Choosing a TripAdvisor Connect Internet Booking Engine

OnlineBookngEngine

A typical Booking Engine

A prerequisite to launching a TripAdvisor Connect campaign is having an approved TripAdvisor Connect Internet Booking Engine (IBE) on your lodging property’s website. An Internet Booking Engine (IBE) allows your guests to review room and amenity details and browse availability. After they have made a choice, they are able to book directly on your site’s secure booking engine using a major credit card. This has become standard protocol in today’s online travel world, but there really is a lot more to getting a hotel functional online than just selecting an Internet Booking Engine.

Choosing only an Internet Booking Engine would be like buying only one tire for your car instead of a whole set. Not real far-sighted, right? From a hotel’s perspective, the Internet Booking Engine is just a portion of what is needed for successful online integration. A hotel or resort’s support structure should be designed to encompass all of your hotel’s goals, like an attractive, branded website, online credit card acceptance which includes PCI compliance, one or more OTA connections, and a cloud-based PMS that is mobile-optimized.

Eggs in one basketI would caution anyone from putting all of his or her eggs in the TripAdvisor basket or only one marketing partner’s basket for that matter. In these turbulent times, it’s important for properties to have long-term, multi-level plans that can easily address local and niche opportunities and provide flexibility in partnering choices. All this can be accomplished by making the right PMS choice and working outward from there.

TripAdvisor has partnered with quite a few companies that offer Internet Booking Engines to their customers. The list changes daily and can be found at TripAdvisor’s Partner Page.

TripAdvisor has 3 levels of integration from their IBE providers.

Premium Partners will include

    1. The TripConnect CPC program
    2. Review Express- which automatically sends review requests to departing guests
    3. ROI tracking- which provides Property-level tracking on the confirmation page for each hotel booking through TripAdvisor.

Plus Partners will have:

    1. The TripConnect CPC program
    2. Review Express- which automatically sends review requests to departing guests

Partners offer only the TripConnect CPC program.

Find the right PMS

Separating the wheat from the chaff is the difficult part. As you can tell by the enormous TripAdvisor Connect Partner list, finding a PMS company with an approved IBE that provides what you need for an affordable price is not an easy task. If you choose to go it alone, I suggest using Capterra’s exhaustive list as a starting point. First, select the features that are important to you and narrow your search with their filters. Choose a few and compare your needs and the user reviews. After you have a few selected, you might want to set up a demo with a sales person and have a conversation on pricing. Include the pricing of all needed interfaces in your estimate. Two interfaces you will most likely want would be a credit card merchant account with PCI compliance and a credit card gateway. These price out separately and present their own complete shopping comparison challenge. Be sure to collect a complete scenario. Use both your ‘must have’ and your ‘wish list’ and price them out. Things can change quickly in today’s turbulent marketing world and is why I recommend including your ‘wish list’ into this process. It’s important to keep your plan flexible by positioning yourself for the future and unseen contingencies.

Watch out for transaction fees and double hits

We found that some PMS companies are charging up to 3x more by use of small transaction fees placed on high-volume tasks. I call them double hits. You pay the OTA or channel partner their fees, plus you will pay the PMS company again –each time, for every transaction. I think, it’s pretty sneaky. Not all PMS companies do this. These fees really add up and can take a huge chunk out of your sales. Instead look for PMS companies that charge for set-up with a small monthly support fee for each connection. That will keep your costs under control no matter how many bookings you have each month. Or give us a call today and we’ll help you through it!

Focus on the details

I also recommend evaluating PMS systems based on the following factors: how long have they been in business? (a good system takes years to develop) where is support located? language spoken? fluency? their support hours –including weekends? their response commitment? ability to export data out to a ‘flat’ file (is it usable, or broken into several lines and columns for each reservation?), report features (does it export to a .csv file?), can you follow each transaction right into the bank? how many ‘clicks’ does it take to report on commonly-used info? Will both, the guests and staff, be able to access all parts of the site from mobile phones and tablets? What will it look like and how will it function?

Before you switch providers, ask your current provider of their plans for TripAdvisor Connect. There is a lot happening and things are changing daily. Don’t jump ship just because your provider isn’t on the list. Ask them their opinion of this new tool, they are one of your technology partners.

Finding this all too daunting of a task? Give us a call today!  Our experience and passion is in working with small independent hotels and lodging properties in North America. We operate from the hotel’s perspective, one that is customized to your unique situations. We don’t try to ‘sell’ you everything that is available online, but try to keep it lean and affordable. We don’t talk about what should be done, we help get it done.

Next week, we will look into other promotional options beyond TripAdvisor Connect. It’s always good to have other choices. This is part three of a four-part series, if you missed our other articles then you might want to check out Rolling Out TripAdvisor Connect and A Likely TripAdvisor Connect Scenario.

A Tour- The Backend of the Internet

SwitchboardPlaced in non-descript buildings, evolved from early communication companies- these are the physical things that make up the Internet. Here is a fascinating look at the backend of the Internet.
 

