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How will social networking help my business?

Clients have been asking about social networking. They ask: "Can you create me a page on Facebook?", "How will social networking help my business?" and one client even asked for training on how to get started with social networking. In order to better help my clients, I did a little research...

What is Social Networking?
Social networking is the grouping of individuals into specific groups, like small rural communities or a neighborhood subdivision. Social networking websites function like an online community of Internet users. Depending on the website in question, many of these online community members share a common interest such as hobbies, religion, or politics. Once you are granted access to a social networking website you can begin to socialize. This socialization may include reading the profile pages of other members and possibly even contacting them.

 

Why Use Social Networking for your Business?
While many people regard social networking tools as a fun diversion, some companies are leveraging them to accomplish goals, such as increasing their visibility, helping constituents find jobs, and raising awareness about time-sensitive issues. Social networking sites have been the rage of the tech industry for more than a year. Following investments by Microsoft and News Corp., the companies are valued in the billions of dollars and are considered blueprints for how to build a website.

Yet a deeper question lingers: How are they going to consistently produce profits to match their soaring valuations? Social networks present an enormous opportunity — maybe the biggest in tech since e-mail. The sites have simplified and amplified connections between people online, creating a thriving ecosystem of small programs that let friends interact through games, greetings, video clips and more.

Social networks are the latest iteration of the Web economy. But unlike e-commerce sites and search engines, they offer a more intimate setting for friends to share information. It is also conceivable that social networking, like e-mail, will never make piles of cash, but will be a new way of communicating. Where services such as Friendster, Match.com, MySpace, and Facebook have been successful bringing friends, singles, and groups together based on affinity and mutual interests, business-networking services are now offering a parallel experience in the professional world.

This use of online, friend/associate-based networking will prove to be one of the most valuable business tools the Internet has yet provided, says Michael Jones, President of Userplane. Often, the key to using a business network successfully involves the creation of your personal friends — or business connections — group. The registration process is similar across the various social networking websites.

Overview of a Couple Business Related Social Networking Sites
  • LinkedIn, a Job Search Engine with a Social Networking Twist Unlike many of the best-known social networking sites, LinkedIn focuses primarily on creating and maintaining professional contacts. You can use the site to touch base with former coworkers and classmates, find people employed in the nonprofit sector, and obtain professional references.

    The site, currently boasting 5.5 million users, supports the creation of groups, and has a dedicated category for nonprofits. LinkedIn offers plenty of resources for hiring employees, consultants, or service providers. What it doesn't offer are discussions or forums, so if you're looking to chat or talk about a specific topic, you'll have to do that via email or instant messaging or using a different social networking application.

    For more information, read 10 Ways to Use LinkedIn by Mario Sundar
  • Smaller Indiana, Local Online Community making Offline Connections Smaller Indiana makes creative people and innovative ideas easier to find. This is the place for you to share your ideas and engage with Indiana's most creative and inspired souls...working together to build community, culture and commerce. The biggest distinction from other social networks, like MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn, is that Smaller Indiana is local.
Join TBH Creative's social networks
View Tatum Hindman on LinkedIn

Get more visitors to your web site - Part 1

If you build it, they will come. This is NOT correct in regards to a web site. Consider the millions of web sites on the Internet that you are competing with... Don't be discouraged, there are many things you can do to increase your hits and visitors. I'm going to give a few suggestions here and start by offering a few things you can do for free.
  1. Put your web site address in the signature of your emails. This way every email you send is a small advertisement with link to your web site. This applies to any other marketing you do including business cards, flyers, magazine ads, etc. Surprisingly, many companies pay big money for an advertisement in a magazine and forget to include their web site.
  2. Define your keywords and use them in your page content. What will visitors be searching for to find you? Determine these 'keywords' and adjust your page verbiage to include these words. Do not overuse them or 'stuff' them on the pages, but use them as they flow with your message.
  3. Get started with social networking. Social networking is free and easy. It's a free promotion for yourself. Link to your web site and tell about your speciality or service. A few good networks to get started are LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook, Smaller Indiana, and Twitter. More information about Facebook Marketing.
  4. Add a title to your web site and each page if appropriate. Google will search your web site and read your title for relevancy against the keywords being searched by users. Note: The "TITLE" is what appears at the very top of your browser window. For this blog, the title is "TBH Creative Blog - Indianapolis Web Design"
  5. Submit your site to search engines. This is easy and takes just a few minutes. Many submissions are free and will help your site to come up in search results.
  6. Code your web site with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for layout. Table based layout is an old technique and should be updated to CSS layout. CSS layout offers cleaner code which is quicker and easier for Google to search, faster load time, and makes for easier edits. Learn more about table vs. CSS layout and the advantages.
Check back soon or subscribe to this blog for more search engine optimization and web site marketing tips. Learn more about TBH Creative.

Who to hire for your web site project

There are so many choices of who to hire for your web site project. There are advantages and disadvantages to the different options, so the real question is figuring out what is best for you or your company. Let's take a look at some of the different people you could hire.

