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The Visual World

Marcel Just is the director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University, where he and his team use functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans to examine brain activation as people perform various high-level tasks such as spatial thinking, problem solving, multitasking, and real-time, dynamic decision making. In a conversation with Nieman Reports editor Melissa Ludtke, he describes how the human brain processes information.
Edited excerpts follow:
Ludtke: As journalism moved onto television, news began to be conveyed in visual ways and this often led to what is referred to as a “if it bleeds, it leads” style of reporting. 
Just: Processing print isn’t something the human brain was built for. The printed word is a human artifact. It’s very convenient and it’s worked very well for us for 5,000 years, but it’s an invention of human beings. By contrast Mother Nature has built into our brain our ability to see the visual world and interpret it. Even the spoken language is much more a given biologically than reading written language.

Ludtke: Does this mean that as we move out of the era of print and paper and into the digital era with more visual media, it’s going to be a more natural environment for humans to take in information than when it was the printed word?

Just: Yes, and it can be informative in a visual way. Now you can circumvent written language to a large extent. A lot of printed words are there to describe things that occur spatially. In many cases a picture is worth a thousand words. Now we can generate these pictures and graphics and we can convey them to other people very easily. I think it’s inevitable that visual media are going to become more important in conveying ideas and not just about raging fires.

Ludtke: Ideas?

Just: Ideas of physics and biology and politics and so on. Now I think there’s a role for the printed word. I don’t think it’s going to go away.

Ludtke: With children gaining a facility with digital media that many in their parents’ generation don’t have, would you expect that years from now brain imaging is going to show the brain functioning in different ways because of this orientation?

Just: Yes, I think that’s very plausible. Nobody has done that yet. But let me give you an analogy done without imaging. In the 1970’s there was a psychologist who studied people who were illiterate in Portugal. He found a group of people who had never learned how to use written language. He compared them to a control group who could read. He found that they processed things differently just as a function of having learned to read. I think that’s a counterpart to your question.

Excert of a “Conversation with Marcel Just” :http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/article/102399/Watching-the-Human-Brain-Process-Information.aspx

Unique style Illustrations by Stavros Damos

Stavros Damos is a professional illustrator from Greece who draws and paints mostly for magazines, newspapers and a variety of publishing companies. With his unique illustrative style, Stavros constructs his artworks as if they were sculptures with angular shapes and fabric like shading. Check out this fabulous project below where he has illustrated one of my favorite bands; The Rolling Stones.

To see more work by Stavros Damos – be sure to check out his portfolio

UI/UX Design Best practices

The fact is that great user interfaces are the ones that are made to stay out of the way, and ‘Staying out of the way’ means not distracting your users. Rather, good UIs let your users do things. The result? A reduction in training and support costs, and happier, better satisfied and more engaged users.

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As with any branding effort, there are some best practices for creating an user interface that brings best results.

1. Know your user
“Obsess over customers: when given the choice between obsessing over competitors or customers, always obsess over customers. Start with customers and work backward.” – Jeff Bezos

Your user’s goals are your goals, so learn them. Restate them, repeat them. Then, learn about your user’s skills and experience, and what they need. Find out what interfaces they like and sit down and watch how they use them. Do not get carried away trying to keep up with the competition by mimicking trendy design styles or adding new features. By focusing on your user first, you will be able to create an interface that lets them achieve their goals.

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2. Pay attention to patterns
Users spend the majority of their time on interfaces other than your own (Facebook, MySpace, Blogger, Bank of America, school/university, news websites, etc). There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Those interfaces may solve some of the same problems that users perceive within the one you are creating. By using familiar UI patterns, you will help your users feel at home.

3. Stay consistent
“The more users’ expectations prove right, the more they will feel in control of the system and the more they will like it.” – Jakob Nielson

Your users need consistency. They need to know that once they learn to do something, they will be able to do it again. Language, layout, and design are just a few interface elements that need consistency. A consistent interface enables your users to have a better understanding of how things will work, increasing their efficiency.

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4. Use visual hierarchy
“Designers can create normalcy out of chaos; they can clearly communicate ideas through the organizing and manipulating of words and pictures.” – Jeffery Veen, The Art and Science of Web Design

Design your interface in a way that allows the user to focus on what is most important. The size, color, and placement of each element work together, creating a clear path to understanding your interface. A clear hierarchy will go great lengths in reducing the appearance of complexity (even when the actions themselves are complex).