This video by Ben Mendelsohn, a documentary filmaker, starts out in New York and expands across the globe to take you on a tour that shows you what makes up the Internet.
 

After watching this video mystic words like “cyber-space” will lose some of their mystique and concepts that seemed awesome, will now be almost ordinary. Enjoy!
 
Infrastructure

This has been Social Energizer’s Saturday Morning Post, a less business oriented, more personally related edition than our blog that is offered during the week. Social Energizer’s purpose is to help companies develop lasting relationships with their customers and increase their visibility online.

In addition to building dynamic and affordable websites, we integrate inbound marketing techniques into each business’ current marketing plan and utilize digital channels and strategies like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Search Engine Optimization, and Web-integrated Email Campaigns.

We invite you to comment and rate each blog, so we can ever improve our offerings to you. Are you venturing into online marketing? Give us a call!

StringHub –Where Educators, Students and Startups Meet

Article first published as StringHub –Where Educators, Students and Startups Meet on Technorati.

As a guest writer, Technorati published my first article last week, which is shown below. I found it a great compliment to be asked to write for Tehnorati. After all, Technorati, the very first search engine for blogs, is considered the gold standard, with an index of more than one million blogs. Let me know what you think…

I always get excited about finding cool new ways to help small and medium-sized businesses solve one of their greatest challenges – lack of resources. Introducing… StringHub.StringHub graphic

StringHub is attempting to tackle this resource challenge by linking instructors and professors with businesses via student projects. In fact, this equation promises to help everyone including our sagging economy. Businesses will receive valuable help they need from inspiring artists and professionals and students will receive the opportunity to take part in ‘real-life’ business situations.

I recently met Adam Hoeksema, co-founder of StringHub, online and found his passion and insights to be inspiring. Adam’s innovative thinking promises to drive educational institutions everywhere to adapting Internet technologies to create a more meaningful, far-reaching impact, while introducing their students to the art of entrepreneurship. The concept was Adam’s brainchild, but taking it online required a team effort. Adam is the business, marketing and finance guy in this partnership. The Internet technology, namely their website StringHub.com, was created by his brother and co-founder, Brandon, who is actually still in high school. A self-taught programmer, Brandon has done a remarkable job with the website. It’s a simple, clean interface that allows educators to submit class projects to be matched with businesses in need.

I asked Adam about the background and details surrounding StringHub.com and here’s what he had to say:

Adam, how and why did the idea of StringHub.com occur to you?
“I graduated from Taylor University in May of 2010 with a degree in accounting. In June, I started as Client Services Manager at the Flagship Enterprise Center, a business incubator in Anderson, Indiana. As I worked with our clients at the Flagship Enterprise Center, I realized that startup companies need a lot of help. They need help with graphic and web design, social media, video production, public relations, web application development, and the list could go on. There are college students working on class projects in all of these areas, but typically the projects have no real world application. The projects simply go to waste; they are just for practice. We thought if we could unlock the real world value of student class projects we could create a win-win situation for both businesses and students.”

What is StringHub’s mission?
“I want StringHub to fundamentally change the way that college and university class projects work. I believe that the best way for students to learn something is to try and fail in the real world. You can’t do that through case studies, or projects for imaginary businesses. So first and foremost we want to help improve the educational experience for students. At the same time, we want to help small businesses flourish, add jobs, and create wealth. Those are lofty goals, but we believe it is possible.”

What type of projects would StringHub.com participate in?
“Currently there are millions of student class projects in areas like:
▪ Marketing
▪ Public Relations
▪ Business Management
▪ Graphic Design
▪ Web Development
▪ Social Media
▪ Finance
And many more subjects

Typically these projects just go to waste. They are ‘practice.’ http://stringhub.com is attempting to create a platform that unlocks the real world value of these student class projects in order to help support entrepreneurs.

Many of these class projects could be free to the entrepreneur. We believe that a focused approach can really accelerate a startup. Imagine an army of students all supporting an innovative, world changing startup company.”

What do students gain from this?
By connecting student projects with real world applications students are gaining:
▪ Real world experience
▪ A professional portfolio of completed work
▪ Relationships with a network of potential employers

For example, Adam refers to an integrated marketing plan created for HeatMax, Inc. at the University of Arizona. Four University of Arizona students helped to create a new product line called Toastie Toes that helps women keep their feet warm in cold weather. Their professor, Hope Jensen Schau matches student teams with companies to work on projects like packaging, distribution, advertising and public relations. The four students in question have earned local fame and have also been contracted to continue their work with HeatMax, Inc.

Overall, the University of Arizona example is the same model that StringHub.com will employ. It is a web-based platform that allows tech schools, colleges and universities to unlock the real world value of student class projects, by connecting student projects with opportunities, and managing the entire project through an online workroom.

Social Energizer’s purpose is to help companies develop lasting relationships with their customers and increase their visibility online.

