What is Social Networking?

Today I have read a couple of articles, one study from the US and one from the UK  which highlight a lack of understanding of the nature of social media.

Social networking is the use of a medium or platform such as facebook, twitter, LinkedIn to communicate with other people.  To ban people from use of such things is to ban freedom of speech, something you would not expect to be hearing about in the UK.  And to benefit from face-to-face marketing, requires understanding how best to use these platforms for your business.

I feel proud of the work carried out north of the border, in monitoring riot related activity on the platforms.  But of course do not want to be hasty or arrogant, I don’t think it is necessarily over yet.

Do you think you could benefit from understanding how to utilise social media more for your business or organisation.  I would be delighted to hear from you .


Promoting your Business on Mobiles using QR barcodes

Building your online presence for your business can be a challenge.  There are well over a trillion public accessible webpages and this figure is growing exponentially, so getting your site seen can be a difficult challenge.

There are many ways to promote your website, these include search engine optimization, using Google Ad Words and using social media.  However, with the rise of referral organisations, such as BNI, more traditional methods of business promotion and word of mouth are still very much relevant.

The Question is?

How do you link your online presence together with the more traditional methods of business promotion?  Most businesses answer this question by printing their email and web addresses on their literature and business cards.  But this relies on people remembering your business when they are next at a PC, which is often long after the initial contact.

There is a way of introducing your online presence within the initial contact, simply and easily, yet few businesses are using it.

This is through the use of QR codes.  These are two dimensional bar codes which are often seen on airline tickets and some post office stamps.  They can be scanned by virtually all smartphones (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian) and can contain text, URLs or other data.

What can QR Codes do for you?

By putting a QR Code on your literature and business cards, you can introduce new contacts with their mobile online presence within their initial contact.  I have put the QR Code shown above on the back of my business cards (with a caption beneath informing people that they can scan it with their phone for more information).

How do you produce a QR Code?

QR Codes are not the sole domain of large corporates with buckets of cash to spend on producing these things.  Anyone can produce one easily and quickly.  There are many QR Code generators on the web.  All you have to do is provide a URL which you want to promote.

What to promote using a QR Code?

First of all, you need to bear in mind that whatever you promote will probably be seen on a mobile phone, so your main website might not be the best URL to promote.  The following items might be possibilities for content of a URL promoted via a QR Code:

  • Summary of your business
  • Contact details
  • Downloadable vCard
  • Picture optimised for mobile
  • Links to relevant URLs (e.g. twitter, facebook, etc)
  • Your RSS feed
  • Embedded YouTube video of your product or Elevator pitch (optimised for playback on a mobile)
  • Map of your location
  • Directions to your location if the phone has GPS


QR Codes are a powerful way to drive more traffic to your online presence and help create a stronger first impression.  They can be created by almost anyone quickly, easily and for free!  The technology is there, but few businesses are making best use of it.  Remember that any URLs referred to within a QR Code will almost certainly be viewed on a mobile device, so optimise it accordingly.  I hope this information has been of help to you.
If you still feel at a loss, please contact myself Kirstie Birr and for a fee I can get you set up.

Why Yellow Pages are a Waste of Money

I recently read an article San Francisco Set to Ban the Distribution of Yellow Pages .  It is the first city in the US to consider banning the distribution to private residences unless they are requested.  And the question I ask is how long before this happens in the UK.

How many households in the UK would go to the yellow pages before looking online for a service these days? Most consumers will use search engines or ask a friend for a recommendation via social media.  With the drive to reduce our carbon footprint, it will not be too long before the UK follows suit.

The fact is, Social Media is transforming the way the world does business. In your town and your city, this week. Today. The implications are huge and the prizes are enormous for those businesses with the wisdom and foresight to get involved – properly – right now.

So how can you prepare

Start building your online presence if you have not already done so.  Keep in step with consumer behaviour and embrace social media as a way of communicating with your customers.  If this seems like a daunting task or you do not have the time consider getting the help of someone like myself to help you retain and build your customer base.

