technology

Remembering September 11th: How Social Media has Changed the Way We Communicate

This week is the 14th anniversary of one of the most memorable events of this century. It’s amazing to think how differently things would have been with the technology we have now and how advanced our communication has become.

(c) Can Stock Photo
(c) Can Stock Photo

The debate continues on whether social media is a waste of time or an advertising powerhouse, but the truth is, it’s a powerful communication medium. In fact, according to Pew Research, more than 60% of Facebook and Twitter users use the social sites as a news source. It’s also where people go when major, newsworthy events happen so they can connect with friends and family and access breaking news.

September 11, 2001 – Pullman, WA

I remember exactly how I was woken up on September 11, 2001. I’m sure most Americans who were school-age or older at the time remember the details of that day quite vividly. I was a senior in college at Washington State University in eastern Washington and shared an apartment with my friend Megan.

I woke up to our phone ringing a little after 6am.  This was not completely unusual as Megan had early morning classes, so friends would sometimes call to meet up with her to go to class together. I had bulked up on classes my first three years to make my senior year as easy as possible, with only two difficult classes twice a week, PE classes twice a week and Fridays off. September 11th fell upon my dance class day.

I answered the phone. It was our friend Kenneth. I could hardly understand a word he was saying, but I knew it was bad from the panicked tone of this usually well-composed broadcasting major. This is the moment when I recall the trivial appointment of when we were scheduled to have our cable hooked up: September 12, 2001.

We had internet, but back then, it was mainly used for emailing, chatting or updating my Encyclopaedia Britannica software. Google existed, but many of us preferred Yahoo! or MSN, neither of which could handle the sudden rush of traffic from everyone trying to find out what was going on. YouTube was still a few years out and live streaming video wasn’t something the average person was equipped to do, as Periscope and Meerkat do now. I had a cell phone, but many of my friends didn’t, and it was long-distance for most of my friends to call me. The phone lines were busy anyway and no one I knew texted back then.

I remember turning the radio to a news station to find out what was going on. The broadcast is fuzzy in my memory, but I recall standing in the shower, crying because I had no idea what was going on and was 300 miles away from my parents. It made me think of stories I had heard from my parents and grandparents about war times, and how they had panicked every time they heard airplanes overhead.

Still unsure of the immensity of the attacks going on, I suited up and showed up at the gym for dance class. It had been cancelled, but there really was no easy way of getting the word out. I remained in a fog most of the day, listening to the radio and attempting to contact any of my friends in the affected areas. The phone lines were busy and we were instructed to leave phone lines open for those in emergency situations and their family members.

That afternoon, I visited my aunt and uncle, who lived just a couple minutes away. We watched the news together. That was the first time I was able to attempt to understand the magnitude of what had happened that day. I was not prepared for what I saw that day: people jumping out of the burning Twin Towers as they were crumbling down. This was not the America I knew. These kinds of things didn’t happen. It was terrifying.

Social Media Now

I think of how much technology has changed since 9/11/01 and how different things would have been. We’ve unfortunately seen how social media has played a part in communication during more recent attacks like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

The Boston Marathon comes to mind first, because one of my friends was running it. I remember seeing a short post from her on Facebook letting everyone know she was safe, although she had passed the bomb site mere minutes before it went off. A bathroom break could have cost her a limb or her life. That post was followed by a few more explaining where she was and what was going on.

Imagine having that technology during 9/11. Chances are not everyone would be able to easily access their mobile devices and update their Facebook statuses, but those that could would be able to start building a framework of who had been affected. Maybe Joe had left his phone behind, but Dave had his and could let Joe’s friends and family know he was safe. Updates could let searchers prioritize where to look first. Maybe a few people were trapped in an area, but none were hurt so they could let rescuers know their whereabouts, but send them to those in immediate danger.

Here’s a few ways that we can find out what’s going on right now, especially during emergencies:

Facebook Safety Check: Did you know Facebook has a safety check feature? It notifies those who may be in disaster areas about what’s going on and offers a quick way to check in and let friends and family know you’re okay or that you’re not in the affected area. One tap of a button to notify your whole network.

