Wednesday, December 2

Watson's Cognitive Computing Enables Trendspotting and Foresight

I was lucky enough to be a part of an IBM Signature Moment, the launch of Watson Trend App and web hub; the meeting of the world’s most famous super computer and consumer holiday shopping needs. Watson is the “Jeopardy” winning supercomputer that is capable of understanding natural language to reveal insights from massive amounts of unstructured data. This is artificial intelligence, or more exactly called, cognitive computing. Cognitive computing is self-learning and builds upon itself as it gathers more and more data.

Using Watson Trend as a gift guide this holiday season, shoppers will have a new way to understand the reasoning behind “why” certain items become “must haves” during the gift-giving season.

A retailer will also be able to examine Watson Trends to plan what inventory to ship where, whether to stock up and which products are likely to stand the test of time.

For the launch, on November 19, I interviewed Maria Winans, CMO, IBM Commerce, in a #WatsonTrend Twitter chat. She gave the Twitter participants further insights into how Watson will change the way people will benefit from machine learning.

Maria made it clear that unlike standard analytic analysis, through cognitive computing, Watson understands the human language.

Monday, October 5

Sharing Content isn't Enough, Enlist Employee Advocacy

Even in today’s era of social media, the number one marketing channel for new leads and customers is word of mouth.  In essence this means that you need to have people talking about your company.  When the world is talking; people are listening. According to Nielsen and Pew Internet, "Only 15% of people trust messages received directly from businesses compared to the 70% who trust messages received from personal contacts."

If we extend the personal WOM channel to social media, the amplitude of your message in a noisy world is magnified. It’s no longer a one-to-one conversation, but possibly one voice to tens-of-thousands. There’s a good chance your customers are on one of the major networks.  As a matter of fact, the people you want to reach demographically (whether you are B2B or B2C) are participating right now. Businesses and customers are reading messages on social media and you can’t watch a TV show without seeing a brand hashtag to follow.

Know that the days are gone where you as a brand can control your message, but you can intensify it.

Your customers and investors are talking about you online so why not join the conversation. If enough voices are speaking positively about your brand, there’s a strong chance your market share will raise.  No matter the size of your business; you can achieve a successful outreach and employee advocacy can be the key to get you started. 

According to a recent Inc article, employees have the most credible voices in the organization, so why not power them with the right tools? 

At Pitney Bowes for example, their employee advocacy program “The Insiders” has seen great success in only a few months. With over 200 employees already part of the program, this new approach to building more socially savvy employees and bigger WOM is catching up quickly.

The program has already been expanded to the UK, with plans of additional expansions before the end of the year.  Not only were The Insiders a big part of the new Pitney Bowes brand launch back in January, but they have been key to sharing the #NewPitneyBowes story.

“The Insiders initiative is an excellent opportunity to get employees engaged in social media, while spreading the word about the new Pitney Bowes and building our collective thought leadership in the marketplace." - Jason Bartlett, Vice President, Digital Marketing & eCommerce

At Pitney Bowes, the employee ambassador program is more than just a communications tool. It is also helping the company with the bottom line, creating sales opportunities, as they go. From building brand awareness and improving company culture, employee advocacy has also been proved to have a significant impact on revenue.

Bruce Gresham, VP Business Planning & Strategy had an amazing success story, clearly proving the ROI of the program.  

“I shared one of our new product innovations on LinkedIn, and several of my existing connections ‘liked’ the post. One of the ‘likes’ lead to a person outside my network ‘liking’ the information (in the post) as well. This developed into a sales opportunity of significant worth with a client with whom we normally would not have connected.”

Your employees are the face of your company. They can also be valuable promoters for your message, why not try a new way of return on human investment? Need additional WOM? Your employees are first in line to help, just ask them.

FTC disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I only work with and showcase products, events and/or companies I believe my readers will benefit from. Pitney Bowes has hired me as a brand ambassador. I am not formally employed by Pitney Bowes. All thoughts and viewpoints are mine. This is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Wednesday, September 30

TED@IBM: Technology and Humanity Drive the Future Through the Best Talks

Social business strategist, Bryan Kramer, presenting at TED@IBM in 2014

I have been amused by TED talks over the years, and have learned some interesting points of view within the time I’ve invested in watching them. Some talks are deeply factual (backed with evidence) and others are purely opinion, but all are entertaining. One thing you can definitely count on when seeing these talks is unflagging enthusiasm and a sense of joie de vivre, most importantly, you are left with a feeling of positivity.

Last year I was invited to my very first TED@IBM day. The co-branded event is a partnership between the TED Institute and IBM. It is not a licensed TEDx experience, but a rather an event that is curated, developed, produced, and filmed by the TED Institute. This would be a full on day of fascinating content for sure.

Most TED talks I've seen are from random scientists, artists, inventors and others talking about their work. TED@IBM draws speakers from within IBM’s network of partners, customers, influencers, and thinkers to explore the relationships between technology and humanity.

I was not really sure what to expect, but gratefully accepted the invitation (how I got on the list - I’m still not sure) and made my way to the event. I figured this would be a great opportunity to be exposed to a rich and interactive experience that few are able to attend.

It turned out to be a day of multiple absorbing talks and breaks entwined with very effective, professional presentations. The presentations were all short learning moments wrapped with a clear view to the future. During the breaks, I deliberately set out to meet new people, to chat with them and learn why they were there. It seems the organizers don’t just curate the speakers; the audience is curated as well. The attendees alone are an incredibly diverse group of wicked smart people.

