The State of the Beacosystem

When Google announced the Eddystone beacon protocol in the summer of 2015 the idea that the digital and physical worlds could be linked by broadcasting a URL from a small, inexpensive, Bluetooth low energy wireless beacon caused great excitement and launched numerous start-ups. The initial use cases were largely around retail, with large stores and shopping malls introducing discounts and loyalty programs that visitors could receive on their (Android) Smartphones.

Google was understandably obsessed with delivering passive messages, with users having to opt in to avoid spammy notifications popping up on phones just because they got close to a beacon. And this is where things got bogged down. Two years down the road those of us on the sidelines and those with skin in the game have become frustrated that the vision hasn’t arrived, particularly for those who’ve persuaded prospects to sit for demos that don’t work. Some of the early players have gone under, others have merged or sold and the use cases that are rolling out are in areas like asset tracking versus advertising.

The situation might cause one to forget that since Apple introduced the iBeacon protocol in 2013 beacons have worked perfectly well when tied to apps. And Eddystone has that ability in addition to the URL broadcast capability. Beacons work well with apps because users choose to install apps and to give them various permissions, including recognizing specific beacon broadcasts when in range. But the promise of Eddystone was “no app required”, a powerful potential yet to be realized.

What is the future for beacons? Steve Stadler thinks he knows. In June of 2013 Steve published “Beacon Technologies: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Beacosystem”. Researching for the book he interviewed a host of key players and released the content in a series of videos. Today, he is S.V.P of Wiliot, a semiconductor company working to perfect batteryless beacons, drawing their energy from the radio waves that surround us virtually everywhere. In an interview with the company’s video producer, and former Cisco colleague, Steve lays out his vision for the future of the beacosystem.

  • Beacons in the Enterprise
  • Beacons Everywhere
  • Beacons in Everything
  • Beacons in Advertising
Within the first nine minutes of the interview, Steve identifies and expands upon these four predictions, the second and third born of miniaturization and currently developing batteryless hardware, a focus of Wiliot, which sponsors his podcasts. He goes on to identify what he believes is holding back speedier adoption in those areas.  Why don't I let him tell it?

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NFC Tags Explained

Two years ago I began buying Bluetooth Beacon starter kits, excited by the promise of a Physical Web, a way to explore the world around us by choosing to receive nearby content on our smartphones, coming from small, inexpensive Bluetooth radio transmitters, or Beacons. This week I received my first order to NFC tags, programmable sticks and key rings that virtually any Smartphone can "read" with the same native NFC capability that makes Apple and Android Pay work. The sticker versions are made of sturdy PVC, nearly the thickness of a credit card, with a sticky backing you can use on anything but metal, at least in the case of the "Whiztags" product I purchased from Amazon. Using an app called NFC Tools one may "write" to a sticker, choosing from a laundry list of content from phone numbers to social media links, SMS messages, text lists (what's in this box I packed six months ago?) and so on. Once you select an option and add the related content you simply bring your phone close to a tag and bingo, it's ready to present that content to any Smartphone brought close to it with NFC enabled. Visit Whiztags, an Aussie startup selling quality product from sample kits to bulk (and custom) tags for suggestions on how to use NFC tags. Download the NFC Tools app for Android. If you're an iPhone user you'll have to wait a while for an app to write to your tags, but you can read an NFC tag as long as you have it enabled.

Formulating Content for the Physical Web

The Physical Web is a Google initiative making possible the linking of places, things and people with web content. It involves two pieces of hardware, a small device called a beacon and a variety of smart devices able to receive Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radio emissions. Set a beacon to broadcast a URL (a web address) and enable the smart device to receive and understand the message being broadcast. My personal collection of Eddystone BLE beacons has reached around two dozen units from four manufacturers. I have set each to broadcast a unique URL and some I change occasionally with a specific demo prospect in mind. I have lately been thinking about BIAs as prospects for several reasons, including: • a membership heavy on sidewalk merchants and service providers, and • the potential to “rent” a beacon network to brands, events and retailers, to name a few likely advertisers. I thought to link a prospect BIA’s website to a beacon and include it in the demo. It displayed properly on my smartphone but something about that created an itch that needed scratching. As often happens to me, the answer presented itself in the middle of the night. In some number of cases the content developed to appear in a successful search is quite different from the content an owner would want to present through a discovery on the Physical Web. Proximity and Context bia_discovery600Take the BIA for example. A web search in Google or otherwise would likely come from a member, a prospective member or a local resident. The content presented would be useful to each, whether a membership directory, information on fees and services or upcoming events within the boundaries of the Improvement Area. But if I’m standing on the sidewalk, pull down my notification shade and see a link to the BIA site, what do I hope to see? Probably a menu that presents categories like “Food and Drink”, “Groceries”, “Shopping”, “Special Events”, “Theatres” and so on. I’d want to be able to select one and drill down to select Italian or Pub or Thai and I’d want a map or directions to each. I might want the link to open with a “You Are Here” spot, easy to do when the beacon I’ve discovered is in a fixed location. BIA management would, or should, see an opportunity here to sell membership based on inclusion in the discovery, and perhaps even banner ads or feature coverage, whether sold or offered on some rotation to interested members. I have used the word “discovery” more than once and perhaps an explanation is called for. Google’s approach to revealing Physical Web content intends it to be a passive experience, one the device user requests as opposed to having a phone vibrate or emit a tone. So you discover Physical Web content by swiping a screen to look for it. It is obvious in the image above that links discovered on the Physical Web appear very much like those in a search results page. When we use existing content the discovery includes the same text (metadata) a search presents. It’s not helpful to someone standing on the sidewalk. A further advantage to custom content for the Physical Web is the ability to write the metadata you would want the visitor to see. I know of a couple of third parties whose online dashboards provide a canvas for creating “cards” where words and increasingly images may be married to a link. This solution provides the opportunity to increase the likelihood of a visitor engaging with your content over some other beacon’s message. The “Now” Factor The only people who will see content on the Physical Web are those close enough to a beacon to receive its broadcast. So, by definition, most of the content presented should be relevant to here and now. That is of course why so much early content came in the form of a coupon or other offer to be used or taken up now. A useful feature of the Bluetooth beacon is the ability to set “working hours”. If a beacon is advertising a free cookie with a large coffee it shouldn’t be doing so when the coffee shop is closed. If an offer is good until four pm it should disappear at 4:01. The Physical Web has a unique advantage over every other form of marketing messaging I can think of in that the content available from any given beacon may be changed in seconds without touching the device. And with the right supplier, you don’t need a developer in the loop. Conclusion There is nothing inherently wrong with starting a beacon campaign with existing web content. Any positive message discoverable by nearby prospects beats silence. But the most effective messaging will result from giving thought to delivering the best possible experience. That isn’t always a deal. A new beacon user could do worse than to consider extending the reach of popular social media content to the beacon platform. Once a candidate for beacon messaging understands the opportunity, appropriate messages suggest themselves and the more time you spend in the space the more you see and can evaluate the merit of other user’s choices. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Eddystone Beacon Starter Kits