Twitter Trending Topics: If you use Twitter, you’re very likely familiar with trending topics. On the left side of your Twitter feed is a list of local or global trends based upon your settings. A more light-hearted example is when there was a report of a loose tiger in a nearby city and #PuyallupTiger started trending. It was easy to follow any updates on the “tiger” and even the local news and police departments tweeted about it. Trending topics makes it very easy to find out what’s going on and quickly access all the updates on that topic.

Live Video Broadcasting: Periscope and Meerkat are two apps that allow users to live-stream video to an audience. Excitingly enough, my first Periscope was storm chasing in Kansas City with my coworker, Carolyn. While these apps can be used for fun or educational purposes, they can also be used during disasters so viewers can see things as they are happening.

Social Media: Ensuring We Never Forget

I’m sure there are many memories from that day that I no longer recall. When I think back to that day, I remember being trapped in a fog of confusion and uncertainty, not really knowing what was going on and not having the kind of access to current events that we have now.

For more recent events, we get annual reminders from Facebook of what we were doing that day. Is that something we want? Would we really want Facebook reminding us what we were doing “on this day” 14 years ago? Do we want to re-live that terror every anniversary of 9/11? And will our memories be as vivid now that we have devices and social media to remember it for us?

While it’s important to have documentation of events for historical purposes, perhaps we don’t always want to re-live every socially documented moment. It’s hard to say. Social media has become yet one more way to ensure we never forget.

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Video Tutorial: How to Create a Drop Down List in Excel Using Data Validation

This tutorial demonstrates how to create a drown-down list in Excel using data validation.

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In this video, we are creating a simple HR employee hire form and limiting the user to selecting numeric months and years from a drop-down list on a separate tab. The tab can be hidden from the workbook once the form is complete so the user cannot alter the data.

The tutorial was done in Microsoft Excel 2010, but the function will be similar in previous versions.

Video was made using Cam Studio (http://camstudio.org).

Learn Everything There is to Know About Microsoft Excel

7 Methods for Managing Your Email Inbox

I was on vacation for a few days recently missing two days of work. I returned to 123 emails, and this was after notifying coworkers I would be out of the office, using an out-of-office auto-reply and unsubscribing from as many unnecessary email lists as possible over the past several weeks. Email can be overwhelming, unproductive and cause employees to stress about returning from vacation or even lead them to checking work email while on vacation, just to keep up.  However, with a system to manage email, it doesn’t have to be so overwhelming.

So for this blog post, I asked others about their best practices for managing their inbox. Do they set daily goals for the “inbox zero” goal of the ideal state of having zero emails in the inbox as often as possible or have other methods that have helped them tackle the beast that email has become?

Here’s the top 7 suggestions:

1. Handle each email just one time. “When I get an email, I may scan my inbox for an idea of the priority/urgency of an email,” said Joanne Young, MBA, PMP via LinkedIn. “If it is truly urgent, and is marked as such, I will usually try to handle it right away, and this involves addressing its content thoroughly in my response, research, or delegation to another person. That way, I know it has been handled, and it can be put in my ‘handled’ file.”

2. Set times throughout the day to check emails. “If email is given a slotted time, it does not interfere as much with productivity, because it is usually a slot of ‘free’ time that it is allocated, meaning that productive time is spent doing more productive things,” said Joanne Young, MBA, PMP via LinkedIn. “I have blocked out on my calendar three times in a day when I will review my Inbox for new mail. This way, I have set hours, and have been able to set expectations with others that all mail will be read and disposition handled by the end of the day.”

3. Reduce unnecessary emails. It is very easy to get added to email lists and quickly, you will discover that the bulk of your emails are from these email lists, not genuine emails from colleagues, friends or family. At one point, these emails were relevant but they can quickly take on a life of their own, overwhelming your inbox. “I take my name off email lists if they’re starting to send me too much,” said Lisa A. Nofzinger via LinkedIn.

4. Use alternate methods of communicating when possible. “Email encourages and promotes a ‘fire-and-forget’ culture of passing on responsibility and action,” said Paul Docherty via LinkedIn. “The key to effective corporate use of email is to break this culture and use email as a communication tool, not THE communication tool.” Using the phone instead of email can be the best option when an urgent response is needed. “If something is so urgent that it needs an urgent email, it would seem to me that the sender may even want to think twice about the email as such, and perhaps use it as a follow-up to a phone call, which will normally get immediate attention,“ said Joanne Young, MBA, PMP via LinkedIn.

