Blog

May 15th, 2015

MobileGeneral_May15_BEven if you think your company is on top of its social media marketing efforts, chances are there is yet more that you could be doing. In particular, the mobile arena continues to grow and develop seemingly without slowing down - and if you’re not harnessing the potential that this segment represents, it’s about time you started to. New data from Twitter demonstrates just how important it is not only to be harnessing access to mobile social media users, but to be doing so through video. Here’s what you need to know.

The Twitter report shows that globally, 90 percent of videos watched on Twitter are now being seen through a mobile device - whether that’s a smartphone or tablet - rather than on a desktop or laptop. Of all Twitter users, 82 percent use the social network - which until relatively recently has been primarily text-based - to watch video content.

Also evidenced in the report is the different use that is served by video on Twitter as opposed to that on other platforms, like YouTube. The report drives home the fact that Twitter represents a means for users to discover new video content, even if they weren’t necessarily looking for it. 70 percent of those surveyed said they primarily watch videos that they have discovered on the platform, whereas the majority - 63 percent - of those actively looking for particular videos use YouTube, rather than Twitter, to do so. In Twitter’s own words, consumers go to Twitter to discover content they don’t already know about rather than searching for something specific.

This is good news for advertisers - showing the value that can be driven for brands using videos that Twitter users discover while interacting on the platform in other ways. So too is the fact that video content directly embedded into tweets, rather than hosted on third-party players like Youtube, generates higher engagement - 2.5 times as many replies, 2.8 times as many retweets, and 1.9 times as many favorites. This is likely because of the lesser effort required to watch and interact with native video, as opposed to third-party content which typically involves additional clicks before being able to view it.

The report says two main things to advertisers. Firstly, sharing video content needs to be an increasingly essential part of your social media strategy - and will bring particular value in helping you to connect with the growing proportion of users who access sites like Twitter through mobile devices. Additionally, the research highlights the success stories that businesses are seeing using Twitter advertising methods like Promoted Video - so now could be the time to consider whether sponsored tweets are a good fit for your organization.

To learn more about harnessing mobile devices and social media to boost your business, give us a call - or drop us a tweet!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 14th, 2015

WindowsNews&Tips_May14_BMicrosoft is working to overcome the terrible reputation of Windows 8. The operating system was a major disappointment and was criticized badly by many who use it. Now Microsoft intends to stage a comeback by launching the all-new Windows 10. A raft of new innovations and features have been implemented into Windows 10, all of which are aimed at improving user experience. Microsoft has refreshed the overall appearance with a much cleaner, easier-to-understand design. Here are the key features of the new Windows 10.

Microsoft Edge

Windows 10 comes with a new Internet browser called Microsoft Edge. Formerly named Project Spartan until around three months ago, Edge is officially a replacement for the aging Internet Explorer. Edge allows you to add notes, while accessing web pages, for future reference. It also comes with a new reading mode that removes all the other distracting elements of a web page and leaves you with just the text. This allows for a good reading experience, not to mention faster loading time.

Cortana

Cortana is Microsoft’s personal assistant and the rival to Apple’s Siri. When Cortana first arrived in preview versions of Windows 10, there were several bugs and compatibility issues. But Microsoft has been working hard to address these. Just like on Windows Phone devices, you can interact with Cortana using either text or natural voice queries. Cortana can perform many basic tricks and tasks, such as taking notes, scheduling meetings, setting alarms, calling people on Skype, and playing music. She can also scour your computer, OneDrive account, and even your business network to find files based on your input.

Continuum

Windows 10’s Continuum feature is designed to make the OS work seamlessly on hybrid desktop and tablet devices. Users are able to switch between touch and desktop modes, depending on the device they’re using. When you unplug your keyboard and mouse, a small popup will appear asking whether Windows should switch to tablet mode. Once tablet mode is enabled, all the windows on the desktop will immediately go to full screen. On the other hand, if you plug in a keyboard and mouse, Windows 10 will launch another pop-up asking whether you wish to return to desktop mode. Another impressive feature of Continuum is the ability to connect your Windows Phone with a PC, essentially turning your smartphone into a pocket-friendly desktop.

