Category Archives: Professional

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 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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Digestible, Distributable Content

In some ways, Kevin Rose and his Revision 3 partner, Alex Albrecht have become symbols of user-generated media. Their podcast show, Diggnation was one of the first out of the gate to build a substantial audience, and most recently, Kevin Rose was selected as one of Tech Review’s “2007 Young Innovators Under 35.” Kevin was selected because of the impact he’s had on the way people consume news through online social bookmarking and community rating or “digging” stories up or down. You can read more about it here, but here is an excerpt:

Digg, mixes blogging, online syndication, social networking, and “crowdsourcing”–which combines the knowledge and opinions of many individuals–to create an online newspaper of stories selected by the masses.

If you are not immediately awe-struck by the effective combination of community and technology then know this – Digg receives more than 17 million visitors to the site each month. Obviously, there is a substantial user-base who enjoy consuming, contributing, and interacting with content in this way. But aside from Kevin’s recent recognition, this is old news.

What really prompted this blog post was a video interview (see below) with Kevin Rose at MIT. It resonated with me because I have recently been doing some social marketing strategy work for a client, and a major part of it is creating and distributing content that can be consumed in a multitude of channels to reach the widest possible audience. Seems simple enough, but a lot of marketers only make it part way, or they leave out one little piece like, providing an embed code for their videos, syndicating content through RSS, or actually going where the audience is to carry the message further.

Are consumers’ habits constantly changing? Are there preferences more customizable? Are you less in control of your brand? Can the struggle to continually be relevant be difficult? Yes-Yes-Yes-and Yes. But in a lot of ways it is easier than ever before to deliver your message, assuming, of course, that it is actually something people can relate to and want to see, hear, and pass on to others.

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Get Your Hands on my Google Docs

Google Analytics, Google Adwords, Google Alerts, Google Reader, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google Webmaster Tools, Google, Google, Google, Google.

Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system, I though I’d share this great little video (see below) that friend and fellow horsemen, Josh Kenzer posted up on his blog, Radical Behavior. It is an informative little piece on the benefits of using Google Docs.

Having Twelve Horses employees working from places like Dublin, Ireland; Atlanta, Georgia; Tampa, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada; and Lake Tahoe, California requires online tools that help us collaborate. Whether it is managing certain aspects of production, compiling feedback and ideas in one central repository, or editing a document in real-time, things like Base Camp and Google Docs really do the trick.

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The Future of Mobile Marketing

Anyone who works within the mobile marketing field knows that there are certain limitations when it comes to engaging and communicating with customers. These limitations are primarily due to carrier restrictions and the technologies that go into mobile devices. Through our membership in the Mobile Marketing Association and our work within the mobile marketing field, we have seen some dramatic improvements over the course of just two years; but the industry still has not taken off like people expected it.

A couple of months ago, every single Twelve Horses employee received an iPhone. During that time, it has been such a pleasure playing with it and discovering what it can do. Of course, there are limitations with it, and you can read a billion blog posts about the things it won’t do but people wish it did. But for any of the faults one might find, they are far outweighed by the leap in mobile web browsing Apple made with the iPhone. It truly is fantastic, and the fact that it also works as a phone, iPod, and video player is just icing on the cake.

How the iPhone will change the mobile marketing landscape is still to be determined, but there could just be a mobile revolution on the way.

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The Power of Search

The following article was written by Twelve Horses for the local Reno publication, RLife magazine. Keep in mind that it was written for a wide audience, many of whom might not understand what search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) entail. If you are looking for greater specifics then you might be interested in reading this recent SEO and SEM press release or Contacting Us.


The other day, I was preparing to leave my house for work when I heard my dog begin to bark. This was followed by the familiar sound of something smacking the ground. Concerned that something was awry, I hurried outside to see what was upsetting Goose. There, in all its yellow glory was the guide of all guides, my conduit to all the pizzas and plumbers that Northern Nevada can serve up. It was my brand new Yellow Book.

