Category Archives: Twitter

Klout adds “What to Post” suggestions

Klout, a measuring stick for a user’s online influence, has added a feature  to help users increase their Klout score.

Klout Labs has rolled out “What to Post,” which appears to suggest topics based on each user’s social media strengths and Klout topics, in addition to sponsored content.

Users can then push this suggested content out onto their networks, in hopes that it will engage their friends, which would in turn increase a Klout score (a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 behind the most influential).

Klout is experimenting with tools to help you find the right things to post at the right time. Post from Klout to measure the impact of what you share.

Check it out at klout.com.

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5 tech predictions for 2012

Introducing FIVE TECH PREDICTION FOR 2012.

5Tech12

5. Content producers skipping the middle man

Zimedium called it on May 8, 2011. In a post titled My predictions for Internet TV and the future of Cable.

“I’d watch for more studios and content owners to explore options for skipping the middle man and becoming the means of distribution for their content.” (See story May 8, 2011)

Louis CK did it seven months later — this December — for his special Live at the Beacon Theatre. Instead of distributing the video through Netflix or HBO, Louis CK put it exclusively on his website. All fans had to do was visit his site, pay the $5 price and download the special. So how’d it turn out? Well, in 12 days, Lois CK’s DRM-free video download made a cool $1 million. And it’s still going

Louis CK’s special is only the beginning. In 2012, more will follow his model. Entertainers, content providers, even premium cable channels.

4. Customized Ads… Tailored to your purchases, browsing habits, check-ins and interests

Ads customized to your interests. Google does it best. Hulu’s already doing it with in-show ads and its Ad Swap feature. You can select what you like instead of watching what Hulu thinks you’ll like. Facebook does it. Facebook displays ads based on what fan pages you like. Foursquare does it too, by offering suggestions based on where you check in. Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley discussed the company’s Explore/Recommendation engine at LeWeb 2011 in early December 2011.

“We went through about two years of Foursquare where people thought that they were checking in for mayorships and points and badges. The check-ins weren’t just for the badges,” Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley said on stage at LeWeb 2011. Every time you tell us that you like to go to this sushi place, we get better about recommending you another place to go to. Every time you tell us that…you know a lot about this area of Paris or this are of New York, we know that you’re really familiar with that neighborhood. And we can suggest other things that you may not know about. Or we know when you’re in areas that you’re not so familiar about we can start offering things that help you out.”

Ads based on what you “like,” tweet, check-in, watch. Information you provide both voluntarily and data acquired based on your actions. Get ready to not hate the ads that interrupt your programming…at least not quite as much.

In 2012, Customized Advertising will be king. Whether you’re aware of it or not.

3. Video-game consoles becoming complete entertainment hubs

We called it an entire year ago, on Dec. 27, 2010. In a post titled When will PS3, Xbox, Wii incorporate Internet TV.

“…When will Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo enter the [streaming content] game themselves? Doing so would offer another bit of differentiation, another perk for owners of each console.

“Who will be the first to fully embrace streaming content or Internet apps?

“Because it’s going to happen, and whichever is the first to act will only begin the next trend in video games and possibly home entertainment as we know it.” (See story Dec. 27, 2010)

Xbox 360 introduced its revamped dashboard one year later, in early December of 2011. The new dashboard featured Internet apps including Netflix, Epix, SyFy, ESPN, Daily Motion, NBC News, Zune, YouTube and Live TV integration if you have the accompanying cable subscription.

In 2012, Xbox will roll out more apps and the rest will follow. It’s only the beginning. The future video-game console will be a complete media hub with dozens, possibly hundreds of channels and apps.

2. Entertainment on the Cloud

I hate the term “cloud storage.” Makes me think the cloud is only for backing up files. In 2012, the Cloud will become more than a backup service. Cloud for movies…music…pictures… and our movie libraries.

(I’m looking at my collection of DVDs and Blu-rays right now.) In 2012, our movie collection will extend to the cloud. Blu-rays already come with digital copies. How about a specially formatted “cloud copy”?

1. A BIG Netflix competitor

Through a few missteps in 2011, Netflix has enjoyed practically zero competition (or at least serious competition). Its maintained the largest number of video subscribers anywhere and built up its library of streaming content. Plus exclusive content on the way.

Zimedia predicts in 2012, one new company (or a service from a partnership of companies) will emerge as the biggest competitor Netflix has seen to date.

