We live in an era of information overload. You have to find a way to handle all that data or it will crush you.  So today I am sharing a few basic Rules and a Toolbox — my curated lists of apps — that should help you keep up with all that information and to manage it so that it doesn’t manage you.

The first step to mastering too much information is understanding where most of the data is coming from. Our every transaction with a company, our every move in an online game, our every message that we make creates data.  Increasingly, we communicate in zeroes and ones and it is changing us. When we communicate in social media, we talk much more (80%) about our own experiences — me, me, me — than we do when we meet face-to-face (40%).  Social media is the soap box upon which we stand and over-share. And all that over-sharing is creating a huge amount of data that speaks volumes to who we are.

It has put the Big in Big Data.  It is so vast it is virtually impossible to wrap our minds and arms around. Moreover, it is so distributed that that there is no one place we can go to get current contact and profile information.  As General Manager for Cloud Management Strategy at Red Hat Alessandro Perilli has pointed out, though it is 2015, the address book is still broken

Social networks have been doing everything in their power to keep it that way. They engineer their pages to render them unscrapable. They shut down API access. And by rewriting user agreements, they have us licensing our contact and relationship data to them into perpetuity. As in forever.

[shareable text=”Social networks are the Hotel California of our data. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”]Social networks are the Hotel California of our data. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.[/shareable]

This year, Facebook turned off the Friends data and Hashtag APIs. Twitter throttled API access. LinkedIn cut off access to rich profile APIs. LinkedIn even took away our ability to export our own contacts, but reversed itself after enough of its members made it clear they were not pleased.

The social networks are doing it to monetize their business models by forcing users to go to the websites to access our data. That means more work for you and me.  We surf from LinkedIn to Twitter to Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, and back again to stay connected and to communicate. The sheer volume of messages coming at us through every conceivable channel is increasing exponentially as hundreds of emails hit our inboxes each day.

So what’s an executive recruiter to do? For that matter, what is any executive to do?  There is no simple answer because, my friends, no one tool exists that easily and consistently rolls up all our relationship data into one centralized repository.  It takes a plethora of tools  — and, if you’re lucky, a designated social media posse —  to wrangle this omnichannel world of ours. Because at the senior executive level, seriously, who has the time?

I can’t even.

What follows are the basic rules I follow to manage the crazy amount of information we encounter in our work lives. I invite you to share your favorite rules and apps right here so we can all learn from each other and keep the best options available right here for all to enjoy.

Bradford Rules of Data

Rule #1 He/she who has the data has the power.

Make sure you hold the keys to your data. I recommend building and maintaining a CRM database so that your company owns its data. It can be costly and time consuming, but for now, remains the best way to stay in control of your most important relationships.

Rule #2 Find a place to put your data.

If you’re parking data in spreadsheets in a folder on your desktop, please stop.  That habit keeps you from sharing the knowledge. The low-tech solution would be to use collaborative spreadsheets in the cloud.  We use Google Sheets for that.  But generally we use shared docs as worksheets to message and analyze data after exporting the data from our CRM database.

Rule #3 Keep your data in the cloud.

We migrated to Salesforce for a couple of reasons.  I used to host my own SQL database on my own server in my home office. It meant anytime we experienced a power outage or other grid interruption, off-site workers couldn’t access the database. Because I’m technical enough to be a little dangerous, I served as my own database administrator and IT department.  I found I wasted far too much time worrying about backups on site and off. And when I did experience a hardware failure, restoring the OS, installing all the apps on the server, and then getting the data restored was a time-consuming nightmare. I’m talking a week of hell. Salesforce is more costly.  But they worry about our database’s uptime. For the most part, they are our IT department. Better yet, migrating to Salesforce made it easier to get information into the database, which brings us to Rule #4.

Rule #4  Avoid importing and data entry whenever you can.

I can easily sync company and executive information through the Salesforce apps InsideView and ZoomInfo. That is huge. But our work developing current and accurate contact information doesn’t end there.  Inevitably, the contact and career details these services serve up are out-of-date or incomplete or both.

I would use Data.com, formerly Jigsaw until Salesforce acquired it. But, when I drilled down, Salesforce fields didn’t play nicely with Data.com when syncing. (Data.com’s Email field was devoted solely to work emails while Salesforce’s Email field held work and personal emails. You could dedicate another field in Salesforce for work emails and sync Data.com with that instead, but that’s not the default field Salesforce uses the send emails. The other one is.)