My quest continues for hands-on experience with Eddystone Bluetooth Smart beacons. So, I recently ordered starter kits from two of the highest profile manufacturers – Estimote and Each contained three beacons and each landed in Toronto at about CDN$120. Estimote The Estimote Development kit I received included three beacons, a small sticky card with coloured bits under a clear plastic sheet (use remains unknown), a baby business card from a co-founder and on the back side of the book cover-like box top, advice that the beacons were already turned on and that I should download the app to move on. In brief, I connected via the app with each beacon in turn, changing the URL assigned to one of my choosing and fiddling with the ad interval and signal strength settings. The settings screens presented in the app are very similar to those produced in my Sensoro beacons using the Sensoro app. It may be of interest to note that while each manufacturer’s app will find all Eddystone beacons in the space, settings can only be changed “in the family”. Trying to alter settings on an Estimote beacon with a Sensoro app will invite a password request, preventing most troublemakers from changing the URL you selected. I visited the cloud panel or dashboard where each beacon appeared with some settings information, including the URLs each is broadcasting. To be clear, I shortened my selected URLs at It is possible that the app might have done that for me. I didn’t test that. EstimoteCloud800 I quickly discovered no way to alter the URL from the dashboard, so wrote Estimote about it and was told that, no, this kit didn’t contain beacons with that ability. That was the other kit at just under twice the price. Nothing I read about either kit before placing my order hinted at that particular difference. It isn’t of great consequence to me because I did not specifically buy this or any other kit with a large installation in mind. I just wanted the experience offered by each from set up to discovery on my phone. Chrome for Android will discover none of these because I did not choose secure URLs (https). The Physical Web app sees them clearly. Before moving on to Kontakt I want to mention two points of comparison between my Estimote beacons and those I received from BKONConnect in Nashville, TN, the only supplier of the three located in North America. That is one of two reasons for their hardware being considerably less expensive to land. The BKON product was not “turned on” when shipped. With each beacon the kit included two AAA batteries and a screwdriver for removing the back panel to install the batteries. As their founder pointed out in a tweet, installing the batteries yourself is the only way to ensure fresh, full battery life. The second point of difference is that the Estimote beacons in this kit cannot be set without physical contact. The BKON (and Kontakt) beacons can. Visit my congratulatory tweet to BKONConnect after receiving their kit. Kontakt Their kit includes three beacons and a card with what they call an Order ID taped to a white space on the printed card, obviously a simple way to use the same card for every kit shipped. The card includes a link to get started. It went nowhere. Not having been born yesterday I navigated my way to a page that did work and opened an account. Meanwhile, I downloaded their app, from my desktop to my phone. Then I searched for directions on how to activate my beacons. Step One. Enter your Order ID. Step Two. Select “Add Devices”. When I made that selection I was advised to enter a correct Order ID. I had. I was concerned about a notation next to the space for making that entry, one that cautioned that this ID could only be used once. Eventually, through their support, I discovered that I had previously logged in with a different email address. When I used Facebook to log in I discovered that my three beacons were already registered to me. kontakt_panel800 Selecting the pencil icon next to any beacon opens a new screen where settings including URL may be changed and saved. Initially, nothing I did caused any of the beacons to appear in my Physical Web app with new URLs. The default Kontakt URL stubbornly held the ground. Finally, I realized that I had to "syncronize" the settings using the app available through the app store. One hopefully helpful note: entering "Kontakt" into Google Play brings up nothing useful. You need to use "" to get what you need. My experience with Kontakt has been somewhat frustrating. Most recently I entered the settings for one of the three beacons, and finding that the URL set was not one I assigned, tried to change it. After entering a shortened URL I selected "Apply Configuration". I was told we were syncing with the Kontakt cloud, the text went from grey to black, signalling an end to the process - but the URL that appeared was an older, one that when I first looked had defaulted back to a Kontakt URL. I was eventually successful in adding my Facebook profile, shortened in, but it was neither straightforward nor quick. Summary Both kits provide the opportunity to test the hardware and associated apps and dashboards. Both make possible organizing a demo and for prospects of yours who do not have a secure website, it is not the fault of either kit maker that the mobile Chrome browser won't discover them. The Physical Web app will but eventually you'd have to have the conversation about securing the site in order to make discovery more mainstream. At this point I'm leaning toward BKONConnect's solution, having found their dashboard friendliest of the three. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Beacon Management Services

