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posted by Guests Sep 15,2011 @ 12:47PM

All Work, But Not Always No Play

Well, CreateAthon 2011 has officially begun. Everyone is busy working on their computers or in meetings, creating incredible things in the short 24-hour deadline. Moe's has been consumed and everyone has seemed to have had their recharge after about six hours in.

Unfortunately, I was unable to be here bright and early at 8 a.m., because I happen to be a student and had class. Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Morgan Tucker and I am a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, majoring in Public Relations. This is my first time ever experiencing CreateAthon, and I am thrilled to be here!

Today, I am an outsider looking in. Not only is this my first time at CreateAthon, but also my first time in a work environment like this. I know this may seem hard to believe with my polished writing skills and high school diploma, but it's true. Growing up, you always think that a job would be so much work and no fun at all. You thrive on the younger years, wanting more time to play and never grow up to become a boring adult. Today is very exciting to me, yet nerve-racking, because I am able to get a preview of what life post-college will look like. It's never comfortable to take your next step in life. Your next step is always much tougher than the previous. College has been so much more difficult than high school, and it hasn't been the least bit comfortable! I know what you're thinking...poor college student. Trust me, I hear it from my parents all the time.

When I first arrived, everyone was hard at work. My job is to keep up with the social media for the day so I was busy doing that, when the most amazing thing happened...Peyton pulled out her Razor scooter! I quickly jumped up, grabbed my camera, and had to capture this moment.

This was such a refreshing sight to see! You can still have fun and work at the same time! Needless to say, this has given me some relief to my anxiety I have built up over the years.

CreateAthon has been a great experience so far, and I am excited to see what the rest of the day entails!

posted by Guests Jun 01,2011 @ 10:22AM

Mast General Store and Environmental Stewardship

By Rebecca Jacobson, project manager

Downtown Columbia scored a major economic victory last week with the opening of Mast General Store. With their vast selection of shoes, clothing, home goods, gifts, ole-timey toys and barrels of candy, it’s a fun, feel-good kind of place to shop, and city leaders and residents alike are all hoping it will be the catalyst for change in downtown Columbia.

What we believe makes Mast Store an even more exciting addition to Columbia is the fact that they are a company with values deeply rooted in corporate social responsibility (CSR). All the way back to their original store in the late 1800’s, Mast Store has always maintained a culture of contributing to their local community.

If you just consider their business philosophy of locating in cities where they believe the store can be a catalyst for Main Street revitalization, as was the case in Greenville, SC and Knoxville, TX, that in itself is a pretty significant way to make a difference. They are an employee-owned company, supporters of United Way, very active in promoting community events, and they hold several annual projects to benefit local food banks, shelters and others in need.

What I’m really excited about and energized by is Mast Store’s commitment to the environment. Their sense of environmental stewardship runs deep and is evident in these very progressive programs:

  • Green Power – the company purchases carbon credits in North Carolina and Tennessee to help offset the impact made by their delivery trucks.
  • Recycling – all stores recycle plastic, glass, paper, aluminum, bi-metal cans and cardboard, and their shopping bags have a special additive that quickens the decomposition process (I mean really, who does that?)
  • Mast Transit – employees earn incentives for carpooling, riding their bike to work, walking to work or taking public transportation (If only I could get an incentive for carpooling my daughter to school the past couple of years!)
  • Local Land Trust Day – the first Saturday of every June, Mast Store donates 20 percent of the day’s sales to their partner land trust in the community of each of their stores; think about it, on this one day, 20 percent of the sales from every store goes back into the local community specifically to support land conservation – I’d say that’s some pretty impressive CSR.

The Columbia partner for Local Land Trust Day is the Congaree Land Trust (CLT), a small organization that has conserved more than 27,000 acres of land in central South Carolina. CLT board members, volunteers and staff will be on hand all day to educate shoppers about land trusts, conservation easements and the status of land protection in central South Carolina - something you might not have ever considered it weren’t for Mast General Store and their tremendous sense of corporate social responsibility.

If you’d like your shopping dollars to have an impact on the local community, head downtown to Mast Store this Saturday, June 4 and see first-hand this great company that has moved in on Main Street in Columbia.