Rule #5  Backup. Backup. Backup.

Your CRM database records are your crown jewels.  Your client, customer, and relationship insights live there. Do not risk losing that asset.  Invest in automatic backup.  Make sure your copies are available for at least 3-to-6 months. With large databases, you may not notice data missing until you got to find it and discover it is not there.

The Big 4 Social Networks (What I Do Where)

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the default business networking site. But I use it as a data point for our own research that we build out in our CRM database. I rarely, if ever, ask someone I’m connected to to make an introduction.  If I want a referral, I’ll do it outside of LinkedIn. I rarely use LinkedIn inmail. Most of the time, I communicate directly with the person using work emails, phones, and other means. I’d never use LinkedIn as a candidate tracking system.  The primary reason why I avoid doing all these things is because I want to maintain control of our data.  There is a risk to being data-dependent on LinkedIn — they can turn off access to certain kinds of data, turn off your ability to export your data (as they tried recently), and force you to pay increasingly higher amounts for access to the very data you created.

Twitter

When I have something witty to say, I do it on Twitter, not in a Facebook update. I also turn to Twitter when I want to track (or report) breaking news, and when I want to share something or otherwise connect with other social media savvy leaders in our sector.

Facebook

Facebook is for friends, people I actually know in the real world.  I recently pared down my Friends to so that Facebook offers me a curated list of my people.  I’ve notice a number of uber-powerful colleagues use Facebook as the network where they hang out because it is private and they can create their own exclusive club out of public view.

Google+

Google+ is a social network that builds off of your Google Account. I use it to connect with colleagues who prefer to hang out there.  Google makes it easy to create Circles of friends and acquaintances and follow people. Circles offer you a way not to have your feed clogged up with personal stuff that can take over your Wall on Facebook.

My ToolBox

My toolbox consists of apps and services that make my work easier.

Calendaring

Google Calendar

Because we use Google Apps, Google Calendar is what we use for individual and team calendaring. It syncs nicely across platforms and you can easily turn emails into Tasks that are for scheduling.  Google Tasks do not sync with Reminders on iOS or Apple OS X.  So if you want to view tasks on those platforms, you’ll need to find an app to help. (See Calendar5)

Calendar5

Calendar5 bring events and tasks together in your schedule. You can see task along with meetings and events to better plan the day. It has a custom-built task manager that syncs with iOS reminders and with Google Tasks, getting my Google Tasks them onto my iPhone and iPad.

TimeTrade

If your work involves scheduling phone calls, TimeTrade can help you get your life back.  It enables people to schedule calls directly onto your calendar, eliminating the mind-numbing back-and-forth in emails attempting to nail down a time.  You control when you want to make yourself available for calls.  The app looks at your latest availability and offers up times.  In our recruiting business, it gives candidates and clients instant gratification by enabling them to schedule a meeting directly on your calendar for an optimal executive search experience.

Customer-Relationship Management

Salesforce Enterprise

Though The Good Search is a retained search firm and though Intellerati our recruiting research brand, we do not use a typical candidate tracking system or executive search database. We opted for Salesforce Enterprise because it is much easier to get data into Salesforce and saves us from having to do a massive amount of data entry. (Getting data out is a whole other matter.) We also like it because we can add custom objects and fields as required, which allows us to tailor our CRM for our clients and to harness the power of a wide array of data. I do not recommend the JobScience recruiting app that sits on Salesforce for reasons I detail in my review in the AppExchange.

Skuid

The app enhances the workflow and functionality of the Salesforce User Interface.  Salesforce’s native UI is famously unintuitive and click-intensive, and it is often hard to see the information you want to see all in one view.  Skuid helps solve that problem.  If you’re not very nerdy, you’ll likely need a consultant to help implement the solution.

SFVision

Another way to reskin Salesforce for a better UI experience is to use one of the many Salesforce apps that are available. It’s not practical for data entry, but it works well for other database activities. I often pull up an app to use as a second view of my data, to spin through my To Do list for the day.

SweetProcess

Bringing people up to speed on how to use Salesforce can be frustrating and time-consuming. Enter  SweetProcess.  It enabled me to set up step-by-step instructions complete with videos. Our training modules have made onboarding  new workers a breeze and by providing the same training experience for everyone, it has increase the quality and consistency of our work.

