Decorative Flower
Her Realm, Personal website and blog of Cole
Jul 30

Avoid Making Enemies with Email Etiquette

I’ve had a particularly trying day when it comes to email exchanges. People have sent too many emails and too few emails, and it’s taken over a week for something that could be done with a few clicks of the mouse to even get started. There’s no reason for this. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that someone who is doing these things is unprofessional, and this hurts your brand.

Email is just another form of customer service in 2014, and if you don’t treat it right, consumers will pay attention. When those consumers are also a blogger like me, we write posts like this telling you how to write emails without coming off as a douche or a moron.

NEVER ADD PEOPLE TO YOUR LIST WITHOUT THEIR EXPRESS PERMISSION.

You do not have the right to add me to any newsletter list just because I fill out a contact for or enter a giveaway. No fine print makes this even legal. It’s annoying when companies do it and even worse when it comes from other bloggers who should know better because they’ve been on a the receiving end. Just no no no.

Use BCC.

BCC, or blind carbon copy, sends emails to multiple recipients without showing their email addresses to everyone else on the list. It’s rude and unsafe to release another person’s email address.  Even if you trust everyone on your list, anyone whose email address you have trusts you to keep that contact information safe. Fortunately, using BCC enables you to do this without having to individually email every person.

Check your email before you send it.

Make sure you have added all attachments (Thunderbird will ask you if you meant to add attachments. Fix typos. If you intended to copy and paste content, add a link or  format the text in a specific way, do it. This helps you avoid the next.

Email Etiquette

Email Etiquette

Don’t send two emails in a row.

If you don’t take the time to proofread/give your email the once over, you’re going to have to send a correction. This gets confusing and causes clutter. However, it’s not the only reason someone might use to send an email twice.

  • If I haven’t replied to your email in a few hours and it’s not an emergency.
  • If you sent me some sort of press release or invitation to a program and you received no reply.
  • If I’ve told you I have to do X and will get back to you.

The one thing these events all have in common? It’s not okay to send another email just because I didn’t reply unless your previous email specifically stated you required a reply within a certain period. I am either working on what I need to reply or have deleted your email because it’s spammy. In many cases, I reply at night because I am usually awake during third shift hours. Sending a second email will not make this happen any faster and may land you on a reported spam list.

Send as few emails as possible.

Few things are as obnoxious as an email exchange that takes hours, days or even weeks longer than it should because you fail to understand the concept that you can send messages with more than one sentence or thought. Simply being thoughtful will enable you to anticipate questions I might have or information I will need. I don’t expect you to be a mind-reader, but one thing that I frequently run into is that email exchanges take more time (and patience!) than they should because you fail to ask the right questions.

I use email to organize giveaways and reviews more than I use it for any other reason. In fact, I never use it for personal reasons anymore. So my exchanges typically go like this:

  • I send a pitch (or receive one).
  • Company agrees (or I agree).
  • I specify products I’d like to try and send my address.

As a reviewer, the next email I want is a notification of shipping or tracking number. That’s it.

If I am hosting a giveaway, I will send emails verifying the prize, number of winners, shipping restrictions and any entries the company would like. After I receive these replies, there’s no need to reply until I send you a link to the giveaway and the winner’s information.

There are certain points during the review process where there will be a lull. If you understand the process, you won’t need to email me at these times. If you do, you obviously haven’t asked the right questions from the start.

This leads me to my next point.

Know when to end the communication.

It’s like when someone says “Good night” on the phone and the other person says “Good night,” and it keeps going back and forth and neither of you want to keep up the conversation but you feel pressured to do so.

So what would you add to this list?


Apr 28

CAPTCHAS Suck and How to Make Them Suck Less

Did you know that CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”? Probably not. When you think about these tools to stop spam on websites that use some type of forms — blog comments and forums are among the most heavily targeted — you probably sigh in frustration.  Most of us recognize that CAPTCHAS are a necessary evil when it comes to protecting our websites. As visitors, we robotically type the words we see in the images into a form and press “Enter.”

Solve Media CAPTCHA failHowever, this is easier said than done. In fact, CAPTCHAs are so problematic that some people have called for website owners to stop using CAPTCHAs all together.

When you tell a story with CAPTCHAs, like Blogger did, it makes it easier for the visitor to understand.

CAPTCHAs should never use the letter “O”. It can be too easily confused with the number 0, especially when using certain fonts.

If you want people with disabilities to communicate with you, a CAPTCHA that has an audio component is a must. Otherwise, people who use screenreaders won’t be able to comment.

CAPTCHAS need the ability to refresh them. Sometimes it’s just too difficult to read the current code, but we’ll lose our lengthy comment or form input if we refresh.

