Three Security Tips for Freelancers

This is a guest post written by Cassie Phillips, a blogger with Secure Thoughts, an Internet security company.

Maintaining a successful freelance career can be difficult. Oftentimes, the biggest difficulty is finding clients who are in need of your services and willing to pay a reasonable price. There’s another difficulty that is sometimes overlooked: staying secure on the Internet.

With money being moved between multiple accounts and contact with numerous clients, continual daily access to the Internet can be dangerous if certain security procedures are not put in place. To protect yourself against hackers, identity thieves, and other online threats, here are a few security tips for freelancers that can help protect you and your money.

1. Protecting Private Data (and Money) with a VPN

Woman working on LaptopUnlike traditional jobs, freelancers cannot expect to earn a steady income. There is no single employer who is going to regularly deposit money into your bank account. On the contrary, freelancers are likely to earn money from a myriad number of sources, processed through a variety of accounts. From private bank accounts to PayPal to Google Wallet, a freelancer’s money is always flowing from one account into another. Protecting the flow of your money and any associated data is of utmost importance.

Remember that securing your finances on the Internet is not as easy as making a few clicks. If this is all you do, then you remain in an unsafe position where a hacker could see your financial information, hack into your computer or accounts, and steal your identity or just simply empty whatever accounts he can get his hands on. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the key to preventing this from happening.

A VPN creates a tunnel between your computer and a third-party server elsewhere. When you access the Internet using a VPN, your data is encrypted and your IP address is hidden. When it comes out of the third-party server, it will appear as if your computer is accessing the Internet from that origin point.

In other words, your server and your connection point remain invisible so you can remain anonymous. However, not all VPNs are created equally. Some have different price tags; others offer different speeds, and others still host various numbers of third-party servers. Do your research to ensure you’re selected the best of the best.

2. Using Trusted and Secure Freelance Contracting Services

In addition to securing your Internet connection, you need to ensure that you are working with trustworthy individuals and companies and secure websites. There are many freelance contracting services available on the Internet serving different types of freelancers. No matter which one you choose, however, you should always make sure that is a reputable service that has not been hacked. There are several ways to do this:

Use Trustworthy Services: If you’ve been freelancing for even a short while, you may be familiar with some of the larger and more trustworthy freelancing services on the Internet, such as Upwork, Elance, Guru and Freelancer. If you stick with the large and trusted services, you will be safer than looking for fringe sites that are unknown and possibly dangerous.

Check for HTTPS: Because freelancing services are responsible for collecting personal data for freelancer’s profiles, facilitating private communications, and shipping money, you need to make sure that the site is secure. One simple way to do this is to look at the URL and make sure that it begins with “HTTPS” rather than “HTTP.” The “S” stands for secure and means that there are layers of encryption being used to protect users on the site compared to the unsecure alternative. Take a look at the address bar in the screenshot for UpWork’s home page and notice the “https” in green:

UpWork's Home Page https

Note the https in the address bar. That means this site is secure. (credit: UpWork’s front page screenshot)

Use Google: If a freelance site is using “HTTP” rather than “HTTPS,” double check its trustworthiness and reputability. You can do this with a simple Google search. Simply type in the name of the service followed by words like “review,” “spam,” “scam” or “hack” to see if anything alarming pops up. For example, if there are numerous reviewers claiming that the site has been hacked or is vulnerable to a hack, avoid that service.

3. Maintaining a Secure Virtual Workspace

There are a few more things you can do to maintain security as a freelancer such as adding a few more layers of protection to your virtual workspace. A firewall will alert you when intruders are trying to access your computer or when your computer is trying to do things without being asked. Anti-spyware or anti-virus software will scan your computer regularly to watch for malware. And a password vault, like 1Password can let you create complex passwords, but store them so you don’t have to remember them all.

These are only a few of things that you need to do to ensure you remain safe and secure as a freelancer. There are certainly other ways to protect yourself. What do you do to keep yourself safe as a freelancer?