The theme for the 2014 conference was “Re-Imagine Our World.” The list of speakers spanned the gamut from a social business strategist to an Oscar-winning filmmaker to a young woman who at 31 was named an IBM Master Inventor (and holds 70 United States Patents with over 300 pending patent applications).

The brief eight minute talk from Lisa Seacat DeLuca was engaging and more than impressive, she was a genuine person who adapts technology to make real world prototypes of things that will change the future. Although she works for IBM, she suggested that young, independent inventors take their ideas to crowdfunding to bring them to fruition.
“The speed of invention in the future will be as fast as we can dream up ideas. We will be able to use each other’s innovations to test drive ideas.”
It was an inspiring talk and explained the world of cognitive computing through anecdotes and stories. I think you’d enjoy her vision of the future (embedded below).

Positivity was the major influence of the day and I walked away a just little less cynical than before I walked in the door.

When you attend a Ted conference, expect to be exposed to things you may never have thought about like a demonstration of bio-sensing devices that will understand your brain’s plasticity. There will be ideas that will surprise and entertain; but there is very little said that will leave you empty. The TED curators take the form and information behind these talks very seriously.

Now, as an IBM "Futurist" I have once again been invited again to the annual TED@IBM (I must be quite an audience member) and am looking to get a deeper understanding of the subjects at hand. The theme this year is “Necessity and Invention.” I plan to gain a better understanding of evolving and collaborative technology and once again become a even less cynical with a clearer vision of what’s to come in the future.

FTC disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I only work with and showcase products, events and/or companies I believe my readers will benefit from. IBM has hired me as a brand ambassador for this campaign because of my participation in the IBM New Way to Work Futurist Influencer Program. I am not formally employed by IBM. All thoughts and viewpoints are mine. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Wednesday, September 23

6 Steps to Remove Chaos from Your Work At Home Day

Marsha Collier back in the early 90s © The Collier Company

I've been at this "work from home" thing longer than most. Before I started my online career of writing books and speaking, I ran my own marketing agency for close to 15 years as a single mom. I converted my two-car garage into a dropped-ceiling office with extra electricity, computers, phones and desks.

Back in those days, it wasn't common at all for people to have “home offices.” You had to have an office in a building or storefront and if you weren’t in a proper office, very few would take your enterprise seriously.

One of our clients was the United States Air Force, we had a contract designing magazines (Flying Safety, Road and Rec and the TIG Brief). Before I began that year long project, they sent someone from the Inspector General’s office to check us out and be sure we were a “real” business  because certainly no one could run a business from a garage, right?

I ran my business then as I do now, showing up at my desk every morning (after I took my daughter to school) and locking the office at night. Just as I did when I worked in a corporate environment.

The business was incredibly successful due to the fact that I put every ounce of energy I had (outside of Mom duties) into it. I was successful enough to give it all up to start writing and speaking when offered the opportunity. I learned some hard lessons along the way.  The key to success is developing positive work habits.
  1. Develop routines that work. Life, clients and family all have ways of grabbing your attention, pulling you off task. It may seem inevitable, but it’s not. Take steps to set a schedule. Involve your family too; be clear that the time you’re work hours need to be sacrosanct. By setting (at the very least) some loose schedules; you will feel more in control and laser focused.
  2. Organize your day the night before. Envision how your next work day will function. Lay it all out in your mind or in Evernote without overloading the “to-do” list. I keep a Notepad window on my desktop with notes from the night before and I add to it during the day. Set long range goals during quiet time; take action on them during business hours.
  3. Don’t let email run your life! Have set times in the day when you address your primary mail box. Use filters to segregate the fun stuff. The fun email can be dealt with at the end of the day on your tablet.
  4. Schedule your Social Media time and set controls for notifications. Your concentration won’t be worth spit if you keep hearing pings or getting random texts and calls. If you have a Google Voice number, forward your phones to that number and read the transcriptions of messages when you are ready. Return calls when its not crunch time.
  5. Find apps that save you time.  Technology saves you time, so why not use apps?  I mentioned Evernote above — great one! It helps me organize my thoughts whether I’m at my desk or in line at the market. Consider also Bufferapp to schedule social media posts for sharing and set up PayPal so you can take credit cards (their reports are second to none). Also, using Skype saves you time on quick calls.
  6. Outsource once you can afford it. The entire purpose of your business is to make enough money to keep you and your family comfortable. Expect to do a whole lot of unsexy chores. As soon as you can afford it, the best investment will be someone to do your bookkeeping.
Start with these six routines and they will soon become habits. Positive habits become part of your life and become the difference between winning and failing.

Wednesday, September 2

5 Things You Need to Know About How Your Wireless Network Impacts Your Devices

Its true. Not everyone needs to know what makes their wireless network tick. But if you are an entrepreneur or small business depending on a fast signal, learning the technology behind your network might just make sense. I made this short video to explain the flavors of WiFi, but then I realized that the subject deserves much more explanation. So I wrote the post below to fill in some of the gaps; it will hopefully simplify some of the crazy numbers I was throwing out.

To visually illustrate, Here's how MU-MIMO works:

Next, a chart to illustrate what you need to know about the 802.11 wireless standards:

So who sets these standards and who is the IEEE?

The IEEE is the acronym for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an association founded in 1963 devoted to the advancement and standardization in a wide range of industries.  They named the “alphabet soup” of 802.11 standards for wireless radio-wave technology; WiFi.

Band and Channels: Why does this matter?

Without going into a long tutorial on radio signals, the different communication frequencies (bands or the radio wave spectrum) are assigned by the Federal Communications Commission. For the United States, they decide which frequency ranges can be used for different technologies and by which industry (airlines, medical devices, cellular, public safety, etc.).

