The ThinkBalm Innovation Community is doing incredible work advancing the use of the immersive internet. As a member, I’ve thus far participated in three sessions of the virtual brainstorming series. We utilize a 3D mindmapping tool I developed, a 3D instant polling tool, voice & text chat during the events. After the last event, I successfully exported the 3D map of our discussion into a text outline and imported that outline into a MindMeister map…here’s the result.
Like any cool web tool, Twitter can be a great help or an equally great waste of time. It all depends on how you use it…and why. At my most recent conference, Twitter was the hot topic among paraticipants. I ended up explaining to multiple individuals why I use Twitter and how it has impacted my personal & professional life.
Why do I use Twitter?
First, because I see very beneficial business results. Second, because it’s fun.
1. It augments my listening ability
By following those clients that use Twitter, I easily stay updated on their professional projects and personal lives.
By carefully following the right experts, I’m daily learning of new products & new techniques that will help me provide better solutions to my clients.
We have recently acquired technology that will soon be deployed for us to use in better serving our clients. I currently have a RSSed twitter search on the technology fed to my Google Reader. To put it simply, anytime anyone on Twitter mentions this technology (using it, installing it, troubles with it, successful applications of it), that twitter message is automatically sent to my Google Reader. I can then read what others are saying about the technology. This also allows me to identify potential user experts to contact in the future.
Speaking of RSSed Twitter searches, I also have them established for my clients divisions and keywords relating to their core business. This really helps me know who is talking about our clients and what they are saying.
2. It enhances my relationships with clients
Knowing a little personal information about clients, and vice versa, somehow seems to “humanize” us humans. It makes us more approachable and more comfortable with one another. It begins to establish in some small way a level of trust. A paraphrase of a statement made by one of my clients, “Sure, it’s not mission critial for me to know that you frequently like to make your own sushi on Sundays, but it helps me to feel more comfortable with you.” And likewise, me knowing that the client hopes their 8-year-old never grows out of their McDonald’s phase won’t solve the challenges presented by budget reductions, but it does help to foster the kind of safe environment needed to discuss and solve those difficult challenges.
3. It’s an easy way to share knowledge
It’s extremely easy to share links to sites, videos, articles, blogs, you name it via Twitter. I’ve used it to direct clients to information I’ve discovered pertinent to an ongoing project or effort.
4. It increases serendipity
Often I find incredibly useful information, resources, and contacts via Twitter by chance. For example, one of my clients follows numerous PR professionals in the OKC area. I decided to follow a few to see what they had to say. A few weeks later, a different client needed a panelist on short notice that knew the ins and outs of corporate volunteering programs. Surprising enough I remembered that one of those PR professionals I followed (Sam Sims) had both a head and a heart for volunteering. Problem solved, panelist secured…thanks Twitter (and Sam).
5. It helps to promote my work
I like to Tweet when I complete work or start work on a major component of a client project. It’s not only a simple way to keep client’s updated, it’s also a good way to promote the type of services you are capable of providing. Of course, on sensitive projects the Tweets are kept generic enough to maintain confidential information (or not Tweeted at all).
For personal promotion, I send out a Tweet every time I post a new blog entry (like I just did for this one). My page viewership typically jumps above 200% the day I Tweet.
I produce a monthly satellite broadcast show for one of my clients focused on informing, developing, and motivating their statewide employees (see some production shots at my flickr site). The final showreel is assembled from segments and stand-up shoots developed by multiple producers. We end up interviewing roughly 10 different employees, highlighting multiple divisions & programs, and visiting roughly 6 different locations during the month’s production. Naturally, sharing information quickly, timely, and effectively is key to keeping everyone (Client, Production Crew, & myself) on schedule, on budget, and focused on producing a cohesive and high-quality end product.
My first step to improve coordination of the production for the client was to develop a Google Apps site. I learned a few tricks from my own personal projects on how to setup wikis, schedules, simple databases, and published documents using Google Apps, so I was eager to apply the knowledge. We needed one central location to store and display all information relating to each month’s production. It also needed to be easily accessed and updated by all involved with the production. So, I began development.
I started by brainstorming a running list of features that I knew from experience the site could provide and that were relevant to the production needs.
- Multiple Calendars with customized viewing and updating features
- Centralized communications platform allowing message posts, comments, idea log, and concern record.
- Online location for documents (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF)
- Ability to web publish and update simple spreadsheet databases
Of course, the site will not meet all needs and will never replace traditional communication tools, but it addresses some of the key challenges of coordination and rapid information sharing.
Thus far, I have deployed about 25% of the planned solution. We are currently using a published spreadsheet to summarize each month’s production plan. The client, producers, and crew can view the month’s plan from any browser. Key production personnel can update the plan via a web form or a form embedded in an email. The summary sheet automatically updates with the most current information. This may not seem like much, but read below if you want to learn some of the challenges developing this deceptively simple spreadsheet solution.
Developing the Monthly Production Summary Sheet in Google Spreadsheets
In a nutshell, it was difficult. I knew I wanted a summary sheet on the web that did not require my constant maintenance and updates. I also wanted a solution that only a few key people could update, but viewable by many. Here are some lessons I learned:
1. Google spreadsheets allow only one form per file.
My initial plan was to use one file with sheets for each month and one master sheet showing a summary of the entire year. Neat, clean, and simple. Well…since only one form was allowed per file, the necessary update form would have been huge, thus I had to split it up. Each month needed its own spreadsheet file saved in Google Docs.
2. Google Forms are thus far not customizable
They are functional, but they do not look pretty, and currently you cannot customize the look or layout.
3. Forms for updating and adding information to Google spreadsheets require their own sheet within the file.
Data inserted into sheets via a form require a horizontal orientation and are quite ugly. I wanted my summary sheets in a more condensed readable format (vertically alligned). So, I gave the form its own sheet. When information is submitted via the form, it is added to the sheet in the lowest empty row. The summary sheet displays only the most updated production information in the form sheet.
4. The spreadsheet formula to display the last entry in a column should have been easier to develop (I blame both MS & Google)
So, in order for the Summary Sheet to display only the most recently updated information, I needed it to pull values from one row in the Form Sheet. The cells in that one row needed to display only the most recently updated information in each column. After a few hours of research & experimentation, here is the formula I developed:
This formula is placed in each cell in the 2nd row of the Form Sheet (with some adjustments to each formula based on location). It returns the last non-blank value in the column.
To Be Continued…
I will update you occasionally as I make more progress on this project.