As a freelancer, Cassie learned quickly that internet security is a must. She enjoys sharing her knowledge with others because, let’s face it, freelancers don’t make much money and they need to protect their equipment as much as possible!

Photo credit: Moleshko (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Use Communication Theory to Boost Search Engine Optimization

The persuasion theory behind celebrity endorsements is the same theory behind Google’s new social media search.

It’s called Balance Theory, and when you understand the essence of it, you start to understand why Google is putting so much stock into Google+. And how Google+ can enhance your own search experience.

Balance Theory and Celebrity Endorsements

Without getting into all the scientific language we used when I was in graduate school, balance theory basically says this:

  • I like Celebrity A.
  • Celebrity A likes Product B.
  • That means I should like (and buy) Product B as well.

(Fellow philosophy majors will also recognize this as the 2 premises/1 conclusion logical construction.)

In other words, I like Eminem. Eminem likes Chrysler. Therefore, I should also like Chrysler. (The danger is that if I don’t like Celebrity A, I’ll purposely not like Product B just to restore that balance. It’s why a lot of sponsors drop celebrities who get into trouble.)

This is what marketers are counting on when they put a celebrity’s name and face on a product or company. It’s why Eminem is schlepping Chrysler on the Super Bowl. It’s why Reebok is clamoring for contracts with the NFL. It’s why Nike puts famous basketball players on its shoes.

This is the same basic idea that goes into Google’s personalized “My World” search results. If you’ve used Google lately, you’ve noticed that a lot of your friends are appearing in those results. That’s because Google is relying on Balance Theory to help improve your search results. (Maybe not intentionally, but that’s what’s at play here.)

Here’s what they’re doing with it:

  • I like Douglas Karr.
  • Douglas Karr has talked about corporate blogging.
  • That means I should check out what Douglas has said about corporate blogging.

And if I like what Google has shown me, I’ll continue to use Google.

Google's Personal Results for Corporate Blogging

These are the PERSONAL results for "corporate blogging." But that is not really Jason Falls in the 2nd picture from the left.

How Can You Use Balance Theory in Search Engine Optimization?

If you’re building your personal brand, or you’re doing social media marketing for your company, the best way to use Balance Theory for your search engine optimization is to use Google+, and develop relationships with key decision makers at the companies you want to do business with.

  • Connect with the decision makers at the companies you’re trying to reach.
  • Write blog posts about the key areas and problems they’re dealing with at their company. You can find that out just by paying attention to their conversations on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+.
  • Continue to share important articles with them related to those same areas and problems. (This is all part of that “be a valuable resource” stuff we’ve talked about before.)

Then, as these people search for those particular keywords, your blog posts and your articles will rise to the top of their search engine results page. End result? “Hmm, this person seems to know an awful lot about this topic. I wonder what else they can help me with?”

However, this is not a reason to connect with everyone you can find on Google+ or to spam the bejeezus out of them with all kinds of articles and blog posts. You do that, and you’ll most certainly be blocked and ignored by everyone you’re trying to reach. Just write about what you want to write about at an acceptable pace, and connect with a reasonable number of people on a level that doesn’t seem creepy, desperate, or spammy.

With a little effort and just by following some common sense, you can use the Balance Theory — something usually only used by marketers with millions to spend — to start winning higher search engine rankings on your chosen keywords.

Calling Out Bad Behavior via Social Media

We tend to be pretty passive-aggressive as a society. And social media seems to have made it worse, in some ways. Social media has made it possible for us to point out bad behavior, and we’ll often do it to a complete stranger, but we won’t do it to our friends.

I did a short (unscientific) survey last month to find out whether people would call out bad behavior on the part of strangers versus friends. I wasn’t surprised by some of the results, partly because most of the people I know are pretty nice people and not prone to being online jerks. But mostly because many respondents are from the Midwest, and we’re annoyingly nice about a lot of things.

Summary

Basically what I found is, we are more likely to forgive friends, but we will stick it to a complete stranger.

