Archive for May, 2012

Traffic congestion is down nationwide, but at a cost

May 24th, 2012 by Mariah

Washington (CNN) – If you commute using one of the 10 most clogged highways in the United States, you could ride a bicycle to work faster than you could drive, according to a new study that evaluates the countless hours drivers waste in gridlock on roadways each year.

By using GPS-equipped vehicles to record commuting experiences on the nation’s roads, analysts studied traffic from a database containing approximately 100 million vehicles including taxis, airport shuttles, service delivery vans, long haul trucks and passenger cars in 2011.

A 13-mile stretch of the San Diego Freeway outside Los Angeles ranked as the most traffic-choked freeway in the nation. But drivers in Honolulu spent the most time in traffic, averaging 58 hours a year stuck in stop-and-go traffic.

Researchers found urban areas are actually seeing traffic congestion decrease at a significant rate nationwide for the first time since 2008. Seventy of the country’s Top 100 most populated cities showed a drop in traffic congestion last year.

The study was commissioned by INRIX, a software company based in Kirkland, Washington, that provides traffic- and driver-related mobile apps and online services.

Among the study’s findings:

– Overall, there was a 30% drop in traffic congestion nationwide, but it came with a cost. Due in part to weak employment conditions and higher fuel prices, there are fewer drivers heading to the office, and those who do drive are driving less, the study found.

– Last year, only 890,000 of the 2.6 million new jobs were in urban areas, according to the research.

– In cities such as Tampa, Houston and Austin, Texas, research showed improved jobless numbers led to busier roadways.

– Eight of the 10 worst stretches of road for average travel time and delays were in New York or Los Angeles.

– On average, Americans spend around 40 hours per year behind the wheel in commuter bottlenecks.

– Both the best and worst weekday times to be on the road occur on Fridays. Between 6 and 7 in the morning is the best commute time; 5-6 p.m. is the pits.

– The worst morning commute is on Tuesday.

So when’s the best time to be on the road? The research says Monday.

“People tend to take a little more time getting to the office” on Mondays, said INRIX communications chief Jim Bak. “Also, when people take a long three-day weekend, it’s often on Monday,”

The 10 cities with the worst commutes, including hours spent in gridlocked traffic and worst 15-minute traffic intervals, were:

– Honolulu: 58 hours; 5:15-5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

– Los Angeles: 56 hours; 5:45-6 p.m. Thursday.

– San Francisco: 48 hours; 5:45-6 p.m. Thursday.

– New York: 57 hours; 5:30-5:45 p.m. Friday.

– Bridgeport, Connecticut: 42 hours; 5:30-5:45 p.m. Friday.

– Washington: 45 hours; 5:45-6 p.m. Thursday.

– Seattle: 33 hours; 5:30-5:45 p.m. Thursday.

– Austin, Texas: 30 hours; 5:30-5:45 p.m. Thursday.

– Boston: 35 hours; 5:30-5:45 p.m. Thursday.

– Chicago: 36 hours; 5:30-5:45 p.m. Thursday.

 

Top 10 worst stretches of highway in the nation in 2011 for daily commutes were:

1. Los Angeles: A 13-mile stretch of San Diego Freeway/I-405 North from I-105/Imperial Highway Interchange through the Getty Center Drive Exit, which takes 33 minutes on average with 20 minutes of delay.

2. New York: A 16-mile stretch of the Long Island Expressway/I-495 East from the Maurice Avenue Exit to Minneola Avenue/Willis Avenue Exit — 39 minutes; 22 minutes of delay.

3. Los Angeles: A 15-mile stretch of the Santa Monica Freeway/I-10 East from CA-1/Lincoln Boulevard Exit to Alameda Street –35 minutes; 20 minutes of delay.

4. New York: An 3-mile stretch of I-678 North (Van Wyck Expressway) from Belt Parkway to Main Street — 13 minutes; 10 minutes of delay.

5. Los Angeles: A 17.5-mile stretch of I-5 South (Santa Ana/Golden State freeways) from E. Caesar Chavez Avenue to Valley View Avenue exits — 40 minutes; 22 minutes of delay.