Currently in the US, the assigned spectrums for a wireless local network (WLAN) are in the 2.4 GHz to 5 Ghz bands. Within these frequencies there are multiple channels. In the 2.4 band, there are 14 channels (but only 11 are allowed in North America). Of these eleven, there are only 3 that do not overlap on the others: 1, 6 and 11.

When you are setting up your wireless network, or adjusting the channels as you should from time to time, you can see which channels have the highest traffic. Selecting bandwidth is usually done automatically by your router, but some, as in the case of Linksys, the bandwidth can be selected manually if you wish.

Early devices (using 802.11b or g) should use the 20 MHz bandwidth. If your devices are exclusively using the 5 GHz band, you may benefit by selecting the higher range. I recommend that you don’t monkey around with this setting unless you really know what you are doing - or tech support tells you to do it.

If you are using an 802.11ac router you will notice the box says “dual band.” This means that the router drops back to 2.4 GHz for connecting to older devices, in this case it’s recommended that you let your router make the decision automatically.

In my post on How to Boost Strong WiFi in Every Room, I show how I use an app called WiFi Analyzer to see the data traffic generated by my neighbors. Once you see which channels are most crowded with traffic, you can select the emptiest channel for your home WiFi network. This will assure better connections and less interference.

Transfer Rates: How Many bits per second?

As data transfer rates increase, there are more multiples for the speed in which data travels. They are referenced in “bit” per second. In the video I spoke of a mid-eighties 300 baud modem which transferred data at 300 Kbps. In case you’re wondering, kbps moved 125 bytes per second.

With the move to wireless, transmission sped up to megabits, written as Mbps. Mbps transfers a million bits or a thousand kilobits. Now we’re looking at Gbps speeds, moving 125,000,000 bytes per second - or more practically, 1,000 Mpbs or a million kilobits per second. The next iteration will be Terabits (Tbps) moving a thousand gigabits per second. You do the math, that’s crazy fast.

None of us live in a laboratory, and this is where the ultimate speeds are measured. Most of the “theoretical” speeds are done with mathematical equations.

Antennas? MIMO? Whaaat?!

In many routers, the antennas are internal. In others you can see (and even upgrade) the higher gain antennas. External antennas can be adjusted for optimum range (Will cover this in an upcoming post). Each antenna in the early protocols (Single Input Single Output) designated one antenna at the router to transmit and the other single antenna at your device to receive data. When multiple devices are leaching off the same singular signal, you can just imagine (and have no doubt experienced) how the speed degrades.

The newer protocols invoke MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) uses multiple antennae at the transmission point and multiple streams, thereby increasing performance significantly. The antennas can be pooled to optimize your stream. MIMO also can deliver four spatial streams of data to your devices. If your devices (laptops, tablets, gaming) do not support MIMO, you cannot get the full benefit of this technology.

Again, assuming your devices can take advantage of it, MU-MIMO (Multi user) send out separate signals (up to eight) to lock on to each device demanding a WiFi signal. Each antenna can also transmit a signal to multiple devices depending on demand. (As I said in the video, buying an inexpensive 802.11ac WiFi dongle will easily upgrade your laptop).

Remember, your network can only run as fast as the data is sent to it. In my case I receive 100Mbps from my cable provider. I can’t make the data run any faster.

FTC disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I only work with and showcase products, events and/or companies I believe my readers will benefit from. Linksys has hired me as a brand ambassador. I am not employed by Linksys. All thoughts and viewpoints are mine. This is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Tuesday, July 7

How To Buy the Best Wireless Router for Your Network

Ask anyone. A strong, clear and fast Wi-Fi signal is one of the most important things to us (that is after food – but before sex – according to a new study). First world problems, I know. The connection to the internet for your office and home is critical; and these days, with the multitude of devices we connect to our router, speed is of the essence.

If you’ve read my post on boosting your Wi-Fi and you still need more, this post should answer your questions. I’m not suggesting that you break the bank, but spending more on essentials is a good idea. Your internet connection probably needs to be fast and ready for you twenty four/seven and has become an essential utility. When you chose to upgrade, consider amortizing the cost over the number of devices you're asking for a clean signal, then it won’t seem as much.

A May 2015 study from IDC found that 95% of those surveyed said they had routers with older protocols or did not know which wireless protocol they used. After you finish reading here, and upgrading your router, you will be one of the top 5%.


Previous routers boasted MIMO (multiple input and multiple output) radios through past protocols. Today’s newest use MU-MIMO (multi user, multiple input and multiple output) which provides significant performance gains. By sending simultaneous transmissions to your individual devices on the same channel of your wireless network the signal goes through without lag or buffering.  This means that the movie streamed to your TV and the video chat with your friend can each get their own Wi-Fi connection. MU-MIMO is more efficient, each user gets their own slice of airtime.

Multiple USB, eSATA, Ethernet and Gigabit Ports

Your new router should have several ports where you can connect various devices. A USB 3.0 port is the fastest current USB connection with data transfer up to 10 Gbps, so be sure you have at least one of these. You can connect digital media and hard drives to them for fast access throughout your network. They are backwards compatible with USB 2.0 devices (up to 6 Gbps), but you won’t get the advantage of the faster connection. Additional USB ports are preferable if they are eSATA.  eSATA is a powered (either 5 V or 12V) USB 2.0 hybrid USB port where you can connect additional drives or USB connected printers to your network for sharing.

Ethernet ports are also important for connecting to bridged networks or wired devices on your network. Having a Gigabit ethernet port is a plus; enabling you to hardwire your computer to a blazing fast 1000Mbps connection. (For best performance, be sure to use CAT5E or higher rated cables in these ports).

