Marketing Strategy

Marketing Strategy Blog Archives | Crackerjack Marketing Blog

No matter what your product or service, your Marketing Strategy will make or break the success of your business. It doesn’t matter if you make the best widget there ever was at the lowest price it could ever be, if you don’t market it properly, you might as well just stop making those widgets.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that blasting your sales message all over social media is a strategy. That’s a tactic (and the wrong tactic too!). Tactics are part of your strategy. We’ve worked with brands, both big and small, to help them create smart, effective strategies. Read through the following posts from our archives for practical advice and actionable information.

If you’d like to find out more about how working with a social media agency can help your marketing strategy, please feel free to contact us through the chat window (down there, in the lower-right corner of your browser) or contact us by filling out this form.

how-to-humanize-your-brand

How to Humanize Your Brand and Why You Need To Do It

how-to-humanize-your-brand

Whether your objective is to grow an audience for your blog, sell a product, or provide a service, you first need to build trust. If you want people to come to you for your travel tips or sign up for your online course, you need to give them a reason to choose you over the sea of other options out there. It sounds like this could be quite the difficult task, huh? Well, that’s not necessarily the case as long as you’re willing to put in the effort.

If you’re ready to open up and be transparent, not only about your brand but also the person or people behind the brand, you’re going to have a lot more success.

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marketing lessons from apple

Marketing Lessons from Apple {Infographic}

marketing lessons from apple

When you think of marketing genius, the team behind Apple, Inc. may come to mind. The technology company dominates the internet, cell phone, and entertainment use across the globe. Apple is synonymous with success and technological innovation.

That recognition is priceless.

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The Difference Between a Blog and a Website in Your Marketing Strategy

“The Difference Between a Blog and a Website in Your Marketing Strategy” was co-authored by Stephanie Schwab and Christina Strickland.

A business with no blog or website is left open to the possibility of false representation. Of course, current or prospective clients can Google you, and chances are they will find something about you online. This information could include anything from a Yelp review of your business, your personal Facebook page, or maybe even a comment you left on a forum years ago.

 

 

Though none of this may hurt your business, it may not be the impression you’d like to project.

Give your audience a designated place to visit where they can find more information about you. A blog or website will be the reflection of your business that you choose to put on display. It will provide information and answer clients questions, but that’s only scratching the surface. Let’s dive a little deeper.

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Top Reasons Why You Should Be Using Video Captions

Video Captions: Not Just for Watching CNN at the Gym

Top Reasons Why You Should Be Using Video Captions

Top Reasons Why You Should Be Using Video Captions

These days the idea of making your content “mobile friendly” is top-of-mind for many of us in the content-generation business, but are you also thinking about making it as “people-friendly” as you can? You probably already know that as a best practice you should strive to make sure that your content is accessible to as many people as possible, but you may not be considering captions as part of that accessibility strategy. Here’s why you should.

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Social Media is More than a Part-Time Position

Can you use a part-time social media manager to achieve your online marketing goals? Will hiring a part-time social media manager be enough to acheive your goals?  Isn’t social media marketing simply making announcements to a network of people who have signed on to receive your news and tidbits? Isn’t it simply sharing links, images, and videos you find interesting or inspirational? Or is it all about building relationships and finding ways to engage with your prospects and customers? These things are definitely part of social media marketing, but they don’t tell the whole story.

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7 Tips for Creating Marketing Messages that Stick

marketing-messages-that-stick

You try to create the most compelling marketing messages. You know how important it is to speak directly to your target audience and share ideas, features, and tips that will capture their attention. But try as you might, it seems like you’re pushing a bunch of boulders up a super-steep uphill. Your messages seem on-point to you, but your audience doesn’t seem to remember them. And if they do, they don’t seem to remember them long enough to buy your products and services. Never fear! You do have options—good options, actually.

Create Marketing Messages that Stick

Creating “sticky” messages can be a lot of fun. The key is to think like your audience thinks. Here are 7 more tips to get you rolling:

Know Your Audience

If you don’t know whom you’re talking to, you are dead in the water. It may seem like a good idea to create marketing messages that appeal to you, but this is simply the wrong way to go. Your target audience is unique, and it is key that your marketing messages speak to its members rather than to you, your friends, or the world at large.

 

 

Create Marketing Personas

You’ve probably noticed that your audience consists of more than one type of person. For example, your audience may consist of busy parents, senior citizens who travel a lot, and executives looking for ways to simply their lives. By creating personas, you can better understand the different segments of your target audience and create messages that speak to each segment.

Keep It Simple

Creativity is a good thing, but sometimes businesses create convoluted messages in an effort to be different and creative. Be careful that creating longer, more complicated messages doesn’t dilute your point and confuse your audience. Often, simple and to the point is more memorable and more likely to hit home.

Go for the Surprise Attack

Your audience is made up of people who have one thing in common. They hear the same things every day. They constantly hear that one brand is better than another. Marketing messages constantly tell them that they cannot possibly live without a product or service or that the only way to get superior quality is to choose company B over Company A. Because they hear these messages constantly, they gradually tune them out. There’s nothing new to be learned, so these types of messages become part of the background noise. But if you can surprise your audience, you can capture its members’ attention and then use their focus on you to give details they’ll need to choose you over the competition. Use surprising facts, interesting product uses, historical information, etc. to surprise your audience into listening and remembering your messages.

Get Visual

Today’s audiences are highly visual. Because of this, plain, old text can be seen as, at best, a little dry and, at worst, flat-out boring. If your messages are seen as boring, your audience is far less likely to remember them, at least not in any good way. The good news is you can take a simple message and give it life through mental and visual imagery. First, write out your message as you normally would. Then, add descriptions that help your audience visualize your message. This is great for provoking emotion, increasing interest, and stimulating memory. Now, go ahead and add images or video whenever possible. The combination of these steps will encourage your audience to not only pay attention but also share your message with others.

Engage Them With Show and Tell

Seeing is believing. Your marketing messages may be spot on, but people are always more likely to believe what you show them over what you tell then. Do create your simple, visual, targeted marketing messages. They are important, but don’t stop there. Create a couple of demonstrations as well to help your audience visualize what you’ve been telling them all along and ensure that they remember you and your products and services.

Tell Stories

People like to be entertained. Even when they are learning about something serious, they prefer to learn about it in a way that entertains and intrigues them. Give them what they want by creating stories that share something they didn’t know, highlight how your brand is different, illustrate that you understand them and get where they are coming from, and speak to their pain points. Your stories will provoke emotions in your customers and prospects, not only ensuring that they remember you but also helping them to feel connected to your brand.

It takes effort to create sticky marketing messages, but the rewards of doing so are measurable. Go ahead and try these 7 tips on for size. They’ll help make your marketing messages more memorable and encourage your audience to purchase from you.

Have tips for creating sticky marketing messages? We’d love to hear them! Share your tips in the comments section.

Role of Images in Content Marketing

What Makes Visuals So Crucial to Content Marketing Success?

Role of Images in Content Marketing

There’s no denying that visual content has taken over our generation. With more than 3.7 billion internet users in the world and smartphone users expected to reach 2.32 billion by the end of 2017, from Snapchat to Facebook to Instagram, there is practically no end to our appetite for visual content.