Start Menu

The absence of the the Start menu in Windows 8 caused dissatisfaction among most Windows OS fanatics. Microsoft won’t make the same mistake twice. And so the Start menu will be returning to Windows 10 at the front and left of the home screen. When opened, the menu splits into two columns - one the traditional list of programs, the other app-style icons. A universal search function has been added to the Start menu, making for easier file browsing.

Windows 10 is made first and foremost for desktop users, whereas its predecessor Windows 8 was aimed at mobile and touchscreen devices. Microsoft has hinted that Windows 10 will be launching in late July 2015, available in 190 countries and 111 languages.

If you’re looking to incorporate Windows OS into your business, contact us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 13th, 2015

164_Security_BIf you’re considering transitioning your business to the cloud, have you considered the security of the platform? While providers would like us to believe that the friendly fluffy cloud image used to market the service means it is automatically secure, the truth is that the reality is far different. Just ask one of the nearly seven million Dropbox users who had their accounts hacked. This is not meant to scare you, but only to make you aware that cloud security needs to be taken seriously - especially if you’re a business owner. To help you take the correct precautionary measures as you transition to the cloud, we’ve put together a list of actions you can take to ensure cloud security.

The cloud is playing more and more of a significant role in business. Yet, as more companies jump on the bandwagon, very few of them seem to be taking cloud security seriously. According to a recent survey, the "Security of Cloud Computing Users Study" , only 50 percent of those surveyed had investigated the security of the cloud services they used.

To ensure you put in place proper security measures when beginning your cloud venture, here are five actions every small business owner should take.

Ask your IT provider what cloud security policies they have in place - this is probably the single most important security measure you can take. Find a trusted IT provider and have a candid conversation with them about their cloud security policies.

Ask where the location of the physical cloud servers are - when you have “the conversation”, don’t forget to ask about this. Believe it or not, some cloud servers may not even be stored in your own country. Wherever they are, it’s wise to make sure they’re located in a safe data center area with proper security afforded to them.

Create unique usernames and passwords - your login credentials represent one of the cloud’s main security vulnerabilities. Take the time to come up with a better password than “12345” or “football.”

Use industry standard encryption and authentication protocols - IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) is a reliable technology choice.

Encrypt data before it’s uploaded to the cloud - whether you do it yourself or your cloud computing provider does it for you, this is a must to ensure security.

When it comes to trusting the security of a cloud service provider, transparency is key. The provider should take security seriously, be able to explain their security policies clearly, and be willing to answer any questions. If they can’t do one of these, it’s a clear sign of a red flag.

Are you ready to talk cloud security and transition your business into the cloud? Call us today. We’re happy to answer all your questions.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 12th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_May12_BA dashboard is a business intelligence tool used to display metrics and key performance indicators (KPI) for organizations. The tool has grown in popularity over recent years, since implementing business dashboards has become cheaper and easier than ever before. Dashboards gather two or more KPIs and statistics and turn them into a visual interface. By implementing dashboards you will have an overall view of your business, or at the very least some parts of it. Here are some uses of dashboards in real-life business situations.

Marketing insights

The marketing department in an organization typically analyzes a significant amount of data from various channels. Whether the purpose is to forecast monthly sales, predict trends, or build marketing strategies, marketing officers need to compare, sort, and analyze raw data in order to present it in an understandable format using dashboards. Once raw data has been polished into meaningful information and presented to business executives, key decision makers are able to make choices based on that information.

Tracking sales opportunities

Sales dashboards are perfect for tracking various products and services throughout their lifecycle. With sales dashboards, you can identify sales opportunities by monitoring top-selling products and comparing the growth in revenue on a periodical basis. The implementation of sales dashboards eliminates the need to spend hours manually entering data and preparing sales reports, spreadsheets, charts, and manual data.

