Tweet Happy

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It seems as though more and more people these days love to jump on Twitter and post whenever they’re annoyed, angry or frustrated with a company or service. Sharing only your grievances on Twitter will quickly alienate you from any potential followers. Here’s why you should tweet happy.

I’m certainly not against using Twitter for communication with corporations and if you look through my twitter history you’ll see several different examples of how I used Twitter to express frustration with a company or disappointment in a service. (Here’s an example and here’s another). But I also tweet when I’m happy with a service or a company. (please see Exhibit A and Exhibit B).  So I would encourage you to be balanced in your tweeting because a balanced social media profile is a good thing. 

No Shouting

Sprinkle equal amounts of praise and criticism in your posts, along with a healthy dose of information, anecdotes and more. Always focus on the purpose of your social media platforms. Are you seeking a place to simply talk, or are you looking for communication? Are you seeking connections or do you just want to shout at people through the twitter bullhorn? 

That Guy

We’ve all been in the room with the person that just won’t stop talking about themselves, their problems, and their situations. It’s not fun to listen to them. In fact, most people can’t take it for too long before they begin to tune the person out and eventually wander off completely. No one likes to be around that type of person. The same holds true for your online social media networks. Think about the other person. Is the information you share relevant to them? Are they interested in what you share and more importantly do you give them reason or opportunity to interact with you?

You shouldn’t always be talking. You should be engaging. I want my social communication to be a two-way street. As much as I want to share, I also want to listen. I want to make connections and I want to learn about the interests of others. By doing this I am making sure I demonstrate that I  am not the most important person. Your social posts give you this opportunity. Take the following four tips when posting on social media.

1. Post About Your Business Sparingly

No one wants to hear 24/7 tweets about your business and your product offering (remember that guy in the room you can’t wait to get away from). I’m not saying don’t post about your business, but do it in moderation. Share your business successes (and failures), share about your services, but consider how often you do so. Also, give information and advice based on your business experience. This leads directly into the next tip.

Share Business Strategy

As your business has evolved and grown I am sure you have found ways in which you could have done things better. Or maybe you found something that works very well for your business. Share tips and insights which your followers will find interesting. This is a different way of sharing about your own business. It provides your followers with information about you and your business without making anyone feel like they’re being “sold” something. 

Be A Channel

Don’t be afraid of posting or re-posting content from someone else. Now I’m not saying you claim it as your own, give them the credit and merely retweet or share their information. This will give others valuable information which you have in a sense curated for them. You’ve applied your knowledge and wisdom to pull out those articles and nuggets of value and shared it with them. You’ve made their life easy and they’ll appreciate you more for it. There is nothing wrong with sharing someone else’s content. 

Stay Balanced

Don’t post too much of any one thing. Don’t share too much about your business, don’t share too much strategy, don’t be just a re-tweeter of someone else’s information. You must stay balanced. By offering a well-rounded online social profile you demonstrate your full character. You want people to know you, not just one facet of you. Just as if you were talking in person to someone – you should conduct your social posts in the same way. 

It’s simple really and we can all do it. Take these four quick tips and improve your social media profile. Remember don’t just post when you’re dissatisfied with something (or someone) but offer a well-rounded and true representation of your business and ultimately you. 

3 Ways to Vent (and not regret it later)

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Everyone has those days, or those moments when things reach a boiling point and you just have to let off some steam. Here’s a few helpful tips on how to vent without regretting it later.

Write it down

Yep, go old school. The painstaking process of finding paper and pen, writing down your grievances, and putting your thoughts into something tangible often involves enough effort and time to help you think more rationally. I’m not saying you need to follow the old advice of writing a letter and not sending it (though there’s nothing wrong with doing that). I’m simply recommending you take the time involved with actually writing something down. Force yourself to use complete sentences and paragraphs. And don’t forget proper punctuation. I’m not interested in twitter style messages or posts. Write down in detail the situation, the way it unfolded, how it impacted you, and how you feel about it. Doing this helps you in several ways. 

First, you will feel as though you are actually doing something about the stress. You’re taking action. The human brain thrives on problem-solving and the simple act of writing down a stressful situation gives you the feeling of problem solving.

