Why I joined HarQen

Today was my first day as a HarQen team member. Although my title is Director of Client Services, I’ll be wearing many hats. What, you haven’t heard of HarQen yet? You can be excused. During its young life, the members of this lean start-up have built from scratch a set of web-based services in an entirely new category: Voice Asset Management (VAM). It is ambitious in the extreme — and leaves little time for a focused PR effort.

That’s one place where I come in. I’ll be wearing many hats here, but two are social media “ambassador” and PR leader. I’ll be helping HarQen clients share their stories about these astounding services. Chief among those offerings is VoiceScreener, a way to vastly improve the quality and speed of hiring.

I know from personal experience the value of the VoiceScreener VAM system. (Yes, VAM. There’s that acronym again. Here’s another for you: VaaA, which stands for Voice as an Asset.)

In a previous life I was the defacto recruiter for the digital marketing team I led. One of the most grueling searches was when I was looking to hire a truly stellar project manager. VoiceScreener would have helped me, by inviting the dozens of applicants to answer a few guided questions over the phone — all at their convenience, talking to an automated “interviewer.” Answers are turned into the voice assets that can be quickly reviewed, sorted and forwarded — all as easily as processing emails.

One VoiceScreener client brags that the application dramatically accelerates the preliminary phone interview process. He contends it literally doubles the odds that any given applicant is going to be hired. He’s with a large recruiting firm, where twice as many high-quality applicants means, over time, twice as much revenue for him and his company.

Follow me and you’ll likely hear him tell you about it. All I’ll be doing is providing the megaphone.

I’ll be posting fewer entries here, at DigitalSolid, as I focus on the blog at VoiceScreener. I hope you follow me over there. The category of VAM is about to heat up and I’d love to share my experiences in this exciting new adventure.

What was sorely missing from yesterday’s iPad unveiling was … Graffiti?!?

The iPad, unveiled WednesdayYesterday’s unveiling of the Apple tablet, which we now know is called the iPad, showed a device with a larger surface than the iPhone / iPod Touch. It allows for a better reading and video experience and provides improved ways to do things like manage emails and photographs. Largely unaddressed with this release is a far more important question: How will this multi-touch make me  better at thinking and creating?

Rocking the PDA old skool with Palm’s Graffiti

Return with me for a moment to a simpler time, before smartphones got “smart.”

It was a time when the handheld device du jour was a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). In the 1990’s, Palm released their Pilot PDA. These Treos, sans cell phone required a stylus for text entry. There was no QWERTY keyboard, and not even a cell phone number pad.

The user needed to learn a type of stylus script called Graffiti to get text into the thing. Some people got good enough to write with something close to the speed of traditional longhand. Personally, as a lefty, I found it more comfortable to use Graffiti than to write in longhand. I didn’t have to think about the angle of the paper in relation to my contorted left hand. Smearing ink wasn’t an issue.

This was many people’s introduction to a computer user interface beyond the keyboard. There was a lot wrong with it, though. Styluses are a pain to use. And many Palm users found Graffiti so difficult to use that they simply called up a hunt-and-peck keyboard. Here’s a YouTube demo of it in use.

For me the golden promise of multi-touch monitors is not the ability to flick through photo galleries or zoom into a map — as cool as those functions are. Ever since the first mass market multi-touch keyboard was made available with the invention of the iPhone, I was waiting for a faster way to record thoughts.

I was hoping yesterday to learn of a gestural script — a Graffiti without the stylus.

What’s so wrong with QWERTY keyboards?

Whether displayed on an iPhone, an iPod Touch, or now the iPad — old-fashioned keyboards simply don’t free the user to quickly jot something down and get back to work.

Instead, these devices force users to leave the fluid, intuitive work of (let’s face it!) grown-up finger painting. The appearance of the QWERTY keyboard sends them marching back indoors like a recess bell. Ugh! The taps of fingers on keys — even ultra-modern keys, projected on slick glass iPad surface — still evoke the drudgery of an oppressive cubicle farm.

