30 July 2012

AIRLINES AND SOCIAL MEDIA

A mere 12 years ago, a tweet was a sound a bird made, tablets were something you swallowed when you were sick and a blackberry was a fruit you ate. No one had heard of social media, iPads, blogs, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Since then, social media has become the dynamic way of communication for personal and professional purposes. With its far reach and immediate response capability, it connects people from all over the world. On Twitter, problems are often solved in 140 characters.

Various airlines are using social media to build their brand and make customer service first class. They are using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs to interact with potential and existing customers, and to learn what these customers like and dislike.

Virgin America's Facebook page links you to search flights, check-in manager and check flight status, while also giving your news about the company. Delta uses YouTube extensively. Their safety video created so much interest that people dubbed the featured Flight Attendant "Deltalina". Delta also uses YouTube to post videos of their employees' favourite destinations.

Twitter is a popular medium for airlines and their customers. Passengers waiting in airports post what they are doing, eating and seeing. If customers are not happy or feel disappointed, they will tweet their experiences immediately. Airlines should be listening and taking action. Twitter is ideal for travel advisories, flight updates, pointing followers to interesting posts on other media, and letting customers know about special offers and competitions. Treat Twitter as one of your customer service platforms.

United Airlines has Twares, where every Wednesday and Thursday it offers a limited number of special fares for the upcoming weekend. These Twares are exclusively available to followers of their Twitter account, and are time sensitive.

JetBlue has a Cheeps programme similiar to United's. Most often on Tuesdays, JetBlue post their last-minute flight deals, for travel on Saturday, returning Monday or Tuesday. Cheeps are offered for a limited time. JetBlue's main Twitter account has over a million followers. The account is used for updating passengers on flight status / delays, sharing photos, sharing experiences, and general news from the airline. The airline is very active in responding to issues that its followers post.

Airlines should be blogging. Blog posts can be about your airline news, new aircraft, reviews, airport information, highlighting employee or department achievements, etc... The blog should connect to all your other social media.

Applications like TripIt announce people's travel intentions to their friends. These status updates are often integrated with social media sites like Facebook. An airline could integrate TripIt data with their frequent flyer database to create a list of their loyal customers and the destinations those customers are planning to visit. The airline can then send them a custom-tailored travel deal. Lufthansa's MySkyStatus allows people to share their location with their Facebook and Twitter friends during the flight.

Dutch airline KLM used social media to reward its customers for mentioning them via social media. The KLM Surprise Campaign involved close monitoring of social media channels by KLM staff. They looked for people who were waiting at airports for KLM flights and using social media while they did so. The staff then identified a particular customer and tried to find out as much about them as they could. Once they had enough information, they went out and bought a small, appropriate gift for that passenger and gave it to them before they left the airport. For example, a woman who was going hiking was given a watch that tracks distances and walking speed, and an elderly lady travelling alone was upgraded to First Class. KLM created a Web site and Twitter account dedicated to their campaign, joined Foursquare, and posted their video on their YouTube channel and the KLM Facebook Fan page. They only did this for 40 passengers, but the news spread quickly via social media and resulted in over 1 million views of their video on their YouTube channel.

At the recent SITA Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels, KLM announced that it employed 23 staff dedicated to address the social media demands of passengers. The team is based at Schiphol Airport. Someone tweeted at the airport that they were thirsty – one of the team saw the tweet and went to find them and hand over a bottle of water.

Qatar Airways used a social media photo contest, Reflections, through which the airline gave away Business and Economy Class air tickets and a total of 1.6 million Privilege Club Qmiles. Followers uploaded photos and invited their friends, families and followers to vote for their photos.

Mango was voted the Coolest Domestic Airline for third successive year in the Sunday Times Generation Next Brand Survey 2011. The annual poll measures brand consciousness and loyalty amongst South African youth. CEO Nico Bezuidenhout believes that the airline’s communication strategy, which includes a large social media component, has paid dividends. Mango uses a blog, Facebook and Twitter, and was the first South African domestic airline to embrace social media, initially on Facebook.

Social media carries risk and reward. When United Airlines refused to compensate Son of Maxwell band member Dave Caroll for damage caused to his US$3 500 guitar during a 2008 flight, he posted his frustration on-line. He made a video and posted it on YouTube. United lost 10 % of its share value during this period.  its brand was under attack. More than 8,4m people having seen the video so far. United did approach Dave directly and dealt with his issue, even changing some internal policies to ensure this never happened again. Dave later added another video that thanks United for the way they responded.

A notice on Korean Air’s Web site announcing the start of non-stop flights from Korea to Kenya sparked a flurry of angry Tweets and Facebook postings over the description of Kenyans as indigenous people full of "primitive energy". Kenyans expressed their anger on social media and pictures of the advert were quickly shared on Twitter. Kenyans also circulated contacts of the South Korean Embassy in Nairobi, encouraging people to call and e-mail to demand an apology.