  • If we are wronged by a friend, we’ll point it out privately rather than call it out.
  • 40% of us will hang a stranger out to dry publicly; nearly all of us will tell someone else about it.
  • Only a very few people will say or do nothing, either about a friend or a stranger’s bad behavior.

The Survey

This was a four question survey, with a series of answers that asks about responses that range from very direct (and rather jerky) to very passive (being a doormat).

For example, question #1 asked: When a friend — who uses social media — wrongs me in some way, I am more likely to:

  1. Call them out BY NAME on a social network. “I can’t believe @edeckers stood me up for our meeting this morning.”
  2. Point out my annoyance, but don’t mention their name. “Got stood up for a 7:30 am meeting.”
  3. Send them a private message pointing out the problem. “Did you forget we had a meeting this morning?”
  4. Absolutely nothing.

The Results

So would you @reply someone or set your Facebook status to call them out by name? Or would you passive-aggressively point out to the whole world that some unnamed jerkface missed your morning meeting?

I wasn’t that surprised by the results. Most people are nice enough to keep our gripes private, and to not air our grievances in public, and the numbers bore this out. Out of 107 responses to Question 1:

  • 80 people (74.7%) said they would email their friend privately to point out their problems.
  • 12 people (11.2%) would call out the incident, but not name the person.
  • 11 people (10.2%) would do absolutely nothing at all.
  • 4 people (3%) would call that person out by name.

I was intrigued that the number of people who would do absolutely nothing to tell the other person what they had done was nearly the same as the number of people who would point out the bad behavior but not name any names.

When I’m in public, and someone does something annoying, I am more likely to:

Friends vs. Strangers

Question #2 was about whether people would point out something annoying that someone else did, but not to them: When I’m in public, and someone does something annoying, I am more likely to:

  1. Point out their bad behavior on a social network, including pictures or video. “Check out this jerkwad being an ass to his wife.”
  2. Point out their bad behavior, but give them their anonymity. “Some guy next to me is being an ass to his wife.”
  3. Email a friend privately and relay the story to them.
  4. Absolutely nothing.

The results were a little more dramatic this time compared to what people would say to their friends. Out of 106 responses (someone missed this one):

  • 57 people (53.8%) said they would email a friend privately to tell them about the stranger’s behavior.
  • 32 people (30.2%) said they would call out this stranger’s behavior, and include pictures or videos
  • 11 people (10.3%) would call out the behavior, but not include any identifying information.
  • 6 people (5.7%) would do absolutely nothing.

When a stranger does something annoying in public, I am more likely to:

Observations

This is the stuff that intrigues me, and really makes me wish I had paid better attention in stats class in grad school. Because there are some interesting correlations between what we consider acceptable behavior toward friends versus complete strangers.

  • Most people (nearly 75%) will tell friends privately about their own bad behavior, but 40.5% of these people will publicly call out bad behavior from a stranger.
  • Compare that to 3% of people who would call out a friend by name on Twitter or Facebook. This tells me that most people are nice, and a few can be rather cut-throat and nasty.
  • Surprisingly, more people — 30.2% vs. 10.3% — will point an accusing finger at a stranger by including evidence of their bad behavior than will give them anonymity.
  • 94.3% of people will tell someone about a stranger’s bad behavior, whether it’s publicly or via email.
  • The number of people who would point out bad behavior but protect the person’s identity in either situation is nearly the same: 10.3% will talk about a stranger versus 11.2% who will call out, but not identify, friends (11 people vs. 12 people).
  • The percentage of people who will do nothing when a friend wrongs them versus a stranger nearly doubled — 10.2% versus 5.7% respectively, or 11 versus 6 people.

Conclusion

So what does all of this mean? Are we people with a strong sense of moral outrage who will point out the failings of other people, but only when they’re not anyone we know? And do we hold back out of fear of retribution or respect for our friends’ feelings? Or do we have an overwhelming sense of schadenfreude, but refrain from doing it at inappropriate moments?

