Thursday, May 23, 2013

How Twitter transformed customer service

Technology support is notorious for its poor quality. Early on in the history of the Internet management decided that customer relations was not a core function of a company and that it could be outsourced. The consequence of this was that customer service was reduced to statistics, how many calls were handled and how quickly were issues resolved. Much hung upon the definition of resolved.

Whether technical support of billing issues, customers were confronted with telephone trees that were as time consuming as they were confusing. Technical support became the subject of bitter humor. Everybody knew it was bad, but since everyone had horrible customer support companies could get away with it.

Until Twitter.

All of a sudden your company's horrible customer service became a public embarrassment. At first PR people where hired to handle customer service issues on Twitter, until companies figured out that Twitter had to be integrated into their customer service response.

But what companies have still failed to comprehend is that customer service is a core function of any company. Customer service is public relations, it is how your company relates to the public and how the public experiences your brand. If customer service is poor your brand suffers.

When your company outsources customer service, and makes clear that customer service is a dead end job for employees with no future in the company, you are saying that customers are not important. The larger implications of Twitter customer service issues have yet to be understood.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Behind the scenes at Metro Connection

May's NetSquared meeting was a behind the scenes look at WAMU's Metro Connecton. Producer Tara Boyle and host Rebecca Sheir explained how they and their team of freelance reporters put together they show. A theme is chosen and they work up a series of stories connected to that theme.

For sources they use the Public Insight Network, a database of individuals who are available to be sources. Anyone can list themselves. In the past they have used sources like Help A Reporter Out, but found it unwieldy. As a flack, I too have found it unwieldy.

They also spoke about their use of their website and social media. Their website has evolved and continues to do so. They now want it to be a news source as well as hosting a mix of audio, text, and videos. While most of their audience continues to be on the air, they are pleased with the growth of their online audience. They have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. It seems that the Facebook page is more for audience engagement while Twitter is also used for research and identifying possible sources. Sheir described Twitter as more diverse because it is all public. She noted with some displeasure that Facebook wants you to pay just to reach out to your subscribers. I share her displeasure.

Edit -
Joe Logon writes his account of the evening: So That's What They Look Like: Behind the Scenes of WAMU's Metro Connection (NetSquared DC Meetup)

Elijah's blog at NetSquared

Thursday, May 16, 2013

To Facebook or not to Facebook

Judging from the results of my survey every business should be on Facebook. It is by far the largest social network. So why do I continue to stay away from Facebook except for personal use? I just don't think that it is the correct venue. Selling software on Facebook would be a little like selling software at the dog park. The decision makers may all be there, but the atmosphere just is not right.

Not a single respondent named Facebook as a source of tech news, while both Twitter and LinkedIn were. This reflects my own view that business conversations take place on Twitter and LinkedIn, not Facebook.

If you are a politician, celebrity, or non-profit, you do need to be on Facebook. People like to discuss and promote their favorite causes on Facebook. The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center is a great example of the effective use of Facebook by a non-profit. Gorgeous pictures of wildflowers help promote the use of native species of plants.

The other problem with Facebook is that they want you to pay for access to your subscribers. It is not enough that users subscribe to your feed, Facebook has a weird algorithm that determines what users actually see. In order to get past that algorithm, you have to pay. That might be worth it for a non-profit or politician, but not a technology company. You are better off using Twitter and LinkedIn to push out content.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Survey Results: What Tech Washington Reads

Given the small number of responses (fewer than 50), I cannot regard my survey as statistically significant. Having said that, the results are not without interest.

Most of the respondents were commercial sector, only one civil servant, a retired civil servant, a writer, a political activist, and two journalists. This is not surprising given that I aimed the survey at small entrepreneurs.

By far the most popular source of tech news is corporate web sites. This is in line with previous surveys and is a result that never ceases to amaze me. Clearly it behooves companies to pay attention to their website as people look to it as their preferred source of news. Close behind is the Google News Alert. Clearly everyone is their own executive editor. Subject matter rules, if you have the correct key words in your copy, you will get the traffic. We pay attention to SEO for a reason.

The remaining preferred sources of news, in descending order:
Federal Computer Week
New York Times
Wall Street Journal
Government Computer News
Wired Magazine
Washington Post
USA Today
Government Technology Magazine
Federal Times
CIO Magazine
Google Tech News
PC Magazine
The Economist
Washington Business Journal
Financial Times
Public CIO
Defense News
MIT Tech Review
CNN Tech
Inc Magazine
The Pew Internet & American Life Project
Potomac Tech Wire
PC World
Amtower Federal Direct
Dorobek Insider
Corporate Press Releases

I also asked respondents to volunteer other sources of news which I had not listed and received the following replies:
Industry Analyst
The Verge, Ars Technica, Twitter
Too many left off the list to specify here. Essentially, the list needs to be upgraded to include many more web-based sources. For me, as a developer, Smashing Magazine would rank high on the list.
And finally:
None of the above, they are useless for my business. I had to create custom Google Alerts, and even those miss the mark. Creative Cow,, Redshark News, the NAB show, and newsletters from various sites with products I am interested in.

I always find the "other" responses the most useful in my work as a PR practitioner. 

No surprises in the section on favorite business and tech blogs, Slashdot and Tech Crunch were the overwhelming favorites. Other favorites in descending order:
Ars Technica
Tech Dirt
Boing Boing
Read/Write Web
Joel on Software
None - that is don't read blogs
CMS Wire
Schneier on Security
Coding Horror
and, pleasantly enough, one respondent reads Presto Vivace Blog
Other blogs that were mentioned:
Bill Salm, Gizmodo, and Hacker News (YC)

I just put a space for respondents to lists their favorite business and technology podcasts, as I don't listen to podcasts. Responses included CNN, Paul Castain, and In Beta. One respondent said, "Those related to tutorials for the software that I use, but even those are rare. Podcasts are otherwise a waste of time, since you can't "speed read" and skip the jabber fluff, ads and jingles, or go straight to what you want to know very easily. News podcasts are too long, with too many stories. Each story should be a single file, so we can cut to the chase what we want to know without having to waste with the useless stuff."