In addition to building dynamic and affordable websites, we integrate inbound marketing techniques into each business’ current marketing plan and utilize digital channels and strategies like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Search Engine Optimization, and Web-integrated Email Campaigns.

Give us a call today!

The Social Media grade for the Packer Concert for NFL Season Opener

A few weeks ago my contest-loving, contest-winning hubby ‘won’ a contest on 1iota.com for the Green Bay Packer Pre-Game Kickoff Concert for the NFL Season Opening tickets! Yeah! Right?

You KNOW I’m a Packer Fan AND a country music fan. Yes, it was great fun. Saying he ‘won’ them though is a bit of a stretch. As we’re both Facebook fans of Green Bay Packers, Tom found a post that let us enter a contest for VIP Priority seats.

The only stipulation? You needed to be among the first of 3,000 people to sign up. So of course, he entered and immediately won. He could only sign up for up to 3, so he got 2 spots. Hmm, I said, “show me how you did it, I’ll get 2 more”. Simple, right? Then I learned… I simply don’t know how he found it! It took us at least 5 minutes to navigate to the same exact spot on 1iota’s very complicated website. It certainly was not intuitive –maybe it was a test instead of a contest? But we ‘won’ a second set of tickets -under my name, then found another couple to go with. Good to go. Social Media and Facebook, the new way to get free stuff!

As we came closer to this one-time event, you could tell that the promoters were planning it ‘on the fly’. The information that came out from 1iota.com, the Packers, and the media was usually unclear and conflicting. From the contest ticket information, we were told to pick up wristbands at noon, be back about 2-2:30pm, and that we’d leave the staging area to the concert about ‘3-ish’. Didn’t work that way.

We got there at 11:30am and were told that we needed to stay in ‘the pen’ or have someone save ‘our spot’. Here’s a video that shows exactly what that was like and the looong line of 3,000 people. (this footage is out of sequence)

Finally, it was time for wristbands -12:45pm! Yep, 45 minutes later than was posted online. The good news? Water was abundant and free and so were the bathrooms (porta-pottys, but clean). The bad news? Tell you later…

Social media tools are key with concert organization today

Each of our tickets had a ‘QR code’ on them and the staff from 1iota, merely scanned each code and verified each ticket holder. Easy peasy. QR codes are kind of like UPC codes for people. If you haven’t seen a QR code, you will. They are the square black and white boxes that take you to special pages, often promotional, online. This one was for concert check-in. This will offer many like opportunities for small businesses. Implementing this in the right scenario is a reasonably low-cost option.

Video of scanning QR codes here:

Video of wristbands:

Here are some of the videos that I took on Thursday. Word of warning, I’m just trying out my new, lower-end Toshiba hand-held video camera, so please forgive me for some of the juggling. I also learned it’s difficult to hold a camera over your head for 2plus hours.

The concert started with Maroon 5, singing Wake Up Call. Just for fun, go here for the lyrics. It’s funny, but if you compare as we did to the actual video of Network TV, the acts do not line up at all. ‘Live’ TV apparently isn’t so live after all.

Here is Adam Levine, getting the crowd going. One more self-proclaimed Packer Fan!

Kid Rock came on stage with his usual swagger and roar. He earned many new fans in Northeast Wisconsin at this concert.

Between performances the local TV and radio personalities, who mc’d the event, interviewed past NFL football players. Here was the best interview with Ahman Green and Antonio Freeman.

Lady Antebellum, the crowd favorite, came on toward the end of the concert. They were strategically scheduled here to finish up with a ‘live’ spot to launch the NFL football season.

I’d say the whole day was ‘a mixed bag’. Much of what people said on the 1iota.com discussion boards about the priority ‘VIP’ seating is true and I doubt that I’d do it again. That said, THE CONCERT ROCKED! And it will be one of those ‘one-of-a-kind’ events that I’ll always remember.

Finally, what was the bad news I mentioned earlier? When we went into the concert area at 3pm, 1iota, our keepers, offered us bottles of water (yep, no beer within these gates). And… BUT if you needed to use the bathroom, you had to forfeit your ‘place’ within the concert and you could not even get close again -splitting up many groups and families, including ours.

Was it worth it?

THE CONCERT WAS WORTH IT, but next time we’ll forego the 1iota thing. It was very much a bait and switch type of farce. The VIP ‘prize’ ended up being a total of 8 raffled prizes among 3,000 people. That’s it! For the many hours of waiting in a stale, hot, boring line – on a historic, activity-filled day in Lambeau, where there were so many things to see -what a waste in hindsight. If we had stood in the line for the general public even starting at any time after 2pm or so, we would have ended up with a similar or better ‘place’ within a more care-free crowd. Being a Kid Rock groupie, after all, is not as easy as it first seems.

This has been Social Energizer’s Saturday Morning Post, a less business oriented, more personally related edition than our blog that is offered during the week. Social Energizer’s purpose is to help companies develop lasting relationships with their customers and increase their visibility online.

