Google Offers Virtual Tours of Its Data Centers

Google has recently opened the doors (virtually of course) to it’s infamous data centers. Now you can see where your bits, bytes and gigabytes are traveling when you search for something on Google.com, watch a YouTube Video or send an email through Gmail.
From the virtual tour:

When you’re on a Google website (like right now), you’re accessing one of the most powerful server networks in the known Universe. But what does that actually look like? Here’s your chance to see inside what we’re calling the physical Internet.

The virtual tours were unveiled on Wednesday and feature images from Google’s data centers in the United States, Finland, and Belgium. Later Google’s Street View will share virtual tours through their data center in North Carolina.

This is a great chance to see what’s behind Google’s  curtain and whoever coined the analogy that the internet is series of pipes.. Well guess what, at Google it is!

Check it out! Google Data Centers

Google Data Center Pipes

YouTube Update: The New Google. Does “Don’t be Evil” Still Apply? – Part 2

This is the second entry of our series about the changes at Google and Larry Page are making a lot of changes as we head into 2012. Decide for yourself if they are still following the “Don’t be Evil” mantra.

Read the first post in the series here: The New Google. Does “Don’t be Evil” Still Apply? – Part 1

YouTube Homepage Makeover

The new redesign, which YouTube describes as the biggest redesign in history, is a move to personalize the user experience on the site as well as better integration with social media services. Plus if that wasn’t enough, Google has changed the focus of the site to a channel centric experience, which puts them in competition with broadcast and cable tv.

When you first log in you’ll notice that the homepage is focused around channels and the “homepage feed.” The feed contains the channels that a user is subscribed to, which can contain channels such official music from the Warner Music Group, video hobbyists or branded channels. Users can control what is in their feed with the navigation bar on the left and recommended videos and ads populate the right column. It looks very similar to social media sites such as Facebook.

Google youtube update

Also found in the left column is a list of “Suggested Channels” including a “Featured” listing where companies can have their channels displayed f Users can also link their Google+ and Facebook accounts to see what their friends are sharing. The new look and the prominence of G+ in homepage is further evidence to Google’s push Google+ across all platforms.

YouTube is also adding original content. The new channel centric YouTube creates a way for the platform to promote the new offerings they have set up with some major stars including Madonna, Jay-Z, Shaquille O’Neal and “CSI” creator Anthony Zuiker.

The redesign revamped channels which put an emphasis on Brand Channels. Brand Channels are a great way for users to interact with the brands they love. As a Brand you can customize to match your brand’s look and feel. For this, YouTube has added new templates:

  • Creator Template A featured video from a playlist with a group of featured playlists
  • Blogger Template A reverse chronological vlogroll of a featured playlist or your recent activity
  • Network Template A featured video from a playlist with a group of featured channels
  • Everything Template A featured video from a playlist with a group of featured playlists and channels

Each template comes with a feed tab that contains that can contain any of the following actions from the channel owner: Liking, commenting, uploading or favoriting a video, as well as adding a video to a playlist or subscribing to another channel. We also expect to see more social features introduced in the future.

Some other exciting features of the new channels include comment approval, control over who can comment, filter videos that show on your channel, playlists, gadgets that you can use for contests, games and downloads that revolve around your brand, custom tabs, and much more.

To complete the circle YouTube has also beefed up their analytics offering for YouTube analytics so you can track “how”, “why” and “why” people are interacting with your brand’s channel. The look and feel will definitely remind you of Google Analytics and you can track many familiar metrics such as:

  • Views
  • Unique views
  • Demographics
  • Geographic breakdowns
  • Traffic sources

What’s really exciting though are the engagement metrics that are available:

  • Track playback location (YouTube watch page, Embedded player on other websites, etc)
  • Discover what videos drive subscriptions
  • Analyze likes, dislikes and favorites by channel, video, geography and region
  • Track audience retention and attention levels
  • And much more

As you can see Google is going through an exciting time right now. The changes, updates and new products are coming fast, and we haven’t seen them be this aggressive in sometime. I expect 2012 to be an exciting year for working with Google.