Reading my most recent post on Eddystone beacon settings reminded me that I've taken a further step since penning that pearl. I connected with, a platform in beta that provides a proprietary URL for use with an Eddystone beacon. The URL is a placeholder of sorts, since in the dashboard you're free to connect any real-world URL to it, click save and have the beacon broadcast a link to that URL. A picture is in order: Phy_Net_dashboard600 Focus on the last line in the image. There's a checkbox, an on/off switch and a bolded URL. That's assigned by To the right is a URL I entered, in this case, my Twitter page. Were I to bring the beacon to a meeting, or just carry it around town, savvy folk looking for beacon notifications would see it on their mobile devices and could check me out and follow me if they had the urge. The magic of this approach is that once you set a beacon with a URL, you don't have to handle it again. Changing the content it delivers is as easy as changing the URL it connects to in the dashboard. The platform is promising a content creation tool in the future which makes it a super power. Create cards. from discount offers to descriptions of museum pieces, connect them to the proprietary URL and launch them into the world, to change at will. There will be competitors of course, but right now they're looking pretty persuasive. Chrome naturally isn't cooperating with my desire to show you how it displays the link I've created in, so I'll show you the preview I get in the dashboard before I save the URL change: PhyNetDisplay600 This is what it looks like in the Physical Web app, Android version, available freely at Google Play: Twitter_on_PhysicalWeb600 For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Speaking Beacon

Late last September, I published a LinkedIn article entitled “Why Can’t You Program Your Beacon For Free?” Since then I’ve discovered that you can – and I have. I am speaking of a BluetoothLE beacon, a small, very low energy (LE) radio transmitter the signal from which can be received by most of the smart devices we carry with us. More specifically I am speaking of what’s known as an Eddystone-compliant beacon, distinguished from Apple’s original iBeacon in one major way – it can broadcast a simple web address, or URL, which means that a mobile web browser can be enabled to receive and respond to that signal without involving a custom app. Any content the web can present becomes available to anyone with a properly equipped mobile device wherever the beacon owner wants to present it. I could build a web page with information on the car you want to sell, put the URL on a beacon, put it in the car and advertise 24/7 to anyone passing by with the right gear. Google created Eddystone and has announced that in Q1 of 2016 it will release a version of the Chrome browser for Android that will beep discreetly once when it receives a BLE broadcast. You may ignore it or check it out at your discretion. This, brothers and sisters, makes all the difference. You don’t have to look but you will know that there’s something to look at. Fluently speaking beacon is likely to take you some time. When I began my quest I looked for existing use cases. The first of them came from retail, and introduced me to two concepts essential to getting the beacon promise. They are “proximity” and “context”. Beacons can send their signal out a fair distance, 50 – 100 meters according to the literature. But they can also be adjusted to cover far less distance, a kind of “here, near and far” arrangement that does two things. It extends battery life and makes a signal available only when the receiver gets close enough. That’s the “proximity” piece. Returning to the retail environment here’s what that could mean:  One beacon with a long throw tells you that you’ve almost reached the entrance, and describes a reward for doing so.  Beacons inside the store identify your location, “know” that you’re in the electronics area and near the TVs. Stand there for half a minute and you’ll receive information on a TV special, you might even have that TV switch to a video describing its features and offering a price for acting now. That’s the “context” piece. If you’re where you are, and have stopped moving for a while, maybe you’ll be interested in this, whatever it is. If you think about it, what I’ve just described seems a bit more complex than just putting a URL out there. And it is. That’s an example of the challenge to fluently speaking beacon. There’s the DIY level, there’s the rent a platform level where you DIY with a tool set in the cloud and there’s the room full of developers level where just about anything you can afford you can have. DIY I’ll be brief. I purchased Eddystone-compliant beacons of Chinese manufacture. The maker made a free app available from Google Play. With it I could access each beacon’s settings and edit them. In my case that meant just assigning a URL to each one. My purpose was to learn how to get that far so I selected common URLs like Once I was done I was sitting in a space where five beacons were constantly transmitting what’s called an advertising packet, in my case twice a second. When I pull down the notification screen on my smartphone I see a message telling me that there are beacons nearby. If I choose to investigate I get a screen like this: Show_five_beacons504 I am fairly fluent in WordPress and have built several sites with it, so creating content with a URL and assigning that to a beacon is easily within my abilities. So yes, I could sell your car or put a beacon on your dog’s collar that would tell anyone who found her who to call. Rent a Platform An increasing number of startups are developing offers that allow someone like myself to create more sophisticated content than text and images. For example, I might use a platform to create a coupon with a bar code that a cash register scanner could read. Now I’m able to sell my services to a supermarket, create branded content, map the resulting URL to a beacon and put it in the deli department. Beeem_beta_coupon_titled Some platforms will allow me to change the content assigned to that URL from the cloud. I can sit in my office and tell a beacon that for the next six hours it’s going to offer this instead of that. I can also offer the supermarket owner the chance to rent ad space on his beacon network – so suppliers can put their coupons, recipes, contests and so on in front of shoppers who get close enough. One such beta I’m involved in now allows the creation of coupons, information screens, voting and direct access to existing web content, something a supplier might welcome if it has a campaign running online. Conclusion Beacons are already improving life for vision-impaired individuals by offering audio content descriptive of the physical environment, from navigating an airport to touring a museum. They are renting apartments and advertising events, linking event-goers and providing session times and places and yes, helping to find lost pets. A beacon on a laptop, smartphone, purse or piece of luggage can alert you if you walk too far away from it. One use case drew a safe zone around kids at a beach and alerted parents if they left that zone. It may be a couple more years, but if you live you’ll be speaking beacon with the rest of us. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Eddystone-URL Beacons – How I Did it