You can contact me Kirstie Birr to discuss how I can help and request my FREE REPORT – TEN REASONS WHY YOU NEED A SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER.

How to integrate WordPress RSS feed into your Website using XSLT

First of all, I am going to take as my example, my own website, kirstiebirr.com which has integrated the WordPress RSS feed within it on both the home page and on the blog page in two different forms.  The aim of this blog post is to help others who are trying to do the same and give some tips for overcoming some of the pitfalls along the way.  This does assume some web development experience (but hopefully not too much).

XLST Process

First, get your WordPress RSS feed

Your feed is located at the URL which is the same as your WordPress blog URL with /feed added to the end, e.g. kirstiebirr.wordpress.com/feed (N.B. there is also a comments feed which is located on your blog page with /comments/feed added on).

Transforming your RSS feed into user friendly HTml

Ultimately, we desire to display the data from our blog into our website in nicely formatted xHTML.  In order to do this conversion quickly and easily, we use XSLT.  XSL stands for EXtensible Stylesheet Language, and is a style sheet language for XML documents and  XSLT stands for XSL Transformations.  There is a great tutorial on XSLT for beginners at w3schools.com.  The transformation of RSS to HTML using XSLT can either be done within the browser or on the web server.  In this example used in this post, it has been done on the server side.  This removes the possibility of incompatibility of some web browsers.

creating the transformation style sheet

The XSL document is what the parser on the server will use to determine how the RSS feed should be rendered.  An example of the XSL document is shown below:

1  <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
2  <xsl:stylesheet version="1.0"
3  	xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform"
4	xmlns:content="http://purl.org/rss/1.0/modules/content/" >
5  <xsl:output method="html"/>
6  <xsl:template match="/">
7   <html>
8    <head>
9     <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media="all"
10  href="http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/themes/pub/coraline/
11                               style.css?m=1304098755g" />
12	<link rel="stylesheet"
13  href="http://s0.wp.com/wp-content/themes/h4/global.css?
14                               m=1297799136g" type="text/css" />
15	<link rel="stylesheet"
16  href="http://s0.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/admin-bar/
17  admin-bar-css.php?t=Coraline&amp;a=&amp;p=&amp;sa=&amp;td=ltr"
18  type="text/css" />
19	</head>
20  <body>
21   <h1 style="font-family:arial;font-style:italic;">
22    Latest blog entry
23    <span style="font-family:arial;font-style:italic;">
24     - Last updated <xsl:value-of
25     select="
26     substring(/rss/channel/item[position()=1]/pubDate,0,23)" />
27    </span>
28   </h1>
29   <h2 style="font-family:arial;font-size:1em;">
30    <xsl:value-of
31       select="/rss/channel/item[position()=1]/title"/>
32    </h2>
33     <p  style="font-family:arial;font-size:0.875em;">
34	<xsl:value-of
35       select="/rss/channel/item[position()=1]/content:encoded"
36	 disable-output-escaping="yes"/>
37     </p>
38  </body>
39 </html>
40 </xsl:template>
41 </xsl:stylesheet>

Initially, this can look a little daunting, but going through it line by line will help make it more manageable for the less technically minded.

  • Line 1: This line is needed – just add it as the first line of every XSL transform.
  • Lines 2-4: This is the opening of the stylesheet container.  It also contains as attributes all the namespaces which are used within the XSL document.  These should generally be added as and when required (with the exception of the xsl namespace, which should always be xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform".  When a namespace is required, take it from top of WordPress RSS feed source.
  • Line 5: Describes the output result of the XSLT.  In this case, it is HTML.
  • Line 6: Tells the parse to start applying the XSL from the top of the RSS feed.
  • Line 7: Start of the resulting output HTML
  • Lines 8-19: The head element of the HTML output.  This contains the links to the CSS stylesheets which are used within the WordPress blog.  To obtain these links, goto the WordPress blog, view the source and copy all the link elements of type "text/css".  Of course, if you want a different style (e.g. font, colours, etc) to the blog as it appears in WordPress, then do not copy the links to these stylesheets.
  • Line 20: Start of the HTML body output.
  • Lines 21-28: This line defines the date header formatting of the blog entry.  Note that this XLS only transforms a single entry.  If we wanted to apply this over all the blog entries in the WordPress RSS feed, we would surround lines 21-37 with the following (and also remove the occurrences of [position()=1]within the XSL):
    <xsl:for-each select="rss/channel/item"> </xsl:for-each>