Social media management

There’s more to social media management than posting regularly on your business’s social media accounts. And in most cases, the default dashboard offered by your social media platform doesn’t give you a deep insight into your social media campaigns. What’s more, managing multiple social media accounts can quickly become a cumbersome process since you have to use several login credentials. That’s where dashboards come in. You can manage your accounts all at once through a comprehensive social media dashboard, saving you valuable time and effort.

Financial reports

Presenting financial data is so complex that, if not handled by competent employees, will often lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding of critical data. Dashboards make creating financial reports much easier, and financial analysts can take advantage of dashboards to display sensitive data in a comprehensible graphical format - be it customer invoices, progress toward revenue goals, or business expenses.

Project collaboration

Businesses of all sizes require their employees to collaborate on projects, whether it’s on-site or online. Project supervisors need to get their teams together, in order to give them an insight of the projects’ requirements, deadlines and responsibilities, and to learn about the projects’ progress. With the help of project collaboration dashboards, members will see the complete workflow of the project, allowing for a more efficient and collaborative working environment.

Dashboards can truly take away the complications of presenting complex business data. If you’re looking to implement business intelligence tools to simplify your company’s data analysis process, drop us a line today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 11th, 2015

SocialMedia_May11_BSay goodbye to your advertising-free Facebook Messenger conversations - the social networking giant has announced its plans to bring promotional messages into the fold. The private messaging feature of Facebook became one of the site’s newest features when it was recently branched off of the main platform. The move is not likely to win applause from Facebook’s users, but it marks an interesting turn in the platform’s development and also presents marketing opportunities for businesses. Here’s the low-down.

As well as Facebook Messenger, which the company has definitively announced will feature advertisements, it looks likely that WhatsApp will also become ad-supported. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in February 2014 for $22 billion, despite the company only generating 2013 revenues of $10.2 million and overall making a net annual loss of $138.1 million. At the time, Mark Zuckerberg indicated that the company would not seek to monetize either service until they had reached a billion users, while WhatsApp founder and CEO said that the plan remained for the app to focus for several years on growth rather than monetization.

The latest announcements appear to signal a change in those tactics. While there has so far been no concrete decision on the form that advertising in either app would take, the intention appears to be for Facebook Messenger to test the water, with WhatsApp following its lead once a successful formula has been found. Executives have suggested that they wish to explore alternatives to conventional banner ads. They have also reinforced the message that the two apps, which seek to serve different purposes and audiences, will remain independent of one another.

The sheer number of users now communicating on the WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger platforms each month is testament to the value that Facebook could drive from placing advertisements on the services. Unlike its main site, which serves advertisements, the Facebook Messenger app currently makes no profit. Until now, WhatsApp’s only revenue stream has been the nominal $0.99 annual subscription fee it collects from users after a year’s free trial - and the service remains completely free in developing countries outside of Europe and North America. But for businesses, too, the potential of advertising on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp provides exciting new marketing opportunities and the chance to interact more closely with both potential and existing customers.

Learn more about using Facebook and other networks - both for advertising and wider social media marketing - to grow your business; give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 8th, 2015

Web_May8_BWith over 700 million active monthly users, WhatsApp is miles ahead of the competition in the mobile instant chat messaging market. Yet even with the level of popularity it enjoys, the app has long long faced calls from users requesting a feature that would allow them to chat on desktop and laptop devices. And the WhatsApp team has been listening. They've recently launched a web-based chat client. Here’s what you need to know about this new function and how you can get hold of it.

To get started with WhatsApp Web, you’ll need to open a QR code on the WhatsApp website on your desktop computer and then scan it in WhatsApp on your Android, BlackBerry, Nokia or Windows Phone mobile device. That’s right - for reasons unknown (WhatsApp puts it down to “Apple platform limitations”), users of Apple mobile devices running iOS are as yet unable to access the web client, and it’s not clear when that will change (though, as ever, hacks have emerged to make this possible).

