Category Archives: Professional

Helpful Blogging Tool for Posting Rich Content

Quite a number of our clients use blogs for business to establish an online presence and publish informative and searchable content to the web. Of those blogs/websites, we always use WordPress because of the flexibility for custom design and access to a seemingly endless array of community applications.  As powerful as WordPress is, it is not always the easiest application to use for non-technical business owners and employees who want to provide more than just text and links. However, there is a solution.

Windows Live Writer is a free, downloadable desktop application that runs on your Windows PC and allows you to publish pictures, videos, and other rich content to your blog/website. There are also a number of useful free extensions available that you should check out if this is of interest to you.

As an example, I will use it to show you some recent blogs/websites that we have launched in the past week or so.

Here is an example of how you can use Windows Live Writer to create a table, format, insert pictures and links. No html knowledge required.

Business Location Business Type Website
Red Rover Corvalis, Oregon Software RedRover
Eagle Gate Salt Lake City, Utah Education EagleGate
SouthernLINC Atlanta, Georgia Telecom SLINC
Big Valley Honda Reno, Nevada Retail BigValleyHonda
The Godfather Las Vegas, Nevada Entrepreneur GodFather
International Bank Concord, New Hampshire Finance InternationalBank

You can also use it to insert videos or maps. I’ll just stick to the same example as above and show the locations of these particular clients.

View Larger Map

You can also input tags that specifically relate to your blog post, which help with search engine optimization.

tags:

When you are ready to publish your post, simply click Publish, and it will also do a quick spell check for you. If you are not ready to publish yet, simply Save Draft for later, or set the publish date and it will post automatically. There are several other handy little features for you to explore and find on your own.

To get started, simply go to the Windows Live Writer page to download it. Once you have installed the application, go to “Weblog” in the upper navigation and select “Add Weblog Account.” There you will be asked to give the url of your blog, as well as your username and password. That’s it! You can even add other blogs if you like. It will detect the styles, plugins, categories, and recent posts for each one.

A key component of a successful blogging strategy is doing it fairly frequently The more empowered you and your colleagues are to publish content to the web the more likely you are to do it. I hope this helps.

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eCommerce Solution for the Las Vegas Monorail

Nevada_Business_Journal_Ad I was recently working with one of our designers from the Creative Services team to produce this ad for the Nevada Business Journal when it occurred to me that I have never blogged about the work we do for the Las Vegas Monorail; therefore, I am taking the opportunity to do so now.

Before starting a relationship with Twelve Horses, the Las Vegas Monorail did not sell tickets online. This was in part because they did not have the technology to take online ticket purchases, as well as the fact that they needed an enhanced web presence. What we helped them uncover was that a lot of opportunity existed to create new relationships, increase awareness, and generate a greater demand for tickets.

If the Las Vegas Monorail was going to sell tickets online they would need an ecommerce solution that was flexible and customizable. For example, Las Vegas receives a plethora of different groups to the city. If the Monorail was going to service these customers they would need to be able to handle large group purchases, as well as offer special incentives to encourage them to do so. Furthermore, non-technical staff would have to be able to manage it whether it was adding groups, defining the ticket price, specifying date ranges, managing the payment options, setting shipping preferences, and much more.

Needless to say we built it for them. Here is a look at some of the features of the Las Vegas Monorail Ticketing Platform.

Managing Channel Partners

The Las Vegas Monorail works with a number of channel partners and groups. The ticketing platform allows them to set-up a revenue share with these partners, as well as implement their own branding and images online, in emails, and print. It is extremely flexible. For example, they can run multiple promotions at once. This was the case for the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) where there were two different promotions – discounts for attendees and discounts for exhibitors.

Ticketing

The ticketing features are very diverse and capable of handling a multitude of different scenarios. Additionally, integration of ticket tracking and reporting is providing the Monorail with deeper customer insight, which enables to provide a higher level of customer service. Here are just some examples:

  1. Automated postings of ticket blocks and and auto removal of postings by set parameters such as date of expiration.
  2. Discount Codes defined and assigned either randomly or branded such as “CES2008.”
  3. Overrides conducted either temporarily or permanently to groups, types, or partners.
  4. Tiered ticket pricing based on quantity, time purchased, or aggregates.
  5. Logic in the ticketing prevents, for example, trying to use standard postal delivery when it is international.

