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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Email Me, Facebook Me, Tweet Me . . . What??!!!: Managing Multiple Contact Avenues

Most people today have multiple ways to be contacted.  We have multiple email addresses (personal and work), Facebook accounts, multiple phones (home, work, cell); and it can get confusing how to manage it all.  In fact, it can become so difficult that messages can often go missed.  In essence, we have all these great tools to be contacted and we miss more than we receive.  So you need to have the tools for keeping the tools organized.  For example, between my father-in-law (who lives with us) and I we have a great number of household tools.  Most are his and he is extremely handy.  One thing I love is the fact that he is pretty well organized with this as well and we set up peg board in our garage to organize the tools so we can easily find what we need when we need it.  When it comes to messaging, we need to do the same.  

In the business world we have to be careful with some of the advice too regarding messaging.  Some is geared towards a more personal level and speaks a lot to minimizing checking messages because they are a distraction.  The bottom-line is that the messages are business and the business should not be considered a distraction.  For example, my wife is in real estate.   Real estate pros are contacted through multiple avenues which often become alerts to the email box.  The difference between responding now or hours later can literally be losing the business as the person contacts someone else.  It's not even an option not to be on top of messages coming in and waiting until the evening.  

Let's take a look at managing these multiple contact avenues:

The email box as the "catch all".  

Email is probably the thing most of us check often.  Most will check their email several times a day.  I know I do.  Therefore I want an email box that is organized, easily accessible, and kept neat.  I chose Google's Gmail because I am big user of Google products and find them to be very powerful and easy to set up for managing multiple things coming into.  I use the Gmail  service to also receive and send email from multiple accounts and incoming messages from each account are labelled as such.  This way I quickly know the reason I am receiving the message.  I haven't used it much, but I can also receive email notifications of transcribed and recorded voicemails from my Google Voice phone number (we'll get into this next).  Brighthouse just added voicemail to email/text as well for their phone customers and this is a great feature.  Again, my wife's office line in the house is a Brighthouse phone.  So when she gets a voicemail on that phone she gets an email with a transcription of the message and an attached audio file to listen in her email box which she can pull up on her mobile phone.  This reduces forwarding phones, reduces interruptions from forwarding, and improves efficiencies.

The important thing to managing a very active email box is to delete that which you have no need for and check your email at least 3 times per day.  I "star" or "flag" important emails that I may need later on and then delete them once the task is completed associated with the message.  I also have gotten away from 'subscribing' to things like news alerts.  These can pile up and cause confusion.  I do have a couple but they are the cap and I won't add more.  It is a very select few because they are often information I want daily.

Handling multiple phone numbers in one

One thing I love about Google is the great tech tools they provide.  Some are so amazing that they become confusing.  Google Voice is one of those for me and many others, but it still a great tool.  Google Voice is a free service that provides users with one Google-provided phone number that acts as a catch-all and routing system for multiple phone numbers.  So instead of having to give out several phone numbers, you can give out one which in turn can be used to route calls to several different numbers.

Routing is an amazing feature in this system.  You can assign calls to be routed to particular numbers by contact or group of contacts.  Or you can set it up to go straight to voicemail for "unknown callers".  This way you can set all of your contacts in your family and friends groups to go to your cell or home, and all of your business contacts to go directly to your work number.  

The voicemail service is amazing.  Whenever a caller leaves a voicemail on the service, the message is immediately transcribed (and very well I might add) and attached to the recording.  You can set the service to email or text you the transcription and recording.  And it's extremely quick.  

You can use the service to make phone calls through smart phones as VOIP with the Google Voice app.  Watch your data usage if you are on limited data usage plans.  

Facebook me, Tweet it, etc.

In getting into social networking more and more for my wife's business plus my own stuff; I quickly found myself getting frustrated with flipping through a ton of tabs in browsers and doing several different logins.  I found the solutions in some great new services designed for handling multiple accounts.  Some of these are Hootsuite,Tweetdeck, and Tweetcaster.

Hootsuite is my favorite for my PC and Tweetcaster for my phone, but I do like the Hootsuite mobile app too and have both on there.  Hootsuite does a great job allowing individuals and teams to set up multiple Twitter, Facebook, and Facebook Pages, etc. accounts all in one spot.  Each account is tabulated and the various sections of each service are then in custom columns.  It very easy to share things out on one or many social networks at one time.  Plus it keep the social streams very organized and easy to view.  

Tweetcaster (from Handmark) is a great mobile app that has similar features to Hootsuite for your phone.  It has a great user interface like Hootsuite and ties in great with sharing things from other apps such as news stories.  

What are your thoughts?  What challenges do you face with all these contact tools today?
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