The other drawback is that the web chat client is only available within Google Chrome, Firefox and Opera - but if you’re currently using another browser, that’s easily achieved with a quick switch. Once you’ve scanned the QR code, which identifies your mobile WhatsApp account to the web client so that the two can be synced up, you’re ready to get on with chatting on the web - whether that’s for work or pleasure.

The web client acts as an extension of the mobile app, meaning that those conversations you’ve started on your phone are mirrored across to the web but not actually stored there - all data remains on the phone. This means that, in order for the web client to work, your phone needs to remain connected to the internet in order for remote access to those chats to be possible. In addition, to be able to use the service at all, you need to ensure that your phone is equipped with the latest version of WhatsApp.

WhatsApp is growing in significance for businesses, the service recently having added VoIP calling capabilities. Get in touch with us to find out how to make it work for you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Web
May 6th, 2015

Productivity_May6_BPower outages can be a most unpleasant surprise, especially when you’re in the middle of an important task with your clients via Skype or using the Internet to assist in your daily business activities. With that in mind, what can you do when you’re facing a power outage for hours? You can hardly loiter around waiting for it to come back - the longer your business stays offline, the more trust you lose from your clients. Here are some simple tips worth checking out during a power outage.

Install a UPS for each computer

A UPS (uninterrupted power supply), is an alternative, emergency power source. During a power outage, your computer will turn itself off automatically as there's no power. UPS prevents that by running your computer off its own battery. If you’re working on a file when a power blackout occurs, UPS is especially helpful. It can only buy your computer a few minutes of time at most, but that’s enough time to save vital files and power down. If you still need Internet access, try another method we’ve listed below.

Find a Wi-Fi connection

The advancements in technology made it possible for you to take your work outside the office. You can resume your business activities and Internet connectivity by using the mobile data plan from your smartphone or tablets, and then access your files via cloud storage and file sharing applications. If you don’t have a data plan, then head to the nearest Wi-Fi-friendly place to continue your work, such as a coffee shop. VoIP software installed on your portable devices can help you to connect to your clients efficiently.

Make good use of your batteries

Now is not the time to browse social media or play games. When you take your work offline, it’s best to preserve your devices’ batteries by doing only important tasks and turning off power-sucking applications. Buy an extra charging device to extend your battery life, if necessary.

Finish offline tasks

When no Internet connection is available, you can take the time to clear off any neglected offline duties, whether it’s clearing up desks or arranging files and documents. You can even gather a team to brainstorm new ideas for projects, or discuss any ongoing issues within your organization.

Work from home

If a power outage renders your employees helpless in their duties, then sending them home with a business laptop won’t hurt, if they’re able to continue their work from there. There are many ways to keep them accountable without being intrusive and, as long as they are making progress in their jobs and are able maintain their professional integrity, there’s not much to complain about. Make sure telecommuting is only allowed when necessary though - working alongside colleagues and sharing ideas face-to-face is still one of the best ways to induce productivity.

Achieving power-free productivity is possible when you have a plan prepared for the situation. For more productivity tips to boost your business’s bottom line, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
May 5th, 2015

164_BizV_BFor many businesses, social media marketing is unchartered territory. It's too easy to think that simply by creating a business page on Facebook or opening a Twitter account, you are giving yourself access to whole new markets. If only it was so easy! To gain business from social media, you need to know which of your marketing tactics are working for you and which aren't. That’s why we’ve gathered some practical ideas that allow you to track your marketing progress and ROI.

Why it’s difficult to track social media ROI

The reason many business owners find it difficult to track social media ROI is because they don’t understand the purpose of the platforms from the perspective of traditional marketing. It's all too easy to expect immediate payoffs and profits, not to mention increased business. But while social media itself moves and changes fast, businesses should remember it still takes time to increase brand recognition, build relationships and enhance a company's reputation, whatever the platform. It is brand recognition that produces more sales in the long run. So don't lose heart if you are not making progress in the first couple of months. If you play the longer game, you'll enjoy more success.

So how do you measure ROI?

