• The Marketer’s Guide to Using LinkedIn’s Native Video

    LinkedIn’s native video is the latest new feature to hit this relatively staid social network, which has a reputation for waiting till a trend has proven itself before jumping into the fray.

    The platform rolled out native video in 2016 to certain influential LinkedIn users, but it was a very limited release. These influencers – a group which included Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Arianna Huffington – could upload 30-second videos directly to their feed and, as you can imagine, started doing so rather quickly.

    Despite this, the video feature stayed fairly low-profile until LinkedIn made it accessible to everyone in Aug. 2017.

    Now, you’ll see videos popping up from everyone from your local landscaper to the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. If you want to keep up, you’ll need to start looking at LinkedIn Video and figuring out how your brand can best put it to use.

    Here’s a brief guide to LinkedIn’s native video, and tips for how you can maximize your reach.

    How is LinkedIn’s video different?

    Users could always share links to their videos on LinkedIn, but links don’t get nearly the engagement that in-platform video does.

    In fact, as TechCrunch reported back in August, LinkedIn native videos from the limited release were shared 20 times more than video links. This is reflective of the general direction video is going – video is overtaking the digital world, and an estimated 80% of web traffic will be video by 2021.

    That’s why LinkedIn choosing native video, as opposed to shared video, is such a big deal. It’s as easy to use as Facebook Live, with the obvious difference that LinkedIn’s video is not streaming.

    To create a video, users can either shoot footage on the spot, or upload a previously recorded video from their camera roll. Both are done through the LinkedIn mobile app.

    Source: Business2Community

    As for why you should be using LinkedIn Video, the simple answer is that LinkedIn is an excellent platform for reaching your professional audience – whether you’re trying to grow your personal brand, or your company’s brand.

    Facebook Live videos have their place as well, and some companies may still find that Facebook is a better place to connect with their fans.

    However, many organizations – especially B2B companies – will find that posting video to LinkedIn will earn them more conversions simply because of the audience that they reach.

    Another advantage is that your video isn’t going to get lost among a bunch of videos of someone’s baby on LinkedIn. People browsing this platform are already in business mode, so they’re likely to be more receptive to watching a 2-minute video on your consulting firm.

    Finally, LinkedIn Video offers its users more insights into who’s watching than most platforms. In addition to number of views, you’ll be able to see the top employers, locations, and titles for your video’s viewers. This is a huge opportunity for marketers, who will be able to tell more accurately who is connecting with their videos.

    Some basic guidelines for using LinkedIn Video

    Now, just because users on LinkedIn are already in professional mode, that doesn’t mean you should feel free to post boring videos.

    Just as with any piece of content you create for your brand, a video needs to be engaging, informative, and/or entertaining – for LinkedIn Video, you’ll want to emphasize those first two characteristics most of all.

    When you’re just starting out with this feature, it’s a good idea to invest some time in creating a professional-looking video. First impressions matter, and just a few small pieces of equipment can make a big difference in how your video looks.

    A smartphone tripod and a simple video lighting kit can do the trick. If you don’t have a suitable background, try a paper, green screen, or curtain backdrop. These can lend the video a more polished, professional look, while also keeping the focus on your subject.

    As for time, the best length is between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, although LinkedIn allows videos of up to 10 minutes in length.

    Types of videos that are best for LinkedIn

    LinkedIn Video lends itself to many different types of videos. It’s perfect for product demos, for example, as well as interviews with thought leaders and industry influencers, training videos, behind-the-scenes videos, and event coverage.

    Source: LinkedIn

    If possible, offer your followers a variety of video types – this will round out your brand’s storytelling and help keep viewers engaged.

    Why video is ideal for building professional relationships

    LinkedIn’s text-based features are great, and they were game-changing when they first started. Having a platform where you could essentially post an online resume, share your blog posts, and message industry colleagues really changed the way social media worked, taking it from a largely recreational activity to one that could have real positive effects on one’s career.

    But when it comes to building relationships, there’s still nothing like hearing someone’s voice and seeing their face. As we’re all discovering, text-based communication has some inherent flaws – including making it easier for participants to misunderstand each other, and harder for them to see each other’s perspective.

    Posting a video of yourself or your employees allows viewers to engage with your company on an entirely different level.

    They may see how you and your colleagues interact, giving them a glimpse of your culture.

    They can hear the enthusiasm in your voice as you discuss a new product or service.

    They can hear the authority in your voice as you give an interview about developments in your industry.

    In short, video can help give your followers more reasons to stay engaged with your company.

    Tips for maximizing reach

    To maximize reach on LinkedIn, you’ll want to do many of the same things you do with any piece of content you share. Choose accurate, relevant tags to describe your video’s topic. Employ relevant hashtags. Tag people and companies that you mention or who are connected to your video.

    You can also keep tabs on what’s trending by looking at your Trending tab on LinkedIn’s mobile app, or in the “What People Are Talking About Now” block on the desktop homepage.

    If you do choose to use one of the trending hashtags, just make sure that your video is truly related to it. Users will be quick to ignore your content if you seem to be trying to hijack trending topics.

    LinkedIn Video can give your brand an extra push on the platform, earning you more views, better engagement, and ultimately, more conversions. For more on video marketing, read “Want Killer Marketing Videos? 5 Keys to Writing Scripts.”

  • 8 Ways to Make Your Social Media Images Rock

    Social media without great images is like salad without dressing – in other words, bland.

    In fact, experts – including our own social team – regularly advise spending 3 to 5 times as much time crafting your image as you do your text. This is because, no matter how pithy or eloquent your words may be, the thing that most people remember will always be your image.

    Sad as this may be for the writers among us, it’s the cold hard truth. So what can you do to make your images stand out, among the tens of thousands (literally) of images that your followers see every day?

    Read our list to discover how you can make your social media images better than ever.

    Keep branding consistent

    The color, font style, and overall “feel” of your images should stay consistent with your branding for a number of reasons.

    For one, according to Ragan Consulting, brand recognition can be increased up to 80% when a consistent color scheme is employed.

    For another, having a consistent look and feel to your brand – no matter what that look and feel is like – conveys authority and can inspire trust. It can portray a brand as more stable and established.

    Companies that excel at social media marketing almost always have a closely defined, immediately recognizable image style that fits perfectly with their brand. Take Oreo, for instance:

    Source: Facebook.com/oreo

    Source: Facebook.com/oreo

    In addition to the obvious Oreo cookie that makes an appearance in every image the brand develops, the color scheme is bright and fun, and the style is cartoonish. Blue is their most often-used background color.

    While your images may not be quite as tightly styled as this global brand with millions of dollars in their marketing budget, you can certainly develop some image guidelines for color and style that will go far in helping you turn out consistent imagery.

    Adjust your images for different social media platforms

    Don’t worry – you don’t have to create totally different images for your different social media platforms (although if you have the resources, go for it!).

    What you do need to do, however, is take into account size, resolution, and text differences when you’re planning on sharing an image across your social channels.

    One of the simplest examples is Instagram. We all know Instagram images are square, not rectangular, which can make designing for Instagram different than designing for Facebook or Twitter.

    But design guidelines can differ within a platform too. On Facebook, a sponsored ad image has a different optimal size from a sponsored post image. You likely won’t have to make huge adjustments, but to make your images look their very best, you should make sure you look closely at the preview each time you develop an ad.

    Study up on some basic design principles

    Some things never change – and in visual design, those things are the basic principles of aesthetics and beauty.

    Balance, contrast, space, color – these are ideas most of us can sketch out in our heads, but if you really want to take your images to the next level, it’s worth taking some time to really study and understand these principles.

    And how about hierarchy (making the most important information the most noticeable)? Line (straight lines create order, curved lines a sense of movement)? Space (negative space can help emphasize the right thing)?

    Learning how to incorporate all these things into your design will help you create images that are not only attractive, but stay in people’s minds. For a great primer on basic design principles, read this Adobe Spark blog post.

    Choose text carefully

    Gone are the days when images were images and text was text. Today, images that include text pepper our social media feeds.

    When done right, this strategy offers the best of both design and text. Here are a few guidelines to make sure that your brand is doing it right, too.

    • Keep it simple. One sentence or a few bullet points is enough. Unless it’s a quote, avoid complex sentences.
    • Quotes and inspirational sayings usually perform very well, as long as they’re relevant to your brand.
    • Contests, promotions, and other limited-time campaigns can be great candidates for images with text. Include a deadline, simple rules, or a hashtag for maximum effect.
    • Make sure the image you choose is clean and offers enough empty space for your text to be clearly visible. If the image is complex or beautiful enough to stand on its own, maybe it should.

    Embrace repetition

    This is similar to the consistent branding message, but it’s a bit more encompassing than that.

    Repetition does, of course, mean using the same fonts, colors, style, and logos in your imagery, but it can also mean repeating a structure or pattern in your image campaign.

    #TipTuesday and #ThrowbackThursday are examples of this. If you start posting an image with tips every Tuesday with the #TipTuesday hashtag, then your audience will come to expect it. Consistency with this kind of branding is just as important as how your individual images look.

    You can also use the power of repetition for different types of posts. A clothing retailer might use a Pinterest-style fashion board image to announce sales. A close-up of an item of clothing might signify a new product or design line.

    Think about the categories your images generally fall into, and if there’s a way to create a consistent format for each category, do so.

    Make your calls-to-action visible and clickable

    Images are important, sure – but the whole point of sharing images is to increase your conversions.

    So when you’re including a call-to-action (CTA) with your image, make sure that it doesn’t get lost in the design. This is especially important for infographics, which can easily begin to look cluttered if too many images or too much text is stuffed in.

    If you’re designing for a Facebook or Instagram ad, this issue becomes one more of relevance than visibility. Your CTA will show up in its own box or bar, so all you have to do is make sure it fits with the message you’re trying to get across. Of course, if you want to really stand out, you can also include your CTA text within your image.

    And remember: CTAs should be specific enough to catch your audience’s attention, but broad enough to appeal to a wide range of users. Here’s a great example from Pipedrive, a B2B company that created a CRM for small sales teams.

    Source: Facebook.com/Pipedrive

    Try knolling

    You know those photos you see of objects arranged symmetrically (usually), and taken from above? That’s a form of knolling – it’s a photographic technique first popularized by a janitor in the famous Frank Gehry’s furniture store.

    This technique needn’t require too much photographic expertise, so it’s something you can probably do with a bit of practice and the right lighting.

    Knolling, as well as less rigid offshoots of the technique, has become incredibly popular as brands have increasingly embraced visual imagery. You’ll see food bloggers do it often, as well as fashion bloggers and brands. It can be a simple, striking way to display a product, showcase an office design, or emphasize a clean aesthetic.

    Be selective and careful about the images you share, retweet, repin, etc.

    Just as you should always double-check that there’s nothing offensive, objectionable, or otherwise unsuitable before sharing someone else’s social media post, you should be careful every time you share someone else’s photo.

    Certain images can become a sort of shorthand on particular social media platforms, and you don’t want to share a nice photo only to find you’ve jumped on a trend you didn’t know about. (Kind of like when DiGiorgno accidentally used the domestic violence survivor hashtag #WhyIStayed to advertise pizza on Twitter).

    In addition, there’s always a chance the images you share will become closely associated with your brand in your followers’ minds. You want to ensure that that association is a positive one.

    Want more advice on creating killer social media campaigns? Read “12 Must-Have Skills for Every Social Media Marketer.”

  • YouTube Video Optimization: Here’s What You Need to Know

    Did you know that YouTube is now the world’s second largest search engine?

    It’s not just a place to hold your videos, although many brands still treat YouTube that way. In a sense, your YouTube videos are to YouTube what your website is to Google – they’re your web presence on a massive search engine. It’s how people find you.

    Just like your website needs to be optimized so that it shows up as high as possible in Google’s rankings, your YouTube videos – and channel – should be optimized, too. Here’s everything you need to know to make your videos easier to find.

    Start with your video titles.

    Not surprisingly, your video title is one of the most important keys to helping people find you on YouTube.

    Titles should include keywords, but also be short, clear, and closely related to what’s actually in the video. People tend to click away quickly if a video doesn’t live up to its title, and there are literally billions of other videos they can watch instead of yours. So do your best to keep them with you by carefully choosing your titles.

    In addition, titles with exact keyword matches tend to do slightly better in YouTube’s rankings. Here’s a graph from Backlinko that illustrates the relationship between keyword-rich titles and YouTube search rankings:

    Source: Backlinko via Hubspot

    Tag your videos.

    You know that sidebar with “Suggested Videos” that pops up any time you’re watching a video on YouTube? That sidebar can be a huge source of clicks for your brand videos, so you want to make sure you make it easy for YouTube to figure out what kind of content it should associate you with.

    Tags are how you do that.

    Properly choosing tags is similar to choosing keywords. If you don’t already have a varied list of keywords that are relevant to your brand, then use the Google Keyword Planner or another keyword planning tool to generate that list.

    Once you’ve got your keywords, you have to narrow it down to the keywords that actually describe what’s in your video. It may be tempting to choose popular, generic tags, but while this may get your video in front of more eyes, it doesn’t mean that those eyes will take the time to watch it.

    Relevant, specific tags, however, will make it more likely that people who are actually interested in your brand or what’s in your video will find it. It will also pop up in their Suggested Videos sidebar. Then, once they’ve watched one video by you, they’re more likely to click on your profile or channel to see the other videos you’ve posted.

    To make it easier to tag your videos properly, YouTube has a “default tags” feature that allows you to set tags that will auto-populate for every video you post. This is so you don’t have to add the exact same tags to each and every video. For example, if you’re a pianist posting videos of your performances, your default tags would include “piano,” “pianist,” and “music.”

    From there, you’d just add in the video-specific tags, like the name of the piece you were playing, the type of music, the location of the performance, etc.

    Choose video lengths carefully.

    For most brands – unless you’re creating a short film, like Lyft, H&M, Marriott, and so many other brands have done – short videos perform better than longer ones.

    According to research by Animoto, two-thirds of consumers prefer videos that are less than 60 seconds. However, remember that you will lose viewers as your video continues no matter how long or short your video may be.

    You’ll lose viewers as your video progresses, so place CTAs and vital info at the beginning. #videomarketing Click To Tweet

    For videos of 1-2 minutes in length, Wistia found that 75% of viewers will watch till the end. For videos of 4-5 minutes, that drops to less than 60%. For this reason, you want to make sure you place your call to action and the most important information – customer testimonials, for example – toward the beginning of the video.

    And a good rule of thumb is that if you can get all the information you need into a 1-2 minute long video, do it. With so many pieces of media competing for their attention, consumers want to get what they need quickly, without a bunch of extraneous lead-in or long opening shots.

    Optimizing your YouTube Channel

    Once you’ve optimized your individual videos, you’ve got to look at your channel as a whole. Here are some tips for making your channel perform as well as possible.

    Spend some time on your channel icon and art.

    You want your channel art to match your brand, so take the time to personalize your icon and art. Not sure what these things are? Here’s a helpful diagram from Buffer:

    Source: Buffer, showing art from Vsauce

    The icon is an image that will show up across the web when people search for your YouTube channel, so it should be easily identifiable whether it’s showing up large or small.

    The channel art, or header image, is specific to your channel and will show up differently depending on the device your viewers are using. To ensure that it will show up well across all devices, use YouTube’s support guidelines for image size and text placement here.

    Your channel header is a chance to not only capture viewers’ attention, but also to give some information about who you are and what your channel is about. Have a short (one sentence only) description of your channel? A posting schedule? A company slogan? Your channel header is a great place to put it.

    Introduce people to you and your brand in the featured video.

    Your featured video – the video that shows up front and center when people click on to your channel – is the perfect place to introduce people to who you are.

    Your channel’s featured video is your chance to introduce viewers to your brand. #YouTubeMarketing Click To Tweet

    This is your opportunity to show people who’ve never visited your channel and who don’t know much about your brand who you are and what you do.

    Take a look at our CEO, Shama Hyder’s, YouTube channel intro video:

    In just 34 seconds, Shama tells viewers exactly what they’ll get on her channel: news and advice on digital marketing, technology, and business. It’s a great way to introduce new viewers to both Shama and Marketing Zen, and encourage them to subscribe. It also leads them directly into watching episodes of Shama TV, short videos about marketing and business trends affecting the digital world.

    Your YouTube presence can be a huge asset to your brand – if it’s optimized and organized well. For more on utilizing video in your marketing, read our post “3 Reasons Why Video is Vital to Your Marketing Strategy.”

  • Why Inbound Marketing is Perfect for Your Niche Business

    The internet has been kind to niche businesses.

    Before the advent of digital marketing, niche businesses had to spend their marketing budgets on advertisements and campaigns that were totally irrelevant to a large percentage of the people who saw them.

    With digital marketing, that changed. Businesses could target their ads more narrowly, ensuring that they’d reach a larger number of potential clients.

    Inbound marketing goes even further than digital marketing, as far as effectiveness for niche businesses. In fact, it’s just about a perfect match.

    What is inbound marketing?

    First, a definition – what’s inbound marketing, anyway? Simply put, it’s a series of connected, strategized marketing behaviors that are designed to bring potential customers to you – specifically, to your content or website.

    This is opposed to outbound marketing, which comprises traditional marketing tactics like sign advertising, direct mail, billboards, etc. Even email marketing can be outbound marketing (although if you’re doing it correctly, using contacts who’ve opted in to receiving your emails, it’s a form of inbound).

    Since so much of digital marketing is inbound, what’s the difference between the two terms? In reality, the difference is slight. Technically, however, digital marketing can be understood as various, individual marketing activities that a brand engages in – social media, blogging, writing whitepapers, etc.

    Inbound marketing refers to the big-picture strategy that a brand’s digital marketing activities serve. It’s more about how all of those elements are interconnected to produce desired results.

    Why is inbound marketing so effective for niche businesses?

    So why does is inbound marketing something your niche business should be investing its time and resources in?

    There are many reasons – but here are a few to start with.

    Niche businesses need effective targeting even more than mainstream brands.

    While targeting can help every brand trying to build an audience and attract new customers, targeting can be especially helpful for businesses that serve a very particular type of customer, or that offer a very particular type of service.

    Effective targeting is even more important for niche brands than it is for mainstream brands with wider audiences. Click To Tweet

    Take, for example, MZ’s client EyeCare 20/20. This New Jersey ophthalmologist office needs to attract a specific type of customer: people who are considering or are in need of specialty eye care like LASIK or cataract surgery.

    But EyeCare 20/20 doesn’t need to attract those people if they’re in Canada, or California. They need to target people in need of eye surgery who also live in or near East Hanover, NJ, where the office is located.

    With outbound marketing, like a print ad or a billboard, the office could reach people in a single geographic location – but 90% of the people who saw it probably wouldn’t need eye surgery.

    With inbound marketing, however, EyeCare 20/20 can hit both their targets, increasing their ROI and improving their qualified lead generation.

    Inbound marketing helps niche businesses increase ROI and improve qualified lead generation. Click To Tweet

    Here’s why.

    Creating original content that your audience values helps people find you online.

    We all know content marketing is key to succeeding in the digital age – but do you know why?

    Part of it is that consumers today demand it. They don’t want sales pitches; they want content that gives them something of value, whether that’s making them laugh for a couple of minutes or teaching them something new.

    But there’s more to content marketing than just that. For one thing, posting original content on a regular basis gives Google more pages on your website to crawl. This can positively influence your search rankings.

    In addition, the more quality content you have on the web, the more chances your customers have to find you.

    If you have a blog, for example, you’ll almost certainly be referencing a wider range of keywords than you have on your site alone. A wider range of – still relevant – keywords can reach more people, drawing in more qualified leads and leading to more conversions.

    Publicizing that content on social media can help you attract new customers, retain current customers, and build relationships with others in the industry.

    When you’re posting original content on a schedule, you’ve got a whole lot more to share on social media. Sharing your blog posts, podcasts, etc. on your various social media platforms will give your fans something to engage with – and hopefully, encourage them to click and visit your website.

    But there’s the all-important relationship-building aspect of social media, too. Niche businesses especially can benefit from developing relationships with others leading brands in their industry.

    Working with industry influencers, for example, allows your business to reach new audiences.

    Whether you’re guest blogging on an influencer’s site, asking an influencer to do an Instagram takeover, or appearing as a guest on an influencer’s YouTube channel, you’re gaining access to that influencer’s audience (and you should make sure that they’re getting access to yours, as well – relationships are a two-way street, after all).

    In addition, staying active on social media, engaging with others in your industry, and positioning yourself as a thought leader by sharing your experience and views online all help you build credibility. And in a niche industry, credibility could be the reason that a potential customer picks you over your competitor.

    The content you create as part of your inbound marketing strategy can literally attract new leads while you sleep.

    Ads, whether online or offline, have a shelf life. Emails can be deleted. Direct mail is ineffective and usually ends up in the recycling bin.

    A whitepaper that you post on your website, however, could attract a new lead at 3 a.m. this morning, or on a Saturday three years from now. Once a piece of content is up on the internet, it’s up there for good (which is an important thing to remember before dashing off a tweet or Facebook post, by the way).

    This is why it’s so important that you post original, quality content on a regular basis. Each piece of content can be thought of as a lead generation tool – and one that will go on working for you indefinitely.

    Inbound marketing is the perfect strategy for niche businesses of all types, as it lets you accurately target your highly specific audience and build credibility in your industry. For more, read “5 Awesome Digital Marketing Strategies for Niche Businesses.”

  • 6 Ways to Generate More Qualified Leads from Your Website

    If there’s one thing you want your website to be doing for your brand, it’s generating leads.

    But as we all know, these days lead generation isn’t about quantity. It’s about quality – you want qualified leads, not a motley collection of email addresses from every person who visits your website.

    So how do you optimize your website for qualified lead generation? Here are 6 key steps to take.

    Make your site responsive, or mobile-friendly

    Mobile searches have become such a huge percentage of Google searches that in 2016, Google announced it was going to experiment with mobile-first indexing. This means that the search engine will use a site’s mobile version as its primary source for the purposes of indexing the site, rather than the desktop version.

    What does this mean for you? It means that having a mobile-friendly, or better yet, responsive website is more important than ever. A responsive website simply means that your site automatically responds to the size screen that you’re using, whether that’s a little smartphone or huge desktop monitor.

    The reason this matters when it comes to lead generation is that people are a lot less likely to stay on your site if it doesn’t show up well on their mobile device. They may have trouble finding your newsletter sign-up button, or just get frustrated when they have to scroll back and forth to see your entire webpage.

    One advantage responsive design has over mobile design is that it allows you to have just one version of your website. You won’t need one for desktop and one for mobile devices (designated by an “m.” in your URL).

    Since mobile isn’t going anywhere, it makes sense to invest in responsive design now, especially if you’re already thinking of making changes to your website.

    Create targeted landing pages

    You’ve probably heard the startling, but true, statement that humans now have an average attention span shorter than a goldfish’s (a goldfish can concentrate on a task for 9 seconds, whereas we humans now last about 8 seconds, down from 12 in 2000).

    Enter targeted landing pages. If you want to increase your conversion rate, creating targeted, hyper-concise landing pages is an excellent way to do so.

    In fact, research by Optimonk shows that conversions increase up to 15% when targeted landing pages are utilized.

    So what’s a targeted landing page? It’s usually a popup, but sometimes a full webpage, that appears on a brand’s site when you click on a button in, say, an email or a social ad.

    Targeted landing pages should be tied to one, and only one, specific action. Because of this, you’ll want to be able to create individual landing pages based on specific ads or calls to action.

    Here’s an example of one from The Atlantic Monthly. When you click on a link in an email advertising their daily newsletter, this is the landing page you end up on:

    Source: The Atlantic Monthly

    It’s clean, simple, and it gets right to the point. You’re not signing up for lots of newsletters – you’re signing up for one. You’re not filling in a long form with your name, email, and interests – you’re just giving them your email address. And customers are a lot more likely to fill out a form if it’s quick and easy.

    Use a free lead generation tool

    Small businesses – and large ones, for that matter – have more online tools at their disposal now than ever before, and many are free.

    Lead generation tools like Hubspot Marketing Free and Sumo can help you capture more emails through landing page creation, easy email sign-up pop-ups, and more. Hubspot Marketing Free will also pull in publicly available information on every lead who signs up for your email list.

    There’s really no reason NOT to be using a free tool like this, since they require no budget and no risk.

    Do an SEO audit of your site

    This is definitely one of the more time-consuming ways you can get more qualified leads, but it’s also an important step in making your website as effective as possible.

    An SEO audit means going through each page of your site and optimizing it so that it’s easily searchable and more likely to show up near the top of search engine rankings. You’ll want a wide range of keywords, and a mix of high-ranking and mid-ranking ones, to get the best results.

    Because SEO audits can be complex, this is one of those tasks that is usually best delegated to an agency – unless you have an SEO whiz on your staff. But if you just want to do some casual SEO, Google’s Keyword Planner tool can be very helpful.

    Use a mix of gated and ungated content

    Strategically using gated content, or content that visitors have to pay for in the form of an email address, can be a great way to up your qualified lead numbers.

    Strike the right balance between gated and ungated content so you increase your qualified leads without driving people away from your site. Click To Tweet

    This is because leads who probably won’t visit your site a second time will be a lot less likely to give you their email addresses than those who are actually interested in what you have to offer.

    Of course, you’ve got to strike the right balance between gated and ungated (or totally free) content. Too much gated content will decrease all your leads, qualified and unqualified. Too little will result in large numbers of leads, but lower percentages of qualified ones.

    Incorporate client testimonials, with pictures if possible

    Client testimonials can be highly effective in earning the trust of your site visitors, making it more likely that they’ll convert.

    Choose testimonials that offer some detail, as those are the ones that will be the most convincing. You don’t want visitors wondering whether those generic positive testimonials are actually real.

    Adding photos or, better yet, videos of the people whose words you’re using – with their permission – will up the trust factor even more. You don’t need fancy headshots – a simple profile picture will do. The goal here is simply to make readers feel confident that there are actual people behind those happy reviews.

    Adding photos or videos to your testimonials page can earn visitors’ trust, increasing conversions. #digitalmarketing Click To Tweet

    Bizzabo, an event marketing company, incorporates testimonials in a variety of formats, from tweets (see below) to quotes to video.

    Source: Bizzabo

    Want more on increasing your qualified leads and conversions? Read “50 Pro Tips for Boosting Your Brand Reach and Converting More Customers.”

  • 7 Email Marketing Trends You’ll Need to Know About in 2018

    Email is still one of the most effective ways to communicate with your customers, and this isn’t going to change in 2018. 91% of all U.S. consumers use email and 66% have purchased something online as the result of receiving an email or an email marketing campaign. Statistics show that email is still a major player when it comes to content marketing. Email is even more important if your business operates strictly online because, unlike social media platforms that can disappear or change their algorithms at any time, email has proven it’s here to stay.

    Email marketing trends in 2018 will continue along the same path that 2017 email marketing did. Emails will become more automated, include more videos, be more personalized, and more interactive.

    Source: https://www.emailmonday.com/email-marketing-future

    Continuing with some of the trends established in 2017, email trends for 2018 fall into seven broad categories.

    • Automation,
    • Mobile-friendly,
    • Video,
    • Personalisation,
    • Interactivity,
    • Data, and
    • Content.

    Automation

    Small businesses in particular will need to take advantage of automation if they want to stay competitive. The key behind automation is that it’s designed to save businesses time and money. It’s also linked to consumer behaviour such as filling out a form or adding something to their cart on your website. This means that an automated email is 70.5% more likely to be opened. It provides information to your customers exactly when they need it.

    Mobile-Friendly

    There’s a good chance that your audience is accessing their email on their smart phone. This means it’s important that the emails you send can be easily read on a mobile device. By the year 2018, as many as 80% of consumers will be accessing their email via their mobile device. When thinking about mobile viewing, keep your subject lines short, your content concise, and use clear calls to action and engaging preheader text.

    Video

    Video requires little effort to understand and is quickly and easily consumed, especially on mobile devices. Until recently, many email management systems (EMS) were unable to display embedded video but this is quickly changing. If your EMS doesn’t allow embedded video watch for this to change very soon. In the meantime, animated GIF’s can be used in place of video or you can even use an image with a play button as a way to link to a site where your customers can play your video.

    Personalisation

    Mass impersonal email blasts just don’t work. Personalize emails by using your customers’ names when you have them. Emails that use people’s first names get higher open rates than those that simply say “Dear Customer”. It’s also a good idea to personalize the “from” portion of your email. It’s important to make sure it’s clear who the email is coming from. Emails sent from a personalized account are more likely to be opened than those that are sent from a “no reply” address.

    Create thoughtful and personalized email subject lines that are relevant to your subscribers. It’s important that the subject line gives your readers an idea of what your email will be about and isn’t just something catchy to try and trick them into opening your email. Nobody likes to be tricked.

    Interactivity

    Interactivity will increase in 2018. Increase engagement by including GIF’s, quizzes, countdown timers, and add-to-cart functionality in your emails.

    Another way to increase interactivity and engagement is to send to lists that actually want to hear from you. Stop sending to lists with low open rates. Low open and engagement rates hurt your domain reputation and your chances of engaging with other customers who are interested in hearing from you. Don’t be afraid to remove subscribers who aren’t opening your emails.

    Have a goal for your email before you hit send. Think about what you want your subscribers to do, if anything, before drafting your email. Identify the purpose of your email, then write the entire email with that in mind. Make it easy for your subscribers to do what you want them to do. If you want them to read your blog post, then provide a link to the post. Provide more than one way for your subscribers to achieve your goal by using links in the text of your email, and buttons or calls to action at the end of your email.

    Data

    Use the built-in analytics that come with your email management system to improve your open rates. Think of the analytics as feedback and make note of how the numbers move (up or down) when you change something. This often requires a lot of testing.

    Play around with the day you send your emails and see what works the best for your subscribers. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are the most popular days to send emails so an email sent on one of those days is not as likely to be opened because your subscribers will be inundated with emails from other lists they’ve joined. Focus on subscribers who have submitted a form on your website. Don’t buy email lists.

    Keep an eye on your analytics. If unsubscribing seems to be a trend, then you’ll want to find out what’s going on. This is also true if people aren’t opening your emails. Respect your subscribers’ wishes. If you are marked as spam then immediately stop sending emails and see if you can find out what may have caused your subscribers to think of your emails as spammy.

    The definition of spam has changed. It’s no longer just emails to people who haven’t given you permission to email them – it’s also email that gets sent to subscribers who never open your emails. This is called graymail. Unsubscribes can actually be a good thing because it reduces your chances of sending graymail and increases the chances that your subscribers are actually reading your emails.

    Content

    Another way to increase your open rates and reduce the amount of graymail you send is to make sure you’re sending great emails that customers want to read. Think about your ideal customer and what they want to know. Do they want tips and tricks, personal stories, or the latest deals? Maybe they want all of those things. Knowing and understanding your customers is key. A good rule of thumb is to send emails that provide value to your customers 80% of the time and promotional emails the other 20%.

    Almost 70% of consumers have purchased online as a result of an email or an email marketing campaign, so it’s definitely worth putting some thought into your email marketing strategy. If you’d like help making your emails stand out, contact our team of experts at Marketing Zen today.

  • Content Marketing Trends to Watch for in 2018

    Are we entering the golden age of content marketing?

    Well, it depends on whom you ask – but one thing is for certain, and that’s that 2018 is going to be a wild, fast-paced year for the content marketers who are ready to go all-in.

    Video continues to overtake other types of content. Enterprises are placing more and more emphasis on original content. Commitment to content marketing is increasing in marketing departments of all shapes and sizes.

    All of that is great, but what does it mean for you and your brand? We’re going to break down a few of the most important trends right here, right now.

    Blogging just isn’t enough anymore.

    Until fairly recently, having an active, engaging blog was enough to earn you plenty of attention, both from Google’s algorithm and from your customers.

    You might mix up your formats now and then – post an infographic here, a video there – but by and large, brands that committed to traditional blogging and turned out posts on a regular basis didn’t have to worry about falling behind.

    Blogging alone won’t be enough in 2018. #trends #contentmarketing Click To Tweet

    In 2018, that won’t be the case.

    But before you get too worried, it’s important to say that this doesn’t mean that you’re going to have to turn out tons of blog content in addition to a bunch of other types of content.

    The way we’ve approached content marketing has been slowly changing for years, and this is just the latest step. When content marketing was new, everyone focused on getting as much content out there as possible, regardless of misspellings, grammatical errors, keyword stuffing, and other major no-no’s.

    As the industry matured, the focus moved to quality over quantity. Instead of purely measuring shares and reach, we’re measuring engagement.

    In 2018, the focus is still on quality, but in an expanded group of formats.

    Take video. It’s becoming increasingly important to content marketing and it’s not going away. We’re seeing actual short films come out of a wide variety of business marketing departments, instead of just the ones, like Marriott, with massive budgets and in-house content studios.

    Podcasts, apps, commercials – succeeding at content marketing in 2018 will require brands to identify and embrace their strengths, then apply them to a variety of content formats. As Neil Patel writes, content teams will need more than just writers.

    At the same time, however, you don’t want quality to suffer because you’re branching out into something new. Pulling back on a blog or podcast series for a little while to work on something new and awesome won’t destroy your brand. Just make sure you’re getting help in the areas you need to, whether that’s video editing or app-building.

    There will be more ways to consume content away from our screens.

    TED Talks have been discussing the evolution of technology away from screens for years, and it’s definitely happening.

    We can thank the Internet of Things (IoT) for this. Smart devices like Google Home and the Amazon Echo are allowing content marketers to think in completely new terms. Amazon’s Alexa Skills allow developers to create voice-activated apps – and those apps provide an incredible opportunity to branch into new content formats.

    As VentureBeat reports, Sesame Street has an Alexa Skill that allows children (with parental consent, of course) to call Elmo and learn about the alphabet and numbers. The Skill Cook Reference can suggest wine and beer pairings for specific foods, among many other things.

    With AI and the IoT growing more sophisticated, the sky is the limit when it comes to content.

    To stay competitive, your brand should be considering how to make use of these new capabilities, even if you’re not ready to launch an AI app just yet. Since these technologies will become more widespread and easier to access, planning for how to integrate them into your content marketing is key.

    In 2018, we’ll see more ways to consume content away from screens. #contentmarketing #trends Click To Tweet

    Content marketing is not advertising (no, really, it isn’t).

    Joe Pulizzi at the Content Marketing Institute recently wrote about the increase in budgets for content marketing that he’s been seeing worldwide.

    Research bears this out: in a 2017 CMI study, 39% of B2B marketers expected to increase their content marketing budgets over the next 12 months. Curata found that 75% of marketers are increasing investment in content marketing.

    This is good news, right? Well, yes, he says – except he also notes that these budgets are very campaign-oriented. In other words, they’re treating content marketing as if it’s a bunch of advertising campaigns run one after the other.

    This misses the point of content marketing. While it’s true that campaigns are a part of any strong content marketing strategy, your content marketing must be greater than the sum of its parts if it’s really going to bring you results.

    In other words, it has to be more than something that may be slightly different from, but basically still amounts to, a string of advertising campaigns.

    Your content marketing has to be unique, relevant, and compelling. If it’s not, then all the budget increases in the world won’t bring you real results.

    Brands will have to master the art of creating content for the micro-moment.

    “Micro-moments” refer to a specific type of consumer behavior that Google identified and named back in 2015.

    It’s that impulse that we all – 96% of us, to be exact – have experienced, probably on a daily basis. We think of a question we have, and we pull out our phones to get the answer. It doesn’t matter if it’s “How long do elephants live?” or “Where’s the best pizza place near me?”

    No matter the question, we expect an immediate answer.

    This has greatly influenced the way consumers interact with brands. When they have questions about your product or service – maybe they want reviews of your latest shoe style, or testimonials from your consulting clients – they expect that information to be easy to find, follow, and understand.

    The last thing a consumer wants to do nowadays is dig through your website to find the answer to their question. A single click (or tap, since we’re talking mobile here) is optimal.

    How does that affect your content marketing? It means that your content marketing team has to refocus their efforts on creating content for every stage of the sales funnel, as well as content pieces that anticipate and address some of your customers’ most common questions.

    The best way to see how well you’re addressing these micro-moments with your content is to take the time to do a full content audit. Do you have pieces that address customer questions from every stage of the funnel, from awareness to decision?

    If not, that’s your homework for 2018.

    Content marketing in 2018 will be more comprehensive, more creative, and more challenging. If you need to up your content marketing game, read our post “6 Tips for Creating Content That Converts.”

  • 5 Invaluable Social Media Marketing Tips for Niche Industries

    Establishing a strong social media presence can be a challenge for businesses in niche industries.

    When you’re just starting, you may have no idea how to begin getting followers on social media. What will they want to see from you? Will the customers you already have even care if you’re on Facebook? What kind of pictures could you possibly post on Instagram?

    We’ve heard all these questions, and more, from our niche clients (many of whom happen to be B2B), and it’s true – it takes a lot more thought to create a solid Facebook post for, say, a B2B software sales firm than it does a B2C fashion retailer.

    But that is not to say it can’t be done. In fact, niche industries can thrive on social media, just like more mainstream ones. All it takes is a little strategy.

    To help you on your way, here are 5 invaluable social media marketing tips for niche industries.

    Give your brand a face

    One issue many niche businesses have is that they don’t come across as personal.

    Although these are hardly niche companies, think of Microsoft or Apple without Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Those high-profile individuals served as the faces of their massive companies, lending both businesses a radically higher appeal than they could have gotten simply as tech companies.

    You certainly don’t have to have someone as big as Gates or Jobs at the helm to reap the benefits of personalizing your company.

    Choose your founder, CEO, CMO, COO, or another high-level person who’s willing to take on the role. If they’re already on social media for personal branding reasons, this can be an easy transition.

    All they have to do is make sure that information about the business is in their social media profiles, and that they frequently share posts from the company’s social media accounts with their own followers.

    If you’re a smaller niche business, it’s perfectly feasible to start small. You could begin by using the photo and name of a real person at your business for each of your blog posts, or have the person in charge of the company Instagram account include a few co-workers in your posts on a regular basis.

    The goal is to get beyond the image of the “faceless corporation.” The best way to do that simply depends on your business.

    Put a name and face to your niche business’s social media profiles to drive engagement. #socialmediamarketing Click To Tweet

    Prioritize thought leadership, and share widely

    What is it that sets your company apart from the other companies that are doing the same, or similar, things as you?

    Maybe it’s a particular value you bring to your customers. Perhaps it’s a unique take on your industry. Whatever it may be, one highly effective method of sharing that thing with current and potential customers is thought leadership.

    This goes hand-in-hand with personalizing your company. You want others in your industry to look to you for informed opinions on new trends, on strategy, and on other important topics that influence your business and others like it.

    You can do this by producing your own content, like whitepapers, blog posts, and explainer videos, and sharing them widely on your own social media profiles.

    Another great way to get your message out is to put time into influencer marketing.

    (Related content: Influencer Marketing from A to Z: a Complete Guide for Businesses)

    Seek out other influencers and thought leaders in your space, and build those relationships. Comment on their content, engage with them on social media, and share their posts with your own audience.

    Once you’ve established a relationship, you may be able to guest blog on an influencer’s site, or partner with another industry leader for a webinar or virtual roundtable.

    Being a thoughtful, yet frequent commentator on important industry issues will reflect highly on you, and by extension, on your business.

    Being a thoughtful, yet frequent commentator on important industry issues will reflect highly on you and your business. Click To Tweet

    Make sure your online and offline marketing are working together

    Many niche industries rely heavily on offline marketing strategies, as well as online ones. Trade shows, conferences, product demos, training sessions – if you’re engaging in any of these for marketing purposes, you want to make sure that your online marketing is supporting these efforts, and vice versa.

    The quickest and easiest way to bring these two worlds together? Live tweeting. If you’re at a keynote address during a conference, share salient thoughts from the speaker via Twitter, as they happen (being sure to give proper credit to the speaker, naturally).

    In order to successfully live-tweet, you do need some preparation. You’ve got to know the speaker’s Twitter handle, for one, and if there’s a hashtag that the conference or speaker is using (and there almost certainly is), you need to know that, too.

    For a full guide to how to live-tweet an event, check out our friends at HootSuite’s blog post “5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Live-Tweet an Event.”

    Live tweeting isn’t the only way to link up your online and offline marketing activities, however. Include a branded hashtag on your event signage, and ask customers to post selfies using the hashtag. You could advertise a promotion via your social media channels that can only be redeemed in person, at one of your offline locations or events.

    Use analytics, as well as manual research, to ensure you’re giving your best customers the content they want

    Creating and sharing content without a documented strategy behind it is like throwing a handful of darts at a dartboard – if you get a bull’s eye, it’ll be from sheer luck.

    The same is true of your content marketing. If you’re creating and curating content without knowing for sure that it’s working, then you’re wasting resources.

    This is especially true for niche industries, which often have a narrower group of topics to choose from.

    So how do you get that bull’s eye on purpose, instead of by chance? Analytics.

    Make a habit of checking your social media analytics regularly to see what’s performing well, and what’s failing. Do opinion posts from your CEO get shared more than posts on industry trends? Are your video case studies getting more views than your video testimonials?

    Use the analytics to take your audience’s pulse, and when you see what’s working, make more of it.

    If you’ve got star customers who are also active on social media, it can’t hurt to follow them and see what they’re saying and sharing about your brand (essentially this is a micro form of social listening). You’ll gain a better idea of what they like about you, what keeps them coming back, and what they think of your content. Those insights can help inform your content strategy going forward.

    Use social media to improve your customer service – which will, in turn, boost your social media marketing

    Social media is an immediate, effective way to address certain customer service issues – at the very least, it’s a way to acknowledge customer complaints or comments right away, and direct them to the channels that will allow you to help them.

    One of the reasons that social media has such potential for improving your company’s image (or, if used poorly, hurting it) is, of course, that it’s public. If a customer posts a question on your Facebook page, and it’s answered quickly and courteously, your other Facebook followers will see that – and it will likely boost their positive image of you.

    Given the public nature of social media, however, it’s also vital that you use careful judgment as far as when you should be directing customers to more private channels like email, phone, or your website’s customer service forms.

    If you direct every question to a private channel, you can create the impression that you have something to hide. But if you try to manage an escalating conversation out in the open, you could end up with a PR nightmare on your hands.

    In general, angry or unsatisfied customers are best served with a quick, but sincere apology and a request to talk via another, private channel.

    On the positive side of things, if you have customers who come out of their service issue feeling very happy with the result, it’s a nice touch to thank them publicly on your social media channels. Don’t share any details of the issue, but something like “Thanks for letting us help with your issue!” can be a gentle way of acknowledging the interaction.

    Niche businesses don’t have to hide behind vague Twitter posts or an endless stream of shared blog posts when it comes to social media. For more on niche marketing, read our post “5 Awesome Digital Marketing Strategies for Niche Businesses.”

  • 6 Steps to Creating a Documented Content Strategy for Your Brand

    Even though most of us digital marketers know that content marketing is deeply important for our digital marketing strategies, there’s a strong temptation to simply wing it, and see what happens.

    We’ll think of a topic that would be great for a blog post one morning, write the post that afternoon, and post it before we sign off for the day. We’ll see an interesting article and tweet it to our followers, whether or not it fits into a larger strategic plan. We’ll reply to a few Facebook comments and share the blog post we just wrote with our followers.

    Then we’ll start this process all over again the next day.

    While this may be content marketing – in a sense – it’s certainly not strategic. It’s reactive, a fly-by-night approach to what should be a much more thought-out and planned process.

    After all, if you’re putting resources into creating and sharing content, you ought to be striving for the highest ROI possible. And while this reactive social behavior is a part of attaining that, it’s certainly not enough on its own.

    So what are you waiting for? Here’s a 6-step process to creating a documented content strategy.

    1. Put the brakes on creation.

    It may sound counterintuitive, but the first thing you want to do when developing a documented content strategy is to stop creating new content – just for a while.

    This is because you want to free up your time to focus everything on putting together your new strategy.

    After all, one of the reasons you’re creating this strategy in the first place is to ensure that you don’t waste resources on content that’s not working for you. If you’re still putting in hours on developing blog posts, you may find that, once you’ve finished your strategy, those blog posts don’t fit in with the direction you want to go.

    To keep your social media feeds fresh during this time, consider scheduling posts of some of your older or evergreen content, or focusing more heavily on sharing curated content.

    2. Determine your audience personas – whom you’ll be trying to reach with your content.

    One frequent issue experienced by brands that don’t have a documented content strategy is that they’re just guessing when it comes to who their audiences are and what kind of content they want to see.

    For instance, you may know that one of your brand’s audiences is young women – but that doesn’t tell you that much.

    To really begin creating content that succeeds, that converts site visitors into customers, you need to know who, specifically, you’re trying to reach. To do that, you need to create your audience personas.

    I won’t go into depth here, because creating audience (or buyer) personas is an extensive process, but basically, you’ll be creating a hypothetical person to represent each of your target audiences.

    Audience personas are huge when creating a documented #contentmarketing strategy. Click To Tweet

    If one target audience is young women, you would develop a female persona in the age range that you’re targeting. Give her a name, a job title and job description, income level, geographic location, hobbies, which social media platforms she uses, where she hangs out online, and any other details you can add. This becomes something you can refer back to when you’re trying to think of content topics that will appeal to your real-life customers.

    For a full run-down of this important exercise, read our post “The Ultimate Guide to Buyer Personas.”

    3. Brainstorm content ideas and formats.

    Once you’ve gotten your buyer personas figured out, it’s time to start brainstorming content.

    One of the great things about having your buyer or audience personas sketched out is you should find it easier to come up with solid topics.

    You can go about this in one of two ways. You can simply brainstorm topics that land all over the map, and figure out how they fit with each persona later. Or you could go through each persona, and brainstorm content specifically for that persona.

    If you’re having trouble coming up with blog post ideas – and who among us hasn’t, at one point or another – there are a few helpful tools out there that can help you.

    One is HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator. All you have to do is put in between 1 and 3 nouns, and the generator will come up with 5 different blog post titles to get you started. I put in the keyword “digital marketing” and got these results:

    Screenshot of HubSpot blog post generator results featuring the keyword “digital marketing”

    Source: HubSpot

    Another fun one is the Blogabout blog topic generator, which has you fill in one or two blanks to create a blog post title.

    screenshot of Blogabout blog title generator showing the title “8 Ways to Overcome the B2B Blogging Blues”

    Source: Blogabout by Impact

    Of course, you don’t have to resort to online tools to come up with great topics.

    You can always do it the old-fashioned way.

    Ask your colleagues what they’ve been reading about online.

    Keep a bookmarks folder of blog posts that you find memorable or compelling.

    Jot down ideas as they come to you, whether or not you need to come up with content right then (because that’s another amazing benefit of creating a documented content strategy – no more having to come up with content ideas every single day).

    Your goal is to come up with enough content ideas – blog posts and/or webinars, whitepapers, e-books, etc. as well as social media posts – to last you a month. If you can initiate this process and keep up with it, you’ll always be a month ahead as far as knowing what content is coming down the pipeline.

    4. Map your content to your personas and the customer buying journey.

    Once you’ve developed a substantial stable of content ideas, you’ll want to map each piece of content to the appropriate buyer persona. This is in order to ensure that you maintain a balance of content types, as well as balanced outreach to your various different customer groups.

    In addition, it’s helpful to know where your various content items fall on the customer journey. These ought to be fairly balanced, as well.

    Do you have blog posts that will appeal to people who’ve never heard of your brand, and stumble upon it through a social ad or a link shared by a friend?

    How about content for people considering purchasing your product or service? And for current customers whom you want to retain?

    Chances are, you’ll already have topics and formats that will appeal to people at each of these points from your brainstorming session, but if you don’t, take some time to fill in the gaps.

    5. Plan which channels you’ll be focusing on and create a schedule or timeline.

    Thanks to those incredible buyer personas you spent so much time creating, as well as your analytics, you should know where your audience divides its time online.

    Use that information to decide which social media channels you’ll focus on when it comes to sharing your content. There’s Facebook and Twitter, of course, but how about Pinterest? Highly visual products often perform exceptionally well there. How about Instagram? Snapchat?

    Once you’ve decided where you’ll focus your energies, it’s time to create a schedule or timeline.

    This is where social media management tools can come in handy. Using a tool like Hootsuite or Buffer, you can create and schedule posts on multiple channels, all on one dashboard. This can be extremely helpful if you’re wanting to push out multiple posts per day, or several posts on different channels.

    Whether or not you’re using a social media management tool, you’ll want to keep a spreadsheet listing your content titles/topics, formats, platforms, and when they should go out.

    6. Follow through.

    This is both the easiest and the hardest part of developing a documented content strategy: sticking to it.

    That doesn’t mean that you need to write each month’s posts and schedule date in stone. Far from it – it’s vital that you build in some flexibility in case a great content opportunity comes up, like the chance to guest post on a popular blog, or a newsworthy event offers a chance to write a timely opinion post.

    However, for this strategy to work, you do need to make a concerted effort to follow through on all the great ideas you’ve put into it. This will take practice, but once you’ve gone through a month or two, it’ll simply become habit.

    Want to learn more about successful content marketing? Read our post “21 Common Questions About Content Marketing Answered.”

  • Is Content Shock Real, and How Will It Affect My Content Marketing Strategy?

    Every now and then, we digital marketers hear the term “content shock” whispered around the water cooler, or we read it in an article shared with trepidation among content marketers on Twitter.

    If you’re not familiar with the idea of content shock, it basically means that we’ve hit the point of diminishing returns with content marketing. There is so much content being created and shared every day, every hour, that a piece of content that might have been effective 1 year ago may today be hardly a blip on your audience’s radar.

    Content shock doesn’t get as much attention as it should because, well – it’s scary. It means change. It means strategizing in new ways. It means looking at our content marketing strategies with fresh, unbiased eyes. That’s a hard thing to make ourselves do.

    So let’s get real. How is content shock really affecting your brand and your content marketing strategy? How can you adapt to the times without throwing out the entire content marketing playbook?

    Content shock is real, but you’ve probably already adapted – to a certain degree

    Here’s the bad news.

    Yes, content shock is real. Your well-researched, abundantly backlinked, visually pleasing blog post that you spent 10 hours writing simply will not get the same number of eyes on it today as it would have yesterday unless you pay to promote it. It’s far more likely to be drowned out by the other thousands of similar pieces of content than it used to be.

    That hurts, we know, especially since for years, every brand has been hearing how vitally important content marketing is to your overall marketing plan.

    Now here’s the good news.

    While content shock is, indeed, real, you’ve probably already adapted some of your content marketing practices to deal with this new reality – perhaps without even realizing it.

    For example, maybe you’ve expanded into developing video content, in addition to blog posts and whitepapers.

    Or maybe you’ve upped your social media ad spend because you’ve noticed your organic reach on Facebook has dropped over the past few years.

    There are lots of other strategic decisions marketers are making these days that are a way of dealing with the fallout from content shock. If you’re making any efforts to stay current with digital marketing best practices, then you’re almost certainly engaging in many of these already.