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6 Crucial Tactics to Improve Your Facebook Advertising Efforts

6 Crucial Tactics to Improve Your Facebook Advertising Efforts

6 Crucial Tactics to Improve Your Facebook Advertising EffortsFacebook is an excellent place to post ads for your brand. Why, you ask? Though most advertising questions don’t have a simple answer, this one definitely does. Essentially, just about everyone is on Facebook in some capacity or another, so advertising there means more and better chances to reach your audience. Just what do we mean by everyone? Well, upwards of 70 percent of adults spend time on this platform. With well-targeted ads and a good strategy, you can reach a significant portion of your audience, whether you’re targeting a B2C or B2B audience.

Of course, the fact that everyone is on Facebook is really just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also the fact that Facebook really makes it easy to hone in on a particular audience based on locations, demographics, interests, behaviors, and connections. And once you target a particular audience, there is so much you can use Facebook ads for, including boosting likes and engagement and increasing website clicks and conversions. You can do all of this on the budget you set AND use Facebook’s tools to track your progress, so you can easily optimize your ad campaigns.

6 Tips to Improve Facebook Advertising Results

But how do you create an ad that does more than simply look pretty? Here are 6 crucial tactics for successful Facebook advertising:

  1. Keep it short and sweet. Too much text just doesn’t fly in Facebook ads. And besides that, short and sweet wins the race when it comes to promo. No one wants to read a whole book about what you’re offering. Get to the point, and make sure you have a hook to draw them in. Facebook truncates overly long ad text, but even if that wasn’t the case, keeping it short is still a good idea. According to a recent study, ads with 40 characters or less of text get over 80 percent more engagement than longer ads.

Takeaway tip: Make a few catchy ads and try them all out. Figure out which ad texts perform the best and use the same approach with future ads. Be sure to consider different audience groups when you test your ad. One ad may underperform with one age or buying group but soar with another.

  1. Don’t overpower your image with too much on-image text. First of all, Facebook frowns on using more than 20 percent of your ad space on text. Besides that, you might think that adding the maximum allowed text to your image is an easy way to get around tactic number 1, which is all about keeping it short and sweet. Trust us, more text here won’t help you. If your ad includes too much text, it’s likely to have a much lower reach. Or worse, it might not run at all.

           Use the following dimensions for creating your ads:  

           Recommended News Feed image size:  1,200 x 900 pixels

           News Feed image ratio:  4:3

           Right column image size:  254 x 133 pixels

           Right column image ratio:  1.9:

Takeaway tip: Facebook has a handy tool that makes it easy to check if you’ve overdone it on text. Check it out here.

  1. Make it eye-catching. You’ve heard it a million times. A picture is worth a thousand words, and that still rings true on Facebook. For starters, posting an ad that is just all text simply won’t work on Facebook anyway, but even if you could go text crazy on this social media site, you wouldn’t want to. An image catches the eye and makes your viewer want to read your offer and learn more. Make it a good, high-resolution image every time.

Takeaway tip: Make sure your image is easy to understand at a glance, and hone in on the important stuff by taking the time to crop your image.

  1. Create a custom call to action (CTA) button through the ads manager. If you’ve created an effective Facebook ad, your viewers should get the gist of what you want to do, but that doesn’t mean they’ll just automatically do it. Having a call to action button encourages them to take that next step by clicking to perform the action you want. Often, in advertising, you need to tell your audience, and then tell them again (and again) before they actually take action. Custom CTAs can significantly increase your click-through rate. Keep in mind that you won’t have the option of creating a custom call to action button for a boosted or promoted post, but this is an option for website click, website conversion and offer claim ads.

Takeaway tip: When Facebook says it will allow you to customize your CTA button, this really means choosing from a selection of buttons the social media platform has on offer. Select the button that best matches your ad. Choices range from Shop Now, Book Now and Learn More to Watch Now, Donate Now, and Contact Us.

  1. Show more than one image. If a photo is worth a thousand words, how much more, then, are multiple images worth? Using the Facebook carousel format for your ad, you can show not only multiple images but also multiple headlines and calls to action. It works like this: Your audience member sees your awesome ad but doesn’t have to stop there. With just a swipe of his finger or a click of arrows, he can scroll through up to 10 images with accompanying links, headlines, and calls to action. How is that for bang for your bucks?

Takeaway tip: Use the carousel format for your Facebook ad when you want to showcase several offerings, share details that would be otherwise difficult to share with a single image, or use your images to do what you should always try to do—tell a story.

  1. Put Facebook to work for you. Sooner or later, you may run out of ideas for whom to target next. In that case, try this handy trick. Acting as yourself, go ahead and like one of your page’s updates in your home stream. The result? Facebook will recommend pages for you based on the content you’ve liked. Look at the pages it suggests. Since it believes you will be interested in those suggested pages based on liking your own content, it makes sense that fans of those suggested pages will also like your content. Go ahead and target those fans.

Takeaway tip: Make sure you like your page update on your home stream and NOT on your brand’s page.

With Facebook, you can really focus on your unique audience, reaching the demographics most likely to be interested in your products and services. Use the above tips to create the best possible ad, and put this social media giant to work for you.

 

 

Tweet Like a Pro

How to Tweet Like a Pro

advanced twitter tips

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you can probably tell we’re all aflutter about Twitter. Even though we wonder why Twitter is so darn difficult for people, we’re big advocates for using Twitter as part of your overall social media strategy.  It’s a powerful tool for building your business.

What do you do when the ideas just don’t flow as readily as you’d like? What can you do when you’re long on enthusiasm but short on compelling ideas for tweets? No worries! We’ve compiled a list of ideas you can use to get you through those difficult times as well as great resources for finding content to share.

Creative Ideas for Compelling Tweets

Once you’ve been tweeting a while, you’ll develop a formula or a style that makes it easier to come up with consistent content many times a day, virtually every day of the week. If your style is primarily content curation, over time you’ll establish a list of trusted sources for finding just the right stuff for your Twitter followers. You’ll get in a groove so that tweeting won’t become a chore. But in the meantime, you may need some prompts.

 

 

Here are 12 prompts that will get you thinking about things you can tweet about. Pick a few every day, and change it up from day-to-day. Each of these prompts is good for hundreds of tweets over the course of a few months.

12 Prompts for Quick and Easy Twitter Content

  1. Tweet a link to a blog post you agree with and add a comment (on the post) that mentions one of the points in the post.
  2. Share a photo of something you pass on the street that relates to your business in some way.
  3. Share a link to your own blog post and ask people a question about it.
  4. Pose a question to your followers asking what they think about an issue that’s hot at the moment.
  5. Start a conversation. Respond to a question someone asked or simply comment on something someone said. Then keep the conversation going, back and forth once or twice using @ mentions.
  6. Answer the question, “What’s inspiring you?” (as in, “Today I’m inspired by…”)
  7. Answer the question, “What’s bothering you?” (obviously, keep it relevant).
  8. Share a link to a video that you think might be of interest to your followers.
  9. As you go about your day at work, notice the behind-the-scenes image or story that you can share with your customers, like a work-in-progress.
  10. Tweet an inspiring quotation.
  11. Retweet the best tweets of those you admire.
  12. Share a link to a news story related to your business and comment on it.

Keeping a list like this handy so you can refer to it when you’re having a Twitter writer’s block can help you keep up your Twitter content and make it easy and fun at the same time.

