What Is The Difference Between A Blog And A Website?

We hear many questions in our Social Media for Executives and Business Owners class. One of the most common is “What’s the difference between a blog and a website?” The answer is simple: a blog is actually a type of website. It has an address on the Internet, and it’s a place where you can create and post content of all types, ranging from written content to images and videos.

The main differences between a blog and website are that a blog’s content is organized by date, with the most recent content appearing first (reverse chronological order), and that each blog post is usually open to comments, which allows for interaction. Blog software and platforms allow you to create your blog from a template, so you don’t have to custom design every aspect of it. A website is typically more static, which means the information doesn’t change much unless you add new products to it. Websites tend to resemble digital brochures. They can, however, incorporate a blog (quite easily too!).

The major blogging platforms, such as WordPress and Blogger, are free to use. At Social Media School, we always recommend setting up your blog at your own domain (URL) or on your website (atblog.yourwebsite.com oryourwebsite.com/blog) so that the traffic your blog generates comes to your website and not to wordpress.com or blogger.com. If you need a new domain to host your blog, there’s a small cost to buy the domain and host it with a provider like GoDaddy or1and1.com. Beyond that, you can get professional technical and design help to customize and visually brand your blog. This will add to your costs, depending on your needs and choice of vendors. In all, it should cost between $500 and $5,000 to set up a blog, depending on the level of design and complexity you need.

A blog is a form of social media. People can respond to the content you write by commenting directly on each post, and you can respond to them. Most blogs are also designed with sharing buttons so that people can easily share your information, for example, on Twitter or Facebook or by email.

Google and other search engines give higher rankings to fresh, relevant content. If you’re keeping your content fresh by providing helpful information and updating your blog regularly, search engines will make it easier for people to discover your blog. By contrast, search engines do not give the same weight to regular brochure-style or e-commerce sites because their content is primarily promotional and static rather than helpful and relevant to people looking for current information and solutions.

WordPress, the software we recommend at Social Media School, is open source, which means anyone can create plugins (programs that provide a wide variety of functionality). This includes everything from calendars to shopping carts to social sharing buttons. A blog, and in our opinion, WordPress blogs in particular, can replace a website because WordPress allows you to create a more traditional type of home page and then add a blog as a tab on your site. This way, you can promote what your company does on the homepage and still benefit from the blog content elsewhere on your site. You can also add your blog to an existing website by adding WordPress or Blogger software to your site. Your webmaster or graphic designer should be able to help with that.

The time and effort it takes to maintain a blog may be significant, but the benefits can be tremendous. Consumers have come to expect more than just promotion from the companies with which they connect. And if you want to encourage visitors to return to your site, give them a reason to do so. Provide the kind of regularly updated and useful content they expect from a blog.

Sweepstakes-&-Contest-Rules-for-Bloggers-(and-Brands)

Sweepstakes & Contest Rules for Bloggers (and Brands)

Sweepstakes & Contest Rules for Bloggers (and Brands)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been really angsty of late, worrying about things I shouldn’t worry about. That’s the life of a Jewish mother, I suppose. But it’s also the life of a social media marketer who is valiantly trying to stay on the right side of the law. The FTC law on sweepstakes rules, that is.

No doubt most of you are aware that the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) regulates advertising and marketing practices here in the U.S. They’re the governmental group who has brought us the CAN-SPAM act (email marketing), COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) and, more recently, their Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, which helped to bring about a more open and transparent level of disclosure by bloggers about their relationships with brands, organizations and events. The FTC is also one of the governmental bodies which regulates Contests and Sweepstakes (others being the Postal Service, the Department of Justice, and regulatory bodies within each of the 50 U.S. states).

I’m on the verge of losing sleep because of the FTC. It’s because I get upset every time I see something like this in a blog post:

giveaway

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, just about everything. This “giveaway” is actually a sweepstakes and, as such, it violates U.S. and state regulations in about a half-dozen ways, not to mention Facebook’s Promotions Guidelines as well.