Most respondents don't like aggregators, None was the most popular response, closely followed by Reddit. Clearly Reddit has arrived. PR practitioners must pay attention to Reddit, but be very careful. I am going to write a post about how to handle Reddit. The other poplar aggregators in descending order:
The Federal Contractor Network
In "other", I received the following responses:
and "More time wasting fluff sites."

Facebook is by far the most popular social network. Although, had I included LinkedIn as a choice it might have been the favorite. As it is, it was volunteered by two respondents, and mentioned in the "other" choice throughout this survey. LinkedIn is the community where people talk about their work. Govloop the other network marked by respondents.

In discussion groups by far the most popular choice was None. However, in the "other" section respondents mentioned P4hotel, LinkedIn, XML-Dev XSLT DITA, "Yahoogroups for specific industry issues and software" and, "LinkedIn and Ohio University/Vanderbilt University alumni discussion groups."

The biggest change from previous years is the shift away from the Washington Post. Now that Rob Pegoraro and other reporters have left, their readers have moved to other sources of tech news.

There were far too few respondents for this survey to be statistically significant. Some news sites are conspicuous by their absence in the responses. The only thing I would read into that is that this survey had too small a sample to be considered as serious market research. But it is not without interest.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

What Washington reads, preliminary survey results

I am still collecting responses to my survey of What Tech Washington Reads; but I thought that one response was worth sharing. I asked which social networks respondents preferred, Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus (I foolishly left out LinkedIn). One responded thus:

All the above have been taken over by ads and internet marketers. They are no longer social sites, but anti-social ad networks. Farcebook is the biggest farce of the bunch with impossible clutter to wade through, and Twitter is stuffed with compulsive twits. No thanks!
Clearly it behooves marketers to tread lightly. I am still collecting responses, you can participate here.

Monday, May 06, 2013

What is the best source of tech news?

Every year Presto Vivace conducts a survey of local technology entrepreneurs about their preferred source of technology news. The results of this survey will be posted on this blog.. This survey is not just helpful to me, but to the entire community in understanding where the technology conversation is taking place.

Here is a link to the survey: What Tech Washington Reads

Thanks for your participation!

Friday, May 03, 2013

How to creat viral content for social media

Judging from my Facebook feed, the chances of a business creating viral content are not good. People are interested in promoting their causes, political, social, cultural, and religious. They are not interested in promoting brands.

It is far more realistic to use your social channels, Facebook, YouTube, etc., as a way to strengthen existing relationships and give prospects a low pressure way to get to know you. You want your social media campaign to help with customer retention and lead generation. If you achieve these goals you have succeeded.

However, if you are determined to see your content on the front page of the Intenet as it were, there are ways to increase the possibility of that happening; go cute, go for humor, or go for inspiration.

 Adopting a cute mascot is a great way to gain attention, the Linux Penguin is an excellent example of this. Stay away from the obscure and difficult to pronounce. Free software's Gnu has never had the same box office appeal.

Humor is an excellent way to get attention, if you remember the golden rule of humor: good humor invites people in. It is good to laugh at yourself; it is never acceptable to laugh at others. Leave that to comedians and cartoonists. The classic Joe Izuzu commercial poked fun at the exaggerated claims of car salesmen while at the same time communicating that Izuzu offers excellent value for the price.

Inspiration is a great approach if you can get it right. Avoid empty inspirational proverbs that can make you look presumptuous and ridiculous. The recent Dove real beauty ad is an excellent example of appealing to inspiration. The commercial says that women are more beautiful than they give themselves credit for, which is a wonderful message. This commercial has over two million views on YouTube, an outstanding success.

It is better to set realistic goals for your social media campaign to build community and generate leads. But it is possible to create a viral campaign.

You can't manufacture back links

Recently, this blogger has received requests to run guest posts. Clearly, marketers have read all the SEO literature, attended the webinars, gone to the conferences, and are ready to manufacture back links. I don't think this is possible.

None of the blogs I read, and I read a great many, have guest posts. This indicates to me that bloggers are not interested in running guest posts. There are online publications that consist entirely of marketer's donated work. I am not enthusiastic about these. I am also concerned that Google's new algorithm will punish promiscuous back links.

When SEO advice contradicts your experience of the web, trust your experience.

There is a way to drive traffic to your site, buy it. You can purchase online advertising at the news publication  your prospects read. If you don't know what they read, ask them. Send out a survey. A survey is a great way to learn more about your customers and prospects. People like it when you ask for their opinion.

You could purchase a sponsored link on the homepage of their user group or trade association. That way you could get their attention in a way that builds community.

Or if cash flow is a problem, you could purchase a sponsored link at Reddit for as little as $20.

Advertising is SEO neutral, but it drives traffic to your site and generates leads, and that was the object wasn't it?

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Twitter is the new RSS

Gone are the days when we eagerly read each others blogs. People, at least tech people in the Potomac area, seem more focused in their reading. Twitter appears to be where engagement is taking place.

Subscribing to someone's twitter feed is such a tiny commitment that people are more likely to make it. Therefore, a Twitter account becomes a crucial tool for engaging prospects and building community. Use your Twitter account to promote your blog posts and other content.

Twitter is the online version of the pre-meeting social. It is a chance to meet people in a relaxed setting. Your Twitter content should mirror your pre-meeting chatter; it is OK to complain about the traffic, but you want to maintain a professional tone.

I like agricultural metaphors, and if you think of blog posts as seeds, then Twitter is the watering can.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Media relations in hard times

Rob Pegoraro has heard about a disturbing trend:
I learned a few things, none more disturbing than this: That some journalists--mostly tech freelancers, I was told--now regularly ask publicists to tweet out links to their work, noting that they get paid by how much traffic their stories generate.
Not a proud moment for the reporter, but as Pegoraro suggests, perfectly predictable. For the record, no one has asked me to do this.

A healthy news industry is in the interest of flacks. Therefore, we would be well advised to promote links to reporters in our respective fields whether or not they have written favorably about our clients. At a time when more and more positions are being cut, it is in our interest to demonstrate the news value of our practice area by driving up traffic to those stories.

