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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!

Wisconsin’s Herb Kohl on Monopoly-Busting Google

This just in…
Herb Kohl’s office released this press release yesterday. Below are excerpts from his Opening Statement Of U.S. Senator Herb Kohl For The Of Hearing, “The Power Of Google: Serving Consumers Or Threatening Competition?”

Herb Kohls Senate Webpage image

“The basic premise of Google at its founding was that it would build an unbiased search engine — that consumers would see the most relevant search result first, and that the search results would not be influenced by the web page’s commercial relationship with Google. Its goal was to get the user off Google’s home page and on to the websites it lists as soon as possible. As Google’s co-founder and current CEO Larry Page said in 2004, “We want you to come to Google and quickly find what you want. Then we’re happy to send you to the other sites. In fact, that’s the point.”

However, as Internet search has become a major channel of e-commerce, Google has grown ever more dominant and powerful, and it appears its mission may have changed. For the last five years or so, Google has been on an acquisition binge, acquiring dozens of Internet-related businesses, culminating most recently with its proposed acquisitions of Motorola Mobility and Zagats. It now owns numerous Internet businesses, including in health, finance, travel, and product comparison. This has transformed Google from a mere search engine into a major Internet conglomerate. And these acquisitions raise a very fundamental question — is it possible for Google to be both an unbiased search engine and at the same time own a vast portfolio of web-based products and services? Does Google’s transformation create an inherent conflict of interest which threatens to stifle competition?

In the last few years, Internet businesses that compete with Google’s new products and services have complained that Google is now behaving in a way contrary to free and fair competition. They allege that Google is trying to leverage its dominance in Internet search into key areas of Internet commerce where it stands to capture from its competitors billions of dollars in advertising revenue. Rather than fairly presenting search results, these critics claim that Google has begun to subtlety bias its search results in favor of its own services. This conduct has the potential to substantially harm competition for commerce on the Internet, and retard innovation by companies that fear the market power of Google.

Antitrust scrutiny is not about picking winners and losers, but is about fostering a fully competitive environment so that consumers can fairly pick winners and losers. As more and more of our commerce moves to the Internet, it should be the highest priority of antitrust policymakers that the Internet remains a bastion of open and free competition as it has been since its founding. We need to protect the ability of the next Google to emerge, the next great website or application being developed in a garage in Silicon Valley or Madison, Wisconsin.”

I’m glad our legislators are looking into this subject. I’ve long thought that Google is the ‘new Walmart’, but I’ve been hesistant to say anything. (Google controls my SEO). As you know, I’m always on the side of small and medium-sized businesses. I think Mr. Kohl, once again, has taken the lead on a difficult, but timely subject. What do you think?

The Dark Side Of The Cloud

I am often asked what cloud computing is. Most people know the buzzwords: working in the cloud, move to the cloud, life in the cloud, etc. Technically speaking, Wikipedia says cloud-computing means using multiple server computers via a digital network, as though they were one computer. Cloud computing, like regular computing, can be broken up into three layers: infrastructure, platform and application. Each layer has it’s own issues in cloud computing. For the most part this blog discussion is about the application side of cloud computing –consumer and business applications, but the principles pertain to the other layers, too.Cloud application relationships

In plain terms, you can tell that you are dealing with cloud computing when you have access to applications and data from a network device (smartphones, iPods, laptops, etc.). Cloud computing differs from the classic client-server model by providing applications that are executed and managed via a web browser, without an installed software program required. Google docs and Facebook are examples of cloud apps that get used everyday worldwide without anyone giving it a second thought.

Still don’t get it? Here’s a great simple video explanation.

There is a Saleforce.com video that says their cloud computing solution does away with businesses needing to purchase and implement their own databases, office space, servers and business apps. They don’t have to hire the staff to support the infrastructure. They claim that businesses will experience lower costs, more scalability and offer better security. Indeed cloud computing is a great concept, similar in nature to the Internet itself, just more capitalized. It’s all about consumer power and the benefits of using shared resources and technology.

