Financial Literacy Month: Dealing with Dirty Debt Collectors

credit-card-debt-managementWhen it comes to paying your debts, it’s important to know your rights so that you don’t get taken advantage of. On this last day of Financial Literacy Month, we’ll offer you a few tips on how to be aware of some of the sneaky things debt collectors like to do in order to coerce you into paying a debt you may not even owe. Guidelines set by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act state:

1. A debt collector must identify himself. During all communications, collectors must state they are debt collectors and any information they collect could be used to recover the debt.

2. A debt collector may not harass you. For example, a debt collector may not use profanity or abusive language.

3. A debt collector may not make false threats. A debt collector is barred from making threats about what will happen to you if you don’t pay up unless he or she has the legal authority and intent to proceed with the action. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission recently shut down a collection agency that lied to customers and told some of them they would have their children taken away if they failed to pay their debts. If you receive a threat like this, report it immediately.

4. A debt collector cannot request an amount that is different from what is legally required. For example, a debt collector cannot lie about or misrepresent the amount you owe. The CFPB noted that many consumers had complained about attempts to collect a debt that had been discharged in bankruptcy.

5. A debt collector cannot request an amount that is not clearly authorized by your debt agreement. The CFPB says consumers should beware of a collector requesting interest, fees, or expenses that were not owed, such as unauthorized collection fees.

6. You must receive written notice of your debt. Debt collectors are required to send a notice of your debt amount as well as the name of the creditor who is owed the debt. They must also state they will obtain verification of your debt and mail it to you if you happen to dispute the debt in writing within 30 days of receiving the notice.

Pinterest May Be The Perfect Answer For Marketing Your Apparel Business

business marketing apparel

Social media is probably the best thing that has happened to businesses of all shapes and sizes. The viral nature of social media, along with the possibility of community and relationship building is an awesome deal that no business can afford to ignore. E-commerce stores that specialize in apparel are no exception.

You already know that many women are passionate shoppers and, apart from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, the social media network that they frequent the most is…Pinterest!

According to Craig Smith of Expanded Ramblings, more than 80% of all Pinterest users are women.

Pinterest is growing at an astounding rate. With more than 70 million users and 2.5 billion page views, Pinterest is one of the fastest growing social networks today. It saw a whopping 125% growth in international traffic in the year 2013 alone.

So, why is it the perfect answer for your apparel business?

Traffic and Engagement

Sarah Mincher posted an infographic on Social Media Today, which reveals that Pinterest is now the 3rd most popular of all social networks. It gained its first 10 million users faster than any network.

Shoppers who are referred to a site from Pinterest are 10% more likely to buy. On average, Pinterest referrals spend 70% more than visitors from non-social channels. Call-to-action pins, on average, pump up engagement by an incredible 80%.

The average order amount placed through Pinterest is about $80 and the average household income of a Pinterest user is $100,000.

Clearly, it makes business sense to be on Pinterest. Given the visual nature of the medium along with the fact that most users on Pinterest are shoppers (or at least they have a tendency to shop more), it makes sense for your online apparel store to have a sustainable and growing presence on Pinterest. Plug in the combined power of other social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and you have a lot going for you.

Traction through Visuals

We are all visual. The more visually appealing something is, the more we want it. Sure your e-commerce store may already have product images, but those are just sitting on your site looking pretty. Pinterest makes for a great channel for your visuals allowing your followers to engage, interact, comment, share, Pin, and even BUY. To get it right, however, you need to:

  • Make sure that your visuals are professional. Include real (and professionally rendered) photos for your products.
  • Include photos of real people – click pictures of your team, office and work life in general.
  • Avoid stock photos.
  • Bridge other social networks like Facebook and Twitter along with your Pinterest for maximum returns on your efforts.
  • Leave comments on other boards. Engage with others on Pinterest. Ask questions. Build real relationships.
  • Leave a social footprint on Pinterest by visiting, liking, sharing, and pinning. Have conversations. It’s called “social media” for a good reason.
  • Curate content that’ll be of value or interest to your followers on Pinterest. The more populated and engaging your boards are, the more followers you’ll gain.

