Blog

May 22nd, 2015

InternetSocRepMngmnt_May22_BHow often do you use your favorite search engine to check on a company’s products, services, and feedback before dealing with them? That’s exactly what most people do these days - they research a company and see what others have to say. The same thing applies to your business. If you have a bad online reputation, you’re going to feel it hit your bottom line hard. Managing and maintaining your online reputation is therefore as important as having one in the first place. Let’s take a look at the reasons your business needs a positive online reputation.

Trust and credibility

Trust and credibility are two important factors and could either make or break your business’s online reputation. If you can over-deliver on your customers’ expectations, there’s a good chance they will spread the word about their experience - and that’s great for your business. Take the time to earn your clients’ trust, and you’ll be rewarded with a strong brand image that will attract more potential clients for years to come.

Increased sales

Customers are more likely than ever to research brands, products, and services online before they make the decision to purchase. Make sure you have social media accounts ready, and ask your existing customers to follow you. Post regularly about your products, along with other valuable content related to the nature of your business to grab your customers’ attention. Personal interaction with customers is a great strategy to boost sales, so don’t let their comments go unanswered - see that you respond in a timely manner to every one of them to show that you value their business.

Online insights

Today, it’s very common to see negative feedback on a business’s social media pages. If things aren’t addressed properly, a negative comment or review could be the start of your business’s downfall, since they spread like wildfire online. By establishing an online presence you will gain a valuable insight into what your clients and competitors are saying about you and, if it’s something bad, you can step in and rectify the issue before it goes viral.

Show your best side

Potential customers are online right now, researching your company before doing business with you. Some of them don’t know you well enough to make immediate decisions, and so will judge your business on the basis of the information that is available to them. Whatever the products or services you provide for customers, once the feedback appears online, it sticks. This is a chance to present your company in a good light to attract more customers, which converts into increased revenue.

Always remember that it can only take a few seconds to destroy a brand’s online reputation that took years to build. Contact us today for advice on how to build an online reputation for your business.

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 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 7th, 2015

164_HW_BIf you’re a fan of Google’s Chromebook line of laptops, you may be excited about their latest addition - the Pixel. Stocked with advanced features, such as a high-resolution touchscreen and USB type C ports, you may be chomping at the bit to get your hands on this brand spanking new piece of technology. But is it really worth it? We’ve put together a list of the pros and cons of Google’s latest addition to the Chromebook line, so you can make a better-informed decision as to whether or not you want to fork out the thousand bucks for it.

Pros

Slim and lightweight - who doesn’t love a sleek, compact new computer that’s easy to pack up and take with you on the go? The Pixel weighs in at 3.3 pounds and is only 0.6 inches thick. If portability is something you’re looking for in a laptop, then the Pixel is certainly an attractive option.

High-resolution touch screen - want a hi-res screen that’s more advanced than Apple’s latest offering? The Pixel doesn’t disappoint and surpasses the latest MacBook with a high-resolution touchscreen that is 13 inches, 239-pixel-per-inch.

Battery life - For people on the go, battery life is one of the main considerations when choosing a laptop. And in this respect, the Pixel truly delivers. Not only does it promise 12 hours of battery life when fully charged, but it can also charge up to two hours of battery in just 15 minutes.

USB Type C ports - still scratching your head wondering how the Pixel’s battery is able to charge so quickly? The USB Type C ports are what gives it this ability. Additionally, these ports speed up data transfers.

Cons

Price Tag - for a computer that relies heavily on a working internet connection, many users may question the $999 price tag. With previous versions of the Chromebook costing less than $200, it might be hard to justify purchasing the new version when it still has relatively limited capabilities.

Lack of storage space - when it comes to storage space, the Pixel only offers 32 and 64GB options. To help users swallow this deficiency more easily, the company is offering a free terabyte of storage on Google drive for three years. For those who want to create and edit documents on Google Docs, this is a near perfect solution. But for those who would like to actually edit and create documents on the Pixel itself, their options are limited. Downloading the familiar Microsoft Word, as well as other other apps and software, is not possible.

There’s little doubt that the Pixel’s new features, design and capabilities are impressive. But at the end of the day, it’s still a Chromebook - meaning it will be as heavily reliant on the internet as its predecessors are. And you have to ask yourself, is a Chromebook - regardless of features - really worth $1,000? Ask yourself what you'd really be using it for, how often you work offline and whether you're getting good value when compared with other laptops on the market.

Have more questions about the Pixel or other new hardware on the market? Give us a call and talk with one of our qualified hardware consultants.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
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.

April 29th, 2015

Security_Apr29_BThere have been many security breaches to big-name companies over the past few years - eBay, Adobe, Home Depot, and Sony Pictures to name a few. While large enterprises are primary targets for hackers, small and medium-sized businesses are also vulnerable, and therefore need to arm themselves against data security threats. More often than not it is impossible to undo the damage caused by hackers, but you can take certain steps to prevent it. Applying these simple security tips can help protect your company’s data.