If you have any questions about any of the new updates and how your company can take advantage of them, please let me know and we can see what options are the best fit for you. 

Does Your Company Need a Social Networking Policy?

Social Media in the Workplace

Do You Need a Social Networking Policy
by Jeannine Hohman, HR Strategist, TriStarr Staffing

Today’s employers are faced with many challenges, including managing a multi-generational workforce. Employees come from many backgrounds, cultures and the generations may span between World War II (born before 1940) and Baby Boomer (born 1941 – 1964) through Millennial (born 1980 – 2000). Managing different personalities, work ethics and conflicts may be challenging, but grasping and reigning in social networking for employees may be a necessity.

Some of the most recognized social media websites are Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. What was once just a personal way to communicate and stay in touch with people has now become a mainstay in both personal and professional communications and networking. The line between personal and professional time is becoming increasingly blurred as more employees bring home their laptop, telecommute or have access to the office after hours via remote access.

With regard to social media, an important message to get across to all employees is that what they say, do and post can be a reflection on your organization – that can be either positive or negative. The negative is usually where the trouble begins.

In today’s business environment, it is highly recommended to have a social media policy in place. A policy serves as a communication tool so that all employees are made aware of what is expected and what is not acceptable. In addition, having a clear, well written policy can help to protect the organization from negative activity and the “darker side” of these websites.

Below are some tips on what to consider when putting together a social media policy:

  • Not having a policy is risky – all it takes is one individual posting something negative or cringe worthy to expose the organization to bad publicity or even legal action.
  • Blocking sites may hurt the organization – by cutting access to certain networking sites, organizations may be turning away business. These sites can also be a valuable recruiting tool.
  • The policy should be clear and specific – Employees should understand the ramifications of not using the social networking media correctly. Some questions to consider: Can employees list the company as their workplace? Can they “friend” clients or vendors?
  • Define private – Many individuals are under the false impression that what they do and post on their personal computer remains private. Remind employees that posting on public forums is never private. Bad mouthing the organization or a fellow employee on the Internet is basically the same as putting the message on a billboard.
  • Give employees the tools needed to use social media effectively – training is essential. Again, the workforce contains multi-generations and not all of these generations are as knowledgeable or comfortable with this technology.

 

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Jeannine Hohman is a Human Resource Stategist at TriStarr Staffing.  She is responsible for providing organizations with strategic HR support through such services as employee handbooks, job descriptions, training, FLSA, policies, procedures and employment compliance issues.

 Disclaimer: TriStarr Staffing is one of our clients.

Wondering About the Cost of Social Media? Think: “Time is Money”

Their is a misconception among a lot of businesses and business owners that Social Media is free. When I come across people that believe this, I try to explain to them that even though many of the tools and platforms are free, using the free tools correctly is not. The old adage always comes to mind:  “Time is Money.”  Here’s some data to back up that up.

Social Media Examiner recently published their annual Social Media Marketing Industry Report (<– Get the full report). Some of the most interesting data to come out of the report is the amount of time that marketers spend on Social Media:

A significant 58% of marketers are using social media for 6 hours or more each week and 34% for 11 or more hours weekly. It’s interesting to note that 15% of marketers spend more than 20 hours each week on social media.

Those with more years of social media experience spend more time each week conducting social media activities. For example, 63% of people with 3 or more years of experience spend more than 10 hours a week doing social media activities. Only 41% of those with 1 to 3 years experience spend that much time.

time commitment for social media

I typically estimate that companies need to invest at least 5 hours a week in Social Media in order to see a real benefit. In my opinion this is an absolute minimum! This includes, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, forums, video, social bookmarking as well as others.

How much time do you spend on your Social Media activities?

Some other useful reading:

Social Media ROI – What’s Your Plan?
How much do you need to budget for Social Media in 2011?