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5. Provide feedback
Your interface should at all times speak to your user, when his/her actions are both right and wrong or misunderstood. Always inform your users of actions, changes in state and errors, or exceptions that occur. Visual cues or simple messaging can show the user whether his or her actions have led to the expected result.

Screenshot of BantamLive’s interface showing that it provides feedback with a loading action
BantamLive provides inline loading indicators for most actions within their interface.

6. BE FORGIVING

No matter how clear your design is, people will make mistakes. Your UI should allow for and tolerate user error. Design ways for users to undo actions, and be forgiving with varied inputs (no one likes to start over because he/she put in the wrong birth date format). Also, if the user does cause an error, use your messaging as a teachable situation by showing what action was wrong, and ensure that she/he knows how to prevent the error from occurring again.

A great example can be seen in How to increase signups with easier captchas.

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7. Empower your user
Once a user has become experienced with your interface, reward him/her and take off the training wheels. The breakdown of complex tasks into simple steps will become cumbersome and distracting. Providing more abstract ways, like keyboard shortcuts, to accomplish tasks will allow your design to get out of the way.

8. Speak their language
“If you think every pixel, every icon, every typeface matters, then you also need to believe every letter matters. ” – Getting Real

All interfaces require some level of copywriting. Keep things conversational, not sensational. Provide clear and concise labels for actions and keep your messaging simple. Your users will appreciate it, because they won’t hear you – they will hear themselves and/or their peers.

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9. Keep it simple
“A modern paradox is that it’s simpler to create complex interfaces because it’s so complex to simplify them.” – Pär Almqvist

The best interface designs are invisible. They do not contain UI-bling or unnecessary elements. Instead, the necessary elements are succinct and make sense. Whenever you are thinking about adding a new feature or element to your interface, ask the question, “Does the user really need this?” or “Why does the user want this very clever animated gif?” Are you adding things because you like or want them? Never let your UI ego steal the show.

10. Keep moving forward
Grandpa Bud: If I gave up every time I failed, I would never have invented my fireproof pants!
[Pants burn up, revealing his underwear]
Grandpa Bud: Still working the kinks out a bit.

from Meet the Robinsons

Meet the Robinsons is one of my all time favorite movies. Throughout the movie Lewis, the protagonist, is challenged to “keep moving forward.” This is a key principle in UI design.It is often said when developing interfaces that you need to fail fast, and iterate often. When creating a UI, you will make mistakes. Just keep moving forward, and remember to keep your UI out of the way.

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Buckle up, It’s going to be a bumpy ride…


The United States Environmental Protection Agency says that Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities. In 2012, CO2 accounted for about 82% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Carbon dioxide is naturally present in the atmosphere as part of the Earth’s carbon cycle (the natural circulation of carbon among the atmosphere, oceans, soil, plants, and animals). Human activities are altering the carbon cycle—both by adding more CO2 to the atmosphere and by influencing the ability of natural sinks, like forests, to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. While CO2 emissions come from a variety of natural sources, human-related emissions are responsible for the increase that has occurred in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. [1]

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions, By Source

Pie chart that shows emissions by use. 38 percent is electricity, 33 percent is transportation, 14 percent is industry, 9 percent is residential and commercial, and 6 percent is other (non-fossil fuel combustion).

Note: All emission estimates from the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2012.

The main human activity that emits CO2 is the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil) for energy and transportation, although certain industrial processes and land-use changes also emit CO2. The main sources of CO2emissions in the United States are described below.

  • Electricity. Electricity is a significant source of energy in the United States and is used to power homes, business, and industry. The combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity is the largest single source of CO2 emissions in the nation, accounting for about 38% of total U.S. CO2emissions and 31% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. The type of fossil fuel used to generate electricity will emit different amounts of CO2. To produce a given amount of electricity, burning coal will produce more CO2than oil or natural gas.
  • Transportation. The combustion of fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel to transport people and goods is the second largest source of CO2 emissions, accounting for about 32% of total U.S. CO2 emissions and 27% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. This category includes transportation sources such as highway vehicles, air travel, marine transportation, and rail.
  • Industry. Many industrial processes emit CO2 through fossil fuel combustion. Several processes also produce CO2 emissions through chemical reactions that do not involve combustion, for example, the production and consumption of mineral products such as cement, the production of metals such as iron and steel, and the production of chemicals. Fossil fuel combustion from various industrial processes accounted for about 14% of total U.S. CO2 emissions and 12% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. Note that many industrial processes also use electricity and therefore indirectly cause the emissions from the electricity production.