 

 

Resources for Links to Share on Twitter

You may only get 140 characters (for now!), but by linking to an article, blog post or website, you open a door to a whole new world of information. Sharing links is one of the best ways to use Twitter for business. It shows that you are a valuable source of information, and by choosing the most useful information for your community, you ensure that people will come to count on you, and respect your knowledge of your field. There is a firehose of information out there, and anyone who can be trusted to find the best of the best will be rewarded with followers and retweets.

Here are several of our favorite resources for finding Twitter content to share, to help build your stream:

  1. Google Alerts is one of the easiest tools to use. Go to the site and choose the subjects you want to know about. Google will email your chosen content from news, the web and blogs based on the frequency you select.
  2. Addictomatic is a fun and, ahem, addicting aggregator to use. Their tagline of “inhale the Web” is fairly true, and they take content one step beyond Google’s results by bringing in information from Yahoo and Bing.
  3. Paper.li is a tool you can use to automatically curate content on a wide range of topics and arrange it in a magazine-style format. The tool is very easy to do and can automatically Tweet your paper and send it via email too!
  4. If you know there are key bloggers whose content is regularly worth sharing, add them to your RSS reader and search them daily for the best posts of your favorite bloggers.
  5. AllTop is a significant help in finding new blogs to add to your reader. Search for topics and AllTop will return results for you.
  6. When you’re feeling short on inspiration, go to listen to a Ted Talk. Not only are you likely to get inspired, you may just find some great content worth sharing.
  7. Of course, there is always your own Twitter feed! Build a list of people you follow that Tweet about the topics you’re interested in. Or, type a term or phrase in the Twitter search box to find new and interesting content to share.

Try some of the above ideas, and then be sure to come back and fill us in on how they worked out for you. Have bright ideas of your own? We want to hear them! Where do you find the best content to share on Twitter? How do you come up with engaging ideas? We’d love to hear your ideas on this topic. Share them with us in the comments section!

The Art of Content Curation and Making it Work for Your Brand

What Is Content Curation

Content is king, right? But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write every word of it. After writing blog post after blog post and article after article, with an eBook or white paper thrown in, you may feel as if you’re penning the Great American novel rather than marketing your business. The good news is you don’t have to type until your fingers fall off. Original content is certainly good, but content curation helps get the job done too.

What Is Content Curation?

In its simplest terms, content curation is the art and science of finding and sharing quality content on a particular topic. It means sorting through topical content on the web and then presenting the highest-quality posts in an organized and meaningful way. You save your audience from having to wade through the tons of available content themselves, and you’re rewarded in terms of engaged audience members who pay attention to what you post and share.

Think about an art gallery and the collections of art on display – those collections are carefully manicured and presented in the best possible light. The concept of content curation is similar in that you pick a common thread (a theme or topic) and collect, or curate, the items you want to showcase. In this case, we’re showcasing articles, blog posts, video, photos, podcasts, and infographics, instead of painting and sculptures.

Is Content Curation the Same as Content Aggregation?

It’s easy to think that content curation and aggregation are the same things but for your reader, it’s the difference between being presented with only the most useful, relevant content versus the 12,343,244 results returned on a Google search. Using our art gallery example, if you were walking into an exhibit on contemporary surrealism, you’d expect to see only the best pieces from the best artists, not every scratch and doodle ever posted on the web. That’s what you are doing for your readers: presenting them with the best of the best.

Does Content Curation Mean Creating Content?

While, technically, content curation doesn’t mean content creation, it doesn’t mean that the opportunity to create content doesn’t exist. And, in fact, if you’re not creating some content around the items you curate, you are missing the all of the best benefits, and so are your readers.

Remember, you are gathering content from a variety of sources and then presenting it in a thoughtful and organized way. “Presenting” is the key word, here. This is your opportunity to create content.

Again, thinking of a collection of art: walking through a museum, you are presented with more than a piece of art to study. You are given information about the artist, the inspiration for the piece, the medium used and sometimes even more. Use this same approach when presenting the content you’ve curated. Let your readers know what the article is about, who wrote it and why it’s important or relevant.

How Do You Use Content Curation?

This is the fun part! Once you’ve collected the “best of the best,” how will you present these articles for your readers, fans and followers? Three options include:

1. Weekly Blog Posts

You can keep your blog both relevant and helpful with weekly posts that curate other people and companies’ content from around the Web. Each post could be on a theme: For a food blog, one week could be all about asparagus recipes, another week about peach recipes. Alternately, you could round up what you consider to be the best or most important news of the week within your topic area into a blog post with links to those news items.

2. Email Newsletters

Like your weekly blog posts, this type of curated content helps your readers save the time they would have to spend finding great Web content. Want to see an example of this in action? We curate content for our weekly newsletter on social media and content marketing topics.

3. Social Media

Include curated content directly into your social streams alongside a mix of personal updates, brand mentions, and other content you already share.

Whatever format you choose to deliver your curated articles to your readers, keep in mind that it’s important to not only write your take on the piece, but also credit the original author. Not doing so could potentially violate the author’s copyright on the article.

How Brands Can Benefit From Content Curation

When done the right way, content curation can fit into your marketing efforts in a variety of ways. Many brands use curation as part of their content strategy with positive results.

How exactly can your brand benefit from content curation? Here are five important ways:

1. Establishing Credibility and Trust

We all love recommendations from people we trust, such as friends and peers. But we also desire information from reliable sources that take the time to explain how these recommendations will help us achieve our goals as well as make our lives easier. Curators carefully select content based on their understanding of the audience, even making the pieces easier to relate to if needed. You do this for your audience, giving it to them short and sweet, so they don’t have to struggle to tame the mountain of information out there.

2. Telling Your Brand’s Story

Every article, picture, message and video you curate provides a window for your customers to look in and learn about your ideas, interests and work ethic. This can enhance the public perception of your brand. People buy products from brands they think have personality. Dull Davids don’t win here.

3. Keeping Customers Engaged

Content curation is a great way to remain engaged with your customers after the sale. Sending news clips or other relevant information to your audience not only keeps them informed but also builds goodwill. And let’s face it: customers can be forgetful. If you’re not right out there talking to them and giving them a reason to think of you, they just may forget to buy from you the next time they need something. With a steady supply of quality content to provide, you can keep yourself fresh on their minds.

4. Keeping Your Blog Fresh and Relevant

A key to maintaining a successful blog is to publish posts on a regular basis. While creating great, original content on a daily basis can be a challenge; you can complement your own original work with the curated copy. No blogging blues or splitting headaches because you have to write yet another post! A good mix original and curated content will help you maintain your audience’s interest and your sanity.

 

 

5. Avoiding Self-Promotion Pitfalls

Too much self-promotion will just turn your audience off, and it doesn’t drive conversions anyway. According to a study by Argyle Social, content curation beats self-promotion five days a week and twice on Sunday.

So, let’s address the big question on everyone’s minds right now: Does content curation mean you don’t need to create original content? Sorry, but no. There’s always a need for high-quality, original content. Instead of viewing content curation as a replacement for what you’ve been doing, look at it as a valuable addition to bolstering your current marketing mix.