5. Organize and sort using folders. “I have three folders (excluding the inbox which should always have less than 5 emails in it): Needs reply, awaiting response, archive,” said Simon Barker via LinkedIn. Upon receiving an email, Barker actions it immediately, reading and responding if possible, adding tasking emails to a to-do list and moving the email to the appropriate folder for managing as soon as possible. This helps him keep to his not-quite-as-strict 5 email inbox limit goal. “I also have folders for longer-term follow-up that help me manage the volume of input some days, and allows me to catch up on a later date if still relevant,” said Frits Bos, PMP via LinkedIn.

6. Handle it immediately. “If I get e-mail I instantly deal with it where possible, said Claire Wesley via LinkedIn. “And I deal with my e-mails on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. I hate having millions of e-mails in there!”

7. Minimize email use. “Don’t necessarily look at your emails outside of [your scheduled time] unless you are looking for or waiting for something important that you know is coming,” said Paul Docherty via LinkedIn. “Mobile email is incredibly destructive in this respect. The continual interruption, distraction and temptation can really destroy your productivity. If something is so important that it needs to be dealt with right away, then email is not the medium that should be used to get your attention. People should understand this.”

Several respondents also mentioned not accessing email regularly on mobile devices because it can interrupt productivity and interfere with your life outside of work. “I do not let my emails and smart phone saturated my life,” said Vernita Naylor via LinkedIn. “Life is too short and should be enjoyed as well.”

The underlying theme of all of the responses were to develop a system that works for you, your contacts and your company to maximize the efficiency of handling email. What works for some may not work for other. However, if you have a system in place and stick to it, chances are you will have a better handle of your email.

What has worked for you in managing your inbox?

3 Free Security Software Programs I Recommend

A common mindset is that in order to feel truly secure on a computer, you must use purchased software.  There is a sense of reliability and accountability that is expected from purchased software.  However, I have found several completely free programs that have kept my computers virus-free for years.

Here are my favorites:

  1. Anti-virus: AVG Free Antivirus Software: AVG provides both paid and free versions of their anti-virus software, but the free version has worked wonderfully for me over the past decade or so.  What I like best about it is that it doesn’t wait for you to get a virus—it blocks the virus when it tries to download into your system, warns you, then places it in quarantine, removing it from your system.  AVG also offers a browser add-on to enable safe browsing.
  2. Firewall: ZoneAlarm Free Firewall: Windows offers a free firewall, but for additional security, I have used ZoneAlarm.  A firewall makes your computer invisible to hackers and prevents spyware from sending your information to the internet.  One thing to note about this firewall is when you first start using it, you will receive a lot of notifications about sites.  This allows you to let it know if you trust these sites or not and the notifications go away quickly once you have noted the sites.  It runs quickly without slowing your computer down at all.
  3. Spyware Remover: Spybot Search & Destroy: Spybot is a great program to remove any spyware you may have inadvertently downloaded.  This often happens when you download shareware or programs that have additional programs included that you may not realize you agreed to download.  Run Spybot periodically to keep the database updated, to immunize your computer against attacks and to remove spyware from your computer.  They accept donations, but this is a completely free program.  A file shredder is also included to permanently delete sensitive files.

While paying for security software has added perks, such as increased functionality, full customer support and increased security, free programs can provide just as much.  It can be difficult to decide and trust a free program, so I wanted to share my positive experiences with these three programs.

Also, keep in mind that it is not wise to run more than one anti-virus program at a time—they often view each other as a virus.  When transitioning to a new anti-virus program, install the new one and make sure it is running, then remove the old program.  For extra precaution, it may be wise to disconnect from the internet while doing this to prevent any vulnerability.

As always, be cautious online when downloading files or opening attachments.  One of my most trusted sites to get software is CNET’s download.com.  Software downloads from that site have been tested for viruses and spyware and there are reviews to help you make educated decisions.

What software programs do you recommend?

5 Steps to Keep Piles from Preventing Productivity

Having stacks of paper on your desk can make you appear to be busy and have a big workload, but they can also cost you time and productivity by forcing you to sort through them every time you need to find something.  Yet we continue to let things pile up, along with our stress levels.