Social Proof in Pictures

Suppose you sell T-shirts online, you could bring in real people wearing them and pose away – that will give you all the social proof you need! Create a gallery (as a separate board) on your Pinterest account and have your customers submit their own photos with apparel purchased off your site. You’d accomplish quite a few things with this simple initiative:

  • Say goodbye to cheesy model photos when it comes to your business. Real buyers with purchased apparel from your store make a lot more impact.
  • Potential customers get to see how the clothes you sell actually look on real people. This helps them to make better buying decisions, which is actually good for you.
  • “Buy” buttons allow for immediate purchase or at least direct links to product pages.
  • Pinterest is a social network. If they aren’t buying, they are sharing. What would you pay for engaging shares?

An Open Community

Newsletters are an inseparable part of your online business. Digressing a little from the world of apparel, Unbounce, Mailchimp, and Campaign Monitor have some great pins showing the effectiveness of newsletter and landing page optimization.

There are innumerable companies, large and small, that have used Pinterest to create a community around respective brands, products, and services. Each of these brands is an open board for the whole world to see.

Since Pinterest is visual and it allows for social traction, your own boards with pins make for a great and easy way for your customers to “check you out.” If nothing, you’ll at least succeed in building a passionate community around “fashion” or another niche your apparel fills.

Hannah Clark of Social Media Today has yet another list of five businesses that are nailing it on Pinterest. Can we take a few lessons from there?

A Parallel Channel

Pinterest works almost like your e-commerce store, if you think about it. Your pins can include a call-to-action, and emulate just about everything the product pages on your site can do!

You could balance your pinning and repinning while including rich pins on your site. Rich pins, such as article pins, can also help you with your content marketing strategy. Each of your product images can have product descriptions that you can optimize for SEO.

Working as a parallel and social channel for your apparel store, Pinterest falls straight into your marketing plan.

What social networks are you predominantly on? Do you have Pinterest as a part of your social marketing strategy? What do you do with it that makes a difference to your apparel business?

Pinterest Photo via Shutterstock

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Facebook Unveils New Advertising Network in Mobile Push

Facebook’s new advertising network will let it place ads in other companies’ mobile applications.

Mark Zuckerberg, like Facebook, is maturing. The soon-to-be 30-year-old CEO of the decade-old social networking company grew reflective as he stood before hundreds of app developers to announce a host of mobile features designed to put “people first.”

“We used to have this famous mantra, ‘move fast and break things,” Zuckerberg said at Facebook’s f8 developer conference in San Francisco.

But moving quickly was sometimes so important that Facebook’s engineers would tolerate a few bugs, or push out products that were not always fully baked. Fixing the bugs, Zuckerberg said, “was slowing us down.” Backpedaling on features that didn’t work–or that users didn’t like–slowed things, too, though Zuckerberg did not mention that.

Facebook’s new mantra may not be as sexy. Zuckerberg pointed to a new sign that read “Move fast with stable infra,” as in infrastructure, and the audience laughed. Stability, it turns out, is the new maxim, and the era of breaking things is over.

The last time Facebook held a conference for app developers was in 2011. That was before the company attracted 1.28 billion users, before it went public, before it began showing mobile advertisements and before it paid eye-popping amounts of money to acquire popular apps like Instagram and WhatsApp.

In the tech world, three years can be a lifetime. Facebook’s focus is now squarely on the mobile space, not just its own applications but those built by outside developers.

“As you get older you do gain perspective, and Facebook has,” said David Kirkpatrick, author of “The Facebook Effect,” a chronicle of the company’s early years.

“It’s astonishing that a 10-year-old company should be in a position to have as much influence in so many things in society as they do,” he said. “And I think they are starting to take a much more serious approach to the opportunity and responsibility that goes along with their scale.”

