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The best technology tools for getting more out of your day

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“Elegant business watch” by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

What would you do if you had more time? It’s a question many of us consider occasionally, but usually only as a daydream. We’ve become convinced that, because of technology, 21st-century life means irreversibly longer days and more stress. As a result, many of us end up unproductive, unfulfilled and unable to focus on the things that really matter.

The truth is, however, technology isn’t just the problem – it also can be part of the solution. With the right tools, we can be more effective in our work and more fulfilled – if we use them to eliminate distractions, not create them, and to prioritize our commitments, and not respond to everything that crosses our path. Here are a few options that can help you win back at least a few minutes every day – and turn your daydreams into reality.

  • Evernote is perhaps my favorite productivity tool. I use it for note-taking, to build my to-do list, save Internet bookmarks and remember things I’d otherwise forget. Evernote is an app that reduces your dependence on other apps, serving as an all-in-one tool that syncs between all your devices. If I could recommend just one tool from this list, it would be Evernote.
  • Social media is one of our most prevalent productivity drains. While it has become integrated into many jobs, it often commands far too much of our time – and leads to far too much dissatisfaction – as we slip into aimlessly scrolling through our news feeds. You could cancel any social media accounts that don’t add value to your life, of course, but that’s not always practical. StayFocusd and Freedom can help you put self-imposed limitations on the time you spend on a given website – including, of course, social media. It’s a great way to stay honest about how you spend your time and begin changing habits that no longer serve you well.
  • If social media is a primary focus of your work, there are ways to be more productive without limiting your access. Hootsuite, for example, is a social media dashboard that lets you post to multiple platforms and schedule posts ahead of time. You can use Hootsuite for free if you only need access to three social media profiles, or pay a monthly fee to tap into more profiles and features.
  • Social media isn’t the only culprit; email can be as much of a problem – if not more so. A good place to start is eliminating the emails you don’t want in the first place. Unroll.me makes it easy to identify what newsletters and other recurring email lists you’re on and quickly and easily unsubscribe from those you’re no longer interested in. Best of all, it’s free.
  • Managing your inbox isn’t always as simple as unsubscribing from a newsletter, however. Other more sophisticated tools can allow you to retain emails while automating next steps. Rules (in Outlook) and Filters (in Gmail) are two examples that can streamline your inbox and prioritize what arrives there. For example, I set a rule in Outlook that sends messages I’m copied on – where I’m cc’ed, but not in the “to” field, that is – to a different folder (which I creatively call “cc”). These messages are, almost without exception, lower-priority ones that require no action from me. Accordingly, there’s rarely an immediate need for me to give them my attention, so I can check this folder once a day or so without missing anything important, while slimming down my inbox and making it much more likely that the truest high-priority messages stand out.
  • Sometimes email just isn’t the best tool for a given job. Consider the challenge of scheduling group meetings and all the back and forth that results from trying to find a date and time that works for everyone. Use Doodle instead. Attendees answer a poll to indicate their availability, choosing what works for them from a list of options. This one’s free, too.
  • You can even do a little time travel with email. Boomerang (for Gmail) and Delay Delivery (in Outlook) allow you to schedule emails ahead of time, getting tasks off your plate and deferring messages that are better sent later. Let’s say, for example, a customer asks you to follow up on a given conversation in a couple of weeks. You can try to keep that request in your brain. You can add it to your to-do list. Or you can get it done right then and there, scheduling the message to appear in your client’s inbox precisely when he or she asked for it.

These are just a few of dozens of examples. The bottom line is there’s a solution for nearly every challenge if you’re willing to experiment and change the way you work. The key is remembering that you’re in charge of technology, not the other way around. Taking control is the first step toward taking back more of your time.

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How to build relationships on LinkedIn

When it comes to getting the most out of LinkedIn, much of the conventional wisdom focuses on profile optimization. And while that’s certainly part of the equation, there’s an even better opportunity to get results: actively looking for ways to provide value to your connections.