Second, you will force yourself to think through the entire situation. Start to finish. You’ll have a good working knowledge of the details of the situation and you’ll remove any ambiguity. Often stress and frustration can come from the feeling of the unknown. The feeling of uncertainty will translate into stress or anger and you react to the emotion rather than reacting to the unknown information.

Third, you will find writing things down takes time. Twitter and other social outlets provide instant responses and short (sometimes thoughtless) replies which are more of a knee-jerk reaction then they are a true response to a situation. By writing things down you’ll find time to think through the emotions and formulate a fuller response. 

Tell A Friend

So the second way to vent without regretting it later is to find a trusted friend you can talk to. This one is a bit scarier as it involves trusting someone. You’ll notice I say a “trusted friend”. This needs to be someone you know you can trust with your deepest darkest secrets. The type of person you know would never betray your trust, under the threat of death. Remember you are sharing your anger and frustrations with them knowing they will not share it with others. 

You’re not seeking out someone you can vent to in hopes they will take up your cause and fight your battle. You will be best served if your friend knows little to nothing about the people or situation involved. You’re not looking for reassurance and someone encouraging you to “let them have it”.  No recording. And your friend should keep you accountable. You’re only allowed to vent on this particular instance this one time. No coming back for seconds. 

Get Outside

Go running, biking, walking, anything that forces you to get outside and get your heart rate increased. The physical exertion will help your mind and your body to focus on something other than the problem. You’ll be expending your energy (and getting in shape at the same time). It’s important to not sit and stew on a problem. Letting the anger and frustration grow inside you will only eat away at you until you snap. If you force yourself to walk away from the situation and the pressure you will be able to distance yourself from the problem. 

Running and other physical activities cause your body to stop thinking about mental challenges and focus blood supply and energy to your extremities and fueling your muscles. Plus it will only help you stay in better physical condition. 

The next time you’re feeling angry and like you’re about to explode try one of the above ideas. See if it helps you control your emotions and put things in proper perspective. I am not saying righteous indignation is wrong. And there is certainly a time and place for sharing your thoughts. I just encourage you to not do it in the heat of the moment. And with that I’ll leave you with a quote from Warren Buffet.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

EPA and Open Source

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In honor of Earth Day I figured I would write a quick post about how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses open source software and technology.

I admit it’s not perhaps the greatest example of open source at work. But they’re making an effort and that’s worth mentioning. The EPA is taking advantage of open source networking through the use of a Github organization and series of repositories. They’ve boldly made the decision to place their website files in a repository to allow other developers to provide improvements and help. The sad news comes out when reviewing the number of pull requests made. In the nine months the code has lived out in the open there have been exactly 0 (zero) pull-requests

Uhoh

Ok, so perhaps not the greatest example. There are other repositories in the EPA organization account. Unfortunately, the other repositories post many of the same statistics. Various repositories for projects, applications, and websites exist but none have any better stats. 

What does this mean? Should open source be neglected and not used by these government agencies? Not necessarily. The problem is not in the intent but in the execution. I’m sure many of you know how the recent healthcare.gov site also attempted to use Github to share all of their codebase. https://www.healthcare.gov/developers

Healthcare.gov Github Failure

This was a fiasco for them during this process and after only a few weeks they removed the code.  Why do these different government agencies fail? As I said before

The problem is not in the intent but in the way they carried out their plan. 

Open source is not an easy, “instant” solution, and as I’ve written about before, many will fail at open source. These government agencies falsely assume the community is waiting for opportunity to contribute code and contribute fixes. While the world is full of altruistic, well-intentioned developers it cannot be assumed they are idly sitting waiting to offer perfect little code-presents bundled up with a bug-fix bow. 

Multi-step Plan

I’m glad to see the government eager to take advantage of open source. But it must be carefully thought-out and planned and be sure it’s not seen as just a chance to get free help from developers. Care should be taken to grow and nurture a community surrounding the organization. It takes time, it takes thought, and it takes planning. Yes, it can be done. And it can be done successfully. It’s a multiple step process.

1. Recognize

The first step is to recognize the benefits of open source. This one is the easy step. Most companies and people recognize the power of open source. The EPA has recognized the power of open source. They’ve taken the first step and I commend them for it.