I know this sounds a little glib, but think about it. Our speed of productive output are in many ways limited by our office supplies. Give someone a soul-crushing keyboard to think with and you’ll be producing something constrained by that medium. If their work soars, it’s in spite of the keyboard, not aided by it. In 2003, Jeff Han demonstrated to cheers the full effect of a multi-touch experience. I predicted then that this technology will quickly change the very nature of our work experience.

Apple knows this.

There have been accounts of Apple applying for and receiving patents on what would be the building blocks of a new gestural interface. New Scientist recently recounted the patents Apple has applied for to tap into “touch or hover” and “gesture dictionary.” That day may arrive with a new version of the iPad. It cannot come soon enough.

Related post:

  • Jeff Han’s demonstration of multi-touch screens
  • Thriving in a hashtag economy

    Kudos to photographer Matt Mason for providing these photos. Click to see the gallery

    A question about using social media arose this morning — one that I only had time to half-answer. I was on a panel at a Milwaukee Social Media Breakfast (#SMBmke). The question (to paraphrase): “I don’t sell a sexy product. I’m a business that sells to other businesses something that they need. But they don’t necessarily blog about it or tweet about it. Can social media support my goal of lead generation?” I said yes. Below is the second half of my answer.

    I did mention The Long Tail. Click through that link to learn what that is. And if you do, think about that link. Jeff Jarvis coined the phrase link economy. Chris Anderson coined the phrase the long tail. I propose a new coinage: the hashtag economy.

    The long tail is the book, and the concept, about how niche markets find what they need in a world this isn’t hindered by the economics of brick-and-mortar. There are no carrying costs associated with iTunes offering one more song that just happens to be obscure. Their inventory is limited only by digital storage costs and the bandwidth necessary to deliver the song when someone buys it.

    The link economy uses this free, or nearly free, paradigm. It cost me nothing to create the link that pointed readers to an explanation of The Long Tail. The link led to Wikipedia. There again, the power of almost-free. This crowd-sourced encyclopedia saw the most minuscule of incremental costs to provide you with that definition.

    The upshot is this. Since we are rewarded nearly every time we click on a link, we do it more often. That generates something that very often can be monetized: Significant volumes of traffic.

    Smart businesses — such as the publishers of Wired Magazine and Anderson’s book — leverage this link economy to sell more books. And they leverage The Long Tail Phenomenon in the very sale of a book about the long tail; Anderson’s book might never have become a best-seller if it hadn’t been offered in a virtual bookstore like Amazon first. His readers might have simply been just too darned “niche” to persuade bricks-and-mortar book stores to stock it in their shelves.

    Scott Baitinger, co-owner of Streetza Pizza, and I were talking about niche marketing earlier this week. I complimented him on his use of Twitter Hashtags to find a narrow group and to market to them. That narrow group is @FitMKE. Scott has been peddling his pizzas to this group by tweeting to them with the #FitMKE hashtag.

    Analog broadcast channels (those based on radio / television wave frequencies) are valuable enough that they are regulated by the government. There are rules about what businesses must do to earn their right to be there (e.g., public service announcements and public-oriented programming). Things that are scarce have value, and these channels are no exception. A recent auction of analog broadcast channels garnered bids in the many millions of dollars.

    Twitter handles are not limited by the spectrum of a radio or television broadcast frequency. If I auctioned off my Twitter handle, I would get zero bids. Why? Everyone who knows anything about Twitter knows you can create accounts limited only by the nearly infinite combinations of letters and numbers.

    This makes Twitter a spectrum of a nearly infinite number of nearly-free channels. It draws lots of people because it is so cheap and teeming with variety. It uses both the long tail and the link economy.

    Increasingly, Twitter is also spawning communities of likeminded people around hashtags. One example of #SMBmke. Another, ironically, is #MKElikemind (another breakfast group — here’s the info on my blog). Scott, and @StreetzPizza, found #fitMKE to be a channel to narrow-cast his offer of healthy pizzas (and also indulgent pizzas, since — hey — you have to be getting fit to enjoy life, don’t you?).