6. New York: A 10-mile stretch of I-278 West (Brooklyn Queens/Gowanus Expressway) from NY-25A/Northern Boulevard to the NY-27/Prospect Expressway exits — 31 minutes on average, with 18 minutes of delay.

7. Los Angeles: An 8-mile stretch of I-405 South (San Diego Freeway) from Nordhoff Street to Mulholland Drive — 22 minutes; with 14 minutes of delay.

8. New York: A 6-mile stretch of Van Wyck Expressway from Horace Harding Expressway to Linden Boulevard — 20 minutes; 13 minutes of delay.

9. Pittsburgh: A 3-mile stretch of Penn Lincoln Parkway/I-376 East from Lydia Street to the US-19 TK RT/PA-51 Exit — 13 minutes; nine minutes of delay in the morning peak period.

10. San Francisco: An 11-mile stretch of the California Delta Highway from Bailey Road to Somersville Road –16 minutes; 11 minutes of delay.

How to market your small business

May 24th, 2012 by Mariah

If you’ve ever asked yourself the question above, then this small business roundup is for you. You’ve got a great product or service in place, but how do you get customers to learn more about it and about you and your company? Marketing may not be as hard as you think and there are plenty of tools and a lot of advice to help you along the way.

Social Media

Survey says: Small business finally using social media. A recent study shows a significant shift in the use of social media as a marketing tool for small business. Check out some of the interesting numbers as small business seems to be finally adapting to the social Web in a big way. MarketWatch

Facebook remains the platform of choice. Small businesses still swear by Facebook as their main social media marketing outlet saying it is still more effective than all other alternatives. You can check out a graph showing the breakdown of social media channels as well. eMarketer

More Data

Series of surveys show increased acceptance/effectiveness of social media. Paul Gillin has this roundup of surveys all showing that the time has come for social media marketing in general. Though the Constant Contact survey is the one most sited in connection with SMBs, there is some other data here to confirm the trend. Business2Community

Check out the full Constant Contact survey here. Check out the rest of the data in this survey released in time for this past Small Business Saturday. The Fall 2011 Attitudes and Outlooks Survey has plenty of insight of interest to your small business. Constant Contact

Email

Check out the infographic below and follow our link for a version you can share. VisibleGains

Is email really dead? Though it may be the last tool you think about in your marketing tool box, e-mail should not be counted out.

Is Email Dead? [Infographic]

courtesy of Visible Gains

Book Shelf

Google + for Dummies. Susan Payton takes us on a guided tour of the newest social media frontier with a review of this new guide to Google +. If you’ve been slow to get started, join the club, but understand the value for your business. Small Business Trends

Mobile

SMBs prepare to invest in mobile. Though a survey may show small business still lags behind in the use of mobile marketing, other data points to the fact that mobile marketing may soon be on the increase among small businesses. ZDNet

Why mobile could be key to last minute sales. Not only can mobile marketing provide a compliment to your social media campaign, it can also provide important boosts where needed to generate sales on Holidays and at other special times.Venture Beat

Advice

Tips when designing your marketing plan. When coming up with a marketing plan for your small business in the new year, don’t forget these five important points. Your marketing plan should be the key to bringing in more clients and customers. Be sure you get your it right. SFGate

Other Tools

Project Rev 2012 offers marketing advice/tools. A new project focuses on delivering marketing advice and tools to 10 specially selected small business owners and entrepreneurs in an effort to help them find more customers.Business Wire

 

Google + for Dummies

May 24th, 2012 by Mariah

I’ve been a little slow to jump on the Google + bandwagon. But I was slow to get on Twitter too, so I’m determined not to be left behind (again). And so in an effort to be smarter about this latest social media tool, I recently snapped up a free autographed of the book Google + for Dummies by Jesse Stay (@Jesse on Twitter), while at BlogWorld.

The book is an introduction to the Google + platform. It can help you decide if Google + is something you want to invest time in.