The bigger problem? That there are hundreds, if not thousands, of these “giveaways” on blogs each and every day. Don’t you think that at some point the Feds, or one very consumer protection-oriented state (like my own state of New York), are going to sit up and realize that bloggers are mostly doing this wrong? And what’s going to happen to the brands whose stuff is being given away in these “giveaways?” Just as with the Endorsements guidelines, the burden is more likely to be on the brands than the blogger to make sure that every giveaway they are involved with is being run in a manner that complies with federal and state guidelines.

So what’s a brand (or blogger) to do? It’s really not that complicated, you just have to be sure your sweepstakes (or contest) is run according to the FTC and state guidelines. My friend Sara Hawkins, an attorney-turned-blogger, has written a handy post with key points of the sweepstakes guidelines. Based on Sara’s post, this really great post from the Keller and Heckman law firm, and my own understanding of the guidelines, here are the definitions and rules you need to know:

Type of Promotion

A Sweepstakes is a giveaway where winners are chosen at random.

A Contest chooses a winner based on some merit: best photo, funniest tip, etc.

A Lottery is a prize drawing where people pay money for a chance to win. Lotteries are even more highly regulated and brands (or bloggers) should never run a lottery without strong legal guidance.

Thus, most giveaways are actually sweepstakes: a winner is chosen at random based on an entry (like leaving a comment).

Sweepstakes Prize Value

Sweepstakes prizes valued over $5,000 must be registered and bonded in the State of New York and Florida (so don’t offer prizes over $5,000 unless you have the time and money to register and bond your sweepstakes).

Any prize over $600 is required to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). (The reality is that bloggers must pay taxes on anything they receive with value over $25, but that’s another story entirely.)

Official Sweepstakes Rules

All sweepstakes and contests must have Official Rules associated with them, prominently available to the entrant (attorneys I’ve spoken to always prefer that an entrant must check a box to say that they’ve agreed to the Rules, though I’ve also been told that if the rules are prominent enough and verbiage says something like “by entering your name below you are agreeing to the Official Rules” you may be covered.
Key points for Official Rules:

  • Must state “NO PURCHASE NECESSARY”
  • Must include eligibility requirements (age, residence – it’s generally problematic to include entrants under the age of 18 in your sweepstakes, and, given that every country has its own requirements for promotions, it may be wise to limit entrants to U.S. residents only)
  • Duration and deadlines (when does it start, by what date must you enter, etc.)
  • Entry procedures (Can you also enter by mail? What, specifically, do you need to do to enter?)
  • Prize descriptions (very specific – including an approximate retail value of the prize, if no actual retail value is available)
  • Odds of winning (this may be “The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning.”)
  • How a dispute or mistake will be handled (disclaimers for technical failures or typographical errors; identity disputes related to the winner)
  • How and when winners are selected (you must set a date for winner selection and also for how long winners have to claim their prize)
  • Right to obtain winners’ names and how to do so, as well as the right to publicize their names and likenesses (if for whatever reason you’re not collecting their name on entry, you’ll want to get their name when you certify them as the winner; at the same time, you’ll probably want to have the right to use their name and photo for promotional purposes)
  • Method of distributing prizes not claimed (often something like, “If potential Grand Prize winner forfeits or does not claim the prize, prize will be re-awarded, in Sponsor’s sole discretion.” and “All prizes will be awarded.”)
  • Liability release (this holds the company harmless in the event that the prize or sweepstakes in some way negatively impacts the winner; this is often done alongside the certification of winner, where the winner must furnish proof of identity, address and birth date to win the prize, and at the same time sign the liability release)
  • Sponsor name and contact information (mailing address at the very least, plus email address and/or phone number)
  • Legal venue (in what state or jurisdiction is the sweepstakes being regulated in?)
  • Also state “VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW”

Additional Info for Contests

Most of the same rules and requirements apply to contests, with a few additions. If you’re running a contest where you’re collecting any materials from the entrants (photos, essays, artwork, poems), you should state how those materials are to be used and returned (if at all). As well, it may be necessary to restrict photos to images of people over 18 (to stay on the right side of the COPPA laws) and also to state that any inappropriate materials will result in automatic disqualification (be sure to define “inappropriate” for your specific contest).

