6 Quick Tips for Social Media Success

The link-bait title is only half tongue-in-cheek.

Last night I attended a great little seminar on improving business-to-business social media use run by Bath and Bristol Marketing Network [I cheated a little – it’s a network for “marketing professionals” rather than “marketing amateurs”]. The speakers were Noisy Little Monkey – a digital marketing agency [who I now respect even more knowing they have an office in Shepton Mallet].

The main points that filtered through my fatigued post-5.30pm brain were:

  1. Identify your audience.
  2. Use images/graphics as well as text.
  3. Plan, test, measure, evaluate, repeat.
  4. Social media is not about conversion
  5. Identify the Twitter geeks who are going to push your content.
  6. Use editorial and event calendars to generate a content plan for a year.
Social Media Drives Growth!
Social Media Drives Growth!
CC: mkhmarketing

Here’s some more detail:

Identify your audience

  • Even better, categorise it.
  • Identify 5-10 groups and write a half-page “persona” for each group.
  • E.g. Michael Smith – manager of a software company – 45 – lives in Hereford with 2 kids.
  • Bear these “personas” in mind when writing content.

Use images/graphics as well as text

Plan, test, measure, evaluate, repeat

  • The tools are there – e.g. X Analytics, Twitter analysis tools like FollowerWonk etc. – build evidence and base strategy on it.
  • Prepare a monthly report that gives traffic/demographic/content statistics.
  • Systematically experiment with variations on format and content and use the above statistics to evaluate. E.g. What topics pique interest? Do images actually make a difference to engagement and sharing?

Social media is not about conversion

  • Sales come from phone calls, website visits, face-to-face encounters. Social media is the noise that pushes people into the sales funnel. It does work.
  • That said the pressure on pushy sales is removed.
  • Educating and entertaining become more important.

Identify the Twitter geeks who are going to push your content

  • As in most things, only 1-5% of a group actually drives conversations.
  • For example, on Twitter there are key individuals that are followed by many – if you were looking to get exposure work out what they like and what makes them tick. Find out what their interests are to aim content at them for retweets, comments and blog conversations.
  • You can identify individuals using tools – you can sort by individuals who have a large number of followers in areas you operate in who are likely to retweet URLs.

Use editorial and event calendars to generate a content plan for a year

  • You might know when IP events are going to be held. You might know when technology events are to be held. You can  plan your content (e.g. blog posts) around these.
  • Also you can find out magazine and newspaper editorial calendars (just google “magazine name” + “editorial calendar”) – you can have a yearly plan of when articles are published and fit blog articles into this.

Managing People: Getting the Most from Outlook Tasks

A while back we looked at using “Assigned Tasks” to send tasks to other people.

This previous technique required the recipient to manage their own tasks. This may not be great if the recipient is over-loaded. It also does not allow the sender of the task to change the task properties (e.g. change priority to urgent or move to another date).

There is another way to manage people using Outlook tasks. This is by using shared tasks. How to do this is explained below.

22438339_s

Setup a Shared Folder – Managee Computer

We will assume the person you want to manage is a “managee”. These steps need to be performed on the managee’s computer.

  1. Click on “Tasks” at the bottom of Outlook.
  2. Click on the “Tasks” entry in the left-hand-side menu.
  3. Click on the “Folder” tab at the top of the tasks view.
  4. Click on “Folder Permissions” (second to last entry).
  5. Click “Add”.
  6. Select everyone you want as a “manager” and click “OK”.
  7. Select the “Author” permission from the dropdown list and click “OK”.

Setup a Shared Folder – Manager Computer

You need to perform the following steps on the computer(s) of those who want to manage the managee.

  1. Click on “Tasks” at the bottom of Outlook.
  2. Click on the “Folder” tab at the top of the tasks view.
  3. Click “Open Shared Tasks” (third to last entry).
  4. Type the name of the managee or select from the list that appears when you select the “Name…” button.
  5. The managee’s tasks should then appear in a folder with their name under a “Shared Folders” heading on the left-hand-side.

Managing

Adding tasks for the managee:

  1. On the manager’s computer, go to “Tasks” in Outlook.
  2. Select the folder with the managee’s name.
  3. Then select “New Task” from the top.
  4. The added task will now appear in the “Tasks” list on the managee’s computer.
  5. It is recommend to add a “Category” that says who added the task – this will help the managee filter by sender.

