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Miscellany

How Our Culture Shaped Our New Office Space

By | Events, Mack's Musings, Miscellany, MISSION: Authentic | 3 Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

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Summer is by far my favorite time of year.

otterpops Mmmmm. Otter Pops.

The urban trails are full of people running or biking. The weekends are spent by the pool, hiking, or visiting friends. There’s always an opportunity for good food and free concerts in the park. The daylight lingers to afford us all some much needed play time. Rigid routines fade and it’s finally time for a change of pace. And Otter Pops are always on standby.

It’s mid-July and Mack Web finds itself more than half way through our 12th year of business. Lucky for us, this summer started with a bit more excitement than the usual change of seasons: a move to a brand new office space that we were fortunate enough to customize to match our collaborative culture.

I’ve got all the photos (and even a super awesome video) to share with you. But first, indulge me with a little history. Read More

Buckets Exercise: A Tool for Discussing Employee Burnout

By | Business Stuff, Miscellany | 2 Comments

Burnout Approacheth

SomeeCards

Once upon a time there was an employee who felt … burned out. She approached her boss, who valued the employee but didn’t quite know how to lighten her heavy workload.

To understand what was weighing her down, her kind boss requested a list of what was currently on her large, overflowing, no-way-she-can-finish-all-this-Thanksgiving-sized plate. But beware: by asking her employee to list all those things off the top of her pretty redhaired head, she risked receiving in return a list fueled by exhaustion instead of facts. If only they had a tool that would come to their aid.

As you may have guessed, the employee in this tale is me. Mack is the kind boss helping to address employee burnout. And what follows is how we came up with a tool we call the Buckets Exercise to begin an honest conversation together.

The Birth of a New Tool

Why is this exercise being brought to you by Mack Web?

Even though Mack Web specializes in digital marketing, we have experienced our fair share of ups and downs and learned how to handle those as a team. In addition, connecting with people on a human level is on our “we heart these things the mostest” list. So in Mack Web fashion, we like to share with you what we’re learning. Sometimes that means walking you through how to set the right goals for your digital marketing. Or in this case it means walking you through a tool we created to help take care of teammates who are struggling.

It’s rare for me to meet someone who hasn’t experienced employee burnout, and most of us would say that when it hits, it hits hard. Much like a fighter jet that’s running out of gas, eventually you’ll run on vapors, and when those run out, you’ll crash and burn. Not only is this devastating to the person who is on that downward trajectory, but it can be detrimental to your team. Our hope is that by sharing this exercise (even in its early stages), more teams will have a starting point from which to address potential burnout and prevent that proverbial “crash and burn.”

This exercise provides a framework from which to start. And sometimes finding a place to start is the hardest part.

Why “Buckets”?

Ideally, we should be able to place everything we do for our company under specific categories (or “buckets”) that align with the roles we were hired to fill.

Blue buckets

As it happens, Mack is a very visual person, so what she needed to see to help me talk through my Mack Web workload was a visual representation of all my tasks thrown into large “buckets.” Here are some examples to give you an idea of what this could look like:

BUCKETS

  • account coordination
  • project management
  • meetings
  • strategy development
  • content

TASKS

  • client communication
  • execution calendars
  • meeting agendas
  • new business reviews
  • writing this blog post

It’s a for-sure bet that Mack would have loved for me to bring in actual buckets filled with all my tasks written on individual slips of paper. However, it turns out that I don’t have a bucket fetish, so I couldn’t oblige. Instead I opted for something a little more practical: a Google spreadsheet.

Embracing the Digital Age

I know, I know – snoozarama. But hear me out. As it turns out, a shared Google doc fit the bill because it met my key criteria, meaning I could:

  • easily brainstorm with a single tool (without finding paper and plastic buckets)
  • effortlessly edit or make changes
  • collaborate with another person without physical barriers – anytime, anywhere
  • revisit the exercise should burnout approacheth again
  • share this exercise with others on our team for their own customized use

But Not Everyone Has a Boss Who Cares Enough

Before we get much further, I want to recognize the sad reality that not everyone has a boss who is willing to do what it takes to keep a valued employee happy.

As it pertains to your vocational happiness, this exercise yields the best results if you have a boss who really cares about you and is open to making some positive changes based on what your Buckets reveal. But if you don’t feel that this exercise is right for you to do together (due to personal baggage or professional limitations), that’s okay. You can still do this on your own so that you can benefit from any revelations. Only then can you start working toward bettering your situation.

The Buckets Exercise: Let’s Do This

LetsDoThis

Step 1: Set Up the Framework

The first thing you do is create the spreadsheet itself. The overall look and structure is totally up to you, but you’ll need these things at a minimum (don’t worry – I’ll explain items 2-5 in a bit):

  1. Name, Job Title, and Date (for review purposes)
  2. Position Goals
  3. Columns for each “Bucket” – don’t forget meetings and special projects!
  4. Columns for tasks to be reassigned and to whom
  5. Warning Signs

Screenshot 1.b

(Click image to see full size.)

A note about your Buckets columns: How you decide to split these up may depend on your company’s organizational structure. But don’t worry too much about getting the column headers right. As you progress with the exercise, you can add or revise columns as you see fit. This is the time to start, not perfect.

Step 2: Review Your Position Goals

What is your role? I don’t just mean your job title (what’s in a title really?); I mean what is it that you were initially hired to accomplish? If your memory needs to be jogged, review that posted job description from when you were interviewing and distill it down to its main purpose in your company. As with everything we do at Mack Web, we like to start with goals.

Start everything with goals.

Recently, we’ve started giving nicknames to each Mack Web position, so as the Accounts Coordinator, I’m “the Glue.” My main goals are to interface with our clients and also make sure our team is pulled together and not falling apart (and the irony that I’m the reason this exercise was created in the first place doesn’t escape me).

Screenshot 2.b

Understanding your Position Goals will give you some guidelines when you eventually review each task that ends up in this spreadsheet. You’ll be able to hold each of these responsibilities up and ask: Is this task helping me fulfill the goals of this position or is it outside of my “scope” and stealing time away?

What is it that you were hired to accomplish?

Step 3: Do a Brain Dump

Think through all that you do on a daily basis and dump it into this spreadsheet. Notice that I didn’t say think through what your job was advertised to be when you were hired. Things tend to change once you’re actually fulfilling a role and as other strengths of yours are recognized by your team. This isn’t fundamentally a bad thing, but being able to see these deviations can help both you and your boss identify crucial patterns (more on this in step 7).

This step is where you jot down everything: big, small, in or out of scope, exciting or mundane. You can either start with your main Buckets columns and place tasks underneath those, or you can just start putting stuff in and organize them into Buckets later. Are you managing a team? Write it down. Are you the one that, for some unknown reason, waters the plants each week? Write that down, too. Don’t worry about repeating yourself – this is the brainstorming part where no idea is a bad idea.

Screenshot 3.b

(Click image to see full size.)

Step 4: Cover All Your Bases

Think your brain dump is complete? Don’t be so sure. Since workflow is dynamic and roles can blend together, don’t just trust your memory or this week’s to-do list. To feel confident that your list is more or less exhaustive, be sure to seek out these other resources:

  • job description (before hiring)
  • performance reviews
  • timesheets (to see how you’ve been spending your time)
  • emails (to refresh your memory on recent efforts)
  • Basecamp, Workamajig, or other team project management applications you may be using
  • work calendar (for recurring meetings)
  • company culture

A note about company culture: Don’t forget to include those activities that are highly valued by your company which translate into recurring tasks for everyone on your team. Most likely you were hired because you are a culture fit, which means you highly value these activities as well, so you may forget that, despite how fun they are, they take time to do during the week.

For example, at Mack Web we highly value learning and sharing that knowledge with others, so we all make time to read the latest industry articles and contribute to the Mack Web blog. We love that this is part of our jobs, but it does take time, so on the spreadsheet it must go.

Step 5: Take a Breather

You have now determined your Buckets and poured your tasks into them. Good work – you deserve a gold star. Now take that gold star and go away for a day or so. Use this time to let the dust settle so that you can return to your Buckets with a fresh, clear mind. During your break from this exercise, be mindful of how you’re spending your time – it may reveal a few more tasks to add to your spreadsheet.

Step 6: Review Your Buckets With a Fresh Mind

Now that you’re back from your break and your mind is fresh, go back into your Buckets and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do my Buckets accurately reflect my job?
  2. Do I need to rename a Bucket or add a few more?
  3. Which of the tasks listed are critical to achieving my Position Goals? (bold these)
  4. Are some of my tasks repeated? If so, do I need to delete the repeats or clarify them further?
  5. Are there tasks in my Buckets that don’t really belong to me? (highlight these)

A note about tasks that don’t belong to you: These are tasks that you feel don’t belong in your Buckets, either because of bandwidth or expertise. Perhaps you were helping out a co-worker one time by stepping out of your role, but then that task stuck. Or perhaps you’re currently in charge of purchasing office supplies, but that really belongs to your Office Manager. Whatever the case may be for why you feel a task doesn’t belong to you, be sure to note the task (and the reason).