Carbon dioxide is constantly being exchanged among the atmosphere, ocean, and land surface as it is both produced and absorbed by many microorganisms, plants, and animals. However, emissions and removal of CO2 by these natural processes tend to balance. Since the Industrial Revolution began around 1750, human activities have contributed substantially to climate change by adding CO2 and other heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere.

In the United States, since 1990, the management of forests and non-agricultural land has acted as a net sink of CO2, which means that more CO2 is removed from the atmosphere, and stored in plants and trees, than is emitted. This sink offset about 15% of total emissions in 2012 and is discussed in more detail in the Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry section.

To find out more about the role of CO2 warming the atmosphere and its sources, visit the Causes of Climate Changepage and the Greenhouse Gas Indicators page in the Science section.

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Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States increased by about 5% between 1990 and 2012. Since the combustion of fossil fuel is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, changes in emissions from fossil fuel combustion have historically been the dominant factor affecting total U.S. emission trends. Changes in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion are influenced by many long-term and short-term factors, including population growth, economic growth, changing energy prices, new technologies, changing behavior, and seasonal temperatures. Between 1990 and 2012, the increase in CO2 emissions corresponded with increased energy use by an expanding economy and population, and an overall growth in emissions from electricity generation. Transportation emissions also contributed to the 5% increase, largely due to an increase in miles traveled by motor vehicles.

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Gas Emissions, 1990-2012

Line graph that shows the U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 to 2012. In 1990 carbon dioxide emissions started around 5,000 million metric tons. The emissions rose to about 6,000 million metric tons in 2000 where it remained until about 2008 when it began to decline. By 2009, the carbon dioxide emissions were at about 5,500 million metric tons, followed by a slight recovering in 2010 to about 5,700 million metric tons and a decrease in 2012 to about 5,400 million metric tons.

Note: All emission estimates from the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2012.

 

Going forward, CO2 emissions in the United States are projected to grow by about 1.5% between 2005 and 2020. [2]

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Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions

The most effective way to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Many strategies for reducing CO2 emissions from energy are cross-cutting and apply to homes, businesses, industry, and transportation.

Examples of Reduction Opportunities for Carbon Dioxide
Strategy Examples of How Emissions Can be Reduced
Energy Efficiency Improving the insulation of buildings, traveling in more fuel-efficient vehicles, and using more efficient electrical appliances are all ways to reduce energy consumption, and thus CO2 emissions.

Energy Conservation Reducing personal energy use by turning off lights and electronics when not in use reduces electricity demand. Reducing distance traveled in vehicles reduces petroleum consumption. Both are ways to reduce energy CO2 emissions through conservation.Learn more about What You Can Do at Home, at School, in the Office, and on the Road to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint.
Fuel Switching Producing more energy from renewable sources and using fuels with lower carbon contents are ways to reduce carbon emissions.
Carbon Capture and Sequestration Carbon dioxide capture and sequestration is a set of technologies that can potentially greatly reduce CO2 emissions from new and existing coal- and gas-fired power plants, industrial processes, and other stationary sources of CO2. Learn more.

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*Carbon dioxide’s lifetime is poorly defined because the gas is not destroyed over time, but instead moves among different parts of the ocean–atmosphere–land system. Some of the excess carbon dioxide will be absorbed quickly (for example, by the ocean surface), but some will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years, due in part to the very slow process by which carbon is transferred to ocean sediments.

The world would warm by 4°C by the end of this century if we do not take concerted action now. The World Bank report “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience is a result of contributions from a wide range of experts from across the globe. The report follows “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided”, released in November 2012. This new report outlines an alarming scenario for the days and years ahead—what we could face in our lifetime.

The scientists tell us that if the world warms by 2°C—warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years—that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat-waves, and more intense cyclones. In the near-term, climate change, which is already unfolding, could batter the slums even more and greatly harm the lives and the hopes of individuals and families who have had little hand in raising the Earth’s temperature. Today, our world is 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels of the 18th century.