In addition to building dynamic and affordable websites, we integrate inbound marketing techniques into each business’ current marketing plan and utilize digital channels and strategies like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Search Engine Optimization, and Web-integrated Email Campaigns.

We invite you to comment and rate each blog, so we can ever improve our offerings to you. Are you venturing into online marketing? Give us a call!

Part Four – How do I know I’m not ‘spamming’? I’m just trying to promote my blog

Hopefully last week’s post didn’t make you stay awake at night wondering if you, too, were a spammer. When you leave comments on someone else’s blog how do you know it’s not spam? You can rest easy if you are leaving thoughtful comments on blogs that match or at least have something to do with your blog’s topic. In fact, commenting thoughtfully on someone else’s blog is a great way to get people to visit your own site and create backlinks. If you are cutting and pasting from one blog to another then you just may be.

White hat versus Black hat SEOwhite hat vs blck hat seo

In broad terms, SEO techniques are classified as white hat vs black hat. Just like in the Lone Ranger, if you want to be considered one of the ‘good guys or gals’ you want to be in the ‘white hat’ category. White hat SEO tends to look long-term and builds sites that are based on good design and interactivity. Black hat marketers use tactics that take whatever means to build rankings and often involve deception. One method uses hidden text where the text and background blend together. Another uses a practice called cloaking, which provides a different page response depending on if the page requested is by human or search engine. Search engines may remove black hats from their databases or reduce their online rankings.

And for God’s Sake, Don’t ‘Content Spam’ Either

Bloggers should also be cognitive of Content Spam. We all get ‘good’ at knowing what the search engines want and we want to make it easy for them to get it. If you do this job too well, you run the risk of being tagged a content spammer. Here some things to look out for:

Keyword spamming

This is using calculated placement of keywords within a page to raise the keyword count, variety and density of the page. This may include keywords that are directed more to the demographic, than what belong in the article. For example: a promoter wants to attract moms with children under 5. He or she places hidden text that may be similar to a popular women’s site hoping that the site will get picked up by search engines and will receive visits from these moms. In reality, the site might be for a matchmaking site or something similarly unrelated.

Meta-tag stuffing

This involves repeating keywords in the Meta tags and using keywords that are unrelated to the site’s content.

Hidden Text

The explanation was covered above in Black Hat SEO tactics.

Scraper Sites

Scraper sites use various programs to glean content that scores high in the search engine results pages. By taking a sampling of info from many sites, and recombining them new content is created. Some of these sites end up with higher rankings than the original writer of the information.

Article Spinning

Article spinning uses existing articles, usually taken from other sites, and rewrites the content. It is usually done by automated means or by hired writers.

Do not confuse article spinning with recycling your content. Using information from blogs you have already written and changing them up can be a good thing. It’s not what you do but how you do it. When using old content be sure to add some life and vitality to it. Can you pull out some questions for a poll? Can you do a video version? Doing things like that separates it from the dangers of article spinning.

Sometimes the lines are less than clear as to what the acceptable standards are. And when they are clear the lines themselves tend to keep changing. As with all things social media, use common sense, ask if you don’t know, and admit that you may be doing it all wrong.

Thank you for visiting my site and if you’ve read all four articles in our four-part series or if you’ve only read this one, I’d love to hear from you. Please don’t be afraid that because I watch closely for spam, I’ll think you are spamming me. Comments are what we bloggers live for! But maybe just add ‘not spam’ in your comment this time, then I’ll know for sure. I dare you.

Social Energizer’s purpose is to help companies develop lasting relationships with their customers and increase their visibility online.

In addition to building dynamic and affordable websites, we integrate inbound marketing techniques into each business’ current marketing plan and utilize digital channels and strategies like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Search Engine Optimization, and Web-integrated Email Campaigns.

Give us a call today!

Part Three – Sorting Out Spam Comments in your Blog

What a thrill it is to get people commenting on your blog. That’s how it works, right? People from all over the world will discover your writing talents, appreciate your knowledge on a certain subject and leave comments. That is what all of us engaging in the social media world have all been promised, right? Well, good comments will happen, but I hate to tell you that here, too, spammers are lurking in the background.

Usually these spammers are trying to get into your site by adding links where you may not even realize it. This is called link spam and they are doing this to give their websites higher rankings by adding lots of links. These link spammers use various methods, which include link-building software, link farms (aka mutual admiration societies), hidden links and spam blogs.

So how do you recognize valid comments from a spam comment?

Many times you can recognize link spam by the nonsensical, irrelevant text and by the large quantity of links that all point to a single site. Link spam causes various problems from wasting your time in reviewing them, to clogging search engines, and in scraping content from other’s sites making real new content difficult to locate.

Sometimes it’s not easy to distinguish between spam comments and valid ones. They try to convince you with their high praise that you are literally the ‘cat’s pajaams’ (I had one that said exactly that).