How To: Five Things You Can do With Social Media Marketing

April Fools’ Day – Internet Filled with Spoofs

It seems everyone is getting in on the April Fools’ Day action today. Youtube posted black-and-white videos said to be from 1911. Huffington Post put up a fake pay wall on their site. Hulu published a pixely 1990’s looking redesign. Google played with the “helvetica” font. Even serious sights like LinkedIn was in on the action. Did you play any April Fools’ Day jokes?

Check out the people LinkedIn thinks I might know.
linkedIn April Fools' Day

Hulu’s 1990’s Dial-up age redesign.
Hulu's April Fools' Day redesign

3 Real-Time Search Engines You Should Know About

Real time search clockThere has been a lot of talk recently about Real-Time Search. Both Bing and Google are integrating it into their search results as well as creating their own real-time search engines: Google Realtime Search and Bing Social. To do this they have both made deals with Facebook and Twitter to get access to their data.

The big guys are not the only ones in the real-time search arena. There are a number of smaller niche startups that have jumped into the fray. Below is a list of 5 of the top players:

OneRiot
OneRiot’s take on things is they believe that we are suffering from information overload, and they are probably right too. To combat this they have created their own page-rank algorithm called PulseRank that rates the “social energy” or buzz of content rather than when it was created. OneRiot gets it’s data from sites like Twitter, Digg MySpace and Facebook. Their mantra is “Google’s Adsense for the real-time web.” OneRiot no longer has a consumer facing real-time search. (see comments)

Topsy
Topsy is purely a search engine for Twitter. It ranks it’s results by how influential the creator of the content. It will give a higher ranking to the content from the most influential Twitter accounts about the subject. It is probably the best way to find the movers and the shakers in particular industries and topics. OneRiot sent it’s search to Topsy when they shut down their real-time search.

Collecta
Probably the most robust real-time search engine on the list, as it gathers data from the big sites like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, but also from blog post, blog comments and news feeds from around the internet. Users can choose what types of content they would like to search: Stories, Comments, Updates, Photos and Videos. Collecta’s backend is powered by the same technology as Google’s Wave.

Social Mention
I’ve added this seach engine to replace OneRiot. Social Mention is also considered a brand management tool which allows you to track conversations about your product or company as well as any keywords you choose to search for. Social Mention monitors 100+ social media platforms including: Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, Digg, Google and many more.

There are other startups out there. Let us know if you have any to add to this list.

The Broadcast Industry: Is Their Catalyst Model Drying Up?

Broadcast Cable companiesThe cable industry has one of the best Catalyst Business Models out there. Is it finally drying up?

I’ve written about the book Catalyst Code before. It’s about how companies, like Visa, Amazon, Google and cable companies, have tapped into a catalyst model for their businesses and created thriving businesses.

The way it works is you create a platform or service that sites between two parts that want to do business with each other but may need a way or a more efficient way to do it. It’s like chemistry, water is the enables many chemical reactions to occur. So, the company becomes the catalyst for the two groups to do business.

The broadcast companies have been using this model for years and having great success. Essentially you have the people that want to watch TV on one side and the advertisers that want to reach the people that watch TV on the other. Both paying for their service.

Then came a long this thing called the interwebs and people were able to watch TV shows whenever and where ever they wanted. YouTube created big problems for the cable companies because anyone could upload recorded shows. The cable companies managed to fight off this advance, and sites like Hulu, Joost, and Veoh were created. Plus, more underground sites, such as Megavideo and Yidio sprung up.

The cable and TV Networks continued to work with Hulu because they were able to use advertisements when their shows were viewed on the Hulu platform. Slowly the networks such as NBC and the ComedyChannel started moving their videos back to their own sites where they controlled the whole experience and Hulu added a subscription service. (The service hasn’t taken off yet and they are supposedly lowering the price if they haven’t already.)

Now here’s the real kicker. I think the cable companies and networks really started getting worried when people (myself included) started dropping their cable subscriptions. Technology has made it so much easier to watch shows online that many people have decided that it was a waste of money to pay hundreds of dollars a year when they could watch it online more conveniently and for free!

So, what are the cable companies and networks doing? They are pulling back their shows and not showing them online.