If you are running a contest, there’s another whole discussion your lawyers will want to have about voting for the winner vs. judging the winner. Go ahead, ask them. Double-dare you. It’ll be a long discussion. The upshot: lawyers don’t like voting on contests. So make the final winner selection based at least 60% on judging by an “expert panel” vs. voting by regular people. Or vote for round one, then have the panel pick the winner out of a number of finalists. There’s too much randomness in voting, which makes it a sweeps vs. a contest. Lawyers don’t like it when lines blur like that, you know.

Advertising the Promotion

If the “giveaway” is to be referenced in any other place besides the actual sweepstakes page itself, there are additional guidelines for advertising that apply. Each reference to the giveaway must state the eligibility requirements (age, location), deadlines, how to obtain Official Rules, and must also include the two phrases “NO PURCHASE NECESSARY” and “VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.”

Children and General Privacy

I’ve referenced COPPA law a couple of times now, and can’t state emphatically enough how important it is to steer clear of the issues related to marketing to children under 13. However, a few states, such as Maine and California, have recently written new laws governing the collection of personal information for minors under the age of 18. Given that state laws vary on this point, it’s far safer to restrict your sweepstakes or contest to those over 18, and to require proof of age for winners upon certification of the winners.

Additionally, your sweepstakes or contest should either include or reference a strong privacy policy which governs your use of their personal information, including whether or not your site collects cookies, and with whom you will disclose or share their information.

Facebook: A Whole New Can of Worms

Facebook adds a whole new additional of complexity to promotions with their promotions guidelines. Sara has a good round-up here; the basics on this are that you cannot use any of Facebook’s native applications to enter people into a contest. Native applications include the Wall, the Like button, photos, videos and using Facebook to notify winners. Meaning, in the really bad example above, requiring people to “friend” someone (or “Like” a page) in order to gain an extra entry into the giveaway is not allowed. This is a topic for a whole other post, and many people have already written it, so I’ll just suggest you Google “facebook promotions guidelines” and you’ll get an earful. Or eyeful.

In short, “giveaways” are nothing to mess around with casually. There is no such thing as a “giveaway,” they are all sweepstakes, and, as such, are governed by myriad federal and state laws to which attention should be paid. If you’re a blogger who runs giveaways the wrong way, I really hope this post gives you pause: please step back, evaluate, and decide if running the giveaways brings you enough monetary value to either a) hire an attorney to help you setup your giveaways correctly, or b) to fight a lawsuit if a disgruntled non-winner (or winner) decides to take you to task for not following the law. If you’re a brand running giveaways via bloggers, it truly behooves you take control of the situation for yourself, and to sic your attorneys on this matter immediately.

Now go forth and giveaway. Properly. This angsty Jewish mother thanks you.

DISCLAIMER: I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV. The information provided herin is not legal advice and is only based on my own experiences as a marketer with sweepstakes and contests, including counsel I have been given by numerous attorneys over my many years as an internet marketer. None of the above should be considered a substitute for you consulting your own legal counsel who will guide you and your company (or blog) in how to create and manage sweepstakes and contests.

This post originally appeared in on Social Media Explorer, where I’m used to be a regular contributor on social media topics.

 

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What's The Most Important Thing To Say About Your Business On Your Website?

What’s The Most Important Thing To Say About Your Business On Your Website?

What's The Most Important Thing To Say About Your Business On Your Website?

Ok, that was a bit of a trick question. The most important thing that helps you market your business is what other people say about you.

With the advent of sites like Yelp and the wealth of ratings and reviews on Amazon and TripAdvisor, people have come to rely on recommendations from others more than ever. I know that if I’m shopping in a store and trying to decide whether to buy an appliance or a toy, I feel a bit lost unless I can look up what other people have said about it.

Testimonials mean a lot to potential customers. They lend credibility to your product or service. Here are four ways to generate testimonials:

1. Ask satisfied customers for a testimonial.

When you finish a job or make a sale, you can either send an email or ask at that moment for a testimonial. Don’t assume that giving a testimonial is at the top of peoples’ minds. Even satisfied customers don’t often think of doing this.