2. Plan

The second step is to organize a plan for how, where, and why to implement open source. What technologies, what software, and what platform should be used to share this code with the world? This step is a bit harder than the first step but again most can accomplish this step as well with very little effort. 

3. Implement

The third step is the first step which takes much greater effort and attention. This is also the step when most companies begin to fail. Simply dumping the code onto an online repository such as Github or BitBucket is not enough. This is not implementation. Implementing involves more than the code release. Implementation means marketing, advertising, and clearly defining the benefits for the community to helping. This means showing the value of the open source code to the greater good. Giving the community a reason for participating and sharing how the project benefits more than just the organization.

4. Nurture

The final step is the nurturing process. This is not the end of the process but this is the last of the steps in seeing it successfully begin to grow. Nurturing the community surrounding the code means spending time showing the value of the whole. Offering praise and feedback to those community members volunteering their time. Companies who fail to plan and implement clearly never spend the time to nurture these communities. Contributors must feel valued and see positive outcome from their involvement. 

Again, I’m excited to see open source growing in government agencies and other organizations but it needs to be done well. Companies should pay attention to more then recognizing the value. Encourage others to plan, implement and nurture their open source communities and then we’ll truly see the power of open source. 

Open Source Isn’t Free

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Whoa, slow down. Read the title again. Open source isn’t free. But that doesn’t even sound right! Isn’t the inherent nature of the term open source meant to imply a freely distributable source?

According to Wikipedia, open source is defined as follows:

In production and development, open source as a development model promotes a universal access via free license to a product’s design or blueprint, and b) universal redistribution of that design or blueprint, including subsequent improvements to it by anyone.

That certainly seems to imply that open source is free. So why would I suggest that it isn’t? I’d like to offer two counter points to the idea that open source is a completely free model.

Open Source Costs Time

I have no doubt everyone has heard the age old advice:

“Time is money.”

If we keep that principle in mind then obviously spending time on something equates to a cost. Open source will absolutely take time. If you’re the originator you will find yourself spending hundreds of hours (thousands even) improving, maintaining, managing the open source software you are distributing. That’s expensive. If you are merely a consumer of an open source product you will undoubtedly find ways you’ll need to customize the software to meet your needs. (That’s one of the reasons you probably chose open source in the beginning).

The ability to customize and modify the source code is an attractive perk of using open source, but beware this alluring benefit also comes with a significant opportunity to become a major time sink.

Takeaway: Be sure to consider the time you will spend if you select an open source model.

Open Source Costs Energy

The second point might not seem so expensive to you. Open source will cost you energy. Energy in the form of learning new software, learning new code, learning a new community. The energy expense is closely tied to the time expense. You’ll spend time AND energy working with open source. Obviously you’ll spend both of these with other models as well, but when the opportunity exists to “tinker” in the source code, the design, or the blueprint of the product the results will be a much greater expenditure of time and energy.

Remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This applies to more than just Speedo swimsuits. Be thoughtful as you embark on an open source model. Plan how and where you will spend your time and energy and monitor yourself. Don’t go overboard with customizations and modifications. Or if you find you have to, be sure to budget appropriately.

Takeaway: You will spend more energy learning open source than just how to use a program.

Don’t go into open source blindly believing the “everything is free” philosophy. Open source isn’t free and it can be very expensive. That should not discourage you from using open source. There are a multitude of reasons why open source provides you with a better solution than a closed source model. Use open source but be prepared for the costs involved.

The Thrill of the Hunt

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It’s that one weekend where my wife and I follow along in the amusing and pointless hiding of plastic spheres filled with candy so our children can run around giggling, laughing, and shouting as they hunt for their ‘treasure’.

Too Well-Hidden

Yes, it’s Easter weekend and culture has deemed this a time for a bunny to place eggs (makes no sense to me) in obscure locations for young children (and I admit, some older children) to go sleuthing in a total safari, big-game hunt. The result?

Approximately 80% of all hidden gems are found with 20% hidden so well, even the person responsible is unable to remember where it was placed.