What about you? What do you think? What conclusions can you draw from this study? What do you think this tells us about ourselves, as it relates to social media?

The rest of the questions:

Question #3: When I am having an argument with a friend or family member, I will start/continue the discussion on a social network.

  • Yes (2 people)
  • No (105 people)

Question #4: Which social network do you use the most?

  • Twitter (51 people)
  • Facebook (50)
  • LinkedIn (5)
  • Google+ (1)

Video Review – HTC Thunderbolt 4G and Verizon 4G Mifi

I had a chance to review the HTC Thunderbolt 4G smartphone and the Verizon 4G Mifi unit, thanks to Verizon Wireless and Kyle Communications, Verizon’s PR firm here in Indianapolis.

Right after I reviewed the video, and griped for several seconds about the battery life on the Thunderbolt, James from Kyle Communications showed up to pick up the phone, and told me the reason the battery life is so short is because this is a 4G unit, and it’s carrying a bigger load. Some people have said the Samsung unit has a better battery life, but James says that’s because it’s still a 3G unit. He says Samsung’s new 4G Fascinate will have similar issues. However, they have an extended battery available at Verizon, although James didn’t know much about it. My only concern with the Thunderbolt, other than the one I stated in the video, is that the battery life could be an issue if you find yourself in a place where you don’t have any access to power. Otherwise, you’ll want power cords in your car, your office, and your home just to make sure you don’t run out.

Do you have a Thunderbolt or a Samsung Fascinate? What have you found? Do you use a Mifi? Love it or hate it? Let me know what technology you’re using, or what technology you would like me to review, and I’ll see what I can do.

Update

After I posted this video, I received an update from my new bestie, Michelle Gilbert, the Verizon PR genius who arranged for me to review these units. (She can be even more geniuser if she can arrange for me to do a two year review of the Xoom.) Here are some corrections she offered, and I’m just posting them verbatim.

With respect to the 4G mobile hotspot device, you are correct that when you tether it to your laptop (for charging or any other purpose), you make it a private connection. If you charge it in the wall, however, you can still use it as a Wi-Fi hotspot.

I also wanted to address your concerns about the battery life on the Thunderbolt and your conversation with James. James is correct that a 4G device works harder than a 3G device, so battery life may be impacted. With that being said, however, I have used both devices and do feel that the Samsung DROID Charge has stronger battery life. I think it boils down to what operating system does a customer prefer – HTC or Samsung? Both are great devices. I do agree with you that Thunderbolt users should invest in an extended battery and car charger.

For your blog post, I’m not sure if you want to clarify, but there is no 4G Fascinate. The Samsung 4G smartphone is the DROID Charge.

After Michelle’s clarification, I am convinced that I’ll stick with the HTC and just get the extended battery. And given the fact that I take my laptop with me everywhere I go, I can always plug the USB charger into the computer and charge up the Thunderbolt that way. Plus if they made one for the mini-USB, I would even consider getting a hand crank charger.

Thanks again to Michelle for the great information, and for letting me try out these new devices. Looking forward to getting one of my own.

11 Great Blog Plugins for Mobile Browsers

Is mobile browsing really only 5% of all website visits?

According to Stat Counter, from August 2010 to January 2011, mobile browsing versus desktop browsing of websites is 5%. While that may not seem like much, that’s actually pretty huge. The previous 8 months of 2010, mobile traffic accounted for 2.5% of all web traffic.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – Mobile vs. Desktop Market Share

 

As a mobile user, I have to say, I’m a little frustrated when I visit certain websites. Chances are, if websites and blogs were mobile compatible, I bet the 5% would be so much higher. How often do you get a Tweet that sends you to a website, only to to have to adjust the content to fit your screen, or scroll back and forth just to read the site? I don’t even stick around, so I’m sure that I am a bounce on a sites statistics.