You can never have too many tools in your content marketing arsenal, and content curation is one you definitely don’t want to overlook. Use it to provide more quality content, increase exposure, and help drive engagement.

3 Ways to Use Mobile to Reach Millennials

3 Ways to Use Mobile to Reach Millennials

3 Ways to Use Mobile to Reach Millennials

 
Do you know a teen or young adult who isn’t tied to their mobile phone? According to Pew Research, 80% of 18-34 year olds own a smartphone – and they’re all using them a lot. If you want your brand to appeal to this audience, implementing an effective mobile marketing strategy is the way to go. But how do you capture the attention of individuals who are always on the go? A good start would be to capitalize on the channels that they always access on their mobile devices.

Social Media

When it comes to mobile marketing, social media is the top channel to reach millennials. Make sure that your social media strategy translates from desktop to mobile; since the layout space for mobile devices are smaller and more compressed, less text and more pictures and graphics can garner more attention and interest from millennials. Promote your brand by sharing relevant yet fun videos and photos on social media networks like Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Other social sharing sites most appealing to the younger generation include Snapchatand Vine.

Email Campaigns

Email campaigns feel old school. but continue to be a golden ticket in the mobile age. A Rosetta Marketing survey reveals that 68% of millennials check their emails hourly;

Millennials love to shop on their mobiles, so use email to promote coupons and showcase products. Announce contests and sweeps via mobile, and promote upcoming events. Another option is to collaborate with email deal providers like Groupon and LivingSocial to promote your product or service for you, or barter emails with other like-minded companies to get in front of a new audience.

Be aware that millennials will delete emails that are not optimized for mobile devices – and make sure that the click-through experience is also optimized for mobile.

Apps

Millennials absolutely love apps; they use them for many purposes, which include entertainment and gaming, social networking, online shopping, and utilities.  One type of app that is proving to be a hit to the younger crowd is instant messaging. This type of apps pose a huge potential when it comes to advertising your brands, because millennials relish the idea of being able to instantly connect with their friends. The immense popularity of this platform convinced Facebook to acquire instant messaging service Whatsapp for an eye-popping $19 billion. Despite critics calling it as one of the most lopsided deals in internet history and other pundits expecting an eventual bust, Facebook believes the acquisition will be worth every penny as they express optimism the number of Whatsapp users will surge to 1 billion within the next few years.

Another effective way of integrating apps into your mobile marketing scheme is to leverage television advertisements to drive mobile engagement as explained in this MediaPost article by Eddie DeGuia.

Should you create your own, branded app? It depends on whether you have enough content to keep it interesting and active. Otherwise find ways to use existing apps, including social networks and text messaging apps.

Final Thoughts

It’s not only important that you engage in mobile marketing to reach millennials, you must also optimize online content for mobile devices. And keep your eyes and ears open for the next new thing, it’s likely millennials got there first.

 

 

What other mobile platforms do you use to reach out to millennials? Let us know in the comments below!

 

7 Habits of Top Digital Brands

7 Habits of Top Digital Brands

7 Habits of Top Digital Brands

 
We hear a lot about top digital brands and wonder what sets them apart. It’s not just a lot of luck. It’s not even offering a product or service that no one else sells. Instead, these brands earn this designation through hard work, creativity, and effective strategizing. According to digital agency 360i, there are 7 Habits of Highly Digital Brands – and adhering to most, if not all, of these habits can set a brand far ahead of the pack.
The 7 Habits are:

  1. Being a Skilled Conversationalist: Top digital brands don’t just talk at their audiences. Instead, they are talented at creating and participating in conversation that leverages their content and messages for the building of lasting relationships.
  2. Being Authentic: Top brands identify truths relevant to their audiences and incorporate those truths into their content. As a result, they are able to inspire their audiences.
  3. Being Data Driven: Most brands understand the importance of collecting data, but do they know what to do with it once they have it? The top brands effectively use the data they collect for the optimization of their campaigns as well as to gain insight and inspiration for their efforts going forward.
  4. Being Discoverable: Even the most creative and inspiring of campaigns can fall flat if a brand is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Top digital brands learn where their customers are and position themselves to have a discoverable presence where their customers and prospects spend time online.
  5. Being Relevant: The conversation is currently changing in the digital arena. The brands that excel are those that stay relevant through effective navigation of current conversation.
  6. Being a Content Creator: Content is still king, but in an ever-changing market, brands must strategize and take creative approaches to producing and distributing the right type of content at the right time. Top digital brands do this exceedingly well.
  7. Being Constant: Top digital brands develop and steadfastly maintain core values while remaining constantly alert for new ideas and approaches.

Let’s look at two brands, one old and one new, which exemplify many of these 7 Habits.

Oreo: Reinventing a Classic Brand

Consider Oreo as an example of an oldie but goodie that has reinvented itself through social media. For example, Oreo incorporates fun, attention-grabbing memes and current events into its “Daily Twist” campaign. The real-time Super Bowl 2013 “Dunk in the Dark” campaign was another excellent example of its skill as well as its effective use of top-level marketers to make smart choices. Oreo is also discoverable, doing extremely well on Facebook, where it has over 35 million likes, and on Twitter, where it has over 283,000 followers. Further, its website does a fantastic job of engaging the brand’s audience by allowing its community to share Oreo moments.

7 Habits of Top Digital Brands

Oreo’s best habits: Authentic, Data-Driven, Relevant, Content Creator

Warby Parker: Newcomer Built Digitally

We’ve seen how a venerable brand has reinvented itself digitally, so let’s also consider the relative newcomer, Warby Parker. This brand is not only newer but also an industry disruptor: they sell eyeglasses entirely online for one price point of $95.

Because of its only-online approach, this brand had to prove itself digitally and socially strong right from the very beginning. To this end, the brand provides its customer service socially via Facebook and Twitter. It also encourages engagement and draws attention by asking customers to share videos of themselves trying on Warby Parker glasses and then posting their videos on Facebook. Shoring up its efforts are buzz-generating events, Internet ads and online video campaigns.
7 Habits of Top Digital Brands
Its April Fools campaign is a good example of this brand’s skill. It offered customers doggy eyeglasses via a fake pet eyeglass vertical called Warby Barker. When customers added Fido’s eyeglass choice to their cart, they received an April Fools message! And the photos of doggies wearing stylish eyewear? Simply brilliant, and adorable.

Warby Parker’s best habits: Data-driven (they were born that way), Discoverable, Relevant, Content Creator

Top digital brands recognize how critical social and digital is: it’s the fabric of their companies. But they work very hard at capturing and keeping the attention of their audiences. You can’t go wrong if you strive to make the 7 Habits of Highly Digital Brands the habits of your brand.

 

 

 

How To Apologize To Your Customers

How To Apologize To Your Customers

How To Apologize To Your Customers

 
There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle most things in life, and that includes crises of the technology hacking variety. Two recent hacking crises do an excellent job of illustrating how companies handle crises. One, involving Buffer, occurred in October 2013 and was handled quite well while another, involving Snapchat in January 2014, just wasn’t. One of the major differences between the crisis management demonstrated by these companies? The apology. Customers want to know that the companies they patronize care.

Here’s what Buffer did right:

Buffer acted quickly. No one likes to languish, wondering whether a company is aware of a problem and has definite plans to fix it. Buffer was right on top of things, responding to the problem within about an hour and letting its community know it was pausing posts and working on a fix. This stops people from panicking and speculating about what’s to come.