No doubt it will be found months later when weeds are being pulled or the lawn is being mowed. The last plastic egg, faded by the weeks in the sun, with some candy wrapper remnant inside (the chocolate long-since melted).

Marketing Related?

Even as I watch these excited kids bounding with enthusiasm around the yard I can’t help but think to myself how much this relates to marketing. As a marketer we hide ‘eggs’ all over the backyard of the internet. We carefully tuck them away in the form of well-placed articles, neatly packaged comments, a tweet, or other social media post. All types of little ‘easter egg’ marketing nuggets.

Sometimes we take great care in placing one, and other times we almost casually toss them around and hope they land in a good spot. But we always have a goal in mind. We’re leaving them for someone else to find. Sure, we may leave some out in the open, easy to retrieve, easy to consume. But we also plant some slightly beneath the surface, a reward for those who dig, for those who look a little deeper. Then we watch, and we wait.

We watch as eager, excited customers bounce around from place to place looking for the products they need.

We hope they find the items we’ve left and we hope, just as my kids do when they find a new goodie, they come running towards us to show us what they’ve found. We want our customers, finding the treats we’ve left for them and running to us for more.

Hide them well

I’d encourage you to keep the analogy in mind the next time you’re working on a piece of marketing. Remember the 80/20 rule I jokingly referred to above. It may very well be that 20% of your hard-work is never found or uncovered. Or maybe it will remain hidden, lying in wait for just the right person to come along and find it, days or even weeks later. Be a thoughtful marketer. Take the time to carefully consider your ‘easter eggs’, plant them where your customers will look, but don’t overload them either. If the backyard were to be covered in easter eggs then the game would be no fun. It would become a mundane, almost tedious experience and no kid in the world would enjoy it. The fun is in more than just collecting tidbits, the fun is deeper, the experience, the feeling of accomplishment its as much the journey as it is the reward at the end.

I love marketing, I love the feeling of sharing the excitement with others. The joy which comes from planting the treats, writing the posts, and making the game. All for the hunters out there. Because there’s nothing better than preparing for, and watching others’ enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

WordPress, One Billion Dollars, and You

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The tech news blogs were hot today with stories of Automattic seeking an additional round of investor funding which would place the company valuation at a cool one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000). Let’s look back quickly at a couple reasons why WordPress has proven to be so successful and then how you can apply it to your business.

Automattic is best known as the company behind the popular open source content management system WordPress. Matt Mullenwig, the founder of WordPress and now CTO at Automattic has displayed a very clear vision for how the organization should be run. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. In fact, I have had several strong disagreements with WordPress decisions through the years, but I can’t argue with their success.

I have enjoyed the opportunity of chatting about WordPress with Matt and picking his brain for his reasons behind some of the decisions they’ve made and I can’t deny it certainly makes sense. I absolutely respect their focused determination to provide an unchanging, stable platform for their users. Matt made the comment once how WordPress “sought to sustain the technical debt so the user would not have to.” I think that’s a valuable insight into some of the core principles WordPress maintains.

Let’s look quickly at some other parts of that philosophy:

Design for the Majority: WordPress has clearly identified their target market. They focus heavily on the “non-technically minded” This is the user base they build software for. Clearly defined, easy to identify, and focused. And it’s important to note they recognize this majority is not represented by the 1% vocal minority. They seek out their target audience by listening to them at events around the globe. One-on-one, in-person, listening; to more than just those loud individuals online.

If you run a business, be sure you know your specific target market. And no, everyone in the world over the age of 12 is not a target market. And listen. Listen to what your majority says, and be cautious to not fall into the trap of listening to only the vocal minority.

Striving for Simplicity: WordPress has several points of their philosophy which deal directly with this notion of simplicity. They don’t add option on top of option, they don’t add everything requested into the core, and they seek to improve each release by becoming easier to user. Does this sound like any other familiar and wildly successful company? If you thought of Apple, you’re right. In their very first marketing brochure ever the headline was:

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Sounds similar right? Steve Jobs was obsessed with the idea of simplicity in design and he built Apple around that same core value. It was successful for them. WordPress has wisely positioned themselves to take advantage of the same important rule. 