Screenshot 4d

Is this task helping me fulfill the goals of my position or is it stealing time away?

Step 7: Identify Patterns

Now that you have everything you do listed right in front of you (don’t faint), it’s time to search for patterns. Remember: there’s a reason you decided to do this exercise – something is amiss with your role and you are feeling overwhelmed. Let’s see if this exercise has shed some light on what those patterns might be:

1. Review your bolded items (tasks critical to achieving your Position Goals). Do you get to spend enough time in your work day to focus on these priorities of your role? If not, what’s pulling you away from these things?

2. Review the highlighted items (those that don’t belong to you) and copy/paste them into the “Task to Reassign” column. Do these tasks have a common thread? If so, perhaps the common thread is that you’re fulfilling a role that needs to be staffed, or you’ve adopted tasks from someone else who is overloaded, or something else. If you aren’t able to identify a pattern, never fear. Your boss may be able to help you with that.

3. Another option that you may want to consider is to indicate those tasks that you absolutely love and those you despise (thanks to my officemate Ayelet for this tip). A potential benefit to this is you may be able to see a pattern that indicates you don’t have enough in your role that you enjoy doing (thus you may either be working out of your weaknesses instead of your strengths, or your interests have changed, etc.).

Step 8: Consider Possible Solutions

Before you send this over to your boss for review, go the extra mile and offer recommendations for reversing any patterns you may have identified. Don’t leave it up to her to fix this  – she’s not a mind reader or a magician. And if she’s willing to go through this exercise with you, she will also appreciate your initiative.

Prepare for your discussion time together by offering some solutions. For example, for those “not mine” items, provide suggestions in the “To Whom” column for who you feel would be better at owning those tasks.

Screenshot 5.b

Or perhaps you feel you aren’t able to focus on your priorities because you spend too much time participating in some of the company culture activities. If that’s a pattern you have identified, then provide your thoughts in this spreadsheet on how you may be able to continue participating in these activities but at a different level.

Whatever patterns come to light, be sure not to ignore them or brush them aside. Spend some time thinking about how those patterns may have developed, what your workload could look like if those patterns were broken, and then bring some ideas to the table for how to break them. This will provide a starting place for your conversation with your boss about how to address some of these issues.

Step 9: Recognize Your Warning Signs

Warning

The reason you’re doing this exercise in the first place is because you’re feeling the effects of employee burnout. But wouldn’t it be great if you could smell the smoke before you felt the flames? The best way to do that is to recognize your own warning signs.

Everyone experiences stress differently, and how we exhibit that stress can be just as unique. How do you feel when you’re under pressure? How do you self-medicate? Do you retreat or surround yourself with distractions? If you’re not sure, ask those closest to you – friends, family, spouse, partner, even a co-worker.

Know thyself. And once you do, place these warning signs into this section of the spreadsheet.

Screenshot 6.b

A note about warning signs: Sharing these warning signs with someone else is essential because you may be the last person to realize that you’re heading for burnout – you’re just too close to the situation. For example, if Mack starts to consistently receive emails from me at night, she can approach me and ask how I’m doing because I’ve identified this as one of my warning signs. I also recommend sharing these signs with another teammate because there’s no harm in having a secondary wake-up call.

You may be the last person to realize that you’re heading for burnout.

Step 10: It’s Boss Time

Once you’ve completed this exercise, schedule a time with your boss to go over your Buckets (you will need at least an hour). But be sure to share this spreadsheet with her a few days in advance so that she has time to digest.

Your boss should have a clear understanding of the role you were meant to play since she’s the one who probably hired you (or was involved in the process at some point). She will be able to look at your role from the top down (instead of in the weeds where you are), and her insights will be valuable at this stage.

Begin an honest conversation together.

Remember earlier when I said this exercise works best with a boss who cares? This is the spirit in which to approach this collaborative phase. This is the beginning of an honest conversation about your current role and the holes or problems you may have discovered, with the hope of finding solutions that will help you become a happier employee.

When I went through my Buckets with Mack, she was able to:

  1. Confirm that my Buckets were accurate.
  2. Review my Position Goals and make sure my priorities were aligned.
  3. Discuss any patterns I’d identified and affirm any tasks I’d labeled as “not mine.”
  4. Consider my recommendations for change and give me the power to make those changes.
  5. Become aware of my warning signs and be on the lookout.

Post-Buckets: Now What?

Now that you’ve completed the Buckets Exercise and discussed the crap out of it, now what do you do? You implement and test and see how things go. If one of your recommendations for change doesn’t yield the results you expect, re-evaluate and try something else. And keep the lines of communication open with your boss and your team.

Implement and test and see how things go.

Hang In There

This exercise isn’t a magic pill that will make everything all better. It’s simply a place to start a conversation. Positions evolve over time (as do people), so you may need to revisit this exercise if you sense burnout approaching again.

HangInThere

Since we developed the Buckets Exercise back in April, about half our team has gone through it, and it’s been an eye-opener. Each of us has customized it for our own unique roles and needs, and that’s the beauty of an exercise like this. It’s not a cookie cutter and it’s not rigid. But it does provide a framework from which to start. And sometimes finding a place to start is the hardest part.

What does your team use to address employee burnout? Or perhaps you have some recommendations for us to make this exercise even better? We’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you would like us to share this Google spreadsheet with you, we’d be happy to.

Better than Hawaii: Mack Web’s Best Summer Blog Posts

By | Creativity, Miscellany, Social Media, The Quest for Quanlitative Measurement, Web Marketing | No Comments

Because why gloat over your vacation pictures when you could be catching up on the genius you missed?

Summer is a time for many wondrous things: swimming lessons and blockbuster movies, amazing thunderstorms and vacations to exotic locations, backyard barbeques and entirely more ice cream than can possibly be healthy.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 5.23.07 PM

You know what summer is not a great time for? Reading anything other than ridiculously fluffy beach-worthy books, with titles like Cream Puffs by Starlight or The Undead Llamas Ride at Dawn.

Which is why, with the crisp hints of fall just around the corner and the kids shuffled back to school, we decided to make your lives a little easier. You don’t have to go back and catch up on everything the Mack Web team wrote this summer (though we wouldn’t blame you if you did; we are just that amazing).

Instead, we’ve put together the list of Mack Web best summer blog posts, the ones you absolutely shouldn’t miss.

You’re welcome.

We’ve also provided a quick word on why we think each of these posts is emblematic of what Mack Web stands for, why they’re important in the general scheme of things.

And hey, if you think we missed a crucial read, let us know. We’ll add it to the list.


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.16.01 PMHow To Design A Stellar Slide Deck (the Mack Web Way)

Our favorite post of the summer was this contribution from our designer extraordinaire. Natalie Touchberry is brilliant with all things design and this post gives you some amazing insight into her tricks of the trade.

We think this is an important one to share not only because it’s a wonderful, practical creative process from a master of her art but also for of its place in the broader spectrum of the Mack Web belief system. (Yep. Slide decks are part of our corporate religion, along with heart, passion, desire, excellence, and llamas.)

Our devotion to slide decks is twofold. First, we are firm believers in using different formats to convey our messages. And here’s the thing about slide decks: a slide deck devoid of meaning stands out a lot more than a fluffy blog post. In other words, to do the slide deck format well, you really have to know what you want to say and why you want to say it. We are all about the intentional content.

The second reason we love slide decks is because they are symbolic of a key part of digital marketing that is often overlooked: offline efforts. Frequently used as a visual aid for public speaking, slide decks are a great reminder that building relationships and reputation in the real world is a huge part of an integrated marketing strategy.


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.15.48 PM Hashtag Series: Ally or Enemy? (Pt. 1) & A How-To for Success (Pt. 2)

We were really pleased with this collaboration by our Social & Community Management Strategist Ayelet Golz and our Account Coordinator Rebecca Gilmore. It’s not only a fantastic walk through of how, when, and why you should use hashtags in your social media marketing but also a practical guide to creating meaningful hashtags, based on what you’re trying to accomplish.

We’re featuring these posts because, while not overt, they so deeply express one of Mack Web’s most fundamental principles of digital marketing: everything starts from goals.

So we say ‘Don’t use a hashtag unless it serves your purpose in creating the social media campaign in the first place.’ And then Ayelet tells you when that might be. ‘Choose or create a hashtag that actually achieves what you want to achieve.’ And then Rebecca gives you a process for doing just that.

That’s Mack Web to the core.

Also, there are frolicking hashbrowns and Gandalf jokes. So, you won’t want to miss that.