Get rid of passwords

We are all accustomed to setting passwords to our online accounts, and the tip is always the same - set strong passwords, and change them regularly. But according to Verizon, a global communications and technology leader, a quarter of data breaches analyzed in this year’s report could’ve been stopped if the victimized company had applied more than a password in its defenses. The problem is that passwords can be used with any computer, which is why companies like Facebook and Google have replaced passwords with USB tokens. Tokens, when plugged into a company’s computer, act as a verification device and an extra layer of security.

Encrypt all data

Encryption is a great obstruction to hackers, since it scrambles and descrambles data each time someone tries to read it. Encryption also causes compatibility issues if the data is not being accessed via the company’s own network systems. While applying encryption can be costly, it is certainly well worth the money if it can protect your business data from leaking into the wrong hands.

Keep systems up-to-date

The technology world is moving at a fast pace. Hackers are always upgrading their tools to take advantage of outdated security systems, and so companies should do likewise to protect their valuable resources. Yet many companies who use software don’t install updates immediately. If the update intends to close security loopholes, delaying an update exposes you to external attacks. So install software updates as soon as they come out in order to give hackers no reason to penetrate your systems.

Back up frequently

Although you’ve implemented several security layers to your data, sometimes hackers can find their way in. This is why you need to back up data frequently, whether it’s on-site, off-site or by way of cloud backups. In the worst-case scenario if your systems do get infiltrated, you can restore lost data from those backups and quickly strengthen security.

Monitor connectivity

Many businesses have no idea how many computers they have, so it’s very hard to keep track of which computers are online. Sometimes a company’s computers and servers are online when they don’t need to be, making them a tempting target for attackers. With that in mind, it’s advisable to configure business servers properly, ensuring that only necessary machines are online and that they’re well-protected.

It’s much more expensive to fix a data breach than to prevent one. If you’re looking to check your business IT systems for potential threats, contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
April 27th, 2015

164_Soc_BDo you use social media for fun, but have no idea how to harness it to grow your business? You’re not alone. There are thousands of business owners out there who are clueless when it comes to social media as a networking and marketing tool. So to help you understand basic social media etiquette and how to network like a pro, we’ve given you a quick rundown of how to use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to benefit your business to the max.

Facebook

Many people think of Facebook as a useful platform to keep in touch with family, friends and colleagues. However, in a business sense, it can be used to exchange ideas and opinions, promote your brand, and interact with customers.

A proven strategy to grow a more engaged network here is to share informative, valuable articles that will benefit your followers. Additionally, posting photos that emphasize your unique selling proposition and mission is a strategic way to personalize your brand.

There are, however, a few no-nos when it comes to Facebook. With Facebook being predominantly a place to connect with family and friends, it’s easy to fall into the trap of posting whatever comes to mind. So when you’re wondering whether or not you should post a particular comment or image, ask yourself, “Would I be okay publishing this on the front page of a newspaper?” If the answer is no, it’s best to hold off on hitting the post button. Finally, if you’re using the platform in a business sense, avoid sharing pictures of your dinner, newborn baby or anything too personal. Your customers are likely to be confused or turned off.

LinkedIn

The social network that is most obviously suited for professional purposes is LinkedIn, and it’s an exceptional platform to grow your business. To do that, it’s important to keep your company information up to date and remain active on the platform. A couple of ways to generate activity are to share or comment on articles, join professional groups and update your network with current company milestones, events you’re attending and other news about your organization.

When it comes to growing your network on LinkedIn, there’s a big debate as to whether or not to connect with every Tom, Joe, Dick and Sally who sends you an invite. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but as far as brand awareness is concerned it makes sense to connect with more people. However, it’s a good idea to take a moment and do a quick profile check on the potential connection. Not everyone retains a professional profile and image on LinkedIn, and connecting with the wrong people could potentially hurt your reputation.

Twitter

Want to connect with people from around the world, stay on top of trends and share your ideas with professionals you respect? Twitter is the platform to do just that. Like the other two platforms mentioned above, you can also share articles and advice, and ask questions.

An element that makes Twitter especially unique is the hashtag, and you can use it to take your networking to another level. For example, if you’re attending an industry event or other networking opportunity, you can search Twitter for the associated event hashtag. This will help you discover who will be in attendance - like colleagues and professionals you’d like to meet - which gives you a great opportunity to maintain and grow your network.

Interested in finding out how else you can use social media to boost your business? Send us a message to find out more.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
April 24th, 2015

VoIPGeneral_Apr24_BHave you been waiting for WhatsApp to introduce voice calling? If so, the wait is over and free calls on the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) platform are finally here - at least they are if you happen to be an Android user. The instant messaging giant has finally released an update for the Android version of its app that enables free internet-based calls between WhatsApp users. Here are the essentials on the release, how to get it and a trap to beware of.

