Having worked in digital and on websites for over 10 years it's fair to say that I've come across a number of problems that don't seem to have any technical solutions. This has involved me searching around for ways to achieve what I need to do and trying a number of different tools.

The list below contains some little tips and tools which have been extremely useful to me in the past. They're not all particularly new, powerful or advanced but they have definitely got me out of a tight spot once of twice and are FREE!  I've regularly recommended them to friends and colleagues so thought it was about time I collated a few on them into one useful blog post. Here comes the list:

1. Unroll.me: Cleanse your inbox

Whenever I run email training sessions I give this a little mention and people shake me by the hand with gratitude! Basically it solves that familiar problem of hundreds of daily spam emails. Just visit Unroll.me from your browser, login to your email account (e.g. Gmail) and see a list of everyone who is sending you spam emails. Then just uncheck the ones you no longer want to receive - it's as easy as that to cleanse your inbox! You can also consilidate all of your sales emails into one daily digest to ensure you don't get bombarded but still receive those all important offers.

2. Savefrom.net: Download any YouTube video

Download any YouTube video and save it to your machine! This works for absolutely anything and is great if you no longer have a password for your account or need to grab some footage to test how it would look on your edited video. It really is as simple as adding two letters to the URL - just add 'ss' before ' youtube.com' (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUAPdRhxtRM becomes https://www.ssyoutube.com/watch?v=qUAPdRhxtRM) and choose your file format and size.

3. YouTube to MP3: Save any YouTube video as a music file

This is a great free tool for saving the sound of YouTube videos as MP3s that go straight into iTunes. All you need to do is paste the URL of the video into the program and the download begins. Some nice little features are that it keeps the description etc. and saves them as the ID3 tas and it also cuts out any unwelcome silences.

4. Handbrake: open source video transcoder

This is one of my old favourites as it's so quick and easy to use. Just choose the video file you want to convert to any other format and away you go! There are loads of presets for different sizes and encoders but one of the best things about it is it also rips DVDs and puts them straight on your desktop ready for editing. 'Put down that cocktail' and get using it!

5. Chimpfeedr: RSS feed aggregator

This is a fun little one and solved the problem for me of trying to get multiple RSS feeds, from multiple sources, to all plug in either to the same website or digital screen. All you need to do is plug them in ('Feed them to the Chimp') and he chompas them all up into one feed.This is actually a little offshoot from Mail Chimp so allows you to then use these feeds in RSS to email campaigns. 'Chomp, Chomp!'

6. Quick Sprout: Comprehensive website analysis

This is a very easy to use tool which gives a really comprehensive analysis of your website. It includes social media analysis too and can even show you how you're doing against your competitors. It's great for getting internal buy-in on projects or to get an overview of where you need to foucs your efforts. There's also loads of tips for SEO and speed and it gives nice feedback on how your site performs on different devices.

7. Firebug: Test live website changes

A great little browser add-on which provides the same functionality as the ‘Inspect Element’ right-click-menu option in Firefox and Chrome but with added power. You can fiddle with the HTML and CSS on the fly making it easy to find out what you need to do to the source code so the page comes out right. It’s also useful for demonstrating minor changes to  managers or the development team. You can also mess around with external sites and screen grab the results.

8. ColorZilla: Grab any colour instantly

Despite the American spelling this is another useful browser add-on. Need a brand colour quickly but don’t know the RGB values? No problem. ColorZilla lets you pick it straight from a web page and gives it to you in RGB, HSV, CMYK and Hex. This has saved me a lot of time in the past and means I can quickly work out which palette to use when starting a new project.

9. Google URL builder: Track everything

Every campaign I've run for the past five years has made use of this tool! It links seamlessly with Google Analytics and allows a very quick way of tracking all of the individual assets of a campaign in one place. One thing to be careful of though is that you ensure naming conventions are agreed in the team and adhered to but after that you're good to go!

10. Pingdom: website speed test

I've blogged about this before but there is no better free way to check the speed of your website and work out what is causing any problems (e.g no Gzip running or images are not compressed). There is also a paid version which offers a lot more functionality such as downtime alerts, SEO performance and server response time.

11. Twitter Fontana: Display Tweets

There are loads of nice free ways to display Tweets on a screen in a visual manner (Visible Tweets is an old favorite) but this is the best free one I've seen at the moment. You just login to your Twitter account and then add a search (either by term, account of hashtag), choose one of the many styles and add an animation and you have a professional looking Twitter wall. Great for events, but just remember that it's not moderated!
I've never been that good at saying 'No'. At work, my philosophy has always been to just be as useful as possible to everybody. That way you can quickly begin to add value to the team and even the people who don't like you won't make trouble if they realise you are helpful to them! With this in mind, part of our social strategy at Kier is to inform people that if they want their own account they can have one. We don't say 'no'. They just need to attend our course...

With so many joint ventures and specific projects happening many of our regional offices feel they would benefit from their own Twitter/Facebook accounts. This is why I've been travelling a lot lately, to present on what we are doing centrally, how staff can plug into it and to highlight the implications of managing their own social media account(s). Primarily this is educating people on what it is they are actually asking for and the implications. I always liken setting up a Twitter account to setting up a stall outside your office - you're basically putting up a shop front for people to come and moan at you! If you're willing to do something about what you hear then great, but if all you intend to do is broadcast and then hide under the table when challenged there is little point.

My training venue this week. They
make great tuna baguettes!
Strategy is also vitally important and the course we've devised covers everything from the basics, right up to proving ROI and governance. More often than not we mutually decide that tapping into our existing channels would be best for all concerned. This approach is as important for meeting people in the business, understand their needs and objectives and then working together to generate content to benefit Kier as whole and helps us to test and learn.

On Monday, I was pleased to be vindicated in this approach after hearing the Head of Digital Communications at BP present on their strategy at the Digital Marketing Dialogue in Ascot. They also have an attitude that is geared towards educating the business with an online course giving an introduction to Social Media for all staff. Where they differ, is that they then ask anyone who wants their own social account to fill in a form outlining their objectives, KPIs, out of hours and monitoring strategies. It seems not many people actually think this far ahead and when faced with these questions decide not to bother. That's one way of doing it!

The new online experience which
more customers are expecting
On the whole the conference was a great opportunity for me to get out of the office and hear from my equivalents at KLM, Sky, Monster, HP, More Th>n and Philips. I actually learnt as much about presentation technique as I did about other company's strategies and found the ones that resonated with me most were the ones which told a story. I also spotted a theme that was around the importance in providing an old fashioned and personal experience online. Human nature being what it is it's clear that where technology became the go to method for some to do their shopping it's now gone full circle and people are expecting the same personal experience they would get in person online (i.e. to be remembered, listened to and helped).

Probably the most useful part of the conference was the chance to talk with my peers around strategies that work best for them. I did find however that when I told people I work for Kier their first thought was "the car company?" This definitely shows that our plan to increase awareness of what we do through both our online and offline is a right one. I really hope that I can go back next year and prove I've done my job well by everyone knowing who we are!

So in conclusion there is nothing that beats human interaction. Whether it be at a conference or through a training course. No matter what shiny new toys are on the horizon having a dialogue in person will always be the most effective.

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