Here are five things to look for and ways to clean up your comment list quickly:

1- First, delete the obvious ones, like the ones shown below entirely. Don’t let them get any link juice from your site.

Obvious Spam

Obvious spam message in blog

2- Do you know the commenter or business name behind the comment?

3- Is there content that appears original? Meaning that it responds to information that you specifically provided in your post or addresses you by name.

4- Multiple comments sent from the same address or domain.

Repeat Spam

5- Reply to their comment with a thank you and a question. Do you get an answer? If not , it’s probably a spammer.

Adjust how your blog or website is set up

There are some simple things you can do to deter link spamming in the setup of your website like: adding validation software like CAPTCHA, making comment links “no follow”, not allowing multiple consecutive submissions, and blocking certain keywords (Levitra, etc).

Use an anit-spam software like Akismet or Discus. This software helps by showing multiple email addresses, allows you to track back to the IP address easily and allows you to tag comments for spam, and approve or disapprove comments. I also like it because I can reply to a commenter without using my email address and putting that at risk.

Social Energizer’s purpose is to help companies develop lasting relationships with their customers and increase their visibility online.

In addition to building dynamic and affordable websites, we integrate inbound marketing techniques into each business’ current marketing plan and utilize digital channels and strategies like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Search Engine Optimization, and Web-integrated Email Campaigns.

Give us a call today!

Part Two – Spam on Social Networks

Recently I got scam-spammed on Facebook by reposting an entry on Amy Winehouse’s death stating that it was getting more media attention than several soldiers who were killed in action. I should know better, right? Maybe you saw it, too? Oops. Sorry! How did I find out? Shortly after I posted, I received an email from a friend that said it was an inaccurate message. The exact same message had circulated about a year earlier using Lindsay Lohan’s name. That got me mad enough to write this blog. People need to know how insidious spam has become.
'Folding the flag.' photo (c) 2008, Sam Craig - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Chuck Anastasia has done a nice job researching and straightening out the facts. What I learned from this incident was that in the future before I repost anything, especially posts honoring our fallen soldiers, I will check them out first. The great disrespect these soldiers’ families have experienced and the great pain caused to them is horrible.

Increasingly, social networks are experiencing viral marketing tactics that use embedded links that cause great harm to ever larger groups of people. They lure people to click on these links in many deceptive ways, some will say a person is missing and to click on the missing persons flyer, some say your system has a worm virus called “insert name of horrible sounding virus here”, some use a celebrity breaking news item, some use the lure of checking out ‘who’s checked your profile on Facebook’, etc. Similar links can be embedded in quizzes, games and apps. After the individual clicks on one of these embedded links a variety of things can happen. Some will take control of your address book and send malicious messages to your friends and some will download viruses, spyware or Trojan horses right onto your computer.

Plus, there are other tricks that these spammers employ. If you are asked to “Sign Back into Facebook” beware! This is a sign that they are phishing for your password. Legitimate sites, using Facebook Connect, will open a new window with the URL starting with ‘facebook.com’. Do not type in your password using any other domain name. If you are asked to connect to an app and you are unsure of it, simply ‘deny it’ or ‘leave App’.

Where should you check first?

1- My first spam, scam, fraud and urban legend point-of-reference is Snopes.com. They have a treasure trove of information categorized on most everything. If the story is true, they say so. Although they didn’t have the Amy Winehouse on Facebook story yet, I still use them often.

2- I plan to continue checking Coolsparks, Chuck Anastasia’s blog. The comments from the Lindsay Lohan blog, posted over a year ago continue to come in.

3- About.com does a nice piece called Urban Legends.

Next week, for part three of this four-part series, I’ll talk about “Sorting Out Spam Comments in your Blog”. If you missed last week on recognizing spam, click here. Hope to see you then. Thank you for visiting.

Social Energizer’s purpose is to help companies develop lasting relationships with their customers and increase their visibility online.

In addition to building dynamic and affordable websites, we integrate inbound marketing techniques into each business’ current marketing plan and utilize digital channels and strategies like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Search Engine Optimization, and Web-integrated Email Campaigns.

Give us a call today!

Spam, Not The Ham. How Do You Recognize It?

Do you always know if and when you’re being spammed? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. It has become so prevalent in our daily lives that I am writing a 4-part series, starting this week on spam, what it is, how do you recognize it and what are the best ways to manage it.

First, what exactly is spam?
'Spam' photo (c) 2008, Andy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

We experience spam everyday, but what is it? According to Wikipedia, Spam is the use of any electronic messaging system that sends bulk messages indiscriminately. In 2011, the estimated figure for spam messages is around seven trillion. Fraud and lost productivity are the costs of this illegal activity and are largely borne by the public as a whole.

Although originally referred to as the sending of unwanted emails, the use of the term has now broadened to include other media like: instant messaging, forums, search engines, blogs, wikis, mobile phones, and social networking sites. Spam messaging ranges from openly blatant messages that ask you to send money to a foreign country for some reason or another, to phony ads for Viagra, to cunningly difficult to detect messages that contain embedded links.