  I am cursed with the tractor pull of early, early adoption. QR codes lured me in several years ago and this summer it was the turn of the iBeacon. When Apple released these BluetoothLE (low energy) radio transmitters in 2013 they were programmed to communicate with a custom app that visitors to Apple retail stores were encouraged to install on their iPhones. Developers quickly jumped on the opportunity, writing custom apps for other retailers and verticals and the numbers began to grow explosively. But until July of 2015 beacons needed apps like plants need water. Then Google introduced an open source, cross platform alternative to iBeacon, which they named “Eddystone” after a famous lighthouse in the British Isles. The killer aspect of Eddystone is its ability to broadcast a simple web address, a single url that opens up the power of the Internet to every inexpensive little beacon transmitter. Virtually all beacon hardware can be made to work with either standard, or both. I was reading everything I could find on the beacosphere, trying to cement my understanding, collect use cases and ultimately to move from an intellectual sense of the opportunities to an operator’s experience of the end-to-end reality of beacons in use. I selected beaconstac in India as my starting point for the hands-on phase of my journey, and ordered their starter kit for USD $79. (A terrific chat support guy named Dan in NYC made the decision for me.) It included three beacons, an app and a cloud platform. It promised a demo that would open on my smartphone and simulate the experience of entering the proximity zone of a beacon in a retail environment, to show me a deal on shoes. shoes It didn’t work and the beacons were not Eddystone compliant. But to their credit, after trying for several weeks to patch their app to talk to my Sony Xperia Z3 they sent me a free, Eddystone replacement kit. In the meantime I had discovered the manufacturer of the beaconstac hardware, Sensoro of Beijing. Sensoro was running a sale on the identical 4AA beacons, for USD $10 each. I ordered two and installed their app for Android. In a very short time I had discovered how to program them to broadcast simple urls, selecting and because they were well within the 17-character limit for length of url. I installed an app called the “Physical Web”. When I pull down my notification screen I see a message about two beacons being nearby. When I click that message I see the links I created. my_beacons_in_notification The Physical Web app will I believe become ubiquitous in our physical environment. You will see the distinctive logo on shop doors and street signs, to alert you to the presence of contextual content. From an apartment for rent to a concert announcement and anything in between, links to available web pages will present themselves if you request them. My accomplishment as described above wasn’t as straightforward as it might sound. I stumbled down the road of discovery. The key was my finding that the Sensoro app included its own QR code scanner, for use on the QR code printed on the side of every one of their beacons. Scanning it brought up the beacon settings and the offer to edit them. Here I could enter my url of choice, save and exit. I tried to use the same approach to programming the three identical beacons from the replacement starter kit and hit a roadblock. I’d scan the QR code, select “Edit” and be presented with a login screen asking for a password. beaconstac_eddystone It was many days later that I realized I was looking at the essential security feature that prevents all of us from freely changing other people’s content, by editing their beacons. This requirement for basic security is what forces us to select a supplier and use their software to program our beacons. No matter how far from Mumbai or Beijing my beacons may travel, their supplier knows where they are and how they’re set. That’s what allows them to permit me to make my edits, but not someone who cannot identify himself to their platform. Every beacon has a UUID, a universally unique ID as original as a fingerprint. So now let me share with you last night’s inspiration. Not everyone controls web space and is capable of creating content to link to a url that their personal beacon can then broadcast. But virtually everyone has a device that will shoot video and virtually everyone can upload that video to YouTube and use the YouTube url to link it to a beacon. So whether you want to sell your car (parked with a beacon inside and the Physical Web logo on the window) or advertise a local event in a friendly storefront, creating the message and making it available just got pretty darn easy. And it’s just as easy to change the message by creating a new one and using the url YouTube provides. There's no arguing that most of us haven't had a live beacon experience yet but that will change quickly as the Chrome browser for Android, the Opera browser and more options for receiving notifications natively expand. Beacons just offer too much in too many directions not to get huge. From tracking lost pets to delivering audible messages to the visually impaired, beacons can do what hasn’t been possible until now. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Hands-on with Eddystone-URL

I don’t recall the first time I saw a website address, but I do recall where I first saw an icon describing the Physical Web. Physical Web Logo It was displayed on a glass door on the front of a restaurant – in a video telling the story of how the physical world and the digital world are being linked by something called the Eddystone BluetoothLE (BLE) beacon. Beacons A beacon is a small device built to emit a bluetooth radio signal repeatedly, like a lighthouse beam. The LE part refers to low energy, the secret strength of the technology, because it allows battery-powered beacons to operate for practical periods of time, from many months to several years. Your smart device is the target of these radio signals and until recently, you had to have installed an app that understood the beacon’s specific message to close the loop. Eddystone Beacons In the summer of 2015 Google changed all that by creating an open source, cross platform approach that gives beacons the ability to broadcast simple web URLs. What receives those broadcasts depends for the short term on your device type (iOS or Android) and your browser of choice. IOS users can receive URL broadcasts on the Chrome for iOS browser. Android users have a few choices, from the latest version of the Opera browser to an app called the Physical Web and soon to include the Chrome for Android browser. And incidentally, Eddystone is the name of a famous lighthouse in the British Isles. What to Expect I was hooked on the promise of beacons long before I handled one, and being hands-on has only deepened my sense that this is life-changing stuff. From advertising an apartment for rent to delivering audible information and directions to the visually impaired the Physical Web creates smart places and smart things. Importantly, it delivers only what we ask for, no buzzing in your pocket or opening an app on your phone. When you enter an area where the Physical Web has content available you might pull down your notification screen to explore it – or not. The choice is always yours. In some places you might see a list of website addresses with a bit of descriptive text, looking like this: PhysicalWebScreen This approach doesn’t spell the end of app development. Rather it provides a practical alternative for the many things we would welcome access to without having to install an app we might use only rarely. And I’m living proof that you don’t have to be a developer to create your own content, and change it at will. I have a small collection of Eddystone beacons, purchased in the fall of 2015. It took some trial and error but I have programmed URLs, one per beacon is the current limit, and then seen them broadcast to my Smartphone. This image shows two detected beacons with URLs I set for them: my_beacons_in_notification This screen appears in my Sony Xperia Z3 when I select a link in my Notifications screen, advising that there are beacons near me. At time of writing I have three beacons set with the Eddystone-URL frame type. These two were purchased direct from Sensoro in China. The third is one of three from Beaconstac in India, supplied by Sensoro. It remains programmed with its own url and I’ve been unable to alter it due to a settings problem I’m working on. My reason for describing the situation is that when I get notifications, they are always separate, one as above and the other linking only to the Beaconstac Eddystone unit. Clearly being hands-on means digging deeper. I don't know how often the advertising interval delivers a push to the Notifications screen or whether that is a parameter I am able to set. Many people are rightly concerned about security on their mobile devices, and so of course is Google. What you see in your notification screen is a proxy of the sites available. You are not linking directly to any of them. Only when you select one is your device connected to the web and to the specific site selected. beacon2phone2web-Chrome_with_proxy600 Beacon manufacturers and the developers who work with their hardware are aware of the threat of hackers discovering a way to “spoof” a beacon, hiding bad stuff under a reputable address and new versions of develop kits often include increased protections. While I’ve seen no guarantees that hacking is impossible, Google’s @ScottJenson, their man on the Eddystone file, seems pretty confident that security is tight. Use Case The scope of use cases already identified is remarkable and growing constantly. One that I’m evaluating is the creation of beacon networks. Imagine a grocer offering advertising on a beacon in the breakfast aisle or a liquor store selling beacon access to a wine brand, or a commercial neighbourhood “renting” beacon access to restaurants, stores and attractions. All any user needs is content behind a URL. Of course there will be large players, already are large players, assembling networks in shopping malls to name one growing area of commerce, but perhaps there’s a place for ingenious little guys too? Time will tell. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Beacons Bridge the Digital & Real Worlds