    And that means that you don’t have to worry about any sudden effects from content shock – instead, the effects are and will continue to be more gradual.

    What exactly are the effects of content shock?

    This is how content shock may be affecting your brand and your content marketing efforts:

    • Engagement rates are going down, or you’re having to work harder to get the same levels of engagement you had 1, 2, or 3 years ago
    • Organic reach rates are plummeting. As marketing expert Mark Schaefer explains in his blog post about content shock, “In 2011, if you did a great job with your content, audience, and engagement, the average brand could expect 26 percent organic reach on content posted on Facebook. Today that number is below 1 percent. Why? There’s simply too much stuff.”
    • Your audience doesn’t trust your content anymore. Multiple studies have found that consumers, in general, are becoming more skeptical of branded content due to the overload of marketing messages they receive every day. This is especially true for Generation Z.
    Effects of content shock: lowered engagement, plummeting organic reach, and less consumer trust. Click To Tweet

    These are all serious challenges, but they’re not insurmountable. To combat the effects of content shock, here’s what you need to do.

    1. Be more strategic, analytical, and selective about the content you create.

     This is by far the most important takeaway when it comes to dealing with content shock.

    The answer to getting noticed these days is not, as it used to be, more content. It’s more strategic content – and likely in the next few years, a lot less of it.

    As it takes more and more resources to get your posts, videos, whitepapers, and webinars noticed, and in turn, driving conversions, it’s the simple truth that at some point you won’t be able to keep up. You can’t keep paying more and more in social media ad costs, only to get a lower ROI per post.

    Instead, the key is to use those resources differently. Instead of having your content team turn out 2 or 3 blog posts per week – even if they’re well-written and highly researched – have them dedicate some time to studying your analytics to see what’s performing well and what’s falling off the map.

    Then, based on that research, choose a topic, write a post, and pay attention to the analytics.

    You may feel as though you’re slacking, or not doing your job as a content marketer – but consider these facts:

    0.5% of the content on the average website drives more than 50% of the traffic.

    Some studies suggest that more than 50% and as high as 70% of marketing content created by brands goes completely unused.

    Source: Marketing Insider Group

    You want to be creating more content like that 0.5%.

    0.5% of the content on the average website drives more than 50% of the traffic. Click To Tweet

    2. Embrace user-generated content (UGC).

    In an age in which consumers are ever more skeptical of the content put out by brands, user-generated content can be your best friend.

    UGC is simply content that your users create that tags or mentions your brand in some way.

    It can be solicited by a brand, or spontaneous and unsolicited. Unsolicited UGC is any content a user posts that mentions your brand. Someone tags your brand in a Facebook post, they tweet at you, they post an image with your product on Instagram – all of that is UGC.

    Content shock antidote: user-generated content. Click To Tweet

    Solicited UGC comes in many forms. It can be something as structured as a Facebook sweepstakes that asks contestants to enter by posting a picture of themselves with your product on your page.

    It could also be simply popularizing a hashtag, like Loews Hotels did  with their #TravelforReal campaign. The hotel chain wanted to showcase real guests staying in their hotels, so they first searched Instagram for images that users had posted of their properties. They shared the photos with the #TravelforReal hashtag.

    Source: Loews Hotels Instagram

    Then they began asking followers to post images from their stays at Loews hotels, using that hashtag. It’s since become a highly successful campaign, partly because of its uniqueness, and partly because of its transparency. Users who view the images know they’re real and spontaneous – not posed, doctored PR photos.

    3. Accept that Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms are generally pay-to-play for the majority of brands.

    For many brands that used to rely on Facebook as a largely free method of getting their message out to the world, it can hurt to acknowledge that the platform’s organic reach stats have dropped precipitously.

    It used to be enough to post your content on your Facebook page and wait for the click-throughs. Today, there’s simply too much content on the platform for your post to have a fighting chance without at least some promotion.

    That doesn’t mean that you have to pour money into promoting Facebook and Instagram posts. One great thing about these platforms that hasn’t changed is that advertising on them can be extremely affordable, while still bringing you a strong ROI.

    4. Use social listening to ensure you’re creating content your audience wants.

    Social listening means proactively keeping track of what online users are saying about a brand, industry, or topic.

    You can do this in a variety of ways. You can use social media management tools like HootSuite, which allow you to set up ongoing searches for your social media handles, branded hashtags, mentions of your brand name, etc. This is both the easiest and most effective way to engage in social listening.

    You can conduct regular, manual searches on the social media platforms on which you have a presence.

    You can use a tool like Google Alerts, which sends you emails with links to any mentions of specific keywords that you set up. That could be your brand name, relevant topics within your industry, thought leaders, etc.

    Once you’ve gotten your social listening methods set up, it’s time to start looking for trends, recurring themes, and other clues into the kind of content your audience might want.

    Is there a particular pain point they keep mentioning? Create a blog post or video addressing that specifically. Is there some element of your product or service that people are confused about? Create a how-to video to clear away the confusion.

    Social listening can be extremely helpful when it comes to refining the types of content you want to be putting out into the world.

    Content shock doesn’t have to mean throwing out everything you know about content marketing. For more on creating valuable, relevant content that your audience actually wants to read, check out our post “6 Tips for Creating Content That Converts.”

  • A Complete Guide to Crushing Your First Snapchat Takeover

    If one of your brand’s target audiences is young adults, then this blog post is for you.

    Snapchat, the social media messaging app that lets users post images and videos that disappear after a brief period of time, is dominated by younger demographics. full 60% of Snapchat’s 300 million total monthly users are under the age of 25, while 26% are between the ages of 25-34.

    This means that Snapchat can be a hugely effective tool for getting your brand message out to a younger, highly engaged audience.

    While there are plenty of ways to use Snapchat to your advantage, for the purposes of this post we’re going to focus on one tactic: Snapchat takeovers.

    What is a Snapchat takeover?

    Snapchat takeovers are a way to get your brand message out to a whole new set of eyes.

    The way they usually work is that a brand will give an influencer access to its Snapchat account for a set amount of time – usually a day. The influencer then “takes over” the account, sharing their own images and messages with the brand’s followers as a Snapchat Story.

    There’s plenty of cross-promotion leading up to the big day, so both the influencer’s followers and the brand’s followers know that the takeover is coming up.

    Why are Snapchat takeovers effective?

    The reason Snapchat takeovers can work so well for some brands is that – with the right planning – you can effectively double your audience for the duration of the takeover.

    That’s because the influencer who’s taking over your Snapchat will be bringing their own followers with them. And, as all good social media marketing moves are, takeovers are mutually beneficial: just as you’re bound to pick up a few followers from your influencer’s fan base, they’re bound to pick up a few new ones from yours.

    Snapchat takeovers can be especially effective when you’re having trouble reaching a very specific demographic – for example, young women in the Midwest, or new college freshmen. By working with an influencer who’s highly popular among your target group, you greatly increase your chances of getting them to follow and engage with your brand.

    How do I plan a Snapchat takeover?

    Planning a great Snapchat takeover requires, first of all, that you have a long enough timeline – from a week to a month or more, depending on how long the takeover will last.

    For example, if the takeover will last just a few hours or a day, you can likely talk through a single theme and a few posting ideas fairly quickly. Longer takeovers, of course, will need more time for brainstorming.

    Snapchat takeovers aren’t terribly complicated, but if you want to maximize your results, you should go through the following steps.

    Decide on your goal

    Every social media campaign needs a goal, and Snapchat takeovers are no different.

    Are you looking to increase your reach? Increase engagement? Grow your number of Snapchat followers? Sell more of a specific product or service?

    These goals are important because they’ll help you both decide on the right influencer, and guide the takeover content.

    Identify potential influencers who are right for your brand and goal

    If influencer marketing is already a part of your digital marketing plan, then you’ve probably got a few influencers who may be willing to do a Snapchat takeover for you.

    For instance, our own Marketing Zen founder and CEO, Shama Hyder, recently did a Snapchat takeover for Inc. magazine. Because Shama already blogs regularly for Inc., they knew she’d be a great fit for their brand.

    Shama snapped text images that offered tidbits of marketing advice, and also made short videos expanding on those topics throughout her takeover.

    Source: Shama Hyder Snapchat takeover for Inc.

    If you don’t have people like this already partnering with you, it’s time to start identifying them. One great tool for identifying powerful influencers in your industry is BuzzSumo – it allows you to see the most shared content based on keywords that you type in.

    You can also read our full blog post on how to find and approach influencers here.

    Obviously, the influencers you’re looking for will have a strong Snapchat presence – so if you find someone on BuzzSumo who has an amazing blog and a huge Instagram following, but a low number of Snapchat followers, then you’ll want to work out another way to partner with them.

