Tell Your Company Story through Your Blog: Here’s How

shutterstock_17480242157 percent of companies with a blog have acquired a customer from their blog, according to HubSpot’s 2012 State of Inbound Marketing Report. But those numbers skyrocket to 92 percent when companies post to the blog multiple times per day. You’ll be hard pressed to find a company who doesn’t agree that blogging can give business a boost. But not all blogs or content prove effective. Effective blogging strikes a balance between promotional, usefulness, fun and engagement. Take a look at a handful of companies with blogs that work.

Whole Foods Whole Story

Whole Foods has always been a leader in fresh foods, organic fare and healthy alternatives to ready-made-meals. But they also host a leading blog, Whole Story”, with advice, recipes, news and interviews. Instead of simply posting product info and enticing people to buy from their stores, they also host video discussions with doctors and scholars on topics ranging from conscious capitalism to creativity. Whole Story, with advice, recipes, news and interviews. Instead of simply posting product info and enticing people to buy from their stores, they also host video discussions with doctors and scholars on topics ranging from conscious capitalism to creative cooking.

While their range of topics might be varied, they’re not exactly random. Their public core values include quality standards, organic farming, sustainability, animal welfare standards and community care. People come back for engaging content exploring current events and issues and stick around to see what they should make for dinner.

Marriott on the Move

Unlike many blogs typed-out by the voice of various employees or an outside communications team, founder Bill Marriott pens Marriott on the Move. Although the blog covers aspects of hotel business, he also touches on his own experiences and insights like his rules for tipping and taking care of guests. Why do people connect with it? Bill Marriott gives the huge corporation a name, face and personal voice behind the brand. People may only have a passing interest in his posts about his summer reading list, but the invitation into his personal life and how his business runs is a refreshing change from most corporate blogs.

The Zappos Blog

Zappos is renown for its customer service like free shipping both days and a 365-day return policy. The Zappos blog captures that light and friendly voice their customer service team is known for and posts articles about their products, as well as company events. While their blog focuses more on product than other big company blogs, they execute it with style. Readers feel like they’re a part of the team and a friend of the company instead of glancing through their latest selection of new shirts and shoes.

The BikeBandit Community

Blogging is more than photos and content. In addition to proving images and text, you must foster a community and offer them generous tips. BikeBandit offers tips on group motorcycle riding, buying a used motorcycle and funny motorcycle terms you should know. The idea is to give customers a reason to participate. Always ask your readers to respond to a question in comment field to get the conversation started. By giving your customers a reason to engage, you’re also giving them the tools to spread your content and become your biggest cheerleaders.

American Express OPEN Forum

American Express OPEN Forum features a slick and corporate design resembling a digital magazine. The company smartly focuses on their customer base of businessmen and women looking for tools and guidance about running their business. Instead of just blogging about American Express products and services, their content is packed with actionable advice like selling online, reverse mentoring, and taking the pain out of conference calls.

Ice Cream Journal

Get the inside scoop on ice cream and Turkey Hill Dairy with the online Ice Cream Journal. The company lets their eye-catching products speak for themselves with photos and mouthwatering content. They also entice ongoing readership by running user-submitted ice cream recipe contests and giving away prizes. But it’s not just all about Turkey Hill. Recent posts included a story about policemen pulling over drivers and giving away ice cream for their excellent road skills, and soliciting feedback on ice cream filled donuts.

Best Business Uses for Instagram

Short break for a small craft project...

Short break for a small craft project… (Photo credit: sazbean)

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. But in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it rapidity of this modern world, social media suggests that a photo might be worth much more than a thousand words. The right photo at the right time might be worth 10,000 words. Heck, a snap on a smart phone could carry the weight of War and Peace for your business, should everything work out right.

The popular image-sharing app Instagram is an oft-overlooked opportunity for businesses hoping to connect with customers. While sponsored posts that appear in every user’s feed are available (and expensive), the average small business is going to gain Instagram followers the same way they would on Twitter or Facebook: Start your own profile and build from scratch. The more people who opt to follow your feed, the more people you reach.

Show off your goods

With Instagram being an image-based platform, it presents a perfect opportunity to show off what it is that you’re selling.