Twenty years ago I saw my first billboard displaying a World Wide Web address. Not surprisingly, I was in San Francisco. About 10 years later many of us were visiting that web from mobile devices without wired connections, often accompanied by a cup of coffee. Search got dramatically better when we were able to disclose our location to Google and to apps like Facebook and Foursquare, among others.

Mobile devices enabled with BluetoothLE radio transmitters can sense the proximity of devices called beacons, and receive a transmission from them. Putting aside the science for the moment, let’s explore the possibilities this creates – and they are extraordinary.

Proximity Targeting

At this time it is possible for something you carry to detect a signal from both stationary and moving objects equipped with the BluetoothLE radio transmitter, a tiny device requiring little power, and able to wake up an app, or simply offer a connection you may accept or ignore. Both approaches involve permission. In the case of the app, you gave it when you agreed to install it, although agreeing to provide your location may be a separate step. The alternative case involves choosing to see what is available around you. In this illustration, the transmitter offers a menu, each item on which was created by an individual who wants folks nearby to know something about him or his business.

beacon on the Physical Web

What can be done with the recognition of proximity is a dizzyingly broad canvas. You might put a transmitter on your dog’s collar and the information someone finding him would need to get him back to you up on a webpage. When a smart device gets close to the lost animal it can receive that web link, open it and mend your heartache. In other cases a visual trigger might cause you to look for content in your immediate surrounding. The image below demonstrates how something called “the Physical Web” is brought to our attention via the placement of a logo on a door, even the window of a car for sale. Currently, Android users would access whatever notification there is via the Chrome browser on their Smartphone. Apple users have that same choice and a couple more. An alternative approach is the creation of a zone, a proprietary solution in which beacons in effect map out a shopping street or mall. A beacon at the entrance to the zone explains the voyage. Subsequent beacons may offer content from specific shops and attractions. All of this location-relevant content comes via an app, created to support the zone. So, the Smartphone Chrome browser in one case, a dedicated app in the other.


Contextual Awareness

At another point on the spectrum the same recognition of proximity could navigate you through an airport, taking you to your gate and providing on-time information. It can assist vision-impaired individuals in crossing similar spaces with limited human intervention by triggering speech modules to provide information and direction. And in a retail store, it can not only identify that you are standing next to the TV wall, it can measure how long you’re immobile (dwell time) and decide that you might be interested in information about one or more of the products near you. It might even change the video playing on a screen to one offering features, price, warranty and so on. These examples introduce proximity’s twin – context awareness. When our device is understood to be near an object, event or thing, an app may make an assumption regarding what we might welcome, perhaps because we are stationary for a measurable period. If you’re stopped before a store display, you might receive a choice of items to learn more about. Typically, this kind of engagement comes from a “beacon-rich” environment, where the danger of “spamming” you is understood and where care is taken to provide relevant content, not just another push.

Can You Play Too?

There is no doubt that it will be businesses large and small, in segments including retail, healthcare, transportation, events, stadiums and attractions, that will dominate the disbursement of proximity beacons and the content they reveal. But no one is excluded from participating.  

This kit includes three beacons, an app for your Smartphone and an online dashboard to assist you in identifying each separate beacon and assigning it a task. If you know nothing about writing code you will still be able to assign content, thanks to the software provided, and what you assign will still be available to Smartphones with Chrome browsers active, and Bluetooth enabled. If you work from home you could broadcast an ad for your business to passersby. You could advertise a car or boat or camper for sale, or an apartment for rent. And of course you could lose-proof Fido with a specific version of the beacon known as a sticker, intended to be stuck to an object. Sticker starter kits are also available.


Starter Kits: Beaconstac Starter kit at USD$79 Estimote From USD$99 Sticker kit available BestBuyBeacons Starter Kit €99 Other options include purchasing just beacons and buying into a closed system solution for instructing and managing them. One example: Offerdrop Beacons from Estimote start at USD$30 each. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Boosting A Facebook Page Post

I was recently asked to explain how I reached seven thousand Facebook newsfeeds for $10. I chose to answer in a blog post where adding illustrations is so simple. The first requirement in this process is that you have a business page rather than a personal profile. In my case it's Here's the proof of my claim: Harper_boost Not all of the reach was bought. Just under 2000 were what Facebook calls "organic", and for my page that's a very high number. In this next screen cap you'll see the reach Facebook attributes to the $10 buy: Harper_results600 The process starts with the "Boost Post" button at lower right of each post, as seen by the page Administrator. Hovering over the button brings up the black box with reverse text. Visitors don't see this option: Harper_how_to_boost.600png When you click the "Boost" button the following screen looks like this: Harper_ad_preview600 As you can see, in this preview window you select your budget and make decisions about the audience, age, gender and geography. Once you're satisfied you submit your ad and you're done. Anyone with admin privileges may see real time results in the "Insights" tab, again only visible to admins. That's it. Questions welcome if you have any. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Buffer & Pablo – Great Tweet Tools