Relationships are the lifeblood of LinkedIn — and, it’s often acknowledged, perhaps the most critical asset we have in our careers at large. The main benefit of LinkedIn is that it allows us to not only understand the makeup of our network but also how we can be a resource to others — which, of course, makes it much more likely that they’ll help us, too. Here’s how you put this into action:

  • Interact with/share others’ content. One of the best ways to help your LinkedIn connections is also one of the easiest: simply liking, commenting, or sharing their posts or articles. This shows you value what they have to say and provides a nice little positive bump to the relationship. You want to do this authentically, but there’s little downside to being generous. When you like someone’s content (or otherwise join the conversation), they’re more likely to think well of you.
  • Share good stuff. When it comes to your content, there should be one guiding principle: what can you share that will help your connections or provide value? People have enough to read today. Make sure your content is worth their time.
  • Actively look for opportunities to help. People share status updates for a number of reasons, including reaching out to their network to solve a problem. Keep this in mind as you scroll through your news feed and look for opportunities to be of service. It could be as simple as sharing a job opportunity with your connections — thereby helping an employer find talent and helping someone find a job — or answering a question. The more you position yourself as a problem solver, the more likely it is that your connections will think of you as a resource when they have a need aligned with your area of expertise.
  • Give others recommendations and endorsements. It’s important to only give them when they’re deserved, but by all means, give them. Be as willing to give endorsements and recommendations as you’re eager to get them, and you’ll help good people get recognized and tell their story (while also making it more likely they’ll return the favor).
  • Serve as an intermediary and make introductions. One of the great things about LinkedIn is that it gives us the chance to leverage the intersections in our network. Play offense with this by connecting people who may benefit from getting to know one another and inviting your connections to let you know when you can introduce them to someone you know. This is another case where you can help (at least) two connections with one action.
  • Participate in relevant groups and provide value. Overall, groups have negligible value on LinkedIn because many are dormant. When you find one that’s active, however, it can help you enhance existing relationships and even start new ones. The key is providing real value by sharing content that’s relevant and helpful to the group and interacting with content that’s valuable to you.
  • Check in with those with whom you’ve lost touch. Think of LinkedIn as a CRM — a place you can go to understand who you’re connected to and what the state of that relationship is. Like any good CRM, however, it only works if you use it not just to collect people, but to connect with them.

Take the time, then, to audit your LinkedIn connections a couple times a year and follow up with those you haven’t spoken to recently. If the relationship was relevant in the past, it’s likely it will be in the future, too.

The bottom line is this: if you log on to LinkedIn with only a self interest, you won’t get nearly as far as you will if you’re generous with your time, knowledge, and connections. Use LinkedIn to help others reach their goals, and you’ll be much more likely to reach yours.

Want to learn more about how to get the most out of LinkedIn? Join me for a comprehensive LinkedIn class at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne on Oct. 21. Click here to learn more.

What’s your click-through rate on that billboard?

 

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Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

Last month I wrote about the advantages digital media has over traditional media. I heard from many people who agreed–and, of course, a few who didn’t.

While many in the latter camp have reasons to favor traditional media (calling to mind Upton Sinclair’s observation that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it”), a few also pointed out instances where digital is far from perfect. Most notably, these discussions centered around the challenges that come with measurement and our over-reliance on data. In the interest of being complete, therefore, I wanted to share some additional thoughts on that subject.

It is absolutely true that there are challenges in measuring the impact of digital media, especially when it comes to what stimulates a decision to buy. Consumers see a variety of messages before making a purchase, and they interact with brands in a variety of ways. Let’s imagine, for example, that you buy a new chainsaw on Amazon.com. Think of all the times you may have been influenced leading up to that purchase. You’d likely have different perceptions of brands in the category, formed by everything from product placement to package design. You would have likely heard radio spots or seen TV commercials for different chainsaws. And it’s very possible that price was a factor, with one brand standing out on a given day due to a promotion or sale.

It’s shortsighted, therefore, to attribute any single consumer action to any one interaction with a brand. Consumers usually click the “add to cart” button based on a collective set of impressions accumulated over time, not the last message that appeared before them. Accordingly, traditional media still plays a vital role, and can often influence purchases just as much, if not more so, than digital – even when the last action was taken online.