Fulfillment

The ticketing platform is flexible enough to allow the fulfillment of tickets via email, direct shipping, and soon – mobile.

  1. Electronic delivery allows the customer to print the voucher at home and redeem onsite.
  2. Email confirmations sent automatically with purchase confirmation, canceled order and refund, and tickets shipped. Email templates also include branding based on channel partner and/or promotion.
  3. When the Monorail handles the print fulfillment they can download all the contacts and do a mail merge on all their envelopes, mailing labels, and tickets.

Customer Service

  1. The customer service module gives the Monorail the ability to look up the customer based on any information they give.
  2. Those with set privileges can void and change tickets, which reconciles on the financial side and funnels down to the various communication channels.

Reporting

  1. The Dashboard shows financial report summaries and projections, so they know how they are doing.
  2. Integration with Salesforce matches opportunity numbers to promotions so they can track real-time ticket sales and the success of a campaign. It also allows them to see important items such as what a particular vendor or channel partners agreement was from the previous year.
  3. Redemption tracking not only makes sure the ticket cannot be used again, it also lets the Monorail know where and when the customer scanned the ticket, so they can better understand traffic and know where there major stops are.

All of this may seem like a lot, but this is just a brief overview of everything the Las Vegas Monorail Ticketing Platform can do. Suffice to say, the integration of this ecommerce solution has unlocked another channel of additional revenue for the Monorail, and because it is business automation at its best, it is completely scalable and requires very little additional internal resources to get it done.

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Non-Profit Makes Use of New Media Tools and More

Information is only as powerful as it is accessible.

We just recently launched two different websites focused around a life-threatening disease called, hydrocephalus. Why you may ask? One really important reason is because there is no cure…yet. Of equal importance is the fact that symptoms of the disease can manifest in many different ways. Many doctors, family members, and individuals battling the disease are uninformed and ill-prepared to handle the symptoms, let alone recognize them when they first manifest. Part of the remedy is to put information out that is accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

As stated on the website, “Hydrocephalus is a chronic neurological condition characterized by an increased volume of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within spaces inside the brain.” In layman terms, it is water on the brain, which causes swelling, brain damage, and even death. It is more common than you may know. In fact, more than 1 million people in the U.S. alone have been diagnosed with hydrocephalus, and it is believed to occur in 1.5 of every 1,000 births.

Hydrocephalus_Association The Hydrocephalus Association website is in its first phase of development. Aside from the access to information you readily see at first glance, the other features of the site facilitate Member Signup and Donations, both of which integrate with Salesforce to manage the data and the relationships with those involved with the organization. Because the organization relies heavily on its active community, there also handy little features like the Flickr Uploader application, which gives people the ability to upload their photos and add search-friendly descriptions. There is more to come.

I briefly mentioned the importance of community as it relates to hydrocephalus. Many of you who participate in social networks and blogs understand the power of online interaction and communities; but for many it is still relatively new ground. The purpose of GabrielsLife.org is to create and foster community participation in order to generate greater awareness around the disease, as well as empower people with helpful information. The site gives people tools to communicate not only with one another, but also the world at large.

Gabriels_Life Gabriel’sLife.org is a custom build using WordPress. On top of that it allows users to create their own WordPress blogs as part of the network. There is also a forum, and the ability for people to search for others and connect to share information privately if they so choose. Finally, visitors are encouraged to submit their own stories, which are featured on the homepage. These tools are designed to tap into the collective knowledge base of those who have faced the complexities of the disease so that others are better prepared to handle their own. While still in its infancy, the site appears to be serving that purpose.

My main hope for this blog post is that you will see it and read it and tell someone about it. You will meet someone that has or knows someone else with hydrocephalus, and they will go and start to use these sites and tell someone else. And so on, and so on, and so on….

