Usability is the best investment most organizations will never make

A price tag well into five figures is no longer uncommon for a small business trying to build a website. Many medium sized businesses tag another zero on the end of their bills – yet even larger companies with even bigger budgets are often reluctant to spend a small fraction of that to ensure that their sites actually work.

A small but growing industry has been screaming for attention, but is still not getting the respect they deserve. Usability experts have spent years studying how people use the Internet to determine what works and what doesn’t, and even though their invaluable insights are available for a fraction of what it costs to create a site, the vast majority of comapnies never bring one in.

What is truly amazing is how much is spent on websites that look pretty and have fantastic information, but simply don’t work.

Sites like Jakob Nielson’s useit.com provide a staggeringly long list of mistakes that can cripple the usability of a site and make it impossibly difficult for visitors to use.

We’ve all seen these basic mistakes hundreds of times:

  1. Inconsistent menu options on different website pages
  2. Search results that don’t indicate where on the site the results are found.
  3. Navigation elements too close to advertising (and are therfore not noticed by visitors)
  4. Too many navigation options that make site navigation very confusing
  5. Text links that don’t change colour when they have been visited

The list goes on and on, but the point should be obvious by now – there are a lot of ways to screw up the structure of a website if you don’t know what you’re doing.

So the next time your organization is creating or revamping their website, be sure that the company you hire has a usability expert on staff, or bring in your own.

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Instead of saying you care, Facebook now allows you to actually make a difference

facebook-donate-button-hed-2015Remember #Kony2012? What about #Haiti¬†after the earthquake? Still shivering after the #ALSIceBucketChallenge? If you’re closer to home here in Alberta, did you put a blue ribbon on your Facebook page to show your support for #EPSStrong?

It’s been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. Social media has tremendous potential to raise awareness for important causes, but being aware of something isn’t the same as doing something about it. Well now instead of adding that ribbon to your profile picture Facebook allows you to do a whole lot more.

Yesterday the social giant launched a “Donate Now” button charities and other organizations can plug directly into their Pages.

As Adweek reports:

Users will find a “Donate Now” button atop their news feeds, similar to the social networking giant’s option to help contribute to ebola containment and treatment efforts in November 2014. However, unlike that effort, which sparked some complaints of Facebook putting the onus of donations on users, the social network is now specifying that it will match $2 million in contributions.

Clicking the button (or donating via Facebook’s Nepal recovery landing page) will pop up options of contributing $10, $25, $50, $100 or a custom amount to the International Medical Corps, which is operating mobile medical units to treat the critically wounded and dispense medicine.

“Together we can help urgent care reach the people who need it,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his personal wall. “Thinking of all of you who are there and all of you who have relatives and friends in the affected areas.”

Facebook has allowed some charities to use the button in the past, but it is now rolling it out for wider use by charities.

Why does this matter? It means trendy campaigns where people show their support for a cause should finally fade away, replaced with campaigns that actually involve people helping out and making donations. After all, people on social media are never hypocrites.

Is social media right for marketing your small business?

Social Media for small business
Tips for social media marketing, and the many different ways social media can be used to promote small / midsized businesses (SMBs), can be found in almost endless numbers on an incredibly wide variety of websites. But there’s one crucial tip most small businesses won’t see – and that they should consider before any of the others; namely, is social media right for you at all?

Marketing budgets for SMBs have always been tight, and human resources to manage these dollars are becoming even more scarce. So while there are clearly great opportunities for small and medium businesses to use social media to market themselves, it’s equally clear that social media isn’t for everyone.

Should you be using social media to promote your small / medium business?

1. Does your business have something to say?

This is not a minor or flippant point. Some people enjoy their work, sell great products and love promoting their company, but just don’t have a lot to say about their business. For any number of reasons you might not feel you have anything interesting to say – and you need to know that up front, before you set up social media channels that will sit dormant. The only thing worse than not using social media is setting up social media accounts and signing up followers, but then not using these accounts regularly.

2. Can you take part in a conversation about your industry?

So maybe you don’t think you have anything to say up front. Maybe instead there are people already talking about your industry where you could jump in and add your insights. Just be sure you actually have some insights to add, and that you won’t just be jumping in to the conversation to explicitly sell your product or service.

3. Do you have someone in your business who has the time?

Many SMBs have one person doing all their marketing, and generally that person will have other responsibilities as well. So while social media generally doesn’t have any explicit costs, if this person is working on social media they won’t be able to spend as much time on their other responsibilities – which might take them away from advertising, keeping the website up-to-date, developing printed materials and so on.