The book is a beginner’s guide to creating a Google Plus account, adding people to Circles, and using more advanced features, like Hangouts (video chat), mobile apps for Google + and photos. It doesn’t, unfortunately, coverGoogle + Business Pages, but to be fair, they hadn’t launched when Stay released the book. Maybe he’ll write another one!

Like all the Dummies series, this book breaks down the steps so you can follow along, and gives key illustrations throughout the text. I really enjoyed Stay’s tips, which gave me a little more insight into how to use Google + effectively.

For example, I didn’t know that you could view your profile the way others see it by going to your profile page and clicking “View Profile As.” You can even select which Circle of friends or followers you’d like to view your profile as (since you can control who sees what on your profile, and you might only display certain information to your closest Circles).

And I’d all but forgotten about Sparks! I heard about them when I first signed up, but hadn’t really played with them. It’s actually not obvious: You have to search for a topic in the search bar, then select “Sparks” to see a stream of articles including that keyword. You can save the search so that at any time, you can click on the left toolbar and see what the latest articles on that topic are. However, Sparks aren’t, says Stay, available on any of G+’s mobile apps.

How to Read Google + for Dummies

If you’ve already created an account on Google +, skip ahead to the chapters you know less about. If you’re like me, you can dogear what interests you, or stop in the middle of reading it and go online to apply it! Stay covers privacy, what to post, Sparks and backing up your G+ data, so there’s something for everyone (not just beginners).

Privacy is a big part of Google +, and succeeds where Facebook fails. You can create lists in Facebook to stream your posts toward different groups, but the feature isn’t very user-friendly. Stay says:

“It’s up to you to decide which way you want to consume content. Google+ is likely to add even more filtering options in the future, so you may also have other options at some point. Regardless, using the Circles list makes reading your stream of such a diverse group of people much easier.”

It never occurred to me that I might want to back up my Google+ data (as well as everything in my Google account), but it is possible. You can save every article that you have +1d, your Google Buzz posts (remember that?), all your Google contacts and circles, your photos (including from Picasa), and your profile and stream data. In the event that you ever delete your Google account, you can store all of this on your hard drive by going to Account Settings and then Data Liberation. Good to know!

Who Should Read This Book

Stay doesn’t try too hard to convince you to use Google + (I guess if you bought the book, the idea is that you want to use it), but I’d say if you’re on the fence about it, this book will give you an indicator of how you can use it so you don’t have to spend time reading on the site to figure it out for yourself.

My two cents on Google + : because Google is the largest search engine in the world, and because Google currently appears to give priority to search results from G+ (something people find a bit unfair), you’d be a dummy not to have at least a basic presence on the site.

Plus, all the cool kids are there, so give in to peer pressure and get on there! And get Google+ for Dummies as a guide to help you.

 

Pinterest Small Business Guide

May 24th, 2012 by Mariah

Now hailing 11.7 million unique visitors a month, Pinterest has become the fastest standalone site to pass the 10 million visitor mark since, well, ever. But even more impressive than that are what those 11.7 million visitors are doing once they land on Pinterest — they’re staying and they’re engaging. Reports say that the average Pinterest user spends 89 minutes interacting, sharing, and posting on the site. And that could be your content they’re interacting with, but only if you’re taking the steps to leverage Pinterest.

If you’ve heard the buzz surrounding Pinterest but weren’t quite sure how to jump in and take advantage of it, keep reading. Below are some handy starter tips that every small business owner can use to build an audience via Pinterest.

Getting Started

If you don’t currently have a Pinterest login, you’ll have to request one as the site is still invite-only. Luck for you, it shouldn’t take more than a few days for Pinterest to send you an invitation to join. Once you get it, you’ll be asked to log in with either your Facebook or Twitter account. Don’t worry too much about which to choose as you’ll have the option later to switch it or to have your account tied to both.

With your account created, go into your Settings and take some time to fill out your profile. You’ll want to set your email settings, fill out your About section, include a Web site and then decide how you want Pinterest to interact with your other social media accounts.