While plenty of people use the service as a means to show off their products like they were in a catalog, it’s important to note that lots of people online appreciate subtlety in their social media marketing. People take ownership of their feeds and don’t necessarily want their friends’ photos to be interrupted by a commercial. Instead, it can be helpful to present the product in a thoughtful, creative manner.

And for those in the food and beverage industry, what a leg up you have. It’s like Instagram was invented just for you. How thoughtful of them! Half of a person’s Instagram feed is already full of pictures of their friends’ meals, treats, coffees, teas, and cocktails.

Remember: Creative. Thoughtful. Fun.

The photos and videos you can make showcasing your product or business are excellent opportunities for involving customers and potential customers alike in the process. In the world of craft everything—beer, cocktails, cupcakes—more and more people are wanting to feel a part of the processes of production and manufacturing. Instagram is your chance.

With photos and videos, you can take people directly into your woodshed and show them what goes on behind the scenes. Take them to the market with you and document your picking out fresh produce. Getting a little loopy after a long day in the kitchen? Start a dance-off with an employee. A sense of humor goes a long way in a medium like Instagram—anything to get someone to linger over your post for more than half a second.

Another idea is to create demonstrations of how your product works. Or even how your product can be enjoyed. People putting on the clothes you created. Someone enjoying that pie you labored over. Or sitting on that chair you built.

Contests always go over well on social media and Instagram is no different. Offer exclusives and first dibs to your followers.

Remember that on Instagram, just as it is in life, it’s not all business. Let your followers into your life as they do with theirs. Show off your dog, show off your cats. Take a picture of a new piece of art you bought or a beautiful late summer sunset.

Going the Extra Mile: How to Use Twitter to Boost Customer Satisfaction

Image Courtesy of Youssef Rahoui on Flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Youssef Rahoui on Flickr.com

Social media has completely changed the way brands communicate with their customers. Consumers are no longer trapped on their phones, either on hold or cycling through ridiculously long menus just hoping and praying a customer service rep would soon pick up the line. Instead, a customer can hop on his computer or pick up his smartphone to fire off a quick tweet voicing dissatisfaction with a company.

Twitter is a breeding ground for customer concerns, questions, complaints, and (sometimes) compliments. These customers expect to be given something of value in exchange for their loyalty, and they expect that something to happen soon. Above all, brands on Twitter need to be responsive.

The Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study found that, on Twitter, the average response time to a customer service question is eight hours and 37 minutes.

What do users think about this? Data from the 2012 4th-quarter The Social Habit research report showed that 32% of respondents expected a response from a brand within 30 minutes, while 24% still expected a reply within 30 minutes even if they made contact at night, on weekends, or during the business’ off-hours.

This evolution in consumer behavior is changing not only the way brands interact with their customers, but also how they do business at a base level. How can businesses keep up with their customers and better use Twitter as a platform for customer satisfaction?

Have the right people for the job

A properly trained customer service team is worth its weight in gold, as they are the first line of defense in dealing with an unhappy consumer. It’s vital to hire the right people and train them well, as they will be representing brands and interacting with customers on a daily basis. There’s no room for hotheads or Luddites on a brand’s social media team. Twitter customer service reps should be allowed to show their human sides and relate to customers. (For example, reps can sign their initials after their tweets, such as on VirginMobileUSA Care). Creating a sense of trust between customer service and the consumer will build brand loyalty.

Be online when customers are

A customer can tweet at any time of day, including outside of business hours. If they tweet at a corporate handle, they will expect a response and they will expect it now, even if it’s 3am and the social media manager is asleep. Businesses are expected to provide around the clock support, but this isn’t always practical for the businesses. Instead, a brand can clearly state the days and hours that someone from customer service will be answering tweets. It would also be prudent to give customers another way to get in touch, such as through email or phone.

Stay engaged

Don’t wait for a customer question or complaint to come in. Instead, be enterprising! Post tips, tricks and other useful resources that customers can use to solve their problems. With tweets like these a business might be able to reduce the number of customer complaints that come in each day.

Don’t delete

If a brand fails in a particular instance of customer service on social media, they may be tempted to delete the post. Don’t do this. People will remember what a brand said and they may have already screencapped the response, making it possible for the incident to make the rounds on other social sharing sites. Remember, nothing is ever truly deleted from the Internet. Instead of creating an atmosphere of perceived impropriety, own up to the mistake and correct it quickly. Users will appreciate the correction more than they will a perceived deception.