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.15.55 PMHow to Dominate Google+ Hangouts on Air

Our shining star of the summer, our Team Member of the Season was, apparently, Ayelet.  This post of hers was a big favorite for its sheer practicality as she tells you everything – and we do mean everything – about Google+ Hangouts.

Google+ Hangouts are a fantastic way to convey valuable information, host a gathering of experts, and build relationships with your peers and audience alike. (Mack Web is big on the personal touch.)

We’re also big on sharing what we know. Sometimes that’s theory: the why behind the methods we use. But sometimes that’s application: the methods themselves.

Because, hey, you’re going to have plenty of work to do figuring out the topic, the guest list, the promotion, the follow-up of your Hangout. We can make the actual, manual steps a little easier. Why would we make you suffer?


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.15.41 PMConversion Rate Isn’t Everything in Digital Marketing

Yep, that’s right, our final Not-To-Be-Missed post of the summer is another Ayelet classic. This one uses our Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities as a mini case study for the varying definitions of content success in digital marketing.

We chose this one for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s a part of our Quest for Quanlitative Measurement: our ongoing journey to fully exploring, understanding, and optimizing the various ways to measure integrated marketing efforts. The Quest weighed heavy on our minds this summer and we didn’t want the season to pass without a mention of it.

Second, well, we love that guide. Arthur, as we call him. So figuring out how other people felt about him was important to us.

Third, we work hard to prove the value of our efforts to our clients. We know you do, too. Our experience with Arthur just proved to us that the narrow focus on conversion rate discounts so much great stuff that goes on in the background. So, in true Mack Web spirit, we provide you with some practical alternatives.

And finally…well…we had to include this post. Otherwise Disappointed Turtle might have scowled at us. And that’s not a fate lightly to be borne.


Alright, so it’s not quite Hawaii…

So we may not have been strictly factual when we said Mack Web’s Best Summer Blog Posts were better than Hawaii. But we figure you would only know that if you actually went to Hawaii. In which case, you got both, so why are you complaining?

If you, like us, didn’t spend the summer sipping Mai Tais and enjoying the crystal blue waters, we want to know: what did you learn this summer? What made your Best Reads of the Summer List?

Solving Operational Challenges with Four Helpful Lists

By | Business Stuff, Mack's Musings, Miscellany, Web Marketing | 3 Comments

I remember leaving the hospital with my daughter Ryan just a few days after she was born. She was my first child and Jon and I had absolutely no idea what we were doing. But still I was released from the hospital with a tiny, helpless infant. No quick-start guide. No instructions. No nurse in tow.

mack holding ryan hospital

Fast forward 6 years. Ryan is growing and so is Mack Web. As with my lack of innate skills as a mom, I’m no natural born entrepreneur. I’m just a rookie with no formal business training who’s learned everything about building this company from the kindness of mentors, books, blog posts, and trial by fire.

Sometimes I’ve managed to stockpile the right info to help me handle a rising situation like a champ. But more often than not, just like with raising the kids, I have to stumble through it. Somehow, I manage to make it to the other side, failing faster every time, emerging with more hard-won character.

As I pocket this wisdom along my business-rearing journey, I am slowly gaining contrast and clarity. Agility. Experience even. I’m still pretty much writing the Mack Web manual as I go. But sometimes I am gifted with tools along the way.

Most recently, there’s a simple exercise that has been helping us solve some common operational challenges:

  • How do we do stuff better?
  • How do we resolve gaps in communication and collaboration with the team and our clients?
  • Who do we hire next?

For the last year, Mack Web has been working with a Strat Ops facilitator to help us set goals, initiatives, and move the company forward. She introduced us to an exercise called Four Helpful Lists and lately it’s been working like a charm.

We’ve applied the Four Helpful Lists exercise to every one of the challenges above (which I will provide in detail below). The great thing about it is that the outcome isn’t just a list of problems. It’s a conversation of solutions. So instead of spending thirty minutes talking about all the things in a situation that are broken, we’re focusing on how we’re going to fix it. It provides us with a place from which we can take action.

How it Works

Below I’ve provided some specific examples of how we’ve used this tool at Mack Web, but first, here’s how you would run Four Helpful Lists:

1. Assemble Your Team for 30 minutes
Depending on the challenge you’re looking to address, you’ll want to invite a few key people on your team who are directly involved or affected by the issue. We’ve had success with just 3 of us, or even 10  in the room at once. We try to keep these meetings really focused at 30 minutes.

2. Get a Whiteboard
On a whiteboard, or one of those big wall post-its, make 4 columns; one with each of these questions:

  • What’s right?
  • What’s wrong?
  • What’s missing?
  • What’s confused?

3. Pose a Question
This is the prompt that gets the conversation of solutions going and the way you frame the question is one of the most critical steps of this exercise. You’ll need to pose the question so that your team can get to the underlying issue. So for example, if we’re using this tool to determine who we’re going to hire next, I wouldn’t ask, “Who are we going to hire next?” Instead, I would ask, “How is the team functioning?” You’ve got to frame your question in such a way that the four lists (what’s right, wrong, missing, and confused) make sense as a reply.

4. Fill out the Stuff
Then, under each column, ask your team to contribute the answers related to the question you’ve posed; the situation or challenge you’re working to resolve.

It’s great if you can start with what’s right? as that will help you to avoid a gripe session. And then, as you move along to the rest of the columns, avoid putting everything into the what’s wrong? column. Really think through what belongs in the what’s missing? column (like things related to systems, processes, tools, resources, communication, trust) that could be the root cause of the issue. And many times, what’s confused? will be things related to communication and expectations (that haven’t been properly addressed).

5. Identify and Prioritize Places of Action
After you’ve exhausted your lists, now go back and look for patterns and places of action under each column.

I’ll go into more detail on this in the examples below, but you’ll notice that there are things in each column that will relate to each other or the same root cause. So circle those (and perhaps draw lines or arrows to connect them). Then prioritize those items. Will you need to address and resolve something on your list before you can address another? If so, number them accordingly.

6. Assign Tasks
Now that you know what needs to be addressed and in what order, determine the next steps and assign tasks (and due dates) to the members of your team. Designate a follow-up date for getting the stuff done, and have one person in the group be the facilitator (to keep everyone accountable for their deliverables).

We run this exercise quite often. And now that we know the power of it, we are starting to recognize when exactly we need it. Mostly it’s when we  find ourselves stuck . Either we’re frustrated with a problem that keeps resurfacing in different forms, or we’ve done the same thing the same way for several times and realize that we’re still not getting a different result.

For us, Four Helpful Lists resolves so many challenges that anytime we’re feeling angst about anything: a process, a common client deliverable, a team member, or even a client, we use this tool.

The great thing about the Four Helpful Lists in action is that, regardless of the problem you’re trying to solve, you never come away empty handed.

Here’s what I mean.

Four Helpful Lists for Doing Stuff Better

There’s a whole lot of stuff we’re handling every day at Mack Web. And because we’re working with a small (but mighty) team, we are continuously looking for ways to be more efficient and, certainly, more effective.

Lately (and by lately I mean for almost a year), we’ve been working on improving our reporting. Not only do we spend a great deal of time on them, but they’re too long and they don’t communicate our value to our clients as clearly as we’d like. After the reports had gone through their most recent evolution, we decided to determine how to make them even better using Four Helpful Lists.

So when the team got together, the question posed was:

How do we make our reports better?

4-helpful-lists-a

What’s right?
The team had a few positive things to say about how we had been currently communicating value in our reports. We were getting better at identifying the metrics that really mattered for each client,  the way we were presenting the information was easier to digest, and the collaboration among the team was helping us to take action on the data that we were collecting. Lots of good progress had been made in the recent months and certainly over the last year.

What was wrong?
The biggest problem is that we were pretty sure our clients weren’t reading them. To make matters worse, we were spending a significant amount of the team’s time each month preparing these reports (even though we were learning a great deal from them). We were also finding some hangups with data collection and the automation of that process. Especially for social media.

What was missing?
What we realized was that we needed to have a conversation with our clients about what was most useful to them in the reports we provided. We were making all kinds of assumptions about what we thought they cared about, but we had not taken the time to verify their expectations. We wanted to make sure we guide them with the most important data (vs. just showing them metrics like follower count), but what do they really want to see?

We also had not asked our respected colleagues what their challenges were with reporting and how they had resolved them. Do they provide a one-page report or is it 20?  Do they hold a meeting to discuss the data, or just send it via email with key takeaways? Maybe they would have some great ways of presenting important data to their clients that we could learn from. They also might have some automation tool suggestions that would help save some time collecting and aggregating all of the data.

We realized that we had a ton of information that was missing which meant we had a place to start filling in the holes.