And let us be realistic, reporters and editors are human. They are far more likely to open the email from someone who consistently promotes their work.

However, the practice of paying reporters based on page views is a poisonous one. It is not simply that the skills of reporting a story are different from the skills of promotion. It is only a question of time before some PR firm writes a bot that will artificially boost page views. It would work like a slow motion denial of service attack, boosting pages views without crashing the server. Measuring reporters by page views is simply asking for trouble.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Wrong channel miscommunications

By now we are all familiar with the unfortunate person on Twitter who accidentally uses the company account when they meant to use their personal account to say something. To reduce the chance of this happening I always use a different browser for client work, that way you are clear in your mind on what you are working on.

Just one of those tips that makes online life easier.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Attention comment spammers

You can buy a sponsored link on Reddit for as little as $20. Or you could buy some paid search at your friendly neighborhood search engine. Or you could advertise on Twitter. There are many legitimate things you could do to drive traffic to your site. Unlike comment spam, these techniques would actually work.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New to me local tech blogs

GSA News Blog from the Government Development Center

Seville Government Consulting Blog

Small Government Contractors, Legal news and notes for small government contractors Published by Steven Koprince

Hattie's Hammer

Public Contracting Institute

GaggleAMP Blog

The Digital Influence Mapping Project with John Bell

Supply Chain Nation, The Supply Chain blog from JDA

The View from Landmark, Trends and issues in personal computing from Bud Stolker, a long-time PC consultant. The View from Landmark features tips and techniques to make time spent with your computer more productive and rewarding, commentary on new personal computer policies and trends, plain-English explanations of new hardware, software, and network designs and their relevance to you, and answers to common questions. There may be personal material interspersed if Bud believes it is of general interest.

Madwolf Technologies, a managed services company


CDW Solutions blog

Claraview Blog

Cranium Softworks

Dataprise – CEO Blog, Dataprise CEO David E Eisner's Personal Blog



Expert Choice


Media relations for technology companies

First of all social media is a subset of media. Certainly special considerations apply to social media, but it should be treated as an aspect to your overall media relations effort.

Start by identifying the reporters who cover your field. While it may sound counter intuitive, you should define your business as narrowly as possibly, at least for internal purposes. Your chances of placing a story will be greatly enhanced by sending it to the reporters who cover that precise beat.

Get familiar with the reporters before you send them a pitch. If you don't have time to do that and run your business, hire a professional. Getting familiar with reporters is easier than ever. Almost all technology reporters are on Twitter, follow them. Even if you are not inclined to Twitter, you should have an account for listening purposes.

If you are a small company, your chances of placing a story are more difficult that ever, With publishers cutting positions, the competition for remaining space is tougher than ever. On the other hand, you can just use a press release service to put your story out and at least it will be on the web to be picked up by search engines. You should also put it on your website, in html. For small news announcements, a blog post should suffice.

Blog posts should occur regularly, not necessarily often, but predictably. Refreshing content gives people a reason to return to your site. Again, if you don't have time to blog regularly, hire a professional.

Now the big question, to Facebook or not to Facebook, that is the question. At this time I would say not if you don't want to. For software companies Facebook is still optional. If you are selling directly to consumers, I encourage you to set up a Facebook page and regularly update its content. If you don't have time, or are not inclined, hire a professional.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

NIEM 3.0 Public Review

The National Information Exchange Model (the data model used by law enforcement and first responders) has made NIEM 3.0 available for public review from today until May 6, 2013. NIEM is looking for both technical and non-technical comments. If you have an opinion about this now is the time to comment

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The limits of keyword libraries

George Hulme explains it brilliantly:

it's the holistic optimized way to a solutions approach to communication utilization
For paid search a proper keyword library is absolutely essential. However, using it for blogging and other online copy writing will produce the sort of copy that only a search engine bot could love..

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Who is your audience?

Do you know the names of the reporters who cover your industry? If you are a flack you do; but if you are a business owner you might not. You might know who your favorite reporters are, but not everyone who covers your industry. You should know them (or hire someone who does know them). If those reporters are on Twitter, you need to follow them.

You should follow your customers, your competitors, your employees (not to check up on them, but to learn from them, have some faith in your hiring process), industry analysts, and anyone prominent in your industry. 

Social media is your virtual store front window. It gives prospects and reporters a chance to view your business in a very low pressure manner. It gives them a preview of what to expect.

Social media is the online version of the social hour before a business meeting. It is an occasion to exchange gossip and get to know people personally. In other words, social media is a chance to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. That is why too much attention to SEO and search engines is so destructive. It diverts your attention from where it needs to be, on your human audience.

Blog around the Potomac

Jessica Robertson gives us the Federal Communicator's Toolbox for Personalization.

Ben Licciardi talks about the searches that are as much about  learning and problem-solving as they are about locating.

Gary Climo explains that with Big Data setups, the rule is collect the data first and worry about it later.

More of the local zeitgeist on Potomac Tech Twitter list.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cyber Security Framework Workshop, April 3, 2013

The April 3 workshop was mobbed, the Department of Commerce auditorium was filled to capicity. I assumed that it would be thinly attended like the meetings of the Federal XML work group; but there must have been something like 500 people there. Clearly people are interested and are planning on following the process very closely. I hope that means that we will build a better standard that gains broad compliance.

This workshop was designed to gain industry's perspective. The first panel had Russell Schrader of VISA, Terry Rice of Merck, Michael Paypay of Northrop Grumman, and Reid Stephan of St. Lukes Health System.

Russell Schrader of VISA described the Executive Order as sensible, and was pleased with the request for private sector feedback. He also expressed the need for international cooperation, and that there is so much more to be done.

Schrader described security as being core to VISA's brand promise. He reminded that audience that VISA as one of the founding members of the Payment Card Industry Council, and suggested that PCI offers a template for cyber security coopoeration. He described the PCI system as scalable from the small merchant to the large.