Always be monitoring

Stay ahead of the game. Brands should use monitoring tools and alerts to be notified when customers are talking about their products on Twitter. Users expect companies to find them rather than the other way around. Companies should also consider sentiment analysis along with their monitoring. Are customer comments positive or negative? Set up these alerts to track brand name as well as related keywords and hashtags. A timely, appropriate response will be greatly appreciated by consumers.

Keep it simple

With only 140 characters to utilize, it can be difficult to answer more complex or personal questions on Twitter. Businesses should know when to move the customer to another mode of communication like email or a phone call. Take the time to identify what types of complaints or questions should be elevated to the next level of customer service and outline a response for your Twitter team to use to notify the customer. Twitter is best used for short and simple responses to straightforward inquiries.

Get personal

Treat customers as individuals. Nothing irritates the Twitter audience more than a generic response. Rather than replying to tweets with the same canned message, personalize each response. The tone of each reply should be appropriate for both the message received as well as the customer herself. The response will not exist in a vacuum – others will be able to see it and the tweet may be shared with others.

Consider starting a separate customer account

Rather than crowding a brand’s Twitter timeline with customer service responses, consider creating an entirely separate support account and pointing customers in that direction. For example, Nike operates a separate @NikeSupport account to address customer concerns and complaints. The account is incredibly responsive, having sent over 312,000 tweets while the branded @Nike account has sent just over 15,000 tweets. A separate customer service account also better allows brands to use social media management tools to monitor and organize the customer support account. Team members can filter with keywords and hashtags, and better study the analytics.

Twitter can be a great tool for providing exceptional customer care as well as cultivating customer loyalty. The social media analytics company Simply Measured found that, as of March 2013, 99% of brands are on Twitter and 30% of these have an account devoted to customer service.

The numbers don’t lie – it’s critical for brands to solve customer problems on Twitter.

About the Author

Dave Landry is an online business journalist, personal finance manager, and debt relief counselor in Southern California. When he’s not writing about debt management, he enjoys researching and sharing his knowledge about social media techniques, business communications, and globalization.

How and Why to Get Started with Video Advertising

shutterstock_206087227Print ads, online display and text ads, video ads. My how advertising has progressed. If you are still depending on the written word and photographs to drive your marketing campaigns, you really need to keep reading. This article can change the face of your business. It can help you get more customers and attract better customers.

You do want more and better customers, right?

Why has video advertising boomed?

There was a time when magazines were widely read — cover to cover. That is NOT the norm today. Sales of magazines have plummeted in recent years, notes a study by the Pew Research Center. Television is suffering, too. Once the top of the crop pick for getting your brand and products known, television advertising yielded ground to Internet advertising, filling your computer screen with flash videos and obnoxious pay-per-click banners that got in the way of your online journey.

Google heard your moans and built an empire catering to those who want to find something on the Internet. They determined where the line marking your limit of advertising tolerance was, then began backing off, toning down the advertising frenzy and working hard to return search engine results that would match the intent of your query and not drive you away (to Bing or Yahoo).

Along came apps (applications) and a mass exodus to mobile technology. Seeing an opening, app developers began planting deceptive ads in their products. Once again, Google struck back, warning developers to stop and applying new policies to the situation, notes Julian Evans.

For those wondering how to navigate the treacherous waters without becoming irrelevant, getting lost, or getting penalized along the way, one form of advertising is booming right now, and you absolutely must check it out.

It is becoming impossible to ignore video advertising.

The Second Most Active Search Engine on the Planet

Let’s look at just one platform for video advertising: YouTube. Plunking down a mere $1.65 billion, Google added YouTube to its ever-expanding empire in 2006, reported NBC.

Savvy advertisers know that A) Google IS search, B) YouTube is part of the Google network, and C) Today’s consumers love brief, impactful videos. Take a look at Adweek’s list of The 10 Most Watched Ads on YouTube in 2013 to see why.

Here is a quick-start, three-step action plan to get your video ads up and going. Don’t question it, just do it. Begin with YouTube, then consider other options for placement, if you wish — but why not start at the top?