WhatsApp’s plan for the introduction of voice calling was first announced by its CEO Jan Koum in February 2014, and was due to have been available by last October. However, technical problems delayed the release until the first quarter of this year. When the voice calling feature did arrive, it was subject to a slow and somewhat complex invite-only rollout program whereby, unless you were personally selected by WhatsApp to try it first, you could only access voice calling if you had a friend with existing access who then called you with it. After taking their call, the feature was unlocked on your app and you could use it to call others too. The latest move to make the feature available to all users means no invite is now required.

To take advantage of the voice calling option, make sure you have downloaded at least version 2.12.5 of the free app from the Google Play store. Within the app’s Calls tab, tap the phone icon in the top right-hand corner. Select from the list of available contacts - which only includes those also setup with WhatsApp voice calling, and therefore for now only those on Android - and you’re off! iOS users need to wait a little longer, though WhatsApp founder Brian Acton has promised the feature is on the way in the near future (the voice calling button has been spotted in the latest release of WhatsApp for iPhone, but has yet to be activated). Yet an unofficial Cydia tweak known as WhatsApp Call Enabler makes this possible now, if not exactly recommended, on jailbroken iPhones.

Those eagerly anticipating the arrival of WhatsApp’s voice calling feature should be on their guard against attempts to prey on that enthusiasm. A number of phony messages are currently circulating on WhatsApp, by email and on the web, inviting users to click a link to activate voice calling within the app. Since no additional download is required to access voice calling - and indeed activating the capability this way is not possible - clicking the link will not achieve the desired outcome, and will instead leave you vulnerable to unintentionally installing malicious software and spreading the malware further.

Since its launch in 2009, WhatsApp has become a hugely popular instant messaging app worldwide. The platform now boasts 700 million active monthly users, and claims to handle 30 billion messages each and every day. Prior to the introduction of voice calling, the app’s use was limited to sending and receiving text messages, images and short sound recordings - meaning that a conversation of sorts was still technically possible by sending recordings back and forth, albeit in a more long-winded manner. But the implementation of live voice calling puts it on a par with the likes of Skype, and makes it more likely that VoIP will become mobile users’ preferred means of placing a call.

That is something which other apps have arguably failed to do on a large scale - despite Skype and others having long been mobile compatible - since the majority of mobile users still opt to make regular calls unless doing so is prohibitively expensive, for example to overseas. Provided it can get the user experience right and make the process of placing a call so intuitive that it becomes as natural feeling as it currently does to phone someone the old-fashioned way, WhatsApp could be about to tip that balance and make VoIP huge.

Want to learn how to implement VoIP in your business - whether on your office or cell phones - to cut costs and increase mobility and productivity? Give us a call and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP General
April 23rd, 2015

164_Virt_BFor decades, business owners have considered servers, data centers and IT staff a necessity for operations. 20 years ago, no one would have ever dreamed of a workplace without these integral tools. So it’s no wonder that virtualization has taken so long to catch on. When your business has relied on certain technologies for ages, it can be hard to let go. But in this day and age, the truth is that not letting go is now costing you money. That’s why we’ve compiled four questions to expose how IT without virtualization is eating into your profits.

Studies have shown that over 70% of IT budgeting is put towards simply “keeping the lights on.” If that sounds like a lot of money, that’s because it is. You’re likely spending thousands of dollars powering your IT equipment and paying your staff to manage it. And the truth is that it just doesn’t have to be that way. Virtualization can eliminate all those costs for a smoother running solution that you’ll never have to worry about.

So if you’re ready to examine your IT budget and see for yourself, here are 4 questions you need to ask:

1. What’s the cost of your data center?

We’re talking about the whole kit and caboodle: your servers, backup power supplies, air conditioning, security devices, and the overhead costs for the space to store all of this.

2. How much do you spend on cooling your servers?

Keeping your servers cool is a fact of life. Have you ever considered how much this is costing you?

3. How much is being budgeted towards cabling and adapters?

Don’t forget about these. We’re talking about not only the physical cables and adaptors, but also the costs of maintenance.

4. How much does it cost your IT staff to manage these resources?

It takes time for your staff to manage your IT. Time is money.

How does virtualization eliminate these costs? With virtualization you can kiss the data center, servers, cables and adapters goodbye (hello new office space). Instead, we store all your equipment off-site and deliver it to you via the Internet. Your computers and network continue to function normally. The only difference is they’re out of sight and out of mind. This equals lower maintenance costs, fewer overheads, less equipment, and fewer headaches.

And let’s not forget the time it costs to manage all of your IT equipment. With virtualization, we do this for you. This frees up the time of your current IT staff, allowing them to focus on more important things - like your business’s IT strategy and market changes. Better still, you may even have the option to completely eliminate the need for in-house IT staff. How’s that for cost savings?

Ready to make the switch to virtualization? Need more of your questions answered? Let’s talk today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.