Set the Timer

Being a virtual worker has its obvious advantages, such as no commuting, variable work hours and days, and working in your pajamas from the couch. It also has its disadvantages, such as allowing you to do nothing and lose track of time.

Because much of my work these days are billable hours rather than a salary, it is important that I keep track of how long I work on a project. I need those stats both to invoice clients and to give estimates to new clients.

This was a skill I needed to develop when I shifted my working days to virtual ones. One technique that I started using turns out to have a formal name. More on that in a bit…

This time management and productivity technique is very simple. When you start a task (not a project, but a piece of it), set a timer and work on that task for 25 minutes. Then, take a short break (3-5 minutes). Start working on the task again for 25 minutes and repeat until it’s completed.

I just started doing this on my own and it was only later that I discovered that I was using the Pomodoro Technique.

Il pomodoro.jpg
Pomodoro tomato timer
from Erato at Italian Wikinews. – Transferred from it.wikinews to Commons by Fale using CommonsHelper., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. His technique was to use a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Originally, he broke it down into six steps. These intervals are named pomodoros, the plural in English of the Italian word pomodoro (tomato), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.

The technique has been popularized more recently via a bunch of apps and websites that provide timers and instructions.  I just use a cheap digital timer that can count down. I tried using my phone timer but for some reason it was less effective. Perhaps because the screen would go to sleep, so those numbers weren’t always staring at me.

One of the app options is Focus Booster which will automatically record your timesheets  for each project or task and lets you export it for easier invoicing.

This technique is closely related to several other productivity techniques, such as timeboxing, and iterative and incremental development.

Timeboxing allocates a fixed time period, called a time box, to each planned activity. Several project management approaches use timeboxing. It is also used for individual use to address personal tasks in a smaller time frame. It often involves having deliverables and deadlines, which will improve the productivity of the user.

Iterative and incremental development which is often used in software design. The basic idea behind this method is to develop a system through repeated cycles (iterative) and in smaller portions at a time (incremental), allowing software developers to take advantage of what was learned during development of earlier parts or versions of the system.

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What’s Cool With Gen Z?

gen z
I looked at “It’s Lit: A Google Guide to What Teens (Gen Z) Think is Cool”

The social media global penetration will hit three billion people worldwide by 2021, and one of the fastest growing, quickest adopting generations on social media is Generation Z  These are the current teenagers and they make up about 26%, of the US population.

Where are they posting online? Snapchat, and Instagram are cool. Twitter and Facebook, not cool. Still, Facebook is still almost a daily habit for most teens for viewing/consuming content from friends and family, but they are not engaged there or posting.

Snapchat and Instagram don’t encourage sharing as much and are more about who you follow which makes them feel more private/closed allowing messaging and shares without it being public.

Apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, and other chat services may play no roll in your clients’ or your personal social media landscape but are growing in popularity with Gen Z.

Pinterest is down with only a 26% reach with teens. In Google’s report, they don’t treat their own YouTube property as social media but as a streaming service. In that category, teens rank services in this order: YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, and Hulu.

I was surprised at some of the brands they engage with most often: Oreo, Playstation, Doritos, Xbox, Apple, Nike, Amazon, Chik-Fil-A, and Go Pro. Low engagement goes to  Patagonia, Zara, Lululemon, Quicksilver, Oakley, Nordstrom and Sunglass Hut. If you are in that latter group, you would want to consider where these teens will be looking and buying in the next decade when Gen Z purchasing power increases significantly. Will you have lost them?

The Gig Economy

work at home pexels

Sometimes people chuckle or look confused when I say I work in the gig economy. They think I made it up. I didn’t.

A gig economy is usually defined as an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.

Twenty years ago, I would have associated “gigs” with musicians. You play a gig at a club tonight, next weekend you play one somewhere else. Maybe you luck into getting a regular gig (almost an oxymoron) playing every other Friday night at the same place for a few months.

It is not “part-time” work.

The trend toward a gig economy has been climbing and a study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors.

What is pushing this trend to short-term jobs? One thing is an increasingly mobile workforce that can increasingly work from anywhere. Job and location are not always linked these days. Freelancers can select  jobs and projects around the world, and employers have a much larger pool of candidates.

Employers often like this arrangement as it means no office space needed and, as with part-timers in general, probably no benefits. Not being responsible for employees’ taxes and benefits allows companies to operate with 20% to 30% less in labor costs than the traditional competition.

People tend to change jobs more often throughout their working lives than in prior generations and the gig economy can be seen as an evolution of that trend.

Employers can contract with experts for specific projects who might be too high-priced to maintain on staff.

