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My Co-Workers’ Favorite Tech Sites

Working for a tech company has it’s perks. For starters, we often times get early access to the latest info on new apps and gadgets. So there’s no doubt that many of my colleagues at RingCentral are into technology outside of work as well. And since RingCentral is all about enabling mobility – our free mobile apps for iOS and Android bring the power of the RingCentral phone system to the most popular smartphones and tablets, there’s few things that make us happier than being able to browse our favorite tech-website while on-the-go.

blog image01So, I interviewed some of my co-workers to find out what their favorite tech websites are at this moment, for news, reviews, and everything in between!

Feel free to share your own picks in the comments section below.

Tommy, Associate Marketing Manager

News: Quora. Tommy says: “Not exactly a news site, but great for in-depth quality content. You can follow topics or questions that interest you and get notified when a new response is posted.”

Reviews: CNET

Evie, PR Specialist

News: Techeblog. This site is good for a very general perspective on what is going on in the technology and gadget world. The site likes to group things together, and usually does it with a pretty good sense of humor; example: 10 Strange Things You Won’t Believe Kids Purchased Online. You are also bound to learn something new after a few minutes of browsing.

ReviewsBrit.co. Who says that all gadget and technology sites have to be geared towards men? Evie says: “While this site is decorated with DIY posts, they are sandwiched in-between what hot apps you should download for productivity, as well as what fun new gadgets are on the market.”

Another favorite for reviews is BGR.com; this is a great site if you want to learn what your smartphone can do. This website is one of the fastest to come out with reviews that are reliable.

Grace, Marketing Specialist

News:  TechCrunch. Grace says: “Don’t miss TechCrunch’s sister site for government and politics, CrunchGov.”

Reviews: Gizmodo. Want to learn about something new and interesting in the technology and gadget world? Then this is a great site for finding details that you wouldn’t think of trying to search for. You can find articles from what app will make your car sound like a Ferrari, to the new clock incorporated on a Fitbit. If for nothing else then the site is nothing short of a fun pastime.

Ben, Social Community Manager

News: The New York Times’ Bits blog

Reviews: The Wirecutter. Ben says: “Exhaustive reviews on gadgets, entertainment devices, etc. There’s a section for non-tech reviews, The Sweethome, that’s just as good.”

And a bonus pick… Amazon.com, which offers both low prices on tech products and thousands of user-generated reviews. The site collected some of its funniest ones – check them out here.

Have a favorite site we missed? Mention it in the comments below, and it just might become one of our new go-to favorites!

9 Tips For Managing Your Business’ Online Reputation

Like - Thumb UpInternet usage is at an all-time high: the average American spends 30 hours online every week. (For Millennials, the average is 40 hours!) Another key data point? More than half of mobile-web users interact with companies on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Do you know what people are saying about your brand on the web?

Because the internet offers so many chances for brand interaction, reputation management is more important than ever before. Here are nine best practices for monitoring and managing your business’ online reputation:

1. Optimize your website for Google search
You want Google to treat your website as the ultimate authority on your product (and, ideally, on the market segment in which you compete). Why? If Google ranks your site favorably, it will appear at or near the top of a search for your company name and terms specific to your industry.

KissMetrics provides a great guide on getting your website indexed by Google.

2. Establish a strong social media presence
By creating a Facebook page, Twitter profile and blog – and posting relevant content to those channels – you will both improve your search-engine rankings and improve how you interact with customers and prospects.

The RingCentral Social Team has written about social-media tips and tricks in the past, so for reference, check out the RingCentral Connect archive.

3. Set up Google alerts
There are a bevy of expensive tools available to monitor your online presence, but you don’t need to spend a lot to see what people are saying about you across the web. We use Google alerts to let us know when the term “RingCentral” is mentioned – they show up every day in a short email.

Here’s what the notification looks like:

Google alert

4. Monitor social networks and reply promptly
The simple fact is, people want companies to be available on social networks. According to Arnold Worldwide, close to 60 percent of consumers expect brands to respond to their social-media comments and queries.

It’s generally good to aim for a social response of no more than an hour or two. (Most businesses aren’t nearly this vigilant, so you can really stand out by striving to be responsive!)

5. Respond to reviews and comments
The last time you bought something online, did you read any reviews before clicking “Confirm Purchase”? You probably did! Product reviews are invaluable when you’re shopping online, and they can be hugely valuable to companies, too.

Not only can reviews help a business learn what people do and don’t like about its offerings – they offer an opportunity for the business to turn unsatisfied customers into raving fans.

6. Turn frowns upside down
Segueing from tip number five: the holy grail of customer support is satisfying an unhappy customer. If you can make this happen on the web, so much the better: successfully turning a negative experience around will leave evidence for customers and prospects to see. That, in turn, will help you demonstrate that you care about doing right by your customers.