An attempt to launch a competition on Twitter backfired for Australia’s Qantas Airlines. The airline offered a prize of a gift pack that included a pair of First Class pyjamas. Followers had to tweet their idea of a luxury experience along with the hashtag #QantasLuxury. Consumers seized the opportunity to share their complaints about the airline.

Letters, e-mails and phone calls can still get results for unhappy airline travellers, but more often than not, passengers are taking their frustrations on-line where they are loud, fast and public. Where airlines don't take care of their customers, bad publicity has become a part of daily operations. This infographic shows you how airlines allocate resources to social media.

Remember, social media is about building relationships, not bombarding people with ads.

24 July 2012

BOOKKEEPING TIPS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES

There is an old saying, "If it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed." Every business, whether big or small, must have a bookkeeping system in place as it is the only way know whether it is making a profit or loss. No matter how much your small business thrives, it can all go downhill without proper bookkeeping. Many small business owners find bookkeeping a daunting task that takes them away from running their business. They often leave this task to the weekends or evenings. Some pile every piece of paperwork into a box and come tax time, they dump these boxes with a bookkeeper. If you don't have time to do your bookkeeping every week at the least, rather employ a freelance bookkeeper and stay up to date with your money matters. By adopting a few basic procedures, you can save time, money and stress.

1. BANK ACCOUNT STATEMENTS
Request a statement with a month-end cut-off date. This makes it easier to record income and expenses, as well as saving time when reconciling. Don't file your bank statements away without reviewing them.

2. STORAGE BOXES FOR EACH NEW YEAR
Keep all your records for one year in one box. Label it with the year and contents on the outside of the box.

What to keep - and for how long (in South Africa):

Indefinitely:
Annual financial statements
Companies Act returns
Dividend schedules
Documentation on members' interests
Fixed asset registers
Insurance agreements
Memoranda and articles of association
Mining authorisations
Minute books
Participation and joint venture agreements
Payments made on behalf of personnel
Personnel benefits
Property ownership titles
Prospecting agreements
Register of company directors / officers
Register of directors' interests
Register of members
Special resolutions
Stop orders
Tax returns / assessments
Trust deeds

7 Years:
Appointment agreements (auditors, professional advisors, etc...)
Bank statements
Cashbooks
Cession / assignment agreements
Cheques and cheque requisitions
Confidentiality agreements
Creditors' invoices / statements
Deposit slips
Financial services / banking agreements
Fixed assets register
General financial files
Guarantees / surety
Journal reports
Leases
Loan agreements
Permits and authorisations
Petty cash vouchers
Sales invoices
Supply agreements
Vouchers

5 Years:
Employment contracts
General ledger reports
General personnel files (for 5 years after employment ceased)
Personnel loan records

4 Years:
Payrolls / salary and wage registers

3 Years:
Attendance registers
Creditors' ledger
Debtors' ledger
General records and correspondence
Increment schedules (personnel)
Leave forms
Offers of employment
Other internal financial documentation
Petty cash book
Vouchers journal

1 Year:
Cheque stubs (after annual audit)

3. FILING INVOICES
Start new file folders at the beginning of each year for all your invoices. It's not necessary to start a folder for each customer or vendor unless you do a large amount of business with them. Sales invoices must be in numerical order. Do not skip numbers and also file the invoices in this order. File all expenses paid by the business in a separate file. File paid invoices separate from unpaid invoices. Make copies of till slips, as the ink fades easily and makes the invoice unreadable, attach the original to the copy.

4. FROM PAPER SYSTEM TO COMPUTER PROGRAMME
If you're moving from a paper bookkeeping system to a computer programme, you will want to run both systems for a few months, until you are sure both systems come up with the same totals before dropping the paper system.

5. DEPOSIT CASH RIGHT AWAY
If you receive cash payments, deposit it the same day. This ensures that all income will be properly recorded.

6. MAINTAIN DAILY RECORDS
If you don't have time to do a little bookkeeping each day, when will you find time to record a month's or a year's worth of records? Have a system and use it daily to stay on track.

7. SEPARATE BANK ACCOUNTS
Separate personal accounts from business accounts, don?t mix the two - this includes credit cards.

8. PETTY CASH BOX
Keep a proper petty cash system whereby a set amount is in petty cash and each time money is taken out a petty cash slip is completed.

9. MONTH-END
By the middle of a month, at the very latest, you should have reports that show you what happened in the previous month. Your bookkeeper would be doing you a great service by having these reports ready within three business days of the end of each month.

05 July 2012

VERTICAL E-MAIL TEXT AND ONE LETTER PER LINE

If you receive e-mails with the body text showing vertically and one letter per line, these tips might help solve the problem:

Close your e-mail programme (Outlook and Windows Live seem to be the ones most affected) and Word.

1) For Windows7 / Vista users:
Go in to C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates
(replace USERNAME by your user name)

For Windows XP users:
Go in to c:\Documents and Settings\USERNAME\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates
(replace USERNAME by your user name)

2) Delete or rename the files "Normal" and "NormalEmail".
3) Test your e-mail now with incoming messages.