On the managee’s side:

  1. If they go to “Tasks” in Outlook and select the “To-Do List” view (red flag) from the “Home” top menu they can see all tasks due in the future and past in a handy to-do list.
  2. The managee can then concentrate on doing the tasks due under the “Today” section (or those in the past).

The manager can now, via Outlook on their computer, edit existing tasks. For example:

  1. On the manager’s computer, go to “Tasks” in Outlook.
  2. Select the folder with the managee’s name.
  3. View the “To-Do List” for the selected folder.
  4. Double click a task to edit or delete (this will only work for tasks created by the manager).

Tasks can be reassigned to a different date, can be changed priority, can have notes added  etc..

Hide Private Tasks

If the managee is using tasks and does not want these viewable by everyone (e.g. “walk dog”, “pick up crack pipe” etc.) we need to create a private folder.

  1. Click on “Tasks” at the bottom of Outlook.
  2. Click on the “Folder” tab at the top of the tasks view.
  3. Click “New Folder” and call this “Private Tasks”.
  4. On the “Home” tab select “Simple List” in the “Current View”, select all existing tasks (using SHIFT) the click “Move” button (to the right) and select the “Private Tasks” folder.
  5. New private tasks should then be added to the “Private Tasks” folder (by selecting it on the left-hand-side before adding a task).

Let me know if you find any tricks or alternatives.

How to Avoid PDF Patent Filing Errors

This is hopefully a solution to a problem that has driven me mad for years.

When attaching PDF documents you often see errors from patent online filing software. For PCT applications a usual one is that a set of PDF Figures are not ‘Annex F compliant’ or the page numbers are not calculated properly.

One way around this is to use the Amyuni PDF printer driver that is supplied with the European Patent Office online filing software. However, this also tends to garble a PDF document .

I think there is another, better way:
– Choose to print the document.
– Select an AdobePDF ‘printer’ (assuming you have an Acrobat print driver installed).
– Select the ‘properties’ of this printer.
– Where it says “Default Settings” change “Standard” to one of the “PDF/A” options.
– Also, while you are here, click the “Paper/Quality” tab and select “Black & White”.
– Click OK and print.
The document should then print (better than the Amyuni driver). You should then be able to upload it without errors and it should pass the online filing validation checks. 

AdobeError2

 

Update: My US colleagues advise that for US Patent Office compliance CutePDF is recommend – http://www.cutepdf.com/ .

Quick Search Hack for European Patent Application Numbers

On official communications from the European Patent Office (EPO) the application number is listed in the form: 13123456.9.

However, to search for this patent application on the European Register you need to use:  EP13123456 – i.e. you need to add EP and remove the check digit.  

This is often a pain. It is especially a pain if you have performed optical character recognition on a scanned-in communication. In this case you cannot copy the application number directly from the PDF into the European Register search bar.

A quick solution (until the EPO fix it): this little bit of HTML and Javascript.

<!DOCTYPE HTML>
<html>
<head>
<meta charset="utf-8">
<title>EP Quick Search</title>

<script>
function changeNumber()
{
	var n = document.getElementById("number");
	var number = n.value;
	var start = "EP";
	var end_of_num = number.length-2;
	number = start.concat(number.substring(0, end_of_num));
	url = "https://register.epo.org/application?number=";
	url = url.concat(number, "&tab=main");
	window.open(url, '_blank')
}
</script>
</head>

<body>
<input type="textbox" id="number" value=""/>
<button onclick="changeNumber()">GO!</button>
</body>
</html>

Save this as an HTML file on your computer and add it as a favourite. Now just paste the application number in the box and search!

[To do – extend to GB and WO online patent registers.]

Quick Tip: Sorting Page Number Location for European Patent Applications

One of my little bugbears is that the European rules (R.49(6) EPC) require a page number to be located at the top of a page:

Rule 49(6) EPC – All the sheets contained in the application shall be numbered in consecutive Arabic numerals. These shall be centred at the top of the sheet, but not placed in the top margin.

whereas the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) rules (Rule 11.7 PCT) allow a page number to be placed at the top or bottom of a page:

11.7 Numbering of Sheets

(a) All the sheets contained in the international application shall be numbered in consecutive Arabic numerals.