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2007: A Year in Review

As we all come sailing in to the New Year, there is little pause except to consider what has transpired over the last 12 months and recognize that the world of the web waits for no one. There has been a staggering amount of new blogs launched, a slew of new social networking sites, and just as many widgets, plugins, and assorted applications to deliver content to the widest audience possible.

With all the noise, fragmentation, and attention to the web, the challenge is to resonate, connect with and keep new customers. Listed below are some of the hottest channels and services on the market in 2007. Keep in mind, however, that for most all businesses it still comes down to having a well-designed, optimized website that offers a seamless experience and delivers on its promise.

Channels:

  1. emailLove it or hate it, Email Marketing still holds the lead.
    • 96% of Internet users access Email almost daily.
    • 90% use email to engage in and determine the value of a relationship with a company.
    • 83.0% of marketers surveyed chose email as THE most important advertising medium
    • The ROI for email is twice that of any other online marketing channel.
    • E-mail marketing is growing annually at 8-10%
    • This past year alone, U.S. businesses spent $500 million on email marketing to generate $21.9 billion in sales.
  2. webSearch Engine Marketing & Search Engine Optimization
    • Deliver a targeted, relevant result to a customer at the point at which they are actively searching for what you sell and track the entire path from keyword to conversion. The only problem of course is that the greater the competition the higher the Cost-per-Click (CPC).
  3. syndicationReally Simple Syndication (RSS)
    • Horsepower RSS Feed.Almost every website uses RSS syndication to deliver content in a format that best suits the user’s needs. What is amazing is how few consumers know what it is, understand it, or know how it can help them consume information. Does it matter? Probably not. Using it is getting easier all the time. When you find a website you want to follow just look for the orange icon and click it.
  4. Mobile
    • Mobile Marketing really took off for a while there, and then it seemed to plateau. Carriers and handset manufacturers made it difficult and expensive for most businesses to adopt it. However, the prices have started to come down. Additionally, this year something new came along – the iPhone. Since that time several popular web sites have created their own mobile versions for the iPhone- Google, Digg, and Facebook just to name a few. Mobile is only going to get better as it delivers richer, more useful and more user-controlled (see Twitter below) experiences. (Update: Director of Strategic Services, TJ Crawford talks about another hot mobile service in the works.)

Web Services:

  1. wordpressWordPress, a blogging and website software
    • WordPress has seen incredible growth this past year and rightfully so. Not only do they offer a fairly quick and easy way for you to have a blog or website, but they also have some of the hottest web designers and developers in the world continuously donating their time to building new free and very functional tools for you to use to communicate and extend your reach more effectively.
  2. Salesforce, a customer relationship management suite
    • For medium to large to enterprise level companies, managing enormous amounts of varying customer data requires automation. Salesforce offers a variety of different applications for organizing data and managing customers and projects. Understanding that each business has unique needs, many of their applications are customizable. In the past year, they have become even more successful by soliciting input through their Developer Network.
  3. Facebook, a social web service
    • Facebook is king! Unlike MySpace, Facebook has inspired a lot of new and different applications to enrich the experience and keep users involved. The creators are still trying to make it pay out–and have even failed in some regard–but it certainly reaffirms how passionate people are about connecting through online communities.
  4. Twitter, a mobile social web service
    • Twitter is unique since it is a web service integrated with an application that everyone with a mobile phone already has. People are using it to exchange information in the mobile environment, post updates to their blog or website, and meet new people. There are a lot of potential uses for Twitter across many different types of industries. Just remember you have to say it in 140 characters or less.

Of course, there are many more web services out there that have caught on and are gaining in popularity. As 2008 gains steam, you will undoubtedly see a clear leader – maybe Flock – that is capable of efficiently mashing up and managing multiple sites and accounts such as these. For any other predictions, you can check out fellow Twelve Horses’ bloggers, Josh Kenzer, TJ Crawford , Colin Loretz, and Mike Henderson. No matter what the future holds, you can be sure that the Web will continue to evolve and provide you with the tools needed to get the job done.