Schrader described cyber security as a continuing process, that there is no box to be checked. He described VISA's approach as Prevent, Protect, and Respond, saying that, "we try to stop trouble before it begins."

Schrader called on NIST to build on what already exists and aim for global scalability. He was especially concerned that NIST not create contradictory procedures.

He stressed the need for information sharing, and that it was necessary to create a legal framework for law enforcement. (I assume that he meant over and above the work of NEIM.)

Michael Paypay, Chief Information Security Officer for Northrup Grumman, described his work as "where the rubber meets the road". He said that it was extremely important to Northrup protect the information that the government has entrusted to them.

Paypay described the defense industry as having a collaborative approach, going on to describe himself as "representing all my aerospace brothers." He said that cyber security not an area where aerospace competes, but rather they cooperate.

Paypay observed that there is no common lexicon of roles and responsibilities in cyber security. He also said that bench-marking against other people can be a problem. He described government "best practices" as very helpful, in particular NIST 800-53.

He said that it was important to identify what is appropriate for your business, going on to say that you cannot simply protect protect your perimeter; but that it was necessary to build a layered defense, and go through each layer in order to identify risk.

Reid Stephan said that it had been an eye opening experience to join health care industry, we are catching up to other industries. He said that the National Health ISAC looks to existing standards such as the 800-30 guide to risk assessment. He suggested that it was better to integrate existing standards and best practices rather than building something from scratch. Stephan pointed out that cyber security risk management had to be balanced with business risk management, going on to say a risk based approach rather the control based approach would be more practical.

Stephan lamented the lack of robust intra and inter industry collaboration, and that the framework needs to address this sort of collaboration. He went on to observe that the cyber security framework will will never be finished, but become a dynamic standard.

Terry Rice of Merck thanked Commerce and NIST for hosting the workshop. Rice pointed out that life sciences, including pharmaceuticals, has been identified as critical infrastructure. The pharmaceutical industry is already working with DHS to protect their information.

Rice reiterated the point others had made, that cyber security is not binary - as in one is not either secure or insecure. He lamented lack of metrics for risk assessments and said that NIST is in a good position to help with this. Rice said that in 2005 the pharmaceutical industry established a not for profit organization to establish digital standard standard for a bio-pharma digital signature. He said that security required authenticity, that is non-repudiable information. He described the NIST-800-63 guidelines as useful.

He reminded the audience that the DEA has established a standard for doctors' digital signature for controlled substances. Rice also spoke about the need for anonymity for persons searching for information about sensitive medical conditions.

Rice pointed out the need for skilled workers, lamenting that computer security is not a required for computer college students.

Rice echoed others call for an international approach, for example, how would the cyber security framework apply to a foreign owner of critical infrastructure?

He said that we have to include privacy as part of the framework. In this he underscored the Executive Order's inclusion of the federal government existing privacy guidelines.

At this point Patrick Gallagher opened it up for a general discussion asking, "How do we support adoption? How should the framework think about supporting adoption?

Michael Paypay said that everyone in the company has to be trained in security. He said that Northrup Grumman's spear phishes their own employees, providing remedial training for people who get it wrong. 

Both Stephan and Rice pointed out that good compliance does not equal security. It is necessary to make sure that people understand, and you have to tread carefully when dealing with doctors.

Schrader said that you have to make sure people understand the need for security procedures.

Gallagher asked Schrader how VISA persuades its service centers and merchants be compliant. Schrader replied that VISA merchants are looking for something to implement that makes sense for their situation. 

Panelists agreed that we need safe guards around data, whether in storage and transit.

Paypay observed that not all threats are the same. DDoS not affect business like Northrup Grumman as "we don't do business through the website."

Panelists agreed on the need to establish common vulnerabilities and not create new standards where there is an existing one.

Terry Rice talked about the need for metrics to measure and manage risk.

Gallagher asked the panelists how they talked about risk, and their bosses role in risk management, "how do you make cyber secuirty relavent to the C Suite? Schrader replied, "look at the daily paper, you can't run a company without knowing about these incidents, education not necessary at VISA."

Reid Stephan said that one "can't take a fear approach." It is necessary to have a consistent process to measure risk, and establish a relationship and seen as a partner, that gets you a "seat at the table."

Michael Paypay said that at Northrup-Grumman "we are lucky because our executives understand this. Also, our customers are highly educated about cyber security- they don't have a cut and dry practice for security."

Gallagher pointed out that in the US the government does not establish cyber security standards - "how can we exploit the fact that we work together?"

Schrader said that "you don't want to codify standards" because of the continuing changes in IT.

The next Cyber Security Framework Workshop will take place in Pittsburgh from May 29 through 31

Cyber Security Framework website

Grant Gross: US NIST: Industry should lead creation of cybersecurity framework

Brian Browdie: Cybersecurity Framework Demands Input from Industry, Official Says

J. Nicholas Hoover: No Bold Moves On U.S. Cybersecurity Framework

Jason Miller: NIST, industry begin journey to develop cyber framework

Molly Bernhart Walker: NIST sorting comments on cybersecurity framework

Monday, April 01, 2013

We provide solutions for our customers' culinary needs

So what is the business? Is it a pizza delivery service? A Chinese restaurant? Or is it a grocery store? It could be any of the above.

No Pizza place, Chinese restaurant, nor grocery store would describe itself in such a manner; but this is common in technology. Every other industry describes itself in clear terms with an eye to catching the eye of its prospective customers.

I don't know why technology marketers embrace such vague copy. I thought that SEO would change this. After all, if you are a Cloud Computing company, it is in your SEO interest to say so on your homepage. Your company has a better chance of floating to the top of search results if you describe your services in the clearest possible terms. But for whatever reason, technology continues to embrace the sales killing rhetoric of IT market speak.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

We offer solutions to help customers achieve business objectives

It is sad how many IT companies, especially government contractors employ such language to describe their business. Look at the website of almost any IT company and you will be hard pressed to work out what they actually do. I cannot work out why marketers are so obtuse about this.

Are you a cloud computing provider? System integrator? Web services consultant? Software tools developer? Web designer and content management company? Just say so.