7. Blog communications
Social networks are great for pushing out short communiques and providing customer support. For “long-form” communications, though – things like new-product announcements or market forecasts – a blog is ideal.

You shouldn’t expect your business blog to succeed beyond measure, or yourself to become the next Tim Ferriss. Rather, look at blogging as a way to share inside information on your company and engage with your most enthusiastic fans. It’s well worth the effort.

8. Ask happy customers to post reviews
It’s bad form to incent positive reviews with gifts or in-kind compensation. But there’s nothing wrong with simply suggesting that your happy customers say something nice about you on sites like Yelp, LinkedIn or Google Places. The worst that can happen is that they’ll refuse.

9. Feature positive reviews on your website/blog
If you have some positive reviews in hand, great work. They’re a marketing asset as strong (or stronger!) than anything else (whitepapers, datasheets, etc.) you may have put together. Why? Two words: social proof. We’re wired to look favorably on things other people view favorably – restaurants, cars, clothes or just about anything else.

Plus, third-party reviews’ objectivity is inherently valuable. When we say we have a great phone system, you may think, “Of course they’re going to say that.” But when an outlet like PC Magazine awards RingCentral Office an Editors’ Choice award – well, it means a little more coming from them.

Hope these tips are helpful. Let us know if you have any more to share!

Featured photo courtesy of: SalFalko via photopin cc.

5 Public-Relations Best Practices from Corporate PR Pros

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 11.28.56 AM

Expert Panelists at the PR Summit.

As a member of the Media Team at RingCentral I know just how important press can be. We’re no strangers when it comes to receiving great press mentions, such as the ones we recently received from a PC Magazine Editors’ Choice award to positive coverage at Laptop.com. But still, we’re always looking to step-up our public-relations game. That’s why I recently attended the PR Summit in San Francisco. The annual event, organized for start-up companies, focuses on the impact that powerful creative campaigns can have in burnishing a company’s image.

Dozens of ideas, suggestions and strategies were presented. Here are the five that impressed me the most!

1) Learn to spin your story

“It’s not enough to have a good product: you have to romanticize it,” said Noel Lee, the founder of Monster Cable. In other words, how you spin your story – and educate your target market – really matters.

“It’s better to be the big company in a niche market than to try to get everyone’s attention,” Lee added.

2) Take the Facebook test

When you are creating new content, run it through a “Facebook test”. Would you want to see your content on your own Facebook News Feed? If the answer is no, the content probably isn’t worth sharing, emphasized BuzzFeed‘s Chief Revenue Officer, Andy Wiedlin.

To create the best PR content, be strategic in your efforts: focus on those who will be more likely than the average person to embrace your message.

Consider the relevance and timeliness of what you’re saying, too. Strive to keep the conversation going and engage your audience – just as you’d do on Facebook.

3) Trade in share-able, snack-size bites

“In social advertising, you don’t create one thing and see how it goes,” BuzzFeed’s Wiedlin noted. “You create 12 and see what catches your audience’s attention.”

The lesson for PR professionals? Keep your message short and simple. And don’t be afraid to re-iterate.

4) Show me! Don’t tell me!

In PR, as in art, what is depicted is less important than how it is interpreted.

“Emotional engagement with your audience is the only thing that is going to drive your product forward, and get people to come back,” stated Kym McNicholas from PandoDaily.

Your company should come off as transparent and candid as possible so your audience can create their own opinions.

5) Write content for a person, not all people

“The ultimate moment of truth is the next person’s zero moment of truth,” Altimeter’s Brian Solis (author of The End of Business As Usual and  What’s the Future of Business?) observed.

Translation: there is no way to reach multitudes with one message, so you must narrow down your target audience. Once you have reached a single person and established a connection, your message will be able to take root and spread.

Ultimately, PR is about creating stories. Narratives that touch people at a personal level are what separate superb PR campaigns from less-effective ones.

Do you have additional pointers on how to build a strong PR campaign? Share your experiences with readers below!

My (Current) Top 3 Photo-Editing Apps

It’s no secret that we live in a very visual era, where sharing even life’s smallest moments through pictures has become common practice by almost anyone who’s active on social.

Twitter’s late-2012 split with Instagram was termed “the biggest social breakup of 2012”. You can read the full story here, if you’d like a refresher. The buzz around the Twitter-Instagram breakup illustrates how closely linked social media and photo-sharing are today. You may have noticed, as well, Facebook’s recent News Feed redesign, designed to bring visual content front and center.

Want to dress up the images you share on the social web? Here are my three favorite photo-editing apps (aside from the ever-popular Instagram, of course); and be sure to check out my Insta feed for a special behind-the-scenes look at my life.