Local Web Companies: Companies in your area are a good solution if you need all sorts of different components in a web site or if you need someone to develop your online strategy from beginning to end. In this route, they are going to tell you what you need and be able to provide the full package. The cost will reflect this high level of service.

I recommend talking with past clients of the company to learn more about their process and reputation. Use the Internet to find these companies. Simply search your location with "web site design" (e.g. Indianapolis, Indiana web site design).

Freelancers: A professional web freelancer can provide a very high level of service, but is likely going to specialize in certain areas and not in others. It is not common that they may have worked for a big-name web firm and decided to go out on their own. They are probably really good at what they do.

The downfall is that there is so much to know in web development these days, most freelancers will not be able to offer all aspects that you might need without bringing in other resources. If they have good partners for those other resources, it might work out perfectly, just make sure they honest about what they are good at and not good at. You can always find another freelancer to fill in a gap.

A freelancer is going to be more cost effective than a large company. Again, a freelancer can be a great solution, just be willing to pull in other freelancers to fill in various roles of the project. Again, I recommend before hiring a freelancer is to check references and look at their portfolio.

College Students: Technology is on the rise and there is great talent in student work. The big advantage with student work is cost because a student will likely build you a site very inexpensively. The downfall in most cases is that they are just learning and probably don't understand the whole picture of goals, search engine optimization, accessibility, and even all of the options out there. On the other hand, they have many resources in other students and professors to turn to for guidance.

A student is a good solution for a first web site and/or if you are willing to offer direction throughout the project.

Marketing Firms: From my experience, marketing or public relation firms are often in charge of web projects and typically partner with web developers or have a small staff devoted to web sites. They help guide and manage the project, as well as help with online strategy. If you need further marketing and public relations help, marketing firms might be your answer. A caution might be to make sure they partner with a good web site source and don't just do them as an add-on to what they are really good at (marketing/pr).

Why not do it yourself? Unless you are a graphic designer with technology skills or a online guru who "gets" technology, I recommend that you not consider creating a web site yourself. The greatest reason is the same one that causes you to use a plumber to redo the kitchen faucet: experts do a better job than amateurs. Your web site is a representation of your company and you want it to be professional and include the best practices.

There are some very smart people out there who might be able to put something together, but the reality is that people who do this for a living can produce better end-results than someone trying to figure it out along the way.

Professional web designers spend their days creating web sites, building pages, optimizing graphics for fast delivery, thinking about site architecture for online-information, and keeping up on the never-ending array of new products, services, and design styles that appear online. Many of us spend our evenings and time "off" sharpening our skills too. Good web designers live and breathe web design.

Read another good article about doing it yourself versus hiring a professional.

Whomever you choose for your web site, TBH Creative recommends looking at the candidates' portfolios and making sure the project scope is clear.

4 things to look for in a web designer

By Tatum Bree Hindman
Copyright 2008

Developing and designing a web site can be a stressful process, especially for the first time. Technology and options are endless and ever-changing. In this article, I hope to give you an overview of how to choose a good web designer and provide some advice to get started.

What to Look For in a Web Designer

1) Creativity.
The designer's portfolio will say a lot about creativity and design variety. Do you see things you hadn't thought about? A creative designer will come up with solutions that make average pages look inviting and arrange graphics in ways that interest the user. All designers should have a portfolio to show off their work.

2) Understanding of the big picture.
Does the designer design around your goals and audience? The answer should be YES. 'Cool' might be impressive, but alone, very cool won't win business. Design, movement, and special graphics should be created to attract users to specific areas of your site that are important.

3) Understanding of Technology.
A good designer should understand how technology works with design. They do not have to be a technologist, but knowing how the database will connect, how Flash will effect search engine optimization, and how the images are compressed or used in CSS will significantly effect the end result.

4) Interest in your company and your online success.
A web designer should show an interest in your company. They should ask you about your goals, the company history, and even your preferences and ideas. They should be able to guide you, make recommendations, as well as listen to your concerns and ideas. A professional web designer should walk you through their project process and be able to explain technology and design trends so that you understand.

How to Get Started
Before you begin your web designer search, below are a few things to consider.

1) Decide on where you want to hire.
If you select a local design company, you will be able to meet in-person throughout the project. If that is important to you, then absolutely choose someone nearby. However, we live in a virtual world and it is very realistic to successfully complete a project without meeting in person these days. A web designer who has a good reputation or comes to you through a referral should not be overlooked if they are not located in your city. Make a decision based on your comfort level.

2) Locate possible companies to hire.
Ask around to other businesses (sometimes look at the bottom of a site for a "created by" link to the web company). A referral from someone you trust is worth a lot! Also, do some searching on the Internet or social networking sites liked LinkedIn. When a company comes up in the search results, check their web site and portfolio. If it looks bad, disregard the company because that is likely what you will get from them.