Do you develop software for the financial services sector? Data visualization to the military? Records management for the legal market? Just say so. 

I have never understood IT's aversion to direct communication.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The power of the free sample

Brite Technologies offers free instructions for virus removal to highly skilled computer users. What a brilliant idea.

New to me local blogs

Security Debrief, Security Debrief is a blog dedicated to homeland security, terrorism and counter-terrorism, intelligence and law enforcement that provides context to the debates, policies and politics that are playing out in Washington, D.C. ...

... Security Debrief is produced by Adfero Group and The George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute.

ECC IT Solutions

ThinkTech Blog, the blog of FedSolutions

Cloud Market Views, the blog of Virtustream

Straight Tech, the TMI blog, from Technology Management, Inc.

Turtle Wings blog, a blog about recycling electronic waste.

Managing Technology, the blog of Visular

The Interactive Files: Squash Errors, not Bugs!, From Wellfire Interactive

Whitehorse Technology Solutions

Accelera Solutions

Salient Federal Solutions

AETEA Information Technology

Thursday, March 21, 2013

More arrogance from Google/Blogger

I went to make some minor tweaks to my sidebar, hit update, and got a whole new design. That would not be so bad, except, in its infinite wisdom, Blogger decided to erase my entire sidebar of laboriously collected links.

 Jerking your users around really isn't a great way to do business. It is true that Blogger is a free tool, but it only has value because so many of us worked very hard to build up our blogs. To have all that work suddenly snatched from you simply because blogger decided they wanted to make design changes is aggravating beyond words. Shame on Blogger, shame on Google.

Monday, March 18, 2013

When control gets out of control

Having a PR C risis? There's Probably an App for That
Indeed, brands want more control over what appears on franchisees’ Facebook and Twitter pages. Ray Wert, co-founder of automotive marketing agency Tiny Toy Car, said rogue messaging often damages brands in his space. 
"Many crisis communications issues are caused on the sales front," Wert said. "Carmakers are looking for tools to help dealerships be good social media actors." Software providers, take note.
As a PR pro, I am not enthusiastic about centralized control. Time is one of the most important element in crisis management. Letting a situation simmer while senior management decides how to respond gives a minor discussion in social media snow ball into a major PR disaster. Sometimes a swift response from a worker bee is the best way to calm a social storm. I am trying to think of a major PR crisis that was caused by a rogue franchisee or low level employee, and I cannot think of one. However, I can easily name a hundred PR disasters precipitated by the actions of senior management. It is difficult to believe that trying to control the social media of franchisees it going to enhance engagement with one's customers.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Advertising is cheaper than comment spam

Now that I have begun to post more regularly to this blog I have seen a surge of comment spam. Sigh.

Sadly it appears to be coming from humans rather than bots. So someone is paying for humans to do this, or has purchased fancy bots.

You know what would be cheaper and actually effective? Would generate site traffic to your website and generate good will? Paid advertising.

You can buy a week's worth of advertising on low traffic blogs from Blogads for as little as $1000. Or you can purchase a sponsored post on Reddit, which will appear on the top of the sub-Reddit you select, prices begin at $20. Or you can purchase some keywords on Google, Yahoo, or any other search engine.

What a great name for a Communications blog!

Say no to mean, I Say What I Mean, but I Don't Say it Meanly The thoughts and words of Diana M. Rodriguez

 She has some excellent tips for email, my personal favorite:
Don’t #2 Texting acronyms: Many college students will be in for a rude awakening if they believe that acronyms that are used in text messages are acceptable when writing business emails. For example, using the acronym “GTG” for “good to go” will not be accepted or understood. In an office environment is best to stick with clear, concise wording and limit the use of abbreviated acronyms that the receiver may or may not understand.
Readers of this blog know that I try to stay away from acronyms of any kind. Between federal acronyms, military acronyms, and technology acronyms, room for confusion is too great. We should try to set a good example for our clients.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

We sell to people, not search engines

The Guardian has a great piece on the confusion about the hype around content marketing:

The danger for brands getting caught up in this is that they are indeed viewing it as a panacea. Rushing in, rather than remaining firmly focused on their customer, their interests, passions, anxieties and hopes, to try and understand what sort of content they're interested in. 
Most importantly, why they'd ever want to hear it from you and why you're bothering producing it in the first place. 
If the answer to that question is "to drive SEO, to get round the Google Panda update, to help social sharing, to reduce our bounce rate on our website", your move into content marketing is only going to benefit the content marketing salesmen.
It is useful to have a library of keywords and a social media calendar to give your social media effort form; but if you don't engage your audience it is just so much more blather on the internet. When you write you should have a specific audience in mind. It makes it easier to write meaningful prose.

Friday, March 01, 2013

NIST asks for help in building cybersecurity framework

NIST to build cybersecurity framework, with your help
The Cybersecurity Framework will be a set of voluntary standards and best practices to guide industry in reducing cyber risks to the networks and computers that support critical infrastructure vital to the nation's economy, security and daily life, according to the NIST announcement published in the Federal Register. ...
...The first meeting will be held April 3 at NIST headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md. Registration information is available here.
If you have concerns about cybersecuirty or privacy, I urge you to participate in these discussions."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Social Media and the Italian election

The Guardian has a tremendous article about How Beppe Grillo's social media politics took Italy by storm. More accurately, it is the story about how Grillo used social media to spread his message of radical populism. Grillo's message resonated with an electorate who feels it has been betrayed by traditional leaders, both political and media. Therefore, social media was the logical tool for spreading Grillo's message.

Head on the internet, and feet on the ground, as Grillo himself puts it.

So what does this mean for the developer of software tools for the federal market? Presumably you have a Facebook page, or a Google Plus page, or at least a Twitter account. Wherever you have established your online presence, you have identified your community. So, when you have an event, invite your followers.

Realistically you can't hold a rally and have thousands of people cheering for your software tools, or web widgets. But you can generate a steady flow of traffic to your booth at the trade show and/or guarantee a full room when you present at a conference or the monthly meeting of a user group. For purposes of building a prosperous company, that is sufficient.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pre-fab online presence

Have you noticed those manipulative Facebook posts, "like" if you hate cancer and so forth? It seems that the more "likes" your posts receive, the higher your EdgeRank. What is EdgeRank you ask?