(b) The numbers shall be centered at the top or bottom of the sheet, but shall not be placed in the margin.

This becomes annoying when you have to file translations or amendments at the European Patent Office (EPO), as these should follow European rules.

This means I often find myself needing to swap from bottom page numbers to top page numbers.  This is fine when you have a Word document  but trickier when all you have are PDF documents. However, there is a trick to swap from bottom to top page numbers.

  1. Open the PDF document.
  2. In Adobe 9 – go to the top menu – ‘Document’ > ‘Header & Footer’ > ‘Add…’. Add header
  3. Add a top header with a central page number. As the page number needs to be outside the top margin, the top margin needs to be set to at least 2cm (0.8 inches). The font size should be at least 12. Check the preview and click OK.Add header options
  4. Now to remove the existing bottom numbers. Using the top menu add another header/footer. Add header
  5. Don’t replace the existing header – click Add New.
  6. Now here comes the trick – select a ‘full block’ character using Character Map (a Windows system tool). Change the text colour to white and select a largish font size (e.g. 20+). Now copy a few of the ‘full block’ characters to the center footer. Then adjust the size of the bottom margin so the ‘full block’ characters obscure the existing page number.add new footer
  7. There you go – now compliant with European practice. To ‘fix’ the changes ‘print’ the PDF file (e.g. using the EPO-supplied Amyuni PDF printer). If you save the header and footer settings you can recall them easily.

[Bonus tip: On Adobe Acrobat X (10) they have irritatingly moved most of the top menu options to a right-hand-side “Tools” menu. Use this to select header-footer options as below.]

Adobe X

Automating a Legal Workflow: Dealing with Patent Communications

Last time we looked at how certain legal processes could benefit from automation. Today we will identify some patent process examples.

This post (and the others in the series) may be useful for:

  • Patent attorneys wishing to automate their processes;
  • Software developers looking to develop legal products; or
  • Those who are interested in how patents work.

First let us have a look at a “vanilla” patent application. The process of applying for a patent looks something like this:

20131001-071717.jpg
The colour-coding is as follows:

  • Grey process blocks are performed in relation to a patent office (e.g. European Patent Office).
  • The blue documents are typically prepared by a patent attorney.
  • The green documents are prepared and issued by the patent office.

For now we will concentrate on the central blocks. Much of a patent attorney’s day-to-day work consists of reporting documents issued by patent offices and of preparing documents to file in response.

The search and each iteration of the examination go something like this:

20131002-184025.jpg

In my mind there are three areas in the above workflow where we could build an automated framework:

  • Initial brief review of objections by an attorney;
  • Detailed review of objections by attorney and development of a strategy to address the objections; and
  • The building of a response letter.

The reasons are:

  • To improve consistency, both for a single attorney and between attorneys;
  • To increase the chances of grant, by ensuring all outstanding objections are addressed;
  • To improve quality, by prompting an attorney for reasoning and basis;
  • To improve training, by embedding knowledge within the system and providing a guided path; and
  • To reduce stress, by providing a framework that ensures consistency and quality without requiring the attorney to remember to provide the framework; and
  • Last but not least, reduce attorney costs for clients by concentrating attorney time appropriately.

To start small, my aim is to build a web-based system for each of the three areas set out above. This system involves:

  • Creation of an XML document to store data;
  • Use of HTML forms to obtain data entered by an attorney;
  • Use of PHP to save obtained data as said XML document; and
  • Use of a letter-generation engine to generate letter text based on the XML document.

For example, a first stage may resemble the following flow diagram:

20131002-193447.jpg

The aim is that this should take no more than 10 minutes. Information is gathered that may serve as a framework for a detailed review. Also a brief review highlights anything that may need to be emphasised to an applicant (and avoids an attorney being negligent).