When reviewing portfolios, see if they have completed web sites similar to your needs in company size, functionality, and the kind of design you hoped for. Make a list of your favorite companies based on their work. As you visit each candidate's website portfolio, look for:
  • Design. Does each site look the same? Are you impressed? Does the style fit your needs?
  • Testimonials. Look for client comments or case studies. Do they show an aptitude at being flexible enough to work with different industries? Ideally, client testimonials include full names, which means they're not trying to hide anything. Web designers without some sort of portfolio or client list are either bad or lazy; either way, they're not for you.
  • Contact info. Fill out an online form or make a phone call. Does someone respond to you quickly? Oftentimes, web companies will ask you to fill out a form to get you thinking about your needs and an idea of the size of your project. Make notes of how quickly you receive a response. This is likely how you will be treated as a client. When you do hear back, set a time to talk on the phone as a starting point and even meet in person after a brief phone call. A qualified and professional web designer will be willing to talk with you in detail about your needs. This can take 1 hour or several meetings to get a clear picture depending on your needs. You should receive a proposal within 1 week after this "discovery" discussion.
3) Gather proposals. Get a few proposals and compare. Don't be afraid to ask questions, for adjustments in the scope, or clarification on the terms. Be open to breaking your project into manageable phases. This way you can assess if the relationship is working out before committing to a 1 year project. Last, go with your instincts from reviewing the portfolio, references, and the initial meeting.

About The Author
Tatum Bree Hindman is the owner of TBH Creative LLC, an Indianapolis, Indiana Web Design company. TBH Creative specializes in strategic, user-focused website design to meet client goals.

TBH Creative knows web design and offers full-service solutions.

Why won't my Flash video (.flv) play online?

Web Developers: Have you uploaded a Flash video file and it won't play on the live site? It works locally on your computer, but not on the site.

Don't spend a bunch of time checking your code! You likely just need to set a MIME type for the file to play on the server. I have had this issue a few times with clients (each on various hosting providers) and made the correction by simply adding the MIME type.

Many hosting providers will offer this within their "admin control panel" or you can specify MIME type via IIS. The MIME type that should be added for Flash video is: video/x-flv The file extension is: .flv

To add Flash video MIME type in IIS, here are instructions:
1) Select the site to configure in IIS, right click and select "Properties"
2) Under HTTP Headers Tab, select "File Types"
> under the MIME Map section >select "New Type"
3) Type ".flv" as the associated extension and "video/x-flv" as the content type.
4) Select "OK" and check the site.

It should be working right away.

Good luck with your project!

How often should a company or organization redesign their web site?

This question does not have a one-size-fits-all answer. Unfortunately, it varies based on several things.

First of all, we suggest to our clients during the web site creation process that making routine changes is imperative to keep information fresh and attract return users. If things are designed and tools built into the site initially, then a site's effectiveness should last longer. Reviewing web site statistics quarterly or more is also a good idea to point out obvious changes and ways to make the site better without a complete "re-do".

Now, with that said, design trends, technology, and browsers change. It is important to keep your web site visually up to date. There is not magic number to how often design trends change, but they do. No matter how much you loved your site 5 years ago, it is likely not taking advantage of the newest ways to display information and graphic styles. However, when a web site is properly coded, swapping design elements may not require a major overhaul. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) allow design changes in a systematic way.

On the other hand, design preferences also change over time. The company president may have changed and the new president wants different colors. Goals may also shift and as such, the web site design should be adjusted to meet those needs.

Re-design is a big process, but it is exciting and allows companies to make their online presence better and improve things learned from development of their current site.


Before jumping into a redesign, TBH Creative suggests the following process:
  1. Evaluate your current web site. What elements do you like and why? - If nothing, then it is definitely time to change. - If there are things you still like, evaluate if small changes can be made around them.
  2. Look at other web sites that you find effective. Why do you like these sites? Why are they appealing? Then, think about if your current site offers the same things. Keep a list.
  3. Look at the work and portfolio samples of companies you are considering hiring to help with the redesign. This is a good idea of what your next site might look like, so be sure you like what their style.
As a general guideline, about every 3-5 years design styles change on the Internet. So, if it is time for your web site redesign, we make the following recommendations.
Good luck on your new web site. If you are looking for a company to assist with your redesign, please contact TBH Creative for a proposal.

An evaluation of a fresh web statistic tool

There are so many different web statistics out there today. I have AW Stats on my web site for free with my web hosting. I also have Google Analytics set up to track trends. Both are good reports.

Last year, I was referred to a fresh and new tool for web site tracking called Crazy Egg. The reports they offer are different because they provide data visually instead of hard to read graphs and tables. For example, do you want to know where on your web page users are clicking? Not what link(s) were clicked, but where exactly on the page.

Crazy Egg calls this report "Confetti". See a sample from my site in 2007:


Another good view they offer: "Heat Map" A picture of where people clicked on your site. This tells you what’s hot and what’s not, so you can make changes that matter.


How does this work? It's simple. Choose a plan and enter your URL. Then, paste one line of javascript on your page and let the tracking begin.

If you need help evaluating your web site and web trends or want to make improvements to your web design based on statistics, contact TBH Creative today!

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