1. Pic Stitch (free)
Pic Stitch bills itself as the No. 1 collage app – and once you’ve started using it, you can see why it’s so popular. The app pulls images from your photo album or your Facebook account to make collages. The collage images it produces can then be exported to Facebook, shared on Instagram, emailed to friends and family, or even printed at a Walgreens store near you.

Pic Stitch is a great way to repurpose images you’ve already saved on your phone or tablet. It’s also perfect for summarizing an event in a visual way, like I did here with last weekend’s Outside Lands Music Festival here in San Francisco:

picstitch

2. Vintique ($0.99)

Unlike the other two apps on this list, Vintique has a price tag. But at 99 cents, it’s a steal (assuming you like applying filters to your images, that is).

Vintique, as its name hints, is chock-full of “vintage” photo filters. The filter options in Vintique put Instagram to shame: there are more than 50 available, in addition to tweaks like color temperature and hue.

If sharing normal, unfiltered images has gotten too blah – or if you really want to make it look like you live in the late 1800s – Vintique can definitely help.

vintique

3. Overgram (free)
Putting text on images is cool, right? Yes, it is. Especially if you like sharing inspirational content on your website, blog, or social networks.

Here’s an example I made in Overgram – which makes inserting text a snap – in just a few minutes (if you’re an indecisive perfectionist like more, or a few seconds if you know exactly what you want):

overgram

The basic app is free; upgrading to the paid version adds fonts and removes the “Overgram” watermark in the bottom-right corner. Depending on how often you like to share text-optimized images, it may be a worthwhile purchase.

These are my current favorite “pics”; which photo-editing apps do you like?

4 Points to Keep in Mind When Trademarking a Brand

The RingCentral legal team would like to offer a friendly reminder that the following should not be construed as legal advice.

Trademark signSpoiler alert: We at RingCentral are getting ready to introduce some very cool new products and features. These offerings are so awesome, in fact, that we have to trademark their names. It was with this in mind that our external counsel, Lisa Greenwald-Swire of Fish & Richardson, spoke to us recently about the trademark process. Here are four of the lessons we learned at Lisa’s presentation:

1) Know the different categories of brand mark.

Greenwald-Swire_Lisa

Lisa Greenwald-Swire

There are five brand mark types. Fanciful brand names, like Google, are the easiest kind to protect legally – a “coined” name (e.g., Verizon) is best from an ease-of-trademarking standpoint. Next-easiest are arbitrary trademarks, like Apple. Arbitrary marks use real words, but they do so in an unconventional way. Suggestive brand marks fall in the middle of the pack. Suggestive names, like Coppertone, hint at what the product in question provides but don’t state it outright. Descriptive marks, on the other hand, are less vague (and therefore tougher to trademark). Think Chap Stick. Finally, there are generic marks, which are impossible to trademark. (Try bringing “aspirin” to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for proof.)

2) Think about real-world use.

Ease of pronunciation is a key consideration when picking a brand name, particularly if you’re taking the “fanciful” route. It may also be good to employ stems from Greek or Latin, which can confer upon your brand a certain familiarity. And make Google Translate (or a real-life translator) your friend: you don’t want a mark that could be transliterated into something ridiculous.

3) Start the trademark-search process early.

Lisa counsels (pun unfortunately intended) that businesses begin searching for trademarks long before starting to use them commercially. Why? Quite simply, it’s good to cover your bases. Be proactive about making sure your target trademark isn’t in use already (and hasn’t been claimed on social channels like Facebook and Twitter). In addition, filing an intent-of-use application with the U.S.P.T.O. will position you well to defend your mark, should the need arise. When the mark registers, you will get presumptive nationwide trademark rights dating back to the day on which you filed.

4) Put yourself in consumers’ shoes.

The single most important question to ask when trademarking relates to consumer perception. With a trademark, is there a likelihood of consumers confusing your brand with another (existing) one? This question forms the basis of all trademark law, Lisa noted. So think about your desired trademark from the perspective of a disinterested consumer. If bewilderment is a distinct possibility, you should probably pursue a different mark.

Featured image courtesy of: Steve Snodgrass via photopin cc.

‘Tis the Season to Spread Office Holiday Cheer

office holiday decorating

The holiday season is upon us, and that begs the question: what more can you as an employer/manager do to keep your employees happy and motivated?

Here at RingCentral, we have several office activities to lift the spirits of employees and overall maintain a jolly office environment. Below are a few things we’ve rolled out this holiday season to celebrate our valued employees.

1. Decorate
Decorating your office/work space is one of the easiest ways to get  into the holiday spirit. Whether it’s a Christmas tree, a menorah, or a few holiday wreaths and garlands, there’s no shortage of festive decorations available out there. As an added bonus give employees the option of decorating the tree together as a fun team building activity. This year our admin staff went all out decorating the office, and we couldn’t be more thankful for it!

