Roger

If you are local to North Carolina, get in touch via Thumbtack

on Apr 15 in advertising, For small businesses, marketing posted , , by

Ever wonder why you can buy any product online with a single click, but you can’t hire a photographer, tutor, contractor, or other local service professional without a dozen phone calls? Thumbtack offers a solution. Thumbtack’s mission is to make it dramatically easier to hire services, at the same time empowering independent professionals to grow their businesses. I’m using Thumbtack to help folks local to Raleigh get in touch with me through a trusted, verified source.

2014 portfolio updated

on Jan 24 in advertising, branding posted , , by

Things have been quiet on the blog. But we’ve been busy! Here’s our 2014 portfolio, updated with additional services including video production.

How marketers can use Twitter’s weak social connections

on Oct 08 in branding, business, social media, strategy, Twitter posted , , by

twitter birds and speech bubblesIn this article in Social Media Today, Neil Alperstein discusses the premise that the weak social ties we experience on Twitter, where interactions occur mainly between followers, rather than personal friends.

Why is this observation important? Because, according to Alperstein, weak social ties do not require trust in order to be effective. He cites issue-based groups, that might tweet particular hashtags to gain traction.

Interestingly, Alperstein’s thesis runs counter to that espoused by Malcom Gladwell in The Tipping Point, that strong social connections are necessary to elicit societal change.

There’s a lesson here for marketers as well. If Alperstein is correct, and “proximity, trust and incentive to connect based on friendship no longer matter” then marketers must understand that the approach to brand marketing on Twitter will be quite different to that on Facebook, where social connections among fans are typically stronger.

This means in practice that a marketer will want to provide value, as always, but it may also be necessary and justifiable to increase the size of the marketing megaphone to reach an audience. This translates into tweeting more often, maybe repeating some high value tweets, and not worrying too much about connecting with every single follower whose tweets are mostly “Wassup?” It also reinforces an influencer marketing strategy, since it weak social connections imply that the brand network may have less impact than the networks of influencers.

15 helpful tips to grow your LinkedIn group into thousands

on Sep 05 in hints and tips, linkedin, social media, social networks, tools posted , , , by

huge crowd crossing a bridge

(Image courtesy of NASA)

After LinkedIn’s revamp to its groups and bringing teenagers onto its platform, competition for eyeballs is going to increase dramatically.

Here is a 15 step guide to starting and enhancing your group so that it will grow—hopefully into the thousands. These tips will help you get started with your LinkedIn group. They will also help established group managers boost their group’s numbers.

These techniques are based on my own experience with my Biodiversity Professionals group, started in November 2010. The group is close to more than 10,000 and still growing.

Set up

1. Pick a great name

LinkedIn gives you five chances to change the group name. It’s best to get it right first time. Choose a name that’s relevant and easily recognized. That’s why brands shoud create a Company page. A Group page is for creating a community, not for raising brand awareness. To pick a winning name, think about the focal topics of the group, and about LinkedIn users. Most LinkedIn users are professionals looking into expanding their network. A good name might include “Professionals,” or “Network.” In any case, keep the name to two or three words max.

2. Choose the right topic

Make sure the topic of your group is going to resonate with LinkedIn users. (See LinkedIn user demographics.) To connect with your target audience, apply the Goldilocks principle: consider a topic that is not too specific nor too broad. A very broad topic will mean that you’re competing with a lot of other groups. For instance if you call your group “Social Marketers”, you’ll need to battle for attention among more than 5,000 other groups. On the other hand, “Marketing Statistics Experts”, would not be a specialty for more than a few users. So a topic such as Social Media Analysts might work well. You’ll also have more success helping your group grow if you have some basic expertise in your topic. If you can respond with authority on posts, you will build the group’s credibility. If you’re on thin ice, reach out to experts who are able to respond with some gravitas.

3. Provide some branding

LinkedIn’s new group page format now allows you to feature a nice big (640 x 200) banner or “Hero image” at the top of the page. Do not neglect the opportunity to replace the generic blank graphic! At the very least, use stock photos and screen shots if you don’t have a design budget. There are a bunch of free graphics tools if you don’t have Photoshop.  Even easier to use, Cooltext enables you to create an attractive logo from a menu of preset graphics and templates. Another easy technique is to use a word cloud generator, such as Wordle. Create a text document with your topic keywords. Repeat keywords with a frequency that reflects your focus. Choose your color scheme and font, and hey presto, instant great looking banner!

4. