• 9 Harsh Truths About Your Social Media Marketing – and What to Do About Them

    Social media marketing has too often been portrayed as the silver bullet for the challenges brands regularly face.

    Need to improve your customer retention? Post more on social media!

    Need to expand your customer base? Post more on social media!

    Want to grow your business by 5,000%? Post more on social media!

    You get the picture.

    And while social media is certainly something that you can’t afford to ignore, we’re sorry to tell you that it’s not going to instantly – or even eventually – solve all your business problems.

    It’s a bummer, we know.

    But all is not lost. When you know the truth about social media, you can figure out how to best put it to work for your brand. With that in mind, here are 9 harsh truths about your social media marketing, and what to do about them.

    Some “guaranteed” social media tricks just won’t work for you, no matter how much they work for other brands.

    You can find all kinds of information online about social media tricks that are “guaranteed” to get you more leads, to increase your reach, to get you noticed by top influencers, etc.

    While there’s likely at least a grain of truth to most of these tricks, none of them work for every brand.

    Some of them don’t even work for most brands.

    And some might seem to work for every other business you talk to – just not you.

    You could become discouraged by this fact. The smarter path, however, is to improve your ability to tell whether or not the social media tips you come across are likely to work for you.

    You do this by getting to know your own brand better, as well as your audience. What’s your brand voice? Is it clearly defined? Is it effective? Where does your audience hang out online? Where do potential customers hang out online?

    Once you’ve got a strong handle on that information, you’ll be better able to see through the social media fog and discern the tactics that truly have the potential to deliver for you.

    No matter how great your content is, lots of people still won’t consume it.

    Content takes time to produce – even a single tweet has to be carefully considered before you unleash it into the world.

    With all the emphasis that digital marketers place on content – it’s vital for expanding your reach, for example, and it’s huge for SEO – it’s easy to think that a great piece of content should spur a great reaction from your online audience.

    But this just isn’t always the case. You could spend hours putting together a web course that you know will help people achieve their most challenging fitness goals. You could curate an epic list of the best grilling and barbecuing blogs on the web that you know your followers will love. And yet, sometimes, the reaction will be much less impressive than you would have expected.

    But here’s what you do: instead of focusing on the people who aren’t paying attention to that awesome piece of content, focus on the ones who are. Engage with them in an authentic way. Find out what they liked about it, and then make more content like it.

    For the ones who aren’t listening to you yet, try different formats and styles of content to see if something else might resonate. You’ve also, however, got to accept that some people will never be interested in your brand, no matter what you do.

    Now, if your content is consistently getting low views and low engagement, that’s a sign that you need to take seriously. It means you need to rework either your approach or your sharing strategy.

    Mistakes are inevitable. But big mistakes are not.

    Everyone makes mistakes – even experienced marketers. Some mistakes are passable, something to just take note of and make sure not to do again.

    But then there are the big mistakes. The mistakes like a misappropriated hashtag that creates a major firestorm online. Or a misidentification of a celebrity, like Total Beauty did during the 2016 Oscars:

    Source: CIO magazine

     

    That’s Whoopi Goldberg, not Oprah, by the way.

    These are the mistakes that can really set your brand back, causing your customers to turn their backs on you.

    Prevent these faux pas by entrusting your social media accounts to employees whom you trust implicitly, and who take their responsibilities seriously. You may also want to have some kind of process for approving tweets or posts that are likely to be seen by a much wider audience – say, those that go out during a major event like the Oscars.

    Long-form content is what readers (and Google) want these days. It’s time-consuming and resource-heavy.

    You probably know that the internet is moving toward more long-form content – long, researched, expert posts that provide lots of value to readers.

    This is a huge step forward for the quality of content on the internet. Just think, for example, about what the content farms of the early 2000s were churning out. That’s what we had to read online.

    Today, you can take full courses online with real professors, learn business leadership strategies from actual successful CEOs, read short stories in progress by talented published authors. How far we’ve come.

    That said, creating this kind of content takes time and talent. Be prepared for that when embarking upon your next content marketing campaign.

    You can’t make something go viral.

    There’s not a whole lot to say about this one. No one’s definitively figured out what makes something go viral, although there are a lot of strategies you can employ to improve your chances.

    There are just too many different factors that go into to virality: what’s going on in the news that day, the time of day content was shared, the general popularity of your topic at the time you shared your content, etc.

    Instead of trying to make something go viral, just try to create compelling content. That’s a much more worthy – and achievable – endeavor.

    Your Facebook LiveStream might only get a small number of views at first.

    Like social media itself, live streaming is something that brands can’t afford to ignore these days. The internet is becoming ever-more video-centric – in fact, according to an oft-quoted Cisco report, 82% of all consumer internet traffic will be video traffic by the year 2020.

    And live streaming is becoming more and more mainstream, mostly thanks to Facebook Live.

    But before you jump on the live streaming boat expecting to skyrocket your engagement, it’s important to realize that you may not get all that many views the first time you broadcast – or even the 5th time. It takes some solid strategizing to get your live streaming to the point that your fans are setting calendar reminders so they don’t miss it.

    For tips on how to make your live streaming successful, read “10 Ways to Amplify Your Brand Reach with Live Streaming.”

    It’s really hard to be funny online.

    Some brands – like Old Spice, for example – have become absolute masters at being funny online.

    However, plenty of other brands fail at comedy every day. The people behind those tweets and Facebook posts might be hilarious in real life, but funny doesn’t always translate to the virtual world.

    That’s why it’s safer not to try too hard to be a comedian online – unless you’ve got a full marketing team behind you that can help you craft that persona. Be clever, be quirky, be amusing – really, just be yourself (or your brand’s self). By being genuine, you’re bound to step into funny territory at some point or another.

    Often, you can’t predict which of your social media campaigns will be major successes.

    Analytics are crucial, and they can help you predict future successes and learn from past mistakes.

    However, in the world of social media, it’s a harsh reality that it’s often hard to predict whether a campaign will be truly transformative. This is true no matter how in-depth your analytics are and how adept you are at interpreting them.

    Instead of chasing the proverbial whale, then, your best bet is to simply focus on using your analytics to create effective campaigns. Set specific goals, like increasing your number of qualified leads, and build campaigns that are designed to help you meet those goals.

    Just like you can’t control whether something will go viral, you can’t control whether a campaign will blow through all your previous traffic records. You can, however, control the thought, effort, and strategy you put into your campaign development.

    Social media success is not instant.

    Succeeding on social media, in terms of benefiting your brand, takes time – likely, more time than you expect. Even if you see a huge increase in the number of followers you have, it may still take some time for those followers to convert into customers.

    The key is to be patient and be proactive. Watch your analytics, stick to your goals, and don’t be afraid to pivot as needed.

    Social media can be a jungle, but if you stick it out and keep learning, you’re bound to succeed. To improve your chances, check out our post “12 Must-Have Social Media Skills for Every Digital Marketer.”

  • 5 Essential Components of a Top-Notch Digital Marketing Strategy

    Crafting a digital marketing strategy is a complex, ever-evolving undertaking. There are so many different elements that you can include: paid social ads, giveaways, influencer posts, Twitter campaigns, Instagram takeovers…the list goes on.

    So with all these options, how do you know what you absolutely must do, and what’s just a nice addition? How do you know what parts of a digital marketing strategy are truly essential?

    Take a look at this list to find out. Note that this list assumes that you’ve already completed the business planning portion of your strategy: setting goals and objectives, deciding on metrics, etc. 

    1. Powerful, original content 

    In today’s digital landscape, powerful, original, and valuable content is an absolute must. There are a few reasons why.

    First of all, great content will vastly improve your organic search rankings in Google – in other words, how close to the top of the first page your brand will be when someone searches using relevant keywords.

    Second, creating original content will give you and your fans something to share on social media. You can curate content all you want – and you should curate some, certainly – but if you don’t also have some kind of content creation efforts going, your fans are going to lose interest.

    While most brands begin with a blog, that’s far from the only kind of content you can focus on. Podcasts, original image galleries, webinars, and infographics are just a few more options. Get creative and try different formats to see what kind of content fits with your brand and, most importantly, resonates with your audience.

    2. Comprehensive mobile capabilities

    While some industries – retail and fitness, for example – rely more heavily on mobile than others, every brand must have solid mobile capabilities if they want to attract and retain customers.

    According to Smart Insights, mobile usage makes up 71% of all digital minutes in the U.S., and outweighs PC usage in 8 additional countries:

    Source: Smart Insights

    And mobile usage outweighs PC usage in three out of four dayparts, most importantly the “prime” daypart, defined as 8pm-12am.

    Source: Smart Insights

    So you can see that if you’re not working a strong mobile strategy, you could be missing out on a whole lot of potential customers.

    What do you need in your mobile strategy? Today, you have to do more than just optimize your website for mobile visitors. You’ve also got to employ mobile-friendly ads, possibly offer a mobile app, and most importantly, create a seamless customer experience no matter what device those customers are on, whatever their location in the customer journey.

    Remember, your mobile strategy is not simply an extension of your overall digital strategy. It needs to have something unique, some element that caters specifically to mobile visitors. Think about the company apps you like the best. They’re not just a mobile version of the company website – that would be pretty boring, right?

    3. Paid social ads

    While you can get a great deal of cost-free amplification by building up your social media presence organically, don’t underestimate the power of paid social ads.

    For one thing, they’re set up in such a way that you can set your budget wherever you’re comfortable – even at a very low amount – to test how your ads are affecting your overall traffic and conversions.

    This means that the ROI on paid social ads can be extremely high, especially if you pay close attention to your metrics each time you post one.

    In addition, the advent of ultra-targeting – targeting users based not only on general demographic data, like age, gender, and location, but also by interests, activity, and countless other criteria – allows you to ensure that you’re only targeting people who are likely to be interested in what you’re selling. That means no more wasting ad dollars on people whom you know will never buy your product.

    For a longer guide to paid social advertising, read our post “4 Critical Tips for Getting the Most Out of Paid Social Ads.”

    4. Email marketing

    Yes, the powers that be have lamented the imminent death of email marketing many times now. But every time it turns out to be a false alarm.

    Email marketing is still alive and well, not to mention necessary. It’s actually one of the most effective ways to drive traffic to your site, with incredibly high ROI. According to 2015 research, for every $1 spent, the average return is $44.25.

    So how do you create an amazing email marketing strategy, one that earns you more customers rather than turning them off of your brand?

    Here are a few pointers.

    Email regularly, but not more than 3 times per week and not less than 1 time per month.

    Generally, twice a week is about right. However, some customers may actually want 3 emails a week, especially if your industry is a fast-moving one where knowing something first gives them an edge. That could be anything from when your exclusive clothing line is going on sale, or when they can get on a waiting list for a limited-edition spice blend.

    Segment your audience.

    Just like ultra-targeting with paid social ads, segmenting your email list allows you to better target people based on interest and activity.

    For example, let’s take the above rule of emailing no more than 3 times per week. While your baseline might be sending 2 emails per week, there may be some customers – more frequent buyers, or people who click through your emails more frequently than others – who would be good candidates for 3 emails a week.

    Those who shop less frequently may only want 2 emails a month, or even 1.

    By segmenting this way, you lower the risk of losing customers because they think you’re emailing them too much.

    Pay special attention to your subject line.

    You’ve surely heard this one before, but it’s so important that it bears repeating. Your subject line is vital – a great one can mean that your open rate goes way up, while a so-so one can mean your open rate plummets.

    A great subject line is one that’s specific, honest, and short – in fact, as we’ve written about before, research shows that subject lines fewer than 10 characters long have an open rate of 58%, while personalized subject lines are 22.2% more likely to be opened.

    5. Strong influencer relationships

    Influencers are key to growing your business online. Why? Because people trust them. In fact, this Forbes article cites research from MuseFind finding that 92% of people trust influencers more than traditional celebrity endorsements or advertisements.

    When working with influencers, the key word is “relationship.” If you want to start working with influencers, you’ve got to remember that it’s a two-way street. Your goal should be to work toward a mutually beneficial agreement, not just to have someone with a wide audience tweeting about you.

    If you sell a product, one good idea for getting started with an influencer is to ask them if they’d like you to send them one of your products for a review on their blog.

    That allows them to first, decline if they’re not interested; and second, if they are interested, to say what they really think without worrying about your response.

    If the influencer likes you and your brand, you can continue building that relationship by sharing their content (and not just the pieces that mention your brand) across your platforms.

    Ready for a deep dive into influencer marketing? Read our post “Influencer Marketing from A to Z: A Complete Guide for Businesses.”

    While these 5 elements are absolute essentials for your digital marketing strategy, you shouldn’t stop there. Take your strategy to the next level – read “7 Ways to Update Your Digital Marketing Strategy Right Now.”

  • 6 Storytelling Secrets for Forging Connections with Your Customers

    Storytelling is as integral to digital marketing as pictures to a picture book.

    You can have all the clever tweets, amazing hashtags, and beautifully styled Instagram photos you can come up with, but if there’s no cohesive brand story behind them, they won’t win you loyal followers.

    Why? Because you can’t build a connection with a series of tweets, no matter how clever they are. And in the digital age, marketing is all about building connections with your customers.

    If you’re lagging behind in the storytelling department, put these tips to work for your brand.

    To tell a great story, start with the basics: Freytag’s Pyramid.

    Think about every Hollywood blockbuster you’ve ever seen. They’re pretty formulaic, right? You know there will be a buildup to the climax of the movie, the hero will face a serious obstacle, then everything (or at least something) will work out and the film will come to a satisfying close.

    We love to bemoan formulas because they’re so predictable. And yet, if you think about your favorite books, movies, or TV shows, they’re all built on a formula, no matter how well it may be hidden.

    That formula is based on Freytag’s Pyramid, otherwise known as dramatic structure. Gustav Freytag was a German novelist and playwright (a rather nationalistic one, incidentally) who constructed the pyramid as a result of his studies of Greek and Shakespearean tragedy.

    Source: JD Spero

    Now, your Instagram story, 3-minute video, or Tweetstorm won’t have nearly as complex a story as a novel or movie.

    However, you can still apply this formula to any story you’re trying to tell. Just use it as a guide.

    Let’s say you’re making a brand awareness video, designed to introduce people to your brand. This is how you could outline it, according to the pyramid:

    Exposition: Brief background about your company – who you are, what you do

    Inciting incident: The problem your brand was founded to solve, a crisis in your founder’s life that led to the formation of the brand, etc.

    Rising action: Development of your product or service

    Climax: Your product/service launch, or explanation of your brand’s values, mission, and offerings

    Falling action: How your product/service is helping your customers today

    Resolution: Tie everything up! Link to your website or social media profiles, explain how customers can get in touch with you, etc.

    You can modify this structure as needed, but if you really look closely at the brand stories that you admire, we’re willing to bet that they all follow Freytag’s Pyramid to some degree.

    You can even use this structure for a product demo video. For something as clearcut as a product demo, your structure might look something like this:

    • Pain point or problem that your product addresses
    • Your product and how it addresses that pain point successfully with a demo
    • Happy customer testimonials

    Forge an emotional connection

    Stories must create some sort of emotional connection in order to succeed.

    The type of emotion you go for is up to you and what is relevant for your brand – it really doesn’t matter if you’re trying to evoke empathy, laughter, sadness, fear, or joy (although generally speaking, positive emotions will give potential customers a better feeling about your brand than negative ones.)

    There are so many ways to do this. For one thing, you can create a fictional story, like brands do for their TV commercials, that illustrates your brand values or mission.

    If you have a particularly powerful brand history – maybe your company has been in your family for generations, or your brand’s founder experienced a personal crisis, hardship, or epiphany that led to your brand’s founding – then focus on sharing that.

    Get visual

    There’s a reason that so many digital marketers are incorporating video into their marketing strategy these days.

    It’s incredibly effective.

    In fact, according to Hubspot, including a video on your landing page can increase your conversion rates by up to 80%.

    But video isn’t the only visual medium you can use to effectively tell your story. It can be as simple as including images in your blog posts, or creating infographics to illustrate your points.

    Try out Instagram Stories, or post photos and text to create a Twitter Moment.

    Create a 360 video or virtual reality experience.

    Not every business has the bandwidth to create something as resource-heavy as a 360-degree video or virtual reality experience.

    However, these tools are incredible ways to tell your brand’s story in a truly revolutionary way: by immersing viewers right in the middle of the action.

    You can see some of our favorite branded virtual reality experiences in this post, “The Immense Power That Virtual Reality Can Have for Your Brand.” They include this cool 360 video by TOM’S, the world-famous one-for-one shoe company. The video is a Virtual Giving Trip that lets viewers experience “where the other pair goes.”

    Engage in story-building, rather than simply storytelling.

    As Peter Minnium writes in Marketing Land, brands should be moving from a linear storytelling model – of the sort you’d see in most books or films – toward a story-building model.

    While you might create a single piece of content using the linear model, your overall brand content must be based on story-building. That means that each piece of content you create helps build your brand’s narrative.

    In order to do this well, of course, you need to know what your brand narrative is. What’s the overarching story behind your company? What are its goals, values, mission? What is its origin story? This takes some time to develop, and it may morph as your company evolves.

    Be patient, and experiment with some small storytelling projects to get some quick wins.

    Patience serves us well in nearly every endeavor, and digital marketing is no exception.

    Effectively incorporating storytelling into your digital marketing efforts will not be an overnight fix for what ails them, be that low traffic numbers or low social engagement.

    However, if you build upon it consistently, a storytelling approach will absolutely improve your engagement over time. One way to help yourself get over the hump is to work on some small storytelling projects – a single video, for example, or a cool infographic. Release them out into the world and see how they do.

    Stay data-driven.

    Data and storytelling may sound like diametrically opposed concepts, but they don’t have to be.

    For one thing, including data in your blog posts can increase the chances that you’ll get inbound links, which in turn improves your search rankings on Google. It also earns you greater trust with your readers.

    But being data-driven means much more than that. It means staying attuned to your metrics to see what’s working and what’s not.

    For example, let’s say you’ve just written a lengthy opinion piece on Medium sharing your brand’s take on a current event. You craft a tweet to share the post with the Twitterverse, and send it out. The next day, or next week, you craft a slightly different tweet to share the post – maybe it uses emojis, or switches out a couple of power words.

    Then you can look at the data to see which tweet performed better, and use that to inform how you share posts in the future.

    Incorporating effective storytelling into your digital marketing will give your customers something more to latch on to than just your product or service. For more related tips, read “6 Tips for Creating Content That Converts.”

  • 4 Critical Tips for Getting the Most Out of Paid Social Ads

    Turning out high-quality content, working with powerful influencers, and using video strategically are all huge elements of any digital marketing strategy.

    Although these concepts have been around for years – decades, even – the way they’re being used today is an extremely recent development.

    However, just because the rules of marketing have changed over the past few years, prioritizing endorsements from “regular people” over celebrities and inbound tactics over outbound ones, it doesn’t mean that the entire playbook gets thrown out.

    There’s one strategy that people (and companies) that have something to sell have been relying on for hundreds of years: paid advertising.

    313 years, to be exact: that’s when the first American newspaper ad, an announcement that a Long Island estate was for sale in a 1704 edition of the Boston News-Letter, appeared.

    That’s not to say that advertising looks much like it did back in the 1700s – or even the 2000s.

    As both advertising platforms and consumers become more and more sophisticated, advertising is undergoing changes on a yearly, if not monthly basis.

    Just look at digital advertising.

    A few years ago, you couldn’t advertise on Instagram (they opened up the platform to advertisers in 2015).

    Go a few years further back, to 2010, and Twitter was just rolling out advertising in the form of Promoted Tweets.

    Today, you can advertise on virtually every social media platform – and with ever-more-accurate ad targeting, you can reach your advertising goals more quickly than ever.

    With all the potential behind paid social ads, you want to make sure you’re getting everything you can out of them. Here are a few tips for maximizing your paid social ad results.

    Here are a few tips for maximizing your #paidsocial ad results. Click To Tweet

    Pick the right social platform.

    As with any digital advertising endeavor, you’ve got to be selective.

    It’s true of content marketing – for example, there’s no point starting a profile on Medium if you’re not going to product long-form content on a regular basis.

    It’s true of social media. Why throw resources toward creating a Pinterest account if your audience doesn’t hang out on Pinterest?

    And it’s especially true of social ads, especially because you’ve actually got to pay for those things.

    It’s generally agreed-upon among marketers and brands of all shapes and sizes that Facebook produces the highest ROI for social ads, so Facebook advertising is pretty much a no-brainer. Just check out this chart from eMarketer – the stats were taken from a 2016 report called “The Future of Social” by Firebrand Group, Simply Measured, and Social Fresh.

    Source: eMarketer

    But after Facebook, you’ve got choices to make. Just looking at the chart above, there’s Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest – how do you decide which platform is right for you?

    First, you’ve got to look at your target audience. Who are you trying to reach? Let’s go with a fairly simple example.

    If you’re a B2B company that sells consulting services to financial organizations, then you’re going to want a platform that will reach financiers. LinkedIn is likely the best bet.

    By contrast, if you’re a social gaming brand whose customers are mainly between the ages of 18 and 24, Snapchat is probably a great platform to explore.

    Instagram and Pinterest can also yield excellent results, but only if you’re able to take advantage of their visual format. If your product or service doesn’t lend itself to compelling video or photo content, you may want to skip these platforms.

    Target, target, and target some more.

    Social advertising platforms have gotten so good at segmenting consumers that you can target your ad based on extremely narrow criteria. And lest you think that sounds like you’re just casting a smaller net, know that this kind of highly specific targeting is a good thing. A very good thing.

    What it means is that you’re not having to waste dollars showing your ad to people who aren’t going to have any interest in it anyway.

    In the old form of advertising, you bought an ad and hoped that it prompted a few people to take the next step toward buying your product or service.

    Today, you can greatly increase your ROI by targeting your ads narrowly. You’ll start by choosing location, gender, age, and language, and from there you can really start to find your audience.

    On Facebook and Instagram, which use the same advertising tool, you can choose among these categories:

    • Demographics – this includes everything from Education level and Income, to specific Life Events, Politics, and Job Titles.
    • Interests – Facebook determines this from users’ activity on the site. Selections include Food and Drink, Sports, Clothing, etc. You can get more specific within each category.
    • Behavior – This involves how people interact on Facebook, and includes everything from whether someone is looking for a new car, to whether they make charitable donations and to which causes.

    You can see, then, how ultra-targeted your ads can be.

    Ultra-targeted social ads will give you the most bang for your buck. Click To Tweet

    And while you don’t want to get so narrow that you miss out on potential fans, you do want to get the biggest bang for your buck. So take advantage of these options, and experiment with different audiences. Then pay close attention to the analytics so you know what works and what doesn’t.

    Learn the difference between Power Editor and Ads Manager.

    Since we’re already talking about Facebook, we may as well cover another important Facebook ad-related topic: the difference between Power Editor and Ads Manager.

    To put it most simply, Ads Manager is the standard ad tool that most users use. Power Editor is for more experienced ad managers who want to run more advanced, complex campaigns.

    For example, let’s say you wanted to duplicate a successful Facebook ad campaign or ad set that you ran last month. Using Power Editor, you can select by campaign, ad set, or individual ad and duplicate them with a single click. By contrast, in the Ads Manager you would have to copy each ad individually.

    After you’ve duplicated what you want to duplicate, you can customize each ad, ad set, or campaign as needed. That’s a huge time-saver for anyone who runs lots of Facebook ads.

    Another advantage of Power Editor is the ability to edit multiple ads at once. If you need to change the headlines or content of many ads – if you have five or 10 campaigns of several ads each, say – Power Editor allows you to do that quickly and efficiently.

    So how do you know which ad tool is better for you and your brand? It really comes down to how experienced you are at creating Facebook ads.

    If you’ve been doing it for a while and you’re comfortable with how the Ads Manager works, you may want to try out Power Editor. Once you get the hang of how it works, it can save you a whole lot of time.

    Design your social ads to fit mobile devices as well as desktops/laptops.

    Fully 8 out of 10 internet users accessed social media on mobile devices in 2016, according to the Global Web Index.

    So if you’re not designing ads to work for mobile, you might be turning away huge numbers of potential customers.

    Of course, designing mobile ads isn’t the easiest thing in the world. They’ve got to be easy to read and view on a small screen, “swipeable,” and able to communicate at a glance whatever it is you want users to understand.

    A few important pointers:

    • Make your text big enough to be readable, but not so big that it takes up too much image space.
    • Ensure that viewers have a readily visible way to close the ad if they don’t want to see it.
    • Pay close attention to color. Bright, harsh color combinations can be extremely off-putting when viewed on smaller screens.

    If you need some inspiration, check out ad galleries online – our favorite is HootSuite’s AdEspresso, which lets you browse thousands of real Facebook ads.

    Social ads can offer huge ROI if you know how to maximize their potential for your brand. For a broad overview of online advertising, read our post “Understanding the Basics of Paid Advertising Online.”

  • Social Media Management Hacks That Will Save You Hours Each Week

    When you’re managing social media for a brand, you don’t just bang out tweets and Facebook posts with abandon – at least, we hope you don’t.

    Instead, you might be spending 30 minutes putting together the perfect status update. Taking an hour or two to sift through the day’s industry news to find a few great news articles to share on your Twitter feed.

    Crafting your brand’s social media voice is a full-time job (literally: it’s called being a Social Media Manager). And because the internet never sleeps, social media managers need all the time-saving techniques they can get.

    Time-saver #1: Schedule your posts.

    Have you ever found yourself checking the clock at 4 p.m. on a Friday and thinking “Oh no! I forgot to send out that tweet / post that update / share the link to that influencer’s site!”

    Then you scramble to put something together that people will actually see before they leave the office for the weekend, and hit send at 4:58, the sweat running down your fevered brow?

    That’s not exactly a fun place to be.

    #SocialMediaMarketing Time-Saver #1: Schedule your posts. Click To Tweet

    So instead of doing that, try scheduling your posts throughout the week. Use a social media management tool, like Hootsuite or Twittimer, to schedule posts for when you want to send them.

    That way, you can take a couple of hours each Monday to plan out your posts for the coming week. Schedule them to go out when you want, and you won’t have to worry about having nothing to send out come Friday afternoon.

    You’ll still be posting throughout the week, of course, as you find relevant and valuable information to send to your followers. But you’ll be able to rest assured that your baseline social media posts – the ones you need to keep your brand active and engaged – are already taken care of.

    Time-saver #2: Set aside time to review and respond to comments. 

    Push notifications are great for staying abreast of all the comments, mentions, and direct messages that your brand receives, but they can also be a huge, monstrous time suck.

    If you’ve become like Pavlov’s dogs, automatically picking up your phone or clicking on a link every time you hear that “ding!”, then you’re definitely not using your time efficiently. What you are doing is interrupting yourself between 5 and 50 times a day (depending, of course, on how much engagement your brand gets online).

    Of course, you might be thinking: “But that’s my job! I’m supposed to stay on top of our social media activity!”

    And that’s true – you are. However, you’re also supposed to be managing your overall social media presence in an effective and efficient way. Processing each and every comment as it comes in is the very opposite of efficient.

    #SocialMediaMarketing Time-Saver #2: Set aside time to review and respond to comments. Click To Tweet

    Instead, try this time-saver and best practice. Set aside 10 minutes (or 20, or however is reasonable) every few hours to review your notifications and attend to any comments or messages that need it.

    That doesn’t mean you need to ignore your notifications completely. You can still glance over now and then just to make sure that nothing needs immediate attention, like an offensive or inappropriate comment, for example.

    Time-saver #3: Adapt your existing content for your various social media profiles.

    If your brand is creating solid content on a regular basis – webinars, blog posts, e-books, infographics, etc. – then you’ve got a huge leg up when it comes to social media management.

    Use that content across your social media profiles to really maximize its potential, and adapt the content as needed.

    So, for example, if you have a blog post with an embedded infographic, post that infographic on Instagram and link to your post. For Facebook, you might excerpt a short paragraph and include your header image, rather than the infographic. And on Twitter, you could take out a few different “tweetable quotes” and use those to direct followers to your post.

    Of course, if a particular piece of content is evergreen – in other words, it’s not tied to a specific event or time period – then you can reuse it after enough time has passed since you initially shared the content.

    #SocialMediaMarketing Time-Saver #3: Adapt your existing content for your various social media… Click To Tweet

    That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be posting new, high-quality content as often as you can, but if you’ve got a webinar or infographic from years ago that is still consistently bringing in strong traffic, it might be time to highlight it again on social.

    Time-saver #4: Crowdsource your social content from coworkers and colleagues. 

    Your coworkers and team members can be a great help when it comes to cultivating your social media engagement – not to mention, having that extra assistance brainstorming will take some of the pressure off of you.

    While asking your coworkers to brainstorm a few good social media ideas with minimal direction can always work, you might find that it’s more effective to ask for something more specific.

    One idea we love was shared by 9lenses’Swetha Venkataramani shared on the DrumUp blog. She suggests coming up with a topic or theme that your coworkers can share something about on their own social media channels. That could be something like #WorkLifeBalance, or #contentmarketing, or #NationalDogDay – whatever you’d like to emphasize on a given day or week.

    #SocialMediaMarketing Time-Saver #4: Crowdsource your social content from coworkers and colleagues. Click To Tweet

    Then, your brand can retweet or quote your coworkers’ posts, resulting in more mentions and higher engagement.

    Time-saver #5: Share curated content.

    Want to know something truly awesome? You don’t have to rely on only your own, original content to up your social media engagement.

    Curating content is an essential element of content marketing, and if you’re not doing it yet, it’s time to start. To get a better idea of how you should be balancing your original and curated content, read this post, “The Ultimate Content Marketing Battle: Creation vs. Curation.”

    All curating content means is finding content by others that is relevant and valuable to your audience and sharing it with them (always giving proper credit).

    #SocialMediaMarketing Time-Saver #5: Share curated content. Click To Tweet

    By curating great content and sharing it with your followers, you’ll end up saving yourself a huge amount of time. That’s because you can easily search for content ahead of time and schedule it out in advance, ready to go.

    What’s more is that as you begin curating, it will become easier and easier. You’ll know what sites to check first, which influencers to partner with, and whose Twitter feeds to follow to find the best, most interesting content for your audiences.

    Time-saver #6: Carry a notebook (or just use your phone) so you can write your good ideas down. 

    Sometimes the perfect tweet just comes to you. When that happens, make sure you capture it by writing it down or typing it into your phone.

    #SocialMediaMarketing Time-Saver #6: Carry a notebook (or just use your phone) so you can write… Click To Tweet

    If you do this regularly, you’ll end up with a list of excellent social media ideas that you can pull out any time you’re feeling stumped. Then, instead of staring at that blinking cursor for 20 minutes, you’ll be able to refer to your list, type something out, and hit send – and then move right along to your next task.

    Want to learn more about social media management? Read our post “12 Must-Have Social Media Skills for Every Digital Marketer.”

  • 16 Invaluable Guidelines for Managing Your Social Media Comments

    Social media. It can really bring out the worst in people, can’t it?

    From all-out trolls to plain old rude and offensive people, social media threads can become perilous places. That’s especially true for brands, which must tread an extremely fine line when it comes to comments.

    Obviously, they can’t tolerate anything overtly offensive – but they also don’t want to be seen as exercising censorship over their followers.

    You want your fans and followers to feel encouraged to engage with your posts.

    You want them to feel confident that their views will be respected.

    And you want them to know that personal attacks and inappropriate comments will not be allowed on your site.

    How do you pull this off? How do you create an open, engaging forum for the exchange of opinions without allowing it to get out of hand?

    The answer: A robust, clearly-defined comment management policy. These 16 guidelines will help you get there.

    1. Establish a moderator. You need someone who’s committed to moderating your comments every day – not every few days, not once a week, but every day.

    That way, you won’t log onto your social media page one day to find that a blatantly racist comment has been left to fester there for days, prompting a massive negative response from your more civilized followers and – who knows? – a boycott of your brand.

    It’s happened before.

    A moderator will prevent this from happening by checking your social media comments regularly throughout the day. How often will be determined by how many comments your brand generally receives.

    2. Decide what constitutes harassing comments, and ban them.

    One of the most important functions of a comment policy is to ensure that your followers feel safe while engaging with your brand on social media.

    After all, that’s the whole point of having a social media presence in the first place: encouraging your customers to engage with you. If they get called names or otherwise harassed when they comment, they’re going to back off your site all together.

    Decide what you won’t tolerate, and put it plainly in writing. Here’s a pretty standard example from the Huffington Post.

    via Huffington Post

    3. On that note, don’t tolerate hate speech – ever.

    Hate speech has no place – well, anywhere, but certainly not on your brand’s social media pages. Your customers deserve better than that.

    If you have a commenter who repeatedly posts hateful speech or derogatory comments, you can either reach out to them privately to let them know they will no longer be allowed to post on your page, or you can simply remove them.

    It’s important to know that social media networks have their own hate speech policies, as well as policies for banning certain people from commenting on your page. Make sure you follow the guidelines for whatever social media site you’re on.

    4. Decide whether or not you’ll accept anonymous comments.

    While social media sites don’t allow anonymous comments, your website or blog may. Whether you accept those is up to you.

    Organizations that deal in sensitive areas – women’s shelters, for example, or groups that assist vulnerable populations – may need to enable anonymous comments for the safety of their customers.

    If, however, commenters are using anonymity simply to post terrible things, there’s no point in allowing it.

    5. Don’t allow spam.

    People don’t like spam on their conversation feeds any more than they like it in their email. How do you decide if something is spam? Anything that is solely promotional, that links to a malicious website, or that is clearly irrelevant to the post at hand constitutes spam.

    6. Delete inappropriate comments quickly.

    As mentioned earlier, the last thing you want is to leave an offensive or inappropriate comment up on your brand’s page for days. Delete problematic comments immediately, or notify the moderator if you’re not the one responsible for handling the comments.

    7. Consider pre-moderation.

    If you have the resources, you may want to consider pre-moderating your site’s comments. This simply means that comments must be approved before they go live.

    This can go a long way toward eliminating potentially inappropriate comments, but it also requires that someone go through your comments daily to approve or delete them. That can be a big time commitment if your commenters are fairly active.

    8. Remember that constructive criticism is not inappropriate.

    Maybe someone says something about your brand that you deeply disagree with. Maybe they post a strongly worded complaint on your page, right in front of everybody!

    These sorts of comments may be uncomfortable to deal with, but they’re not inappropriate. Deleting them sends the message that you’re not willing to listen to your customers. Instead, the best tack is to engage respectfully with the commenter. Acknowledge their opinion or complaint, and then see if there’s anything you can do to help change their mind.

    9. Establish timelines for responding to inquiries.

    Jay Baer of Convince and Convert has found that 42 percent of customers who post complaints on social media expect a response from the company in as little as 60 minutes. 24 percent expect a response within 30 minutes.

    And while the other 34 percent may be a bit more lenient, you can bet they’re not going to be pleased if you take a week to respond to their comment of post. That’s why it’s so vital to respond to inquiries or complaints in a timely manner.

    10. Use a social media management tool.

    If you have multiple social media accounts, a social media management tool like Hootsuite can be of invaluable help.

    These tools allow you to keep tabs on your profiles and comments from a single dashboard, rather than having to switch back and forth between different browser tabs. You can also set up email alerts that notify you each time there’s a mention of your brand.

    11. Start conversations.

    One way to get more high-quality comments is to start conversations. Pose an open-ended question, request images from your fans, ask for feedback on a new product – all of these are great ways to up your engagement.

    You’ll get even more, of course, if you offer an incentive, like a discount or giveaway.

    12. Identify your brand values, and ensure your comment policy and social media behavior uphold those values.

    Knowing your brand values is an essential part of developing your brand’s voice on social. It’s also essential to managing your social media comments well.

    These values should always be guiding you when you’re moderating comments from others, or posting your own.

    13. Keep jargon and overly technical language out of your responses. 

    No one likes a show-off, so unless there’s truly no other way to say what you’re trying to say, don’t use jargon or tech-speak when responding to customer comments.

    14. Be kind and polite.

    Unless snark is part of your brand’s persona, your best bet is to always be kind and polite in your comments.

    And if snark is part of your brand’s persona, you’d better be really, really good at it – like the UK grocery chain Sainsbury’s:

    via econsultancy

    15. Make sure your commenting policy includes the consequences of violating one of your guidelines.

    Commenters should know what will happen if they violate your commenting policy, whether that’s by posting spam or saying inappropriate things.

    Don’t allow anyone to be totally blindsided by having their comment removed – that can end up backfiring on your brand in a big way.

    16. Update your policy as needed.

    As your brand evolves, you may find you need to update your commenting policy or your tactics for engaging with your followers. Don’t fall into the trap of doing something that’s no longer working, just because you’ve always done it that way.

    Want to learn more about managing your social media presence? Read “12 Must-Have Skills for Every Digital Marketer.

  • Marketing to Millennial Parents: 7 Surefire Tactics

    It’s a hard pill to swallow, but we Millennials are no longer the youngest generation (thanks, Generation Z).

    Instead of college community service programs, trendy bars, and artisanal mayonnaise, many Millennials are finding themselves spending more time thinking about baby monitors, preschools, and nontoxic toys.

    That’s right: Millennials are becoming parents.

    In fact, 80 percent of new moms today are Millennials, according to a 2015 study by BabyCenter. which means that if you’re marketing to parents at all, you’ve got to have a strong grasp on what makes Millennials tick.

    80% of new moms are #Millennials. Marketing to parents IS marketing to Millennials. Click To Tweet

    So how can you grab these parents’ attention in the increasingly overloaded digital landscape? Here are 7 surefire tactics for marketing to Millennials with kids.

    Embrace diversity.

    One of the most striking features of Millennial parents is their diversity – and not just their cultural and racial diversity. Take a look at these stats from AdAge, for example:

    • 4 out of 10 Millennial moms are single parents
    • 67 percent of Millennial moms are multicultural
    • 61% of births to Millennial moms are to unmarried women
    • By 2020, 50 percent of U.S. children will be non-white

    While marketers have done fairly well in recent years breaking out of the WASP family model – white mom, white dad, and 2.5 white children – it’s important to remember that this isn’t the only diversity that matters.

    Does your marketing reflect the large number of single-parent households, for example? Does it reflect the multi-ethnic, multi-racial homes that lots of Millennial parents are creating? Are you showing multi-generational homes? Moms who are the main breadwinners for their families? Stay-at-home dads?

    While not every one of these profiles will be relevant to your product, making sure that you’re thinking about diversity – in all its incarnations – will help you immeasurably when it comes to reaching Millennial parents.

    #Millennials are diverse. Make sure your marketing is too. Click To Tweet

    Make sure your mobile and in-store marketing work together seamlessly.

    It should come as no surprise that Millennial parents spend a whole lot of time online. According to that same BabyCenter research, Millennial moms spend 4-5 hours per day online on a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

    But it’s not just for entertainment. 80 percent of Millennial moms use their smartphones to help them shop while they’re in-store, whether to download coupons, check product reviews, or check prices.

    That means that your mobile marketing should tie in to your in-store marketing, even if all that means is highlighting the same products on mobile and in-store, or offering mobile coupons that can be used in-store only.

    Target’s Cartwheel app is a great example. You download Cartwheel onto your phone, add coupons to your cart while you shop in-store, and then scan a barcode at checkout that processes all your savings at once.

    Build a robust social media presence that will add value to Millennial parents’ lives.

    As Millennials have grown up, partnered up, and had kids, they’ve maintained their strong social media habits – as anyone whose Facebook or Instagram feeds are constantly updated with new baby pictures knows well.

    But aside from oversharing, Millennial parents also turn to social media for help with parenting (97 percent of moms and 93 percent of dads, to be exact).

    If you’re not developing and maintaining a robust social media presence, you’re missing out. Sharing your curated content from top parenting websites or influencers, as well as original content around parenting trends, funny parenting fails, or tried-and-true parenting advice will go a long way toward engaging the Millennial parent and make it more likely that he or she will try your brand.

    Videos work.

    Research conducted by Google found that 3 out of 4 Millennial parents are open to using branded YouTube videos for guidance on parenting topics. 72 percent said they use YouTube to make better purchases for their child.

    That’s because Millennial parents – like every other new parent who’s come before them – crave guidance and answers, especially when they’re parents of infants. And as all digital marketers know, video is swiftly becoming the most popular format for digital marketing.

    Brands that can help parents achieve peace of mind by providing tutorials and information will earn Millennial parents’ loyalty much more easily than those that simply offer a product – even if that product adds enormous value to parents’ lives.

    Make your brand experience easy and convenient.

    The average mom in 2015 has added 9 hours to her day, resulting in 13 fewer hours for herself. 65 percent of mothers to children under age 6 work full-time.

    Clearly, these mothers don’t have time to search through your website for that coupon you emailed them about, or to jump through three or four digital hoops to enter your latest giveaway.

    If you want to reach Millennial parents throughout the course of their ever-busier lives, you have to make your brand experience both easy and convenient. Keep account registration short and simple. Make product reviews easy to find. Ensure calls-to-action are clear and easy to follow through on.

    Put your money where your mouth is. 

    Millennials are skeptical of brands that promise too much or present a too-perfect picture.

    Moms and dads today want to see “real” people in their advertising. They want to see brands living up to their professed values. They want to know that a high-quality item really is high-quality.

    In other words, your brand must embrace authenticity on every level, from brand voice, to mission and vision, to advertising. This is even more important when your product is for children and parents.

    One great example of this is Johnson’s (the parent company of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo) So Much More campaign. This marketing campaign consisted of content, including infographics and video, that explain how bath time for babies can actually play a large role in developing baby’s senses and stimulating brain development.

    This educational, informative content is exactly the type that Millennial parents value.

    Invest in your e-commerce options.

    This is a good idea for most brands, as e-commerce is growing 23 percent year-over-year. Among Millennials, 67 percent prefer to shop online than in-store.

    However, brands that market to parents will especially want to up their e-commerce game, as moms and dads, strapped for time, are some of the most frequent online shoppers.

    Offering a seamless online shopping experience is one major way to connect with Millennial parents, and ensure they’ll come back to your brand over and over.

    Millennial parents have different values and characteristics than earlier parenting generations. Knowing what they are will help you engage these new parents and create long-term, meaningful customer relationships.

    For more on marketing to Millennials, read “Marketing to Millennials: 10 Things Every Company Must Know.”

  • 4 Awesome Ways to Use Twitter Moments to Skyrocket Your Engagement

    Who among us hasn’t felt overwhelmed while searching through Twitter for something – news of an event, maybe, or views on a certain topic? By the time you scroll through the first 20 tweets on your screen, 10 “New Tweets” appear. It’s truly neverending.

    Twitter’s content overload isn’t going away. Around 9,000 tweets are sent every single second, which means there are about 58 million tweets, on average, each day.

    So how does your brand break through the noise? There are a few ways – Promoted Tweets, Pinned Tweets, Twitter ads, partnerships with influencers – but in this post, we’re going to focus on Twitter Moments.

    What are Twitter Moments?

    Even if you’re an avid Twitter user, you may not be that familiar with Twitter Moments.

    A Twitter Moment is a selection of tweets, curated by a particular user, on a single topic or event. You can find them by clicking on “Moments” in the top left-hand side of Twitter’s menu bar, right next to Home.

    Click on that lightning bolt, and you’ll see the Moments posted today. There are various categories, too, for Sports, Entertainment, News, and Fun.

    Once you click on a particular Moment, you’ll see a collection of tweets relating to the topic – like this one on Bon Appetit’s bizarrely-named hand salad “recipe.”

    As you can see, Twitter Moments are a good way to bring together some of the best tweets on one topic, whether you’re talking about hand salad or the latest news out of the White House – like this Moment that Marketing Zen was a part of, when our client Dippin’ Dots asked for our help in responding to Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s tweets about their brand. (To read more about the insane amount of publicity we brought Dippin’ Dots with our response, check out this infographic!)

    Twitter Moments also solve the problem with curating on Twitter. Sure, users can create Twitter Lists to curate a collection of other users who focus on particular topics or industries, but there wasn’t much you could do to curate particular tweets before Moments.

    And since content curation is becoming just as important as content creation, you could argue that Twitter simply had to jump on the curation bandwagon at some point. 

    Creating a Twitter Moment

    When Twitter Moments first rolled out back in 2015, only select editorial partners – BuzzFeed, the New York Times, and others – were able to create Moments.

    In 2016, however, the social media platform decided to give every user the ability to create Moments – and it’s really easy to do.

    After you click the Moments tab, you’ll see “Create New Moment” on the righthand side.

    After you click on it, you’ll be taken to a page where you title your Moment and select the tweets to include. You can search tweets, sort them in different ways, select ones you’ve recently tweeted, liked, or retweeted, etc.

    Once you’ve added them, select either “Finish Later” to save it as a draft, or “Publish” to publish to Twitter now.