Dual Band Connectivity

In my last article on wireless, "How to Boost Strong Wi-Fi in every Room,” I explain the difference between the 2.4 Ghz and the 5 Ghz bands. Connecting appropriate devices to the bands as mentioned in the post will speed up your wireless connections and prevent unnecessary buffering.

It's also a plus, security-wise, if you have dual-band guest networks with different login credentials.

Antennas? or no antennas

Personally I think antennas make any wireless device look like they’re ready to conquer the airwaves. Many internal antennas are omni-directional (they send and receive from any direction). But does it really make a difference if you have external antennas? Many top-line newer routers feature external antennas for good reason, they are adjustable (generally straight up for one-story homes). They also connect directly with your devices (see beamforming below) and can also be removed and swapped out for more powerful, high gain antennas.
TIP: If your current devices (tablets and laptops) do not support all these high tech solutions, look for an inexpensive USB wireless adapter for your legacy devices and you will get the benefits of your new router.

Beamforming technology

The latest AC routers feature “beamforming.”  Beamforming technology enables the router to identify and connect directly with devices. It actually tracks each device, versus broadcasting in a circle equally in all directions.

High speed 802.11

You may have seen letters after the numbers 802.11 on your devices. The letters signify the protocol of the wireless technology used in your device. In a future post, I will explain the progress of wireless standards and what each brings to the user. Popular versions from the recent past have included 802.11g and 802.11n.  To get the latest in technology, look for the most current standard “AC” or 802.11ac. The AC protocol supports the fastest transfer rates currently available.

These variations have been monitored by the non-profit WiFi Alliance since 2002 to certify that wireless devices will work with other devices across brands. When you’ve narrowed your search to a few routers, you can double check their status of interoperability at their site here.

Although it is highly unlikely that you will reach maximum cleanroom speeds (as advertised on most routers' packaging), they may say they are capable of s high as 1900Mbps. More than likely, you can get pretty much expect to get what your ISP says you can get, they set the speed.


This post wouldn’t be complete unless I remind you that the fastest cable modem currently available is DOCSIS 3.0 (backwards compatible with older standards).  DOCSIS 3.0 has more channels than previous versions and can bond multiple channels for higher speeds. The typical DOCSIS 3.0 modem generally has four or eight channels for downloading and can result in a speed cap of 172Mbps or 344Mbps. For uploading, they generally support four channels up to 124 Mbps. DOCSIS 2.0 (the previous iteration) is much slower and only supports one channel up and one channel down. If you rent your modem from your internet provider, request an upgrade.

Why not print out this post and take it with you when you shop for a modem, so you won’t get confused (like I do) by the many tech catchwords you will see on the boxes.

This post was sponsored by Linksys 

Tuesday, June 30

Revealed! All-New Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

I was invited to Detroit for a special event. The Chevrolet people were a little cagey about what was going to happen during my visit, but since I am a sucker for almost anything automotive, I made the trip. There was so much to see, so many places to go. I got to visit the General Motors Social Customer Service team (but that's a topic for another post) and see some amazing vintage Corvettes. But the definite highlight of my visit was the reveal of the all-new 2016 Camaro convertible, featuring the segment’s most-advanced top.

The 2016 Camaro is the only convertible in the segment to offer all of the following:
Fully automatic operation with latches that automatically release and secure the top
Capability of opening or closing at speeds up to 30 mph
Remote opening with the key fob
A hard tonneau cover that deploys automatically, providing a more refined, finished appearance when the top is lowered and stowed.
Check out the video below to see it in action, I used the Periscope app to broadcast the big reveal and got an audience of 1,200 live viewers, so I guess I am not the only one excited by this car. This sexy vehicle arrives at dealers in early 2016..
The electro-hydraulic power roof system features multilayer construction – including acoustic and thermal barriers – designed for a comfortable, quiet driving experience in all seasons. The top emulates the sleek silhouette of the Camaro coupe.
“The 2016 Camaro coupe will set the benchmark for the segment in terms of technology, performance, and design,” said Todd Christensen, Camaro marketing manager. “Adding the most sophisticated top in the segment brings another level of refinement, and driving enjoyment, to the Camaro convertible.”
Like the Camaro coupe, the convertible benefits from a stiffer, lighter structure that helps reduce total vehicle weight by at least 200 pounds compared to the model it replaces. Consequently, the Camaro convertible retains the coupe’s sharp chassis tuning and nimble reflexes.
“From the beginning, the Camaro’s architecture was developed to incorporate a convertible with uncompromised driving dynamics,” said Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer. “Customers will appreciate what they don’t feel: quivers, cowl shake or an under-damped chassis typically found in a four-seat convertible.”
The architecture also enables the Camaro convertible’s sleek design, allowing the top to fold down completely beneath the belt line. The hard tonneau cover automatically covers the folded top, creating a finished appearance.
“With many convertibles, you have to affix a tonneau cover manually – if it’s done at all,” said Tom Peters, design director. “The Camaro convertible’s automatically deploying hard tonneau not only makes it easier to enjoy convertible driving when the inspiration hits, it ensures the car always looks its best.”

About the 2016 Camaro

The sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro offers higher levels of performance, technology and refinement and is designed to maintain the sporty car segment leadership earned over the past five years.

Offered in LT and SS models, it provides a faster, more nimble driving experience, enabled by an all-new, lighter architecture – at least 200 pounds lighter than the current model – and a broader powertrain range.