EdgeRank is an algorithm developed by Facebook to govern what is displayed—and how high—on the News Feed.
Just because someone has "friended" you, it does not follow that you will get to see their posts. Facebook has a complicated algorithim that decides what goes into your feed. You don't see all the material that has been posted by your friends and the pages you have "liked." Facebook, not you, decides what you really like.

So, if you want to build a page with a very high EdgeRank, you post manipulative posts asking readers to support a cure for cancer.

All about those Facebook "like" scam posts

Businesses worldwide are trying to figure out how to best utilise platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus (haha, na I’m just kidding about Google Plus). They know that EdgeRank, likes, brand exposure and followers are important, even if they don’t know exactly why or what to do with it.
So a social media consultant manufactures a page with a high edgerank and sells it to some business who wants a page with high EdgeRank, but does not know how to build it. You know what would be cheaper and more effective than buying a pre-fab fan page from a social media consultant? Building a page on Facebook, putting interesting content on that page, and then buying advertising from Facebook to generate traffic, and ultimately EdgeRank. Sometimes paying the Facebook toll is the superior solution.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

NIST issues RIF for Cybersecurity Framework

NIST has issued a RIF for Cybersecurity Framework (PDF), which will soon be published in the Federal Register. The Information Technology Laboratory of NIST has created a web site for Cybersecurity Framework.

Interested parties need to study the Request for Information, and make whatever response they deem appropriate. Those with questions and concerns should contact

Most of us can content ourselves with watching the Cybersecurity Framework website. I am hoping to attend the local events.

The Cybersecurity Framework

I suggest that everyone who is interested read the Executive Order -- Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity before you read the news coverage. It is not long and is reasonably clear.

Clearly, much depends upon how this is implemented. I would encourage all those who are interested to participate in the process. Now is the time to speak out, before the Executive Order is implemented.

I would draw particular attention to Section 7:

Sec. 7. Baseline Framework to Reduce Cyber Risk to Critical Infrastructure. (a) The Secretary of Commerce shall direct the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (the "Director") to lead the development of a framework to reduce cyber risks to critical infrastructure (the "Cybersecurity Framework"). The Cybersecurity Framework shall include a set of standards, methodologies, procedures, and processes that align policy, business, and technological approaches to address cyber risks. The Cybersecurity Framework shall incorporate voluntary consensus standards and industry best practices to the fullest extent possible. The Cybersecurity Framework shall be consistent with voluntary international standards when such international standards will advance the objectives of this order, and shall meet the requirements of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Act, as amended (15 U.S.C. 271 et seq.), the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 (Public Law 104-113), and OMB Circular A-119, as revised.

What goes into the frame work and what is left out will determine what sort of cyber culture we will live with. And by "we" I don't merely mean Americans, this framework is sure to affect the entire industry.

The Executive Order clearly  requires a consultative process that will include a public comment process. Section 5 sets for the privacy and civil liberties protections that are to be based on the Fair Information Practice Principles. Privacy and civil liberties advocates would be well advised to familiarize themselves with these principles.

I would also note the deadlines the Executive Order establishes (listed in order of the deadlines):
Within 90 days of the publication of the preliminary Framework, these agencies shall submit a report to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, the Director of OMB, and the Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs, that states whether or not the agency has clear authority to establish requirements based upon the Cybersecurity Framework to sufficiently address current and projected cyber risks to critical infrastructure, the existing authorities identified, and any additional authority required.
(b) If current regulatory requirements are deemed to be insufficient, within 90 days of publication of the final Framework, agencies identified in subsection (a) of this section shall propose prioritized, risk-based, efficient, and coordinated actions, consistent with Executive Order 12866 of September 30, 1993 (Regulatory Planning and Review), Executive Order 13563 of January 18, 2011 (Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review), and Executive Order 13609 of May 1, 2012 (Promoting International Regulatory Cooperation), to mitigate cyber risk. The Secretary shall coordinate establishment of a set of incentives designed to promote participation in the Program. 
Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security (the "Secretary"), and the Director of National Intelligence shall each issue instructions consistent with their authorities and with the requirements of section 12(c) of this order to ensure the timely production of unclassified reports of cyber threats to the U.S. homeland that identify a specific targeted entity.
(c) To assist the owners and operators of critical infrastructure in protecting their systems from unauthorized access, exploitation, or harm, the Secretary, consistent with 6 U.S.C. 143 and in collaboration with the Secretary of Defense, shall, within 120 days of the date of this order, establish procedures to expand the Enhanced Cybersecurity Services program to all critical infrastructure sectors.
Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Secretary and the Secretaries of the Treasury and Commerce each shall make recommendations separately to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and the Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs, that shall include analysis of the benefits and relative effectiveness of such incentives, and whether the incentives would require legislation or can be provided under existing law and authorities to participants in the Program.
(e) Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Defense and the Administrator of General Services, in consultation with the Secretary and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council, shall make recommendations to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and the Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs, on the feasibility, security benefits, and relative merits of incorporating security standards into acquisition planning and contract administration. The report shall address what steps can be taken to harmonize and make consistent existing procurement requirements related to cybersecurity.

Sec. 9. Identification of Critical Infrastructure at Greatest Risk. (a) Within 150 days of the date of this order, the Secretary shall use a risk-based approach to identify critical infrastructure where a cybersecurity incident could reasonably result in catastrophic regional or national effects on public health or safety, economic security, or national security. In identifying critical infrastructure for this purpose, the Secretary shall use the consultative process established in section 6 of this order and draw upon the expertise of Sector-Specific Agencies.