-- Rebecca Jacobson

posted by Guests Mar 31,2011 @ 05:00AM

Stop Guessing and Learn to Talk to Real People.

Build better sites and apps by getting to know the people who use them.
PART 1 of 2
By Dean Schuster, truematter

The manic drive to create websites and mobile apps quickly and cheaply requires huge sacrifices. Is complex functionality the first to go? Hardly. How about the content management system? Goodness no. Trendy design? Please.

The first casualty of most Web projects is, unfortunately, concern for the people who will use them. After all, people might actually have something to say about that nifty mobile app you’re building. Can’t have that. Ignore them and your preconceived ideas can flourish. Your site is probably already done.

This sounds absurd, but it has become an epidemic. The drive to build right now overcomes the small voice that asks, “Build what? For whom?” We’ve created a culture of compromise.

I propose a radical idea. Maybe, just maybe, we should talk to the people who use our websites and mobile apps before we build the stuff for them. Radical ideas are bitterly opposed by the status quo. Sure enough, most Web teams avoid researching or interacting with people before they dive into work. I suppose they trust their own instincts or (gasp) make things up as they go.

I do not trust my instincts. Neither should you.

Talk to People First

Shockingly, real people have constructive things to tell us about themselves and their needs. If we ask, people will help us define our work in such a way that it has a greater chance of success. But here’s the thing. We have to interact with them before committing to a project direction.

There are several practical ways to do this:

  • Field Research: Observe people in their own environment.
  • Early Usability Testing or Prototyping: Test mock-ups with real people.
  • Direct Interaction: Talk with people.

Today, let’s focus on Direct Interaction. The principle is simple. If you are building an app for an amusement park, talk with amusement park enthusiasts. If you’re building a site that sells high-end bicycles, get up early on a Saturday and talk to cyclists. You’ll want to know the basics:

  • What are they like?
  • What do they do everyday?
  • How might the thing you’re building help them do what they do?

Know Before You Go

You’ll only get good information if you talk to the right people. If you’re building an Intranet, you’ve probably got access to the actual people who will use it. If you’re dealing with an external project, tread carefully. Often, the obvious audience is not correct. You may assume that pharmacists are the target for your stylish online pharmacy app. But pharmacists delegate day-to-day tasks to entry-level employees. Guess whom you need to talk to.

People-Centered Activities

There are several practical ways to learn from people. Consider the following activities for your next interactive project:


Individual or group interviews are easy to conduct. Simply assemble people and ask them to describe their jobs and the tasks they do everyday. Sample questions include:

  • What are the top five tasks you must do everyday in your job?
  • What challenges you most about your job?
  • How do you typically use [site/app/system]? When do you use it? Where? How?
  • What are the best/worst features of this [site/app/system]?

Answers will reveal further questions. Imagine you are a detective, uncovering unspoken or poorly understood needs. With some perseverance, you will develop a solid notion of how person’s day-to-day activities and how those activities might be best served.


Surveys are best when you can’t get direct access to people, or you want to allow time for thoughtful, individual responses. Offer printed surveys or use an online tool like Survey Monkey.

If you’re redesigning a site, use a survey to uncover the shortcomings of the current site or app. Ask people to rank key features and rate satisfaction. Ask why certain features are little used. In short, learn everything you can about why the current project has failed.

If you’re building something from scratch, focus on individuals’ wants and needs related to their everyday tasks. If cyclists lament both the cost of gear and frequent equipment breakdowns, you’ll develop an idea of what will motivate their use of a site or app.

Group Discussions

Group discussion can validate what you’ve learned from interviews or surveys. Always ask exploratory questions that require elaboration. Keep people talking and they will eventually reveal golden nuggets of information.

Be careful. Group discussions can be dominated by strong personalities. Also, people are notoriously bad at projecting how they will use online interfaces. Focus group participants maintain that they religiously listen to NPR, don’t watch TV and eat largely vegan diets. Then they go home and watch Dancing with the Stars while gorging on Oreos. Take what you hear with a healthy grain of salt.

Group Activities

People offer better input when participating in an exercise than when asked to make comments in a group setting. These activities bridge the gap between focus groups (problematic) and user testing (perfect once you’ve got something to test). The following activities will yield invaluable information about your project and the people who will use it.