A web-form gathers data, which is stored as an XML document. A suggested DTD is as follows:

<!ELEMENT REVIEW (CASEREF, COMMUNICATION, COMM_DATE, OBJECTIONS)> <!-- ROOT ELEMENT-->
<!ELEMENT CASEREF (#PCDATA)>
<!ELEMENT COMMUNICATION (#PCDATA)>
<!ELEMEMT COMM_DATE (DATE)>
<!ELEMENT OBJECTIONS (OBJECTION*)>
<!ELEMENT OBJECTION (TYPE, COMMUNICATION, COMM_SECTION, APPLICATION_SECTION, LEGAL_PROVISION, REASON)>

<!ELEMENT COMM_SECTION (MAIN_NUMBER, PARA_NUMBER*)>

<!ELEMENT MAIN_NUMBER (NUMBER)>
<!ELEMENT PARA_NUMBER (NUMBER)>

<!ELEMENT APPLICATION_SECTION (CLAIM | DESCRIPTION)>

<!ELEMENT CLAIM (NUMBER)>
<!ELEMENT DESCRIPTION (PARAGRAPH+ | PORTION+)>
<!ELEMENT PORTION (START_LINE_NUMBER, END_LINE_NUMBER?, PAGE)>
<!ELEMENT START_LINE_NUMBER (NUMBER)>
<!ELEMENT END_LINE_NUMBER (NUMBER)>
<!ELEMENT PAGE (NUMBER)>

<!ELEMENT DATE (DAY, MONTH, YEAR)>
<!ELEMENT DAY (NUMBER)>
<!ELEMENT MONTH (NUMBER)>
<!ELEMENT YEAR (NUMBER)>

<!ELEMENT NUMBER (#PCDATA)>
<!ELEMENT REASON (#PCDATA)>
<!ELEMENT PARAGRAPH (#PCDATA)>
<!ELEMENT TYPE (#PCDATA)>

This results in an XML document similar to this:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<review>
  <caseref>130929Test7</caseref>
  <communication>Article 94(3) EPC</communication>
  <comm_date>2013-09-29</comm_date>
  <objections>
    <objection entered="True">
      <type>unity</type>
      <comm_section>O</comm_section>
      <application_section>O</application_section>
      <legal_provision>O</legal_provision>
      <reason>Claims 1 and 5 do not share special technical features.<reason/>
    </objection>
    <objection entered="True">
      <type>sufficiency</type>
      <comm_section/>
      <application_section/>
      <legal_provision/>
      <reason/>
    </objection>
  </objections>
</review>

(Both are works in progress so forgive any inaccuracies.)

This generated XML document can then be used to produce a short sentence or two for a reporting letter or email. For example, something like:

The Examiner raises [No. of <objection> tags] objections: [list <objection><type> for each <objection>].

Under [first <objection><type>] ([<objection><legal_provision>]), the Examiner objections to [<objection><application_section>] on the grounds of [<objection><reason>].

Etc.

If and when instructions are received to review the communication in more detail, the XML document can be extended during the process below:
Detailed Review

Finally, the extended XML document can be processed by a letter generation engine (e.g. something built in PHP or Python) to generate text for a response letter:
Letter Generation

This is all a work in progress so I will update you as I develop more. Any additional ideas or comments, please add them below.

(PS: if you like the charts see my previous post – Drawing Patent Figures on the iPad – they were drawn quickly in Grafio while giving the kids breakfast.)

Tip for Filing PCTs Online via EPO Software

PCT Filing Tip:
If you need to change the user reference on a case with a prepared Form 101 –
– Click on the case in the file view;
– Goto File > Export > Forms (this will export as a ZIP file);
– Unzip the ZIP somewhere findable;
– Goto File > Import > XML from Folder(s) – select the folder you just unzipped.

You should then get a chance to enter a new reference and the previous documents should be imported. (I think it also works by exporting as XML to Folders).

Social Media Management for Law Firms

So. You are part of a law firm. You need a little organisation for your “social media” presence. Here is a little guide setting out one way to do this based on my experience with my personal accounts.

8519896_s

There are probably better guides out there. Also this probably applies to non-law firms as much as law firms. However, the perspective of someone who has played around with it may be useful.

In the past I used TweetDeck. However, this is now largely decommissioned, having been assimilated into Twitter. The only real alternative I have found that is reasonably-priced and meets all the basic requirements is Hootsuite. It costs around £90/year for the “Pro” package.

What Do You Mean By “Social Media”?