Buffer apologized—multiple times. There’s nothing worse than a company that just doesn’t seem to care how much it inconveniences its customers. Sometimes, it almost seems as if companies are afraid to admit responsibility. Did Buffer want its accounts hacked? Of course not. But it repeatedly apologized and let its users know it understood their anger and frustration. In fact, the CEO got right out there and apologized again and again.

 

 

Buffer provided frequent updates. The waiting is just killer. People want to know when they can expect a resolution. Buffer not only offered frequent, specific updates about what the company was doing to fix the problem, but it also provided these updates on multiple outlets, including its blog, Twitter, and Facebook. This ensured that its customers could easily find the updates without having to dig for them.

Responsiveness counts. Sometimes customers feel like they’re shouting questions to the wind, and nothing annoys a customer faster than feeling ignored. Buffer not only took the time to answer hundreds of tweets during the crisis, but it also continued to respond even after the problem was solved.

Especially by contrast to Buffer, whose breach came before Snapchat’s (thereby giving them a blueprint for superior crisis management!), Snapchat got their response all wrong. Massively wrong. Here’s why:

  • They let a whole week go by before it apologized to its users.
  • Their apology seemed grudging and insincere; it was included at the very bottom of a super-short post explaining how the company planned to prevent hackings going forward.
  • They didn’t encourage users to reach out to them if they had concerns.
  • They failed at keeping users updated on the progress towards a resolution.

To compare and contrast a bit further, here’s Buffer’s apology, direct from their CEO. (Click to enlarge)

buffer apology med

Hopefully you’ll never need to make this kind of apology – but if you do, now you know, there’s a right way and a wrong way!

 

Creating Customer Personas for Inbound Marketing

Creating Customer Personas for Inbound Marketing

Creating Customer Personas for Inbound Marketing

 
Some things just aren’t one-size fits all, and content is one of them. To effectively engage your audience, you’ll need content that caters to the specific types of consumers you are trying to reach. And how can you get that? Start by creating customer personas that fit your audience members, and then tailor content to fit each persona. Essentially, you’ll use these personas to drive your inbound marketing strategies.

What Are Personas?

Your company has ideal customers that are unique to it. A persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer. Fictional doesn’t mean fairy tale, however. You’ll use real demographics and behavioral data to make each persona a realistic representation of your ideal customer. Of course, your customers are more than just a collection of facts and figures. To make them more human, you add in educated speculation about such things as motivations, backgrounds, preferences and concerns.

Here are the main categories companies often cover when creating personas for marketing purposes:

  • Demographics: This includes basic demographic data, such as age, gender, education level, career or business, etc.
  • Profile: This reveals what the persona does, where she lives, and what she cares about. You might include how much time the persona spends on the Internet and what she does online, what her hobbies are, how much she earns, where she works, what kind of car she drives and whether she is a homeowner. You’ll also want to include what she reads and which kinds of memberships she has.
  • Motivators: What are this persona’s reasons for choosing your brand? For example, does your brand help this persona save time or money? Does this persona choose your brand because of perceived value?
  • Goals: What does this persona hope to achieve?
  • Pain Points: What are the concerns your brand solves for this persona?
  • Behaviors: What are this persona’s behavioral traits?
  • Story: What is your persona’s backstory? Who is she? What does she want? What does she do? What are her needs and concerns? This is a brief fictional account of the customer’s overall traits.

How to Get Information for Personas

You can get the information you need to craft realistic personas via the following:

  • Customer data
  • Surveys
  • Interviews with a sampling of customers
  • Interpretation of data

Creating Your Customer Personas

Once you have the data, plus behavioral data and story, you’ll want to codify each of the different personas into documents you and your team can refer to frequently. This could be a Word document, a Powerpoint, or an online doc which you can update easily. You might even blow up your customer personas poster-sized and hang them on the wall, so you’re constantly surrounded by the people you’re creating content for.

Here’s an example of a persona I’ve developed for a client.

creating customer personas resized 600

Aligning Content to Personas

Once you’ve compiled convincing personas of your ideal customer, it’s time to create content that fits each persona and speaks directly to her. Your goal is to create the right kind of content, but this doesn’t mean the right content for all of your customers. Instead, you want to match each persona with content that will move her through the inbound marketing continuum toward becoming a customer and even a brand promoter.

For example, consider example personas A and B. Persona A is less tech-savvy and needs help understanding the hows and whys of your product while persona B is extremely tech-savvy but more budget conscious. To engage and move persona A through the inbound marketing continuum, you’ll want content that primarily teaches, while persona B may better respond to content that helps him compare choices.

Here’s an example of how you might align content to personas.

persona content alignment resized 600

Ongoing Persona Management

Once you’ve created your main customer personas, you won’t need to do this entire exercise from scratch again. You should, however, look at your personas critically every six months to a year, to determine if you need to adjust them, add or drop personas, or update them with new data.

Although persona creation may seem like a lot of work, it’s work which will ultimately shorten the time it takes you do to many other marketing tasks, as you won’t be guessing (and second-guessing) about who will be on the receiving end of your content and communications.

 

 

Have you used customer personas in your marketing? Do you have ideas or strategies to share? Please leave a comment below!

This post is part of a series on how to use inbound marketing in your company marketing efforts. You may also be interested What Is Inbound Marketing, 7 Key Assets for Inbound Marketing, and 4 Steps to Creating a Content Marketing Engine.

 

Social Listening Like a Rap Star

Social Listening Like a Rap Star

Social Listening Like a Rap Star

The social media revolution was – is – all about talking. It’s about putting your ideas out into the world to see how they connect and collide with others’.

But if the social media revolution is about talking, the social media revelation is about listening. (See what I did there? Eh, eh?)

Social listening is a hugely important piece of successful online engagement because it has everything to do with understanding our audience(s), developing a sense of empathy, and speaking to our customers in a language they can relate to. Unfortunately, though, it’s also the step that’s easiest to ignore. Why is that?

I think we ignore it because it’s genuinely hard, and it’s often overwhelming. It’s easy to get lost. For what should we be listening? To whom should we be listening? On which channels?

 

 

These are difficult questions that deserve thoughtful answers. Yet, to butcher an Oscar Wilde quote, social listening is too important to be taken seriously. So let’s have a little fun with it, shall we?

Interactive Social Listening Exercise

The following is an exercise to get you and your team excited about social listening, and ready to think about it strategically. It might also make your colleagues blush (win-win!).

Step 1: Listen

Gather your team. Anyone involved in social media, communications, marketing, etc. Play them this song (“Overnight Celebrity” by Twista – free player embedded below). Resist the urge to giggle as your colleagues squirm and contort their faces out of confusion.

Step 2: Analyze

Explain to them that they’ve just heard “Overnight Celebrity,” a song by one of the fastest rappers on the planet, Twista. Ask: what did you hear? What was the song about?

Step 3: Organize for listening

Break the group up into three sections and ask them to listen for the following things:

  • Group 1: listen for every time Twista says the word “girl”

  • Group 2: listen for names of brands and other celebrities

  • Group 3: listen for items you may find in a home

Step 4: Listen again

Play the song again (yes, again), asking each group to write as they listen.

