Writing by James – The Top 5 Most Popular Posts of 2013

It’s the end of 2013, and that means it is time to look at my most popular posts of the year. Without further ado, the Top 5!

#1 – Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation

The run away winner this year, and up from number 2 last year, this article still seems to be hitting the spot. I still get comments and emails around the subject, as it seems that nothing has changed – the number of people still searching for ‘Scribd Facebook’ on Google has not decreased.

#2 - RE: The Walking Dead – A call to Frank Darabont

Last year, when this rolled in at number 1, I said:

“When I first wrote this post, it was only intended to vent my own frustrations with the first season of the Walking Dead, but it seems that there are a lot of people who feel the same way. Luckily, my main issue with the series – not enough zombies! – has been answered.”

I’m extremely glad to say that Season 3, which finished a couple of months back on UK terrestrial, was the best yet. It had a strong story-line, plenty of zombies, and some very fine moments between the Governor and our band of survivors. How I’m managing to keep away from reading Robert Kirkman’s original comics, I have no idea…

#3 – Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation – an update

In this follow up article to the original, I looked at how the rest of Facebook’s launch partners for ‘Instant Personalisation’ had fared. The quick answer? Not very well.

#4 - The album that saved my (musical) life

I’m glad this is still in the top 5. Pixies are a group that I hold close, they’ve had a massive impact on my musical direction. Without Pixies, I can’t imagine that I would ever have ended up listening to my current favourites: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Tame Impala, and Radiohead. This look at how they were using old content in refreshing new ways across social channels to engage with the next generation of fans was a pleasure to write.

#5 – Product Review: Testimonial Monkey

Rounding out the top 5 for 2013 is this product review of Testimonial Monkey. I don’t write a lot of reviews, but once in a while I get approached and asked to look at new products, services, or books. If you’ve got a product that you would like to put forward, please let me know using the contact form on the About Me page. Testimonial Monkey simplified the process of getting customer feedback and had some nice features, so it was a good review to write – it’s always more difficult if the product or book isn’t as good as you had hoped. Luckily, I haven’t had many of those.

Thank you!

Many thanks to all of you who have read my articles this year, whether you left comments or not; I hope they were useful and informative. I hope to see you all again in 2014.

Cheers, James.

Product Review: Testimonial Monkey

Testimonial Monkey - Screenshot

It’s the start of 2013 and time to post in the new year with a product review of the slightly oddly named Testimonial Monkey.

I wanted to review Testimonial Monkey for two reasons:

  1. Those of you who follow my blog will be aware of the guest posts I write for Unbounce – the landing page specialists. One of the key elements of a when building trust with a user is the testimonial, and it’s something that I look for in a well designed landing page.
  2. My wife runs her own business, creating bespoke lampshades and teaching people how to make them (find out more over at Gilhoolie), so I understand the pressures of marketing a small business.
  3. Having worked in the real world for quite a few years now – on the agency and client side of the fence – I know that turning your consumers into advocates is no easy task.

Testimonial Monkey is a service designed to help organisations of all sizes gather and share testimonials easily, so it sounds like it might be the answer to our problems, but the $64,000 question is: does it work?

Getting Started

Testimonial Monkey uses basic gamification techniques to help you complete your profile.
Testimonial Monkey uses basic gamification techniques to help you complete your profile.

Setting up your account with Testimonial Monkey is a simple business. Creating a profile (of which you can have a few) is a simple matter of entering contact details and some basic preference information, and it can be completed in a few minutes. You’ve then got the option of further personalising the service through some additional options, such as uploading a logo, setting your testimonial requirements (do you want to collect job titles, do you want to show all testimonials or just positive ones, etc). It’s easy to use and you’re prompted to complete actions through some basic gamification techniques, such as an account completion progress bar and a list of ‘To Do’ items (see left). They’re a welcome addition,  but I couldn’t help but think that this approach could have been taken further, so that it was a more integral part of the set-up process, rather than an aside.

Once your profile has been set up, you’re ready to send your first request.

As you would expect, Testimonial Monkey provides a number of options for requests: you can send them manually on an individual basis, upload emails in bulk, or – as most will probably do – set up automatic requests.

The individual requests are simply a matter of entering a name and email into a pre-populated form. It’s easy, but for the majority of users will be a last resort, as sending individual requests will become time-consuming. I used it for my testing purposes only. The bulk option allow you to upload a series of email addresses to be used.