There is no doubt that cloud computing is the wave of the future. Stopping the growth of cloud computing would be like stopping Internet expansion. Cloud computing can provide some very solid benefits like: lower costs, increased reach, collaboration, easy and stable software updates, no capital expenses, and working remotely. But there is a dark lining to many cloud apps and I’ve found a few things people should be watching for when deciding which ones to choose. Here’s my list of things to consider.

1. Assess the software or service carefully and have ‘an exit plan’

I started a couple of years ago with a new free cloud-based service called iCyte. It’s a bookmarking site that allows you to annotate and organize your web searches. After about a year and a half into using this software, they started charging a monthly fee. I decided not to pay the fee, but found the best I could do to export my vast collection of data was to export it to a very messy .csv file (aka spreadsheet). Lesson learned. I don’t give up info, pictures, and/or even clicks until I find out if I can get that info OUT in a usable manner. Test it early.

2. Does it fit the scope of your business?

When I ‘tested’ Salesforce.com within a small business, I found that although it may have been a good solution for a medium-sized business that had database-knowledgeable staff ready to customize these apps, it was not as easy as they portrayed. Most small businesses would not have the know-how or man-hours needed to get Salesforce.com or many other cloud apps to work easily for them.

3. Sales guys never think about security

Although the sales guys may tell you that cloud computing is safer, the proof is in the news recently. From Citigroup to Sony, this article explains how, in fact, there is cause for great alarm and  describes the vulnerability of cloud computing.

4. How supporting is your support personnel?

Do they even have support personnel? Can you get a  REAL PERSON on the phone to help? One of the first things that I check before choosing a cloud computing vendor is who will be the support team and if it offers live support. Since I speak only American, then they need to, too. Simple as that. If they do not speak American English, as in the same syntax, slang, etc. then I know when I get frustrated with an issue that I will not be able to get my point across. I’ve tried and tried it and now it is simply –my choice.

5. Beware the ‘free trial’

After the ‘free trial’ is done, businesses that ‘tested it out’ find difficulty in recovering the info and getting it back in house. If it’s a one month or 3-month trial, BEWARE. The longer you use a trial, that you decide later is not worth it, the more time and data you have added to someone else’s software. I suggest, in the event of the trial not working out, that you first assess (see point #1) how you will export the info out of their site and back into your system OR run dual processes (work in both places) while you test their system.

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!

Top Five SXSW 2011 Videos

NASA at SXSWSXSW 2011 has wound down for this year, but they’ll be back next year and I plan to be there. SXSW has something for everyone, especially in social media or inbound marketing. So many of the heavy hitters are there that it makes ones head spin.

It has taken a bit of searching around, but I found several short videos that really share the SXSW experience. These are all worth watching –sometimes more than once. Let me know what you think. It’s almost like being there.

3, 2, 1, Twitter: The NASA Tweet up Shuttle Discovery Launch

Phylise Banner, from APUS, speaking on how people are using tweet-ups to gather for Shuttle Take-offs. Sounds like fun.

“Mario” – SXSW 2011 Film Bumper

This film bumper makes me feel like I can’t wait to see the movie, a grown-up tongue-in-cheek version of my favorite video game. Just a bit naughty.

Gary Vaynerchuck -Author, Wine Connoisseur, Explorer of all things Social Media

You can’t help but love Gary. Such passion! He epitomizes the energy born from social media. Three for the price of one here:

Keynote part1- http://bit.ly/i3lcej

Keynote part 2- http://bit.ly/fuGxSz

Keynote part3 – http://bit.ly/hOx9ac

More Gary Vaynerchuck –he was a busy boy

1-1 Interview part1- http://bit.ly/ffpS1K

1-1 Interview part 2- http://bit.ly/hlvWeg

Matt Mallenweg, WordPress/Automatic

Speaking on the growth of WordPress and next step P2. Matt says that, yes, WordPress has moved beyond a blog platform and is, in fact, a complete web platform. Yes, indeed.