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Go Big in the Biggest Little City

Headquartered in Reno, Nevada, and less than 30 minutes from the nearest ski resort means quite a few of us here at Twelve Horses like to ski and snowboard. In fact, two of Twelve Horses founders, David LaPlante and Martin Gastanaga, were professional ski racers back in the day before they got a wild hair and decided to start a web design and development company.

Obviously, their passions have an influence on the office culture, as well as the type of clients we have. As an indication, Heavenly Mountain Resort, Mountain Sports International, and Reno-Tahoe, America’s Adventure Place are just a few clients we have that are involved in promoting snow sports.

It is the latter client, along with a merry band of high altitude hucksters and several other sponsors, that somehow managed to convince the city of Reno to:

  • Get access to one of the tallest downtown buildings
  • Construct a ramp complete with a snow surface
  • And then rip right off the thing with skis on their feet and parachutes on their backs.
  • The video speaks for itself. You can also watch more on this YouTube channel. Can you say, Cool!?

    Also, here are some awesome Ski Base Jump photos of Shane McConkey doing his thing courtesy of the RSCVA.

    Shane McConkey

    Shane McConkey 2

    Shane McConkey 3

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    Improvisation for Business

    “For Twelve Horses, social networking is not just an area of commercial expertise, it also helps employees foster the group mind that is essential for any team to perform at its best.”

    A few months ago, Twelve Horses took part in a series of improvisation workshops designed to help employees stretch their minds, and become more adept at strategic thinking and concise communication. The world of web technology is highly competitive and things change rapidly, so it helps to stay in shape. These workshops were led by Michael Bonifer, a dynamic individual who has enjoyed a rich career in new media, entertainment, and technology, and who recently authored GameChangers, a book about improvisation for business.

    Improvisation for business draws upon the fact that business is dynamic, ever-changing, and filled with unique moments requiring original responses. Whether you are going through an RFP process, pitching a new product to a prospect, or putting together a plan internally with a team, one must be able to think on their feet and draw upon the collective intelligence of the group.

    Bonifer takes the practice of relationship building in the business environment, and carries it to a hypothetical stage. Participants are not equipped with scripts, but instead are given a framework or an idea from which to operate. Improvisation techniques are used to seek out solutions to complex problems. While you do act out certain scenarios, the exercises are not about scripting or acting in the sense of deception. Improvisation for business is about performing at your best.

    Does it take courage? Will you feel challenged? Will you at moments feel outside of your comfort zone? The answer to all of these questions is, yes. But in the end you will be rewarded with a greater sense of self and the career in which you operate. You will find yourself in more control of the day-to-day scenes of business and life. You will be able to better understand and guide how the scene is developing before the story is already over.

    Business is competitive, erratic, sometimes volatile, and always changing and evolving. To adapt, differentiate, and deliver exceptional results, employees must be able to reach beyond conventional methods of engagement and operate in the moment. Improvisation for business will help your organization identify its strongest representatives, uncover problem areas, and help employees recognize strengths they were not readily aware of or given the chance to explore.

    If you would like to hear more about the process to decide if it is right for your company give us a shout. We’ll be happy to tell you more.

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    RLife: LinkedIn

    David LaPlante and I contribute a monthly article centered around technology and the web to RLife, a lifestyle magazine distributed in the Truckee Meadows. This article appeared in their November issue:

    Are You LinkedIn?

    linkedin Connecting with people in Northern Nevada occurs in many different ways and in many different places. Whether it happens through a First Thursday event at the Nevada Museum of Art, a networking event sponsored by a local organization such as EDAWN, or on a chair lift at Mt. Rose Ski Resort, these connections can prove invaluable. A memorable meeting or a quick handshake can lead to lasting friendships, new business opportunities, and alliances that can benefit you as an individual, as well as the larger community.

    The only limitation to traditional networking is that you can’t be everywhere at once. It would prove very difficult to make a lasting impression on someone, or build a new relationship, if you are not there, especially if that person lives outside of the Truckee Meadows. The best way to overcome this hurdle (yep, you guessed it) is to go online; but you have to know where to look.