4. Do you have someone in your business who can do the talking?

To successfully use social media, you have to have someone who is comfortable using the technology, or at least be willing to learn, and who can be counted upon to always convey the image you want for your business.

5. Are you willing to commit?

For all its tremendous value, social media is still not a quick fix. There are some absolutely excellent opportunities for SMBs in social media, but it takes time to develop relationships and build social media channels. You may not see results right off the bat, but if you’ve addressed all the questions above and are willing to commit to social media for the long term, you’ll see the significant benefits these tools can bring your company.

Me and 60,000 of my closest friends.

My 3 year-old son loves to play hide and seek. He’s not the most challenging opponent that I’ve played against, but he absolutely loves the game. My ridiculously compeitive nature means that I sometimes struggle to enjoy the game (and supress my urge to coach him), but my mother more than makes up for my shortcomings in this area.

She is officially the hide-and-seek queen of our family, since she plays almost endlessly with our son – who absolutely loves the game. Last week he picked a terrible hiding spot (even by his standards) and she took a second to snap a quick photo.

Why my 3-year-old always looses at hide and seek.

Normally this is where the story ends, but I had a few minutes to kill the other morning and had a copy of the picture on my phone so, when I had finished laughing about it, I posted it to reddit.com. I didn’t think any more of it until my lunch break when I took a quick look at reddit – and noticed that my post had taken on a life of its own.

About 4 hours after posting the story over 4000 people had read it. By the end of the work day, almost 25,000 had read it. As of now (a couple days later) the picture has had almost 60,000 views.

There are some great comments too. “You’re screwed when he gets floor colored shoes.” “That’s why I stopped playing hide-and-seek with 3-year-olds. Well, this and the court order too.” “I know you’re thinking about it, and it may even sound like a good idea on paper but I must insist that you Do Not cut your son’s feet off.”

My initial reaction is amazement. To think that a group of people the size of Fort McMurray has seen a family photo of ours is an odd feeling. On the one hand I feel connected to a larger community, but on the other hand it somehow puts an exclamation point on just how many people there are in the world now.

And I have to confess that I can’t help but wonder about the potential this kind of opportunity presents to businesses. What would a retailer pay for that kind of exposure in one day? What opportunities are available for content providers – who often get far, far higher ratings than my photo – to sell content to online stores. How could an online store generate this kind of exposure?

All politics is local – and now it’s social too

If there is a politician or elected official in the Western world who thinks that they don’t need to be aware of social media after the recent Iranian elections, I’d be quite surprised. Its true that many politicians are (wilfully?) ignorant of technology and social media, but even the most ardent luddite cannot help but notice the opportunities presented by these tools.

There is an outside chance that even after President Obama brilliantly displayed the value of social media in his campaign some politicians might still have not seen the value of these tools. The way that social media has shed light on recent Iranian elections, however, should leave no room for doubt with anyone who thinks they should hold elected office.

In an election of questionable legitimacy that has lead to unquestionably brutal police tactics, the one tool that was effectively able to draw world attention was social media. Twitter saw thousands of posts right from Tehran, YouTube ended up with saddeningly graphic videos, blogs were posted by those who voted and were intimidated by state police thugs – and all over the world minds were changed and hearts were won over.

In real-time, supporters of Mir Hussein Mousavi were able to show what was happening in a visceral way that allowed people all over the world to form deeply-held views on events that they would likely have never heard of otherwise.

So what is the lesson in all this for candidates running for office in our communities, thousands of miles away? Simply, it is that they ignore these tools at their own peril – or at least that of their campaign. And that the availability of immediate and free tools with which to communicate to supporters are finally here.

Imagine the power of being able to deliver a quick message to all of your supporters in response to a negative ad or news item. And wouldn’t it help to significantly improve event attendance if there was a way to remind supporters a few hours before an event? What if you could establish a dialogue with potential voters that allowed you to get your message out, and that was also monitored by local media.

While these are just a few of the potential uses of social media in election campaigns – keep in mind that these tools are largely free. There are numerous ways to set up a free blog, and Twitter, Facebook and YouTube don’t charge anything for accounts.

The only downside? Time.

For a candidate or campaign that wants to make the most of these tools, it is almost too late to start once the campaign is on. All of these tools are based on electronic relationships, and just like in the real world, it is to late to start cultivating them when you need them.

So in the end, the real lesson here is that for candidates considering running for office at some point in their lives, there is no time like the present to get started using social media.