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.

Bluehost ad

Top Three Trends Likely to Upset Your Social Media World

Start OverWhat’s going on?! Lately, it seems like the whole world is in a state of flux. First, countries like Eqypt and Libya are deciding to start over -or die trying. Then Wisconsin decides to do much the same thing… start over -or die trying. With this much upheaval in the world, it leads one to reflect on what’s happening and attempt to look into the future.

I can’t do much about these events, but they made me consider what will most likely impact the world ‘you and I’ live in, a world that increasingly depends on, and is driven by, the Internet, social media, and new media. What trends will arise, perhaps even merge, and continue to change and then further impact our lives?

Trend One

The first trend isn’t much of a departure from my lede. It’s the speed that news is bombarding us. Our ability to grasp and understand it before it has again evolved into a new story is creating an information-overloaded society. NPR recently published an insightful article on this topic called “Media Black Hole: So Much News That We’ll Implode?

Trend Two

Just as we’ve started to understand our communities, I find that they’ve moved and changed! Chris Brogan presents a nice update on how social media communities are evolving, and why, in “The Future of Community“.

Trend Three

Over half of all Americans will have smart phones by the end of 2011. Do you think this might impact marketing in America, just a little bit? Seriously, if there is so much news that we might implode, don’t you suppose that the same could be said of technology trends? Our marketing systems that just recently aligned to embrace Internet technologies must now evolve and align with mobile technology. Lucky for us, the B2C Marketing Insider has some tips in their article “Data-Driven Marketing: Mobile by the Numbers“.

Undoubtedly, right this minute, there is another new technology or trend on its way. What do you think will be the next mainstream trend? And how will we dodge, embrace or benefit from it?

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.

Know Your Customer’s Customer

customers

Attribution to Christine Jump (Flickr)

One of the basic principles of customer satisfaction is to understand and know your customer’s customer. It is something so simple, and yet sometimes, marketing professionals overlook this. Instead they create campaigns that fit the marketing person’s profile or fancy better than they do the customer or the customer’s customer.

Whether you’re selling to a company that makes and sells stuff or selling to Moms whose main customers are her three kids, you need to recognize who the customer’s customer is. If you want to create compelling programs and assess if they are on target, then knowing your customer’s customer is the most important key to successful marketing.

Clients, the ones who pay you directly, gain a new appreciation for the professionals who do their homework in this manner. It is the most generous compliment for a client to discover that you, in fact, took the time and effort to understand what they are doing and most of all, who they are doing it for: their customers.

In online marketing terms, the customer’s customer is an extension of a Buyer Persona. As social media marketing becomes more integral to the sales process, you will see this become more critical, but I wonder how many will really ‘get it’. Relating to people, even those called consumers, is not a science, but an art, backed by a strong genuine interest in helping people and truly satisfying their wishes.

As we take up the challenge of determining how to align with customers using new media, we need to reclaim the basics we learned so long ago. Learn about your customer’s customer, get to know them, spend some time talking to them or better yet, joking and laughing with them. As you build this awareness, you also build awareness of the direction your business should take to better connect with your consumer and satisfy their needs and interests for your products and/or services. Doing this well results in relationships that can last a lifetime.

Even Santa likes Social Media

It’s got to be good if Santa likes it. The phenomenon of social media continues into a Christmas-decorated living room near you. Social media are now part of celebrating Santa’s annual visit to children near and far.Santa

Mashable has just posted “9 Ways to Connect With Santa on the Web” so kids can get in touch with Old Saint Nick. Services range from Santa emails to tracking his sleigh in the skies as he delivers presents around the globe. It’s just one more instance of how Social Media pervades our private lives and provides businesses with ways of engaging their customers.

In the true spirit of Christmas giving, most of these services are free and can be found at http://www.emailSanta.com/.

And what do you give in exchange? Your gift is personal contact information and permission to market to you and your little ones.