But it won’t be the death of Netlfix. In fact, few industries survive without competition. It’s good for business. It fosters growth, sometimes re-invention, and an improved user experience.

Top 5 tools for Mobile Productivity

Mobile is looking like Web 3.0 with the emergence of mobile devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook; the rise in smartphone usage; and the explosion of mobile apps. It’s not just for work. Mobile is taking over our lives. Work and play.

We’ve compiled the Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity, from the workplace to strictly entertainment.

Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity

1. Cloud Drives

Storage & Music

Standalone Cloud storage services like Dropbox receive most of the press. But Amazon’s variety comes with a music store.

Amazon is also a great place to store your music. Music purchases from the Amazon mp3 store can be saved directly to your cloud. And thus can be accessed anywhere and with a growing number of devices including smartphones and tablets. Start off with 5 GB of free storage. Just sign in, sign up for your free 5 GB and start uploading files for backup, storage or  to listen to your tunes without taking up space on your mobile device.

Hundreds of companies trust Amazon Web Services for their storage and hosting needs, including Netflix — which accounts for 25% of US Internet traffic — Yelp, Foursquare, PBS, Washington Post, Razorfish, SEGA, Urbanspoon, Tweet Deck, Airbnb, Harvard Medical School, NASA, Virgin Atlantic and more.

2. Google Apps

Calendar & Google Docs

It’s time to move on from Outlook, people. Google is the place to be. When I use Outlook for email or the calendar, it feels like I’m navigating a rotary phone…plus it’s tied to a machine. Google Calendar and Docs, as well as gmail, is tied to nothing; it’s all on the cloud. Access all of it on any computer, any smartphone, tablet or mobile device. Get calendar reminders on your smartphone.

With Google Apps (formerly Google Docs) user can save Documents, open Office products like Word and Excel — with or without Microsoft Office. When you save documents in the cloud — like resumes, presentations, pictures — they’re always with you.

Google’s smartphone apps — and native integration with most mobile devices — make all of your documents, calendar appointments and messages accessible anywhere with an Internet connection. Save documents, presentations or pictures as a backup or for instant access on any of your devices.

To get started, just sign up for gmail and click “Documents” at the top. [Note: if by the time of this post, Google has changed its navigation bar to a drop-down menu, just click the drop-down and find Documents.] Then start uploading files or Create a new document.

3. Smartphone Apps

There’s an app for that. It’s not just a saying. There really is an app for everything. News, Shopping, Books, Movies, TV, Social Networking, Checking in and just about anything else you can think of. Some of Tech Weekly’s favorites free apps for productivity and entertainment on the go:

  • Pulse News Reader – News from all around the web in one place
  • QwickMark QR Code Reader – Scan QR codes with this free app
  • ShopSavvy – Scan product bar codes to compare prices online and stores near you
  • Netflix* – all of Netflix instant streaming on your smartphone
  • Crackle by Sony – Free movies and TV on your smartphone
  • NFL Mobile – NFL News, Highlights and Live Streaming video
  • Amazon – Browse and buy everything Amazon on your smartphone
  • Amazon Kindle – Kindle’s library at your fingertips
  • Amazon mp3 – Listen to your library of songs from Amazon’s cloud drive
  • Slacker – Slacker Personal Radio on your smartphone
  • Foursquare – Check in to earn points, become mayor and unlock specials
  • Twitter – Follow your interests or tweet on the go with Twitter’s mobile app
  • Facebook – Update your status, check the newsfeed, check in or chat with friends
  • Shazam – Can’t name that song on the radio, just click Shazam and it’ll tell you
  • Flickr – Take photos and upload them to Yahoo’s Flickr
  • Yelp – Check reviews or find a new place to eat with Yelp’s smartphone app
*Subscription required for Netflix

4. MyFax

MyFax makes having a fax machine unnecessary. In fact, MyFax improves upon the old-school fax and then some.

No download necessary, just sign up for a MyFax account and you’ll be assigned a MyFax number. (You can pick the area code.) Once you’ve signed in, just click “Send a Fax.” Then enter the recipient’s fax number and attach the document you’d like to fax. Either scan the page to your computer and attach to the MyFax interface OR if the file is already on your computer, just attach. MyFax comes with some cool features including Cover Page Style; Status Flag for Urgent, Review, Comment, etc; and a Message Box. The recipient receives the fax in his/her fax machine, just like a normal fax.

Receive faxes right in your MyFax inbox as PDF or JPEG files. MyFax alerts you immediately via email. In fact, you can view the fax in your email inbox. If you’ve got email on your smartphone, you can view the fax right there. MyFax is a must for mobile work.