We could see a 2°C world in the space of one generation. The first Turn Down the Heat report was a wake-up call. This second scientific analysis gives us a more detailed look at how the negative impacts of climate change already in motion could create devastating conditions especially for those least able to adapt. The poorest could increasingly be hit the hardest. For this report, we turned again to the scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. This time, we asked them to take a closer look at the tropics and prepare a climate forecast based on the best available evidence and supplemented with advanced computer simulations. With a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and South Asia, the report examines in greater detail the likely impacts for affected populations of present day, 2°C and 4°C warming on critical areas like agricultural production, water resources, coastal ecosystems and cities.

The result is a dramatic picture of a world of climate and weather extremes causing devastation and human suffering. In many cases, multiple threats of increasing extreme heat waves, sea-level rise, more severe storms, droughts and floods will have severe negative implications for the poorest and most vulnerable. In Sub-Saharan Africa, significant crop yield reductions with 2°C warming are expected to have strong repercussions on food security, while rising temperatures could cause major loss of savanna grasslands threatening pastoral livelihoods.

In South Asia, projected changes to the monsoon system and rising peak temperatures put water and food resources at severe risk. Energy security is threatened, too. While, across South East Asia, rural livelihoods are faced with mounting pressures as sea-level rises, tropical cyclones increase in intensity and important marine ecosystem services are lost as warming approaches 4°C. Across all regions, the likely movement of impacted communities into urban areas could lead to ever higher numbers of people in informal settlements being exposed to heat waves, flooding, and diseases.

Here, we take a look at the world’s five biggest polluters, according to EDGAR http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/overview.php?v=intro&sort=des9

1. China

This picture from January 2013 shows two men walking in Beijing’s dense smog.  (AFP/Getty Images)

China overtook the United States as the world’s biggest carbon dioxide polluter in 2006, and has topped the list ever since.

In 2012, the communist country pumped an estimated 9.8 billion tons of CO2 into the world’s atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. And while emissions grew at a slower pace in 2012 than previous years, China still accounted for 70 percent of the global increase in CO2 emissions that year.

China’s smog levels are notorious. But air pollution is soaring to new heights due to the country’s rapid industrialization, reliance on coal power and increased car ownership for a booming population.

It doesn’t help that environmental laws are often ignored, according to green activists.

2. United States

Morning commuters travel the 210 freeway near Pasadena, Calif.  (David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)

As stated above, America’s carbon dioxide emissions had been going down for years. The decline can be partly attributed to the economic recession, improved energy efficiency, and the shale-gas boom.

Emissions reached a 20-year low of just under 5.2 billion metric tons in 2012.

But new figures show CO2 emissions actually increased 2 percent in 2013 as more utilities turned to coal for energy after a steep rise in natural gas prices.

Emissions are still 10 percent below 2005 levels, but they were once down 12 percent. The Obama administration set a goal of being 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

Suddenly, that goal looks like a steeper climb.

3. India

Indian commuters walk up a foot bridge in New Delhi on Jan. 31, 2013.  (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s carbon dioxide emissions shot up 7.7 percent in 2012, with those from coal growing at an even faster pace of 10.2 percent.

That despite the South Asian country recording its lowest GDP growth — 4 percent — in a decade.

One in three Indians currently live in “critically-polluted” areas. And of the 180 cities monitored by India’s Central Pollution Control Board, just two — Malapuram and Pathanamthitta in Kerala — have what are considered “low” levels of air pollution.

4. Russia

A Russian woman wears a face mask to protect herself from smoke in Moscow.  (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s carbon dioxide emissions plunged after the collapse of Soviet-era smokestack industries, but it remains the world’s fourth largest CO2 polluter at 1.7 billion metric tons in 2012.

Hundreds of cities currently exceed pollution limits, with Moscow, St. Petersburg and the far-northern Siberian city of Norilsk among the worst offenders.

Two cities — Norilsk and the central Russian city of Dzerzhinsk — made the environmental group Blacksmith Institute’s list of the world’s most polluted places this year.