Six all-new powertrain combinations are offered, including a 2.0L Turbo rated at an SAE-certified 275 horsepower, an all-new 3.6L V-6 producing and SAE-certified 335 horsepower, and the LT1 6.2L V-8, which is SAE-certified at 455 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque – the most powerful Camaro SS ever. Each engine is available with a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission.

Camaro’s leaner, stiffer platform and slightly smaller dimensions are accentuated by a dramatic, sculpted exterior. Meticulously tuned in the wind tunnel, the exterior contributes to performance through reduced aerodynamic lift for better handling while enhancing highway fuel efficiency.

Inside, the driver-focused cabin integrates class-leading control technologies, including a new Driver Mode Selector, configurable instrument cluster and a customizable ambient lighting feature.

The 2016 Camaro coupe and convertible will be produced at General Motors’ Lansing Grand River assembly plant in Lansing, Mich.
FAST FACT: In 1967 – Camaro’s first model year – the available convertible model came with a manually operated top. A power-operated top was a $52.70 option selected by 47 percent of buyers.  
Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is now one of the world's largest car brands, doing business in more than 115 countries and selling around 4.8 million cars and trucks a year. Chevrolet provides customers with fuel-efficient vehicles that feature engaging performance, design that makes the heart beat, passive and active safety features and easy-to-use technology, all at a value. More information on the new Camaro can be found here.

Wednesday, June 24

Revealed today! 2016 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

The 2016 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible makes its world debut Wednesday, June 24, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. The Camaro convertible car has a hard tonneau cover that deploys automatically, providing a more refined, finished appearance when the top is lowered and stowed. It is capable of opening or closing at speeds up to 30 mph. (Photo by John F. Martin for Chevrolet)

Monday, June 1

You've Got to be "In It" to Win It Never Applied More #GoGlobal

After I graduated and got in the real world of advertising, my observances of the small business people taught me far more than a classroom ever could. There were those (no matter how great their customer service) who just couldn't make a go of it. Others succeeded in ways which were a mystery to me. Dumb luck, I guess.

But for those who achieved some modicum of success, they found their niche and were able to grow. Their business built jobs for family and others. Some expanded their enterprise to other locations and many, eventually online.

These people took a challenge and grabbed it. They worked out what they knew and studied to learn more of what they didn't. It takes a special kind of entrepreneur to succeed and build a business for a lifetime. It really made no difference whether they chose to stay small or to expand. Their accomplishment spoke volumes.

Now that anyone with a plan and some gumption has access to an international marketplace on the Internet, it brings new challenges. I would have never thought that my small, online business would be shipping product to Moscow, or Buenos Aires or Tokyo. But I have; and now service customers worldwide.

Which brings me to the point of this post. The idea of sending merchandise to customers overseas used to scare the heck out of me. I knew there were customs regulations and I knew it would be ever more expensive (even if the customer paid the shipping).  Who would even care to spend extra to buy from me?

I took the step first by selling action figures and opened up sales to a worldwide audience. Amazingly, even in the early 2000s, there were people willing to buy and pay a premium for my goods!

The first step is getting past that fear. When businesses are growing and succeeding, there always seems to be a similar barrier: expanding globally. I’ve worked with more business owners than I can count who just don’t want to go the extra mile (pun intended) and expand their markets internationally.

There are various reasons entrepreneurs hesitate before taking the global leap. For one, there’s a popular myth that shipping across borders significantly changes the status quo. Yes, no one likes change, but the logistics behind international shipping can be just as easy to navigate as domestic shipments once you know the rules.

An easy way to get your feet wet is to take a single product and start selling on an established international marketplace like eBay. For any ecommerce business, I suggest starting slowly and first deciding which products and countries blend best for your business. Read my article here for tips on how to save money while expanding your business globally.

This week I will go to IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition). If you ever intend on stepping into a full-blown ecommerce business, there is no better place to start (once you've read my books - of course). The sessions are most excellent sources of information.

Granted, going to the conference is quite expensive for a small business. So I recommend going for the first time to just the exhibits, where a pass is $75 (when you purchase in advance). The exhibits at IRCE cover a 250,000 square foot show floor and boast over 600 vendors showing off the latest in technologies for the new retail economy. The ideas that will come to your mind when walking the floor will be dazzling. Plenty of ROI to cover your transportation and hotel!

No doubt when you're there, you will see a badge of someone you've met online or a representative for a service you've considered using. Its the perfect place to get recommendations and network with other businesses like yourself.

I will be at IRCE 2015 sharing the experience recording videos (using Periscope too) and doing a book signing in the Pitney Bowes booth (#743) on Wednesday and Thursday.

Pitney Bowes has been around a long time, and as a forward thinking company, has some new ideas for cross-border commerce. Talk to one of the people in their booth and learn how to take the next big step in enterprise level fulfillment. They will have experts who can help you develop and execute your international growth strategy.

It's a big step from shipping First Class International packets to moving your full business online. The Pitney Bowes folks are there to hold your hand to help you succeed. Stop by the booth and say hello. Tweet me @MarshaCollier or @PB_digital during and after the show and we'll be glad to point you in the right direction.

Tuesday, May 26

How to Boost Strong Wi-Fi in Every Room

Is your Wi-Fi network more important than sex? Surprising data from March 2015 IDC study on home networks, sponsored by Linksys

Since the early days of computing, sharing content from place to place has been a challenge. Networks in the old days required installation by those who were expertly trained in their field. Small businesses used “sneakernet” (the process of carrying disks from one computer to the other). Now we have wireless connections and we all share. Yet in the age of this cutting edge technology, we often find ourselves waiting for that Netflix movie to stop stuttering or pixelating. Buffering is just plain annoying.