Send 100 faxes per month and receive 200 for only $10. Other options include Send 200, Receive 200 for $20. Or Send 400, Receive 400 for $40. Or an unlisted option of Send 50, Receive 50 for $5 per month. The plans can be changed at any time, though you’ll have to call MyFax to do it. Ironically, for an online fax service, you can’t change plans online. Though email is taking over, many businesses still fax documents. So ditch the fax machine and extra phone line and give MyFax a look.

5. Netflix

Netflix is the best thing to come to TV since color. It’s move to mobile only strengthens its hold on streaming movies and television content. And once you’ve got a Netflix subscription, it’s free on an unlimited number of devices. Use your one Netflix subscription on TVs, tablets, smartphones, etc. At home and on the road.

Until you’ve streamed Netflix content on a mobile device, it’s difficult to understand. A library of more than 20,000 titles available instantly with the tap of your finger. It’s as close to a dream as you’ll get.

To get started, just sign up for Netflix (streaming subscription starts at $7.99 per month after 1-month free trial) and download the Netflix app for your smartphone or mobile device. You’ll only have to sign in the first time after you download the app. From there on out it’s blue skies and smooth streaming.

Netflix is available on more than 700 devices including PCs; Macs; Internet-connected TVs; video-game consoles; Blu-ray players; Internet video players like Roku and Boxee; iPhone; iPad; Apple TV as well as Android and Windows devices…and more.


Ustream, the free Internet television network

Netflix gets all the hype when it comes to cable-killing Internet video, but Internet superchannel Ustream might be a better model for the next online cable network.

Founded in 2007, Ustream offers an array of shows, both live and recorded, as well as Internet channels from some of our favorite brands and celebrities. The company has offices Los Angeles, Tokyo and Budapest. Ustream Asia launched in 2010.

From CBS and TMZ to more specific interests like Campaign 2012 — or genre-specific channels like TechCrunch or Leo Leporte Live, a technology-focused show by popular tech reporter Leo Leporte of Tech TV fame — Ustream has a channel for every interest.

Ustream offers 12 categories on the dashboard including On Air — happening Live — News, Campaign 2012, Pets & Animals, Entertainment, Sports, Music, Tech, Gaming, Education, Spirituality and More.

Each category lists available channels. The Tech Category for example — one of my favorites — displays featured channels as well as Live channels In the below screenshot you’ll see three featured channels: Leo Leporte Live, Android Central as well as Space Vid Cast. NASA also offers a Ustream channels.

Ustream’s categories and channels are like networks and shows on a typical cable network. In fact, many popular network broadcasts, like the 2011 Emmy Awards, are simulcast on Ustream. After a show broadcasts live on Ustream, content can be archived. Though not all live shows offer this feature.

Users can view the channels live, view recorded programs or click “Join Crowd” which essentially adds the channel to the user’s favorites.

Ustream’s Mission: “to bring people together around shared interests for amazing live, interactive experiences that build and maintain relationships” (Ustream.tv/about).

When streaming on a computer, users can communicate with both the show and other Ustreamers during a live stream. Some televisions are now incorporating a Twitter feed to foster interactivity through social media.

On Ustream, social media interactivity is intrinsic to its design. On pay-TV — not distributed through an Internet connection — social media can seem forced or out of place. Flip on ESPN on DirecTV for five minutes and see how many times they drop “Twitter.” It feels forced almost every time. When video content is distributed via the Internet –whether on a computer or on a television — social media chatter is second nature; it’s a part of the experience. And the possibilities for advertisers are obvious. Purchases and more information are only one click away.

It’s tie-in with social media like Facebook and Twitter also allows for instantaneous updates on what’s streaming Live and what’s upcoming.

Users can get in on the fun, too, as Ustream allows anyone to start an Internet channel and “Go Live!” by broadcasting via webcam. Even Anderson Cooper has a Ustream Channel.

Closing comments & my experience with Ustream

I’m kind of a newbie to Ustream. I first checked it out a year ago and added the channel to my Roku player, where it sat unused. But then last week, I dove right in when I spotted a post on the Facebook Newsfeed concerning F8. Ustream was offering a Live Broadcast complete with commentary from Leo Leporte. F8 is the Facebook Developers Conference, which brings together developers, entrepreneurs and innovators “who are building a more social web.”