Most of us are used to seeing spam emails and can easily recognize them because the people that sent them are either unknown to us or the messages sent are completely out of character for these people. As we enter the larger world of social networking, forums and blogging the people we interact with, by design, are not necessarily known to us. Spotting spammers is becoming more difficult. There is no ‘one size fits all’ for detecting spam.

In the next three weeks, I’ll break down how spam can change, depending on the venue, and what you can do about it. There is a lot to cover on this topic, and as things keep changing, it becomes more important everyday to keep up to date with what is going on in the world of spam.

Social Energizer’s purpose is to help companies develop lasting relationships with their customers and increase their visibility online.

In addition to building dynamic and affordable websites, we integrate inbound marketing techniques into each business’ current marketing plan and utilize digital channels and strategies like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Search Engine Optimization, and Web-integrated Email Campaigns.

Give us a call today!

15 Tips for Protecting Yourself Online

Have you noticed lately who is getting hacked? Here is this month’s short list: U.S. Senate, Citigroup, Sony and Google. It has to make you wonder how anyone’s info can be really safe anymore, but there are things you can and should do. For this week’s Saturday Morning Post, let’s talk about protecting yourself online.
kijkduin securityphoto © 2007 Rupert Ganzer | more info (via: Wylio)

Using a recent ABC News article, a blog from Attack Vector (a self-proclaimed ex-hacker) and Creditorweb.com, I’ve compiled a list of 15+ things that are critical to your online safety. I’m sure there are many more, so please be sure to add your tips into the comment section at the end of this article.

1. Use powerful passwords

The more complicated the password, provided you can still remember it, the better. A combination of letters, numbers, uppercase, lowercase and special characters is best. Also make sure you use a password that is not intricately connected to information about you, such as your date of birth or your mother’s name, because thieves might be able to track down that information.

From AttackVector.com, “Everyone in the IT industry keeps hounding you to use a complex password, yet I still see people using passwords like, “meow01″ or “woof02″ or “meowoof03″. Look at it this way, if you’re using a password that you can pronounce, it can be guessed easily. That said, if you were to use “Me0w0oF58″, that would be quite a bit better than any of the previous three. It’s really hard for any of us involved in computer security to feel too sympathetic for people who get their identity stolen, their accounts hacked, or whatever, if they’re using simple passwords to protect themselves. Use this rule: Two capital letters, two numbers, 8 characters long, not a word from the dictionary. Using that policy, your passwords should wind up looking something like this: Hg89yZ46 Say that a few times and you’ll start to hear a rhythm to it which will make it easier to remember.”

2. Make sure your social sites aren’t leaking information

As I’ve shown here many times now, social networking provides a wealth of information to someone interested. Whether it’s your location, family, friends, etc., it’s all available there for someone looking. You want to share this information with your friends, but not with people who just stumble across your Facebook page. Right now, go spend 5 minutes checking and double-checking your privacy settings. It’s under “Account” at the top right of your Facebook page. Don’t divulge your address/phone number when posting on someone’s wall or responding to someone posting on your wall. Bad. Idea. Email it to them, if necessary. Or, pick up the phone!

3. Keep your computer up to date

Don’t put off updates. When a pop-up gets displayed saying that updates are available, it actually means something. Most of the exploits that are out there today would be obsolete if people followed a strict update policy. This also includes anti spyware/malware and virus software as well.

4. Secure your wireless network

Most people don’t really realize the risk of leaving their wireless network open. I think they understand that it means that anyone can use their internet connection, but I don’t think they understand the issues beyond that. Honestly, here’s what an open wireless network allows me to do:

I can sniff all of your information going out to the internet. Credit card numbers, social security numbers, pictures, chats, everything.

I can browse through your files, email, etc. Lets hope you don’t have any risque pictures on your computer of yourself, because if you do, I’ll have them, too

I can take over your computer, your web cam, your mic. So, not only will I see all of your communications, I’ll be able to listen to you and watch you when you’re not even ON the computer

I can commit crimes online and have you take the heat for them because I’ll be using your internet connection.

Are you taking wireless security seriously yet? Visit the website of the vendor of your wireless equipment and learn how to enable WPA level security. No, it’s not perfect, but if I’m faced with a house that has a WEP secured wireless and one that’s using WPA, I’ll choose the WEP network every time. Also, look into how to turn off SSID broadcasting. If I’m war driving and your SSID doesn’t pop up, I wont be targeting it. These are simple steps that you can take to mitigate your exposure.

7.1) Windows now ships with firewall software built into it. Spend some time configuring it and making sure that it’s set up properly. You can go through the document here to help guide you through the process of configuring it. If you’re using Linux, there are plenty of scripts out there to help with iptables, though if you’re running Linux, you really should know how to use iptables via the command line.. *cough*.