My newest gig is doing instructional design of online courses for a college. It is a one-year gig, so it is actually pretty regular work. But it is all virtual work from home and the hours are set by me. I have milestones and deadlines to meet, but the schedule is mine.

For this gig, I am getting an hourly rate, but the college has set a cap on the number of hours I can bill per course (though we have already discussed the possibility that some courses may run over that amount, while others will be under). The Dean in charge of this project would prefer to have an instructional designer full time on staff, but the budget line for that position won’t appear until next fall when their “virtual college” actually launches with student.

Gig workers like the improved work-life balance offered over most traditional jobs. Ideally, the worker is able to select jobs that they’re interested in – though obviously if you’re in need of work, you may have to take a gig that isn’t your first choice.

Despite any benefits, the gig economy is part of  the sharing economy, the gift economy and the barter economy and there are downsides to all of these. You are like freelancers and self-employed workers of the past and have to deal with insurance and other benefits and issues.

Finding hard numbers on the size of this gig economy workforce seems rather inexact right now. Government data sources have difficulty counting how many gig workers there are, but it is being tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Gig workers are seen in some government stats as contingent workers, defined as “those who don’t have an implicit or explicit contract for long-term employment.” Alternative employment titles also include those who identify as independent contractors, freelancers or independent consultants, on-call workers, and workers provided by temporary help agencies or contract firms.

BLS data lumps gig workers in with all the other alternative workers. The Census includes them in nonemployer statistics data – a self-employed individual operating a very small, unincorporated business with no paid employees.

Fast Company magazine warns that lawsuits around the gig economy are an issue of concern. Uber, Lyft and other gig drivers have protested and “gone on strike” and other companies that have built their business model on gig employees have seen some employee resistance.

Homejoy, Handy (both cleaning services) and workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (an online platform that pays independent contractors cents per task) recently orchestrated a letter-writing campaign to Jeff Bezos asking for him “to see that Turkers are not only actual human beings, but people who deserve respect, fair treatment, and open communication.” Legally, Uber and Lyft are also facing charges of misclassifying workers. A case against an online work platform called Crowdflower was also opened.

What might bring down the gig economy? Besides some class-action lawsuits, there might be intervention by regulators (many cities are clamping down on Uber and Lyft at the behest of traditional taxi companies). If companies can ever hybridize traditional jobs and gig ones, you might end up with a new option that offers both the freedom and some of the benefits of traditional work.

New Template Being Pushed for Facebook Business Pages

changes

Many of you Facebook received the same update news that I got about changes to business Pages. I have read that these changes are largely inspired by a push to support small and local businesses.

There are more than 80 million businesses that use Facebook Pages. About two-thirds of the 1.6 billion people around the world visit a local business Page or an Event Page each week.

I have also read that Page reach and engagement for brands has been on the decline. The area of weakest engagement is the News Feed.

The News Feed is the key area for personal pages, but not so for business Pages. The changes seem to be making your business presence more like a website. Some smaller businesses have been using their Facebook Page as a website in that they don’t have a traditional website at all. Recently, I built a Facebook business Page for a professional photographer who did not have a website, though he did use Zenfolio to display and sell his work.

Business owners know that customer reviews (Yelp, Amazon, TripAdvisor etc.) are important to all businesses but especially for local businesses. If you trust the validity of those reviews for restaurants and services, they can drive engagement and sales. And facebook quickly realized (and abused to a degree) the fact that most of us especially trust reviews by their friends and families.

The update makes it easier for people to recommend your business by posting text, photos and tags directly on your Page.

There are also action buttons prominently near the top of Pages for things like booking an appointment for a haircut, ordering, sending a message or writing  a recommendation.

The email I initially received said:

We want to let you know that your Page’s template will be changing. This new design will help you connect with the people who care most about your business on Facebook.

The new layout is specifically for businesses like yours and will showcase important information about your business – like hours, prices and your menu – making it easier for people to connect with Ronkowitz LLC.

You can make this change now, or we’ll automatically update your Page layout on August 24th, 2018. You can also continue to use your current template.

Other changes are also coming for businesses. It may not really affect small, local businesses but job listings (which Facebook has been testing since 2017) is supposed to be added to business pages in the next few months.

Choosing the action buttons best suited to your business would be a good first step, but you can also feature information such as hours and prices, as well as Recommendations more prominently on Pages. You can also choose to highlight new content such as events and offers.

Some of these features are not new, but are displayed differently. Facebook says that 700 million people use Facebook Events each month. You could always link to ticket sales on another site, but now you will be able to sell tickets directly through Facebook Pages and make event-specific ads to help with promotion and marketing. Obviously, those changes benefit Facebook monetarily too.

