are migrating over to Actinic Business (v9.0.3). Now there are many obvious reasons for the move to Actinic, I am a director of the company being one, however the main reason is the v9 is highly integrated with Actinic Payments, which is fully PCI-DSS compliant.To build the site for us I have called in the services of a company called Random River a company set up by a good friend and former employee Chris Dicken. My initial resistance to subcontract this is now a distant memory, letting go of my baby has been a tough thing but honestly it’s been a fantastic experience. Chris has an amazing eye for detail and so far the results have been fabulous. The site still has some way to go before it’s live, including the unenviable task of data migration, but it’s nicely on track.So, its been an interesting lesson in both humility (Ben there are people that do this better than you) and a realisation that when you want something done well it pays to get the pros in. I think we can all learn something from this, especially if you are selling online, that DIY attitude works to a point but if you are serious about something try to get the best you can afford.Anyway, stay tuned for a revamped SportiesOnline.com in the new year and if you want to talk to someone about e-Commerce design talk to Chris, he comes with a 100% Ben approval rating.