Thanks to Ustream’s connectivity, I watched portions of F8 on three different devices. Started on my Droid smartphone, then switched to my TV via Roku, and finished up on my laptop on http:ustream.tv

In less than four years, Ustream has successfully incorporated everything pay-TV is still trying to perfect: content, connectivity — across an array of devices — and completely natural interactivity.

Tech companies battling for customers

This is a great time to be a consumer. Companies are battling to release the next greatest advancement in technology — whether it’s NFC, Cloud Storage, Streaming Video or even Social Networking — and the consumers are ready and waiting. The instant a company releases a new product or service, the competition follows suit.

And that makes today’s consumer more connected than ever.

Brand extensions are to blame for much of the competition in technology today. Foursquare brings about Facebook Places. Skype leads to Google Hangouts. Square brings mobile payment to the forefront, with PayPal and Google following closely behind. Facebook (and MySpace before that) brought the rise of the social network; Google is now employing a brand extension with Google+.

A Brand Extension is when a company known for a particular good/service attempts to extend its services to another business category beyond its initial range.

Now, the current landscape:

Social Networking

Facebook vs. Google+

Facebook has been king of the social networking world since it overtook MySpace in 2008. MySpace was recently sold to Specific Media and entertainment artist Justin Timberlake. It’s future is still uncertain.

In the limited beta release of Google+, Google goes head to head with Facebook. A similar scenario to its battle with MySpace, only Google+ seems better equipped.

Google+ invites are on the streets as the company seems to be opening up its social network to more users. It’s limited beta at first offered only short windows for invites from current users. The service already is reported to have users in the millions, after a little more than one week on the market. Facebook, meanwhile, recently confirmed it has acquired 750 million users.

Mobile Payment

Square vs. Google vs. Paypal

Mobile payments are a hot topic, and the most popular service is likely Square, which hit $1 million in processed payments after less than a year in business. Square was launched by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in May of 2010.

Square allows users — whether it’s for personal or businesses use — to accept credit card payments using a smartphone and Square’s free mobile payment device, through which users swipe their actual plastic cards. (Square does not use NFC technology.)

Google unveiled its Google Wallet offering, a partnership with Citi, MasterCard, First Data, and Sprint. Google Wallet is an Android app that makes your phone your wallet. It accomplishes this by storing virtual versions of your plastic cards on your smartphone.

Using Near-Field Technology (NFC), users will be able to pay via their Google-Wallet equipped smartphones simply by tapping the phone on a checkout reader, available at many merchant locations.

And most recently, PayPal bolstered its mobile offering on July 7 with the $240 million acquisition of mobile-payment service Zong.

Zong partners with hundreds of mobile phone carriers around the world and allows users to enter their mobile phone number to make purchases. The charges are then applied to the user’s monthly mobile-phone bill.

Zong was eBay’s second mobile acquisition. The first was Fig Card, a Square-like device that allows users to accept payments with credit cards by swiping them through Fig’s USB-powered reader.

Check-ins

Foursquare vs. Facebook

Location-based applications allow users to ‘check-in’ via smartphone and share their location with other users of the service or other social networks. Users are able to see who else is checked in at a given location (from all users) or friends in nearby locations. By checking in, users receive points and/or badges and can unlock certain specials determined by the retailer.

The most publicized of these location-based apps is Foursquare. Today, there are a reported 8 million Foursquare users, up from just one million a year ago.

With the introduction of Facebook Places and other location-based services like Whrrl, which was acquired by daily deals service Groupon in mid-April, companies are copying Foursquare’s model. And vice versa, as evidenced by Foursquare’s recent inclusion and emphasis on its Yelp-like service directory Explore. Brand extensions are on display everywhere we look.

In June, Fast Company took a closer look at Foursquare vs. Facebook Places.

Video Inside Social Networking

Google vs. Facebook

With Google+, the company introduced Hangouts, a video-calling service. One week later, Facebook announced a partnership with Skype, allowing users to make video calls over the social network.

Facebook Video Calling will feature one-on-one video calls to your friends, a stripped-down version of Skype from what I understand. (Note: that’s not me in the screenshot; it’s a Facebook promo screen.)

The biggest advantage with Facebook Video Calling has when compared to Skype is that users don’t have to sign-up and login to Skype to chat; they simply do so through Facebook.

Google+ Hangouts allows group video chats with up to 10 participants, a sort of live chat room among your friends.