    LinkedIn is the place. It is a social networking site primarily for business professionals. It is helping millions of people connect and stay connected with colleagues and cohorts all over the world. What’s great about LinkedIn is that it’s really easy to join the party. What’s even better is that it’s free.

    If you hop online and head over to www.linkedin.com the first thing you will be asked to do is create an account to join. Don’t fret about it. The reason why you are asked to join is because you can’t be a part of a community of users unless you are one yourself. Create an account, import the contacts you do have, and then watch what happens. Before you know it you are sending and receiving invitations to link up to people you met back in high school, knew at your first job, or always wanted to know but never had the chance.

    Of course, we all know that success in business is the not-so-secret-sauce of a few fundamentals – skill, tenacity, luck, that BIG IDEA, and the ability to build a significant social network. LinkedIn helps primarily with the latter, but you really need some of the other components to get the most out of it. First and foremost, you have to create a substantial profile. Speak to your strengths and skills and demonstrate your accomplishments. Ask colleagues for recommendations, and offer to give them one as well. Remember, what you are establishing here is a representation of yourself and your personal brand. How do you want people to perceive you?

    Many of LinkedIn’s features are very helpful for building your network, but you have to actively use them. On the homepage, LinkedIn continually updates you on who has looked at your profile. It also provides helpful suggestions of people you may know, and gives you the opportunity to contact them or get introduced by someone else. Furthermore, you can explore the connections of those you are linked to, and then decide whether or not you would like to get introduced to them. You can see how your social network can quickly grow and grow.

    There are countless stories of people using LinkedIn to reconnect with old acquaintances, find new jobs, conduct valuable market research, and gather important information. But again, LinkedIn will only work as well as you want it to work. You wouldn’t expect to meet many people at an event if you sat in the corner and didn’t talk to anyone, right?

    Even if you decide not to be very active at building your social network through LinkedIn, there is still another added benefit. It will quickly, easily, and cost-effectively give you an online presence. If someone searches your name using a popular search engine like Google or Yahoo, chances are they will find your LinkedIn profile, and in today’s business climate, extending and enhancing your personal brand online is very important. Don’t believe it? A quick search on LinkedIn for Northern Nevadans in the 89501 zip code shows that at least 500 or more professionals in our area who think so.

    So, come online, create an account, and connect. Don’t be the missing link.

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    Web 2.0: Alive and Well

    Like it or hate it, Web 2.0 is a term that is widely used. Marketers and industry folks use it all the time to describe web-based communities and social networks. And if Facebook’s recent valuation is any indication, things appear to be going quite well for this type of web development. Something more exciting than that, however, is Google’s recent announcement of OpenSocial. I’m sure someone out there is just barely containing themselves from labeling this recent development as the coming of Web 3.0. Regardless, it does have some pretty profound implications for businesses of all types.

    What is OpenSocial?

    According to Google, “OpenSocial provides a common set of APIs for social applications across multiple websites. With standard JavaScript and HTML, developers can create apps that access a social network’s friends and update feeds.”

    What does this mean to you?

    When you develop a web application you will have the opportunity to get much more out of your investment. You will be able to place this application on multiple sites to reach many more customers.

    As an example, think of a resort destination that provides users with an application that allows them to rate their favorite places, share pictures and video, and even meet up. OpenSocial would allow this application to be used across multiple social networks like MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well as other communities and even blogs.

    I can already sense that some marketers out there are getting concerned about their web analytics. My advice – don’t worry about it. You will introduce your brand to more people than ever before. In fact, you’d probably see your web traffic go up. Go to where the audience is, don’t wait for them to come to you.

    Of course, it is still early in the game for OpenSocial, and it depends on if everyone decides to play nicely together in the sandbox. Either way, it is something we will be watching and you should start thinking about when it comes to your online marketing strategy.

    Google has certainly been thinking about it for a while.