What was confused?
We definitely knew that our reporting process could use some work. And as we had defined in the missing column, we really needed to get to the heart of what our clients were expecting. Ultimately, could we really say, without a doubt, that what we were providing in our reports was valuable to our clients? Having all of this confused meant we definitely had some work to do, which means we knew where to take action.

Prioritizing and Taking Action
So once we worked through each list, there was a lot that we needed to focus on. We identified the most important of the items that were wrong, missing, and confused. Some of those were related to other items so we matched those up.  If we prioritized the core of those issues, we would essentially be solving the others, so we assigned action items from those.

We knew that our first and most important priority was to talk to our clients, so we circled that and identified it as #1. There were a few items in other columns that were related, so we matched those up, circled them, and drew connecting arrows.

Simultaneously we knew we could ask our colleagues about their reporting processes and also what tools they were using to automate the data (so we prioritized that as #2). Ideally, we would have feedback both from our clients and our colleagues around the same time and then we’d have our next action steps.

4-helpful-lists-b

Over the next several weeks, the team will work individually on their assigned tasks and report to the person we designated to keep everyone accountable. When we meet as a team at Strat Ops in the late fall, the team will communicate how they’ve decided to move forward in our reporting based on what they found and the action they took after we ran Four Helpful Lists.

Four Helpful Lists for Communication and Collaboration

This tool has worked so well for the Mack Web team that we’ve even used it with our clients. We run a pretty collaborative environment around here and require a whole lot of integration with our clients’ teams. Sometimes there are breakdowns in the communication and collaboration between our teams so we need to figure out why we’re having trouble getting on the same page.

After we’ve worked through the execution of the first strategy with a client, we use Four Helpful Lists to get to the root of any roadblocks we may have stumbled across.

Running the Four Helpful Lists exercise works best when everyone is in the same room, but since our clients aren’t in Fort Collins, we improvise with a Google+ Hangout and a Google spreadsheet.

4-helpful-lists-c

Our team in Fort Collins still works through each list with our client, but because it’s difficult for them to read our whiteboard from the other side of the web cam, we send a Google spreadsheet before we start the exercise. As we run down each list, we take notes in the spreadsheet so that our client can see what’s being written on the whiteboard as it’s being written. Once the exercise is over, we send a photo of the whiteboard to the client.

Using this tool, even just with the Mack Web team, requires a sometimes-uncomfortable level of honesty about what isn’t working. Using it with a client requires a lot of bravery. If we’re not willing to conflict and commit to get to the root of the problem, we’ll never be able to start working together toward a solution.

It should be pretty simple to identify where to take action based on the results of the Four Helpful Lists exercise. Especially when using Four Helpful Lists with clients, we are very diligent about assigning action items. We are specific about what the action items are and which team is taking action so that a solution can actually come to fruition.

Four Helpful Lists for Hiring

One of the  most significant challenges that Four Helpful Lists has solved at Mack Web is hiring.  As our team has grown, it has been difficult to prioritize who we need to hire next. We’re not a funded company, so we hire as we have the revenue to support new team members. Many times we have the resources just to fund one position, so it’s really important that we choose wisely.

Earlier this year we had an unexpected change in the members of our team. So before hiring to replace for that exact role, we took a step back to determine what the company really needed. We got the whole team together to hash out Four Helpful Lists.

But instead of asking the team, “Hey, who do you think we should hire next?” we addressed the question: How is the team functioning?

Once we completed the exercise, we noticed that, despite the departure of a Strategist, it wasn’t a lack of strategy that was missing on our team. It was the time spent on grinder tasks that was slowing down existing key personnel.

What we needed to do was pull weight off of some of our existing team members so that they could have some headspace. Giving them this much needed room would allow them to operate in a more strategic frame of mind. This would help them get out of the weeds a bit, really benefit our clients, and help bridge the gap to our next hire.

After compiling all the items from the wrong, missing, and confused lists, we were able to define a new role: Team Support .  We could see that we needed more than just one person to take on all of the tasks in this new support position, but we determined that some of those efforts could be outsourced as we acquired the revenue for the additional person.

support-role

Over the last six months this decision to hire a Team Support person rather than another Strategist has really paid off. Within weeks of the hire, the team was quickly rebounding from hurdles that we had been stuck on for months. Using this role to take away some of the team’s stress has helped us to be more connected and collaborative than ever. It has pushed us forward with great momentum and we’re well on our way to our next hires (which we will determine by running Four Helpful Lists).

Give it a Try, Kids

If I’ve learned anything about being a mom and running Mack Web it’s that I almost  never have the answer. And sometimes, that can feel pretty paralyzing. Four Helpful Lists gives us a place to start and also puts the responsibility on the team (and not just me). It’s a really simple tool for figuring out what’s not serving us well and what we all need to do to make it different.

Give it a try with your team and let me know how it goes.

It’s a Mack Web Life for us (and you)

By | Miscellany | No Comments

Around the Mack Web office it’s crazy-busy. ALL. THE. TIME.

Seriously, there’s always something going on around this place. We’re doing a quest thing, we’re curating content for our NOKlistupdating our name, you know, good stuff like that. We also rearranged our offices, had picnics in the park, and celebrated our boss’ b-day. Not to mention lots and lots of client stuff and, of course, the obligatory break for tea in the afternoon.

mack bday

While the pace at Mack Web is currently a-hundred-miles-per-hour, we’re also having a lot of fun. And we’re enjoying our time together so much so that we couldn’t resist sharing some of these wonderful things that have been happening here with the whole wide world.

Thus, Rebecca (AKA: our hashtag queen) came up with #mackweblife – a tiny sneak-peek into the life of we Mack Web employees and all of the HipChatting of adorable kitten pictures (okay, maybe that’s just Nat & me) company things we do together.

These glimpses into the world of Mack Web are our little gifts to you (and it just so happens that buying little gifts for our team and friends is my favorite part of this job, so I’m stoked to present you with these gems from our office). Sometimes, on very special occasions, you’ll get a more-than-140-character look into our lives. Like this blog post. Because we’re really nice like that.

So, here’s what we’ve got going on this week:

Courtness is here

Our dearest Courtney is here!!! No really, three exclamations are totally necessary for this one. (The fact that Courtney hates them just makes it better. Trust me.) While we all love how Mack lets us take on big adventures and pursue all of our hopes and dreams with our careers, we also really enjoy being together in the same city. It makes sharing a bag of gummy bears a heck of a lot easier. And for that reason alone it’s totally worth flying someone across the country a few times a year.

courtney here

Strat-Ops

The plane fare is also worth it for Strat-Ops (Strategical Operations). Once-a-year, we hold a two-day shindig (and then once-a-quarter we spend just one, full day) where we hit the pause button on everything going on and focus solely on the growth of our company. During this precious time we get all employees in one room and turn all the technology off. We use lots of giant sticky notes and smelly markers to map out where we are and where we want to go.

stratops poster

Something to do with a video camera, a script, and a llama

(You know we couldn’t go an entire blog post without mentioning a llama. Let’s be real.)

And, speaking of where we want to go, this week we did a little work on an upcoming project.

There’s not too much we can tell you about this one quite yet. But because we can barely contain our excitement, we’ll tell you it involves these three things: a llama, a lot of paper, and a snow globe.

video shooting

We’ve got good things going on, people.

Stay tuned. Because no matter how crazy or nuts it gets around here, we’re gonna keep doing this thing. We love it too much to quit.

How to Dominate Google+ Hangouts on Air

By | Miscellany, Social Media, Web Marketing | 11 Comments

Mack Web is  now Genuinely. Learn more.

– –

You’ve decided to do a Hangout on Air for yourself or your brand. Great idea! They’re a lot of fun and can help you provide value to your fans and solidify relationships within the industry. They also can make you want to pull your hair out.

oh no i've gone cross-eyed

That’s why I created this checklist with all the things that you want to do when you’re planning your Hangout on Air. This’ll take you from A to Z in chronological order, with a few side trips in between.

To get you pumped and ready to go, here’s an overview of the steps:

  1. Install G+ Hangouts plugin and make sure Hangouts are enabled
  2. Schedule the Hangouts on Air page as your brand page
  3. Connect the correct YouTube and Google+ accounts
  4. Think through the roles of your team
  5. Do a test run before the event
  6. Send panelists and participants an email about hangout structure and additional preparation
  7. Embed the Hangout on your event page or website
  8. Set up the apps in the Hangout
  9. Broadcast your Hangout on Air and have some fun!

**Everything has been updated in December 2015 to give you the most accurate, up-to-date information**

One note before we dive into the deep abyss of Hangouts on Air. Google+ has two products that are very similar: Hangouts and Hangouts on Air. Hangouts on Air is different because:

  1. You can embed the live video stream of the Hangout on Air to your YouTube channel, a G+ Event page, and even your site.
  2. You can have millions of viewers watch the Hangout on Air, but not actually participate in the Hangout.
  3. The Hangout on Air is recorded and published onto YouTube so anyone can watch later.