As part of its mobile, people-first focus, Facebook says it will let users log in to apps anonymously, without sharing their identities and personal information with mobile applications they don’t trust.

Facebook’s users can already use a “log in with Facebook” button to sign up for apps that let them listen to music, play games, read the news and monitor fitness activities. But using the button allows apps to access information related to the Facebook user’s identity.

With the anonymous login, Facebook will have information about users but the apps won’t. Zuckerberg said the feature will let more people to try out new apps that they may not trust yet with their personal information. App developers have the option of including the anonymous login as a feature, but they won’t have to.

The company is also launching more granular controls that let people determine the types of information they share with apps when they want to use their Facebook identity to log in. Previously, apps could decide what information they wanted to access on people’s Facebook pages– such as people’s birthday, friends list or email address. Now, people can uncheck each, or all of these things.

Facebook also took the wraps off its long-awaited mobile advertising network, called “Audience Network,” a product that enables Facebook to sell ads in mobile applications besides its own. For example, Coca Cola can show ads on a mobile game that a Facebook user has downloaded on his or her phone.

The service will increase its competition with Google, which dominates the mobile advertising market and has its own ad network. Twitter is expected to announce its own, too.

“Everything is going mobile right now, so in order to compete with companies like Google, it needs to have a strong mobile app, which it already does, and a strong way of delivering mobile advertising– not just within Facebook but across a network of mobile apps,” said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst with research firm eMarketer.

Williamson believes Facebook’s ad network will help improve the health of the overall advertising business.

“It’s going to make it so that advertisers don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time that they advertise,” she said. “They will be able to go to just one source, one network and distribute it widely.”

Facebook’s share of the $9.7 billion U.S. mobile advertising market was 16 percent last year, according to eMarketer, compared with 41 percent for Google. This year, Google’s share is expected to slide to under 38 percent, while Facebook’s should increase to nearly 18 percent, according to the research firm.

To Kirkpatrick, though, Facebook’s most interesting announcement Wednesday may have been one of the less-talked about features. The company introduced “app links,” an open-source tool for developers to link mobile apps together. Without this, clicking on a link on a mobile device takes people to a website rather than a mobile app, even if that app is already installed on the phone. Or in the case of iPhone users, for example, clicking on a map inside Yelp to get directions to a restaurant will open up Apple’s maps app, even if the user wants Google instead.

App links will work across all devices, whether they are made by Google, Apple or Microsoft. The app links tool is free to developers. Kirkpatrick compared it to, the Facebook-led venture that seeks connect every person in the world to the Internet.

“It’s not just for their short-term benefit,” he said. “They know that if they work on that problem for the long term, for the benefit of the mobile Web in general, because they are the largest app on the mobile Web, they will benefit.”

–Associated Press

Silicon Alley Needs a New Name

New York City’s tech industry has expanded beyond its original borders, but still lags behind the West Coast when it comes to venture capital funding.

What’s in a name? For New York City’s famed tech sector, perhaps not enough.

The moniker “Silicon Alley” is infuriating to some New Yorkers who’d like to think their hub of innovation spans more than a couple of blocks. “The term was intended to be complimentary, but now it’s not viewed as complimentary because it was created in the shadow” of California’s Silicon Valley, Alec Hartman, founder of Tech Day NYC, tells The Wall Street Journal.

There is disagreement about the origin of the area’s name–former tech strategist Mark Stahlman is sometimes credited with coming up with it, according to WSJ–as well as its geographic borders. Many people in the New York tech scene believe that the Alley, once confined to a small region in and around Manhattan’s Flatiron District, now stretches to the far reaches of the borough and to Brooklyn and Queens. But one thing’s for sure: By certain measures, the region still doesn’t hold a candle to Silicon Valley.

“NYC is a strong market for advertising technology, financial technology, some commerce, and a few other smaller segments, but it’s not aligned with where most venture dollars are going these days,” Dave Zilberman, a partner at venture capital firm Comcast Ventures who recently made the switch from New York to California, tells Inc.