(e) Within 240 days of the date of this order, the Director shall publish a preliminary version of the Cybersecurity Framework (the "preliminary Framework"). Within 1 year of the date of this order, and after coordination with the Secretary to ensure suitability under section 8 of this order, the Director shall publish a final version of the Cybersecurity Framework (the "final Framework").
(c) Within 2 years after publication of the final Framework, consistent with Executive Order 13563 and Executive Order 13610 of May 10, 2012 (Identifying and Reducing Regulatory Burdens), agencies identified in subsection (a) of this section shall, in consultation with owners and operators of critical infrastructure, report to OMB on any critical infrastructure subject to ineffective, conflicting, or excessively burdensome cybersecurity requirements.
I trust that those tasked with creating the Framework will follow the excellent example of the Federal XML Work Group by setting up a website where the rest of us can follow their work. It is particularly important that the minutes of their meetings be posted in a timely manner and that their email discussion groups be publicly posted. This will build trust and increase the chances of a smooth adoption and implementation of whatever Framework is established.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Blog around the Potomac

Inside Adams (from the Library of Congress) talks about football and turf grass.

Appian posts a guide to modeling and reporting.

Ted Voss talks about the federal mobile computing summit.

Fit & Finish talks about Achieving Balance and Harmony on Your Next Digital Project - Introducing "The UX Chakra Model"

Celia Kang reports that Mobile Internet use expected to surge
And people will use their mobile devices more than home computers to access the Internet.
This reflects what I have been hearing at local tech events.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

In defense of social media experts

The Onion has a very funny video on social media experts.

So what is the value of social media experts? Why would anyone hire us? The genius of social media experts is understanding online conversations. Our skill is knowing how to present content in such a way that amplifies its impact. Lets take a well known example. Someone, no one knows who, secretly filmed Mitt Romney at a fundraiser where he said that 47% of Americans would not support him because there were dependent upon government handouts. And there the matter would have rested, on an obscure YouTube channel where almost no one would see it. Even the most sensational content needs promotion.

As we all know, a certain James Carter chanced upon it while surfing YouTube. Carter forwarded the video to a reporter at Mother Jones Magazine, and the rest is history. Carter did this as a Democrat, and a loss leader for his political consulting business. So if anyone wants to know the value of what we do, here it is. We take content that would other wise remain obscure and pitch it to someone, traditional media or online community, where people would be interested. It is very similar to traditional media relations, where you take a client's story and pitch it to the news organization that would be interested.

Done properly, there is great value in social media consulting.


Ryanair's new comms chief to eschew social media
Noting the existence of more than one fake Ryanair account on Facebook and Twitter, which have significant consumer followings, Kiely said: 'A Facebook account would not be helpful to us, as we would have so many people looking for a response.'
He called the social network a 'two-way tool' and said maintaining a dedicated account would probably mean 'hiring two more people just to sit on Facebook all day'.
Presumably, responding to the public is what a company hires a communications chief to do. Or does he suppose that he can just issue statements to the traditional news media, which they would duly print, and take no account of the general public, also known as Ryanair's customers and potential customers?

If responding to the public requires you set up a Facebook account and respond to their concerns all day, then that is what you need to do.

Friday, February 01, 2013

A professional looking press release is not the same as an effective press release

If you want to write a press release that actually gets placed with a news organization, don't model your news release on other news releases, model it on the style of the news organizaton you want ot place it with. If you want to place your story in the Washington Post, write like the stories you see in the Washington Post.

If you go to a trade show you will see hundreds of press releases, and they all read the same. It is truly a pity, because most of them have interesting stories to tell.

Too many press releases are written to be professional looking rather than newsworthy. If you put the phrase "leading provider of" in the first paragraph, you need to rewrite your release. Describe your company in the simplest way possible, say you are a content management company, or financial software company, or SaaS provider, or something the reader can easily understand.

Put your news in the headline or at least the first paragraph. It is astonishing how often this obvious technique is overlooked.

Here is an easy test to find out whether your news release is effective, give to a friend or family member and ask if they understand it. If they don't, it needs to be rewritten. Even the most technical stories can be communicated to a lay audience.

No one will struggle to understand what your product or service does. No one will struggle to understand why it is newsworthy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Social Media is your friend if you will make it so

Tom Foremki has some advice for marketing people and others who won't join Facebook, Twitter.
If it has to do with your job, then you need to join them. You have to be in them to know them.
I have to admit, I was shocked by his report. I thought that by now everyone in PR and marketing communcations had caught on that there was this thing called social media and it offers tremendous opportunities for engagement and tremendous risks for those who ignore it. I could understand that back in 2004 marketers had still not caught on to the importance of social media; but surely now people would understand. Even more puzzling is that Foremski operates out of Silicon Valley, where one would imagine social media adoption would be at its highest. Can it be that the Potomac area is ahead of Silicon Valley in this one respect?

As Foremski points out, you don't have to actually participate, you can just lurk. But understand, your competition understands the value of social media. We understand how, by the use carefully chosen key words, we can attract additional site traffic. We understand how we can use Facebook to highlight client news. We understand how to use Twitter to engage and build community.

More to the purpose your competition is familiar with the many tools of social media to analyze online coverstiaons.

Marketers and PR pros can no more ignore social media than they can ignore the news media. It is part of presenting our clients to the general public. Anyone still holding back should listen to For Immediate Release, the podcast by the celebrated duo of Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz, which talks about the intersection of public relations and social media.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Telling the world about Modern Monetary Theory

Mike Norman does not think that MMT advocates are doing a very good job at communicating the concept of fiat currency. He criticizes MMT advocates as being too wonky for the lay audience. I agree with him only in one respect. Nowhere on the Web is there a brief catchy definition of MMT. Here is one my friends and I put together, which will have to do until we come up with something better.
Modern Monetary Theory is a school of economics asserting that:
-- The currency itself is a simple public monopoly; -- Governments provision themselves by creating taxes that cause people to sell real goods and services to get the funds they need to pay their taxes, and then by purchasing the goods and services they desire with their otherwise worthless currencies;
-- Since the economy needs the government's money to pay its taxes, the value of the currency depends on the prices govt. pays when it spends;
-- For a given size of government, unemployment is the evidence that the government is either overtaxing the economy, or spending too little to compensate for any residual desire to save;
-- Governments with fiat currencies create money at will when they spend, and destroy money when taxes are paid, further indicating that taxes function to regulate the economy, and not to collect revenue per se; 
-- The currency is a governmental tool that in a democracy is created and maintained to promote public purpose, and to provide for the general welfare.
We know, this needs to be shorter. Our real problem is the problem of shifting public debate from an idea that, however obviously erroneous, has been implanted in the public mind for decades: that the federal budget bears any resemblance to a household budget. Shifting public opinion is a little like turning an ocean liner, it cannot be done quickly.