Remember this when organizing and deciding on your business goals. Don’t add in everything you’re asked for by your customers. Be thoughtful and pay attention to your overall product. Make sure you stay focused on your goals and be ridiculously driven by accomplishing them.

Bill of Rights: The last aspect of the WordPress philosophy focuses on the license and distribution of their software. They believe in Open Source. They’ve determined the values of offering a free product which can be easily shared, changed, distributed, and copied. They believe in the value of community and the importance of sharing with all.

Other open source projects have led the way in this area and proven how successful this can be. Linux, the world’s most widely used server operating system, was built on this same principle. The four freedoms, as they are frequently called, have shown time and again the value of open source and how the world has been improved as a result.

Consider open source when building your business. You may not open source your core technology because you feel you have an advantage but there are plenty of secondary tools you will use or build which you could open source and “give back” to the community. Don’t overlook this opportunity.

I encourage you to read the full philosophy of WordPress. Looking at the list I think there are several elements which have helped them as they have grown as an organization over the years. Then, once you’ve read it – you should seek to apply some of the similar ideas for your own business.

Is WordPress worth one billion dollars? I couldn’t say, but I can tell you this much – the core values they have determinedly followed and maintained through the past decade are a great model to follow and I wish them nothing but success as they seek to fulfill their philosophy. Can you say the same for your business?

If Only I Had

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I have seen the quotes, the tattoos, and the posters shouting “No Regrets!” Unfortunately it’s simply not a reality – at least in my life I’ve not found that to be true. Instead as the title suggests I find myself often thinking, “If only I had…”

I’m going to be perfectly honest. I have and will continue to have regrets. Not because I wish there were things I hadn’t done, but rather regret that they didn’t work. Does that make sense? Yes, I learned from my mistakes and I am very glad to have made them. But that does not mean I am glad they didn’t work they way I wanted. And I regret that. As I look back on those times I will most certainly say If only I had done this or that.

It’s simple really. There are two ways to look at the phrase, If only I had.

1. If only I had done something differently.
That means I attempted something. I tried. I may have failed but I tried. I am looking back on an experience and learning from my failure. There is benefit in questioning your choices and determining if you could have done something better. I like this option.

2. The second option is not so good. If I didn’t attempt an idea.
If I quit before even trying and look back and say, If only I had tried. I consider that a failure. Because I didn’t try. This is the option where I should have been better. I should have tried. I don’t like living with this regret. It says I was too scared to try. I let my fear dictate my actions or the opinions of another keep me from doing what I thought would have worked. Could it still have been an epic failure? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t be wondering what if…

So it’s quite simple to me. I don’t have a problem with saying “If only I had.” I have a problem with not trying. Next time you’re looking back on decisions you made and times you’ve failed I encourage you – it’s ok to analyze and learn from your mistakes. Question yourself. But don’t give up before you start. Don’t regret that you didn’t try.

Understanding Your User

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It’s easy to build a business to meet your needs. You know an industry, a market, or a technology and you want to use that knowledge to build a business. Don’t fall into the trap of designing your marketing plan around yourself.

Not the Man in the Mirror

You are not selling to yourself. Or rather, you shouldn’t be. Instead of talking about your business as if you were talking to someone who understands everything you do – focus on finding your target audience and then understanding what they do or don’t know. Never forget you are the expert. If a user understands everything you do then they most likely don’t need your services.

It’s Easy

Growing your understanding of your audience is easy to do, but it takes time and more importantly it takes thought. Many small businesses fail to understand the importance which should be placed on understanding the user better. You need to stop looking at yourself but focus instead on the ones who need you. Here’s a few ways to help you get started.

Ask Grandma

It’s very easy to find out what other people think or know about you or your business by asking someone from a different age demographic. This is in no way disparaging the elderly. Rather we’re highlighting the differences in life lessons and experiences between generations. Tell an older person what you do and see what questions they have. Be sure to write them down and then figure out how to improve your pitch to answer those questions before they ask them. Ask and then listen. That’s important, you shouldn’t ask them then continue directly on with your own thoughts. You need to ask and then patiently, quietly, listen to what they say. They have different views and different life experiences and if you truly listen you’ll find incredible opportunities for improving yourself.