Step 5: Analyze

When the song is over, refer to the lyrics of the song, posted here. Which group did the best? Which got the most results, which got the most accurate results, and which got the most interesting ones?

Step 6: Reflect

How did it go? How did people feel about this exercise? How did this new framing change the way everyone understood the song?

Step 7: Take the conversation to the next level

How does this experience compare with listening on social media? Well, Twista, as mentioned above, was once known for being the “fastest rapper” – so it’s hard to just hear the song and try to get the big idea. But when we focus our listening, we can “hear” better. The same is true for social listening.

Step 8: Consider this question

How do we focus our listening?

Note that answering this question has a lot to do with why we’re listening in the first place.

There are lots of reasons to “listen” online. A few are:

  • Brand management: understanding how, when, and why people talk about us

  • Community engagement: understanding our people and what they care about

  • Content curation: finding good “stuff” to then contextualize and share

Ask: why are we listening? Which reason takes priority? What comes second? How do those reasons tie into our greater goals and strategies?

From here, take the conversation home. Think about what you need to listen for, and why. And don’t take yourselves too seriously. Let the playfulness of the activity spill over into this discussion; know you can – and should – adjust how you listen.

Folks have a lot to say on social media and it’s up to us to listen. Let’s learn to listen well…and not get lost in the lyrics.

This is a guest post and awesome exercise from Miriam BrousseauBy day, Miriam is a social media strategist and coach, working in a joint position with The Jewish Education Project and Darim Online. By night she is half of the “biblegum pop” duo Stereo Sinai (the other half is her husband, producer Alan Jay Sufrin). She loves learning to be a mom to an awesome baby boy, devouring all things Alice in Wonderland, Star Trek (Next Generation, mostly), and Oscar Wilde, and dangling stuff in front of her cats. She tweets as @miriamjayne and blogs at mjbrosseau.tumblr.com and, more recently, at miriamswhiteboard.tumblr.com.

 

6 Tips for Video Marketing Success

Interested in video marketing, and wondering where to start? Don’t let this valuable tool intimidate you. Here are 6 tips you can use to get started and marketing with videosucceed with video marketing.

  1. Be Interesting: The mere fact that you’ve created a marketing video won’t capture your audience’s attention. There are many other video marketers out there trying to accomplish the same thing. To stand out among them, use different perspectives, include movement, incorporate color, and add music where appropriate. Focus on creativity and personality.
  2. Try It: Often, people hold off on video marketing, spending too much time thinking about it and not enough time acting on it. Go ahead and plunge in with creative content, and try not to worry about perfection. Use your first few efforts to gauge effectiveness and reaction. Then use what you learn from your initial efforts to tweak your approach and create even better video content.
  3. Publish Regularly: When someone sees your video content and likes what he sees, chances are he will check to see if you have any related content. Don’t be a one-hit wonder. Publish regular content so that your audience knows what to expect from you and looks forward to viewing and sharing your videos.
  4. Create Video Tutorials: People are always looking for how-to information, and many prefer video how-tos. Fulfill this need by making your own video tutorials. You can use questions your customers asks as topics or search the Internet to see what burning questions your target market has.
  5. Tell Your Story: Youve probably heard this suggestion when it comes to written content, but it’s important for video marketing too. Some people just prefer digesting video content instead of the written word, so don’t limit yourself. Go ahead and tell your story in a video, or a series of videos, as well.
  6. Create Video Contests: You can use video contests to engage your audience and obtain more video content. Run contests that ask consumers to submit videos or video clips. Set guidelines for submissions, and offer attractive prizes. Use the best video on your site or make a new video that compiles the best of the video clips you receive.

 

 

Pros and Pitfalls of Sponsored Content for Brands

Pros and Pitfalls of Sponsored Content for Brands

Pros and Pitfalls of Sponsored Content for Brands

Recognizing that many consumers have become bored and disillusioned with traditional ads, many businesses are looking to create new types of advertising. Although technology makes it easier than ever to create and post attractive ads online, and many advertising opportunities are fairly inexpensive, consumers less likely to pay attention to them. Therefore traditional ad options just aren’t as attractive as they used to be. Sponsored content, also called branded content or native advertising, is filling a gap for advertisers.

Sponsored Content and Native Advertising Defined

Sponsored content includes content that is demarcated as “sponsored by,” “brought to you by,” or “presented by” – as in the soap opera days of old. These may be stories written either by a media publication or blog or by the brand. Sponsored content may also be eBooks, whitepapers, videos or infographics made available on a publisher’s site.

Native advertising, a slightly narrower universe of sponsored content, typically fits only within the site or platform its on. Facebook sponsored stories, for example, can only be found on Facebook. An article sponsored on a media publication, written by and for that publication and only run in that one place, could also be considered native advertising.

Benefits of Sponsored Content

Sponsored content looks a lot different than ads did in the past. Because sponsored content look more like the standard content of the site they’re on, more consumers pay attention to them. This can translate into greater brand awareness, more consumer-to-consumer sharing, and ultimately, more sales. The advantage of sponsoring or publishing native content is that brands can often reach larger audiences through the publications they choose, vs. through their own sites or social channels. For advertisers and publishers, sponsored content is often a win-win scenario: brands get better access to consumers and publishers get revenue, sometimes premium revenue for this type of sponsorship.

 

 

One Pitfall: Ethics Concerns

One of the main concerns about sponsored content is that it be deceiving. Often, sponsored content resembles news content, which causes many, especially those in journalism, to question the ethics involved in posting it. In fact, some go as far as to call this type of content corporate propaganda, while others argue that the articles provide valuable information that addresses important issues and offers real value to readers.

Many publications do put effort into ensuring that this type of content is separate from the news they provide. However, that separation isn’t always enough to ensure that consumers can easily distinguish between news and sponsored content. In some cases, publications position editorial and advertorial content side by side or on pages practically identical to those used for news content. Despite the fact that sponsored content is typically marked as such, many opponents of this type of advertising argue that the “Sponsored by,” Supported by,” “Paid for by,” “Partner of” wording is just not enough to help consumers tell the difference between news and ads. In their eyes, brands are taking advantage of consumer naivety to get their ads ranked and shared just like true news articles.

Another Pitfall: Google News Doesn’t Like Sponsored Content

Not surprisingly, Google doesn’t like that. The search giant has taken a strong stance against mixing sponsored content in with news. Google warns publications to keep the advertorials out of Google News and sets consequences for those that fail to heed the warning. If a business site mixes sponsored content in with the news, its entire publication may end up excluded. If Google sets an example with a few publishers, it could lead other publishers to minimize sponsored content opportunities.

Sponsored Content Examples

Here are just a few examples of sponsored content on the Web:

Halfway through 2013, I’m going to make the prediction that we’re going to see more and more about sponsored content and native advertising in 2013, and it will truly explode in 2014. Do you agree? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments.

 

Is Cold Calling Obsolete?

Is Cold Calling Obsolete?

Is Cold Calling Obsolete?

 
With so much discussion of online sales tools and social media, it may seem that cold calling is a thing of the past. Many might say good riddance,
as they dreaded making cold calls anyway. Before you strike it from memory completely, however, consider the point of a cold call, which is to make a personal contact with someone who needs your product or service. That point is far from obsolete.

Why Bother?