Buffer is a scheduler for social media content. I have used it for tweets for some months. Recently they added a tool called Pablo to their offering. Pablo makes simple the creation of images with text overlays, useful in many ways but particularly in cheating Twitter's 140-character limit. If you have Buffer installed in the Chrome browser you can highlight a string of text anywhere you find it, right-click and choose "Buffer". Highlight text and select "Buffer" When you do you can proceed to create and send or schedule your tweet OR you can choose to use Pablo to set the text over an image from the media library. Buffer's Pablo Here is an example of what you can create when you make the choice to use Pablo:
Pablo text over image
When you create your tweet the image leaves you headroom to add copy to explain or link. A very useful combination of tools if Twitter is central to your social media activity. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Your Business – Engagement Through Mobile

Regular Linkedin users are familiar with the invitation to publish a post. Different from an update, a post is an article, providing some original thinking or researched content. This first effort from yours truly takes a dive into the promise of beacon technology to change our everyday experiences of place. I'm delivering it to the blog via a Twitter function known as "copy link to Tweet", an option I only discovered recently and with which I'm quite taken. I hope you enjoy the read. I'd love to hear your thoughts - including corrections if I've made mistakes out of my so recent exposure to the subject. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

The Physical Web will Change Everything

When it comes to news, there's big and then there's really, really big and the #physicalweb is that kind of news. Take a device cheaper than a Smartphone cover and a website called and ANY business, no matter how small, can invite visitors and passers-by to look at targeted web content on a mobile device browser. Today it's working with Chrome on iOS devices. Soon it will just work everywhere. This video does an excellent job of making the parts and the promise understandable.

Naturally Google wants the developer community to get up to speed with the physical web and it has published content so directed, some of which is intelligible even to non-technical wanna-be's like myself. In an article on Google's github website we find these comments:

Once any smart device can have a web address, the overhead of a dedicated app is no longer required for simple interactions. The Physical Web approach unlocks use cases that would never be practical if a dedicated app were required:

  • A cat collar can let you call to find the owner
  • A bus can tell you its next stop
  • A parking meter can pay in the cloud
  • Any store, no matter how small, can offer an online experience when you walk in
  • A shared car service can broadcast a signup page, allowing you to immediately drive away
  • Industrial equipment can offer diagnostics
Another github article describes how simple it is to get started with the physical web:

"...all you need is a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon that supports Eddystone-URL and a website. Simply follow your specific beacon's instructions to configure the URL to your website, place the beacon and that's it: you're now part of the Physical Web!"  That sounds like something a great many of us could do or have done for us very inexpensively. We'll stay on top of developments in this space and keep you updated on the blog and on Twitter.

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Bluetooth Beacons Have Us Surrounded

Some years back Apple introduced a two-way radio called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to its Smartphones. More accurate than GPS, particularly indoors, Bluetooth is a game changer in many sectors, most immediately in retail stores. With what does it communicate? That's where Bluetooth beacons, and more recently stickers come into play. But before we go any further let's use another game changing communications tool to set the stage.

The video demonstrates how beacon technology has already begun to change our interactions with bricks and mortar environments. So let's get clear on what moving parts make possible what we just saw. First you need a device with Bluetooth aboard AND turned on. Then you need to install an app friendly to the specific beacon environment you've entered. Finally, to get the full effect, you need to give the app permission to track your location. Some information will be available if you do not but you aren't going to get size, price and availability on the garment you just picked up if the app doesn't know you're next to it. Like email today, this is permission push marketing. And like email, how much to push is a concern.

 Let's say this beacon is near a large flat screen television. There is good information available about the television but if the visitor starts moving again in three or four seconds have they shown enough interest to justify pinging their phone and delivering TV-related content?

When I saw some of the numbers attached to beacon uptake I wished I'd known enough two years ago to look at investment opportunities. This chart from presents a ten-fold increase in the number of retailers using beacon technology - over just three years!

retail beacon uptake

Retailers are Jumping on Bluetooth beacon proximity marketing

Estimote stickersThe beacons we've seen so far are about the size of a hockey puck. But beacon maker Estimote also has a line of what they call "stickers". Stickers can turn things into "nearables" - smart objects fully detectable by your mobile device, one suggestion that stopped me in my tracks being - your dog. That's right. It's conceivable that a lost pet could tell its story to anyone with the right app on their phone. That beats the heck out of a chip under the skin in my book.  The Estimote website is well worth a few moments, as it tells a complete, well-illustrated story of both beacon formats, including pricing for developers interested in becoming familiar with and ultimately being able to build solutions around the hardware. And the market for what beacons and stickers can do is there.

  • 1 in 3 shoppers would rather find information using their smartphone than ask a store employee, and for electronics and appliances that number is closer to 1 in 2.
  • Over 40% of shoppers look for offers on their mobile devices while they’re in store
Beacon maker Estimote claims a global network of 45,000 developers, and growing. You probably aren't one of them. I know I'm not. But if you're itching to play with your own beacon (a 3-pack sells for USD$99) there is apparently an app-making tool for iOS that allows non-developers to create apps without a line of code. More about it here. There is more information available at, including a list of devices currently Bluetooth-enabled. I was pleased to see my Sony Xperia on that list.   For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Why Aren’t You Encouraging Check ins?

My straw poll, conducted on foot recently, reveals a surprising, to me, absence of either awareness of or interest in Facebook’s mobile Check in feature among bricks & mortar operations. For those not immediately familiar with it, in the mobile news feed, Check in is the third of three options across the top of the feed.