    In this instance, we have some static text (where we have defined the style inline), which states this is the latest blog entry and give the date and time of when this was last updated.  This information is being pulled out of the RSS feed using:

    <xsl:value-of select="substring(/rss/channel/item[position()=1]/pubDate,0,23)" />

    This selects published date of the RSS item which is at position 1 in the list of items.  As we are not interested in the seconds of when the blog was published, we remove them using the substring function.

  • Lines 29-32: This will extract the title of the first entry in the RSS feed
  • Lines 33-37 : This line extracts the contents of the first blog entry.  However, as content is not recognised namespace, we need to add its definition to the list of namespaces in line 2 (this definition can be obtained from the source of the RSS feed).  The attribute disable-output-escaping="yes" directs the parser to take the data from within the CDATA container.
  • Lines 38-41: Correctly close all the open element tags.

Configuring the Server to use the XLS Transform

Now we have the XLS stylesheet done, we now need to configure the server to load in the WordPress RSS feed and transform it as we defined above.  This can be done within a number of web based languages including PHP, Java and ASP.  As the kirstiebirr.com website is built ASP, the example below uses ASP.

1  'Load the contents of the RSS feed into memory
2  Set xmlpre = Server.CreateObject("MSXML2.ServerXMLHTTP")
3  xmlpre.Open "POST", "https://kirstiebirr.wordpress.com/feed/", _
4							False
5  xmlpre.Send
6  text = xmlpre.ResponseText
8  'Load XML
9  set xml = Server.CreateObject("Microsoft.XMLDOM")
10  xml.async = false
11 xml.loadXML(text)
13 'Load XSL
14 set xsl = Server.CreateObject("Microsoft.XMLDOM")
15 xsl.async = false
16 xsl.load(Server.MapPath("wordpress.xsl"))
18 'Transform file
19 Response.AddHeader "Content-Type", "text/html;charset=UTF-8"
20 Response.CodePage = 65001
21 Response.CharSet = "UTF-8"
22 Response.Write _
23 (Replace(xml.transformNode(xsl),"<a ","<a target=""_blank"" "))

Lines 1-6: The first ServerXMLHTTP object gives us a way for invoking a URL without any user interaction.  Using it we open a connection to the our WordPress RSS feed and then make the request.  Finally, we put the response for the request into a variable called text.

Lines 8-11: Next we create a XMLDOM object.  This is used to parse the plain text currently stored in the text variable into an internal tress like structure.

Lines 13-16: Then we have to create another XMLDOM object and do the same thing for our XSL document we created earlier.

Linse 18-23: Finally, we transform the RSS feed into our desired HTML using the XSL we defined earlier.  This is done using:


However,  there are a few things we might like to do to the output before we present it the browser.  Firstly, we want to make sure our output is UTF-8, if not, we might end up with some weird characters appearing in our output.  Even if we have stated UTF-8 encoding in our XSL document, we must also state UTF-8 for the output of the XSLT.  In this example, this is done in lines 19-21.  The final thing done before the writing the result of the transform to the response is to insert all target="_blank" into all the hyperlinks so that links will open a new tab within the web browser.  This is especially helpful if the XSLT output will eventually reside within an iframe (of course target="_top" would also have been a valid option).  This operation could have also been done within the XSL stylesheet.