It comes down to tracking everything you can, including:
  • Online purchases
  • Online contact forms
  • Video views
  • E-book Downloads
  • Social interactions (this includes Facebook likes, Twitter follows and more)

To track these, you can use any or all of the three methods below.

Tagging Urls

Tagging a URL is basically adding a “tag” or more characters/words to the end of the original URL. Below are two examples of a normal URL and tagged URL:

Normal URL: www.AllstarIT.com/harddrive.html.

Tagged version of the same URL: www.AllstartIT.com/harddrive.htm?utmcampaign=BannerAdharddriveAd&utm_small=BannerAd

Adding this tag allows you to easily track which of your social media campaigns are producing the desired results. Without doing this, you run the risk of of all your social media visitors being recognized as organic, rather than ones that have come from a specific campaign or strategy you’re implementing. An excellent tool to build your unique URL is Google’s URL builder.

Google Analytics

This is the most obvious strategy for tracking your social media campaigns, and Google has long been the market leader in tracking the success of online marketing. A Google Analytics account can be set up in a matter of minutes, and then makes it easy to track your campaigns. Go to Acquisition and then check All Referrals. Here you’ll see where people are discovering your site - be it a Google organic search or social media network.

Call Tracking

Call tracking is often used to track the ROI from Facebook ad campaigns, though it can also be used on other social media platforms. This tactic allows you to measure how many phone calls you are getting from your customers on social media sites.

To do this you list a different phone number on a particular social media page than on your business website. For example, if the number listed on your business website is 763-984-6577, you instead list 763-984-6555 for the social media page you’re tracking. By seeing how many people call the number listed on the social media page, you’ll gain a better understanding of how effective that particular page or ad is. If it’s effective, you’ll know to use whatever methods are working from this page or ad in your other social media efforts.

Want more ideas on how to measure social media ROI or to get more value out of your IT investments? Get in touch today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 4th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_May4_BDisasters can strike and ruin businesses at the most unexpected times, but observant companies will prepare for the worst - they will have a business continuity plan (BCP) at the ready. Not only can they survive a disaster, they also gain an increased competitive advantage over competitors due to quick responsiveness and recovery. But there are good business continuity plans and great ones, and small plan adjustments can make a huge difference. Here are some of the things you should include in your BCP to make it more efficient.

Backup strategies are tested regularly

Most businesses nowadays, if not all, employ technological tools to assist in managing their everyday business operations. As a result, a massive amount of data is stored on their on-site servers. Should a disaster strike, all valuable information would be damaged or lost. Backup plans are advisable, of course, but even these are useless without regular check-ups and testing. You’ll want to verify that your backups include all of your company’s strategic data, and that they are fully functional in the event of a disaster.

All employees are involved

Your employees are the essence of your business. They help drive your business forward, and therefore each and every one of them needs to understand the essentials of your business continuity plan. Schedule a meeting with each department, outlining everyone’s role in the plan, then revise the plan again with the whole company. Make sure everyone has a part to play in order to avoid having some employees feeling left out. Be sure to also let your employees know that they are your most valuable assets, and that you’re willing to help them in any way you can during a disaster, whether it’s encouraging them to prepare an emergency plan for their families or allowing them to work remotely from home if necessary.

Identify and prioritize critical functions

What are your company’s greatest strengths? A good business continuity plan exposes your most important business functions. All inventories and resources related to those functions must be accurate and created in advance. But sometimes, determining truly critical functions can be a real challenge - and incorrect assumptions can cripple the whole BCP, so this needs to be addressed in the early stages of planning. Once you’ve identified your critical business functions, you’ll be able to continue your business operations smoothly, even if not quite normally, during a disaster.

Succession plans exist for key employees

This is one of the most often overlooked aspects in a business continuity plan. Key employees are the life and soul of a BCP, usually having the knowledge and expertise that precede the plans on paper. Are you able to execute the plan if your key employee is missing? Do a simple test without your key members. Put an alternative candidate in charge of the situation and forbid the key employee from participating and giving direct instructions. Assign alternates for each part of a BCP, and ask them to perform disaster recovery functions in place of key employees. Having two people to count on is always better than one!