“Social Media” is the trendy buzzword for a handful of “social” websites and web services. Here “social” generally means “communication between people”; it is a combination of publication and comment.

In my case “social media” refers to at least the following:

  • Twitter;
  • LinkedIn; and
  • Google+.

The unmentioned one is Facebook. This may be a bit too “social” for a law firm (although has possibilities from a recruitment perspective).

How Should I Setup Hootsuite?

After you have signed-up and paid for Hootsuite, log-in. The first step is then to setup your law firm as an “organization”. To do this follow the guide here: https://help.hootsuite.com/entries/21678723-creating-an-organization. For “organization name” I add the name of the law firm. As I am “on brand” I also add a firm logo. Leave the “add social networks” for now: we will do that later.

Once you have added the “organization” you should be able to see it when you click on the top menu button on the left-hand side menu bar. To add other people as managers and social networks click on the “Manage” button within the “organization” pane.

Adding Social Networks

On the right-hand-side of the lower pane there should be an “Add a Social Network” button. Use this to add accounts from the social networks discussed above. This typically requires you authorising yourself with each network so make sure you have your usernames and passwords handy.

After adding each social network select the next icon down in the left-hand side menu bar (“Streams”). Click on the little “+” icon at the top to add a new set of columns/streams (a “tab”).

At the moment I have one tab per social network/network feed. After adding the tab select the required social network from the dropdown box in the first “Add a stream” column that appears.

For Twitter my recommended streams are:

  • Home,
  • Mentions,
  • Retweets,
  • DMs, and
  • Sent Tweets.

If you want you can add all streams but five streams fit well across my monitor (you can use the little slider bar in the top right to reduce the number of columns/streams per tab).

For LinkedIn you are limited to “Company Updates” and “Scheduled Status Updates”.  For Google+, “Home”, “Sent Messages” and “Scheduled Messages” are options.

Now you can see all of your social media feeds in one handy place. You can also now post to any one of the added networks including the use of the “auto-scheduling” feature.

RSS to Update

A clever little feature of Hootsuite is that you can pipe an RSS/Atom feed through to a social network. Hence, if you have a blog you can automatically tweet new entries or post these to LinkedIn.

To set this up go to the cog (“Settings”) within the left-hand side menu. Choose the “RSS/Atom” option. Click on the “+” to add a new feed. Type in the URL of your blog (e.g. of your firm). Select a social media network to post to and set various frequency settings. Save and leave. Hey presto.

Further Lessons

Following these basics, the next stage is build a team and use search and assignment functions to get active. But that is the subject of another day’s post.

Any other tips please feel free to add to the comments.

Drawing Patent Figures on the iPad

Patent Figures need to be simple. Most are drawn using one of the Microsoft triumvirate: Word, PowerPoint or Visio. These are neither perfect nor cheap. They also have limited support on mobile devices or other platforms. Here I will consider two alternatives.

Grafio for iPad

From a quick Google this appeared to be a high-ranking drawing app. It is £5.99 with additional small charges for extra shape sets (one at £2.99 and several below £1 – even if you bought all shape sets total cost is only around £15). Full version is: here. You can download a “Lite” version to play around with before buying.

20130827-071136.jpg

Pros
  • Gesture recognition – draw a shape and it will convert into the nearest standard.
  • PNG (with background transparency), JPG or PDF export.
  • Cheap – although £5.99 is “expensive” for iPad apps it is cheap as compared to desktop software licences (£££s for Microsoft products) or subscription services (see next product below).
  • Simple and clean user interface – navigation is very quick to learn and intuitive, much easier than Microsoft desktop products. There is a low cognitive burden on the user (as they say).
  • Auto-alignment and snap-to-grid work well – comparable to but somehow less crowded than PowerPoint 2013.
  • Selection of objects, grouping and ordering is a breeze – touch is much better than mouse input for this.
  • A4 sizes available.
  • Local storage.
Cons
  • Gesture recognition requires relatively precise drawing. I found this required relatively straight lines for a rectangle – many of my “rectangles” we’re converted into custom shapes rather than quadrilaterals. I did improve with practice though.
  • No editable export. However, I believe Visio export is on the feature wishlist and is in progress.
  • Possibly no auto-distribute (e.g. vertically for flow chart boxes).