When Google+ Hangouts feature is launched, you can choose whom to invite in the video chat or simply alert all friends (or any other Circle) that you’re hanging out. And then wait for someone, among the Circle you’ve selected, to respond. (Note: that is me in the screenshot below, chatting with no one.)

As you can see at the bottom of the chat window (above), YouTube is also accessible via Hangouts.

I haven’t really discovered how YouTube can be used inside Hangouts. But I did watch Cake’s The Distance. I guess if my friends were on there we could have all watched it together…and then checked all of our reactions?

Google+ Hangouts and YouTube might be useful for work-related presentations. This service encroaches on GoToMeeting‘s territory. Now I’ve just got to find some people who want to have a meeting about Cake.

Cloud Storage

Amazon vs. Apple

On the Cloud, users can store music, videos, photos, and documents, which are then accessible from any computer or device with an internet connection and access to the cloud.

Amazon starts users off with a free 5GB of storage space. The 5GB of free space is about enough space, Amazon says, to store 1,000 songs. This first tier is free and you’ll never be charged for it. If a user purchases a digital album from Amazon’s mp3 store (amazon.com), it’ll upgrade your 5GB of free storage to 20GB. Other pricing/storage options for the Amazon Cloud range from 20GB to 1,000GB of space.

Apple iCloud operates in the same way as the Amazon Cloud Player, with iTunes integrated into iCloud. Everything purchased on iTunes is automatically accessible on the iCloud, in addition to other apps, photos, books and documents.

Streaming Music

Some companies like Amazon and Apple have tied their digital music services directly to Cloud Storage. Others like Slacker and Pandora are offering a more entertainment-centered approach.

Pandora makes things easy for listeners: subscription free and on nearly every device you own.

Pandora got its start on the computer. But the company is making even bigger leaps away from its traditional home on the PC; Pandora is now available on smartphones, tablets, televisions and a select number of automobiles.

According to a published report from Advertising Age, more than 50 percent of Pandora listening accomplished on devices other than the PC.

Slacker, however, is beginning to outshine Pandora in both integration and subscription options. Slacker offers three ways to listen. The first tier, like Pandora, is free of charge (but with ads) and allows users to create a custom station based on a particular band or song. The second is a paid subscription plan that provides unlimited song skips and is ad-free; Slacker Radio Plus is $3.99 per month.

Slacker also has a partnership with ABC News, with news breaks at the top of each hour for subscribers of either Slacker Plus or Slacker Premium Radio.

Slacker’s newest subscription is called Slacker Premium Radio. At $9.99 per month, this service includes everything available in Slacker Radio Plus as well as on-demand music, allowing listeners to search for and play songs on-demand, or songs from a particular artist. Slacker Premium Radio encroaches on MOG’s and Rdio’s territory — a brand-extension of sorts — by offering on-demand music.

It’s an exciting time for both consumers and businesses. Each service is experiencing tremendous competition — which only fuels innovation — as companies vie for the consumers’ time, interest and money.

The customers ultimately decide which products succeed and which ones flop. Therefore the success of these businesses relies much on us, the consumers, and in our experiences with these products and brands and how seamlessly we can integrate them into our lives.

The best technology becomes second-nature, like a brand extension of ourselves.

Source: PC Magazine, cbsradio.com, siriusxm.com, pandora.com, slacker.com, usatoday.com, cnet.com, radioink.com, Ando Media, Mashable.com, Mediapost.com, TechCrunch, Tech Crunch TVFast Company, Mashable, Techmeme, CNet, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, Engadget, CNN Money, MacWorld, AdAge, All Things Digital, The Next Web, Foursquare, Google, Facebook, Pandora, Slacker, Square, Paypal, Amazon.

5 Small Business Musts

The Top 5 Small-Business Musts

5. Social Media

Social Media provides another way to connect with customers. But recent research has shown that it has little impact on purchase decisions.

Don’t expect it to increase sales. As I’ve said before, social media is a conversation with your customers. It should be used to strengthen existing customer relationships and give a little taste of your personality as a business owner. Don’t let it replace other areas of advertising and customer service.

But it’s an important place to be. Anymore, your customers will expect you to be using social media. Participate, be on Facebook, use Twitter, use Foursquare, offer specials to customers. Engage with your audience.

The following social media platforms are the most popular today, though they are not perfect for every business. Most can find a way to incorporate a Facebook Page or a Twitter Profile, but Foursquare requires a physical location with foot traffic. Have a plan before you get started.