Faebook Check in

Whether you’re inside or out on the sidewalk, choosing check in brings up a list of nearby businesses, attractions, and so on, any of which you may click to select. And it's important to know that you may search by name for a location if it isn't on the list. Adding text is optional. When you post, Facebook’s distribution algorithm determines who and how many of your friends will see the post. So a check in, with or with comment, is essentially an advertisement for the site. I checked in to a burger bar I much enjoyed. When I saw the post I noticed that 495 others had done the same before me.Facebook Check in

I did some quick calculating, based on an average of 200 friends per user and a 15% organic reach. The result is close to 15,000 free ads, likely posted to the restaurant’s target market. Facebook offers free signage, into which you can type your own Facebook URL before printing.Facebook Checkin Signs

In the window, on the counter a free sign gets you free advertising. So I’m on a mission to build business one neighbourhood at a time by getting the word out. I’ve also written a post with several other free or nearly free options for using mobile to build your business. You can find it here. And when you need advice or action on social media marketing, you can find us here as well.

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Use Mobile to Promote Your Bricks & Mortar Business

The Tsunami of mobile device adoption offers a world of opportunity to promote your bricks & mortar business. And it begins with making your website mobile-friendly. Searches are increasingly coming from mobile devices and Google wants the results to deliver satisfactory experiences for users. Forget page one if you’re not mobile-friendly. Now, some ideas to promote with mobile: SHARED SHORT CODE (SMS MESSAGING) short code messaging sells burgersIf you’ve ever seen an invitation, on your smartphone or a sidewalk sign, for example, to “text insert a word to 33145 to get your discount coupon” or some other goodie, you’ve seen short code at work. Even a sole-location burger bar can afford to put together a short code campaign. Short code numbers are rented out and assigned to campaigns for periods of time. Big companies often buy a number but most of us take advantage of the “shared” option, where one number can be used by multiple campaigns, each separating itself from the others by the choice of the word you’re asked to text. For a full explanation, with examples and video read my blog post. TWITTER OPTIONS twitter feed in WordPress site Put your twitter feed on your website. Now that you’re mobile-friendly, inserting your feed will display properly and give you double coverage, to both your Twitter and website audience. look over to the right hand column (or scroll down if you're on your phone) to see one of the widget solutions in WordPress. Learn how here. If your site doesn't use it, there are other methods.
Twitter Cards are a means of promoting in your feed by creating a card intended either to drive website traffic or encourage downloading an app. For most SMBs the obvious choice is site traffic. Cards, once created, are tweeted, for free to just your followers or to a larger audience with demographics you select, for a fee. Start with free cards to get a feel for the approach. Read my blog post to learn how.
Just as you can boost a post in Facebook you can Quick Promote a Tweet. Read more...
OTHER OPTIONS Build a Facebook Audience from Website visitors All online activity leaves footprints and Facebook offers businesses a method for building an audience from visitors to their (your) website. It's called a "tracking pixel", a snippet of code that, when properly pasted into your posts and pages adds any visitor to an invisible list. You may run ads to that audience (very inexpensively) and a look-alike audience can be created by shared characteristics because Facebook knows so much about its users. With a few clicks, you can double the audience for your boosted posts and other ad options. Read our WordPress "how-to"...
  Live stream video from your premises using Periscope, an app owned by Twitter. Whether you’re putting on an event or just having a busy Saturday, positioning a Smartphone camera on the action makes live streaming video available to your followers and anyone they share with. You can schedule your stream in advance to build a larger audience. Viewers can like and comment so be prepared to engage with them. Live streaming is a two-way street. To get a feeling for live streaming from a mobile device, download Periscope (and Meerkat if you like) and view some of the available programming. You may choose to save your stream with Periscope for twenty-four hours, time to use your Facebook page and your email list to invite viewers who missed the live event. Your first broadcast won’t likely challenge the one restaurant chain Applebee’s pulled off from Times Square but you’ll be ahead of the competition. More...
The underappreciated QR (Quick Response) code remains a useful tool for engaging visitors, providing expanded product knowledge or just a means to save contact and website information. Unlike the product bar codes  on packaging, QR codes are two-dimensional, containing data across and down, which makes them capable of communicating more information than their one-dimensional sibling. Consumers do morepre-purchase research than ever and many would prefer to begin the buying path without a salesperson. QR code campaigns are also simple to design and implement – and they’re trackable.

Mobile can build your business, is doing it for others every day.

LetsTalk For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Online Photo Editing – No Registration, No Cost

There are many ways to manipulate photos today, programs and apps and websites with tools to add text, effects, frames and on and on. For those who don't often want or need a deeply featured tool, might be the handy answer. We're running a simple Facebook promo, asking fans to upload a picture of themselves and optionally, include birthday wishes over top. A good solution involves an online photo editing tool. We're linking to for those who want to get artsy and the image that follows is a simple set of directions for getting a simple result. Beyond what we describe, there are font and point size choices, picture and frame effects, enough fun stuff to keep a newbie playing about for a good while. ipiccy_how-to The tool gives you the choice of saving to your computer or posting direct to Facebook. It is possible to provide a path for fans to post directly to a Facebook page photo album but unless you're a developer you'll need to hire one to make that happen. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Analytics Helpers for Google & Twitter

Do you wish for a simpler path to pulling the essentials from your Google analytics? Would you like to make Twitter more productive in your business? I am going to introduce you to three analytics helpers for Google & Twitter to consider bringing on board, all of them free at the entry level.
  1. QuillEngage (beta),  available here, links directly into any Google Analytics account you can access, offering data in actual paragraphs of text, supported by graphs and charts.
QuillEngage Data is available for week or month and while date range is not selectable, the app archives all reports and makes them available on request. Data is available on trending in sessions, pages/session, time on site, traffic sources, devices, referrers and more.  Here's an example from a weekly report: QuillEngage You may request that reports are emailed, enter more than one address if you have a team involved, and you may download reports in Word format. If you manage client sites, being able to email reports for discussion is far easier than multiple real-time logging into Analytics for a telephone review. The app is currently offering no paid option. This may change when it comes out of beta but for now there is no reason not to take it for a test drive.
2. QuillConnect, available here, begins with an analysis of your place in the "Twitterverse". How long you've used the platform, how often you tweet on average, versus your followers, then looks at your activity for the most recent week, what interests you share, and don't share, with your followers, what hashtags your followers are using, even advice on how you might increase your follower count. QuillConnect I haven't used QuillConnect for long enough to know if it updates automatically every week, but that seems likely. Not surprisingly, you're invited to tweet your report to your followers. That's called marketing. 🙂
3. Meshfire, available here, begins by having you select a goal from a limited choice, explaining that more, and more complex goals will become available as you progress. So you might select adding 25 followers in the next 14 days, or attracting 25 mentions, retweets and favourites in that same period. Meshfire for Twitter You can connect accounts like and Buffer for use within Meshfire along with several others useful in team management. For example, if you connect Buffer, when you have tweets scheduled in the app, they will appear in the "Outbox" area of Meshfire. If you have team members contributing Twitter content, their contributions will appear in the "Pending" column to the right of your "Scheduled" (Buffer) tweets, awaiting your moderation. Meshfire and and Buffer Like Saturn's rings, Twitter and Google Analytics are surrounded with apps to assist us in assessing the result of our efforts, in presentations we can take in with minimal effort. If you find any of these useful I hope you will leave a comment. Meanwhile, thanks for visiting. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Tool Tips for Online Marketing