5. Use caution when clicking!

This one is huge, but it’s a little less of a threat if you followed #4. When you’re on the web (or in your email), the links that you click on can do things that you’re not expecting. On the internet, there are Rogue AntiVirus websites floating around that pop up and look almost identical to what you see when you go into “My Computer”. It also shows an apparent virus scan and then displays the results, indicating that you’re loaded with viruses. It then asks you to download something. If you know what you’re actually looking at, however, you can determine that this is fake. Also, NEVER download a .exe, .com, .bat, .vbs, .what, .ever unless you’ve specifically set out in search of this file and you’re downloading it from a trusted source. You can add .pdf to this list now, too, as .pdf’s are riddled with bugs.

6. Don’t randomly accept friend requests on social sites

I understand the idea is to be social and meet new people on these sites. However. If I can’t get information from your page anonymously, I will simply set up a fake Facebook account and send you a friend request. 9 times out of 10 it will get accepted and I will have all of the information that you spent the last 5 minutes trying to secure.

7. Try to use one credit card for online purchases

This way, if your information is compromised, you know exactly which card is breached. If you are notified of a breach, get a new card. Although your credit card company might offer monitoring services, you will be safer getting a new card, especially if you only have one credit card.

8. Use updated reputable anti-viral and anti-malware software

Norton and McAfee are the best known but there are also several free options available online. AVG free download also works great and has been recommended by Consumer Reports.

9. If breached, change the password and security questions

Many people simply change their passwords if they believe there accounts have been compromised. Make sure you also change the security question that many sites ask in conjunction with a password. Use common sense, if you talk about your current pet on social networks, it might not be best to use its name as the answer to your security questions.

10. Understand how your data is shared

Although you might have provided your contact information to your local supermarket, they might not be the ones storing that information. Many companies outsource that kind of storage to a third party. “The answer is not to say, ‘I will never use the Internet’. The answer is to say, ‘I’m going to hold the companies I do business with, both online and offline, accountable for their actions,” Hilbert told ABC News.

11. Be wary of “phishing” attacks

fish-in-businessby-HikingArtist illustrationphoto © 2011 Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig | more info (via: Wylio)

“Any time you see a link in an email, be wary,” Rasch said. “The problem is these are all games of abuse of trust. They want you to trust the email so you’ll click the link. If they’ve compromised your best friend’s email, you’re going to get an email from your best friend.”

A good rule is: When in doubt, type it out. Although the URL may look trustworthy, con men hide bad links in hyperlinks. “If you type in the thing yourself, you’ll be able to see if that email was real or not,” Hilbert said.

In general, read the URL and use a common sense approach. If it says “.ru” instead of “.com,” ask yourself, “Does it make sense that my bank site is being hosted in Russia?”

From AttackVector.com, If you get an email from one of your contacts that seems out of character that has a link or attachment, don’t click on it. If a web site opens a window asking you to download something, don’t download it. If someone contacts you, asking for information that you normally wouldn’t give out, but this person is in need of some kind of help, don’t go against your better judgment. When posting stuff on the internet, don’t divulge personal information. When shopping online, verify that it’s secured before submitting your credit card #. The use of common sense would greatly reduce the issues that we face online. Don’t send your passwords through email.

If I asked you.. if some person in Nigeria emailed you, saying that they had $14.2 million dollars in an offshore account and just needed help getting it to a US account and were willing to give you half of it if you helped them.. would you give them your account information? No? Why not? Don’t laugh.. hundreds of people have fallen victim to this scam. It exploits two human vulnerabilities.. kindness and greed. Again, common sense and intuition could prevent this from ever working.

12. Guard your information as if your life depended on it

So often I come across information on the internet that I simply cannot believe people intentionally put out there for other people to find. Addresses, personal information, where you went to school, for how long, names of your children, name of your spouse, full names, etc…

A real simple way to keep yourself in check: Would you like everyone in the world to know the information that you’re posting? Do you want someone in North Korea to have your cell phone number and home address? “*shrug* I don’t care..” Ok, do you want ME to have your cell phone number and home address? If not, don’t post it on the web! Google will find the information and index it. Once indexed, it’s indexed for life. It wont go away. Ever.

13. Pay attention to misspellings

If the site doesn’t look right, check your spelling. If you spell Google or Disney wrong, you might not be in the right place. “People buy those domains and monetize off of those. They make money if you click on a link and it takes you someplace else,” Hilbert said.

14. Google yourself

Be aware of the information about you that is available online. One of the ways in which individuals are compromised is when a hacker or con man uses information that they’ve found out about you through a simple search and manipulate it.

15. Don’t use the same ID and password

“Just like you have a ring of keys, you have a key to your house and a key to your car, you need a different key for each site,” said Hilbert. “If I get your Facebook account, because your email account is your logon, then I probably also have your email account. And then if I have your email account, I can probably get your bank account and things like that.”