Presenting the Transform with a Web Page

Lastly, we need to add our blog to a Web Page.  The easiest and most versatile way is to put it into an iframe.  An example of this is shown below (where the XSLT processing script is located at http://www.kirstiebirr.com/xml/wordpress.asp):

<iframe src="http://www.kirstiebirr.com/xml/wordpress.asp"
style="border-width:0;background-color: white" width="720"
height="720" frameborder="0" scrolling="auto" />

Final Thoughts

Of course there are some plugins which exist for doing this stuff already, which might be easier to set up.  However, once you have this in place, you would be able to use XSLT in a variety of ways with some minor adjustments to the XSL stylesheet.  It has the advantage that it is not limited to just WordPress, but any well formed RSS feeds (such as podcasts) or any other XML document.

If you don’t know what you want, how do you know what to do next?

At the beginning of last year I stumbled on the book  “Organisation for the Creative Person” by Dorothy Lehmkuhl and Dolores Cotter lamping.

At that time I was feeling anxious and uncertain about what to do with my life, and my life was very thinly spread across many activities.

I found the book to be tremendously helpful.  Being unsure about what you want makes it difficult to say “No” to opportunities, just in case you are making the wrong decision!

“If you don’t know what you want, how do you know what to do next?” 

Some people are very clear on what they want in life.  A truly successful life includes ethics, family and community.  A deep feeling of satisfaction and contentment equals success.

A useful exercise could be to:

  • Visualise how your home, office or studio would look
  • Think about when you die, what will you have wanted to accomplish
There are many opportunities out there.  But by carrying out these exercises I have been able to think about making sure all the aspects that are important to me are incorporated in my schedule.  If they are not included, they will not happen! Whether that be your own personal health and fitness or your desire to help others in some voluntary capacity.
I was delighted to tick of the majority of my 2010 goals.  This year 2011, as life circumstances yet again change.  I am drawn to the thinking of the FlyLady in helping to keep on top of things at home, but also applying the principles to other aspects of life, so that I can incorporate the things that are important to me in life without burning out.
Rome wasn’t built in a day!  What helpful tips do you have that you could share?

Making a difference with Social Media

Having worked and served as a volunteer in several charities.  I am well aware of the challenges of resources, be it people, time and money.

I have been reading an article brought to my attention by @nigelbotterill Social storytelling boosts donations 31 percent for Ronald McDonald House Charities

I found it to be very thought provoking and got me looking around Twitter and Facebook at my favourite charities HOPE Worldwide and HOPE Worldwide UK.  I think they could do with the help of a Social Media Manager.  But would most likely not have the finances to hire one.

Do you know how much the voluntary sector needs you? You have the chance to touch peoples lives and use your talents, time and energy.  I think it is always good do something for purely altruistic reasons – it is good for the soul!

Who do you think you could help?

Starting out with Blogging

Today I have been researching articles on blog writing.  I enjoyed the post by @PoLRBlog http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/7448-25-reasons-why-you-should-be-blogging#blog_comment_58878 .

If you are in business or have a cause you wish to promote via social media, then this article may help prompt you to start blog writing, or reinvigorate you if you have become weary.

For those just starting out make use of WordPress, Blogger and TypePad.

Useful sources of articles to write blogs on are:

  • Google alerts
  • Twitter Search
  • Mashable
  • Alltop.com
  •  Stufftotweet.com
  •  Popurls.com
  • Pressit.com

There should be at least one article you find of interest and can blog about.  This promotes integration which @wenbryant is keen to foster within the industry and to quote @Klout, your amplification and network will be developed.   It will also ensure you keep abreast of what is happening in your industry.  I think this is a great discipline to develop in an industry as fast paced as Social Media.

There is great power in a great infographic used in a blog.  As seen here in Eileen Brown’s blog.   http://eileenbrown.wordpress.com/  .

These are a few of the things I have managed to glean today.  Let me know if there was anything of interest to you, or if you have any tips/advice for myself.