  • Site Structure Critique: Show an early site map or wireframe, even if it is rudimentary. Have people write comments directly on large-scale printouts. Discuss afterward.
  • Prioritize Features & Functions: Using post-it notes, have people identify and prioritize site features and sections. Let them debate their choices, propose new ideas and add elements as needed. You’re interested in how they think, not necessarily in what they say.
  • Competitive Critique: Post large, printed images of competing sites or apps. Have the group write what they like and dislike directly onto the screens. You’ll learn a great deal about how people understand the environment in which your project resides.
  • Persona Critique: Prepare detailed Personas. These are user profiles of people who will use a site or app. They include demographics, attitudes, common tasks, and expected usage patterns. Create them and post on a wall. Invite people comment on them and change them on the spot.

Coming in Part 2: Putting Information to Work

In the follow-up to this post, I’ll discuss how to take what you’ve learned from people and convert it to a legitimate, well-conceived structure for your interactive project.

Dean Schuster is partner with truematter and interactive usability consultancy dedicated to creating, reviewing and testing websites, apps and mobile experiences.

posted by Guests Mar 03,2011 @ 11:56AM

The Social Media Starter Guide

First Five Things You Can Do to Start Off on the Right Foot

Anyone can open a Facebook page or Twitter account, but far too often, we see companies and organizations do this for all the wrong reasons. Consumers can sniff out a marketer from a mile away, and as soon as they figure out your game, you’re toast…hidden from the news feed, unliked, unfollowed, or even blocked. So what is a marketer to do in this new economy where consumers have the power to choose the information they consume? Here are a few tips I’ve figured out along the way from the front lines.

1. Look at Him, Look at Her, Then Look at Me
First things first, don’t market yourself all the time. Start your Facebook page and Twitter account, but have a microblogging strategy first. Microblogging is the art of promoting others’ articles and links in your news feeds. No one has the time to blog original material every day, so stay in the news feed by positioning yourself as a go-to resource and expert in your field by reading industry publications and sharing the best stories with your audience. Your followers will then be much more likely to click on your links when you slide in your own occasional campaign promotion.

2. Your Foundation = Your Resources
Use Twitter hashtags to find relevant conversations going on in your industry category. You will find the best-of-the-best twitters, bloggers, and news sources out there. Follow them. Retweet them. Share their articles in your Facebook page’s newsfeed. Build your blogroll so you will always have a foundation of resources to fall back on, and microblog from it regularly.

3. List It to Keep Up with It
You can easily begin to drown in social media once you are following 500 people on Twitter, have 1,000 Facebook friends and 2,000 Linkedin connections. Begin building lists to keep up with everything. In Twitter, I typically have a list of industry experts I follow, online influencers I reach out to, and media professionals I follow to nurture PR relationships. In Facebook, I have my list of “Real Friends,” “Professional Friends,” “Social Media Experts” and more. Lists help filter your newsfeed information by what is most important to you at the time.

4. Online Influencers Are Real People
Social media networks are simply real networks on steroids. They should not be used to replace real relationships, but they can be used to nurture them. The quickest way to make something go viral is to have others share it, so develop a handful of good relationships with real people who have a large social media reach, and enlist them to help you spread the word about your next campaign.

5. The Hook
I once suggested a Facebook page to over 1,000 of my friends, and it resulted in three new page likes. Not a very good conversion rate. Then, we slapped a creative competition with a great incentive on it, and voila… 500 new Facebook likes. Always, always, always ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” If you answer that question well, you have the hook you need to see better results.

~ Keely Saye

posted by Guests Sep 16,2010 @ 08:21PM

It's After Midnight.

The morning is gone. And so are the planning meetings. Decisions are being made. We are drinking coffee and bringing things to life while you’re dreaming.

When they first hear about CreateAthon, the first comment people often have is how hard it must be to work all night. It’s really not. There are so many ideas to bring to life, 24 hours is barely enough time to make it all happen. But your body generally frowns upon 48 hours of wakefulness. So we’ll stick with what works.

Speaking of, I have work to do. Lots and lots of work to do.

By Guest Blogger Julie Smith, The Adams Group




By the numbers

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