5. Japan

The suffocating smog that blanketed swathes of China hit parts of Japan in March 2013.  (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)

Japan recently watered down its target to cut carbon dioxide emissions despite the 1.3 million metric tons of CO2 it produced in 2012.

The new target, announced in November, reverses course from a goal set four years ago and now allows a 3.1 percent increase in emissions from 1990 levels rather than seeking a 25 percent cut.

It reflects the country’s increased reliance on fossil fuels in the aftermath of the Fukushimanuclear disaster in 2011.

 

The Facebook Generation

Facebook did not become popular because it was a functional tool — after all, most college students lived in close quarters with the majority of their Facebook friends and had no need for social networking. Instead, students logged into the Web site because it was entertaining to watch a constantly evolving narrative starring the other people in the library.

Facebook was like an online community theater, customized with a backstage and lines delivered on the very public stage of friends’ walls with photo albums; every Facebook act was a soliloquy to our anonymous audience.

It was all comedy… making one another laugh matters more than providing useful updates about ourselves, which is why entirely phony profiles were all the rage before the grown-ups signed in. One friend announced her status as In a Relationship with Chinese Food, whose profile picture was a carry-out box and whose personal information personified the cuisine of China.

But does this more reverent incarnation of Facebook actually enrich adult relationships? What do these constellations of work colleagues and long-lost friends amount to? An online office mixer? A reunion with that one other guy from your high school who has a Facebook profile? Oh! You get to see pictures of your former college sweetheart’s family! (Only depressing possibilities are coming to mind for some reason.)

The way in which people frantically communicate online via Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging can be seen as a form of modern madness, according to a leading American sociologist. “A behaviour that has become typical may still express the problems that once caused us to see it as pathological,” MIT professor Sherry Turkle writes in her new book, Alone Together, which is leading an attack on the information age.

Turkle’s thesis is simple: technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human. Under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world.

But Turkle’s book is far from the only work of its kind. An intellectual backlash in America is calling for a rejection of some of the values and methods of modern communications. “It is a huge backlash. The different kinds of communication that people are using have become something that scares people,” said Professor William Kist, an education expert at Kent State University, Ohio.

The list of attacks on social media is a long one and comes from all corners of academia and popular culture. A recent bestseller in the US,The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, suggested that use of the internet was altering the way we think to make us less capable of digesting large and complex amounts of information, such as books and magazine articles. The book was based on an essay that Carr wrote in the Atlanticmagazine. It was just as emphatic and was headlined: Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Another strand of thought in the field of cyber-scepticism is found in The Net Delusion, by Evgeny Morozov. He argues that social media has bred a generation of “slacktivists”. It has made people lazy and enshrined the illusion that clicking a mouse is a form of activism equal to real world donations of money and time.

Other books include The Dumbest Generation by Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein – in which he claims “the intellectual future of the US looks dim”– and We Have Met the Enemy by Daniel Akst, which describes the problems of self-control in the modern world, of which the proliferation of communication tools is a key component.

The backlash has crossed the Atlantic. In Cyburbia, published in Britain last year, James Harkin surveyed the modern technological world and found some dangerous possibilities. While Harkin was no pure cyber-sceptic, he found many reasons to be worried as well as pleased about the new technological era. Elsewhere, hit film The Social Network has been seen as a thinly veiled attack on the social media generation, suggesting that Facebook was created by people who failed to fit in with the real world.

Turkle’s book, however, has sparked the most debate so far. It is a cri de coeur for putting down the BlackBerry, ignoring Facebook and shunning Twitter. “We have invented inspiring and enhancing technologies, yet we have allowed them to diminish us,” she writes.

Fellow critics point to numerous incidents to back up their argument. Recently, media coverage of the death in Brighton of Simone Back focused on a suicide note she had posted on Facebook that was seen by many of her 1,048 “friends” on the site. Yet none called for help – instead they traded insults with each other on her Facebook wall.

But even the backlash now has a backlash, with many leaping to the defence of social media. They point out that emails, Twitter and Facebook have led to more communication, not less – especially for people who may have trouble meeting in the real world because of great distance or social difference.

The “real world” that many social media critics hark back to never really existed. Before everyone travelled on the bus or train with their heads buried in an iPad or a smart phone, they usually just travelled in silence. “We did not see people spontaneously talking to strangers. They were just keeping to themselves,” Kist said.