However, while you might not be able to learn everything from digital, it can still provide invaluable information–information previously unavailable to marketers. Which of multiple messages, for example, gets a higher click-through rate? What traffic sources yield the leads most likely to convert? What type of content generates the most interaction from your audience? All these things are eminently discoverable via digital media. Such insights might not tell you everything, but they provide opportunities that simply aren’t available via traditional media.

This was precisely the argument I made with the example of a CEO blissfully spending money on billboards while voicing his doubts about digital, given “how hard [the latter] is to measure.” Yes, it’s true that analytics aren’t always conclusive and that click-through rates can be misleading. However, compare that to the inadequacies of traditional media. What was the click-through rate on the last billboard you put up? The last radio spot you produced? Your last newspaper ad? Even if you correlate sales to ad spend, you’re making a lot of assumptions–more, it’s clear, than you have to make if you use digital media responsibly.

Yes, you should be looking for a definite return on your marketing dollars, and no, we haven’t yet perfected a way of knowing everything that goes into consumer decisions. However, the strategic use of marketing resources is increasingly dependent upon your skill in optimizing along the way. What makes digital superior in most cases is that the money you’ve already spent teaches you about how to make the next dollar go further. You might still have to make some inferences about what’s influencing customer purchases, but – if you’re smart about what you measure and realistic about your goals for any specific investment – you can eliminate some of the guesswork. And while that might seem like a small victory, it’s a considerable leap forward for your marketing budget.

4 reasons why digital beats traditional media—and what to do about it

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“Digital vs Analog” by James Broad on Flickr

I’m often asked, “Is traditional media dead?” The answer, of course, is “no.”

It’s true that cord cutting is accelerating, print subscription rates are declining, radio as we know it is being challenged by everything from Pandora to the auxiliary jack, and billboards have the same problems they’ve always had—being place-bound, offering little opportunity for targeting, and accommodating only the most simple messages. But does that mean they’re “dead”? No.

As the challenges cited above suggest, however, it’s indisputable that traditional media are being marginalized like never before. And while many businesses have adapted to this shift, some—especially small-to-midsize businesses—have been slower to respond. If you’re still trying to make sense of these changes or trying to make a case for digital getting a larger share of resources, it helps to focus on the four advantages digital has over traditional media—and what that means for your business.

1.    Traditional media only talk at the audience; digital media allow for conversations. Since its inception, advertising was largely a one-way medium, seeking only to get a message in front of an audience. Yes, it often included calls to action, but most advertisements seemed uninterested in a dialogue. Accordingly, consumers became increasingly uninterested in those messages, shifting their attention to media—primarily social media—that encouraged them to have their say.

What does this mean for you? If you seek only to raise awareness about your brand or message, traditional media offers great options, as does digital display advertising. However, consumers expect to be able to engage with you on social media and other digital media where conversations are just a click away. If you don’t make that opportunity available, they’ll likely bypass your message—or respond negatively to it.

2.    Traditional media are only available on a set schedule; digital media are often available on demand. The phrase “appointment television” seems quaint. While there’s something to be said for the anticipation that would come with waiting for the clock to strike 9:30 p.m. so you could watch “Seinfeld,” it’s far better to watch, listen or read what you want, when you want. Even live sports, once thought to be the saving grace of traditional TV, are facing challenges as audiences determine that they’d rather consume only the most relevant information—highlights and scores—on their own terms instead of watching every play as it happens.

What does this mean for you? It’s likely programming better consumed as it happens will offer more value for your traditional media dollar: live sports, reality TV and awards shows, for example. However, know that this is changing and that advertising dollars should follow the consumer to on-demand programming.

3.    Marketing via traditional media is all about interruption; digital marketing is more about the audience’s ability to opt in. Soap operas got their name because advertisers determined they could market household products—including soap—to a largely female daytime audience via dramas about the lives and loves of the rich and infamous. The model was built around interruption: give the audience something they want, then interrupt them with the advertisement you want them to see. This is still the dominant model today on both traditional and digital media—but audiences are using everything from the remote control to ad-blocking technology to avoid unwelcome messages.

What does this mean for you? Targeting has never been more important—and never more possible. Whereas most traditional media allow only for guesswork based on audience demographics, digital media allow for much greater sophistication, using strategies like modeling and remarketing to minimize waste. In addition, advertisers have the option of putting resources into opt-in forms of marketing, including organic social media and email marketing, combined with content that’s more engaging (see #1 above) where they can be more certain that the message will not be seen as a nuisance.