Sure, the city may be home to 7,000 high-tech companies and 100,000 high-tech jobs, but the proof is in the funding: In 2013, venture capital firms invested $3 billion in 450 deals in New York, versus $12 billion in 1,272 deals in Silicon Valley, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

Perhaps Silicon Alley needs some flashy branding, after all.

Transforming Twitter With More Images Means More Social

twitter tagging

You’ve most likely heard the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words” and it appears that Twitter would agree.  It is now possible to tag multiple photos in a single tweet.

Twitter Tagging Photos

Twitter 6.3, the upgraded version of Twitter, brings multiple features which are expected to make use of the site more engaging. The most interesting among them is the ability to tag multiple photos in one tweet.

Twitter now allows users as many as four images in a single tweet and up to ten people tagged. The thumbnails of the photos you are planning to upload will appear in the Tweet composer. To see these photos full screen, simply tap them. You can also swipe each of them to move to the next image. The four images will appear in collage form in your tweet.

twitter tagging

Express Yourself Beyond 140 Characters

The limit anyone can use to express his or her thoughts on Twitter is 140 characters. So will the images take up some of the character space permitted? No, images are not counted under the characters so users can add images and, at the same time, express their thoughts in 140 characters.

Easy to Remove Tags

Not only can you easily tag individuals in photos, as displayed below, but you can just as easily remove them.  Just tap on the image to get a detailed view of the tweet. An ellipsis sign occurs at the end of the tweet and you can click on it to see the “Remove tag” option.

twitter tagging

Monitoring Your Profile

Users have the option to monitor Twitter tagging in images. You can visit the security settings of Twitter and set up who can and cannot tag you in a photo. You can selectively view and choose existing tags to determine the ones you want to keep and the ones you want to remove.

A More Powerful Social Media Platform

Allowing more images in tweets takes Twitter a step closer towards becoming even more social.

But the question remains: With the increasing changes, has Twitter’s metamorphosis towards becoming another Facebook already started?

Tablet Photo via Shutterstock, Screenshots via Twitter

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Facebook Launches Anonymous Logins

On Wednesday at the F8 conference, Zuckerberg announced the change to the social media platform, which will make it more difficult for your company to access user data.

Facebook will soon let people log into third-party mobile apps anonymously, Mark Zuckerberg announced at F8 this afternoon.

Right now when you log into an app with Facebook, the app developer collects a bunch of information about you. If you don’t trust the app or you’re afraid of spam, it may deter you from using the app or connecting it to your Facebook account.

With Facebook’s new anonymous login, the user gets to control how much data–if any–gets shared with the app developer.

Here’s how Zuckerberg explained it on stage:

“We know some people are scared of pressing this blue [Log In with Facebook] button. It’s some of the most common feedback we get on our platform…If you’re using an app that you don’t completely trust or you’re worried might spam your friends, you’re not going to give it a lot of permissions. Even if you don’t want an app to know who you are yet, you still want a streamlined process for signing in…So last year, we separated out ‘read’ and ‘publish’ permissions. It helped people trust the blue button and sign into apps.”

Zuckerberg says the new anonymous login will allow people to “try apps without fear.”

Anonymous apps have been a hot recent trend in the startup world. Companies like Secret, Whisper and Yik Yak allow people to have no identity on their platforms and post whatever content or messages they want. Facebook’s new login feature is a more secure way to keep your data on Facebook, without extending it to third party developers.

Here’s what else Zuckerberg announced at F8.

How Inc. 500 Companies Are Faring on Twitter

A new study analyzes the success of America’s fastest-growing businesses at connecting with their customers.

Twitter offers companies a unique method by which to interact with customers, but even many of the most successful small businesses have yet to adequately embrace the social network.

Insightpool, a company that helps companies improve their social media efforts, researched the social media footprints of the companies on the annual Inc. 500 list of America’s fastest-growing businesses. The researchers looked at what it refers to as each brand’s “Social Currency”–defined as social touchpoints between companies and customers on Twitter such as follows, favorites, retweets, and lists.