    The Hashtag Economy is one way smart marketers are finding their niche audience within the cacauphony of other channels. They’re tuning in, conversing, and doing business there.

    Here’s a challenge, especially for my friends (old and new) who attended this morning’s breakfast: What hashtag conversations have you been a part of? And how have they improved your life and work? More important: What business relationships have formed from them?

    Related posts:

    Also mentioned:

    Photo credit: Matt Mason, photographer

    Milwaukee wants to know: Should you hire a social media expert?

    Originally scheduled for December, the Social Media Breakfast panel discussion, Social Media Guru: Snake Oil Salesman or Expert?, will take place on Thursday, January 21, at The Moct. I’ll be one of the four panelists. The other panelists, and other details, are as follows (this information was originally posted last month):

    Matthew Olson @_Signalfire_ – Owner and Creative Director of Signalfire, LLC

    Sue Spaight @SueSpaightVP of Account Management and Digital Strategy at Meyer & Wallis

    Kim Nielson @KnmuCommunications Project Manager at University School of Milwaukee

    Here are the details:

    January 21, 2010 – 7:30 am to 9:30 am

    The Moct – 240 E. Pittsburgh Ave., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    WiFi and Light Breakfast Provided

    Twitter Hashtag: #SMBMke

    It promises to be a spirited discussion on a timely topic. I look forward to seeing you there!

    Brought exclusively to Milwaukee and Madison: Improve how you measure your site’s ROI

    Start the new year right by resolving to better track the return on investment (ROI) of your web site. I’ve been hard at work with Milwaukee’s C2, planning my upcoming digital ROI workshops in Milwaukee and Madison. Here is the information as it is posted on the C2 site:

    These half-day seminars are designed to expand your understanding and broaden your capabilities and confidence. You’ll work smarter, faster, stronger!

    Each 3-hour seminar will be offered in Milwaukee and Madison.

    Please click the date to register

    Digital Content Development and Delivery That Maximizes ROI

    Presented by Jeff Larche, Digital Solid

    Measurement, benchmarking, comparative analysis and revision of content to best generate desired results can be a complex series of steps, each with its own challenges.  Jeff will show participants best practices for workflow management around digital content development and delivery that will maximize your return on your investment of time and resources.

    Milwaukee: Tuesday, March 9

    Madison: Tuesday, March 23

    Realizing Results Demands Real Measurement: AIDA

    Presented by Jeff Larche, Digital Solid

    Jeff takes a deep dive into web page analytics to show participants specific measurement tools/methodologies designed to measure the sales cycle effectiveness of each page using metrics around AIDA: Attention, Interest, Decision and Action.

    Milwaukee: Tuesday, April 13

    Madison: Tuesday, April 27

    These workshops are unique in the area and are reasonably priced, so they should fill up fast. I suggest you register right away.

    They should also be a lot of fun. I hope to see you there!

    Ambient awareness is to humans what coconut shells are to an octopus

    Octopus using shells as toolsEleven months  to the day after David Pogue of the New York Times posted on being a newbie in the “Twitterverse,” I think his piece is still one of the best introductions to the platform. Here’s a sample:

    I’ll admit that, for the longest time, I was exasperated by the Twitter hype. Like the world needs ANOTHER ego-massaging, social-networking time drain? Between e-mail and blogs and Web sites and Facebook and chat and text messages, who on earth has the bandwidth to keep interrupting the day to visit a Web site and type in, “I’m now having lunch”? And to read the same stuff being broadcast by a hundred other people?

    Then my eyes were opened. A few months ago, I was one of 12 judges for a MacArthur grant program in Chicago. As we looked over one particular application, someone asked, “Hasn’t this project been tried before?”

    Everyone looked blankly at each other.

    Then the guy sitting next to me typed into the Twitter box. He posed the question to his followers. Within 30 seconds, two people replied, via Twitter, that it had been done before. And they provided links.

    The fellow judge had just harnessed the wisdom of his followers in real time. No e-mail, chat, Web page, phone call or FedEx package could have achieved the same thing.