For the purpose of this post, assume that when I say “Hangout”, I mean “Hangout on Air.”

Let’s get started.

Way before the Hangout

If you or your Hangout participants don’t use Google+ much, you’ll need to install the G+ Hangouts plugin and test it. Also, if your account is controlled by a domain administrator, they’ll need to make sure that Hangouts is enabled for your account.

enabling Hangouts as domain administrator

Here’s where you need to enable the Hangout settings as an administrator

 

There are two ways you can create a page on G+ for the Hangout on Air to live. You could create an Event page or schedule a Hangouts on Air page. The only differences between the two options is that with the Hangouts on Air page, you can use the Q&A app (more on this later) and you don’t need to embed the video on to the Hangouts on Air page. For those reasons, scheduling a Hangout on Air page for the date of the Hangout can be an easier option for people. You can create this page ahead of time to use for promotion of your Hangout.

Whichever way you create your Hangouts page, you need to create it as your brand page, not with your personal G+ account. The Hangout will not be associated with your brand if you create it from your personal account (unless you’re hosting it as yourself in which case disregard the above advice).

Another item you want to do before you go playing around with Hangouts on Air is to connect the correct YouTube and Google+ accounts (mainly your brand accounts) if they are not already connected. You will get a notification on this if you have not done it by the time you schedule your Hangout on Air.

Here’s another warning for you: only 10 people are allowed on a G+ Hangout on Air at a time (meaning you can only have 10 individuals or screens total inside the Hangout although you can have an unlimited number of people watching it). Plan accordingly. Before you get too far into your planning, also think about the roles your team will play during the Hangout on Air:

  • Who’s moderating?
  • Who else will have control of the Hangout? More on this later.
  • Who will be your tech person (meaning someone who is knowledgeable about G+ who can work out technical difficulties you may/will have with the Hangout)? They must be on hand for the Hangout if they take on this role.
  • Who’ll be live tweeting and monitoring activity on social media?

Along with this, you may want to set a hashtag for your Hangout so that your followers can follow along on other social media outlets like Twitter. I’d recommend making your hashtag short, unique, and descriptive of the event.

During your test run of the Hangout

Yes, you must do a test run, especially if you’ve never ever done anything with Google+ or Hangouts on Air before. Hangouts is a great tool, but you will run into technical difficulties. Do not compromise on a test run to save time or effort. Google+ Hangouts on Air is not the most intuitive platform so familiarize yourself!

It’s best to do a test run about a week before your event. You should run through all the steps in this post as well as test the location, sound, and lighting of the person who is moderating the event. You can decide whether to invite your panelists to join in that particular test run or do another one just for them (depending on how comfortable with G+ Hangouts they are).

In the days leading up to your Hangout

About 3-4 days before the event, I will send participants info in an email about the structure of the Hangout, questions they can expect, and other logistics or prep they need to know about.

A few things that I make sure to cover are:

  • Tell them you will be inviting them to the Hangout 30 minutes before it starts (or goes on Air) to take care of a few last-minute logistics and make sure all is well before go-time.
  • Make sure they know they need a Google account and have the plugin installed on their computer before they can log into the Hangout.
  • Remind panelists that internet bandwidth is important so they should ask their team not to upload/download big files, back up their computers, or all watch the Hangout during the Hangout itself.
  • Ask for their cell phone numbers in case of internet issues. That way you can communicate with them easily if something goes wrong.
  • Have a logo file ready to upload for their footer during the Hangout (more on this below).
  • Let panelists know that you will be muting them during the Hangout when they are not speaking so that there are no audio issues. They can unmute themselves when they want to chime in and then mute themselves again when they’re done talking.

30 minutes before the Hangout

You made it this far and you only have a little more to go before you’re ready to rock your Hangouts on Air. To start the Hangout, you either go to your Hangouts on Air scheduled page and get started there, or you can start a Hangout on Air from scratch.

To start or schedule a Hangout on Air

  • Go to the Hangouts on Air page (it’s also in your left-hand nav under Hangouts). The new Google+ layout has Hangouts on Air in slightly different place when you go to the Hangouts page so I took a screenshot for you:where to find Hangouts on Air on new Google+ layout
  • Select “Create a Hangout on Air” on that page – don’t worry, it won’t start broadcasting until you tell it to.

Google+ hangouts on air page

  • You’ll be asked to put in the event name and details. Select ‘starts now’ (or later if you’re scheduling it).
  • You can invite your audience by typing in their emails or their names to find them on Google+.
  • Then, select Share.

how to schedule a Hangout on Air

 

  • You may get a screen that asks you to connect your YouTube and Google+ accounts. This is something to take care of when you test out the Hangout on Air.
invite guests to hangout, connect youtube

Here’s how to invite guests and connect your YouTube account to your G+ account if you haven’t already done so.

You’ll now see this:

hangouts on air screen

What you’ll see when you’ve done everything right

Now you still need to do a few things before you click that tempting Start Broadcast button at the bottom.

1. Embed the video stream on your Events page (skip this step if you scheduled a Hangout on Air instead – it will do that automatically)
2. Embed the video on your site (if you plan to do so)
3. Set up your apps
4. Do a final check with your panelists

Embed the video stream on your Event page

If you’re using an Event page to stream your Hangout on Air, you’ll need to embed the YouTube embed link there.

  • Grab the YouTube URL from the lower right corner of your Hangout screen.

how to find youtube embed and video embed links for hangout on air

  • Plug that into your Events page if you created one. Go to your Event page, then Edit Description,  Event Options,  Advanced, and then Show More Options. If you did a Hangouts on Air page, just ignore this step.

hangout on air events page edit event

You’ll see the YouTube URL on the second from the last line. Paste the URL in there. Save.events page editing

The video on the page will show a coming soon type message until you start broadcasting so you can get this going ahead of the hangout.

Embed the video on your site

To embed the video on to your site, grab the video embed link just below where you grabbed the YouTube embed link. Paste that into your page where you want your video stream to be. Update your page and save. Just like the Event page, the video will show a coming soon type message until the Hangout starts broadcasting.

Set up apps

All of these apps can be found on the left-hand navigation panel or can be added as an app from the Add an App feature.

Control Room app

If you want to give control to co-moderators or managers to mute/unmute or take someone off screen, this is the app to do that.

  • Hover over that participants name and click the dropdown button to the right of their name.
  • Choose Give Controls and they’ll now be able to do the same things that you can do in the Hangouts on Air.
  • If someone comes on to your Hangout uninvited, this is the app you’ll use to shut them down (don’t laugh – it’s happened to me before).
Cameraman app

This app controls the broadcast and how panelists come on. I follow Google+ Hangouts mastermind Max Minzer’s advice and select yes, no, yes on the three options. Like so:

google+ hangouts on air cameraman app

Hangouts Toolbox app

This app will take your Hangout on Air from amateur to pro in 1 minute flat. What it’ll do is create a footer below each panelist with their name, company, and company logo.

  • Click the add app extension in the left-hand nav. Find and add the Hangout Toolbox app.
  • It’ll ask for your permission.
  • The app will then show up on the right side.
  • On the tab that has the person in the circle to the left, enter your name and company name; upload your logo; and change the color scheme of the line in the first box to the right.
  • Where it says “Lower Third” – click to change it to “On.”
Here's what the Toolbox app looks like

Here’s what the Toolbox app looks like

  • If you want to make changes to your name or logo, make sure you turn the lower third off, make the changes, then turn it back on.
  • Your panelists will need to do this themselves, but that’s why they should come on early to the event so you can walk them through this.

If your footer shows up in reverse, all you need to do to change it is to click the rotate or mirror icon and rotate until the footer looks right.

Google+ hangouts on air toolbox app - rotate or mirror logo footer

  • Here’s an example of a footer before I rotated it: wrong layout for toolbox app footer G+ Hangouts on Air
  • This is what the footer will look like when done right:G+ Hangouts on Air Toolbox App correct footer layout
Q&A app 

This app lets your audience ask you questions before or during the Hangout. You’ll need to set this up before you start broadcasting and you’ll have to use a Hangouts on Air page rather than a simple Events page. In order to enable the Q&A app, you need to click on the Q&A icon on the Events page preview video.

How to turn on the Q and A app on G+ Hangouts on Air

It will go from greyed out to a color icon when the app is enabled. You will do the same for the Showcase and Applause apps from this page if you want to use them.

Showcase app 

With this app, you can share links to resources, content, products, and sites without disrupting your broadcast. This is helpful if your participants mention articles when they’re talking and you want to send listeners to those pieces, or if you have a call to action you want to send viewers to.