This will fix your issue for new e-mails, not for existing ones.

Also check if the messed-up message displays a long display name for the e-mail address.
If there was a settings change on the sender's side, the e-mail address may now be an unverified address in your e-mail programme.

Another option: Select the entire document (Ctrl + A) and hit Ctrl + Q.  This will remove any formatting in it.

UPDATE: 06 July 2012 - Subscribers of Yahoo Groups are reporting this vertical text problem. Yahoo Groups recently changed their settings / format. If you receive your group messages in the Digest format and see vertical text, here is a solution:

Sign in to your Group with your Yahoo! ID
Under Edit Membership go to Step 3. Message Preference
Make sure you select Traditional 

02 July 2012

2012 SOUTH AFRICAN TAX FILING SEASON IS OPEN

Income tax filing season opened in South Africa on 01 July 2012. This tax year covers 01 March 2011 to 29 February 2012. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is encouraging electronic filing and is launching new methods. You can file via a computer, a tablet or a smartphone. You can also use a facility known as Help-You-eFile, which enables you to share with a SARS agent the browser window that displays your electronic return. The agent will talk you through completing your return. SARS plans to launch a mobisite from which you will be able to file your return using a mobile phone with Internet access. The new eFiling app will also be available soon. SARS has put together some videos that will be available on YouTube. Last year, more than 99% of the almost five million returns that were submitted were filed electronically.

SARS is no longer sending out paper returns. If you want to file a paper return, you must ask SARS to post a pre-populated return to you by calling the SARS Contact Centre on 0800 00 72 77, or you can visit a SARS branch and complete an Income Tax Return Request (ITRR) form.

Take note of the tax return deadlines, as failure to submit your return by the due date will result in high administrative penalties. Penalties start at R250 and are applied for each month you fail to meet the required deadline. SARS can appoint an agent, such as your employer, to collect the outstanding penalties and interest amounts from you and pay them over to SARS.

  • Friday, 28 September 2012: The deadline for taxpayers who submit paper tax returns by post or who deposit them into a drop-box at a SARS branch
  • Friday, 23 November 2012: The deadline for taxpayers who submit their returns electronically at a SARS branch or via eFiling.
  • Thursday, 31 January 2013: The deadline for provisional taxpayers who submit their income tax returns via eFiling.

SARS has issued the following guidelines on who should submit an income tax return:

If you are under 65 years of age and received an income of more than R59 750 from one or more sources, or if you received more than R120 000 from a single source of employment, during the year of assessment from 01 March 2011 to 29 February 2012.

If you are between 65 and 74 years of age and received an income of more than R93 150 from one or more sources, or if you received more than R120 000 from a single source, during the year of assessment from 01 March 2011 to 29 February 2012.

If you are 75 years and older and received more than R104 261 from one or more sources, or if you received more than R120 000 from a single source, during the year of assessment from 01 March 2011 to 29 February 2012.

If you earn less than R120 000 a year, you need to make sure you are not required to submit a return, because this exemption is qualified. Your salary must be from a single source and employee’s tax must have been deducted or withheld from the full amount.

If you earned a salary of less than R120 000 a year but, for example, incurred capital gains in excess of R20 000, you must still submit a return.

If you carried on any trade as a natural person and not in your capacity as an employee, you are expected to submit a return, even though your taxable income may be less than R120 000 for the year.

SARS has a tool to help you to determine if you need to submit a return. If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, the tool will tell you that you are required to submit a return:

Did you conduct any trade in South Africa?
Did you receive an allowance, such as a travel, subsistence or office-bearer’s allowance?
Do you hold any funds or assets outside South Africa that have a value of more than R50 000?
Did you have a local capital gain/loss exceeding R20 000?
Did you receive any income or capital gain in a foreign currency?
Do you hold any rights in a controlled foreign company?
Did you receive an income tax return, or were you requested to submit an income tax return?

Get started as soon as possible. If you are due a refund, the sooner you file, the sooner you'll get your money. It is illegal to lie on your return by inflating your expenses or not declaring your correct income. Gather all your supporting documentation so that you have it on hand to file. Supporting documents may include:

Your IRP5 tax certificate from your employer.
An income tax certificate from your medical aid scheme.
A list and the receipts of medical expenses not covered by your medical aid scheme.
A tax certificate for your contributions towards a retirement annuity fund.
A detailed logbook specifying your business trips and travel costs for the period.

The secrets to a less stressed tax filing season:

1) Have a well-maintained filing system
Getting ready for taxes is so much easier when all of the information you need is properly filed and easily accessed. Put together a well-organised filing system this year if you don’t already have one in place.

2) Have a well-maintained bookkeeping system
Keep track of all of your invoices, deposits, cheques, statements, bank reconciliations, credit card receipts and inventory on a weekly basis. Use a computerised bookkeeping system instead of the shoebox method.

3) Make time in your weekly and monthly schedule for record-keeping and filing
Even 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference. Reconcile your bank statements monthly throughout the year.