Having a BCP is one thing, but having one that actually works well is something you should strive to achieve. If you’re planning to implement a business continuity plan in your company, contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 1st, 2015

AppleMacOS_May01_BPhotography has become big - and mainstream. Whether on our smartphones or increasingly affordable cameras capable of professional quality snaps, we are taking more pictures than ever. And they all have to go somewhere. Apple users have long been waiting for an upgrade to the Mac’s dated iPhoto app, and now that day has arrived. With the release of OS X 10.10.3, the latest update to the Yosemite operating system, comes the all-new Photos app. Here’s what you need to know.

Clean design

The new program incorporates design and user experience features that have more in common with the iOS mobile operating system on the iPhone and iPad, as part of apparent wider efforts on Apple’s part to bring the two closer together (Photos for iOS has been available since last September). This means Photos now looks like much like an iOS app - think a single screen with a primary focus on displaying images. Distracting widgets have been left by the wayside, though if you were a fan of iPhoto’s easy-access sidebar, you can quickly re-enable that. Apple is also expected to discontinue Aperture, the editing app used primarily by photography experts, and Photos now acts as a middle ground between that and the more amateur-targeted app iPhoto.

At-a-glance view

The new Photos app allows you to review your photos and videos in seven views - Years, Collections, Moments, Photos, Shared, Albums and Projects. The Years view zooms you right out to see tiny thumbnails of all the photos you took that year; it’s something of a mesmerizing mosaic collage of miniature dots of color. Similar in nature to the Events view you were used to in iPhoto, you can move around and click on individual images to bring up a larger preview. Alternatively, scroll through the images using your keyboard to view previews of every photo. Another tap on the preview brings up the full-size, high-resolution version; instant rendering means this happens in a flash.

The Moments view groups photos taken at one specific event, like your office party. This feature was also available in iPhoto but has been streamlined and smoothed out. Photos uses the time and place the photos were taken to group in the Moments view - a slight difference to the Collections view, which focuses on location, and so can amass shots taken on, say, a vacation, even if they span multiple days.

The Photos view shows you every image in your library, while Shared displays those shared or accessed on iCloud. Albums gives access to those created yourself or configured by the app. Finally, Projects is another enhanced iPhoto feature, enabling you to review photos you’ve used to produce slideshows and physical products. With the exception of wirebound books and small softcover books, which are no longer supported, you can use Photos to edit and reorder products you created in iPhoto.

Enhanced editing

Though Photos is not intended as a fully-fledged replacement for the Aperture app, the nonetheless relatively sophisticated editing capabilities of iPhoto are carried across to the new app. Between the ability to make changes to specific individual elements of a photo’s technical make-up, and smart sliders that intelligently adjust multiple elements, you can execute quality photo touch-ups whether you’re a beginner or a pro. Eight Instagram-style filters give added flexibility, too, including several vintage and black-and-white numbers - we particularly like Instant and Noir.

Pinch and zoom

Carrying on the iOS theme, Photos allows you to navigate and manipulate your photos just as though you were on your iPhone. You can pinch and zoom on your Mac’s touchpad to zoom in and out of different photos, and with a few taps you can easily switch between screens. There is even support for keystroke gestures to allow you to effortlessly browse your entire photo collection. This gives the whole experience much more glide than we had become used to with the increased sluggishness of the past-its-prime iPhoto.

Cloud power

Of course, shifting everything to the cloud is the general direction these days - and it makes particular sense with space-greedy photos and videos. Your entire library of shots is automatically added to iCloud Photo Library and so available across all your Apple devices, which now employ the same familiar and easy-to-use navigation. Edits are instantly synced between devices and, in an effort to save space, full-resolution photos and videos are stored on iCloud rather than locally.

The new Photos app sees Apple keeping pace with our ever increasing demands for speed and flexibility as amateur and professional photographers alike. To find out more about putting Photos and other Mac apps to use in your business, give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Apple Mac OS