CAPTCHAs should never be cap sensitive, especially on mobile devices because it’s hard to change between lowercase and capitalized letters. If, for some reason, you cannot avoid this, please make note that your CAPTCHA is case sensitive. There’s one blog that I frequently visit and like to comment on, but every single time I try to leave a comment, the CAPTCHA form rejects me and tells me to try again because it is case sensitive but doesn’t say so.

CAPTCHAs on mobile devices are generally a bad idea. Biz Report talked about this years ago. At the time, retail websites that used CAPTCHAs lost 2/3 of their customers. Do you think that your website offers something so fantastic that people want to enter CAPTCHAS? Probably not. Consider a CAPTCHA that you can disable for mobile visitors. If spam is such a problem that you cannot do this, there are mobile-friendly options:

After installing a CAPTCHA tool, make sure to test it in your own site, in multiple browsers and on different devices. If you cannot easily post a comment, others will run into the same problems.

However, you really don’t need to use CAPTCHAs at all. Really. If you want an alternative to CAPTCHAs, consider some of the popular options.

A math equation requires users to read and answer a similar problem. They typically have to type no more than 2 characters (numbers).

Let Akismet catch your spam comments. It’s the only solution I use on some of my blogs.

Try a plugin such as Growmap Antispam, which requires users to select a checkbox and can be mobile friendly.

There are literally dozens of anti-spam plugins available for WordPress. In fact, WordPress has so many options to help you stop spam without installing plugins, that you will rarely have a need for a CAPTCHA.

So, please, do us all a favor and use CAPTCHAs only as a last resort!


Apr 22

On #BloggerExhaustion and Words, Words, Words!

blogger-exhaustion

I’ve stolen this hashtag and image from Nicole who runs BloggerPR. Her vent was a little different than mine will be, but it was a tag that I could immediately relate to. I run four blogs, three of which you might know about this: Her Realm, Reviews by Cole and Lyrical Musings. For the most part, my personal blogs are just that: personal. I write in them when I have time and when I am inspired or impassioned. This has become less and less common lately.

You see, I write for a living. Every day, I pump out between 1,000 and 3,000 words depending on the price I’m paying. Sometimes it’s boring as fuck. Other times it’s just repetitive. I deal with unclear clients, finicky editors, slow Internet connections and requirements that are just absurd for how little people want to pay me. I do this not because I like to but because I need to pay rent. I really don’t hate it. In fact, I’ve gotten some compliments lately on my work ethic and my ability to write. I love this, but I do feel a little jaded about the whole thing because I do it so much.

On top of those thousands of words, I try to write at least one post on Reviews by Cole every day; although, it’s often more like 2. Not all of the content is 100% my words. However, I do write an extra 500 words or so a day. Add on taking, editing and uploading pictures, social media promotion, sending pitches, commenting in blogger groups and everything else I do, and this is a hobby that’s a labor of love. Sure, there’s a little money in it,  but it started because I like to talk basically. However, to keep up with others, I have to talk more than I’d like. It’s just how it works.

This leaves little time or inspiration for writing poetry or patience enough to write words to come up with a humorous post about my life or a tutorial about WordPress here. I don’t want to type words. I don’t want to see words. I don’t want to think words. I pretty much have stopped reading for fun. I can’t even read blogs anymore. It’s all words, words, words. And I can’t do it.

Even on the one day a week I give myself off from work, I have to blog. That’s where my exhaustion comes in. It doesn’t end. Because even if I am not working, there’s something to be blogged. Even if I am caught up with Reviews by Cole, I have ideas here that I really do want to write, but they all feel like a task.

I guess I need to take a good vacation from it all, but this means I’ll have to write and schedule posts for Reviews by Cole and catch up on work to give me that time off. If I could do all that, I wouldn’t be feeling this way, now would I?

I suppose this is part of the reason that I never wanted to make hobbies into a career. I also suppose this is just part of being a working adult. The working part is exhausting and steals time and energy that we’d like to devote to the things we like to do, instead. At least I am in good company, then.


Apr 11

Attention Bloggers: Heartbleed Affects You!

Heartbleed Patch Needed

What to do in the wake of Heartbleed

Normally, when you log on to a website and you see the green “HTTPS” in your address bar, you feel pretty safe. Your bank, PayPal, Facebook and Google are all among sites that use encryption to make sure that your private information stays private. However, the Internet just got news of Heartbleed. What is this strange thing with an even stranger name? It’s a bug in OpenSSL, one of the popular methods used to encrypt data such as passwords and credit card numbers.

What does this mean?

In short, OpenSSL hasn’t necessarily been doing its job for almost 2 years.

What should I do?

Expect that your passwords and log-in information have been floating around the Web for 24 months. In the best case scenario, no one has this information. In the worst case scenario, someone has it but hasn’t decided to use it — yet! Changing your passwords is essential.

What sites are effected?

Not all websites that use HTTPs are affected. Not all sites that use OpenSSL were vulnerable. Those that are have, hopefully, fixed the bugs  (if they’re smart). However, there are a lot of websites that you might use as a blogger that are effected.