I have seen other recent changes too not mentioned in most update articles. For example, a photo post I shared from my Instagram to Facebook no longer carried an Instagram label and so looked less like a repost.

There’s No Bad Publicity, Right?

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” That’s a line usually associated with P.T. Barnum, the 19th century American showman and circus owner.

Barnum made no attempt to hide his ambitions.  He wrote a book titled The Art of Money GettingIt’s a title Donald Trump (who has been compared to Barnum) would probably use on a book. It says what it is about right there on the cover.

Barnum was big on being a self-publicist. He used any opportunity to get his products in the public eye, even if some scandal was the reason. Get your name out there.

It is a theory that sometimes seems to work. Sometimes.

Some big companies like Volkswagen, BP and Toyota have had bad publicity the past few years and I don’t know that getting their name out there in those contexts was very good branding.

United Airlines was the bad publicity winner last week when it forcibly removed a man from a plane because they wanted his legitimately booked seat for an employee. Did it hurt their brand, stock price or change their policies?

Recently, Kendall Jenner got some bad publicity along with Pepsi for a Black Lives Matter-themed Pepsi commercial that was trashed in both the Big Media and social media. Distasteful. Insensitive.

Of course, every TV network replayed at least a portion of that commercial in their story. Free airtime, right? And the week after it aired, 19-year-old Kylie, who is big on social media, was announced as getting her own TV show, “Life With Kylie.” Coincidence? Result of the ad? Promotional consideration?

Burger King pulled off a clever, or devious, commercial recently. In the ad, a BK employee holding a hamburger says that there’s not enough time to tell you all about this burger, so he says “Okay Google, what is a Whopper burger?”

Okay, he is using technology. That’s cool.  But the employee’s words would also activate listener’s devices with Google Home to define a Whopper.

Google intervened to prevent the commercial, but it got replayed on shows and written about in lots of big and small media outlets.

Did Burger King run the ad knowing what would ensue?  Was that “bad” publicity actually baked into the campaign?

Is it legal? Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told Fortune that “Google (and others) literally ‘opened the door’ to this new hack when they put ‘always on’ devices in the home. We warned the FTC of the basic flaw in the architecture — it is not simply the owner that activates the device … They didn’t ‘listen,'”

Similar things have happened unintentionally with Amazon’s Echo when “Alexa” orders an item because using that name activated the device. One case that got a lot of attention was when Amazon’s Alexa started ordering people dollhouses after hearing its name on TV. That led to lots of posts about how to stop Alexa from ordering without your permission, thus disabling a feature that Amazon wants turned on.

Is there bad publicity? Absolutely. Is all negative publicity ultimately bad for a brand? No, but that is a very dangerous strategy to put into place.

Is It All About Conversions?

There is plenty of talk about e-commerce now that we are deep into the end-of-year holiday shopping season. In e-commerce marketing the key word seems to be CONVERSION. That term refers to converting site visitors into paying customers.

Getting visitors to your website is important of course, but even to a non-profit organization you want visitors to engage with their organization. A “conversion” is generally, but not always a “sale.” The organization might also want a visitor to add their name to a mailing list, request information, make a donation or download a special offer.

Websites monitor carefully your activity on the site. When a customer visits, adds item(s) to an online shopping cart and then “abandons” it, that is a lost conversion. Nowadays, it is common in that situation for the organization to re-engage the customer. They might offer free shipping, an email reminder, or even offer live chat with the customer as soon as they attempt to click away from the site.

Social media has become another way to boost conversions.  Social media has been a way to generate traffic to a site for a lot longer. Using contextual ads, word-of-mouth social sharing and positive reviews are all important to attracting users, but turning that traffic into sales or leads is more important.

Using social media is one way to react to the analytic data about visitors.  Using tools like AddShoppers, which uses reward sharing by identifying social “influencers by tracking social activity and crossing that with conversions or ROI.

As instructional designers often use the ADDIE framework for designing training and instruction, some social media and marketing designers use the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) principles to design the user experience. This framework is built upon the conversion funnel.

funnel

The conversion funnel is a phrase used in e-commerce to describe the journey a consumer takes through an Internet advertising or search system, navigating an e-commerce website and finally converting to a sale. The metaphor of a funnel is used to describe the anticipated decrease in numbers that occurs at each step of the process from getting traffic to the conversion of a sale or other action..

Of course,there are many things that can be done to increase conversions besides marketing. Increasing trust in the site, improving site navigation structure and content (text, images, video) and usability to reduce barriers to conversion.

Is it all about conversions? Probably, but it is not all about marketing.