4.    It’s hard to measure the impact of traditional media; it’s comparatively easy to measure the impact of digital. I once had a CEO tell me he wasn’t sure digital was right for his company because it was hard to measure. During that conversation, I could literally see a billboard outside his window with his company’s message and no clear call to action. I was tempted to ask him how he was measuring the return on that investment, but I didn’t. While it’s true the impact of digital marketing can’t always be measured, it’s much easier than measuring the impact of traditional media. It can’t be done without effort, but it is very possible to know which messages resonated and lead to a specific action—if you’re strategic.

What does this mean for you? New ways of marketing demand new approaches to marketing. Planning on the front end, optimization along the way and analysis on the back end are the keys to success and should be looked at as imperatives, not luxuries.

As the media landscape evolves, the key is to integrate your efforts. Understand that there are real reasons behind the shifts in media consumption, but know also that traditional media isn’t dead—at least not yet. (It’s no small irony that this article was originally published in a print publication.) By being open to the best of both, you can prioritize based on the only thing that really matters: what’s best for your customers and prospects is generally the best choice for your company, too.

How to use Facebook groups to connect with your audience

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One of Facebook’s greatest strengths is also one of its greatest weaknesses.

On the plus side, it’s for just about everyone and about just about everything. However, that also means it’s not really for anyone, or about anything specific. And as the platform has swelled to nearly 2 billion members, it can be a challenge to focus the audience on a specific topic.

One solution to this problem is something that has been around for years: Facebook groups. Groups provide a place for people to connect around a shared interest or for mutual benefit—and businesses can benefit when they bring those people together. A few examples:

  • Employee and volunteer groups give your internal audience a place to share information and stay connected.
  • Nonprofit groups allow you to share information and build advocacy among donors and other supporters.
  • Colleges can use groups to give students, faculty, staff and alumni a place to discuss specific topics.
  • Manufacturers of products can create and facilitate groups for customers to share ideas and ask questions of the company and other users.

Groups provide several benefits, in that they allow real-world conversations to continue and grow online. They also allow your company to tap into the collective intelligence of your audience, bringing people together in a place where everyone can learn from each other and share information with the group. Groups also have advantages over Facebook business pages, because the conversation can be more focused since groups are less affected by declining organic reach. Finally, groups can be made private, with users having to be accepted into the group — a great solution for businesses that work with minors or who want to protect more sensitive information.

Perhaps the best thing about groups is how easy they are to create:

  • A group “owner” must establish the group. He or she names the group and can add photos, documents (a policy shared with employees, for example, or a user guide shared with customers).
  • The group owner will also need to decide whether it will be public, closed (members must be approved), or secret (which can’t be discovered by search and is only available to those who have a link and who must be approved). This can be changed later if needed.
  • The group owner then can add other group administrators and moderators. While you only need one owner, it’s good practice to have at least two to three people involved to ensure responsiveness. It’s also important to know that there are subtle differences between being an administrator and a moderator, with the former having more access than the latter.
  • Promote it to those you want in the group and, if it’s private or secret, accept their requests to join. It’s good practice to have some content and conversations added to the page first, however, so group members will get a good first impression and be able to interact right away.

The real work, however, is maintenance: continually adding content, responding to questions and ensuring that it remains active. This is what determines your success: since starting groups can be so easy, it’s tempting to jump right in. You’ll want a plan, however, for ensuring that your group remains viable and that the owner, moderators and administrators are working together to keep the audience’s attention.

While groups have a lot of merit, they’re not without their pitfalls. Consider, for instance, that your employees must use their personal Facebook profiles to participate in groups. This may not raise any issues, but there can be challenges associated with intermingling your internal and external audiences. While being in the same group as someone else gives them no special access to your Facebook profile, it does make things that are publicly available (your profile photo, for example) more conspicuous to that audience. If for no other reason, then, you’ll want to have an employee social media use policy in place.

Overall, however, groups are great at helping you reach some of your subset audiences more effectively than through a business page alone. It takes effort to make them work, but they’re a great tool for keeping people connected to each other–and your brand.