In both cases, you can select a questionnaire that will be appended to the email. These questionnaires can be created through the administration tools, and add depth to the data you can collect. Be aware though, the more information you ask a user to complete, the less likely it will be that they will comply. If you want to collect more structured data, it may be worth doing this separately.

Finally, the automatic requests can be configured through the use of a personalised email address created for your account.  This email address can be bcc’d on any email communication you have with your customer. Once the blind copy has been received the system will automatically send a request a number of days later. Like a lot of the integration features available on Testimonial Monkey, its easy to use and set up.

Although it does have the questionnaires, Testimonial Monkey doesn’t have features that some of the competitors do (including the ability to record audio and video testimonials), so you’ll have to make a call as to whether that’s important to you or not.

Sharing your success (or failure)

So you’re all set up and you’ve sent out your first request for a testimonial, even better, you’ve actually got a response; so how do you share it? This is where things can get onerous if it’s a manual process, but Testimonial Monkey covers the bases with a range if options that are flexible enough for most needs.

Testimonial Monkey's Facebook integration in action.
Testimonial Monkey’s Facebook integration in action.

You get a hosted reviews page as standard, but the flexibility comes with the integration options. Dependent on your package, there are standard connectors for Twitter and Facebook, two or three widgets – including badges – to allow you to display the latest testimonials directly on your website, and an RSS feed for general use.

Each of these can be set up to display testimonials with a minimum rating (so only 4 or 5 star ratings for example) and there are basic theme options available too.

Regardless of the options selected, the integration is seamless, with posts appearing a regular intervals once received. It’s easy to use and requires no further interaction – which is perfect.

Packages and features

As with most services, Testimonial Monkey comes with a range of packages, ranging from Lite to Enterprise.

There is some confusion on the site in respect to pricing, as the Plans and Prices page shows a different set of one-time costs to the ‘Free Trial’ page, which quotes costs on a per month basis. I’m sure this will be cleared up.

Regardless of this, the features don’t really start kicking until the Professional level. It’s here that the vast majority of functionality becomes available. The Enterprise level adds the ability to completely white-label the product, removing the Testimonial Monkey branding that is otherwise displayed throughout (including customer emails and review pages). I haven’t seen the Lite/Essential version working, but without the ability to share via the social networks, it won’t be as useful to the majority of businesses (as they bring social media marketing into their marketing mix).

Does it work?

Yes, overall it does. The set-up is fairly easy to complete and the site does a pretty good job of keeping you on track. The site isn’t perfect, I think it could be slicker and more streamlined in taking you through the initial set up, and it would be nice to have more inline help available at times, but it’s a satisfactory experience.

It would be good to have some better advice on how to use the testimonials you collect. There’s functionality available that allows you to limit the amount of testimonials you publish through each of the channels (five Facebook posts or five Tweets for example) and this is more important than it seems. New users might be tempted to push all their positive testimonials out of the door and into the public limelight, but it is judicious use that is more effective. There’s space here for Testimonial Monkey to be our guide, not just our conduit. This approach is hinted at in the free eBook you receive when signing up and the appointment of a ‘Success Manager’ for Enterprise customers, but it could be more obvious.

Would I recommend it? Would I give them my testimonial?

In the spirit of testimonials, here’s one to finish.

Testimonial Monkey is effective at delivering and sharing testimonials with minimum effort and input. A little more polish on the administration side would help, but it doesn’t detract from what is a well-thought out and focused product. 4/5.

James Gardner, 8th January 2013

Have you used Testimonial Monkey or a similar product? How did it work for you? Have you seen an increase in conversions or responses? Let me know your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

Disclaimer: This is an independent review based on a professional account supplied to me for the purposes of reviewing the service. I have no business relationship with TestimonialMonkey. I have not received any direct monetary incentives or payments, but they have allowed me to keep the account if I so desire for no cost. I don’t need to write this bit, but I think it’s always good to be completely transparent.

Writing by James – The Top 5 Most Popular Posts of 2012

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s the end of the year, so alongside the rest of the blogosphere, that means it is time for a retrospective look at my most popular posts of the year. For those of you who have taken the time to read my articles this year, guest posts or otherwise, a heartfelt thanks. I hope you found them useful and informative; I’ll do my best to make 2013 just as productive.

Now, without further ado, the Top 5!