I had never heard of Modern Monetary Theory until the spring of 2010, when I atteneded the Fiscal Sustainability Teach-In Counter Conference; which was organized to counter a Pete Peterson anti-Social Security conference that was organized for the same day. As I recall, Warren Mosler opened the conference and just blew me away with his presentation on Modern Monetary Theory. It was like watching little Toto pulling back the curtain. When I found out that Mosler was running for the US Senate from Connecticut, I immediately offered my services and found my self managing his Senate campaign.

Thus I found myself in the position of having to explain MMT to hundreds of voters who were not interested in economic theory, but were interested in policies that could lead to economic recovery. I heard all the common Weimar inflation fear mongering, but the real problem was getting heard at all.

Warren Mosler's campaign was a turning point, and I am very proud of the role I played in it. We managed to catapult his ideas for economic prosperity into the mainstream, specifically his idea for a FICA holiday. Unfortunately it was only a tiny FICA holiday, which is why the recovery was so muted. Even more unfortunate, the FICA holiday has ended, withholding has gone up with its deleterious effect upon our economy.

Pete Peterson and his fellow deficit hysterics have been pouring money into his propoganda machine, buying politicians, think tanks, and even journalists to parrot his talking points. MMT is limited to a group of determined bloggers, mostly eonomists, trying to ge the word out.

So it is remarkable that we were able to catapult the idea of the Platinum Coin into the mass media, at least for a few weeks. Still, we need to do a better job of getting the word out. I am working on putting together a MMT talk show. Send word to if you would like to know more.

Edit -
There is a great discussion of this over at Mike Norman's blog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


At tonight's meeting of Net Squared there was a great deal of discussion about games. Both panelists and members of the audience seemed to think that games are a great way to cultivate your audience and engage your community. I had not previously considered the community aspect of games, but this is certainly something I will have to explore.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Clarissa Peterson talks about Content Strategy for Responsive Websites

Clarissa Peterson spoke to the January meeting of Web Content Mavens about building responsive websites. A responsive website is one that automatically adjusts the display to suit the device of the user, whether it be a common cell phone, or a giant screen desktop. Obviously this poses many challenges for web designers.

She opened her presentation by observing that "websites for mobile mostly suck". She further observed that "mobile web strategy is the same as web strategy, but without ignoring mobile," and that responsive web design is where we are going."

The Boston Globe one of the first responsive web sites, it easily adjusts the display to suit the user's device.

Adaptive technique is how you adapt content arrangement to display on different screen sizes.

Peterson observed that there are a lot of really bad responsive websites, going on to say that, "it's not like we nailed web design before we tried responsive design."

Peterson suggested that designers keep in mind the context in which people are viewing information and discard the idea that people only use mobile for activities on the run. She went on to point out that there is no mobile web, there is only one web, which we view in different ways.

Not all cell phones are smart phones, Peterson pointed out that you have to accommodate those users. (As someone who has an old fashioned cell phone, this was a welcome observation. My hosting company, Hostway, in most ways an excellent hosting service, has a webmail system that is virtually unusable with my cell phone.) Peterson said that 17% cell phone users browse the web on their phones, so it is an error to assume that people are using their computers. Indeed, the demarcations between cell phone/tablet/laptop are becoming increasingly blurred.

Peterson observed that the beauty of the web is openness, you want to be available to everyone. Therefore you need content parity, users of cell phones must be able to access your website's content, just as a computer user would be able to view it. She said Consumer Reports is an example of a website that fails to make all of its content available to cell phone users, specifically the recall information is not available to cell phone users.

At this point there were several questions about 508 requirements. Peterson repeated her view that web designers must make their sites available to all, without regard to device or the special needs of the user.

When asked about clients who do not wish to pay for responsive sites, Peterson urged designers to educate their clients about the necessity of responsive design. Audience members agreed that static sites would just have to be completely rebuilt as responsive sites two years down the road.

Continuing to emphasize the need to design for all users, Peterson reminded her audience that iPhones do not read flash, and therefore it was necessary to give iPhone users a non-flash alternative to view content.

Peterson offered examples of good responsive websites:
World Wildlife Fund
Emeril's New Orleans - rare example of good restaurant responsive site
William and Mary University
Department Homeland Security

The Rock Creek Group was gracious enough to offer a site for the meeting plus refreshments. Web Content Mavens is a group of web designers. If your company is seeking a way to reach out to this community, sponsoring a meeting or offering hospitality would be an economical way to do so.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Why PR workers keep doing those annoying things

Roy Greenslade writes about PR tactics that are annoying and counterproductive. Why do we keep doing these things?
And then there are emails telling me that X is flying into London - someone I've never heard of from a company I've never heard of - and offering me an exclusive opportunity to interview him or her. Does this ever work?
I have done this, and yes, it does work occasionally. Even though you may never have heard of my client, your readers would be interested. This is because my client has a product or service that your readers are interested in, even though they have not heard of my client. I know this because I have read enough of your work to be conversant with the interests of your audience. This is precisely the process that transforms nobodies into somebodies and, frankly, why I was hired.

I still make telephone calls, because I rarely place a story without telephone work. The day I can place a story without a telephone call is the day I stop making calls. Email is far more time efficient.

As for the rest of it, offering an exclusive when it isn't really an exclusive is appalling PR malpractice, and I am very sorry to hear that people are doing this. When I offer exclusives, I usually put a time limit on it, as in, "This is an exclusive, let me know by close of business by tomorrow if you want it." Obviously if a reporter is not interested in the story I will start sending it around. As for jargon and buzzwords, we all struggle with them, which is why IABC created this very amusing video: