Thursday, 3 October 2013

Is Social Media an appropriate tool for Local Councils?

Vision ICT Blog 10/13

Welcome to the Vision ICT Blog.

Every month we will have a topic or issue that we will discuss, either to do with the company, related business or technology issues that affect YOU.

This month’s topic: Is Social Media an appropriate tool for Local Councils? written by Technical Director Daniel.
 Social Media is a powerful tool, there is no question, however, wherever there is power, there is also danger. As much as social media platforms can be used for good, they can instantly turn bad as well, which is why councils tend to be more hesitant towards embracing them.
The trouble is, there is no right or wrong decision, and there is no right or wrong way to use social media, the underlining rule is; there must be the resource behind it, if you choose to use it. If you decide to embrace social media, whether you are a council or a small private company, there is no point having it if you don’t respond and interact with it.
If councils do decide to use social media it is important to ensure there is time built in to go behind it to keep it ‘active’, then there are a few things they need to look out for.
Many councils are worried about losing levels of integrity and authority by joining platforms such as Twitter and Facebook due to the fun loving and joking nature behind them. However you could spin this problem it on it’s head and show more integrity by showing support of the younger generations and promoting it as a platform that they can come to and communicate their thoughts and ideas.
As beneficial as engaging with a younger audience can be, this is also where councils need to be most on the ball. With engagement and interaction, there is bound to be hostility, you must be prepared to accept the good with the bad. If you ignore the bad and only communicate with the good, the bad will only get worse, and this goes back to our first point about having the resource to manage the platforms. Your team need to be briefed on what is expected of them and how to manage angry or abusive comments, which unfortunately are quite inevitable.
Social media can be used to ask questions and gauge opinion. Surveys and questionnaires are quickly and easily filled out online, and by advertising them via social media could help increase levels of completion and therefore improve the validity of any studies that are conducted. Council team meetings can also be filmed and uploaded to these platforms to help generate a true sense of transparency and help your local residents feel more involved with the decisions you are making.
Overall, social media can be an effective tool for local councils, but you must be prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly. People are more confident to share controversial opinions and ideas behind a computer screen than they are face to face, however if you actively show an interest in such opinions and try and respond to these people, you may in the long term, develop a greater sense of respect and understanding from your local residents. This is not textbook matter; sometimes you need to go with your instinct when it comes to what you share, but whatever your instinct is, you must believe in it, as you can’t go back on yourself once it’s been shared with the world wide web!
We hope you enjoyed this special edition of the Vision ICT blog.

Until next time, stay well!

Next month – Browsers and Issues

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Search Engine Optimisation

Vision ICT Blog 06/13

Welcome to the Vision ICT Blog. 

Every month we will have a topic or issue that we will discuss, either to do with the company, related business or technology issues that affect YOU.

This month’s topic: Search Engine Optimisation

Carrying on from last month’s topic, Standing Out from the Crowd, we will be taking a look at Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) including a special guest post.

What is SEO? SEO is the development of a website to increase its ranking on search engines.

What is a Search Engine and how does it work? Search engines work by finding pages a user asks for, based on the “best results” available. The “best” is defined by SEO techniques – The most popular, the most relevant and the longest active.

SEO varies depending on what you want to achieve. To this end, you should treat SEO differently if you are doing it for a council body or for a business.

SEO for business:
Businesses need to promote themselves and push themselves above the competition. Search rankings are a constant battle between companies to reach the lucrative top spots. Not only does a company need to have strong Search Engine Optimisation, your competition needs to have weaker Optimisation. Rankings are constantly changing so sometimes it can be a struggle to remain at the top. Alternatively you can pay google to have a fixed spot, although many people will tend to ignore these in favour of the ‘natural’ links.

Some SEO companies offer some ‘solutions’ that exploit the search system. However, if caught this can result in a website being banned completely from search engines. If someone offers you a 100% guaranteed top ranking, don’t trust them! You could end up losing any search engine good-will you already have.

For the best results, we recommend using our trusted SEO company, Skyline.

SEO for councils:
When it comes to council websites, many will put a lot of faith in website rankings. The truth is, unlike for a business whilst a page ranking is useful, it usually isn’t as vital. To begin, most councils will have an easy to find address (such as [councilname], and if most people are looking for the council, they will find it. 

Secondly, most people search for the council will type “[Council Name] Parish/Town/Community Council” into a search engine, and as such the council site will very likely be on the first page, usually amongst the top 2 or 3 links. This is purely because a specific search like that will yield few other results than the one they want. Just searching the “Place Name” without the “Council” might return different results, but rarely will this be because the person is looking for/wants to see the council site.

Thirdly, if your council’s rating is a little low for some reason and you do want to boost it (also perhaps for easy access), we recommend contacting other large government bodies (such as Unitary Authorities and District Councils) and getting them to post a link to your site. This will help boost your ranking. We also can also post a link to your council site on Wikipedia under the page about the region. 

And now, a special guest post from Skyline SEO Experts – 

Seeing as search engines are the main way in which internet users browse the web, an SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) campaign will give your website the best chance of being found on results pages by searchers. Companies that have invested in SEO now enjoy profitable places on Google results pages, and as up to 80% of internet users don’t look past the first page of results, these top ten spots receive thousands more visitors than websites found later on. Traffic increases, custom flows and with this, Google’s algorithm recognises the positive reputation of the site, thus sustaining its high page position. 
Rather than using Google’s more expensive service, Adwords AKA Pay-Per-Click (PPC), the organic list statistically gives a better return on investment (ROI). 70% of internet users only use the organic listing.
Ideally, your online-goal should be to rank on page 1 for all your products or services. How do you get there? Today, just think relevance. Is your website as relevant as it can be?
A hugely important part of any SEO campaign is building strong links from other sites to your own. 
Every page has a page ranking, from to 0 to 10 and building links from a page with a ranking higher than yours will have an extremely positive effect on your position on Google. The fewer number of links on a page to other pages, the more authority these links will carry with google and a result will have a greater effect than a page with many links.
For example, a link to your website from the BBC (page rank 9) in regards to an article they have written about your council will have a huge impact on your google ranking. This is in contrast to a link from a website under six months old or with few visitors, which is like to be page ranked 0.
If you need any help, please do not hesitate to contact either Rob or Joe at Skyline Marketing - We specialise in SEO and PPC.

We hope you enjoyed this special edition of the Vision ICT blog.

Until next time, stay well!

Next month – Uses of Social Media

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Standing Out From The Crowd

Vision ICT Blog 05/13

Welcome to the Vision ICT Blog.

Every month we will have a topic or issue that we will discuss, either to do with the company, related business or technology issues that affect YOU.

Good news! Vision ICT will now be aiming to release 2 blog posts a month! We will do our best to keep up the high quality of content within our post. We hope you enjoy them.

This month’s topic: Standing out from the crowd

Whether you are a business or a council, or even a charitable organisation, everyone wants their cause to be visible. However, making sure your message can be heard above the others competing for the people’s attention can be a difficult task. So what can you do to increase your visibility in the rapidly evolving world of technology?

Web presence is a problem unto itself. Not only do you have to promote yourself, you physically have to compete with every other website on the internet. Page rankings play a major part on being found online, however I will be going into web page rankings and search engines in a later topic. 

For now, let’s assuming that the search engine angle is taken care of. Your site can be easily found online, and you can draw in visitors who are looking for what you provide. The question now is, how do you make people revisit your site or prioritize your product over others. 

The first thing that anyone will see when they visit your site is the front page. How does you front page look? Is it easy to handle and navigate? Is it clearly laid out and well presented, with a small number of same palette colours?

Colours are an important aspect of a website and ensuring you have colours relevant to your goal should be considered. Having bright blue and red text together might look nice, but it may be hard to read especially for the visually impaired. Usually you will want a single colour for the majority of text, maybe another for any links on the page and possible one more for major headings (although that isn’t always necessary as bolding and size increases can produce an equal if not better effect).

Presentation is key in any aspect of self-promotion and a website is no different. Ask a few trusted colleagues and ask them “Is this the best view of my site that I can put across?” Having an outside opinion can be very valuable. Everyone has their own view point but getting a couple of different ideas from different people will show up any glaringly obvious problems.

Are all your documents up to date and well organised? Every page and any information on your website should be carefully and clearly laid out. Visitors should be able to get exactly what they want without having to dig around for it. Quite often councils will forget to upload minutes and agendas and the site will slowly slip out of date. Having a reminder to constantly keep the site updated is a good idea. Perhaps write a note on your calendar at the end of each month. This also keeps people a reason to revisit the site, as they may well have an interest in minutes/agendas/newsletters or such.

Giving people a reason to return another day ensures regular traffic. A council can also do a regular news update about the local area for residents. On the business side, having a personal front that is friendly can make a big difference. Updating about big jobs or changes within the company can be very positive. If most of your business is local, making reference to local news and events can also show you are in touch with the community.

Another good way to get people’s attention is to have unique features. Having something on your site like a photo gallery or a question an answer facility gives a site visitor something interesting to do and look at. Engaging in public opinion helps make people feel that their concerns are being listened to. Photos relevant to your product or company can help give people a better feel for the quality of service you provide, or photos of the local area show how close you are to the community.

Audio/visual elements can be very striking and memorable. Most businesses and councils won’t consider this angle, as up until recently the support for sound/video on websites has usually been rather shoddy at best. However, interactive technology is on the rise and as a having a good quality video presentation as part of your website could be beneficial. A voice and a face are far more memorable than a simple block of text.

Vision ICT itself has recently started using cartoons to punctuate its blog posts. Just even the littlest of things can help give your web presence a fresh look and get people interested in what you have to offer. Even if a visitor doesn’t specifically buy a product, they’ll likely remember you when talking to friends and colleagues.

If you are interested in adding some fun new facilities to your Vision Website such as a Vision Questionnaire, Vision Video Presenter or Other Addons, give us a call and we will talk through your options.

Until next time, stay well!

Next month – Search Engine Optimisation

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Importance of Data Backup

Vision ICT Blog 05/13

Welcome to the Vision ICT Blog. 

Every month we will have a topic or issue that we will discuss, either to do with the company, related business or technology issues that affect YOU.

Sorry this month’s blog is a bit late, it’s been a very hectic month!

This month’s topic: Importance of Data Backup

Information is the key to any well running organisation. The mark of a human civilisation is the ability to record the world around us and display that knowledge in the future. From cave paintings, through parchment and paper, right up to the computer our advancement as a species has been reflected in how we record information.

That being said, some of the greatest tragedies of our history have been the loss of information. In the dark ages we lost a great deal of technological and cultural information which took centuries to recover and relearn. Knowledge of ancient peoples, places and practices have been lost due to no written records existing. Even in recent times, so many black and white films and early TV shows were discarded with no consideration of their value in the future, never to be seen again.

What would you do if tomorrow all computers stopped working? Without access to all the information we have stored on computers we would be in complete anarchy.

How about you personally? What would you do if your computer crashed tomorrow? Could you continue your work/job without computer support? How easy would it be for you to restore any lost data?

For many businesses the loss of critical data can spell the end of operating. In the public sector, the loss of documents can cause confusion and damage public confidence in a local government body. Whilst most people won’t even consider emergency procedures, any computer is at risk of damage. Be it a virus, floods, theft or accidental damage, computers are surprisingly fragile and most people only store data on a single computer.

What are the solutions to this?

Well you could store a backup on an external drive like a USB. However this is dependent on the drive not also failing, and finding somewhere safe to store the drive. Also as more updates are made to the data, you will need to personally update your back up. How often will this be done, once a month, once a year? What if critical data is gained BEFORE you can get around to backing up?

Another solution is online data backup. Cloud storage looks to be the future of computing. Cloud storage often will see your data uploaded with security encryption to prevent unlawful access, stored on multiple servers to ensure prevention of loss, and will automatically back up the data at allocated times so you don’t even have to remember it.

Vision ICT offers its Vision Backup services to help keep your data secure. If you want to utilize the Cloud and want the complexity of organising it taken out of your hands, then give us call and we will provide you with details about our service. 

Until next time, stay well!

Next month – Standing Out from the Crowd

Friday, 12 April 2013

Keeping the Service in Customer Service

Vision ICT Blog 04/13

Welcome to the Vision ICT Blog. 

Every month we will have a topic or issue that we will discuss, either to do with the company, related business or technology issues that affect YOU.

This month’s topic: Keeping the Service in Customer Service

On the surface, this seems obvious. Customer service plays a major role in all aspects of life, so good customer service is its own reward. But then why do some businesses still fail to provide this most basic of customer relations? What makes good customer service?

Good customer service is dependent on several things – What you sell, who you’re selling to, and the technology you have.

What do you sell?
Your product will affect the best way to go about customer service. Is it something that would benefit from ‘house calls’? Would a face to face encounter with your client be helpful, or are you better off keeping things formal across a telephone or email conversation? We all hate the automatic machine systems, but they arose from the idea that a machine could work faster and be more efficient when dealing with clients. Sadly this doesn’t take into account the ‘human touch’. We in the UK balance a very fine line with the human touch. We like to feel our concerns are being addressed by a real person who will work hard to resolve them, but we often also don’t like them getting too familiar.

A good case in point, a certain coffee chain. When this coffee chain started a policy of asking a customer’s name to put on their coffee, many in the UK saw this as an unnecessary invasion of personal life. This was an example of getting TOO personal. On the other side though, the use of automated telephone systems and overseas call centres have damaged the reputation of several companies. It is a fine line between knowing and respecting about your clients but remembering that you a business and are offering a service. If you only meet a customer once, you probably don't need to know their name.

Who are you selling to?
Selling to your friend down the street is a bit different to talking to the head of a multinational corporation. Know your clients. How formal do they want you to be? Is asking “how is the weather” a pleasant distraction or an unnecessary waste of their time? Never assume any 2 clients want the same service. If you see a client on a regular basis, build up a mental profile of how they like to be addressed and tailor your approach to that. Knowing your clients and the best way to present yourself to them can make the difference between a sale and a miss.

What technology do you have?
Technology can be very effective in making a company more efficient and customer friendly, but over reliance on technology can also be its own pitfall. As stated before, automated systems rarely go down well, so having a UK based phone contact, preferably with strong relevant skills to your product can be far more effective. Call centres overseas often lack the technical or cultural understanding required to maintain a high service. Our nation is a very subtle one, and subtle things within our cultural history can make a massive impact. Understanding those cues and being able to react to them correctly can be difficult to do if you are located half way around the world. 

Also having ‘predictive’ technology can make things faster for you as well. Having a device that can tell who a caller/emailer is based upon their telephone number/email address can make things far faster and simpler. Having a client’s profile infront of you before they’ve even said “Good Morning” will save you and them a lot of time.

Vision ICT is always looking to make the most of its customer service. We will ALWAYS maintain a UK based phone number that allows you to get in contact with us directly, we understand the need for a human touch. We will also use the latest technology to make our responses quicker and more efficient for our client’s. Our new Zendesk system has allowed us to track support emails better than ever before, and we will continue to use technology to help us help YOU, whilst remembering why our clients choose us in the first place.

Until next time, stay well!

Next month – Importance of Data Backup