InsideView

The Salesforce app enables us to sync Company and Contact information so we don’t have to enter or update records by hand.  The contact information often includes social media profile URLs and biographies.  The one limitation is that they list the headquarters address for ALL  employees — even those working at branch offices. The service also aggregates, curates, and delivers inside information and intelligence about companies and your target market.

ZoomInfo

When we need direct dial information and proper email addresses, ZoomInfo is our go-to-tool. It’s great for getting emails for companies that have no discernable email address formula or who have set up their email server to give ambiguous “maybe” answers when we test email addresses.

Conga Composer

It is one thing to get data into Salesforce. It is quite another thing to get data out and to have it be visually appealing. Conga allows us to do that.  Conga allows us to build very complex reports that include profile photos of candidates.  Compared to other reporting software like Crystal Reports, Conga is much easier. Most of the time we can build the reports ourselves. That’s huge. It make us much more nimble.

StrikeIron Email Verification 

In our workflow, we always develop and verify contact information. StrikeIron helps us do that.  It gives us definitive Valid and Invalid results for a majority of the emails we test.  It gives us Not Definitive results when the email server is configured to demure. We then use other means to verify the address.  Bottomline, StrikeIron speeds confirming that an email is valid.

Spanning 

Do not rely on scheduled Salesforce exports of your data. The reports are missing one critical thing — relationships between your objects. Use Salesforce’s native scheduled exports and you’ll get an export of all your Contacts but have no idea what Company records they connect to. So if humpty dumpty breaks, you will be unable to put him back together again. That’s insane. You must backup your data so that restoring your database is actually possible. We chose Spanning, the first and only backup-and-restore solution delivered directly within the Salesforce interface that automates backup of our CRM and enables granular, on-page restores.

 

Data Wrangling

OpenRefine

OpenRefine is a free, open source tool that helps you clean up messy data. Formerly Google Refine, the tool helps you clean, standardize, append and transform data  from one format into another. It can handle huge data sets — the kind that are so massive they blow up spreadsheets. Yep, OpenRefine can go there.

Import.io

Import.io is an easy-to-use scraper, free of charge. You can use the tool to build APIs for all your favorite websites with just a few clicks of the mouse. There are some websites that you’ll discover are design to be unscrapable by basic tools.  But for the rest, Import.io does the trick.

OutWit Hub

OutWit Hub is a great tool to master, particularly for websites that are not coded in such a way that makes them easy-to-scrape. It explores the depths of the Web for you, automatically collecting and organizing data and media from online sources. It extracts information elements and organizes them into usable collections.

Google Custom Search

There are times when Google hits you with “are you human” pop ups, if you are doing a lot of web mining. One work around is to set up a custom search engine that targets or filters for whatever you are seeking in your search results. You avoid annoying popups and the risk of Google throttling your access to its search results because it incorrectly concluded you were a search bot and not human.

Email Management

Google Apps Gmail

Born of the Cloud in 2007, Gmail quickly rose to prominence as the leading free email application. And while other apps and solutions offer more features, it offers secure and user-friendly experience that includes many extras.

Cirrus Insight

Connecting Gmail to Salesforce, Cirrus Insight allows users to instantly view leads, contacts, activities, cases, opportunities and more from within Gmail. You can log emails with a click, create new contacts, tasks, and events. You can also sync contacts and calendars.

Mailstrom

Mailstrom does a very good job of organizing your email so you can quickly identify the messages you want to delete or archive. You can quickly view messages by sender, subject, time, and size, as well as those from certain mailing lists and social networks. I use this tool to weed-whack, ridding my inbox of hundreds of messages at a time so I can focus on what’s important.

Financial

Quickbooks Online

In the cloud, QuickBooks Online offers me an easy way to check our financial position at any given time.  I can pull up our P&L, Balance Sheet, and an assortment of other reports in seconds. It is easy for our CPA and bookkeeper to access and it is backed up. It’s a bulletproof way to manage our finances.

Social Media Management

Buffer

Buffer enables me to schedule posts across LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. You can configure your browser and mobile devices to enable you to forward content you want to share to Buffer for posting. For a while with when buffer would post on LinkedIn, the photos didn’t quite make it through. But now it appears that issue has been resolved.