The first thing we think of, (and the most common solution) would be to purchase higher speed plan from our internet service provider. But wait before you make a sizeable ongoing investment. There’s a whole lot more that you can do on your end.
#TIP: If you haven’t spoken to your ISP in over a year, give them a call and they will probably offer you savings on your current plan with faster internet included. I just did that and doubled my speed.
Your internet connection comes in via a cable of some sort and is received by a modem. To build a wireless network, you cable the modem to a router, which broadcasts your internet thoughout your home or office. You may get a fast signal coming in, but what happens at your end can make a big difference in the quality of how the signal is delivered to your devices.

How many devices do you currently connect to the internet?

Take a moment to count them. Today we demand a lot from our networks. In my home, we have smart TVs, a gaming platform, multiple tablets and smartphones, Nest thermostats, WeMo security cameras, music streaming devices, satellite TV adapters, a weather station, wireless printers and, of course laptops. Not every device is online all the time, but it would be fair to say that we have at least 10 devices connecting to the internet at any one moment. What about at your place? Make a list and see how many device are competing for your bandwidth.

Where is your router?

Ideally you should position the router in the most central location in your home, preferably on top of a desk or (even better) on top of a bookshelf. If you have a multi-story home, its best to put your router on the 1st floor higher up in the room like on a book shelf so the wireless signal can be closer to devices on the second floor.

What is in “line of sight” of your router?

I realized that I had my router on top of a desk, but on the other side of the wall was a kitchen counter with a granite backsplash. Granite degrades a Wi-Fi signal as well as all of the pipes and appliances in the kitchen. Centrally located brick fireplaces, fish tanks (full of water), built in bookcases, hardwood furniture and even plaster walls are dense objects that cut down your signal. Older routers send the Wi-Fi signal in a single stream. As the signal reaches each device, the strength is leeched until the furthest device has a pathetically weak stream.

Why not consider a Wi-Fi Range Extender?

Very few of us live in an ideal world. My router is at the far end of a long, ranch style home. Your home may have more than one story and no doubt you have some dead zones. Because I have almost every barrier to a clear signal, I use a range extender. The best range extenders you can buy are compatible with all brands of routers (even the ones you get from a service provider). You place the range extender halfway between your router and your deadzone. It will pick up the Wi-Fi signal and increase the range. The one I am using, Linksys AC1200 Amplify, model RE6700 will extend your network up to 10,000 square feet.

Does your router support “Dual-Band” and are you taking advantage of it?

I first learned about bands when I learned about wireless phones. Their early roots were in the 2.4 GHz band but to beat interference from microwave ovens and went to 5.8 GHz then Dect 6.0. In practice, it was clear that the less crowded the band, the clearer the signal would be. Radio waves are everywhere and older routers only broadcast in that same 2. 4 GHz band.

Without going into a tutorial on radio waves, broadcast frequencies and connectivity, take my word that the 2.4 GHz band has a lot of traffic. It is crowded with cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, baby monitors, garage door openers, microwave ovens and more.

If you have a router that supports Wireless-N or AC, you have two bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Run both at once and let your devices connect to the bands that work best for them. The range of the 5 GHz band is shorter than the 2.4, but the latest routers with this technology have a more sophisticated beamforming antenna array and MU-MIMO.

The 5 GHz has a wider wireless spectrum available compared to the 2.4 GHz, which leads to significantly better performance as the 5 GHz is best for usage that requires uninterrupted throughput. That is why it is recommended for media streaming and transferring music, pictures, and video throughout your home network.

What channel are you using?

I know, right? Wi-fi networks use channels! There are 14 available channels in the 2.4 GHz band. If you and your neighbors are using the same channel, it could degrade your signal too. There are a few ways to find out which channel has less traffic. I use an app called WiFi Analyzer (see below). The app will show you all the networks within range of your devices and recommend the best for you to use. You can also use it like I do. I open the app and walk around my house. As I walk, the graph below changes, picking up and dropping new networks as I move (no I do not live next door to a 7-Eleven). After a full walkaround of my home and office, I selected channel 11 for my network.

You can change the broadcast channels of your router from the router’s interface.

How old is your router? 

No matter how fast your ISP is pushing the internet to your home or office, you will not be able to benefit from speed if you are using old technology. New routers that feature Max-Stream MU-MIMO send out three streams, thereby allowing three devices to basically have their own dedicated high speed connection.

Many people I know are still using the router rented from their ISP, or one they purchased years ago. I remember when wireless-G was cutting edge, then Wireless-N; today it’s Wireless-AC. It’s doubtful that all your current devices support the latest versions of 802.11, but the latest technologies need more throughput as well as bandwidth. Why spend hundreds of dollars on new devices if your current router degrades their performance?

In upcoming posts, I will explain the facts behind the types of 802.11 and the things you need to know before buying a new router. If you have questions about your wireless network, please send them to me and I try to answer in a future post.

This post was sponsored by Linksys 

Monday, March 23

How Twitter Chats Can Build Topical Understanding and Community #GenerationSilos

In 2009, when I got the idea that online customer service via Twitter would be the future (and an idea for a book), I wanted community input. I found a like minded individual, Jeffrey Kingman, to join me in a #custserv (customer service) chat.

The #custserv chat was a success and has been running on Tuesday nights at 9pm ET for over five years. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of participants have joined in the chat. Each sharing opinions that have helped form the practices in customer service today.

When I postulated another idea, I was inspired by the large amount of social media engagement surrounding the generations. It seems that Millennials, Baby Boomers and GenX-ers all have their own hashtags; I was culpable too, as I had written a chapter about marketing to the generations in my customer service book.