The ROI of Social Media

Social media has captured the attention and awe of the marketing world with the promise of increased customer engagement and lower marketing costs. Yet behind the buzz lies the question of how to measure its success. With no standard means of measurement, it is difficult to decipher the value of different platforms and determine the true ROI of social media marketing. To make sense of the situation, MDG Advertising created an eye-opening video based on the findings and figures from its recently-developed infographic. Watch as we feature the facts, factors, methods and metrics that marketers need to know to understand the real return of social media.

ROI Infographic

Social Engagement and You

Your online reputation matters, now more than ever. But you can impact that reputation in ways you never thought possible. Here are some of the reasons to pay attention to social feedback and how to effectively engage with reviewers to build lifelong brand advocates.

engaged-brand-large

Social Engagement is Connecting

It’s simple, you just have to connect with people who post comments about you in social media sites. These people are your customers and they provide opinion, fact and detailed feedback about their interaction with you online. Contrary to popular belief, these people are not just teenagers or random people with an axe to grind, they are your customers.

Social Sites are Growing in Importance

As social site popularity grows, so should your awareness and understanding of your online reputation… Your prospective customers are on the prowl for every nugget of your online reputation.

Impact of Poor Online Reputation… Gone are the days when tweets, posts and opinions faded into the digital ether. With the surge of smartphone usage, people of all ages and social economic persuasions are using the information out there to decide about their next purchase. Your online reputation has the potential to kill your brand because people will change their mind, mid-buying cycle. You have to Listen and Act.

There is Real Value in Every Connection

Engaging with online reviewers allows you to uncover opportunities for operational improvement, increase customer loyalty, and improve your online reputation. Make no mistake about it, social media feedback can help you grow your business, perhaps in ways you never thought possible. You can glean details about your service, product or offering, your pricing and promotions. Yep, all that information is at your fingertips.

The Numbers Speak for Themselves…

85% of customers are very happy when businesses respond to their public comments in online forums and social media venues.

27% were “delighted” with a public response to their social feedback.

34% deleted their original negative review after being engaged.

Follow four simple steps to improved reputation

  1. Listen to all reviews from all social sites, review sites, blog posts and any other digital source.
  2. Target social reviews based on author influence and reach, review star rating, and keywords used in the review.
  3. Connect with the reviewer as fast as possible and use the best practices we spell out below.
  4. Watch your star ratings increase and your location’s online influence grow.

 

social_media_01

5 Engagement Best Practices

1. Marketing Sanctioned, 1 Brand Aware

Responses should mirror brand image and voice. Ensure that everyone authorized to reply to posts understands your brand voice and be sure to refresh the team as your brand voice changes. Create and distribute brand-voice guidelines. Provide a standard structure and keep your replies consistent. For example, ensure you end with a standard email for customer service and signature of replier including title. Do not copy and paste replies, rather, customize the reply to each reviewer by keying off the core messages in their review.

2. Don’t Take it Personally

Keep calm and think practically. Avoid knee jerk reactions. If you have to, give yourself a time-out before replying. Research with others before replying. Remember, customers don’t usually lie but they do embellish. Find out the details so you can address concerns confidently. Take the high road, don’t defend yourself and remember a heart felt apology never hurt anyone. As with all business, keep religion and politics out of it. This is about your company and product, not your social beliefs.

3. Target both Positive and Negative Reviews

NEGATIVE

  1. Apologize
  2. Reference the situation and commit to improve
  3. Offer help or ask what you can do for them

POSITIVE

  1. Remind your brand advocates that you’re listening
  2. Tell them something they didn’t know
  3. Invite them back

IN BOTH CASES

  1. Respond quickly, within the day if possible
  2. Be thankful for their feedback, every situation is a learning experience
  3. Reply on the public review site, but take the conversation to a designated email address that’s monitored by more than one person

Remember the “Golden Rule,” treat others as you would like to be treated!

4. Don’t just Talk…Act

Make sure you aren’t just paying lip service to the customers with whom you engage. You Must Follow Through!

First, pass the information onto the people who can make a difference in your business. Get it to the regional and general managers and their leadership teams and empower them to fix the issues quickly.