2. If a customer is genuinely excited and has just told you so, ask if you may quote her.

Capture the moment, and feed it back to her to be sure you got it right. That way, you don’t have to ask the customer to do any work down the road.

3. If a customer seemed genuinely willing to provide a testimonial, don’t hesitate to offer a gentle reminder in a couple of weeks.

While they are doing you a favor, you’re also going to give them some exposure – as smart customers and friends of the firm. Everyone likes to be recognized.

4. Survey your customers and ask.

To generate additional testimonials, send a survey to past customers asking about your service or product and ask an open ended question at the end with a prompt that says something like this: “If there is any way we can improve our service or anything particular you appreciated about your experience with us, we would very much like to hear about it.” Any response worth quoting can become a testimonial, with permission.

Getting testimonials on your website will help visitors to your site move closer to being able to make a decision to buying from you, and customers who trust your testimonials will be more likely to buy.  Fill a sidebar or page of your site with testimonials in all forms. You can use screen shots from Twitter, videos, and quotes for highly impactful social proof that gives people the confidence to trust your business and buy from you far more than anything that you can say about yourself.

Are you currently using testimonials on your website? Please share your page(s) with us, we’d love to see.

We're All Search Marketers Now

We’re All Search Marketers Now

We're All Search Marketers Now

As social media grows and matures, it seems pretty clear that there are a few aspects of this integrated discipline that are becoming increasingly important, yet are undeveloped skills in most social media practitioners.  One such aspect is search marketing.

Just a few short years ago search engine optimization (SEO) was a highly specialized discipline, and primarily was being executed within standalone SEO firms and some digital agencies.   The guys (yeah, mostly guys, though a few gals too) who were search experts often had coding backgrounds, and they really understood the nuts-and-bolts of how the search engines, and websites, worked.  They used this info to help static websites get noticed by the engines, and then they extended that knowledge into paid search, also called PPC (pay-per-click) or search engine marketing (SEM).  Blogs came along and they figured out the best ways to optimize those too.  If you needed to build a website or blog, or run a PPC campaign, you knew who to call.

These days, it’s not quite so simple. Sure, you can (and should) still call in the big guns when you’re building a website from scratch.  But lots and lots of agencies: PR, digital and pure-play social, are building client blogs.  Do those firms hire an SEO company every time they build a blog?  Not if they’re smart.  Those that understand the importance of a properly-optimized blog (and the properly-optimized writing that goes into it) have built up enough SEO expertise in-house (or have developers who have) to be able to create and implement a search-friendly blog and then train the writers on at least basic best practices of search-optimized writing.

Search marketing now goes far beyond websites and blogs.  It’s part of nearly every aspect of social media, from Twitter to YouTube, Facebook to Flickr.  But many social media practitioners or front-line engagers don’t realize how pervasive it is and they’re not always fully equipped to manage search optimization on social platforms.  Want proof?  Look at how many brands haven’t used every available text space on their Facebook page, or who don’t add brand keywords to their YouTube videos.

YouTube can be optimized for search

So speaking of YouTube, did you know that you can optimize videos on YouTube?  Including the right keywords, writing keyword-rich descriptions and uploading video transcripts (yup, you can do that) can all have a big impact on how easily your video is found in YouTube – and in other search engines, such as Google, as well.

Twitter profiles are important

Twitter search is getting more important, and more complex, every day.  Twitter can be a very powerful tool to get your brand ranked in search engines.  It all starts with your profile – even if you can’t get your perfect username, you can make up for it by using your real name/brand name as your Actual Name in Twitter – so if your brand name is “Brand Blue,” using exactly that as your Actual Name will be more effective than being “Erin at Blue.”  From that simple start, there are a number of other key Twitter SEO practices to follow; because of Google’s near-instant indexing of its content, quick fixes on Twitter can often make a big difference.