Do you want all of your pins to sync to Facebook? Do you want to link your Twitter account? Depending on how you plan to use the site, this will change. If you’re not sure yet how you want your pins displayed, don’t worry too much. You can always come back and edit these settings.

Create Unique, Interesting Boards

Life on Pinterest starts here. When you start creating boards, focus on putting together boards that show off the lifestyle and beliefs behind your brands, notyour actual products or services. The key to mastering Pinterest is to realize that it’s less about promoting your products and more about promoting how you do what you do and how you see yourself in your market. That means creating boards to show off your company beliefs and culture, not your inventory.

For example, maybe you’re a local catering company. If so, you may want to have boards related to:

  • Healthy Eating
  • Buying Organic
  • Going Local
  • Green Living
  • Family Picnics
  • Dinner Recipes
  • Holiday Recipes
  • Food Mentors

These types of boards are related to what you do in your day-to-day business, but they also go a step further to show people what you believe and what you represent. That’s what users are looking for.

Do your best to come up with creative and compelling board names, as these will get shared when people pin your content. Similar to titling your blog posts – putting something eye-catching in there will help your content spread faster.

Assessing Your Pin-able Assets

This is where many business owners start to freak out. Don’t! It’s easy to think that if you’re not in the business of pretty or quirky pictures that Pinterest can’t work for your brand. But it absolutely can! Every site has visual assets that they can take advantage of. Sometimes you just have to think outside the box. For you, pinable content may come in the form of:

  • Infographics or other data visualizations
  • Video stills that link off to media where you appear
  • Covers of books or eBooks you’ve written
  • Eye-catching visuals for blog posts
  • Images of customers using your products
  • Images of how your product could be used

Take a look through your site to identify assets you already own. Once you do that, think forward to brainstorm new ways to incorporate visuals into your Web site. For example, you’ll want to make sure that you’re using images in every blog post or newsletter article you’re creating so that you (and your readers) will have something to pin. Maybe you’ll want to build more data visualization into your content strategy or focus on creating things that lend themselves to visuals. Build the assets you’ll need later.

Get Your Team Involved

One of the fun features Pinterest offers is that you can add contributors to any of your boards to help keep them updated and engaging. As a small business owner there are a lot of neat ways to take advantage of this. You can:

  • Add employees as contributors to boards about company culture
  • Add frequent blog commenters/community members to boards related to content/ industry finds
  • Add your executive team as contributors to charitable pursuits.

The more people you get involved, the more life you’ll add to your Pinterest account and the more others will want to follow what you’re doing. To add board contributors, go to the board you want to add a contributor to and click Edit. On the board’s settings menu, select “Me + Contributors.” You must follow at least one board belonging to a user in order to add him/her as a contributor. Once you’re there, start typing his/her username into the text field. Once potential matches begin to load, click Add when you see the person you want to add as a contributor. Then save your settings.

Build Followers

The best way to build new followers is to become an engaged Pinterest user. That means following other users, pinning content, repining content others share, etc. Each time you follow someone or engage with their update on Pinterest, by default, they’ll receive a notification email letting them know. This is a good way to build up your followers because, if you have good content, they’ll check you out once they see the email and follow you back. It’s also a good way to show others that you’re interested in the community and what other people are sharing.

If you’re looking for potential people to follow OR simply looking to understand what type of content you should be following, try going tohttp://pinterest.com/source/yoursitehere. This will show you what content on your domain has already been pinned and whose pinning it. You can also do the same for competitor URLs to see who is pinning and sharing their content.

Promoting Your Account

Once your account is set up, you want to do your due diligence and promote it so that your audience knows it exists. This may include adding a Pin It! buttonto your blog posts so content can be easily shared, syncing your Pinterest account to Twitter and Facebook, encouraging people to subscribe to your Pinterest RSS feed, mentioning your account in company promotions/emails, etc. The more ways you can make Pintest part of your marketing efforts, the bigger the account will grow and the easier it will be to make content spread.

The above tips are designed to help any small business get involved with Pinterest. How are you using the site to market your business? Any lessons you want to share?