My favorite soccer blog, Soccer by Ives, is very active on Twitter. Whenever I click through to one of his articles on my iPhone, I am always annoyed that his Typepad site is not mobile compatible. I also access my other favorite site, Match Fit USA, via Twitter and my iPhone, but it had the same problem, so I tweeted and suggested the blogger plugin he needed for mobile browsers. He obliged, installed it, and Match Fit USA is now very easy to read on my iPhone now.

If you have a WordPress blog, it is easy. There are 10 for WordPress plugins for mobile browsers:

  • WP iPhone: This is our favorite. If you visit Professional Blog Service on your phone, you’ll see a beautiful, clean layout that actually works on all mobile phones.
  • WordPress Mobile Edition
  • Wodpress Mobile.mobi
  • WordPress Mobile Pack
  • MobilePress
  • Mobile Admin
  • Mobilize
  • Mowser
  • Wetomo WordPress to Mobile
  • WP viewMobile
Erik Deckers' Laughing Stalk QR Code

Erik Deckers' Laughing Stalk QR Code

Blogger now has a beta for mobile browsers, as well. Erik uses the new Draft Mobile Platform for his Laughing Stalk blog. Check it out. (They even have a QR code, which you can access from your phone. You can try it here.)

Typepad also has a mobile browsing option, although we haven’t tried it out yet.

It is time to provide your mobile users the ability to read your site content without pinching or swiping — or worse — just ignoring your blog post updates. Update your sites for mobile browsing, and your followers will love you for it.

New Twitter Tool, Twylah, Promises Huge Things for Social Media

Last Friday I tweeted: “I’m easily impressed. I’m not easily flabbergasted. @kabaim just flabbergasted me. Follow him and ask how he did it.”

Twylah screenshot for Erik Deckers

Screenshot of my Twylah page. Click to see a bigger version.

@kabaim is Eric Kim, founder and CEO of Twylah, the new Twitter tool that Eric says is going to change the way we use Twitter. Twylah (@Twylah)does all these amazing things. So many of them, in fact, that I’ve probably forgotten a few them here.

Imagine going to a website that’s laid out like a magazine theme for a blog. On that page are your tweets, categorized by the topics you tweet about most. There, a visitor can see those categories, and read more tweets within each of them. The layout page will pull out any photos you’ve included with your tweets, and then organize the rest in reverse chronological order.

This does a number of things for you, for the reader, even for search engine optimization.

    • It lets visitors experience your tweets visually, rather than seeing an entire timeline. Don’t like one particular category, like your 90 minute ongoing discussion with your project team about where to have lunch? Replace it with one you prefer. Want to highlight a Twitter topic from two months ago? Drop a less interesting one and replace it with the old topic.

Screenshot of Twylah tool for keyword Branding Yourself.

  • It can pull in tweets from weeks, or even months ago. This gives life to your tweets, beyond the typical 1-hour life expectancy that our tweets usually have.
  • Each Twylah page is a real web page. The links on them are shortened using bit.ly, which means they’re not only trackable, but they even count as backlinks to your real site. This will be a big help for anyone who needs an SEO boost.
  • You can direct people to your Twylah page instead of your Twitter profile page, giving people an expanded view of your bio. Now people can see if you’re a real person, and if you talk about what you claim to talk about.
  • People can even follow you directly from Twylah, rather than jumping back to your Twitter page to follow you.

 

These are all pretty cool features, and based on my scribbled notes, there’s a lot of amazing stuff that Twylah is going to do.

But, there are three things that social media marketers and practitioners need to take note of, because these things are going to be H-U-G-Efor social media professionals. Of course, these will not be included in the initial rollout of Twylah, but Eric expects them to be available around 6 weeks later. (I hope I didn’t just jinx that.)

Another look at the Twylah layout

Further down my Twylah page.