Facebook

A Facebook Page is an excellent addition to a company website. A great place for comments, conversations and contests. It’s all about content and frequency. Update your Facebook Page every day. Updates, News, Commentary, Jokes, Questions, Photos from recent events, the options are endless. Just try to have some focus.

For my related post on ways to connect with customers and promote your business, click here. And here for my informational post on Facebook.

Need help creating a Facebook Page for your business? Click here for Mashable’s guide to the new Facebook-Page layout.

Twitter

Twitter provides a way to alert customers of news, specials, changes or insight into the company. Or maybe a business quote of the day. Be creative. Twitter is also a great place for contests.

Business owners can also use Twitter to stay up-to-date on industry news. Follow related companies or industry experts. You’ll have access to all of their tweets on your home page.

For my post on Twitter, how it started and where it’s headed, click here.

Need help using Twitter for your business? Click here for Mashable’s How-To on Twitter.

Foursquare

For businesses with a physical location, in particular ones that have heavy traffic, Foursquare is a fun mobile application that rewards customers for visiting your store. Reward check-ins with a special discount or offer. Or Offer your most frequent customer, which Foursquare dubs Mayor, with the highest prize.

Unlike Facebook Pages and Twitter profiles, Foursquare is user-generated. In fact, most business listings on Foursquare were added by the users themselves, not the business owners. Are you already on there? Check it out at Foursquare.com.

For a business owner, Foursquare requires the least effort to keep going. Users check-in on their own. Unlock specials that you’ve created and compete with their friends on the Leaderboard. In addition to the new Explore feature. To read my in-depth post on Foursquare, click here.

Need help using Foursquare for your business? Click here for Mashable’s How-To on Foursquare specials.

4. Blogging

 

blog is a great way to share your expertise in your field. To brand yourself as an expert.

It’s also a great way to stay on top of trends, new information and stay connected with your industry.

There are a number of blog services that do not charge for use. Three leading blog services are WordPress, Blogspot/Blogger and Tumblr. I use WordPress to host this blog, though I pay an annual fee for the domain, ericsadblog.com. The free domain would be ericsadblog.wordpress.com. If you don’t want the wordpress extension, you can buy a domain name for small annual fee.

Keep your content focused on truth, on topics that matter to your customers. Do not sell your business on your blog. That will happen organically after you’ve branded yourself as an expert in your  industry.

3. YouTube

The best part about YouTube — other than those funny cat videos — is that you can do it all. And it’s free.

Build a YouTube Channel. And link either Informational Videos or How-To videos for your industry, making your YouTube Channel a great resource. Or better yet, record the information and How-To videos yourself. Creating the videos yourself adds a very personal touch. It allows the viewer a look inside the business. If you link videos other have created, users will remember them. If you create the videos, the users will remember you.

2. Get on the Street

Slow business day? Well don’t just sit there, hit the streets! Talk with your customers one-on-one. Offer samples, coupons, ask questions. What better way to get customer feedback than talking to them? Thinking of implementing a new menu item? Or changing your store layout? Ask people on the street. Some won’t want to talk to you, but don’t worry about it. Focus on the ones who do.

Even just talking to people –small talk —putting your face in front of the business. Then your customers aren’t just shopping at the store on the corner, they’re shopping at Your store on the corner, Tom’s Store, Mary’s place, Wendy’s coffee shop. It makes it personal. You want them to connect with the business on a more personal level than just a simple trip to the grocery store.

We remember people, not stores. Think of one of your favorite businesses. What are its employees like? Friendly? Do you know any by face or name? Had any conversations with them? If so, I’ll bet you remember the person and the conversation.

One of my favorite retail stores is Best Buy. I love the products Best Buy carries. But I also love the customer service. The way they greet me with a simple “hello” every time I walk in. Best Buy employees are also very knowledgable and accessible. They aren’t trying to sell me; they’re trying to help me. It’s something I remember, and in part it keeps me coming back.

1. Advertising

Advertising isn’t just for national brands. Local businesses need it more than anyone. It isn’t enough to just open your doors and hope people come in. Advertising informs, possibly entertains, and reminds customers that you’re there, and that you have the products they want and the expertise to service them. Advertising Builds Companies. It brands them as the place to go.

Believe it or not, it’s possible to generate word-of-mouth. It’s called advertising. When you advertise your business with audio, and advertise the same message often enough, you’re using word-of-mouth to build buzz about your business. Audio like TV and Radio. The key is frequency and getting your message to the same audience.