You enable the app for use the same way you enabled the Q&A app above by clicking on the icon on the preview image on your Events page before the broadcast begins. In the screenshot below, it’s the yellow icon in the middle.

How to enable the Showcase app on Google+ Hangouts on Air

To use the Showcase app:

  • Once the app is enabled, you can use the app in the Hangouts on Air window.
  • Click the yellow Showcase app icon on the left-hand navigation in the Hangouts on Air.
  • You’ll see the text field where you can add a URL. Once you add the URL, you will see the item you can show when the time is right.

How to add an item to be shared on the Showcase App

  • When you’re ready to show an item, just click the checkbox next to it and it’ll be visible to your audience. Unclick the checkbox on that item when you’re done with it.

How to show an item in Showcase app on Google+ Hangouts on Air

To learn more about the ins and outs of the Showcase app, Mark Crosling has additional tips and tricks for you.

Applause App

You can use this app to allow your viewers to express their thoughts about the Hangout via thumbs up or down icons. If you’re looking for specific feedback or questions from the audience, the Q&A app would be a better option. However, if you want to get votes or do a simple poll during your broadcast, the Applause app would work well.

Final Checks Before Going Live

There are a few final things to check before your broadcast goes on air:

  • Is everyone there? If not, copy the link to the Hangout on Air and send it in an email to them. Some people don’t get the notification from Google.
  • Does everyone’s sound and video look ok?
  • Does everyone know where the mute button is?
  • The camera should automatically go to the person who’s speaking. To override this, the moderator can select the video image at the bottom of their screen to select the person he wants to be show.

Once you’re all ready to go, click Start Broadcast and you’re on air as well as streaming the video to YouTube and your site (if you chose to). Live tweeting the Hangout can enhance the experience for all and provides easy retweets to those who are listening and following along. You’re all set to start hosting your own Hangouts on Air now!

Do you have any questions I didn’t answer? Run into an issue? Want to commiserate about the difficulty of using G+ Hangouts? Share in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter.

Whiteboards & X-Men: A Story & Tip on Organizing & Integrating A Team

By | Business Stuff, Miscellany | 4 Comments

Nuthin’. Whatsa motto wit’ you?

Here at Mack Web, we have a motto and it is this:

Everyone loves a bit with a llama.

Actually, upon consideration, we have quite a few mottos, including but not limited to: Gummy bears make everything better, Trust no one, Never say never ever, Knowing is half the battle, and Always carry a towel.

never say

But none of those mottoes are at issue here. The motto relevant to today’s discussion is this:

Test. Everything.

We apply this particular piece of wisdom all over the place. Anytime an expert (or “expert”) suggests something, lays down the law, offers advice? Test it. Theories are great, but you don’t really know how true they are until you’ve had a chance to try them out.

Sometimes they don’t work for you or they don’t work the way you expected. Because, cliches aside, you are a special, special snowflake and what is ideal for someone else, in someone else’s circumstances may not be so ideal for you.

So, when someone recommends social media tactics, like the best time to tweet or the headlines that convert, test ‘em out.

If you read an article with recommendations on how best to accommodate an update in Google’s algorithms, test it out.

Should you come across suggestions for productivity hacks or operational efficiency, test them before you throw in your whole-hearted support.

And above all else, if someone asks you to contribute for office birthday cupcakes, test those suckers out. Be the brave soul who makes sure those cupcakes aren’t poisoned.

That’s the bonus tip, here’s the real story

Cupcakes aside and going back a step, let me tell you a little story of an operational efficiency idea that we have tested, do test, and will continue to test the heck out of.

(We’re starting to really get into the groove with it, to the point that – though it’s not perfect yet – we feel comfortable recommending it to you to test out for yourselves).

The year is 2011 and the Mack Web business is beginning to change, the team is starting to grow and to specialize. Instead of working on different aspects of the same project, we’re starting to work on different projects altogether.

Which means, inevitably, that we’re beginning to have occurrences of ‘the right hand knows not what the left is doing.’

Which is bad news for those times when collaboration is necessary to complete something. No catastrophes yet, but the danger looms.

Mack, fearless leader Mack, wise and farseeing Mack, canny and clever behind her bright, beaming smile, saw the problem that it could soon become. (Or maybe she was feeling a little left out, a little lonely. Maybe all of the above). And so she sought a solution.

In the course of her research (these were the days we were first learning about being agile), she read about programming teams who hold a brief meeting everyday to communicate what each member is working on.

Called standups – because making everyone stand up for the meeting keeps it brief (in theory anyway) – these meetings were intended to break down departmental silos and keep projects moving.

So we decided to test it.

Inception of a Standup

It quickly became clear that our first attempt was…not a success. The daily meetings pulled a chunk out of every morning, not only the actual standing up part, but the scramble for each person to assemble a list of their tasks for that day.

And then those meetings became exactly that: each member of the team reeling off a list of tasks, half of which had neither relevance nor, really, interest for the rest of the team. Glazed eyes, clutched coffee cups, 15 minutes gone from the crucial start of the day.

boring meeting

As the team continued to grow, that 15 minutes became 20, 25. And as the only time guaranteed to gather the whole group, they inevitably got hijacked for announcements, for chitchat, for ‘oh, real quick, while I’ve got you all…’. 30 minutes, 35.

There were other weaknesses as well: we only talked about tasks day by day, which didn’t give us any scope on the whole week or the weeks to come. We weren’t looking at the whole breadth and scale of the projects and we lost sight of the intent behind each individual task: to help our clients build their brand, build their community, build their dreams. (Dramatic, us? No, of course not. Silly rabbit).

We know that the daily standup has proven crazy valuable to all kinds of programming teams and we don’t knock them for the technique. But it clearly wasn’t working for us.

Evolution of a Standup

The first step was putting the kibosh on the daily madness. Weekly, we decided, was better. It meant that, when pulling together their lists, people were looking at the (slightly) bigger picture and the team got an idea of what was on everyone’s plates, in case someone needed to tag someone else for help or input on a project.

This broadened our perspective a little, but still we were missing out. It became clear that weekly was good, but task-oriented was bad. So instead of talking about what everyone was working on, we started to look at what we were trying to get done: client deliverables and the channels through which we wanted to promote them.

That shift in focus was a big step in the right direction, but it meant, of course, that we couldn’t just come to the meeting with a post-it-note we scrabbled together from a review of our individual emails: we needed a visual record of all ongoing projects so nothing got overlooked or forgotten.

Thank goodness Jon – Mack’s handy, helpful, forbearing husband – had built us this pretty cool whiteboard that everyone wanted and no one really knew what to do with, huh?

the whiteboard

Suddenly we had a place to record not only project due dates and interim tasks, we had a big central location for recording things like when people were out of the office.

We also had a very large, very colorful, very concrete (or…plastic? what are whiteboards made out of anyway?) reminder that no, it was not okay for this meeting to devolve into idle chatter about kitties (no matter how adorable), weekend plans (no matter how awesome), or even llamas (no matter how transcendently spectacular).

But even then, there were things that weren’t quite right. One week didn’t give us enough scope, so we started looking at two weeks. That helped us prioritize and prepare not just for the significant needs of today but the projected needs of tomorrow.

We even added a small section for Week 3, where any major deliverables lurk, reminding us of their impending doomishness.

Since we have remote team members, we take a picture of the board and send it off to them via HipChat. (We love Hipchat). When Standup time comes, we dial them in on Google+. (We love Google+, too). And off we go.

Somewhere in this process of evolution, we picked up Rebecca, our fearless Account Coordinator, she who knows the mysteries of the Master Calendar and does not fear.

Adding Team Support Ann, who has eminently readable handwriting and a knack with erasable markers was another boon.

Standup - Evolved

Things became much easier after that.

Benefits of an Evolved Standup

And that’s where we stand (ha!) now. Once a week, we gather at the whiteboard and review the burdens of the day, week, and beyond. We align the team and keep everyone accountable.

By focusing on the clients, rather than the members of the team, we’re emphasizing the integrated nature of everything we do: each deliverable carries the initials of the team members working on it. Not only does this make sure that all necessary departments are looped in, it serves as a subtle reminder to each of us that we are a team.

No man is an island.

With the Whiteboard of All Knowledge drawing from the Previously-Fearsome-And-Yet-Now-Docile-In-The-Hands-Of-Its-Master Master Calendar, we know that no balls are being dropped or forgotten.

Looking ahead alleviates the stress and fear of the unknown. Mondays, though they will never ever be anyone’s favorite day, are no longer quite so dreadful as we know there will be no uncomfortable surprises of last minute deadlines overlooked in the Friday rush out the door.

(Happy surprises like, say, cupcakes, are always welcome. Even on Mondays).

Time management is easier when we know what’s ahead and, furthermore, when we know we know what’s ahead.