    How can brands use Twitter Moments?

    So what about brands? How can brands use Twitter Moments to better connect with their followers and amplify their message?

    There are a few great uses for Twitter Moments.

    Cover an event.

    Brands that regularly host live or even online events know that Twitter can be an excellent way to provide up-to-the-minute coverage.

    The same is true of Twitter Moments. Before your event begins, you can create a Moment pulling together the best buzz about it from people who are attending as well as those who want to attend. Use your own tweets with pictures of the event space being set up, shots of speakers or celebrity guests, sneak peeks of the menu – the sky’s the limit.

    After your event is over, you can create a different Moment showcasing the best tweets from the event itself. Make sure you include plenty from attendees, and not just from your brand account and/or employee accounts. Images and videos, of course, will really improve engagement.

    Showcase influencer relationships – subtly.

    Nobody likes a show-off, but you can certainly emphasize your brand’s influencer relationships with a Twitter Moment – as long as you do so in a natural, authentic manner.

    One way to do so is to include a prominent influencer tweet about your brand in a Moment. Make sure that the influencer’s tweet is on-topic and relevant, and don’t go too crazy. One or two influencer tweets will be plenty.

    Showcase a tweetstorm more effectively.

    Tweetstorms, or a series of related tweets that are published in quick succession, are perfect candidates for a Twitter Moment.

    If you’ve got a campaign that involves a tweetstorm, you can increase its reach by not only tweeting, but collecting all of those tweets into one Twitter Moment.

    For example, you could tell your brand’s story in a Moment, or disseminate important information about an event, product, service, or new company development.

    Repurpose old content.

    We’re huge proponents of getting the most mileage out of the content you produce. After all, it takes a lot of time and effort to write solid blog posts, create informative webinars, and produce awesome videos.

    You can increase your content’s reach by creating a Twitter Moment around the topic your blog post, webinar, video, or infographic is about.

    For example, if we were going to create a Moment around our blog post on virtual reality in marketing, we’d include this tweet, where we shared the original post:

    via @marketingzen

    Then we could curate several of the best tweets about using virtual reality in marketing. We’d include ones from peer agencies we admire, marketing industry influencers, virtual reality enthusiasts, and brands that are using VR effectively.

    After publishing our Moment, we’d tweet it (obvi), and share the link across our other social media profiles.

    This also works for old tweets, not just old content. Timing can be your best friend or your worst enemy on Twitter. You could spend hours crafting the perfect tweet to announce a new product, and Twitter could suddenly erupt with breaking news that eclipses it completely.

    What better way to recycle that worthy but unappreciated tweet than with a Twitter Moment? If your product launched a while ago, create a Moment showcasing its history as seen on Twitter. Or you could curate the best tweets surrounding your product, including one by an influencer or two.

    Twitter Moments are underutilized by many brands, which means that yours may have a better chance of standing out. For more on making the most out of Twitter, read our post “3 Twitter Marketing Secrets the Pros Know.”

  • The Immense Power That Virtual Reality Can Have for Your Brand

    If you’ve been paying attention, you know that virtual reality is being used for a whole lot more than scaring the pants off of gamers with apocalyptic zombie games.

    Manufacturers are using VR and its cousin, augmented reality (AR), to help employees learn how to operate high-tech machinery.

    Medical universities and hospitals are using VR for training and surgery simulations.

    But perhaps more than any industry (after the gaming and entertainment industries, that is), it’s marketing that is embracing VR and AR with open arms. It didn’t take marketers long to discover that VR has incredible applications for brands, whether they’re selling shoes or pitching the next season of a popular TV show.

    It’s easy to think “Hey, we should be using VR too!” when you’re brainstorming ideas for your next big marketing campaign. But how exactly do you employ VR effectively? How do you create something authentic, rather than gimmicky?

    You’re not alone in asking that question. Lots of brands are struggling to figure out what VR can do for them, and how to use it organically to spread their message. And while the medium will certainly continue to evolve with time, here are a few pointers on how to make VR work for your brand now.

    VR has a huge “wow factor,” but its real power is its massive storytelling potential.

    When you think of experiences that lend themselves to virtual reality, there are always the obvious ones that pop up.

    Roller coaster simulations.

    Space travel.

    Extreme sports, like skydiving.

    These are all fun, exciting uses of virtual reality, but they’re essentially gimmicks. They’ve got plenty of use for video production companies that need to show off their VR skills, but they won’t do much for brands that are trying to market their products (unless you make roller coasters, spaceships, or parachutes, that is).

    And while those experiences are bound to set your heart racing and give you a thrill, they probably won’t stick with you the way a VR story would.

    A great example is Tom’s, the shoe company that gives one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair that a customer buys. Tom’s created a beautiful, moving VR experience that takes viewers on a giving trip to a small village in Peru. Viewers get to see – and feel – what it’s like to hand out boxes of shoes to hundreds of joyful children.

    The reason it works so well is that it’s on message, it’s authentic, and it’s a memorable story. There’s nothing gimmicky about seeing the positive impact that your dollars have on children around the world.

    The Marriott hotel chain is doing something similar with its in-room VR offerings.

    Marriott is a pioneer when it comes to VR, having created the 4D virtual reality travel experience, the Teleporter, back in 2014. When you step into the Teleporter and don your virtual reality headset, you’re transported to a luxury hotel, a serene beach in Maui, and the top of a London skyscraper. The Teleporter added in experiential elements like sprays of water and gentle breezes to really take the VR experience to another level.

    While you can’t access the Teleporter in your Marriott hotel room, you can order a VR headset and headphones and experience one of the best things about travel: immersing yourself in the story of another place.

    Marriott’s VR Postcards are immersive travel stories that take the viewer on a short journey with a real traveler to a unique location. You can visit an ice cream shop in Rwanda, the Chilean Andes Mountains, or the streets of Beijing.

    While the Teleporter was incredibly popular, for obvious reasons, creating an entire 4D virtual reality machine is the kind of undertaking that only the largest companies with the biggest budgets can even consider. It’s heavy on the wow factor, but not as much on the emotional connection.

    The VR Postcards, on the other hand, are simpler but more emotionally rich experiences. And since marketing today is all about creating authentic connections with customers, your brand would likely do better to create something simple and emotionally fulfilling, rather than mind-blowing but hollow.

    If you sell a product, a VR demo can be a great way to build excitement.

    Crafting beautiful VR stories is an important way to use VR, but there are some more practical uses for the technology, too.

    If your business sells a product, creating a VR demo to show it off can be a highly effective way to build excitement around a launch.

    For example, Volvo created a VR Test Drive experience for their XC90 SUV. Viewers find themselves right in the driver’s seat, driving through the countryside on a beautiful day.

    This kind of product demo makes a lot of sense because test driving a car is a fairly big deal. You’re not going to head to a car dealership and ask to test drive something on a whim.

    Being able to do so in VR expands Volvo’s reach to thousands more customers, increasing not only their general brand audience, but also the possibility that someone who doesn’t live near a Volvo dealership will make the trip to test drive a Volvo in real life.

    Another major advantage of VR for product-based businesses is that they can demo lots of products – not just one.

    Consider a VR experience for a trade show or exhibition. When customers come to your booth, you can give them a VR headset that transports them into your showroom. Instead of the 5 or 10 square feet of your booth, they’re suddenly standing in a 1,000 square foot space, where they can check out multiple products instead of the one or two you were able to bring along.

    While product demos can be quite practical and still be effective, you shouldn’t forget about the importance of storytelling when it comes to VR.

    If all your customers want is a straightforward chance to see and “feel” your product, that’s fine – but if your product lends itself to a story, the way a luxury car or Tom’s shoes does, explore that avenue. You may end up with something far better than you could have imagined.

    If you’re going to do VR, do VR well. If you’re not ready to make a full VR investment, consider 360 video instead.

    There’s no denying that VR is an expensive marketing tool. Full VR experiences can easily get into the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how complex the project and how long the video is.

    Since you don’t want to give your customers a mediocre VR experience, you should do plenty of research before committing to creating a VR video. Get bids from several agencies. If they’re coming in higher than you’re prepared to spend, consider a 360 video instead.

    360 videos create similarly immersive experiences, but without the interactive component that VR offers. That lowers the cost substantially.

    The New York Times, the Obama White House, and Conservation International have all created powerful 360 films – in fact, they can feel so immersive that the average viewer might not realize that they’re not technically VR.

    VR and 360 video have immense powers for brands that are willing to jump in and make the investment. For more on how video can improve your marketing, read our post “Video and Social Media Marketing: Which Platform Will Boost Your Brand.”

     

  • 20 Things You Had No Clue Google Analytics Could Do

    In 2017, more than ever before, data drives every aspect of business. From predictive analytics powered by artificial intelligence, to data-based operating systems that allow businesses to perform just about any task with an immediate backdrop of company data, businesses are growing increasingly savvy about how to use data to guide their every step.

    The story is no different in the realm of marketing. The most effective marketing decisions are data-driven these days, based on which tactics garner the most traffic, the most engagement, or the most conversions. And where does most of that marketing data come from? Google Analytics.

    Everyone knows that you can get website traffic information from Google Analytics, but what many people don’t know is just how much it allows them to drill down into the details of that data, and how they can use that nitty-gritty to inform every marketing decision they make. Here are just 20 of the things that Google Analytics can do – and how you can use them to your advantage.

    1. Import data from other sources.

    Wondering where your social media stats fit into the big picture presented by Google Analytics? Need one central dashboard with all your marketing data in one place? Google Analytics has a Data Import function that allows you to combine data from other sources with the data it provides, thus giving you a complete picture of the results of your online marketing efforts – vital information in order for you to make educated decisions about your strategy.

    2. Show real-time traffic data.

    How many people are on your site right now? Log in to Google Analytics and you can watch visitors come and go in real-time on your computer screen. What pages are they on? Where are they lingering, and when do they leave? It can be extremely informative – not to mention exciting – to watch your traffic in real-time.

    3. Find the geographic locations your visitors come from.

    Whether you’re targeting an international audience or just your own hometown, GA can show you where your marketing activities are having an impact. It allows you to see both the countries and the cities where your visitors are located. You might be surprised to learn that your marketing message is resonating with people in unexpected locations – and you can use that information to tweak your tactics accordingly.

    4. See which devices your visitors are using.

    Google Analytics allows you to see whether your visitors are primarily mobile or computer-based – which gives you insight into how important it is for you to have a mobile-friendly site. But more than that, GA lets you know what types of devices they’re using, right down to the brand and operating systems, so you can check your site’s performance on each one and make sure it’s optimized for all of your visitors.

    5. Show the channels your traffic is coming from.

    If you’re wondering whether your marketing tactics have been more successful with search engines or on social media, Google Analytics will show you exactly which channels are sending you traffic, and how much of it you’re getting from each one. You may want to focus more intensely on certain channels once you see their ROI, and tweak your tactics on others to make them more effective.

    6. Watch the path visitors take through your site.

    By clicking on ‘Behavior Flow’ in GA, you’ll be able to see each step a visitor takes when they visit your site, from the page that brought them in, to the ones they visited next, and finally, which one made them leave. This data is invaluable, giving you insight into what attracts your traffic, what holds their interest, and which pages you still need to work on to make them just as interesting.

    7. Rank pages by popularity.

    You can also check to see the top, most often visited pages on your site – whether you want to know which pages are your all-time best performers, or which ones did the best last month. This data gives you a deeper understanding of what type of content does well with your audience, and what falls flat. Maybe seasonal blog posts draw a ton of traffic, but informational pages don’t – or vice versa. The numbers practically write your content strategy for you.

    8. Track your ecommerce performance.

    This one require a little legwork on your part first, as you’ll have to set up ecommerce tracking manually within GA – but once you do, Google Analytics will keep tabs on sales activity on your site, from which products are your best sellers to the times they were purchased and whether they were eventually returned and refunded.

    9. Watch your conversion rates for other goals.

    Once again, you’ll need to set this up manually within GA, but once you set your goals, Google Analytics will track how many visitors are converting. You can have multiple goals, from filling out a Contact Us form to signing up for an email newsletter, and GA will show you just how effective your content, design, and calls to action are.

    10. Track clicks on your site.

    Google Analytics will actually track every single click on clickable parts of your site’s pages, so that you can see what’s working to attract clicks, and what’s not – and tweak accordingly.

    11. Segment your traffic for more insight.

    You can also segment your traffic within Google Analytics, dividing it up based on traffic source, whether they converted or not, and much more. By doing this, you get a much more granular view of which groups are doing what, and which pages on your site are working – or not working – with each group.

    12. View the interests of your visitors.

    While you can’t personally track individual visitors with Google Analytics, you can still find out a lot about each one. Their interests, for example, and even their professions. This data can also be invaluable in determining how to tweak your marketing approach to appeal to them most effectively.

    13. Check the results of your longer-term marketing campaigns.

    Whether it’s a paid AdWords campaign or an organic social media blitz, you can track your results in Google Analytics easily. You’ll just have to add a tracking code to the end of the URL you’re sending visitors to, and then GA will be able to show you how well you’re doing by tracking traffic to that URL.

    14. Check the results of quick, one-day campaigns.

    With GA’s real-time traffic tracking, you can watch the performance of even short marketing campaigns in order to find out what works and what doesn’t. This can guide your future short campaigns, or inform your strategy for longer campaigns.

    15. Watch the real-time effects of social sharing.

    Did you just post a new blog post to Facebook? Or ask people to visit your landing page on Twitter? Once again, GA’s real-time view of traffic will allow you to watch as people begin to engage with your content, and help you determine what works and what doesn’t.

    16. Test site changes in real-time.

    And one more real-time benefit? You can make changes to your site, and then track exactly how they’re affecting your traffic’s behavior in real-time. Are they leading to more conversions, or fewer? Are they guiding visitors through the sales funnel, or are they causing a higher bounce rate? The answers will tell you how to tweak your site.

    17. Create your own channel groups for tracking traffic sources.

    Google Analytics does offer its own channel categories for tracking the sources your traffic comes from, but you can also create your own unique groupings of channels to keep tabs on your visitors and which tactics are most effective at attracting them to your site.

    18. See how quickly your website loads.

    Since site loading speed is part of Google’s ranking algorithm, this is an important thing to check from time to time. If Google Analytics tells you it’s taking longer than three seconds to load for your visitors, you’ll need to take steps to speed it up.

    19. Track cart abandonment.

    One of the most important things GA can do for ecommerce sites is help you determine the point when visitors are abandoning their carts. Is it at the shipping page? The payment page? Once you have this information, you can try offering discounts or free shipping or even just changing the flow of your check out process to see what gets more visitors to complete their purchases.

    20. Track form abandonment.

    If, for you, a conversion means filling out a form on your site, then GA can help you see which blanks are being filled in, and at what point your form is being abandoned. This can be invaluable in understanding how to change your form or your calls to action in order to get visitors to finish giving you their information.

    Believe it or not, this is far from all that Google Analytics can do. Start with these 20 things to give yourself a solid foundation in navigating GA, and then you’ll feel more confident exploring everything else it has to offer. And once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be amazed at just how much more effective your marketing becomes, now that it’s based on the detailed data Google Analytics provides.

  • The Ultimate Guide to Buyer Personas

    Ultra-targeting is making buyer personas more important than ever. Click To Tweet Surveys and interviews can give you the data you need to create your #buyerpersona. Click To Tweet

    Conventional wisdom used to hold that buyer personas were something only large businesses needed to bother with.

    Small and mid-sized companies often didn’t (and still don’t) develop buyer personas, for a variety of reasons. They’re time-consuming, for one thing, and some managers feel that time spent on a buyer persona could be better spent actually selling.

    For another, they can be very difficult to do correctly. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself: you sit down, ready to create your first buyer persona, when you realize that you know a lot less about your customers than you thought you did. Naturally, this can be a disheartening feeling.

    What do you do with this feeling? Do you tamp it down and switch to working on something else – analyzing data from your company’s latest social campaign, or writing a new whitepaper, perhaps?

    Or do you get down to business figuring out what you don’t know, and making the best buyer persona your company’s ever seen?

    If you’re in the latter group, then this blog post is for you!

    First, what is a buyer persona?

    If you’ve never created a buyer persona before, then you may not know where to begin.

    Let’s start with what a buyer persona actually is. Buyer personas are profiles of potential customers that you create using details like age, gender, and demographic as well as more nuanced information like values, hobbies, likes/dislikes, etc.

    You can do these in a couple of ways.

    First, you can create buyer personas for your existing customers to better hone in on what they want and identify new ways to sell to them.

    Second, you can create buyer personas for the customers that you want to attract. This is very helpful if you’re trying to break into new markets or launch new products.

    To achieve maximum efficacy, you’ll likely find yourself using both of these approaches at some point. After all, businesses can’t grow without attracting new customers, but they can’t sustain themselves without keeping their current ones.

    Why are buyer personas important in digital marketing?

    As consumers’ internet experience becomes ever-more personalized, buyer personas are becoming more and more vital for reaching your customers effectively. As the capabilities for ultra-targeting grow, we’re becoming better and better at filtering out what doesn’t apply to us.

    If my browsing history shows that I’m a woman who loves shopping for high-end clothes with subscription boxes, I don’t want to see a bunch of ads pushing brick-and-mortar, budget clothing stores.

    But what’s more, if those ads did show up as I was surfing Facebook or Twitter, I’d probably just tune them out. And that means that that company just wasted their money on me.

    If you want to make the most of your digital marketing dollars, you’ve got to know who you’re targeting and you’ve got to get as specific as possible. Hence the need for accurate buyer personas.

    Step 1: Identify your buyers into broad, generalized groups.

    Before you can start coming up with specific individual personas, you need to start big.

    Who do you sell to? Let’s use a hypothetical company for an example.

    Let’s pretend you work for a company that sells premium ice cream to gourmet grocery stores.

    Your broadest personas would therefore be:

    • Wholesale purchasers for major gourmet grocery chains
    • Wholesale purchasers for smaller, high-end grocery stores

    Now let’s zero in on each category.

    Step 2: Decide what questions about each persona you’re going to answer.