Why bother picking up the phone when you could easily just send an email or a tweet? There is much to be said for the personal touch, and a telephone conversation can be the next best thing to meeting a prospect in person. Besides that, it is very easy to simply ignore or delete a message received online. It’s much harder to ignore pleasant conversation from someone in a position to help solve your problems.

 

 

The Focus

Some people feel eager to bury cold calling and dance on its grave because they view it as trying to sell to a large database of people who have no interest in the product or service.  Essentially, they view it as telemarketing. However, cold calling shouldn’t focus on making sales. Instead, you should do it with the goal of introducing yourself and your company. The point is to make a personal contact that allows you to follow up with more information, set up a meeting, develop a relationship with a prospect, and eventually make a sale. Focus on setting an appointment during which you will pitch your products and services.

Good Preparation

In addition to having the goal of introducing yourself rather than making a sale, you can make cold calling more palatable (and effective) by performing careful research before you pick up the phone. This means researching to choose targeted prospects who are in need of what you offer. Your research will save you from attempting to sell ice to Eskimos. Additionally, the research you perform before a call should provide you with valuable information about a prospect. It should help you demonstrate that you understand the prospect’s company and its needs from the beginning of the conversation. (Figure out the company’s/contact’s problems and prepare to show how you can solve them.). Your careful research also ensures that you will understand your contact and his or her role within a company. As such, you will avoid reaching out to the wrong person or expecting an unlikely result.

Keep in mind that cold calling need not replace emailing, social media, and other tools for reaching out to prospects. Instead, you can benefit from using this method of communication along with your other strategies for making contacts and initiating relationships. Cold calling is just another tool in your arsenal, and you will benefit most by using all of the tools at your disposal.

Do you think cold calling is dead? Why or why not?

 

Visual Content for Brand Marketing

Visual Content for Brand Marketing

Visual Content for Brand Marketing

The alternate title for this post is: A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words, because given the rise in visual sharing platforms today, including Pinterest, Instagram, Vine and more, it’s imperative that brands have a plan for creating compelling visual images.

 

 

Some brands have in-house graphic designers or can afford to hire one, which partially solves the problem. But designers need ideas, and ideas need to be aligned with marketing plans and goals.

Here are some ideas for incorporating photos (or short-form video like Vine) into your brand marketing plans, fueling your visual social networks at the same time.

Photos of Your Team & Location

  • Humanize your brand by creating a series of pics of your team: in silly hats, in their workspaces, or out in the field
  • Show off your office, your factory, your stores, or your tradeshow booth in a series or gallery
  • Create a caption contest for funny faces your team members make

Photos of Your Products

  • Take pictures of your products in the wild – being used by actual people in real life
  • Take or crop close-up or partial pictures of products and ask your fans/followers to identify them
  • Create a fashion show or product parade with brand fans at an event, or have an impromptu show with your office staff

Graphic Images of Words or Numbers

  • Create infographics or, at the very least, charts you can share with your social networks – data can be silly (average number of sandwiches eaten between midnight and 4 am) or serious (reduction in bandwidth consumption based on your software efficiency)
  • Illustrate quotes or key data points through typography (example in my image above and also here)

Highlight A Hero Product

  • Highlight a hero product and create a series of topical, relevant photos or graphics around it; Oreo does this exceptionally well
  • Use your hero product as your mascot or spokesproduct in funny cartoons or graphics
So now you’ve got some ideas; the next question is how to create the photos or graphics. Here are a few photo and graphics creation resources to get you started:

Online Photography Help

Photography for Social Media (from Convince and Convert)
iPhoneography Course (from Photojojo)

Photo Editing Apps (simple!)

PicMonkey (my favorite, and what I used to create the image above – free for basic use)
OverHD (for iPhone only – but great for creating images on the fly – worth the $1.99!)

Infographics and Charts

Piktochart (free for basic use)
Infogram (free)

Now go forth and create! And please follow me on Vine (@stephanies), Instagram (stephanies) or Pinterest (stephanieschwab) – leave your links in the comments so I can check out your visual profiles, too!

Image source (frame only): Flickr (eriwst)

 

Mobile Is Not a Strategy, It's a Necessity

Mobile Is Not a Strategy, It’s a Necessity

Mobile Is Not a Strategy, It's a Necessity

Today’s world is growing ever more mobile. It seems that everyone, from the youngest grade schooler to the happy retiree, has at least some sort of mobile device, and it’s more and more likely that device is a smartphone. These devices aren’t used for just entertainment anymore. Today’s users rely on them for everything from driving directions and work productivity to research and shopping. Since you need to be where your customers are, you need more than a mere mobile strategy or mobile campaign. You need to make your business mobile.

You probably need little convincing of the importance of mobile technology for today’s business, but here are some stats, just in case:

The idea of a mobile strategy implies that mobile technology should be separate from other aspects of your marketing plans. It also implies secondary importance. This can be a mistake, as it may lead you to believe that producing an app or creating a mobile campaign or two will prove enough. In reality, your target market expects you to be where it is – in the mobile realm, and it expects you to be easy to find and patronize. If you fail at this, or only provide mobile tools here and there, you can bet your competitors will lure your customers away. This could happen, not because your competitors are necessarily better, but instead because they provide the mobile accessibility you do not.

 

 

Mobile Across the Marketing Organization

When you drop the idea of mobile as a mere strategy, you can begin to see why you need to take your whole business mobile. If your customers can view some of your content on their smartphones but have to wait until they get home to view the content they really want, they will eventually consider going elsewhere. Likewise, if they can access your content but cannot place orders from their devices, there’s a good chance they’ll give a competitor who offers easy mobile ordering a try. To stay competitive and give your target market what it really wants, you’ll need to make sure all of your sites, all of your pages, your ordering system, and your marketing campaigns are mobile. This means leaving nothing out: give no reason for your customers to throw their hands up in frustration and move on to a company that’s better at mobile.

Mobile Is Not So Different From Online

Many of the same considerations that apply to a traditional online presence also apply to mobile. It’s critical to make mobile navigation easy and intuitive. Customers and prospects should be able to find what they need quickly and easily. Your mobile sites should be visually appealing and quick to load, and the content you provide should, as always, be fresh and of value to your audience. Marketers often disagree on whether businesses should create separate mobile sites for their mobile audiences. Taking your business mobile, however, means making sure your sites are easy and even enjoyable to use no matter what type of device your customers and prospects use to access them.

Mobile is Not A Department

You may have mobile specialists within your organization – the folks who understand the underlying tech, can build or specify what you need, or who understand mobile advertising. But everyone in your organization should know what your company’s offerings are on mobile, how your mobile sites work, and how important it is to plan mobile into everything they’re doing, from marketing to commerce to information.

Marketers need to infuse a sense of urgency about mobile throughout their companies, and make sure that it’s not being treated like a separate line item. It’s got to be part of the DNA of everything that you do.

 

Business Social Media: Farming vs. Fishing

Business Social Media: Farming vs. Fishing

Business Social Media: Farming vs. Fishing

As a social media consultant, I get asked this question all the time: Which social media platform should I use for my business. And my answer is always the same: It depends.