    Now, one drawback of Snapchat is that you can’t do a simple search for a hashtag or keyword and find people who are snapping about it. Because of this, it’s usually easier to find your influencer on a platform like Instagram or Facebook first – if they’ve got a large Snapchat following, they’ll often (but not always) include their Snapchat handle in their bio or “about” section.

    Hash out all the details of the takeover with your influencer

    Once the Snapchat influencer has expressed interest in doing the takeover, you’ll need to begin the actual planning phase.

    While you certainly don’t want to micromanage your influencer, you do want to review your expectations with them before the takeover begins. If you have any particular asks, be specific – is there a product you need them to include in a snap on a certain day? Do they need to stay away from any topics or trends? How often do you expect them to post?

    Another key point is to discuss the logistics of how the influencer’s snaps will be posted. It’s possible to have your influencer text images and whatever text they’re including to someone at your brand who then posts them on your account; however, this can be a clumsy and tedious process.

    The other, more streamlined option is simply to change your password to something temporary, give it to your influencer, and allow them to access your account firsthand. Once the takeover is finished, change the password again.

    If the takeover is running over multiple days, creating a new password daily that you share with your influencer is a good idea to ensure your account’s security.

    Handling all these things in advance will make the takeover run much more smoothly.

    Brainstorm and/or review content ideas

    It’s mainly your influencer’s responsibility to come up with the content they’ll be posting – after all the whole point of a Snapchat takeover is to have someone new sharing their unique perspective with your followers.

    However, it’s a good idea to go over any additional guidelines you may have, in addition to the ones mentioned above. You can also take some time to help brainstorm content or creative ideas, if your influencer is open to it.

    Promote like crazy

    Perhaps the most important part of any pre-Snapchat takeover planning is the promotion. Let your followers know that your influencer will be taking over your Snapchat account, with all the specifics of date, as well as time, if applicable.

    You should also always share the influencer’s Snapchat handle, so they benefit from your promotion.

    Just like a Facebook Live stream won’t do much for your brand unless people know about it in advance, a Snapchat takeover will only be effective if you get the word out.

    You’ve also got to ensure that your influencer is doing promotion of the takeover, too. They need to be sharing the info, including your Snapchat handle, on their own social media channels.

    Finally, start snapping!

    When the big day arrives, you want everything to run smoothly, so make sure your influencer has your account password in plenty of time to get up and running.

    Since Stories disappear after 24 hours, you need to take screenshots and save individual snaps throughout the campaign. You can also download your Story so you can reference it in the future, when you’re looking at things that have or haven’t worked. You can also post it on your other social media channels, like YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram.

    Once the takeover is finished, you’ll want to thank the influencer with a solid shout-out on your Snapchat account, which is now yours once more.

    After that, shift into analytics mode. This is when you’ll get to see how effective your Snapchat takeover was. How many new followers do you have? How did your engagement change throughout the takeover? Did your web traffic change?

    Snapchat takeovers can be a great way to utilize this younger-skewing social media platform and extend your brand’s reach. Want more? Read 7 Snapchat Marketing Secrets That Won’t Disappear After 10 Seconds.”

  • What is Shadowbanning, and How Do I Know if It’s Happened to Me?

    There’s been a lot of talk recently about the Instagram “shadowban” that’s been affecting some users.

    It may sound like the title of the next James Bond movie, but it’s actually fairly simple. What it means is that Instagram is making some users’ posts invisible without the users knowing. For businesses that use Instagram to promote their brand, this is obviously a real problem. Being shadowbanned can lead to a plummet in engagement.

    But we hasten to add: The act of shadowbanning is not an attempt by Instagram to censor your posts. It’s actually part of a bigger cleanup job that Instagram is doing to make Instagram content better, more relevant, and less spammy.

    Now back to you. Why is the shadowban happening, and how can you tell if it’s affected your account?

    Check your engagement levels

    The biggest reason you’d notice that your account might be shadowbanned is that you’d see that noticeable dropoff in engagement mentioned earlier.

    This would be because your posts aren’t showing up when people search for a hashtag, for potential reasons we’ll get into later.

    Now, a drop in engagement doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve been shadowbanned. It could mean that there’s a legitimate problem with your content, or that something you’re doing isn’t working.

    In fact, this is probably the more likely scenario, unless you notice a truly serious, sudden change in the number of likes and comments you’re getting.

    Some users who have likely been affected by the shadowban have reported getting an average of 50 likes within 5 minutes of posting have said that it was suddenly taking them 5 minutes to get just 1 like. That’s the level of change that you may want to look into more closely.

    A more direct way of seeing whether your posts are visible, of course, is to search for a hashtag you’ve used on a low engagement post. If your post isn’t showing up, well, then you may have been shadowbanned.

    There’s also a website that can supposedly check if you’ve been shadowbanned with nothing but your Instagram account name. It might be worth a try, but we can’t recommend it wholeheartedly. There’s no real way to know if it’s 100% accurate.

    Why am I shadowbanned?

    While the exact reasons for a shadowban haven’t been shared by Instagram, there are many people and organizations that have been experimenting to figure out what triggers a shadowban.

    According to social media scheduling tool Plann and others, here are the probable reasons you may have been shadowbanned.

    You’re using bots or an automated app to post on your behalf.

    This is a big no-no nowadays. As Instagram has been trying to clean up users’ feeds and make the platform less spammy, automated posting has become one possible way to get shadowbanned.

    How can they tell if you’re using an app? It’s all about the IP address. If a post goes up on your account from an IP address in, say, Delaware, where the app is located, and then you post 5 minutes later from your location in New York, Instagram will likely look into it.

    You’re buying followers.

    Most brands today know that buying followers is a terrible way to try to get ahead, as social media marketing is all about quality, not quantity.

    However, if you’re still employing this tactic, stop right now. Not only is it ineffective, it could also trigger a shadowban.

    Instead, it’s time to work on building up an authentic audience that is interested and engaged in what you post.

    You’re putting in tons of hashtags that aren’t truly relevant to your content.

    You’ve seen those posts with one long string of hashtags – #nofilter, #selfie, #instalove, #foodporn, etc.

    One thing many – not all, but many – of these posts have in common is that several of those hashtags probably have little to do with the image. It’s clear they’re in the post so that the post will show up in more searches, not because they help define the content in any meaningful way.

    Overused hashtags become cliches.

    Overused hashtags are social media cliches. Don’t use them. Click To Tweet

    And just like your high school English teacher reamed you for using “you don’t have to be a rocket scientist” in your term paper, Instagram is not going to be pleased if you’re appending #sunset, #cute, and #love to every image you post.

    Instead, use hashtags the way they’re supposed to be used: to add something relevant to a trending conversation, help your followers find you, or help develop your social media voice.

    You’re using the same hashtag(s) over and over.

    Maybe you’re careful about using meaningless hashtags, but you’ve been putting your branded hashtag on the end of every post for weeks. This is another apparent way to get shadowbanned on Instagram.

    Instead of sticking with the same hashtags for all or most of your posts, try varying them a bit. Be more creative with your hashtag game, or even stop using them all together for a few days. This can help you start to step out of that dreaded shadow.

    Don’t use the same hashtags over and over to avoid the Instagram #shadowban. Click To Tweet

    You’re using banned hashtags.

    You may not know that Instagram bans certain hashtags from time to time. It’s usually because they’ve been co-opted by users with less than honorable intentions, either for spam or for content that’s NSFW.

    A list of banned hashtags as of May 2017 can be found at the Huffington Post, but you can also easily check if a hashtag is banned.

    All you have to do is tap the Explore icon in Instagram and search for your hashtag. (Images are via Preview’s explanation of how to find banned hashtags.)

    If the search screen says “no posts found,” then you need to make sure that the hashtag is actually banned.

    To do that, tap the hashtag, and see what appears. If no posts at all show up, then the hashtag is completely banned. If a small selection of posts appears, then the hashtag is temporarily banned, and you’ll want to avoid it for a week or two. You can check back periodically to see if the ban has been lifted.

    Source: Preview

    So how do I get Instagram to stop shadowbanning me?

    Well, the good thing about the shadowban is it’s not a permanent thing. The adverse effects of it should end once you’re back in Instagram’s good graces.

    The most effective way to do that seems to be to simply back off of using the app for a few days or a week. Several Instagram users who believe they’d been banned tried this tactic and found that after a few days of silence, their engagement levels were back where they’d been before the ban.

    Going forward, it’s important to stick to social media marketing best practices when posting on Instagram: Post content that is relevant, valuable, and original. Keep your hashtag game concise and authentic.

    If you follow these guidelines, you shouldn’t have to worry about another Instagram shadowban hitting you any time soon.

    For more Instagram marketing tips, read “How to Market Your Business on Instagram: A Complete Guide.”