Plus…we get to cross stuff off a big, ol’ list on a wall-sized whiteboard. What’s not to love about that, amiright?

So, we’re pleased with our Standup, however different it may be from its original shape.  And yes, we like to think of it as evolved rather than mutated.

Like the X-Men.

X-Men

Some pro-tips on dealing with the X-Men. Er, with Standup. That’s what we meant

Really, we highly recommend the method we’ve got. We urge you to test it out for yourself.

Should you find that something similar works for you, here’s a few minutiae we’ve stumbled across that have made the whole thing even better:

  • We hold our Standup on Tuesday. Monday mornings are inevitably a catch-up-check-your-email-chat-about-your-weekend time. Having it on Tuesday helps the meeting stay focused. Plus, we have a No Monday Meetings policy in our office. So that works out.
  • We also don’t hold it too early. Grumpy meetings are not good meetings.
  • We sorta, accidentally ended up with a mandatory, weekly client check-in right after our scheduled Standup time. That means that we have no choice but to keep the meeting efficient and brief. It was actually a perfect storm of productivity.
  • We include both internal and external dates for everything. We are accountable to each other as well as the clients. This also leaves us plenty of time for reviewing and conferring and editing.
  • We mark external dates with a big arrow so everyone knows that’s the day it goes to the client. No fudging.
  • We color code each client on the board.
  • We try to align tasks (the pieces and the internal and external dates) along the same visual line on the board, so all you have to do is skim across to track the timeline for progress.
  • In the actual Standup, we discuss the weeks by client, rather than day. It keeps the conversation focused and streamlined.
  • Uh, we don’t, really, uh, stand anymore. Dunno why.

And that’s us: wise and evolved, but with better hair than Professor X

We’re not ones to rest on our laurels. No doubt our Standup will continue to change as we mold it to fit our needs.

We’re curious about you. How do you keep your team on track and integrated? What tools do you use? What techniques? Any suggestions?

Come on, be an X-Man. I think we’re still looking for a Nightcrawler.

 

Sometimes Small Changes are Simply Small Changes

By | Miscellany | 2 Comments

You may have noticed something different …

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed a small change in our company branding recently.

Old Logo

(If you haven’t been paying attention, you probably won’t have noticed. It’s that small. We don’t blame you.)

If you weren’t paying attention or you had that niggling feeling that something was different but you couldn’t put your finger on it, we’ll be kind and fill you in. (That was the team consensus, anyway. Some people wanted to create a “Spot the Difference” puzzle and make you all guess. But we overruled that jerkface.)

We dropped the “Solutions” from our name.

 New Logo

Mack Web Solutions is now, simply, Mack Web.

Purely cosmetic, but less traumatic than a nose job

Now, sometimes a name change can be an indication of a significant shift in the company: personnel rearrangement, policy adjustments, hostile takeovers.

The reason behind this one?

Well, the long answer is that back in the day (like 10 years ago; seriously, we’ve been around that long), we used to be a web design and development company. And in those days, “Solutions” matched what we did. We solved web things, provided solutions for the web. Which is not so much our thing any more.  So we wanted to drop that from our name.

Also, we got tired of typing “Solutions” all the time.

That’s our deep, dark secret. We’re lazy typists.

And everybody calls us “Mack Web” anyway. Heck, we call us that.

So, we just, kinda … made it official.

We’ve made the change on our stationery and our letterhead. Our URL will shortly follow (never fear, we will be redirecting the heck out of everything). We’re changing it to mackwebteam. ‘Cuz, y’know, truth in advertising. Mack Web, though named for our eponymous leader, is the team.

A happy little pod of specialized experts, here to build your brand and your community.

That’s us.

Don’t freak out

Anyway, none of this is a big thing. We just didn’t want anyone to suddenly be unsure of who we are.

And just to verify that we’re still us, like a CAPTCHA in reverse, we present you with this:

Llama logo

Mack Web … with llamas.

All is right with the world.

Social Meta Tags on WordPress for Regular People

By | Miscellany, Social Media, Web Marketing | 3 Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

– –

I’m no expert at SEO, but I do know enough about the subject to not make a fool of myself. So when I read Cyrus Shepard’s recent post about incorporating meta tags to optimize content for social media, I had conflicting reactions. On one hand, I knew we had to put that into practice for ourselves and all of our clients. On the other, I felt anxious because it looked like alien speak to me. I didn’t even know where to start with putting the code templates into place on our own site using WordPress.

The first thing I did was seek the advice and help of someone who was much more knowledgeable about SEO: Mack Web’s own Tyler Brooks. If he hadn’t helped, I probably would have been stuck in the “crying and pulling out my hair” phase.

If you’re anything like me, keep reading – this post will help you immensely by giving you a step-by-step guide to implementing social media meta tags into your WordPress site. If you’re a full-fledged SEO, go and read Cyrus’s post instead. 


Why are social media meta tags so important?

Social media meta tags make your content look better on social media. You can control how your post or update shows up in news feeds. And handsome social media updates make your content more appealing.

[box]

Before:

Mack Web Tweet - Before

After:

Mack Web Tweet - After[/box]

Meta data allows you to tell social media platforms how titles, images, and more should show up in the newsfeeds on those sites. Rel=publisher and rel=author also are on this list because those two tell Google+ to link your site to your company page and your posts to your profile, respectively. Using meta data on social media (which also shows up in searches) shows potential readers more information such as author byline, description, and images so they are more apt to click on your content.

Another example of social media tags in the wild.

Another example of social media tags in the wild.


What you need

The first thing is to download the Yoast plugin – this plugin made everything easier. Also, I’m talking here about doing this with a WordPress backend (so you’ll need admin access). Without this plugin or WordPress, you’ll need to go to Cyrus’s post, with its assumed coding knowledge, to do any of this.


How-to: rel=publisher

First a word on why having Google+ links to your site are important. These links will help you get indexed more quickly and establish your company’s online authority. This can only help boost reach and search rankings for your company.

Now on to the actual tutorial:

  1. Go to SEO in the left-hand navigation on your WordPress site’s backend.
  2. Click Social under SEO.
  3. Go to the Google+ tab and you’ll see where you can put in the right information.

There is another way to add the rel=publisher code by adding it directly into the site theme. Yoast should work fine, but in our case, the plugin didn’t work. If Yoast works for you, do it that way because it will be loads easier.

This is the rel=publisher code you need to put in in your site’s header if you’re doing it manually:

[box]<a href=”https://plus.google.com/yourpageID” rel=”publisher”></a>[/box]

Now you need to point your Google+ company page to your site as well. This one is decidedly easier than adding code:

  1. Go to your G+ page. Click the Manage Page button if you’re logged in on your personal account.
  2. Go to Edit Page, then About.
  3. Go down to Add Your Website and put in your website URL there.

Once you’ve added the code in and updated your G+ page, test it with Google’s structured data testing tool. You should see the magic words, “Publisher markup is verified for this page” if it worked. If it didn’t work, the best advice I can give you is to remove all the code and start again.

[box][/box]

How-to: rel=author

Before I get too far into rel=author, I must mention there’s been threat of an authorshipocalypse recently. More data needs to be reviewed before anything conclusive can be said about whether it’s related to authors themselves or is site-specific. For now, I’d recommend adding authorship to your content, as like rel=publisher, it also adds to your social authority and reach.

[box][/box]

To connect the individual G+ pages of your contributors (e.g. your employees) to their content on your site, here’s what you do:

    1. Go to the backend of WordPress.
    2. Find Users in the left-hand navigation and select that.[box]wordpress-users tab[/box]
    3. Click on each individual user and scroll down to the Contact Info section.
[box][/box] 4. Copy the person’s G+ profile page link – it’ll look like this example link: http://plus.google.com/+AyeletGolz.
5. Paste the link into the Contact Info’s Google+ line on WordPress. [box]

[/box] 6. Save and you’re done with that part.
[box]

[/box]7. Make sure to test it with Google’s testing tool again, but this time plug in the link to one of your blog posts and then your Google+ page link in the author verification box. This is what success looks like:


How-to: social media meta tags

Yoast will be your best friend for this next part. To add the rest of the social media meta tags, you can either watch this handy video or follow the written instructions below the video:

1. Go to the left navigation and click on SEO and then Social under that.

[box] [/box]2. In the Facebook tab, check the checkbox “Add Open Graph meta data.”

[box][/box]

3. Select Save Changes.
4. Now move on to the Twitter tab and check the checkbox “Add Twitter card meta data” and save changes.
5. You will already have updated the Google+ tab with the rel=publisher information.


How-to: Twitter Cards

Twitter cards allow you to add media (such as images or video) to your content links and those bits of media show up then on Twitter.

[box][/box]

Now that you’ve got the social meta tags up on your site, you have a few final steps to do:

1. Go to the Twitter validator site and validate the meta tags you placed on your site.
2. First log in with the Twitter profile connected to your site.