Plan your campaign: In this regard, video campaigns are no different from any other marketing endeavor. You want to consider questions like these:

  • Who is my intended audience?
  • What do I want them to think or do?
  • What is my call to action (CTA)?
  • How will I follow up with those who respond?
  • How many videos will I release, and when will they be released?

Film your videos: Great videos start with exceptional copywriting. The camera and characters tell the story, but you need a writer to write the story. Don’t skimp here. You want maximum effect: the right people getting the right message. Check out this YouTube lesson: How to Make a Short Film. What makes a good short film? “It’s short!” Keep it simple, relevant, and attention-grabbing. How do you do that? It all begins with writing. For the technical aspects of filming, all you really need to get started is a camera (even your cell phone camera) and someone to operate it. Brush up on the basics of lighting, make sure your sound is clear and has enough volume, choose the setting, and let the camera roll. Gather a professional crew, if you wish, but amateur videos can make a big splash on YouTube. Remember: Your job is to get your message across, not win an Oscar.

Upload to YouTube: This part is crucial. Not the upload process, that is easy. The critical factor is making sure you have your YouTube account set up properly to receive and broadcast it. Consider these tips:

  • Keywords: Determine which words and phrases your target audience would use to find your product or service. These are your “keywords.” Don’t repeat them endlessly, but definitely use them appropriately. Make sure they appear in your filename, title, description, and tags.
  • Metrics: Your YouTube dashboard provides everything you need to get started. You can track the number of views, sources of traffic, minutes watched, engagement, and more. Why is it important to monitor performance and engagement? Metrics allow you to know the TRUTH of the situation. Step out of your own preferences and view the interaction actually taking place with your audience. Metrics are invaluable.
  • CHEAT: Visit the YouTube channels of those already experiencing success with video marketing. Examine their practices ruthlessly, and don’t feel like you are cheating by copying their best practices. After all, we all learn from one another. Take a look at the LifeLock channel, for instance. The company markets identity theft and fraud protection products. See how its copywriter makes the message all about YOU? Note how it uses prime keywords effectively on the About page, how it links to social media channels and website, and how its titles key on its brand. Take advantage of the second most active search engine in the world to look at channels in your niche. Watch to learn.

Your video marketing efforts can easily start and end at YouTube. The possibilities are huge. LifeLock, for instance, has amassed almost 6.5 million views. Would that many eyeballs and ears being exposed to your message be of any value?

Get to work. Your customers are waiting.

Data Visualization: the Way of the Future, or Just a Trend?

datavizWith so much data being created in today’s world, it can be a tremendous task to organize and understand it.

Despite being considered “boring” by many people, data has its place in the business world. Research from Statista found that the top three leading benefits for using big data in business were greater insights into the customer experience that could be worked into new strategies, the ability to analyze consumer feedbackto determine what products customers want, and better understanding customers’ opinions on current products and services.

Data visualizations are especially useful on the web, because they both catch the reader’s eye and allow the reader to more quickly consume important information.

In 2012 Column Five Media and business intelligence company DOMO worked together on an infographic that illustrates the rate at which data is created in one minute online. For example, every minute Google receives over two million search queries, the mobile web receives 217 new users, and Instagram users share 3,600 new photos. The numbers have only grown over the past few years, which raises the question: How can this data be understood and be made actionable?

At its core, data visualization better allows end users to “see” and digest data, which results in a greater understanding of the numbers. It is a broad term that applies to any attempt at helping audiences understand data by putting it in a visual model. With data visualizations, people can more readily spot trends and patterns within data, which helps them communicate their thoughts and ideas faster. In business, this enhanced speed of thought can be good news for the bottomline.

The upside of data visualization is that it makes data more easily accessible to more people. The downside is that these visualizations can become complicated or confusing. Creators of data visualizations could also potentially embellish or misrepresent data with their visual interpretations, whether intentionally or not. It is therefore important that content creators strictly adhere to codes of ethics (such as that created by the Society of Professional Journalists) and remain mindful of their audience.

Researchers from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined what makes data visualizations memorable for the average viewer. They found faces and “human-centric scenes” are generally easy for people to remember while images of landscapes are not. The research also showed that certain things in particular made a visualization more memorable, for example colorful or dense visualizations. Surprisingly, the researchers found that unusual chart types such as tree diagrams are more memorable than more common place one like bar graphs and pie charts.