#1 - RE: The Walking Dead – A call to Frank Darabont

When I first wrote this post, it was only intended to vent my own frustrations with the first season of the Walking Dead, but it seems that there are a lot of people who feel the same way. Luckily, my main issue with the series – not enough zombies! – has been answered.

#2 - Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation

Unlike my rant at the Walking Dead, this was an article that had some substance beyond the personal. Scribd’s use of Facebook Instant Personalisation hit all the wrong notes and deserved to be pilloried.

#3 - Unfollowing those who don’t follow back? You just don’t get it…

Another rant, this time at the misconception of some Twitter users that you should only follow someone if they follow you back. Poppycock, I say! You should follow people who you think add value, not just for the sake of a followback.

#4 - What is… Groupon

Groupon has had a tough year and is no longer the poster-company for the IPO generation. For those of you who are still unsure of what Groupon is, and what the fuss is about, here’s a starter guide.

#5 - The album that saved my (musical) life

The Pixies truly did save my musical life! They are also a great example of how to use social media channels to reengage an audience, both new and old. Old in my case…

Thanks again, and see you in 2013.

Cheers, James

Central Desktop: Security and Privacy in the Cloud

Logo for Central DesktopMyths perpetuate, but your internal processes cause the biggest risk in cloud services

Another guest post went live at Central Desktop yesterday. This time looking at the misconceptions around the security of cloud services. It’s often thought that the cloud solutions is inherently insecure, but it’s much more likely that the security breach will occur through lax processes or simple human error within the client organisation.

Here’s a short extract:

Cloud services: the future of computing and service provision or simply one more headache? If you read enough press, you’ll be convinced that both are true. In reality, when you remove the opinions and biases, the truth is in between, but probably not in the way that you would expect.

Read the full article at Central Desktop.

Central Desktop: All-in-one Collaboration Solutions vs Specialized Solutions

Logo for Central DesktopA second guest post has gone live at Central Desktop today.

All-in-one Collaboration Solutions vs Specialized Solutions looks at the pros and cons of each solution type and gives guidance on which might be best for your needs. If you’re looking at collaboration solutions, or are interested in finding out more, please take a look.

Here’s a short extract:

So you’re thinking about collaboration software. You’ve read up on the benefits and you’re convinced it’s a good idea and your company will really benefit. The question then is who and what? Who should I get my solution from? What should the solution be? Tough questions for the uninitiated. What it really comes down to is: do I go for an all-in-one or a specialized solution? Let’s look at the pros and cons of each approach, starting with all-in-one solutions.

Read the full article at Central Desktop.

Central Desktop: Eight Tips on Successful Adoption of Collaboration Solutions

Logo for Central DesktopA new guest post has gone live at Central Desktop today.

Eight Tips on Successful Adoption of Collaboration Solutions pretty much does what it says in the title. Sounds niche, but even though it’s focussed on Collaboration Solutions, the tips are valid for any large-scale solution that has the potential to upset the status quo – from ERP to Innovation to CRM.

Here’s a short extract:

Successfully adopting new working paradigms, especially those that have the potential to move employees out of their comfort zone, can be tricky. Luckily, there are some tips that can make the whole process a lot smoother. Here are eight to consider when you’re faced with implementing a collaboration solution into your business.

Tip 1 – Lead from the top

There’s a reason why this is number one. It’s the most important of all the tips. Whenever you’re undertaking a project like this, make sure you have a sponsor from within the senior management team, preferably the CEO. With buy-in from senior management, you’ll be much better equipped from the start. Everyone has to fall in line; if the CEO says jump, the vast majority of staff will jump.

You can read the full article at Central Desktop. Thanks to Adam at Central Desktop for the opportunity to virtual pen to virtual paper.

This Week in Small Business: Gangnam Style! – NYTimes.com

This Week in Small Business: Gangnam Style! – NYTimes.com

Okay, so it’s not the cover page of the main New York Times and it’s not that my article is a massive feature, but it is a featured link in a New York Times blog post. Seeing that name appear in the pingbacks for my latest Unbounce article (see here) was fantastic and reminded me of part of the reason I started blogging. The web is an amazing place where your content and your effort can end up on the other side of the world or put in front of an audience of tens of thousands. It’s brilliant and heady and exciting.

 James Gardner takes a look at the conversion rates of eight small-business landing pages.

So simple. Now to get that novel published!