LucidChart

I seem to look LucidChart every year. Previously I decided that the subscription model was too expensive for the limited number of advantages over the triumvirate. Also many of the features were overkill for patent Figures. However, a number of improvements merit a longer look this time.

20130827-074230.jpg

Pros
  • Cross platform support via the browser.
  • Offsite centralised storage.
  • Wireframing and user interface mock-ups useful for computer-implemented inventions.
  • iPad auto-shape recognition more robust than Grafio.
Cons
  • Price – a basic plan is £26/year ($40); a more useful plan with user interface wire framing and Visio import/export is £65 ($100). This is expensive for something I would not use everyday (cf. Spotify at £10/month and Netflix at £6/month).
  • “Cloud” storage – even though this is typically more secure than company email it is still seen as high-risk. It may thus be more difficult to obtain approval from IT for use.
  • No native iPad app – even though there should be no difference we all know that native apps offer better stability and features.  Update: There is now a native iPad app available. I will see if I can give it a run.
  • It was not clear how to change properties on the iPad web-interface (e.g. group items or change line types).

In the end Grafio wins out – mainly for simplicity and a good price/feature point. I am going to download it. If they proceed with improvements (SVG-out would be great) at the current pace, then it will only get better with time.

Automating a Legal Workflow – First Thoughts

Being an engineer by training (and at heart) I have always been a bit sceptical of those who say that the law cannot be automated. Yes, there will always be special cases in need of bespoke thinking, but these can be acknowledged within a system. As law involves the application of written rules + historical information, there is actually a large overlap with information and language theory.

Here are a few thoughts as I start looking at this myself. They may not all be “right” and may change as I go along but, hey, they might somehow be useful to someone.

Where to start?

As with most things a first step is conscious reflection. Attempt to look with fresh eyes and then perform a brain dump; this provides a good starting point. I normally do not worry about extensively documenting everything; this is impractical if not impossible. If you build any system in an agile, iterative and extendible manner you can refine later.

A great person to do this is an intern or new starter – most if not all within an organisation will assume that the way things are done is the way things can be done. This is why people hire management consultants (at large cost).

At this stage bullet points are good – they allow hierarchy to be captured. This naturally translates into most data structures.

Law: meet the Internet

I may be a bit Web 2.0 (or even Web 1.0) but web technologies are a good starting point for automation. HTML, XML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP are mature technologies specifically designed for document processing. They also have, at their heart, the separation of content from presentation – one thing every lawyer who uses Word needs to learn.

Another advantage of web technologies is you can quickly build prototypes and have everyone access them. They are also cheap, well-documented and easy – you can set up a web server on a mothballed PC using the LAMP framework (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) with a few lines of command line code. Hell you can set up a system for a small business on a Raspberry Pi for £50 – silent and 3-5 Watts. This is how the Googles and Facebooks became so large so quickly.

Model Process in a Code-Friendly Manner

Next step is to iterate through your process brain dump adding some structure.

Pick out key events and triggers – model in flow diagrams.

Pick out key documents requiring input – model as bullet point hierarchies. Make a note of where input is actually required, what information may be stored already and how long each input takes to generate.

Think modules – try to separate process and documents into relatively independent elements – ideally each module or level should have 3-7 elements (reflecting the number we can hold in our minds at any one time). If you go above 10 elements – add another layer of hierarchy. It is easier for our brains to work at different layers of hierarchy, each layer having a few elements, and “drill down” than it is to have few layers with many elements per layer.

Pick the easiest modular subprocess. Start with this and prototype independently. Big systems hardly ever succeed (think of any public IT infrastructure). Document extensively – blog internally or externally – it is a great way to document and you get the marketing for free!

Go from the model of the subprocess and any documents to a web-workflow. Documents can become XML then HTML. Presentation can be dealt with later via CSS – concentrate first on functionality. Take key process functions and code-up computer equivalents (e.g. in PHP or other server backend – Python is good for quickly prototyping back-end function). I would avoid extensive database use at this stage – they have relatively high inertia – iterate at a flat-file level until things stabilise, at which point you can look at a database.

Anyway I will try to provide some examples shortly to make this all a little more concrete.