Online banner ads, newspaper ads, magazine ads — or any other print ads — offer a way to reach consumers in the market today, or the day you run your ad. But it works much differently than a TV or Radio ad. Know the basics before you get started.

Search marketing is another way to reach consumers who are searching for your products and/or services. Making sure your website is well optimized and contains all necessary information — skip on the fluff — that best portrays your business.

If you don’t know how to build a solid website or make it search-engine friendly, find someone who does. Because being visible when customers are searching for you is an important step in acquiring new customers via the web.

What are you waiting for?!

So get out there, talk with your customers! In person; in the ads; in your blog. Be friendly. Be yourself. Have fun. Interaction is key. Show people how much you love your business and what you do. Because if you do it well enough, they will too. But don’t focus on selling your business; that will happen organically when people see how much you care about it. Sincerity is easy to spot.

The common thread with this Top 5 Small Business Musts — in case you missed it — is Interaction. Interact with your customers. Interact through Social Media, Blogs, YouTube, In-Person and in your Advertising.

Predictions for Internet TV and the future of Cable

A Netflix-red-hot topic on this blog and certainly in the tech world is the rise of Internet TV and the belief that it will some day replace cable TV as our chief source of home entertainment.

In previous posts, I’ve covered My Cord-Cutting Experience; Netflix; Hulu Plus; Roku; and even my comprehensive Internet TV Guide. Now I’d like to offer a few predictions on the current status of these services and the future of Internet TV and pay TV based on my first-hand experience and research over the past 13 months.

First let’s take a look at the playing field. Right now we’ve got powerhouse Netflix. Then Hulu Plus. And Amazon Instant Video. And other services like Crackle, PlayOn, and Internet Apps from a variety of providers including Roku, Sony, Apple, Google, Samsung, Vizio, Boxee and more.

Note the very distinct difference between unlimited streaming like Netflix and video-on-demand (VOD) services like Vudu. An example: Warner Bros. recently announced  a deal to rent movies through social-networking behemoth Facebook. Many news outlets suggested this deal, through Facebook, would challenge Netflix. That’s dead-wrong. The deal, as it stands now, is video-on-demand. A charge per Warner Bros. movie –a version of yesterday’s pay-per-view — not unlimited streaming.

There’s a feeling you get when you graduate high school and head off to college. It’s a special kind of freedom that’s hard to describe. You can make your own decisions. Stay out late and do pretty much whatever you want.

That’s how Netflix is living. No cable-backed parent over its shoulder. Big Red’s got nothing holding it back. Though CEO Reed Hastings recently said he’s not competing with premium cable like HBO, I don’t believe him.  [Hastings has made similar comments in the past only to contradict himself later. Take his stance on original programming. Hastings said the company wasn’t in the business of original programming until Netflix gained exclusive rights to original series House of Cards in March of this year.]

Hulu, on the other hand, is still living at home. And its parents watch cable. Hulu is jointly owned by Comcast’s NBC Universal, The Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and global private equity investment first Providence Equity Partners. In the sale of NBC Universal to Comcast in late January, GE had to relinquish its decision-making power and 32% stake of Hulu. (See my media ownership post here.) The deal gave Comcast 51% control of NBC Universal, now labeled NBCUniversal (no space and no peacock). Previously, GE owned 80 percent. Prior to the sale, GE purchased the remaining 20 percent stake from Vivendi Universal. GE’s stake in NBCUniversal is now 49 percent, though according to USA Today the company plans to completely remove its shares over the next eight years.

With Comcast holding stake in Hulu, I don’t see how Hulu Plus will fully commit to Internet TV in fear of making cable obsolete. That is, if Comcast has anything to do with it.

Studios and cable companies still seem hesitant to enter the streaming game full-steam. In part because it threatens pay TV and also because nobody knows where it’s headed. Fear of the unknown. But the conversion is happening, albeit slowly. It will likely continue at that pace until we reach an Internet-TV tipping point.

Watch for studios to start their own services on a smaller scale. I predicted just last week that premium cable channels like HBO and Showtime would roll-out their own subscription-based offerings.

One week after my prediction, Time Warner announced the acquisition of movie-discovery service Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes, as well as plans to develop an expanded video service. Though no plans of including any HBO content, per the report. [HBO recently introduced HBO GO, an extension of its premium cable channel. It is free with a paid subscription to HBO and is not a stand-alone or even subscription-based offering.]