But what bothered me about the current conversation was that the hashtags and the tweets generally served to promote differences, versus the commonalities, of those of us making our way in the 21st century.

Last November, I participated in the launch of IBM Verse with 31 other social business influencers. (IBM Verse is a powerful new email and collaboration tool guided by analytics). During that event, we brainstormed the future of work and the role that different generations played, that conversation inspired this chat.

#GenerationSilos was born

I was lucky enough to team up with @IBMSocialBiz for the #GenerationSilos chat and with Jason Eng as co-host. With Jason as my wingman, I was assured the chat would be balanced and would cover varying points of view.

The chat was scheduled for Wednesday, March 18. I fully forgot that the entire social media world would be at SXSW and that the day prior was St. Patrick's Day. We had a lot of promoting to do. Launching a new hashtag means a lot of work and we didn't have much time. Twitter promotion began on the 15th, the Sunday prior, and a framing post went on my blog on Monday the 16th. The theme was "Are we creating silos between generations? Are millennials the future of work? Tune in to find out!"

When you plan an online chat, be sure you have a list of questions that cover the topic, ten are good for a one-hour chat. Planned questions enable the moderators to keep participants on topic. Without questions, a crowd will often splinter into individual sub-discussions.  We prepared questions that opened discussion on the topic, the trend to siloing the generations.

The chat was held on CrowdChat, a platform that enhances the conversation, allowing comments to share on Twitter, automatically with the #GenerationSilos hashtag. Comments longer than 140 characters are posted truncated on Twitter with a link back to the chat platform. It is very efficient.

Five minutes prior to the chat, I watched the chat page and there was three of us in the room, Jason, IBMSocialBiz and me. I wondered if anyone would even show up. By 6pm PT a crowd began to fill in. We welcomed the community and the questions began.

By 6:37 pm, the chat was trending worldwide on Twitter and the conversation was interactive and eye opening. The two top questions in the chat were
  • Millennials say they have challenged the status quo. Does this differ from the mantra "Don't trust anyone over 30"?
  • What are the biggest myths you hear about millennials?
You can visit the transcript and find the answers here on CrowdChat. We ended up with 3,227 views, a reach of 23.6M and a total of 484 posts.

Thank you to everyone who stopped by to share their ideas. It proved that Twitter chats can really be a place where ideas are exchanged and solutions can be found.

Monday, March 16

Focus on People, Not Generations, to Achieve Transformation in Culture

Ariana Gradow of CrowdChat and I on TheCube at IBMInterconnect #NewWayToWork - two generations working together!

When generations collide; silos are built. Has anything good ever come from a silo mentality? Let’s define silos to be clear:
silo: isolate (one system, process, department, etc.) from others
In business a silo mentality reduces efficiency and can be a contributing factor to a failing corporate culture. Silos between people proliferate discrimination, isolation, a lack of team play and cooperation. In the workplace, this attitude is just as destructive to synergy and progress.

Today, silos are being built between people in the 21st century, brick by brick, by both ends of the demographic spectrum. The Internet abounds with posts vehemently pitting one generation against the other; written in words that border on hate-speak. Name-calling has become an obsession. Why take responsibility for anything when we can blame our difficulties on someone else?

Millennials have been called lazy, selfish, entitled, rude; .Boomers were called radicals, dirty hippies and slackers. The disparity between the generations goes back as far as around the 4th Century BC, when Socrates denounced the young generation “Children are now tyrants.”

In this post, I'm skipping past Gen X because the most populous cohorts today are the baby boomer and the millennial. Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964-and they represent 23.7% of the population and most began to enter the workforce in 1970. Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, represent 28.7% according to 2014 U.S. Census data.

No one is that special: Workplace culture and Technology

While browsing the web, I found this, “I watched in horror as my baby boomer boss pounded on the keyboard in an attempt to figure out the e-mail." Agreed, there are those who are not well-versed in technology, but horror?

Before we arm up for generational confrontation, consider the points below to see the commonalities between the generations. While millennials have been immersed in technology since they were in diapers, who do you think developed all the devices that changed the way we work? Not everyone else on the planet is a luddite. Lets take a look at the workplace and a few of the innovations that led to the digital revolution that changed the way we work together.

In the Workplace

It wasn't until the 1930s that electric typewriters appeared. Proportional spacing didn't appear until 1944, but the most radical innovation was the IBM Selectric Typewriter in 1961. The Selectric mechanism used internal mechanical binary coding and mechanical digital-to-analog converters. Disruptive? Yes. Thomas Watson Jr., who commissioned the development, also believed that design was just as important as innovation. He hired the top mid century designers of the day to develop at style guide, to portray a modernistic motif. Having an IBM Selectric in an office was the ultimate cool factor; it eventually captured 75% of the typewriter market.

The Inbox

When boomers worked in an office, if they wanted to speak to a colleague, they’d call them or walk over to their desk ...and talk. If the person wasn't there they’d leave a little note on their desk. 

If you wanted to share a document, you’d have to put it in an “Inter-Office envelope”, address it (it could be reused multiple times) and put it in your Outbox. The outbox would be picked up once or twice a day by someone from the mailroom and delivered to the recipients Inbox. Archaic, isn't it?

I thought the last use of an interoffice envelope was in 2008 when Steve Jobs slipped a Macbook Air into one at MacWorld. I was wrong, when I posted on Twitter, asking for a picture of one of these envelopes I got tons of responses . Can you imagine an office using today’s email and these relics? Duplication in communication processes is more rampant than ever.

Digital revolution?