And here’s one more, a bonus for Mobile Users…

15+ for Mobile users- Download Reputable Applications for Handheld Devices

sad phonephoto © 2011 Ron Bennetts | more info (via: Wylio)

Third party software developers are constantly creating new applications for various handheld devices. While users find many applications helpful, there are risks to downloading some of them. It’s one more avenue for online identity theft. If you choose the wrong application to download, you could end up giving access to the financial data on your device to a thief without even knowing it. You should only download applications from reputable companies and websites, and research the application you want to download ahead of time.

Most of the information in today’s blog was used from posts in ABC News, Attack Vector and CreditorWeb. Please follow the links to their articles for more information and further details.

This has been Social Energizer’s Saturday Morning Post, a less business oriented, more personally related edition than our blog that is offered during the week. Social Energizer’s purpose is to help companies develop lasting relationships with their customers and increase their conversion rates by adding proven online marketing techniques to their marketing mix.

We do this by integrating inbound marketing techniques into each business’ current marketing plan and by utilizing digital channels and strategies like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Search Engine Optimization, and Web-integrated Email Campaigns.

We invite you to comment and rate each blog, so we can ever improve our offerings to you. Are you venturing into online marketing? Give us a call!

Computer Tips and Tricks for Cool Social Media Moves

During a recent ‘work session’ with a client, an important discovery was made. Many people do not use their computers as efficiently as they could. Really.

Today’s blog may be a bit passé for some of you and you’re welcome to join us back on another day. Thanks for stopping by (you’re still allowed to peak –just in case there may be a tip that you don’t already know). BUT for the group that feels like they’re ‘quickly getting nowhere’ when they work on the computer, welcome! Let’s get into some tips that may help you out of that rut. After all, it’s hard to stay in the social media game when you’re working twice as hard as everyone else just to keep up. These are important ergonomic techniques, the science that helps reduce RSI (repetitive stress injuries) like carpal tunnel syndrome. Use them to more easily build a better blog or engage with your community.

It’s all about the shortcut keys

Simply hold down your Control key (Command key for the Mac) and the corresponding letter to perform these often repeated functions.

keyboard

CTRL+z –undo

CTRL+x –cut

CTRL+c –copy

CTRL+v –paste

CTRL+b –bold

CTRL+y –redo

CTRL+a –select all

CTRL+s –save

CTRL+p –print

CTRL+t –new tab in browser

Notice that the MOST repeated shortcuts are all placed at the easiest to reach place on your keyboard and line up all in a row: z,x,c,v,b.

Simple mouse tricksMouse

  • Shift key and mouse click. Many text editors and programs allow you to highlight all or portions of text using the Shift key and the mouse. For example, place the cursor at the beginning of a paragraph, hold down the Shift key and click at the end of the paragraph to highlight the full paragraph.
  • In Internet Explorer or Firefox you can hold the CTRL key down on your keyboard and move your scroll wheel to adjust the text size you want to view.
  • Hold the CTRL key down when clicking your mouse on a link and it will open in a new tab in Internet Explorer 7.

Embrace the power of the right-click mouse

There are many actions that can be made easier with a right-click mouse. When you’re stumped try, just try, clicking with your right mouse button. Viola, all is revealed! You will usually have an option presented to you that will show you what you were looking for but didn’t know how to find quite often. You can do this on the desktop, in a program, in a browser –anywhere. Below are a few more things you can try:

  • While in a browser pressing and holding Ctrl while clicking on any link will open that link in a new tab.
  • You can right click on an image on the internet and choose to save the picture.
  • You can right click on any file to copy it. Then right click in another folder in the blank space and choose paste.
  • Customize the toolbars. You can adjust your toolbars to your liking. Right click on any toolbar, and select ‘Customize’. While this dialogue is up, you can move buttons around on your toolbars by click-and-drag to the new location. The window that pops up when you do this is a holding area for unused icons. You can drag any item from it onto your toolbars to have it made available, and you can drag any icon from your toolbars onto this box to hide that icon completely. Some toolbar items, such as the Location bar, will expand to take up all available space. You can fit the Menu Bar, Personal Toolbar, Location bar, Back and Forward buttons, etc, all to one single row if you really want to maximize web pages’ viewable area.

What is a scroll wheel on a mouse?

A scroll wheel is a small wheel located between the left and right mouse buttons. This allows you to smoothly scroll up and down a page instead of clicking at least 100 times.

Hope these little tips helped. If not for you, then maybe for that boss or co-worker that seems to ask these questions all the time. Let me know what worked best for you or add a few of your own. I firmly believe “Knowledge is not power, shared knowledge is power” -unknown.

Social Energizer’s purpose is to help companies develop lasting relationships with their customers and increase their conversion rates by adding proven online marketing techniques to their marketing mix.

We do this by integrating inbound marketing techniques into each business’ current marketing plan and by utilizing digital channels and strategies like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Search Engine Optimization, and Web-integrated Email Campaigns.

We invite you to comment and rate each blog, so we can ever improve our offerings to you.