  • Users will be able to subscribe to a person’s categories of tweets. For example, if you’re following Douglas Karr, but only want to read his tweets about the Marketing Technology Blog radio show, you can subscribe to that category. Here’s the even cooler part: Those tweets will be emailed to you as a newsletter. Subscribe to several people and their categories for a bigger newsletter, and read their interesting tweets at your leisure.
  • Twylah will have an analytics package. Not only can you see how many times your stuff was retweeted, or how often you tweeted about certain topics/categories, but you can see how many people engaged with your tweets — retweeting, clicking links, etc. For example, if you tweet about the Android phone, you can also see the engagement with those tweets has gone up. If you also tweet about the latest Twitter meme, you may see that your engagement went down for that topic. Translation: You can adjust the topics, and even time, of your tweets accordingly, based on the engagement of your tweets by your followers.
  • Twylah’s analytics will also tell you what you need to tweet about and when, to help your engagement improve. Twylah will actually help you figure out when most of your network is actually using Twitter, and what sort of tweets interest them the most. What’s cool: This is especially useful for people who are very particular about following people with certain backgrounds, such as book marketers trying to build a following of independent bookstores.
  • Twylah will eventually aggregate the total engagement of different topics. Imagine being able to know which of Twitter’s trending topics are actually engaging the readers. Maybe the new iPhone 5 is one of the trending topics in July, and 20% of the people are engaging with those tweets. As an iPhone marketer, you would then know that you need to tweet more about the iPhone with links to important information, like nearest retail location.

A lot of these way cool Twylah features are still in the Alpha stage, while Eric and his wife, Kelly, are working feverishly to roll the beta out in the middle of February. If you want to be a part of the beta, go to Twylah.com and register. Also, ask Eric for a personal demonstration of Twylah.

You’ll be flabbergasted. I know I was.

A Year in Review

Professional Blog Service started a year ago out of Indy Associates to assist companies in generating content they need for most of their Internet marketing activity.

While at Indy Associates, we always recommended blogging as a good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy. With the popularity of social media sites like Linkedin, Facebook and micro-blogging service Twitter, the strategy has become even more important. The challenge for most of our customers was the blog content generation. Most companies do not have trained content writers that are able to develop conversational blog content, while writing for the search engines. Most important, many of clients have great ideas with no time to share them.

So, what have we learned in 2009?

Most companies still do not have the resources, or the time to write their own content.

2009 saw the unemployment rate hit 10% in November. It was reported that many companies laid off many in their workforce leaving those left behind with more work to do and little time to get it done. The last thing on anyone’s mind is getting blog content written, even though everyone agrees that marketing is still important in a down economy.

Blogging and Social Media continue to evolve from AOL of the 90s to Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter heading into a new decade.

“Two-thirds of the world’s Internet population visit social networking or blogging sites, accounting for almost 10% of all Internet time, according to a Nielsen report published in March of this year, “Global Faces and Networked Places.” These numbers keep rising as the year progresses. By 2012, IBM predicts that globally, a quarter of the global population will be using social media in some form.

Results still matter to most companies.

Learning how to play in social media is one thing. Getting people to interact with you is another. Your clients may or may not interact with you through social media. The challenge for all companies is finding out which ones they should engage. You may be able to sell like Dell, or respond to customer complaints like Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue Airlines have done. (Note to my former colleagues at American Airlines – take note!). Either way, Social Media and Blogging is measurable in some way depending on the strategic approach you take with it.

There are great tools like Yahoo Analytics (shameless plug as we are a Yahoo Analytics consultant). Radian6 and Scoutlabs can track who’s talking about you, and help you decide whether to act on the positive or negative media being generated.

We predict that 2010 will be the year of results with blogging and social media. In a nutshell, you are doing it to build your marketing list, or to generate interest in your products or services. To succeed, you will need:

  1. An understanding of how your market uses blogging and social media, if at all
  2. A plan to participate
  3. Execution and commitment to the plan
  4. Measurement of the results over the course of the year, not a month

If you can learn how to do it before your competition, you win. It will take them 12 months just to figure out what you have done.

Happy New Year from Professional Blog Service