The digital revolution in media consumption could not have occurred without the introduction of television. In the pre-TV era, people got their news in newspapers, but “real-time” (changed twice weekly) images were shared on the big screen, in theaters via seven minute newsreels shown between movies. The disruption to real time media came in the 1960s when television became commonplace in American households and began to mold public opinion.
"The digital revolution is a digression, and television — the real video revolution that began in the 1950s — continues on." - The Hollywood Reporter

There are those who say television is dead, but it is “the screen” that carries its work in the digital age. What is your tablet but an alternative for consuming media? All forms of information appear, from fiction to news via a multitude of devices including OTT (over-the-top) content delivered through IP packets to “the screen.” As Stephen King so aptly put it, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”

Work/Life Balance

Did the millennial generation invent the desire for work/life balance? Ask anyone from prior generations and I think you will find that having more personal time was something all human beings aspired to have. Previously there was no option for "me" time in the workplace. So before we condemn, consider that there were no sabbaticals and allotted vacation time rarely exceeded 10 working days. Just like today, very few people were able to enjoy this time off. When employees had children, mothers were lucky to be able to combine sick days and vacation to spend time with their new babies. Fathers were expected to be at work and pass out cigars

Boomer Cultural Deceptions

Boomers were exploited by the media with a broken promise of “the American Dream.” To achieve this dream, both parents had to go to work and the images seen on television of mom staying at home as a housewife and dad being the breadwinner went out the door. They became unwilling workaholics in order to achieve the dream and were sold up the river by marketers and banks with promises of easy credit and long term repayment.

As parents of older children (and caregivers to parents) today, they now carry higher expenses than their predecessors longer into life, thereby causing them to attempt to stay in the workplace longer. There is no way to find the “golden years” they were promised. Social Security (which they paid into their entire working lives) can’t be expected to maintain a status quo.

Millennial Educational Debt

A top ranked betrayal that millennials feel is mounting college debt. They face not only debt, but a depressed economy with unemployment rates that, in 2010, reached as high as 9.6%. The dream of graduating and getting a high paying job disappeared, so many left universities without attaining a degree.

The truth, albeit somewhat time delayed, is that despite debt, the ROI of a degree can be high. A 2015 report from PayScale, reveals the ROI of the various majors and the costs involved. In short, assuming one completes four years and gets a degree, a university educated man can expect to earn as much as 70% more than one without a degree; in 1972 that number was only 22%. An interactive chart including degrees can be found at The Economist, here.

If you're looking to make a decision on which colleges give you the most for your money, visit CollegeRaptor for an interactive, free analysis.

We are all victims of politics and societal influences. No generation ever set out to deliberately screw another. Boomers are just as scared of the future as are Millennials, if not more.Suicide among Baby Boomers is one of the leading causes of death, behind only cancer and heart disease.

Today’s technology and culture represents the building blocks placed by past generations. We have more in common than you think. And as we all move through the circle of life, future generations will blame the previous for their life issues. We need to be more flexible. each generation brings new tools to the box. So why not take this moment to take the high road, and work together for a better future and a productive workplace.

Please join me on Twitter for a #GenerationSilios chat on Wednesday, March 18 at 6pm PDT. Details here

Monday, January 12

CES 2015: Technologies That Caught My Eye

I have attended almost every  CES since the early 2000s. I've seen new technologies launched and many drowned out by the excitement ginned up on the latest televisions and wearables. Here are some notable examples of technology that stood out from the crowd:

ReWalk Robotics Personal Exoskeleton 

This revolutionary technology will have life changing impact on so many. It helps paraplegics regain the ability to walk. The FDA cleared the company’s ReWalk Personal System for use at home and in the community.
ReWalk is a wearable robotic exoskeleton that provides powered hip and knee motion to enable individuals with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) to stand upright and walk. ReWalk, the only exoskeleton with FDA clearance via clinical studies and extensive performance testing for personal use, is now available throughout the United States.
While attending the ShowStoppers Media preview, I took the video below.

Spin Master Meccanoid G15 KS building kit

Ever since I saw the movie, Short Circuit, I wanted a Johnny 5 robot of my own. It seems that I am a bit closer to my goal. At the Show Stoppers event I met a charming robot from Meccano, and with their kit I can build and program my own pal. Ever have an Erector set? (Erector is the brand for Meccano in the United States). The Meccanoid robot can recognize pre-programmed user-recorded Voice Commands and can be controlled by an Android or iPhone app. 

Toshiba's Communication Android Robot

This definitely takes the prize for the strangest (creepy?) technology. This Android is promoted to be the next big thing in customer service, health care and even as companions. Forgive me if I am not as enthusiastic as the other reporters and reviewers. The goal is to "achieve real heart-warming communication with human-like facial expression." Anybody else see Disney's Hall of the Presidents? Sigh. Read the Toshiba Press Release.

Lenovo VIBE Xtension Selfie Flash 

The end to unflattering selfies. The Selfie flash plugs into the phone's audio port and uses 8 LEDs to illuminate (not flash at) your face. This way you can get the perfect selfie every time. The price is only $29, but Lenovo has (currently) no plans to sell this cutting edge product in the United States. Let's hope they take pity on the selfie fans in the US!

Polaroid Socialmatic Instant Digital Camera 

Polaroid is back, and in a big way, utilizing Zero Ink Printing technology, They understand social media and their new Socialmatic camera is a fully operating touchscreen Android 4.4 Kit Kat system with GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth. The front facing camera is 14 MP  and the rear 2 MP. You can share your pictures online and through its built in printer, instantly print 2" x 3" hard copy for your friends. 

Also, the 2" x 3" picture of me at the top of this post is being printed from the new Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer which connects to mobile devices via Bluetooth or NFC.