It seems that each week a new social media tool is launched. The explosion of tools mirrors the larger market, where gadgets and solutions change faster than the seasons. As independent professionals we need to be aware of the changes, but how do we decide which tools to adopt and which ones to watch? In our “yes, there’s an app for that” world we can forget that technology is the servant and not the master. Before we add another gadget, app or subscription to our bulging bag of digital tricks, we need to change the way we think about its role in our lives.
Handbags, Apps and the Quest for Perfection
Often we add apps, subscriptions and tools because there is no single tool that meets our innumerable needs. The search for perfection is as fruitless as searching for that one bag (or laptop case for that matter) that is the perfect size, shape, color and weight for everything. The diversity of our needs requires multiple tools that perform the same function in different situations. When it comes to technology, it can become expensive and frustrating to have multiple tools of the same flavor that each does something slightly different. The key is to identify your problem before you focus on the tool.
What’s Your Problem?
You can simplify your evaluation and use of tools by first asking, “What problem am I attempting to solve?” Taking this step will allow you to focus on your needs rather than a specific tool. This is not unlike the approach we use with clients. We would never go into a first client meeting presenting tactics without first understanding needs. Identifying the problem also gives you a broader perspective. You may find that your best solution is not technical at all but low tech or simply a modification of a process or workflow. Questions to ask:
- What problem am I trying to solve? (i.e. perform a function, save time, save money)
- Why is solving this problem important? (i.e. can’t serve clients, wasting time with ineffective solution)
- Do I need the solution to work with other systems, processes? (i.e. you need a time tracking system that integrates with your accounting software)
- What do I absolutely need to have? (i.e. a media monitoring system must also track Facebook mentions)
- What features /services would be nice to have but are not critical?
- Do I need to solve this problem or outsource it? Sometimes the best solution is to hand the problem over to a specialist.
With a clear understanding of your problem you can begin to seek solutions. Questions to ask:
- Do I have a solution? You may already have a tool or process that delivers what you need.
- Is there a technological solution?
- What are others in my industry using? All tools were not created for all industries. It is helpful to get evaluations from people who do what you do. (Tip: The Solo PR Pro Facebook Group is the perfect place to crowd source solutions!)
- Will this fit with my work style? If you work from multiple locations you may need a solution that is mobile or cloud based. As you evaluate solutions think through how it will align with the way you work.
The Perils of Popularity
In our ever connected world, it is hard to ignore what the cool kids are doing. It is easy to get pulled into trying a new app or tool that everyone is talking about. A healthy dose of curiosity is an asset but we have to know when to draw the line. Does the tool meet a critical unmet need? Sometimes a tool comes along when we have a high priority or critical need. If the stars align sing “Hallelujah” and follow the popularity train. Other times, it may be worth understanding what the tool does but passing on its use. You can stick these in a tool folder or bookmark it using an app (sigh, yes an app) like Springpad or Evernote.
With a shift in perspective you can avoid a big bag of digital clutter and grab only the solutions you truly need.
How do you evaluate tools and apps? Let us know in the comments!