Mashable has a more complete list of all the websites affected by Heartbleed, and you might use some of them! Check it out.


Mar 22

Sverve 101: Pinterest Meets Klout for Bloggers


I’ve been quite active on Sverve lately, and I thought I’d take the time to write about it. If you hadn’t heard of Sverve, it’s a site where female bloggers can go to connect with one another and with brands. Sverve has a funny name, but it also has a “tip” system that works like Pinterest and a rating system like Klout. In fact, I think that Sverve takes much of the better points of both of those sites/networks and combines them. I would love to see marketers using Sverve scores and bloggers promoting each other via Sverve.

You can check out my Sverve profile and my thoughts below to see if this site is worth your time.

Of course, you’ll edit your name, bio and avatar. From your Sverve profile, others can follow you, and you can follow them back.  When new people follow you, you’ll see a notification.

My current Sverve rank

My current Sverve rank

Your Sverve Rank

When you log in to Sverve, you’ll provide your social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc) links and your website URL, and Sverve uses these to calculate a score that’s broken down into three categories:

  1. Blog influence
  2. Social media influence
  3. Sverve influence

According to Sverve:

 Sverve influence is calculated by the number of endorsements an influencer has received in her top three areas of influence as compared to her peers.

So that’s interesting to know.

The site then changes these ranks (from low to high) and applies a number to them. Your Sverve rank is from 0 to 100, and some campaigns — which I’ll talk about later — use rank as a metric for qualifying. You can see your rank breakdown by going to your profile and clicking on the rank badge by your name.

In just a few short weeks (if that), my rank is 55. It’s grown about 20 points since I signed up, which is mostly due to endorsements. Rank updates every day at 8 PM.

Areas of Interest and Endorsements

When you sign up, you can pick areas of influence. I was able to pick 5, and I’m not sure if you can pick more. You should carefully think about the best areas of influence. Mine are:

  • Giveaways
  • Reviews
  • Social media and blogging
  • Technology
  • Shopping

It was hard to narrow the areas down, especially when Reviews by Cole is such a broad blog. I’m also adding tips (see below) from Her Realm. If you want to change them, you’ll have to delete an area and enter a new one — starting from 0.

When people visit your profile, they can click to endorse you (like Klout) for a specific area of influence, but others can only endorse you once. Endorsements will show up in your notifications tab, too. Like Klout, you can tweet whenever you endorse someone.

You can also get a Sverve badge like the one here to place on your website.

sverve tip categories

sverve tip categories

Tips

When you sign in to Sverve, you’ll see the newest tips from the people whom you follow. Tips on Sverve are like pinning, but they’re about the content that the tips link to rather than the image itself. This was really the intent with Pinterest, but most people are too lazy to click over to read recipes so you’ll see them directly on the pin. You can like, comment on and share tips (like Pinterest) and I am pretty sure that the more people who like your tips, the better your Sverve score will be.

Sverve has a bookmarklet that you can add to your bookmarks toolbar to quickly pin things, and you can choose images just like you would with Pinterest. However, you can also add tips from sources that don’t have images with a generic placeholder. Obviously, images help get the user’s attention.

Unlike Pinterest, you’ll select a category for every tip that you add. You’ll also select one of your own areas of influence. These categories and areaas of interest will appear when you’re looking at tips that other people add, and you can endorse them directly from the tip, which is handy.

Campaigns

Sverve offers a variety of campaigns. There are 4 tabs:

  • Sponsored post/affiliate
  • Sponsored share
  • Pinterest sweepstakes
  • Youtube campaigns

As you’d guess, you can find companies looking for sponsored posts in the first tab. You’ll also see people who want you to promote their content without compensation — just affiliate links. These are almost never worth your time. Sverve lists several types of campaigns: a referral program, guest blogging opportunities, product reviews, and community management. Brands can specify that only users with specific Sverve ranks are considered. I’ve yet to be accepted for a campaign but you’ll see all campaigns in the “engaged” section. It doesn’t look like you’ll know if brands choose to ignore or deny you. You’ll simply not be accepted.

I’ve yet to have any sponsored share, but the name needs no explaining. I’ve also not had any Youtube campaigns so I’m not sure whether they are content creation or promotion.

Sverve always seems to have at least one Pinterest sweepstakes going at once. You can enter yourself, and you can also sign up as a promoter. If you get others to join, you’ll make a commission. Commissions are usually under $1, but that can add up quickly. You’ll see your current earnings on your account, and you can cash out once you reach $5 across all your campaigns.

sverve pinterest sweepstakes

sverve pinterest sweepstakes

I’ve also received emails with special links for paying campaigns like this one. However, it doesn’t show up on my dashboard so I’m not quite sure how it works.

With rank, endorsements, campaigns and tips, Sverve seems like a great way to get to know other bloggers, make money and get  exposure to your website.