    For each persona, you’re going to be answering several questions. The important thing is to decide which questions are relevant for your business, as well as how you’re going to get the data you need to answer those questions.

    For the purpose of this blog post we’re going to focus on the second one: purchasers for smaller, high-end grocery chains.

    Let’s begin with the basics. We want to know:

    • Age
    • Gender
    • Location
    • Job title
    • Job functions

    That will give us a good start. So how do you find this information? Well, you probably already have a good deal of it. If you use a CRM, then you likely have demographic data on the people you deal with as well as job title information.

    Your digital analytics tools can also offer lots of this information. Look through Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, and any other third-party tools you use to draw demographic information about the people who are interacting with your site.

    Your sales team will be able to answer many of these questions, as well.

    Once you’ve gotten these simpler questions out of the way, it’s time to start looking at more nuanced information.

    For example, what kind of frustrations or obstacles does this person confront in their job? What makes their job easier? What does he or she need from a supplier?

    Step 3: Go to your customer to get answers.

    When you’re looking for answers to these sorts of questions, analytics will only get you so far. A better way to get real information is to interview prospects and current customers, and, if you can, former customers or customers who have had complaints about your product or service in the past.

    Doing so may not be that much fun, but it will give you valuable insight into areas that your business needs to improve.

    To find people who might be open to being interviewed, start with your sales team. They’ll likely have a good feel for customers who would be interested in talking with you, and who would give you candid answers.

    Another option is to create an online survey that you place on your website.

    Online surveys do have some inherent issues. For one thing, people are self-selecting to take a survey, so you’ll likely get people who really like your product or who really hate it, rather than those who feel lukewarm about it.

    However, since you’re creating buyer personas and not doing strict statistical analysis, you are still extremely likely to get some helpful information from your survey responses.

    If you’re creating a buyer persona for a customer you don’t yet have – if you’re entering a new market or launching a brand-new product – you may have to get a little more creative in finding interviewees.

    Referrals from current customers, contacts who’ve signed up for new product notifications or your email newsletter, and social media can be a few good sources.

    Step 4: Use the information you’ve garnered to answer your persona questions, and voila! You’ve created a buyer persona.

    Now that your research is done, it’s time to put all those answers together to create a full picture of your customer.

    Pro tip: before you start answering your questions, consider giving your persona a name, and better yet, an image. This will help you feel like you’re talking about a real person, rather than just a collection of characteristics.

    Here’s a brief, simplified example. We’ll call this persona Purchasing Peter.

    Name: Peter
    Age: 34
    Gender: Male
    Location: Harrisburg, PA
    Job title: Owner/purchaser for independent high-end grocery store
    Job responsibilities/functions: Manages day-to-day operations of store. Decides on and purchases products for store on monthly basis.
    Requirements for products he carries: Reliable supply. Ability to order small quantities. Excellent, personal customer service. Some payment flexibility. Extremely high-quality product.
    Frustrations: Difficulty reaching suppliers. Suppliers who can’t offer the small quantities he needs. Suppliers geared only toward large accounts.

    That’s just a start, but as you can see, this persona has already answered some important questions about what’s important to one of your customer groups. If you can get more detailed, do – it will help you immensely when it comes to targeting your digital ads, honing your social media message, and improving your overall business success.

    Creating buyer personas is an important aspect of developing a strong digital marketing strategy. Want to up your game even more? Get better at talking to your customers by developing an outstanding brand persona.

  • Sharing, Citing, and Stealing: Content Etiquette Rules for the Digital Age

    The Book of Ecclesiastes and Shakespeare said it long, long ago: “There is no new thing under the sun.”

    That was true then, in the days of stone tablets. It was true when Shakespeare was writing his sonnets. And it’s most definitely true now, in the age of the internet.

    It seems sometimes that you can Google anything – a dream you had last night, a thought that ran through your head this morning – and find 15 people who’ve not only had that same dream or thought, but written about it to boot.

    When you’re writing content for your brand, this can become a little disconcerting. How do you make sure you’re not inadvertently plagiarizing? When and how should you cite sources? What rules govern how you share images or content from other sites?

    If you’re new to writing for the web, it’s easy to get paralyzed by all these questions and not write anything at all. To keep that from happening, take a look at these content etiquette guidelines for some of the situations we often find ourselves in when creating or sharing content.

    Doing research for a blog post, whitepaper, or other long-form piece of content

    When you’re researching for a blog post, whitepaper, webinar, or other piece of long-form content, you’ll likely find several sources for the information you’re after.

    If you look closely, however, you’ll likely find that many of those sources all found that information somewhere else – from a reputable primary source. That’s as long as the sources you’re looking at are solid, informative ones, not ones intended to be purely entertaining.

    The best practice here is to follow those secondary sources back to the primary source, which could be an academic paper, a study, a news article, even a well-researched opinion piece on a popular blog.

    Sometimes finding the primary source is very easy, but sometimes it can take some digging. Either way, looking at the primary source yourself will pay off in spades.

    For one thing, you’ll know that the data or information quoted is correct.

    For another, you’ll be able to ensure that you’re not plagiarizing anyone when you put the info in your own words in your content.

    Finally, if you decide to quote, you can quote the original text, rather than someone else’s interpretation of that text.

    When you find information or a quote that you want to use, make sure you cite it correctly. At the very least, include a hyperlink to the original page where you found the information, but if you can, it’s best to also include the name of the site or author in your text. That way, readers who don’t click on the link will still know who the information came from.

    Direct quotations

    Quoting a source on the internet follows the same general rules that you learned in high school English. If you’re taking a direct quotation from somewhere else, you must attribute that quote correctly.

    In print, that usually means citing the author’s name, the publication the quote came from, and a date of publication.

    On the internet, you want to include the author or publication name, but you can handle the rest of the info by linking to the original source. So you could say something like this:

    Corey Wainwright of Hubspot says that when quoting a source online, “Aside from mentioning the person’s name, it’s also nice to provide them with an inbound link – either to the page from which you drew your quote, or to another meaningful page on their site.”

    Corey’s name is mentioned, the company she writes for is mentioned, and there’s a link to the exact blog post where we found that quote. Now if you want to be extra courteous, as Corey adds in that same post, you can include a link to the person’s Twitter handle (@Corey_bos), Instagram profile or personal website.

    When you’re quoting someone else on one of your social media profiles, it’s very easy to do so correctly. You can retweet on Twitter, regram on Instagram, repin on Pinterest and share on Facebook.

    If you want to add your own words or context, you can add “via @username” to the Pin, Instagram post, or tweet. If you’re on Facebook, simply type what you want to say in the status bar, add “via the name of the person whose post you’re sharing” and hit “Share.”

    You can also link to the person or company’s Facebook page within the text of your Status update by adding “@” to the name.

    Using images

    We all know that content with images gets far more engagement than content with no images. According to research on visual content marketing by BuzzSumo, blog posts with images once every 75-100 words received twice the number of shares than articles with fewer images than that.

    Here’s a graph, also from BuzzSumo, showing that.

    Source: BuzzSumo

    In addition, the website’s researchers also found that Facebook posts with images receive 2.3 times more engagement than posts without images.

    So images are pretty important in the land of content marketing. However, we’re betting that you don’t have a photographer on call 24/7 to take high-quality photos to use in each and every content asset you create.

    That means that you’re going to have to use images that are not “yours” – as in, that you did not create.

    The easiest way to ensure that you have the right to use a photo is to pay for it. Sign up for an account with a stock photography website, and you can pay for and download stock images that you can then use in your content. Stock images, by the way, are royalty-free.

    There are even some free sites where you can find either copyright-free images, or copyrighted images that you can use for free with certain restrictions. Flickr’s Creative Commons is one such site.

    See? This is a stock photo we bought from fotolia.

    You can also, of course, contact photographers whose work you like and ask if they’ll allow you to use one of their images in a piece of your content (with proper citation, of course).

    Some may be willing to let you use the image for free, provided you link back to their website. Others may let you purchase internet rights.

    If you are set on using someone else’s copyrighted work for your posts, there’s a set of rules called “Fair Use that you’ll have to follow. Here’s a very brief overview from Nicole Martinez at the Art Law Journal:

    “The purpose and character of the use of the photo you’re using should generally not be used for commercial purposes, and will constitute fair use if you’re using the image for purposes of commentary, criticism, reporting, or teaching.”

    Now, since most brands have some commercial component, by their very nature, you’re probably safest not relying on Fair Use and sticking to using purchased images. This way, you won’t find yourself in a legal muddle over a photo you thought was fair game.

    When in doubt, use a plagiarism checker

    If you’re not sure whether what you’ve written is truly original, it’s a good idea to use an online plagiarism checker. There are several of these available, usually for free, and all you have to do is copy and paste your text into a box and hit “check.” You’ll get an alert if the tool has detected plagiarism.

    These tools are especially valuable if you’re using freelancers or other contractors to help create your content. You never know when someone may accidentally (one hopes it would never be on purpose) plagiarize a source.

    Being courteous and giving credit where credit is due won’t just keep you out of legal hot water. It’s simply the ethical thing to do. For more on creating great content, read our post “What is High-Quality Content?