I consider myself a fairly normal participant in social media marketing. In part that means spending a large chunk of my time reading other marketer's content, searching for tools, tips and tricks to increase my worth and improve my results. Today I will take time off of taking and give back, with a short list of apps and tools that make my work easier and my time more productive - tool tips for online marketing.
  1. Buffer - this app's key strength is its ability to schedule your tweets and posts. Using the free version you must choose a single network, and Twitter works best for me. If I write a tweet at 6:30 in the morning I know it's not prime time for sending it into the world. Buffer allows me to select a time, to the minute, and the date. Given the speed of the Twitter feed, posting the same content more than once makes good sense. Make a slight change in the subsequent versions and schedule them over the following few days. Using Twitter's analytics you'll discover in time what works best for you.
Desctop screenshot 2.  Awesome Screen Shot - is the tool I often use to create images like the one above. Like Buffer I reach it via a button in the Chrome browser, and I should make clear that you need to add these apps to your browser before the buttons of which I speak appear. Some install in multiple browsers. Some have favourites. awesome_screen_shotI've chosen Chrome for all of my app button installations. The image at left is the drop down that appears when I click the Awesome Screen Shot button. I get most use of the "capture selected area" but as you can see there are a number of other options. When you've made your selection by drawing a rectangle around the chosen material, you are offered the choice of cancelling or capturing. When you choose capture a new tab opens and your selection appears with a tool bar above giving you access to text, arrows, underscores etc. When you're "Done", a new tab opens with options that include "save" to your hard drive. I don't think I've used any others. Here is an example of a capture, marked up with some of the tools available. ASS_Demo_image 3. Bitlink - is a very useful tool if you frequently add links to content. Yes, it shortens any URL, which in itself is often useful, (think 140 characters) but it also makes the resulting trackable so by accessing your account you can view the number of times your link was clicked. The idea is to select bitlink when you're on a page you want to link to in a tweet, post, blog or pin, to name a few. Here is what appears when you click your bitlink button: bitlink Select "Copy Bitlink" and paste away. Note that you can try to create a custom link by adding your choice of descriptor. My attempts have all returned the response that the choice already exists. Here you'll find the directions to easily install the bitlink to your Chrome toolbar. If you don't use Chrome there's a second choice, to simply drag a button to your browser toolbar. Tools I hope you find these apps as useful as I do every day. If you'd like to know about the tools I can't live without let me know in the comments section. If you have anything to say or ask about this post, why not join the conversation on my Twitter or Facebook site. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Short Code Text Messaging – What’s in it for Your Business?

When Ted Cruz announced for President he invited his audience to text “Constitution” or “imagine” to a Short Code. Cruz’s organization collects mobile phone numbers in this manner and can broadcast to the “list”, offering information and asking for volunteers and donations. More recently he did it again during an address at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He asked the audience to text “GROWTH” to 33733. According to Tatango, which powered the SMS (Short Message Service) program, there were 16,000 opt-ins during the speech. On the Tatango website one of the case studies describes an online cosmetics company using Short Code text messaging to create a database of mobile phone numbers that reached 5,000, from zero, in 24 hours. Interestingly, the number to which they were asked to text "JULEP", the company name, was the same 33733 that the Cruz camp used last month. And here, my friends, is where it gets interesting. Large companies often choose to own a shortcode and will pay thousands of dollars a year for that privilege. But if your business can't afford that rent, take heart. You can buy a share of a Short Code. Many users may share one simply by selecting a keyword no one else is using. So "text DriveNBuy to 33733" is separated from the campaign saying "text GROWTH to 33733".
If you don't have three minutes (and that would be sad) know that a shared Short Code could cost you $50 a month versus $500, plus far less costly message fees since hundreds or thousands of users sharing a Short Code makes for huge volumes of messages - and the greater the volume the lower the cost. Dedicated Short Code vs Shared Short Code So, what can you do with a Short Code? In London, drivers may purchase a ticket to bring a car into downtown by texting to a shortcode and saving the response to demonstrate that they’ve paid the fare. restuarant3But you’re just as likely to see a Short Code on a sidewalk sign outside a burger joint, inviting you to text for a coupon and bring it in.  If you're wondering if this isn't a lot like invitations to sign up or register with an email address you're not wrong. This is an additional channel, not an exclusive one, and
 either direct mail or social media. And how likely is that percentage to increase? Nearly everyone has a mobile phone and entering a simple keyword trumps entering a name and email address on a tiny keyboard. This chart from Tatango sets out survey results:
Email-Marketing-vs-Text-Marketing-Statistics   In Canada, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) manages the assignment of Short Codes, leasing them at $500 per month to eligible applicants. Their site offers a FAQ that answers many questions a potential user might have. They also suggest that marketers use the term text message versus Short Code, because the former is broadly familiar. If you are interested in support in exploring the use of Short Code/text messaging in your marketing please get in touch.
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