    I was reminded of this again over lunch yesterday, when I was chatting with a couple of really smart tech types. My lunch companions were very Pogue-like in their misgivings about Twitter. One was even leery of Facebook. Both made points that sounded familiar to me.

    I acknowledged that when Twitter first came out, I was the same way. This post from 30 months ago is an example of my ambivalence toward Twitter. I have since seen it work as a valuable way to connect and learn, for both me and many of my clients. Some business has come out of it as well.

    I’m sold on Twitter. Besotted in fact. (See for yourself, at @TheLarch)

    But its success could be fleeting. Twitter is white hot right now, but flash fires often burn out just as quickly.

    Maybe I should revise my oath of undying love. Instead, how’s this? I’m sold on the emerging social dance called ambient awareness, a concept explained eloquently in this Clive Thompson article.

    Pack up your coconuts and see the world

    Ambient awareness is bigger than Twitter, and even bigger than Facebook (now at 350 million users worldwide). It’s like the coconut shells in the arms of an octopus. For those who didn’t see that story, here’s the gist: Biologists diving off the coasts of Indonesia have discovered a species of octopus that has evolved to use a novel tool. Scientific American describes the discovery:

    The octopuses were found to occupy empty seashells, discarded coconut shell halves or manmade objects, and on several dives, the researchers saw them carrying coconut shell halves below their body and swimming away with them.

    Sometimes, an octopus would carry two shell halves and then put them together to form a shelter, the scientists said…

    “Using tools is something we think is very special about humans, but it also exists in other animal groups we’ve never considered before, a low life form, a relative of a snail. These octopuses, they’re not simple animals.”

    I learned about that story through — what else? — Twitter. This platform, and the ambient awareness it harnesses, is literally a new tool for helping those who put it to use. It helps us work, play and generally be the social creatures that we are.

    “A good sketch is better than a long speech”

    According to this Harvard Business blog, posted by John Sviokla, the headline is a quote often attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte. Below is a sample of a “sketch” that illustrates his premise that there are three strong reasons to pay attention to data visualization when tackling business problems.

    The graphic shows a big section of Iowa and a little of the surrounding states, depicting potential demand in the market by darker colors. We gathered this information from external sources and matched it down to localities by state. This "layer" depicts the market potential. The next layer adds the performance of the agencies, shown with different-colored markers
    Skiovla writes that the graphic above "shows a big section of Iowa and a little of the surrounding states, depicting potential demand in the market by darker colors. We gathered this information from external sources and matched it down to localities by state. This 'layer' depicts the market potential. The next layer adds the performance of the agencies, shown with different-colored markers."

    I came across this through Holy Kaw! from Alltop. Sviokla’s three reasons to provide data visualization are actually questions to ask yourself when you face a problem, or process improvement challenge:

    1. Is there a simple map or maps of information that could make my life easier?
    2. Do we have the ability to take the myriad data and synthesize it into these new forms?
    3. How much time does the organization waste arguing about the facts instead of deepening understanding or crafting solutions?

    The take-away: It doesn’t always work, but there are times where you can best solve a problem — and win consensus for that solution — by giving the data over to your graphing software. (My personal favorite way to show data online is Google’s free charts API).

    Make a REAL difference this holiday in helping those in need: Here’s a Head Start!

    Milwaukee has been hit hard by this tough economy. We’ve all felt it. But this recession has hit those most vulnerable in our community the hardest of anyone.

    Holiday GigglesTwelve months ago I and a small group of friends decided to get off our butts to provide help to those least served in Milwaukee, in ways we could really see and share. Here’s that post about the extraordinary 2008 Head Start Holiday Celebration. In order to qualify for Head Start support, a family of three cannot have an annual household income of more than roughly $18,000!

    We’re doing it again this year and we need your help. We’re not with Head Start, but we’re volunteers helping Head Start throw a holiday celebration that will last for weeks to come.

