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Social Media: A Swiss Army Knife for SMBs

Social media has become so ingrained in our culture these days that much of the time, we’re not even aware of it as anything “other.” But for some, it’s way more than just a recreational outlet. It turns out that small businesses that are using social media are seeing the biggest gains, according to the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report: from new partnerships to qualified leads to improved sales to reduced marketing costs.

Gartner’s Anthony Bradley defines social media this way: “At its foundation, social media is a set of technologies and channels targeted at forming and enabling a potentially massive community of participants to productively collaborate. IT tools to support collaboration have existed for decades. But social-media technologies, such as social networking, wikis and blogs, enable collaboration on a much grander scale and support tapping the power of the collective in ways previously unachievable.”

One company that’s doing exactly that is FanAxcess.com, an Oakland, California-based start up that aims to match up-and-coming musicians with potential brand sponsors, while also creating a simpler and more cost-effective pathway for advertisers to reach target markets.

Brands are always seeking fresh ways to differentiate—and personify—themselves with standout spokespersons. But, that can be tough when there’s always the same pool of big fish to choose from. “We provide a forum for artists to create very specific profiles that give insight into who they—and their fan bases—are. So, if you’re an advertiser, you can search artists by audience (based on their social media fans across sites or, their average number of live fans), by genre, by eco-friendliness (or other indicators), and by upcoming tours and promotions,” explains Suzanne Mino Koga, co-founder, artist manager and music marketing consultant. This creates a dynamic library for advertisers to source from, to find just the right match in terms of brand feel/aspirations and audience it wishes to target. “And along the way, musical artists can tap into new potential revenue streams and raise their visibility,” adds Koga.

For other businesses that use social media such as Yelp, Facebook or Twitter as a way to market and build community with their customers, there’s something else to think about: the caliber of the type of customers you attract when you engage in social media. These folks are more digitally connected. And that means they can be a powerful form of advertising on your behalf. So when your customers come to your place of business, you need to provide guest wireless access to let them be your spokespersons and to keep them coming back.

Consistently monitoring social media activity is also critical. In fact, according to Indaba, 66% of businesses were using or were planning  to use Social media monitoring for their business. Remember to watch out for potential security issues, as pointed out in a recent Cisco Small Business blog: As the line between personal and professional blurs, employees who might monitor or update your accounts could unknowingly introduce malware picked up from their own personal accounts.

Just as a Swiss Army knife can be a great productivity tool, so can social media—with care and clarity around how you want to use it, you can expand your community of customers and partners. Not only that, you can sharpen your results: If customers can be more productive interacting with your brand—and amplifying their experiences—you’ve carved out a really great success story.

If you’re going to be in Houston next week, be sure to register for The Small Business Tour: Time to Thrive, on June 7. Cisco executive Lief Koepsel will talk about how small businesses can use social media—as well as cloud and mobility—to reach new levels of productivity and success.

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IPv6 Hitting Closer to Home. Are You Ready?

Follow these 3 steps for preparing your network for the new Internet protocol

On June 6, currently being referred to as World IPv6 Day, several of the world’s largest ISPs and websites will permanently enable IPv6 —the next-generation Internet. With the explosive growth of Internet-enabled devices, the batch of IPv4 addresses that allows those devices to access the Internet have run out. The new Internet protocol, IPv6, provides a greater number of addresses to support more people, more companies, and more devices on the Internet. Consider this: By 2016, 39 percent of all global mobile devices could be capable of connecting to an IPv6 mobile network—that’s more than 4 billion devices.

Your current network running IPv4-based devices won’t be obsolete for some time. However, if you haven’t already started making plans for the transition to IPv6, you should. The first step you should take is determining how and when to transition to the new Internet protocol based on your business needs. For example, if you do business with others who are already on an IPv6 network, you may decide to migrate sooner rather than later.

Once you’ve made that decision, you can follow these steps for preparing your network for IPv6.

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Personal Security Incidents Can Put Everyone at Risk

When employees use their own devices for work, there’s no such thing as a personal security breach

It’s no exaggeration to say that mobile smart devices have changed the way people work. With smartphone in hand, employees now expect to be able to check email from their kid’s baseball game, finalize financial transactions on the fly, and log into cloud-based services at the gym—not to mention play Angry Birds whenever they want. The downside to this round-the-clock connectivity is the security risk it can introduce to your network and, because devices are personally owned, the difficulty of locking them down. These days, there’s no such thing as a personal security breach. A security incident on a personal device can put your entire network at risk.

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Cloudy with a Chance of Unlimited Potential

You might not know it, but you (and I) have been working in the cloud for quite some time.  For instance, raise your hand if you were one of the masses hanging in chat rooms in AOL in the 90s.  (You can put your hand down now). You’ve probably been sending and receiving email longer than you can remember, too. We’ve all been working in the cloud to one extent or another, even before it was referred to as a cloud—as was discussed on a recent Science Friday program on NPR. And by the way, you’re still working (or playing) in the cloud—if you are on Facebook, or Yelp, or Spotify, or if you use Dropbox. What differentiates current cloud from early cloud is that what we can do today is much more sophisticated, and giving us more power to be productive.

Essentially, cloud is the central power station that extends productivity and enables greater interconnectivity. In fact, in today’s environment, we’re seeing SMB customers serving as the early adopters of public cloud applications and services and mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. In fact, there was a great blog recently on how to move to working in the cloud.

One of the more compelling aspects of cloud is how it actually helps even the playing field for businesses, rendering labels such as SMB or Enterprise irrelevant at times. Need evidence? The New York Times recently reported on Cycle Computing, a 20-person company that makes supercomputer software. By grouping a massive supercomputing cluster, with 50,000 processors, on Amazon Web Services (read: Cloud) to do drug compound simulations, it used its software as an operating system, and utilized resources from several Amazon data centers. Joining forces with two other small companies, they used up the equivalent of 12.5 processor years, but completed their mission in fewer than three hours. According to the article, the computing cost was less than $4,900 a hour. “This enables small companies and any researcher that has a grant to do science that they could never do before,” Jason Stowe, chief executive of Cycle Computing, said in an interview.

As our reliance on the cloud grows, our expectations for speed and ease of access accelerate. And when you add mobility to the equation, you find new ways to work and drive business results: to make it easier for employees to be productive, partners to collaborate, and for customers to become more engaged—the potential opportunity is unlimited.

If you’ve got a good story that shows how you’ve been able to advance your business through cloud, let us know—we’d love to hear it.

Switches with Integrated Voice Features Speed New VoIP Installations

Small business switches with auto-deployment features remove the complexity of rolling out IP-based voice systems

If you’ve decided to upgrade your legacy phone system to a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) solution, you want to make sure that installation is as smooth and trouble-free as possible. A good place to start is with your network switch. As the traffic controller of your network, the switch connects different devices and allows them to communicate with each other. To make rolling out IP-based voice easier, you can choose a managed or smart switch with integrated automatic deployment features and built-in configuration tools.

Several of Cisco’s small business switches are designed to simplify VoIP deployments as well as make day-to-day network operations easier. The Cisco 200 Series Smart Switches, the Cisco Small Business 300 Series Managed Switches, and the new Cisco 500 Series Stackable Managed Switches include auto-deployment features that remove most of the complexity of installing voice equipment. Each of these small business switches include four integrated, easy-to-use configuration and management tools and integrated features: Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP) and Link-Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP), Auto SmartPorts, Voice Services Discovery Protocol (VSDP), and Cisco Configuration Assistant (CCA) Used together, these tools can result in zero-touch deployments of voice equipment.

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