Search optimization for Facebook is complicated

And Facebook … ah, Facebook.  With 500 million + users, the search potential within Facebook seems pretty great.  However, their search function is not clearly optimizable and it’s improving only slowly.  It is true that there are some best practices for Facebook search optimization, including appropriate keyword use (in your info page, photo titles, and status updates); choosing the right name/URL for your Facebook page; and using the About text box (left sidebar) for keyword-rich copy.  Another tiny tip is to use a tall image for your brand logo – you’ll command more space in the search results page.  Try it and see.

How to catch up and learn more about search optimization for social?

So what can you, the social media practitioner, do to expand your knowledge about search?  I recommend starting by adding a few SEO blogs to your blog reader.  Some of the posts will be pretty techie, and they won’t all apply to what you do every day, but I can just about guarantee you’ll start to feel smarter about search in just a couple of weeks.  Maybe set up some Twitter keyword searches (yet another form of social search!) for “twitter + SEO” or “facebook + SEO.”  Breathe it all in – you might find it really appeals to you as a new concept to master.

And the next time your firm hires an SEO specialist to work on a site or a blog, get involved, listen and learn.  You can no longer afford to have a “not my department” attitude.

How does your firm or company manage search marketing in relation to social media?  As a social media practitioner, do you feel like you know a lot about search or are you just taking baby steps?  The comments are yours.

This post originally appeared at Social Media Explorer.

What Is A "Call To Action?"

What Is A “Call To Action?”

What Is A "Call To Action?"

You may have heard the term “call to action” and perhaps you even know how it applies to an advertisement or TV show. When you are watching a television ad and they say, “order now!,” that is a call to action.

In social media, most of your writing will probably not end with “order now.” If you want to see results, you do, however, need to have a call to action for any marketing effort, social media included. But since social media is more about establishing a relationship, establishing authority or humanizing your brand, the call to action is going to have a different tone than the screaming TV ad.

 

call to action

In social media content, a call to action might tend to be more about asking for people to engage in conversation with you. On Facebook, you may ask a question like “Share your favorite experience using ___” or “Tell us what you think about___.” That will get you more engagement than simply posting pictures and links. On a blog, you might end with a question, asking people to weigh in on a topic you have covered or answer a question that came to your mind while writing the post. These types of calls to action are asking for engagement, and they set just the right tone for your social media presences.

On your blog or website you can put more explicit calls to action, asking people to connect with you in social media (with your Twitter, Facebook or blog icons and links) or to sign up for your newsletter (with a signup box right there). Remember, when you ask people to take that a step that requires a commitment, whether it is receiving your newsletter or Liking your Facebook page, remember to tell them why they should do it. Answer the question which will be on their minds, “what’s in it for me?,” with information about what you will be providing through that medium, whether you’ll be giving them special offers, free e-books, new product announcement or tips and ideas.

You are putting your efforts into social media for a reason. To make sure you get out of it what you want, you’ll have to ask for it. Don’t you agree?

 

How To Survey Your Customers Like A Pro

How To Survey Your Customers Like A Pro

How To Survey Your Customers Like A Pro

Knowing your customers, understanding their wants and their needs, and getting feedback quickly on new products and services, is critical to your business success. One of the best tools available for getting that information is offered by a company called Survey Monkey. It’s free for a basic service that allows up to 100 responses per survey. For a relatively small annual charge, you can get thousands of responses and a wide array of survey types and analysis through simple or complex customer surveys.

surveymonkey

If you need guidance on creating a survey including what types of questions to ask, what to avoid, how to best to design a survey and how to improve response rates, Survey Monkey has examples for many types of businesses and different kinds of surveys.  They also have a helpful blog with tips and tricks to guide your use. When you create a survey, you’ll be able to look at the results as they come in and, if you’re a paid user, you’ll get charts and graphs to help analyze the results even further.

A survey conducted by your company is not always as reliable or objective as one performed by professional survey company and conducted independently. But the ability to check in with your customers regularly at a nominal cost means you’ll get to know your customers and can make changes to your business quickly in order to meet their needs. A huge bonus is the surprise and delight your customers will feel when they’re asked their opinion and then responded to them.  After all, everyone really wants to be heard – customers too!

Note: Social Media School has no relationship with Survey Monkey except as a satisfied customer.