The results reveal that the Inc. 500 has room to grow on social media. In fact, according to Insightpool’s research, only 68 percent of the companies on the list are on Twitter. Of the companies that are on the social site, 69 percent follow fewer than 1,000 accounts, suggesting that there remains greater opportunity to connect with customers.

Two other important metrics for companies to consider when trying to engage customers on Twitter are favorites and retweets. Of the Inc. 500 companies that have Twitter accounts, just 10 percent are favoriting tweets from other accounts more than 30 times per month, while only 3 percent are retweeting more than 30 times per month. In a similar study of the Fortune 500, Insightpool found that 17 percent of those companies retweet more than 30 times a month.

“While the Fortune 500 may have more opportunities to rebroadcast positive mentions because of their natural reach, Inc. 500 companies can create new opportunities for retweets by better embracing their existing social media conversations while also cultivating brand new ones from individuals who would love to hear from them,” Insightpool founder Adam Wexler says.

Every small action such as retweeting or following a customer can help build loyalty. Customer engagement, not exclusivity, should be a company’s goal, Wexler says.

Click to Enlarge

Michigan Creates $6.8 Million Fund for Tech Startups

michigan pre seed fund

Economically speaking, the news concerning Michigan typically focuses on the purported death of Detroit.

To counter that negative trend, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) is hoping to spearhead some new growth among high-tech startups. The Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0 is actually a continuation of a previous effort. It will provide $6.8 million. That’s $5.8 million to high-tech startups in the state and another $1 million to help universities transfer technology to the marketplace.

A previous Pre-Seed Fund invested $20 million in 90 firms beginning in 2007.

The money to fund Pre-Seed Fund 2.0 comes from the public sector. The initiative is being managed by a private firm called Invest Michigan. Invest Michigan President and CEO Charlie Moret says his company’s goal is to learn lessons from the first version of Michigan’s Pre-Seed Fund and make smart investments.

The idea is to invest in private companies that are barely off the ground. Moret told Small Business Trends in a recent interview that the goal is to back those that will eventually pay back the investment. This would make Pre-Seed Fund 2.0 an “evergreen” fund continuing to invest in new startups into the future:

“We can be that kind of catalyst to drive these companies. A big portion of the evaluation process is – are these companies going to be sustainable? We are looking for those with the most viable business plan.”

Invest Michigan hopes to find tech startups in some of the following areas: advanced automotive, manufacturing and materials, agricultural technology, alternative energy, homeland security, information technology, and life sciences.

New funding will become available in May first for companies that missed their chance to apply for the previous Pre-Seed Fund. Then the funding will be open to applications from new tech startups by June.  Moret says companies applying for potential seed money from the fund will hear their fate within 45 days.

In a statement announcing the fund, MEDC Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Paula Sorrell said:

“These Pre-Seed Funds are intended to help innovative companies take those last steps to become commercially viable and more attractive to private investors. With the wealth of entrepreneurial talent we have in Michigan, we want to make sure good ideas turn into businesses that help expand and strengthen the state economy.”

Michigan Photo via Shutterstock

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For Your Next Social Media Campaign, Look to Instagram

According to a new report, branded content on the photo-sharing service yields greater user-engagement rates than other platforms.

To interact with your customers more effectively, increase your activity on Instagram, not larger social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

According to a new report from research firm Forrester, companies can expect a much higher rate of engagement with customers on Instagram than on other popular social sites. Forrester studied over three million user interactions with more than 2,500 company posts across seven social media networks.

The data showed that in general people do not interact with branded content on a regular or even semi-regular basis. Of the seven platforms studied, six had engagement rates (defined as the number of interactions divided by the number of fans) of less than .1 percent. Instagram, however, generated an engagement rate of 4.21 percent.

For context, in a blog post Forrester analyst Nate Elliott referenced a video the Red Bull energy drink company posted on both Instagram and Facebook. The video received 2,600 likes on Facebook versus 36,000 likes on Instagram.