Has a coworker ever come to your desk when you were away, looking for something they knew you had but couldn’t find it?  You return to find them searching through your stacks and that feeling of panic increases as you worry about your piles getting disorganized.  Well there are a few simple steps you can take to get rid of the piles and stay organized and more productive.

  1. Get over the pile = productive mentality. We judge the busyness of others based on their desks.  The more you have piled on there, the busier you must be (although there is a point where they are seen as messy and too lazy to file anything).  It’s great to have a clean desk and you will actually be more productive and have less stress if everything is put in its correct place.  You will also be able to access paperwork much more easily if you know where it is.
  2. Have the resources.  It is hard to stay organized if you don’t have a system and a place for everything.  If you need to keep paperwork, make sure you have a place for it.  Make sure you have plenty of folders, file cabinets or banker’s boxes, and all the resources you need to get and stay organized.  Also important is a paper shredder and a garbage can.  Use file labels, alphabetizing and consistent file names to make filing as easy as possible for you.
  3. Have a schedule. Keep in mind your organization schedule does not and should not be the same for everything.  Some paperwork can be filed immediately while others are pending approvals or payments.  Just make sure you understand and keep to the different schedules.  It can also be very helpful to keep a “pending” area where this paperwork can be kept so you know exactly where to find it once you have what you need to file it.
  4. Go paperless. I am fortunate enough to have a great scanner to easily scan my paperwork to my email, so not only do I have a copy filed in my email, I have folders where I can easily virtually file my documents.  This makes it incredibly easy to find and file my paperwork without having to dig through folders.  I also have the ability to search using Google Desktop as well as store copies online using Google Documents or Dropbox.
  5. Stick to it. Once you’ve gotten rid of your piles and improved your organization, the hard part is over and all you need to do is to maintain it.  Whenever you see piles start to form, go through the paper and start filing.  You will notice a relief come over you as you put everything in its place.
Staying organized not only benefits you, it benefits those around you.  Several times, I have been able to assist coworkers because they have been unable to find paperwork or emails.  By staying organized, you are seen as being organized and reliable. 

What steps do you take to improve your organization?

Ocean Marketing: A Public Relations Nightmare and How to Avoid it

If I’ve learned anything in my career, it’s the importance of getting things in writing as well as being courteous to your customers—the lifeblood of any business. Getting things in writing not only serves as a helpful reminder of what needs to be done, it can also help trace the cause and lead-up to both successes and failures to help you succeed in the future.

Email chains serve as a timeline between multiple parties and since everything is in writing, there’s no confusion about what details were spelled out, unlike remembering chicken scratch notes from a meeting. Have you ever been in a long meeting and left remembering only a few vital points and some humorous commentary that didn’t have anything to do with the main topic? This is a time when getting things in writing can help you succeed.

Now, imagine that same meeting with a written agenda with room for note taking then receiving a summary of what was discussed with a plan of action laid out? This way of thinking follows the basic presentation training of “I’m going to tell you what I’m going to talk about, I’m going to talk about it, then I’m going to tell you what I talked about.” Three chances to get the information in your head.

Another great reason for emailing information is it enables you to search for it at a later time in the event you need to obtain information or follow-up. I’ve made a point of including order or model numbers in emails so if I want to trace the lead-up to an order or follow-up on a particular order, all I have to do is search for the order number.

There are times, however, when getting things in writing can be negative. As with anything digital, it is important to understand how easily information, photos, videos or even sound clips can be spread. While the intent may not always be malicious, it can quickly turn that way, especially if emotions get involved.

Take for example, the recent case of Paul Chrisoforo from Ocean Marketing. If you haven’t heard of him yet, he is a public relations professional who forgot his manners and how easy it is to forward an email. What started out as a simple inquiry from a customer regarding the delivery date of a pre-ordered a video game controller, quickly turned into a career train wreck for Paul. Instead of just giving the customer a straight answer, he was vague, got irritated with the customer, then completely insulted and spoke inappropriately to the customer.