2. Plan a Holiday Party
Everyone (except for maybe the Grinch) enjoys celebrating the holidays in some way or another. So give your employees something fun to look forward to. Whether you work for a big corporation or a small start-up, there are plenty of office party ideas that you can easily implement. For example, in addition to the annual formal RingCentral Holiday Party, this year we are throwing our first annual “Ugly Sweater Party” at the office (complete with cupcake decorating and all).

RingCentral holiday office ugly sweater party invite

3. Serve holiday -themed food
People love to eat — especially during the holidays. So do something special at the office to enjoy all the delicious goodies that are available during the holidays. Some of our favorite ideas are: a hot chocolate party, holiday themed pot-luck, ginger bread house decorating contest, a mulled wine extravaganza, or anything else that gets you and your colleagues in the holiday spirit!

gingerbread house

4. Have an employee gift exchange
Do a Secret Santa or White Elephant party for the office. These are always a hit. Just be sure to set a reasonable dollar limit so nobody feels obligated to spend too much. A good ballpark figure  is $15 to $50 depending on the number of participants.

5. Give back to those in need
Community service is a great way to support those in need, and it instills team work. Hold a toy drive and donate all items to an organization like Toys for Tots. Or take an afternoon off from the office and volunteer at your local soup kitchen or shelter. So get out there, and start spreading the holiday cheer this year with your co-workers and colleagues!

RingCentral local community support

Maggie, one of RingCentral’s sales superstars, at the local food drive.

Cloud Channel Summit: 5 Lessons on Fostering a Successful Channel-Partner Relationship

Cloud Channel Summit

Last week, the RingCentral partner team and I attended the Cloud Channel Summit at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. The annual event is designed for cloud businesses looking to build successful reseller alliances and cloud ecosystems.

Cloud Summit Organizers

Cloud Summit Organizers Jeff Kapla and Marc Sternberg

RingCentral’s own channel reseller program is a valuable and successful part of our business. As with all things, however, we are always looking to take the program to the next level — and the Cloud Channel Summit was a great place to learn new insights on optimizing the vendor-channel reseller relationship. Below are our learnings, which we hope you will find helpful for your partner efforts.

We learned at the summit that generally, the three biggest obstacles in vendor-reseller partnerships are conflict, control, and compensation. Conflicts tend to arise when the partnership isn’t clearly defined between both parties. This can then lead to control issues, where either the vendor or the reseller wants to have more control of the sales, terms and conditions, and signed accounts — or the opposite problem can also occur where neither partner wants to take responsibility when problems arise. Finally, compensation disagreements surface when one or both parties focus only on short-term economics, i.e., just closing the deal rather than also fostering the customer relationship for long-term growth.

According to experts at the Cloud Channel Summit, the below five best-practices help you overcome conflict, control, and compensation so you can build a successful vendor-reseller partnership.

1. Provide Product and Customer Education. In  general, vendors need to invest time and money towards educating their resellers on the product, the customer demographics, sales materials for prospects, and anything else necessary for the selling process. The point is your resellers should be fully armed to focus their time on acquiring customers, and the vendor’s job is to make those resellers smarter.

2. Define Vendor/Reseller Responsibilities. Establish the “division of labor” between the vendor and reseller within the selling process to ensure nothing falls through the cracks and there are no misunderstandings. For example, determine whether the vendor or the reseller will provide customer support, project management, integration, etc.

3. Promote Cloud Service Revenue Model. The cloud service revenue model is based on micro-transactions and recurring revenues — as opposed to traditional models where resellers receive one lump sum after the deal is closed. Vendors should explain to resellers that the cloud service revenue model means the opportunity to make more money every time additional users are added to a particular customer account. See this slide for more details:

cloud value analysis

Click to enlarge

4. Establish Local and Regional Resellers. Local and regional VARs are important to the vendor’s mix of channel partner relationships for several reasons. For example, some customers prefer to buy locally because to them, it means nearby (and thus more timely) customer and technical support. Local resellers also have a better feel for an area’s culture and can effectively connect with customers at a more familiar level. Finally, by having resellers across a swath of geographical regions, vendors can establish a bigger footprint and wider reach.

5. Target Resellers With Cloud Clout and Skills. While it’s not necessary for all resellers to be influential in the cloud industry, it is advantageous to partner with a few highly-reputable resellers. The brand recognition of such resellers will help elevate the vendor brand and credibility. Additionally, vendors should aim to partner with resellers who already have a solid understanding of cloud computing. Different cloud services are increasingly integrating within a given ecosystem, and cloud-versed resellers will have the ability to explain the “story” to customers. Check out the following slide for more details:

Changes with the cloud-based ecosystem

Click to enlarge

Do you have additional lessons for building a successful reseller program? Please let me know in the comments.