The researchers from Harvard and MIT also raised an excellent point in their findings: being memorable isn’t the most important part of a visualization. Rather visualizations need to be easy to understand, context appropriate, and accurate.

Today’s data visualizations are certainly more sophisticated than ever before in the past, but the most important point remains the same: a data visualization needs to factually represent and summarize the data while allowing the viewer to make conclusions based on that data.

About the Author

Nick Rojas is a journalist and business consultant based in Los Angeles, CA. and Chicago, IL. You can follow him on Twitter @NickARojas.

5 Tips for Better Twitter Advertising

Accessible Twitter website icon

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advertising on Twitter can be effective for increasing the size of your audience and also for sending traffic to your website. Besides knowing what your goal is, these tips will help you advertise better on Twitter…

1. Goal Impacts Type of Campaign

Deciding on your goal for your Twitter advertising will help you choose the right type of campaign. The promoted account campaign (followers campaign) is best for increasing your followers and building audience for the long term. If your goal is to boost traffic to your website (or to particular pages on your website), then take a look at the promoted tweets campaign. And if you’re trying to get people to install or engage with your mobile app, there’s a campaign for that too.

2. Targeting Usernames vs Interest Categories

For smaller organizations that are looking for niche audiences, use username targeting to find followers similar to the ones you enter. Interest category targeting works better for larger organizations or broader audiences.

3. Good Messaging

Just like any other good messaging, Twitter ads should have use plain and understandable text and have a clear call to action. Adding pictures can also increase clicks on your ads. Try adding 3-5 different tweets to test your message and images.

4. Competitive Budget

Advertising on Twitter can be cost effective, but make sure your bids are within the suggested range or you may see a drastic decrease in the impressions of your ads.

5. Test to Optimize

Just like any advertising, testing will help you optimize the ads to get the best results for your budget and goals. Test different messages, images and calls to action. Test for a certain length of time, and then copy your campaign to make changes and save past tests and data.

Twitter advertising can be a very cost-effective way to increase the reach of your social media marketing.

Book Review: The Visual Organization by Phil Simon

We are inundated and surrounded by Big Data. So much so, that it is very difficult to wrap your mind around how to use all the information that pelts us from all directions every day. Understanding how to use Big Data is becoming imperative for organizations and data visualization is the method to turn data into understandable information. In Phil Simon’s latest book, The Visual Organization, he uses easy-to-understand explanations and real-world examples from a variety of organizations to help you visualize (pun intended) how your organization could use data visualization. Starting with an example of how a data visualization company made it big, Phil shows how the rapid innovation and quickly changing industry of d.v. has opportunities for big disruptions in every field. Organizations of every kind and size would find this book a helpful primer and resource on the way to becoming a visual organization.

Why & How to Use Data Visualization

Divided into four sections, The Visual Organization is a pleasant and interesting read straight-through, but also allows more experienced individuals to skip to the most important sections. You will get an understanding of what data visualization (d.v.) is, why you should care, why some level of d.v. is vital for every organization and how higher levels of d.v. can improve your business strategy by better informing key decisions. One size does not fit every organization, especially for tools. Phil discusses a variety of data visualization tools from large enterprise vendors, open source tools and design firms.

What is a Visual Organization?

Key to becoming a visual organization is understanding what one actually looks like, beyond just concepts and tools to making d.v. an integral part of how the company operates. Phil uses real organizations in his case studies, which include large companies, small companies, non-profits  and show many different ways to leverage d.v. to improve how the organizations operate.

Become a Visual Organization

Becoming a visual organization goes beyond just purchasing some d.v. tools, and Phil discusses steps, strategies, tips and insights to help you put d.v. into practice with a 4 level framework. Understanding what a visual organization would do when making business decisions is key to properly implement data visualization and Phil will help you navigate mistakes, myths and challenges in a real world execution.

Data Visualization Tools

As more data visualization tools come to market, the ability to analyze the wealth of information organizations collect will not only become easier, it will be vital to staying competitive. The easier it becomes to get good information from so much data, the more companies will start to leverage data visualization.  Get ahead of the curve by reading Phil’s book to understand the how, what, and why of using data visualization for your organization.

Buy Now: 

(links to the book on Amazon are affiliate links — feel free to use them, or not)

Use Device Analytics to Engage Your Users

shutterstock_188406302 copySome 47 percent of companies plan to increase their investments in business and Web analytics this year, according to an Econsultancy survey. Meanwhile, demand for analytics skills will drive spending on big data services up 30 percent to $14 billion, International Data Corporation reports.

Companies are investing in analytics because it brings measurable results. Paperchase reported that applying analytics generated a 23 percent boost in online sales, notes Internet Retailing. Many companies are focusing their analytics efforts on tracking standard marketing and sales data such as keyword popularity, demographic information, and ad performance. But when tracking these variables, don’t overlook the value of cross-tracking user engagement across different devices, browsers, and social media.

What Devices Is Your Market Using?

Marketland’s latest summary of data collected by comScore and Chitika shows the importance of tracking device usage. Android holds a commanding lead of 52.3 percent in U.S. device market share, followed by iPhone at 41.4 percent. However, iPhone generates the most mobile Web traffic from smartphone ad impressions, claiming a 53 percent market share to Android’s 44.5.

Such differences point to some important underlying demographics, notes Bikini Marketing. American males prefer Androids over iPhones 31 percent to 24 percent, while females are evenly split. Users 55 and over prefer iPhones, while younger age groups use Androids. Consumers earning more than $75,000 are more likely to use iPhones. All of this translates into iPhone users outspending Android users, accounting for 57 percent of mobile commerce to Android’s 43 percent. Depending on what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to, device preference might be an important item to track.

What Browsers Are Your Buyers Using?

Browser preference is another item to keep an eye on. Computerworld reported in May 2014 that while Microsoft Internet Explorer dominates the desktop browser market, Google’s Chrome browser is growing fastest among mobile browsers. If you’re a marketing consultant selling a product or service geared towards mobile users, such as T-Mobile network coverage, you might consider prioritizing how Google Chrome audiences respond. On the other hand, if you’ve got a niche product aimed at office desktop users, such as an enterprise office suite package, tracking the IE segment of your market might prove relevant.

Where Are Your Social Followers Hanging out?

Meanwhile, as the battle of the browsers unfolds, Facebook has unleashed App Links, which enables deep linking from one mobile application to another without opening a website, bypassing browsers entirely. This underscores the potential importance of knowing which social media platforms your target market is using. Pew research published at the end of 2013 showed women were four times more likely than men to use Pinterest, a trend retailers such as Target and Nordstrom are using to their advantage. Meanwhile teenagers are migrating from Facebook to Instagram, Piper Jaffray’s semi-annual study shows, even as Facebook usage among adults 65 and older has grown 10 percent over the past year, Marketing Charts notes.

Internet Marketing Strategy Articles for the Week of May 12, 2014

Here are the top Internet strategy, marketing and technology links for the week of May 12, 2014…

Tips for Effective Lead Generation

marketoWhile we may have marketing to increase awareness or stay top-of-mind, the gold at the end of the rainbow is generating quality leads. Content marketing and communicating with customers via social channels are great ways to connect, but how do you leverage your efforts to generate leads? Marketo, which provides a marketing automation platform, recently asked several marketers (including me), about lead generation best practices:

There are a lot of philosophies and opinions on lead generation. To help you cut through the noise, we spoke to four leading marketing experts and got some of their best insights. Here’s what they had to say about the dos and don’ts of effective lead generation. — Dos and Don’ts of Effective Lead Generation

Some of my thoughts:

Leveraging your network to drive lead generation can be a very tempting way to try to get referrals. While it certainly makes sense to use this resource, it’s vital to respect your network.

Spamming with marketing and sales offers is the surest way to lose valuable human connections, and increase the deafness to your message when you really need it. Stick to an 80/20 rule for any marketing you do online, but especially to your networks. Eighty percent of your content should be of value to the audience, and only 20% (or less!) should be direct marketing or advertising.

Providing regular, valuable content to your network will increase their awareness of your services and improve your reputation as an expert.

Read more –Dos and Don’ts of Effective Lead Generation

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