I brought it inside, and then began to ponder what to do with this enormous paper weight. Would my life be incomplete without this directory, or could I afford to feed it to the recycling bin?

What was really going on in my head was the evaluation of the World Wide Web today. Did I feel confident that I could find whatever I needed in Northern Nevada simply by searching for it online? My conclusion was “sort of” because the reality is that online search is only as good as those who want to be, or know how to be, found.

As more websites are created, and more people get in the habit of searching for what they want online, appearing in the results of search engines like Google, Yahoo, or MSN becomes increasingly important. But how does it work? The most important part of the equation is to understand what keywords people like us are using to find things.

For example, one of the things that Reno can boast is an exceptional array of diverse and delicious restaurants. You probably know that if you live here, but you might not get that impression from searching online. Why? Because either there are not a lot of individual restaurant websites, or they are not designed for search engines to find them. But people are searching. Web-savvy locals are comparing eateries before booking a reservation, and visitors are researching dining options for their vacation; and it all starts with the words they know. They open up their favorite web browser and type a keyword or keyword phrase like “reno dining.”

When I typed in “reno dining” Google kicked back 2,170,000 results for me. Whew, that’s a lot! Why so many? Well, the first thing the search engine does is look for websites with the specific phrase of “reno dining” and then the keywords of “reno” and “dining.” We don’t really have to be concerned with all of the results because those that appear first are what the search engine considers to be most relevant. Of course, it is not a perfect system because it is built by humans and manipulated by humans, but what is really cool about it is that it is in large part dictated by you and me.

The search engine places great importance on how keywords are used throughout the website. If these keywords don’t match up to what we think they should be, then you and I don’t find it and they can’t get our business if we don’t know they exist. Another factor is how many inbound links the website receives, and what the qualities of those websites are. If reputable websites within the greater online community are not linking to a particular website then the search engines assume it is not as important. Finally, the search engines also take into account how individual users have interacted with the site in the past, which includes the amount of time people like us have spent on the site and how many clicks of the mouse the site receives. If you are interested in more information about natural search try Googling the term, “search engine optimization.”

The power of search is only as powerful as the people who use it. In the end, I decided to keep my Yellow Book because I don’t think we’re completely there yet. There is still a large customer base that is not in the habit of using the Web to find what they’re seeking. In addition, there are a lot of small businesses out there that have not yet begun to explore the benefits of a web presence. What’s exciting, however, is that it’s getting much easier and cheaper for businesses to get online as new types of software tools are designed and built. For example, look at WordPress is empowering millions of people by giving them the tools to develop their own websites, which can then be found by the search engines.

So, I reluctantly stuffed my Yellow Book away in one of those drawers you reserve for stuff you don’t really want to deal with or see. I probably won’t pull it out again before the next one comes, unless, of course, I need to order a pizza.

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A Twinkle in Everyone’s Eye

This past Friday was a little different than usual. It seemed normal at first as we gathered in the conference room, patched in the rest of the offices, and waited to hear what our CEO, David LaPlante had to say.

  • He gave us a rundown on the recent progress we have been making.
  • Announced the addition and promotion of some folks.
  • Told us that we were going to be expanding our Salt Lake City office, as well as Las Vegas, Phoenix and Atlanta.
  • Complimented us on what a great job we were all doing.
  • And then he paused….

Suddenly, Martin Gastanaga, our COO wheeled in a giant box filled with individually wrapped presents. As they were being passed around, some of us were shaking our’s trying to figure out what it was; meanwhile, others were patient. But once we all had one we collectively tore into them. What was hidden beneath the paper was indeed an exciting surprise!

iPhone Every single member of the Twelve Horses team received a shiny new iPhone!

After things quieted down David closed the meeting with one final statement –

Go Play. Go Create. Go Make Them Better.

I can’t wait to see what our developers, designers, marketers, and general technologists come up with. For me, I’m looking forward to showing off my You Tube videos and Flickr photos.


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