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    Social Networks

    This is a great post about social networks and really points out the control and choice that people have when it comes to consuming information and forming relationships. For me, it also points out fundamental problems with so many company’s social marketing strategies. The idea that you can simply create a blog and people will come and read it, push out a podcast and throngs of individuals will come clamoring to listen to it, or upload a video to YouTube and expect thousands to come watch it is mistaken. It is more of a conversation than that. People interact with people, not faceless businesses. It requires active participation, and you must add value in some way. From an ROI perspective, it may not behoove you to participate. The question of whether it should be a part of your marketing budget really depends on your product and service offerings, what you are trying to achieve, and who your audience is.

    However, from a personal and professional development standpoint, especially if you are in marketing, advertising, or pr, it is extremely important. What do you see when you Google yourself? Not much? That probably doesn’t help you in a business climate that increasingly relies on the web. Social networks offer the ability to dramatically improve your personal scalability. In addition, you will get to meet people you might not have otherwise met, and have the chance to learn more than you would have ever expected. You will grow your personal brand and while doing it, guess what, you might also find the right opportunity to introduce the brand that cuts you your paycheck.   

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    Technology Company of the Year

    As tired horses feebly found their way into the office this morning, there was little surprise as to why they were a bit sluggish. Yesterday, Twelve Horses was honored with the “2007 Technology Company of the Year” award in Las Vegas by the Technology Business Alliance of Nevada (TBAN).

    It was a great event, and a huge thanks goes out to the Officers, Directors, and Members of TBAN who nominated and elected us. Furthermore, none of it would be possible without an awesome team of talented employees, customers who have been with us since 1994, and an array of partners who have supported Twelve Horses going back to the early days when we were Aztech Cyberspace.

    We are not only honored, but thrilled, excited, proud, stoked, fired up, and above all – humbled. The fact is there are many cutting edge technology companies in Nevada that are doing impressive work and collectively elevating the tech environment of the state. They are here for a myriad of reasons, but suffice to say, it is because Nevada is a great place to do business.

    So, why did we win? Well, you can read what the president of TBAN had to say in the press release. Clearly, it has a lot to do with the type of web development Twelve Horses is doing, as well as the length of time the company has been in business. But from my perspective, there is more.

    Part of TBAN’s mission focuses on “supporting and expanding technology in Nevada.” Twelve Horses is involved in numerous community organizations that center around technology, marketing, design, education, and economic development, but one organization in particular, which has really grown in significance in recent time, is the Nevada Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (NCET). David LaPlante, CEO of Twelve Horses serves on the Board of Directors as chairman, and I know he has put a lot of personal and company time and energy into seeing the organization flourish.

    David LaPlante is what I would call an extreme advocate of technology in Nevada, and you would not believe the amount of energy he puts forth in driving it. Between myself and social marketing manager, Leilani Schweitzer, we have an incredibly difficult time just keeping up with him and his schedule. It is INSANE. He is not the only one either. His partners, Steve Spencer and Martin Gastanaga, take on their fair share of community involvement and support as well. But it really and truly comes from a great love for what they do, and while I am biased, it looks as if it is really achieving really great things for the state of Nevada. This brings me to one final point.

    Does Twelve Horses do all of this for semi-selfish reasons? The answer is, yes. Because we are headquartered in Reno, Nevada, and yet, service clients all over the country and beyond, we are aligned in many ways with the Reno-Tahoe brand and business environment. The better the region looks and functions, the better we look and function. It is no different when tech companies establish themselves in Silicon Valley. They know there is a certain brand perception that comes with that geographical area, and they know there is a certain level of infrastructure and employee potential.

    Martin Gastanaga is a fifth generation Nevadan, and David is very much rooted, along with his family, in Reno, Nevada. Many of Twelve Horses’ employees were born, live, and love it in Reno-Tahoe. So what you have is a partnership. Local community organizations, governments, businesses, and citizens and stakeholders help Twelve Horses by creating and fostering the type of business environment we need to be successful, and in turn, we do what we can to help Nevada become even better.

    Twelve Horses will keep striving to develop new technologies and applications, open up new office locations, and also support the communities in which we operate. It has been a ton of work and a ton of fun, and we have met a lot of great people and enjoyed many new and exciting experiences along the way.

    Again, a huge thanks to TBAN for the award, and our promise is that we will do what we can to live up to it.

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