CrowdFire (formerly JustUnfollow)

I curate my Twitter followers in CrowdFire. It gives me insights that allow me to Unfollow those who have unfollowed or never followed me back. It allows me to focus on relationships that really are a two-way street.

FlipBoard

The app allows you to roll up your favorite publications into a single magazine that you can flip through, much like pages in a magazine. FlipBoard is the app I use at night and weekends to catch up on reading and to tee up articles to share.

Hootsuite

When I want to engage in 2 way dialog in social media, Hootsuite is the place I go. From there,  I can schedule messages as well as engage with my followers and clients in the field.

Pocket

When I do research online, I save articles, blog posts, and other goodies to a handy app called Pocket for future reference. When I’m ready to write, I pull up the Pocket app and the articles I saved are all right there to serve as inspiration for my next blog post.

ThinkUp

ThinkUp gives you insights into your social networking activity on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and beyond. I’m testing the app and will let you know more what I think about ThinkUp after I’ve gotten a better feel for it.

 

Content Creation

Canva

If you haven’t had the time or patience to master Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Dreamweaver and need to come up with eye-candy for your social media, Canva can fix you right up.  The free tool enables you to create graphics in a flash. With social media becoming increasingly reliant on images, Canva is an important tool to add to your toolkit.

iStockPhoto

Whenever I need a photo for a blog post or social media graphic, iStockPhoto is my first stop.  I prefer to use photos that don’t show the faces of models. Having come from the world of journalism, using photos of people pretending to do work seems much too cheesy. Most of the time, I find abstract and minimalistic images a better, more authentic choice.

WordPress

WordPress is my preferred platform for blogging and for our for our retained search brand The Good Search and our recruiting research brand Intellerati.  If you’re technically adept, it is easy enough for you to manage the sites yourself.

Divi Theme by Elegant Themes

The theme we use for both our corporate websites (The Good Search and Intellerati) is Divi.  Having previously used Genesis framework and themes,  I find Divi much easier to manage because it offers more flexible and robust functionality. I can do things in Divi that previously required coding or the addition of a WordPress plugin, which can slow website performance.

Monarch

Monarch is a social sharing WordPress PlugIn created by Elegant Themes. It enables you to add Sharing Buttons in different locations on pages and posts have different social sharing needs. You can select a floating sidebar, have the displayed above or below a post, or on images and video. Pretty neat.

GetNoticed! Theme by MichaelHyatt.com

I chose the GetNoticed! WordPress theme for my KristaBradford.com site because, like Divi, it comes with additional functionality right out of the box. It comes pre-configured to play nicely with social media. The theme is designed more for personal branding, which is why I use it for my personal blog.

WPEngine

WPEngine offers hassle-free web hosting, fast servers, and services that are tailored just for WordPress. They offer automatic security updates, daily backups, one-click restore points, automatic caching, one-click staging area. And because they devote themselves exclusively to WordPress, technical support is a breeze.  That was not the case for the 3 web hosts I tried before using WPEngine.  If you use WordPress, WPEngine is a no-brainer.

Disqus Comment System

Disqus Comment System is a WordPress Plugin that  makes commenting easier and more interactive, while connecting websites and commenters across a thriving discussion community.

Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms for WordPress is a full featured contact form plugin. It enables us to create forms that website visitors use so that we can get their information into Salesforce. To do that you also need the Gravity Forms Salesforce Add-On.

Gravity Forms Salesforce Add-On

This plugin integrates Gravity Forms with Salesforce, allowing form submissions to be automatically sent to your Salesforce account.

VaultPress

VaultPress offers real-time backup of our WordPress Sites, enabling you to recover any page you inadvertently messed up. VaultPress functions as secondary backup system to our web hosting service WPEngine which doesn’t nightly backups.

Google Analytics

If you have a blog, set up a Google Analytics Account. It’s free and allows you to track the growth and interests of your readership. Once you setup your account and add your domain, you’ll get a code to add to your website that allows you to track unique visitors, page views, bounce rate, and a slew of other metrics across your social media footprint.

Yoast SEO

If you have aWordPress blog or website, the Yoast SEO plugin offers just the tool for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It analyzes your page and helps you figure out what you need to do to tune it to make Google and other search engines happy.

 

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