Play Make-Believe

Most kids play make-believe when growing up. I know my kids do it all the time. I laugh sometimes as I overhear them. They have completely different lives, new names, new ages, new likes and dislikes. And all just for fun in their game. What an absolutely perfect example of what small businesses should do. Pretend to be your own ideal customer. Give yourself a new name, a new age, a new life. Figure out what this “new you” is looking for and then figure out how your business meets a need. It’s a simple concept, for kids it’s simply called make-believe, for adults it goes by another name – personas. I’ll discuss this in depth in a future article. Suffice to say for now, build personas. Play make-believe.

Change it Up

Don’t be afraid to make changes. You can always revert them back if you find they are not working. As you seek to understand your user you need to see what works and what doesn’t. What resonates with them and helps them to understand you and your business. A popular way of doing this involves employing A/B testing (again too much to cover in this post alone). Give your users different experiences. See what works for them and what doesn’t. Learn your users likes and dislikes. As you change it up it’s important that you monitor, report, and improve. Don’t simply make changes for the sake of change. Instead make changes because you believe it will enhance the user experience. You have to monitor the outcomes. You have to be willing to roll things back if they don’t work. But you shouldn’t be afraid to make changes.

Understanding your users should be one of your primary goals as a business owner. Figure out what they want. You’ll find if you take the time to learn your user better you’ll be able to attract the right user. Don’t waste your time selling yourself and your business to someone who is not your ideal customer. Save time, save money, and build the right user-base. All it takes is a little effort, and a few new ideas to start the process of understanding your user.

The Ugly Truth About Open Source

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When using open source software it’s important to recognize the limitations and struggles you’ll encounter. Open source is not equivalent to perfect software. Let’s discuss the ugly truth about open source software.

We all agree the importance open source software has come to play in our world. In fact, as mentioned previously it’s quite the buzz word. But that does not imply perfection. In fact there are many reasons why open source is not perfect and I’ve written previously about 5 ways you’ll fail at open source. I assume you’ve all read that article, have protected yourself against those failures and have pushed boldly on into implementing open source in your company or organization. Congratulations.

Woohoo

If you’re anything like me when I started with open source you’re probably a bit like a kid in a candy store. All the different software products you can now use, and so many of them free and open source ready to be used. It can be overwhelming, and exciting all at the same time. No doubt you’ll start downloading, forking, installing and playing with more than just one. And here’s where the dark side starts to creep in. Here’s the one key takeaway from this entire post:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Failure to Integrate is the often neglected side effect of all these open source products. You’ve downloaded and installed 3 or 4 different tools you like. All of them have great features, but now what do you do? Does each user need to login 3 or 4 different times? Does each application have a completely different ‘look and feel’? Your website can quickly become a disjointed mashup of different applications. You’ll find areas that overlap between them as well. Now you have a website where there are multiple ways to perform the same action, but each looks different. Your users will be confused, frustrated, and possibly irritated when trying to complete an action.

Side Note

Now all of you who are programmers or coders know there are ways to solve this. We can easily write a new application using Composer and Packagist to build a single application with the various bits and pieces we want. And yes, that is a great way to build a cohesive full-service solution which takes advantage of all the open source projects without the integration failures. But I’m looking at the site maintainer, the builder, the end-user who is looking at completed projects ready for installation and use.

When organizing your site and exploring the great wide open space of open source technology and products, please exercise self-control, caution, and a bit of discretion. Your goal should be to use open source for your organization’s success and do so effectively. Be sure the end result is a cohesive site which is easy to use, conveys your brand objective and doesn’t leave the user feeling unsure of your mission.

I believe in open source

I completely encourage every business to use open source. The rewards are tremendous. The software available is incredible and the value you can add to your company is huge. Absolutely explore the various offerings. What I find myself most often recommending is setting up a testing server just for the installation of the many different tools you want to try (or just use online demos).

Remember, your staging or production server is not the place where you test software. Once you’ve played around with it, and you decide it’s a tool you want to use on your site – talk to your developer about integration. Find out what it will take to integrate it seamlessly into your existing website. Discuss the areas of overlap and how to handle them. Make a plan. Focus on your end user experience and how to make it a simple, intuitive website. Use open source the right way.