In his tirade of insulting the customer, he, in return, let the customer know just how important he was, how many powerful people he knew, and how many gaming expos his company would be attending. When he mentioned PAX, the Penny Arcade Expo, the customer decided that it was time to inform Mike Krahulik, creator of popular comic and blog Penny Arcade, as well as head of the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX).

When Mike read the disastrous email chain, he let Paul know he wouldn’t be getting a booth at the expo. Rather than calm down or even look into who this Mr. Krahulik was, Paul continued the insults, power trip and name dropping. By that point, Mike decided he’d had enough of the drama, and informed Paul that he would be featured on his blog Penny Arcade the next day. Paul was still excited for the feature and PR until he realized who he was dealing with. Now he’s begging for the publicity to stop and has written an apology to both the customer and to Mike, but at this point, he’s completely damaged his reputation as a PR professional.

Although this put Paul and his company in a very negative light, I would say that this could actually help his career, similarly to the way the E. coli scare at Jack-In-The-Box helped their sales.  At the time, no one wanted to eat there, but shortly thereafter, it was regarded as one of the safest places to eat because the restaurant chain was taking extra precautions to ensure no one else got sick from their food.

Could this be the same case with Mr. Christoforo? Could he really be a brilliant enough PR professional to swing his career into a successful one or has he ruined his career in public relations forever?

I’m sure there are times when it might feel good to really let a customer know what you think, but in the long run, it’s not good for anyone. And worse, as Paul Christoforo so clearly demonstrated, giving a customer that kind of ammunition can be extremely damaging, not just for the person who sent it, but for the reputation of the company as well. Even if you aren’t intending to be insulting or short with someone, because it is in writing and not spoken, it can sometimes come off that way.

So keep your customers happy and your reputation safe with a few tips:

  • Write every correspondence with the knowledge that it only takes one click to forward your message. If you wouldn’t want someone else reading it, you probably shouldn’t write it.
  • If the person you’re communicating seems unclear about what you have written or seems to be getting frustrated, call the person or allow them to “please call” you so you can ensure you are on the same page. If you want to keep that record in writing, it is perfectly acceptable to write a follow-up email “per our conversation” to reiterate your points.
  • Always be courteous and polite, opting to close the email with “thank you” or “best regards” rather than “thanks…” or just your email signature. Make them feel special.
  • If you’re not sure how your email will be taken, have someone else read it. Don’t read it to them because they need to read it as your customer would—without your tone of voice.

The customer may not always be right, but no one likes to be told they are wrong and if someone is paying for a product or service, they want the respect they deserve from that company. Treat them well and you will prosper. Treat them poorly and you will damage your and your company’s reputations.

Penny Arcade Blog Post: http://penny-arcade.com/resources/just-wow1.html

Integrating Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is the use of an online server for online storage of files, usually hosted by a third party.  We currently use cloud computing on a regular basis—Facebook, Flickr, Google Docs and Amazon Cloud are just a few examples.

So how can clouds be used to share information with customers?

Have you ever worked on a project remotely with another and had to share large files back and forth?  Most email servers have an attachment size limit of between 5 and 10 MB.  If you’re collaborating on a presentation or large pdf file, you will soon realize that you will need to find a way to share this file, other than through email.

You can use your ftp site, but that requires an i.p. address, login and the general know-how to actually transfer the files.  And it has been my experience, that even with instructions, the average salesperson or customer has difficulty figuring out how to upload and download from an ftp site.

Here’s where the cloud comes in.

I’ll use Google Docs as the cloud in this example.  So I have a large art file I want to share.  I’ll save it to my computer, log in to my Google Docs account and upload the file from the Docs home page.  When I upload the file, a small window comes up with options and I can also change options with the Actions dropdown next to the file.

I click on Actions – Share… – Share… and the Share Settings pop up.  I can choose to share with anyone who has the link or I can choose specific users to share with.

If you are collaborating on a Microsoft Office document with a team, Google Cloud Connect is a great way to go.  Google Cloud Connect allows multiple users to edit documents on- and offline, automatically saving the revisions so all users know which is the most recent version.  Simply sync the documents you want to share, invite users and collaborate!

Online storage clouds are great ways to both collaborate and share with a team of users and are ideal for remote collaboration.

Do you use cloud computing in your business?  What have your experiences been?