[box][/box]

3. Decide on which Twitter card you’d like to validate. You can pick more than one, but you’ll have to go through this process each time to validate the different type of cards. Here are the cards you can validate:

  • Summary: This is what you’ll want to validate first, especially if you have a blog or lots of written content on your site that you plan to share. This card offers readers a preview of your content before they click on the link.
  • Product: This card is specifically for highlighting products and providing details about those products.
  • Photo: This gives a preview of an image.
  • Summary Large Image: This is a mix of the Summary and Photo card – it shows a summary and a large image (see screenshot to get an idea of what this will look like).
  • Player: This is for video and audio playback within the tweet.
  • App: This card is relevant for mobile apps.

In this example, I’ll show you how to validate a Summary Twitter card. Once you’ve selected the Twitter card you want to validate, click on the Validate & Apply tab.

[box][/box]

1. You’ll be asked to enter your URL – pick any random post from your blog and enter that URL into the field.

[box][/box]

2. On the next screen, select the Request Approval button.
3. All done!

Your approval should be done quickly and an approval confirmation will be sent to the email associated with that Twitter account. If you get a screen that says you’ve timed out, go back to the Validate & Apply screen and apply again. Sometimes it’s just finicky.


How-to: Pinterest Rich Pins

If you use Pinterest a lot, you need to validate your rich pins. Here’s how you do it:

1. Go to the rich pin validator page.
2. Grab a link to a random blog post on your site and plug that in the field on the validator screen.

[box][/box]

Validate your rich pins on Pinterest.

3.Click the Validate button.
4. On the next screen, click Apply Now.
5. You’ll get a screen that shows you your URL – you’ll want to make sure you select HTML tags here.
6. Click Apply again.
7. Pinterest also will send you an email to the Pinterest account holder’s email when your application has been approved, which should be in a few days.


Test, Test, Test

The last thing you’ll want to do once you have all of your applications approved is test. The different platforms have different testing sites.

For Facebook, test using the Facebook debugger. It’ll look like this when it’s integrated successfully:

[box][/box]

On Twitter, you’ll want to go to the validator site and use the Try Cards tab. It’ll look like this when you’ve done everything right:

[box][/box]

And lastly, you can test Google+ with the rich snippets tester. Plug in a link from a random blog post on your blog and see what happens. At the very least, it’ll show you if authorship and publisher status are working for the blog. Plus, it’s preview feature is nice to see how your post will look like on Google search results. Tweak as needed.

[box][/box]

You now have all the tools to rock social media meta tags (without touching coding at all) and make sure your content looks amazing on social media.

Are you ready to put social media meta tags into play on your site? Let us know your thoughts on social media meta tags in the comments below.

Onwards and Upwards – 2013 in Review

By | Building Community, Data and Analytics, Miscellany, SEO, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

onlywayoutisthrough

One of the best things about having a blog is that it becomes a natural archive of everything you’ve ever written. Better yet, it holds the story of the transformation and evolution of your company.

I am tremendously grateful for the prosperity and lessons that 2013 brought. We saw tremendous growth not just in our team, but in our reach. We continued to hone our focus, seek our passion, and experience first hand the rewards that come when you invest in your own brand and community.

What follows are some of our most visited posts of 2013 and the story that they tell of our growth over the past 12 months.

Measuring Community: KPIs and Social Media Metrics for Community Building

We’ve had many pivotal moments in this company over the last couple of years and this post was one of them. Tyler wrote  Measuring Community: KPIs and Social Media Metrics for Community Building as a start on our quest to answer the recurring question of return on investment (ROI) earned from social media. Tyler continued this conversation with Our Experience With See, Think, Do – A Reporting Framework and you can look forward to more in the days to come. This topic will be a priority on our blog as we continue to add value to the discussion throughout 2014.


This Job (as an Entrepreneur)

I am inherently an extremely positive person. I constantly exude energy and passion. I dwell in possibility. And normally that’s what I write about when I share my experiences of growing this company.

2013 was a test of my optimism. It challenged my endurance, my commitment, and my spirit. This Job (as an Entrepreneur) divulges the personal and mental struggle I sometimes face as a mom and CEO of a growing company. This was a risky one for me to write, and I’m glad I did.


More than you Ever Wanted to Know About Building Online Communities

2013 began with my very first post on building community. Over the course of the year I continued with 5 more posts that provided all kinds of details and goodness to help businesses understand the benefits of and grow their very own online communities. In order to make those posts easily accessible, I put together More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Building Online Communities, a curated post of every community building resource I’ve written on the Moz blog.


Our Guide to Building Online Communities is Finally Here

The biggest milestone we’ve ever had in the history of our company’s existence was when we launched our community building guide. I’m really proud that we were able to mark our 10th year with this achievement. We knew people needed it and we knew it would be awesome but we had no idea how well received it would be (more than 3,100 downloads to date).

Our Guide to Building Online Communities was the final post in a video promotion series we had put together to promote the guide (or ‘Arthur’ as we so fondly refer to it). Certainly the guide was a huge accomplishment and so was the fact that we were finally experimenting with video. Sort of a buy one, get one free of achievement.


4 Flat Design Takeaways and How You Should Use Them

What I love most about the fact that 4 Flat Design Takeaways and How You Should Use Them made the list of our most visited posts from 2013 is that it was written by Nat. By the middle of the year we had all agreed to contribute to the blog, but of all of us, Nat was the most reluctant. As a designer, she didn’t recognize the strength she had in writing.

It has been incredibly refreshing to have Nat’s design knowledge on our blog. She too has had a remarkable journey this past year with starting grad school, embracing flexible work hours, and stepping up her illustrating skills. Everything that Nat writes is definitely worth a read.


Our Experience with See, Think, Do – A Reporting Framework

In 2013 we did a whole lot of testing. Throughout the year we had iterated many different versions of reporting with our clients in an attempt to effectively communicate the value of what we do. Our Experience With See, Think, Do – A Reporting Framework was a big victory for us. Adapting Avinash’s framework for use at Mack Web was a breakthrough in our approach and certainly in effectively presenting how our efforts (heavily weighted in content and social media) affect the entire brand, revenue and all.


How We Accomplished (big) Goals with Content & Social Media Marketing (in just 10 months)

I wrote How We Accomplished (big) Goals with Content & Social Media Marketing (in just 10 months) in 2012 when we first began seeing the positive results of making ourselves a client. With the use of content, social, and email marketing along with SEO and concerted offline efforts, Mack Web was quickly gaining traction and momentum in the industry. It’s neat to see that this post was one of our most visited in 2013 as we are still making Mack Web a priority and it continues to pay off.


Make Friends not Followers: Targeting the Right People on Social Media

One of the biggest contributors to our growth in the latter part of 2013 was when we pushed toward that T-shaped specialization and invited an experienced Social & Community Strategist to join our team. Ayelet spearheaded a bunch of valuable efforts for our community and industry last year.  Make Friends not Followers: Targeting the Right People on Social Media was a delightful collaboration of interviews with several community managers from some of the best companies in the industry to determine their best approach for making proactive  friends instead of just passive followers.


On Processes and Predictability

I’ve always had a strength in systems and process development. I think it comes from the many years of teaching I endured. Because of this, I continually work with the team to develop systems and processes that will make our work more enjoyable, efficient, and certainly pave the way for the team to come.

In 2012, we threw out a whole lot of systems and processes. By the end of the year, I felt like giving up as nothing seemed to stick. Then finally, toward the end of  2013, something changed and our systems and processes started working.

Tyler is our minimalist. He’s always asking why and looking for ways to reduce effort and maximize efficiency. When he  wrote On Processes and Predictability to provide his take on the need and importance of process, I knew we were making progress.


Not Remotely as Expected

It’s quite fitting that we end our year in review with Not Remotely as Expected.  In 2013, Courtney, our beloved Content Strategist and voice of the Mack Web brand, decided to move to Chicago. At first we discussed keeping her on as a contractor, thinking that her relocation meant she couldn’t contribute as a full-time member of our team. As her move got closer, I realized I had overlooked the possibility of her remaining on our team, fully in-tact, remotely.

The way we work is changing. Everything from productivity to balance and how work is ingrained in our lives. We’ve been learning to adapt and evolve in a lot of ways here at Mack Web, and allowing for a flexible work environment this year has been such a benefit. We are passionate about the work we do and diligent about the people we work with. There’s no denying that our work lives are part of our lives as a whole and so learning to blend and balance the different parts is a natural part of caring for our incredible team as we grow.


What a journey running this company continues to be. Always so much to do and even more to learn. Maybe it’s the fresh taste of the New Year, but I’ve got a feeling that 2014 is going to be a great one. We wish you all of the abundance, joy, and satisfaction you can possibly handle.