From the Business Wire release: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group will utilize the powerful Flixster brand and technical expertise to launch a number of initiatives designed to grow digital content ownership, including the recently announced consumer application “Digital Everywhere.” This studio-agnostic application will be the ultimate destination for consumers to organize and access their entire digital library from anywhere on the device of their choice, as well as to share recommendations and discover new content. The Flixster acquisition and “Digital Everywhere,” combined with the Studio’s support of the UltraViolet format are all part of an overall strategy to give consumers even more freedom, utility and value for their digital purchases.

I’d watch for more studios and content owners to explore options for skipping the middle man and becoming the means of distribution for their content.

Studios like Disney, CBS, Viacom, and premium cable like Starz and Encore (both owned by Liberty Media Corp.) will all look in this direction. At first, simply to supplement their current revenue model.

Recent rumors had big firms like Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Hulu and Dish Network teaming up to potentially launch a Netflix competitor.

Netflix is gaining a huge lead — the company just surpassed Comcast’s pay TV subscribers as the largest video-streaming service in North America –but in time there will be a number of subscription-streaming services. With overlap in content. For example, Netflix and Hulu offer some of the same programming or channels, while other programming is exclusive to the provider. Much like the DirecTV-Dish battle of today. (Or Netflix vs. Hulu Plus.) Only I see more competitors in the ring.

Right now, in 2011, we’re witnessing the easy part. There’s a clear distinction between pay TV and Netflix. Wait five years and we’ll see the transition taking place: cable companies — like Comcast, Time Warner, Viacom, and even satellite TV providers Dish and DirecTV — developing stand-alone Internet-TV subscriptions, separate from their pay TV plan.

So, at that end-point, what will be the difference between pay TV and TV over Internet, other than the means of distribution? First, the customization. Consumers will choose what content they want and when they want it. Whether it’s subscription services like Netflix or specific channels like, say, HBO’s Internet Channel. Second, the cost. The cost will be more in the Internet service and the streaming box, instead of paying to receive 300 predetermined channels. Subscriptions to our content will have to decline, as we see with Netflix subscription rates compared to that of a typical cable plan.

A few final talking points if pay TV as we know it today will move online and stream to our living rooms. 1) Live Newscasts; 2) Live Sporting Events; 3) Local News; 4) Advertising and 5) Local Advertising.

Live News is already happening on Roku, on the free Newscaster app. Al Jazeera streams live all day. In fact, I’m watching the live Al Jazeera stream as I write this section. So the capability is there. And Roku has a DVR-like function that lets you pause, rewind and resume the live feed. How about Sporting Events?

Xbox 360’s got that covered with its ESPN 3 app featuring live broadcasts and up-to-date sportscasts on a variety of sports. Roku’s got live coverage too including MLB TV, NBA Game Time, NHL and UFC. Local News is now streaming as well. Roku announced via Twitter on April 16 that it had added the first local news broadcast, Channel3000, a CBS News affiliate from Madison, Wisconsin. Roku pulls video from Channel3000′s website and makes it playable for free on the Roku player.

National News is better than ever on-demand with Xbox 360’s NBC News channel. Update: Roku introduced an NBC News channel in December of 2011, as well as CNBC Real-Time and Wall Street Journal Live.

Now Advertising. Hulu Plus has done the best job of incorporating video advertising into its content, using the pay TV model, ads within programming. A few of Roku’s internet apps have video ads as well as banner ads. How about Local Advertising, targeted just like Internet banner ads, based on location determined by the user’s IP address? But probably the greatest potential for the future of TV advertising is the connectivity. Imagine a television ad with a purchase, more info or social media one remote-click away.

It’s like cable, only customized and connected to the Internet. And on the consumer’s schedule. Almost as if every show on TV was Tivo’d for us. The consumer decides not only what content is displayed on his or her dashboard, but when it’s on.

Within the next 10 years, I see the Internet as our means of distribution for all television content. As broadband access becomes ubiquitous, like mobile phones and smartphones after it, the future of pay TV will be clear. Combine Netflix’s vast library of TV and Movies, Roku’s app-interface with the ad-model of Hulu Plus  and mix in ESPN3’s live sports on Xbox 360 and you’ve got the future of pay TV.

We have the capability of all of these services today. It’ll just take someone to put it all together.

The future of TV is one box, connected to all of our subscriptions and video content including Movies, TV, News, Sports, Weather, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Local News channels, Live News and Live Sports. All at our fingertips. A media hub, allowing consumers to pick and choose the content they’d like displayed on their dashboards. A La Carte television. Complete consumer control.