Of course, there are many variables to consider when determining your marketing strategy, and your use of social media platform(s) should be part of that strategy.  And your personal preferences, or available resources, must be part of the decision making process. If you hate yourself on video, YouTube may not be your first or best choice of social channels for your business.  If you don’t have a smartphone, Instagram won’t work for you.

But ultimately, for most businesses, I think there’s actually another question which will help you to answer the platforms question. It’s whether you want to own a farm or fish in a river.

Here’s how I see it:

Your own blog, website and email list are like your farm, and social media is like a river where anyone can go and fish.

 

 

Your Farm

When you own a farm, you get to choose everything: what to plant, when to harvest, whether to let it lay fallow.  You own it, and any time and effort you put into it is for your benefit alone.

When you create a blog on your own website (side note: your blog should never, ever be located at blogspot.com or wordpress.com – it should always be somewhere on your company website), you are farming your fields. You are adding value to your website in the form of search engine-friendly content, creating links back to your site when people link to your blog posts, and providing content to your customers and potential customers which may help them build their relationship with you.

The same goes for your email list (which you should start building today, if you don’t already have one), and your website in general. These are things you own. No one can take them away from you. If you later choose to stop farming (stop blogging, stop collecting, email names), that’s up to you.

The River

Social media is a fishing river, and you never know what’s going to happen to that stream. There may be vast amounts of fish one day (or year) and you could see huge benefits from it because you can get fish (customers) you may have never otherwise attracted to your farm (business/brand/cause).  But you’ll never own the river, and so you should never put all of your resources into fishing, to the detriment of your time farming.

Consider how quickly MySpace went away – the stream dried up, and all the money and time brands put into MySpace was lost, forever. The same could happen tomorrow to Facebook or Twitter. Sure, it’s not likely, but it could happen. Or brand pages could just fall out of favor with consumers. Or some other platform will be shinier and newer. The point is – none of these platforms are yours.

You Need Both for a Balanced Presence

Doing both farming and fishing (your own content/properties + social), however, gives you a balanced pantry as well as a balanced business…. and the combination of the two can be very powerful.

I always advocate that small companies and non-profits start their social efforts by creating and writing a blog. It’s rarely what they want to hear – they want to hear that Twitter will be a huge channel and all they have to do is open an account – but blogging is really the best place to start.  And once they have a blog, then they have original content to use in social channels, if they choose: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.  Unfortunately, if they have no interest in blogging, they just won’t do it, and so Facebook or YouTube or something else may be more appealing and more valuable for them. I get that. I just think it’s a short sighted view.

So in my mind, the question a business should ask isn’t whether to choose Facebook over Twitter, or if Instagram is important. The first question to ask yourself is whether you’ve built and tended your farm.

Image source: Flickr (State Records NSW)

 

5 Practical Lead Generation Tips

5 Practical Lead Generation Tips

5 Practical Lead Generation Tips

Looking for more (and better) leads for your business? Hoping to turn more of your leads into actual sales? Generating leads and converting them into sales is a tough, ongoing process, no matter what type of business you’re involved in. Here
are 5 tips for more effective lead generation and conversion:

1.Take a combination approach to generating leads rather than focusing on just one method. Use online and offline ads, word of mouth, referral requests and partnerships with other professionals to generate leads. Network and participate in trade shows as well. It’s also helpful to establish yourself as an expert in your field, which you can do via networking, producing informative online and offline content, building your readership, and speaking at conferences, seminars and workshops. These steps get you noticed, establish your reputation as an industry expert and naturally help generate leads.

2. Always follow up as quickly as possible. Since you’re busy with so many tasks required to run your business, you may feel tempted to delay your lead follow up. This is a mistake. It’s always best to strike while the iron is hot and your lead’s interest is at its peak. If possible, follow up on leads within 30 minutes to one hour, keeping in mind that sooner is always better.

 

 

3. Realize that transforming a lead into a sale can take time. While you prefer to close a sale on the first or second contact, it can take several contacts to close a sale. What does this mean for you? Don’t give up so quickly that you miss out on sealing the deal. Keep in mind that some people may take the information you provide but choose to buy weeks or even months down the line. Develop a plan for deciding whether a lead is truly dead or just needs some nurturing to become a sale.

4. Be a source of information and instruction. You can often attract customers/clients and encourage sales by providing information of value in addition to pushing your products or services. Provide industry news and updates as well as helpful how-to content for your prospects. Teach your prospects how to use your products and how to take advantage of your services. Further gain their attention by offering hints, tips, and advice for making their lives or business dealings easier. For example, if you are a real estate agent who focuses on vacation homes, information about things to do in a vacation area or tips for preparing a home for an extended absence can prove valuable.

Have tips for generating leads and closing more sales? Please share them!

Which Social Media Platform is Right For Your Business?

Which Social Media Platform is Right For Your Business?

Which Social Media Platform is Right For Your Business?

Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest! Oh, my! There are many different social media venues to choose from. While each one might have a place in a social media strategy, not all may be right for your business.

We presented this free social media class entitled “Which Social Media Platform is Right For Your Business?” last week. In case you weren’t able to attend, you can view the presentation right here:

A few of the key takeaways our students learned in this class were:
  • Facebook is about customer retention & relationships
  • Twitter is great for customer service & outreach
  • Pinterest can be used to build rapport with your customers
  • A blog is essential if you don’t have a website
  • LinkedIn is a great tool for account executives and C-level management

 

 

We’ll have more free online classes coming soon. In the meantime, sign up for our free weekly Small Biz Social Media Tips newsletter.

 

How to Get More Referrals

How to Get More Referrals

How to Get More Referrals

 
As a small business owner, referrals should be part of your game plan. Unlike other ways you can get business, referrals don’t cost you anything, except a little effort. And even better than that, people who are referred to you are ready to trust your expertise and buy your products and services. Since people they trust and care about have referred them to your business, they are primed and ready, with little selling on your part. Remember, each customer and business associate has a whole network of people who might need your services. Can you really afford to pass that up?

 

 

Every business can benefit from more referrals, and here are some tips for getting them:

  • The most important tip for getting referrals is simple: remember to ask. Many business owners forget to ask for referrals or feel nervous about doing so. However, if you want more business, you’ll need to make asking for it a habit. Though your customers may think you’re wonderful, they might not think to refer others to you. If you give them the idea, however, many will happily oblige. Whom should you ask for referrals? Basically everyone you know or meet, including friends and family members, current and past business associates, and current and past customers.
  • Ask in person if you can, using good eye contact and a confident, friendly tone of voice. Rather than creating a whole pitch, just casually inject your request into the conversation. If a customer is complimenting you on your services, that’s a wonderful time to ask. You might also ask new customers for referrals at the end of a project, when they’re happy with a job well done, or even when you initially sign an agreement with a new client. For example, you could ask a new client if he will spread the word about you if you do a good job. Look for referral opportunities at networking events as well, and if you have a store, ask customers to refer you when they check out. Ask during meetings with established clients as well. If you can’t ask in person, you can do so over the phone or by email. The important thing is to ask–frequently.
  • Give referrals. Whenever you have the chance, provide referrals as well. If you hire a plumber and he does a great job at a reasonable price, go ahead and give his name and business card to others. If one of your clients needs an interior designer and you know a good one, bring the two of them together. People appreciate this kind of thoughtful attention and will often return the favor by sending business your way.

What’s your best advice for getting more referrals?

 

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.