“Broadcasters took a big step toward eliminating free TV shows on the Web after they blocked access to their programming online this month to enforce their demands to be paid.” *

This sound very similar don’t you think? First we had disruption in the music industry with Napster. The newspaper industry is on life support because you can find your news online for free. Murdoch blames Google for this one. Now the broadcast industry is taking their ball and going home.

In the end the networks and cable/broadcast companies are going to be in real trouble if they can’t figure out how to adapt to the internet world. People are tired of paying high prices for something that they can get for free elsewhere, and the more false barriers they put up to stop people from watching what they want will come back to haunt them. After all, you can find just about anything somewhere online if you know how to look.

* Quote from: Online TV spats mean fewer free shows on Web

B2B Marketing with Social Media

Do you think B2B marketing with social media doesn’t work? Check out this video, it gives information on how today’s executives and decision makers are using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. It also shows that they are using social networking to find B2B leads for their business. Are you using social media marketing for your B2B Business leads?

The Benefits of Universal Search

Universal Search

Universal search has actually been around for some time. All the way back in 2006 when I did some work for Google, we were testing it before it went live in the spring of 2007. Even though it has been over 3 years since it went live, many companies, SEO firms and marketing agencies are still not taking advantage of it.

Search results used to be a very simple and rather boring list of links with the standard being 10 results per page. With Universal search Google, as well as other search engines, added different types of media including images, video, blogs, books and news. The example below shows a simple example for “cats”.

Universal Search Results for Cats

The idea is to give users more complete results. So, what does this do for you and how can you take advantage of it?

Expand Brand Recognition

One of the biggest benefits of using universal search optimization is multiple rankings. By presenting your material in various types of media you greatly expand your chances showing up multiple times in the search engine results. This will help your brand recognition and visibility. Using images and video on your site, and tagging them correctly, is one way to take advantage of this. Hosting your video on YouTube also gives you another avenue get listed. So does hosting your images on a site like Flickr. Get it? Each image, video has the potential to be listed.

Use Social Media

With the popularity of social networking sites there are even more ways to get into search results. Universal search now also includes the sites I like to call the big three: LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. By setting up company profiles on these sites gives you even more ways to be found. Not only can you be found in individual search engines such as Facebook search, but now with multiple listings you could potentially fill the first page of results for your targeted keywords.

Drive It Home

If that’s not reason enough to optimize for universal search, there’s more! (use cheesy game show voice here). By showing up in the rankings multiple times you increase the chances of people clicking through to your content, but what do they do once they get there? You need to add links that lead back to your company site. This will give you more organically grown inbound links which will improve your ranking, provided that the site with the link doesn’t use “no-follow links“. Even if they do use no-follow links you are still increasing your chances of receiving secondary traffic to your site. Plus for the social media example, if you are writing engaging content people will share it with their friends which can also increase inbound links and traffic.

Below is an example of how to structure a campaign around a company site using search and social media.

Universal Search - Social Media Flowchart

Bottom line, when implemented correctly optimizing for universal search increases your chances of being found online, your brand recognition, your relevant inbound links, traffic to your site and the chance to reach a broader audience.

Vuvuzelas for Everyone!

If you have been watching any of the World Cup games in South Africa you have certainly heard the buzz of the controversial vuvuzela. The vuvuzela is a traditional horn that was used to summon distant villagers to attend community gatherings. It is now become a part of soccer(football) matches in this years World Cup in South Africa. There’s been a lot of controversy around them including discussion of banning them. Personally I wouldn’t mind a ban. All you can hear at the games now is the incessant Bâ™­ buzz and the chants and cheers from fans that distinguishes what country they support is drowned out. I did notice that in some of the more recent games the crowd managed to at add a little rhythm to the buzz. Or at least a pulsing buzz.

But, if you have become so accustomed to the droning in your head that you want it part of your everyday life. The bright folks over YouTube might just have an answer for you. They have now added a Vuvuzela button to all their videos. Down on the lower right you will see a small soccer ball icon. Click on the icon and all is good buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Vuvuzela button on YouTube

I bet that guy in the back is wishing he had a Vuvuzela button.