Next, encourage GM’s to use the information in pre-shift meetings for long term improvement. Reward staff whose efforts yield amazing customer service with monetary gifts and team-wide recognition. Consider creating a social media Hall of Fame or provide incentives for staff mentions: gift cards, shift priorities, time off, priority parking, and so on.

5. Measure your Progress

Ensure you keep track of engagement replies including who replied, reply date, and actual reply content. This is valuable for audit and training purposes.

Give yourself targets for engagement defined as numbers or percentage of total reviews. Some examples of goals include:

  1. % of reviews engaged: shoot for engaging with 50% of all online reviewers, even tweets
  2. % of engaged customers who reply: monitor how many customers reply to your outreach
  3. % of engaged customers who return: use your loyalty program and customer relationship management (CRM) platform to track customer return rates
  4. % who re-evaluate and repost reviews: give yourself bonus points for reviewers who change online reviews due to your efforts

rules-of-social-media-poster-1

Grow Your Efforts As You Grow

Next you might wonder how to size your social media efforts. Keep it in proportion to your business and your online presence. As you grow, increase your outbound engagement, and distribute the workload after proper social media training.

Social_Engagement

Reviews about your business are out there, it’s imperative that you listen, respond and fix the issues before they recur. Plan a time, even if only a few minutes a week, to reply to social media reviews using these best practices. Ensure you size your team and efforts to expand as you grow.

 

Going Flat!

One of the bigger trends of 2013 has been flat design. Adopted by Apple’s iOS7 and used in updated logos for both Facebook and Instagram, the increasingly popular style is well on its way to replacing the clunky days of 3D.

Downloads for images reflecting the flat-design trend have spiked on Shutterstock by approximately 200 percent since 2012, with the US, Brazil, Korea, Russia, and the UK leading the surge, and Japan and Italy coming in closely behind. Based on the increase, it’s clear that flat design will remain a big deal in 2014.

One reason designers have turned toward this “flat” aesthetic is a push from new technology and its need for a simpler user interface (UI). Flat design elements lend themselves to cleaner app interfaces, responsive design, and better overall interaction with visual data, such as infographics. They also facilitate easier pictorial communication across languages and cultures.

Shutterstock contributors have taken note, adding over 170,00 related images to the collection. Here are 5 of the top downloaded flat-design images of 2013:

Because this trend is going on globally, it’s also worth looking at how contributors are approaching flat design in different places. Here’s a look at the top-downloaded images in various countries.

United States

Brazil

Korea

United Kingdom

Uses of Flat Design

Whilst the term “flat design” might not be a phrase you’re yet familiar with, you will definitely have noticed the concept and the design features whilst browsing the internet.

For those of you that have noticed an increase in the “drop shadow” trend in web design, the easiest way to describe flat design is to say it’s the opposite of that. Flat design is designing a website that has left behind the drop shadow and the 3D effects, and that is by all intents and purposes flat.

Flat design looks modern, fun, fresh and refreshingly simple compared to it’s 3D counterpart. Flat design is embracing the use of solid colors, sharp, well-defined typography and bold shapes. It takes away any faff and fussiness from the design making it so much easier to digest and to navigate. It’s modern and is without a doubt going to be a huge design trend this coming year.

How can you use flat design?

For me, the top selling point of flat design is the simplicity and minimalism of it. That’s not to say you need to have a simple product or minimalist brand to use this trend to your advantage. I actually like the way this trend could modernize a relatively complex or old-fashioned niche, making the information on your site easier for readers to take in and understand.

Of course, the simplicity of flat design makes it so much easier to optimize for different devices too which is another point in its favor.

We all know that mobile browsing is on the rise, and responsive design has already addressed this rise. Flat design makes web design more scalable in a similar way, because when you design with solid colors, rather than a more image based approach, you’re using less detail and so the information based footprint of your website becomes much smaller. This means it’s quicker to load and communicates faster with whatever platform your reader is using to view it on.

Where have you seen it before?

Flat design isn’t exactly new. You’ll actually notice that brands such as Microsoft had already embraced the trend a few years back, while other big brands such as Apple were too busy perfecting other techniques.

Looking back to 2007, a quick glance at the Microsoft Zune – and you can already see that clean, typography based interface taking shape. At the time it went relatively unnoticed, being overshadowed by bigger industry developments, but in 2013 it is definitely at the forefront of design trends.

Creative design from the Nation's Capital

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