    Please read this post on my personal blog site. Then consider a donation of $20 — or whatever you can afford — to make this event even better than the last.

    donate_100_postIt all comes together on Thursday, December 17, 2009. Please read about it, and contribute today!

    Meet me Dec. 10 for breakfast and truthiness

    Stephen Colbert of The Colbert ReportTruthiness indeed. The occasion is Milwaukee’s next Social Media Breakfast, on Thursday, December 10. This just in: The snow storm has led to the cancellation of that breakfast meeting. The updated information is here, and the discussion will be on January 21, 2010. I’ll be one of four panelists discussing, Your Typical Social Media Consultant: Snake Oil Salesman or Expert? It reminds me of Stephen Colbert’s hilarious pairings of contradictory messages.

    Me? I plan to open remarks by pronouncing that, on average, only one-out-of-four “social media experts” is really worth listening to — and since that’s all I have to say on the matter, everyone can go home.

    Or maybe I won’t. You just have to attend to find out. Joining me will be the following:

    Matthew Olson @_Signalfire_ – Owner and Creative Director of Signalfire, LLC

    Sue Spaight @SueSpaightVP of Account Management and Digital Strategy at Meyer & Wallis

    Kim Nielson @KnmuCommunications Project Manager at University School of Milwaukee

    Here are the details:

    December 10, 2009 – 7:30 am to 9:30 am
    The Moct – 240 E. Pittsburgh Ave., Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    WiFi and Light Breakfast Provided

    Twitter Hashtag: #SMBMke

    Register today!

    Pecha Kucha Milwaukee wants YOU to make it brief!

    The Milwaukee chapter of the internationally-acclaimed Pecha Kucha Night has been on a bit of a haitus. That will all change, come February. Organizer Jon Mueller of 800 CEO Read posted on the central PKN site that he and his team are already looking for speakers:

    If you’ve attended an event, you can’t deny that you haven’t thought about what you could present, right? Now’s the time.

    We’re planning the next event for February 2010, and want to have you involved. We’re going to make this one the biggest and best yet. So, email me your idea, some sample images you’d use in your presentation, and a brief bio, and I’ll get back to you asap with more info: jon [at sign] 800ceoread [dot] com.

    Looking forward to hearing from you, and of course to the next PKN!

    Thanks,
    Jon | PKN MKE

    PKN MKE

    I’ll back Jon up on this. The 20-slide / 20-seconds-per-slide format is a blast to watch, and it’s even more fun to present. Check out links below, and contact Jon. You won’t regret it.

    Related posts:

    Measuring your business blog’s success

    This afternoon I gave a presentation on business blogging, as part of SOHObiztube.com’s The Draft, an all-day social media workshop.

    The last part of the presentation was on my favorite tools for monitoring conversations, as well as the conversions that a business blog initiates. Here’s the list:

    Google Analytics — This is still my favorite way to monitor all blog activity. It is fairly easy to configure, it provides a great way to measure conversation (Google calls them “Goals”) and offers benchmarking with other blogs. Price: Free

    Technorati — This site provides simply but helpful ways to track the growth of your site, by comparing its “popularity” to others and showing all backlinks (also known as “pingbacks” to your blog from others. Price: Free

    CrazyEgg — This is new to me, and admittedly untried. But I like their visualization tools. The one below is a heatmap showing likelihood to click (not to be mistaken for an eye-scanning heatmap). Price: Plans vary in cost

    Crazyegg.com Heatmap

    Feedburner — This service, which was acquired two years ago by Google, is an industry favorite for monitoring how many people subscribe to you. It even has a badge, showing the number of subscribers you currently have. If you are reading this near the day it was published, you’ll see that the current theme of my blog displays the badge near the top of the righthand column of every page. (As of this morning, I had 365 subscribers. Thank you one-and-all!) Price: Free

    There. That’s my list. What’s yours?

    I had a great time talking to the group today, and invited them to post their questions about business blogging here in the comments section. I’m also inviting all of you to let me know what your favorite blog measurement tools are. I’m especially curious if you’ve used the CrazyEgg product line-up. If so, what do you think of it?

    Related posts: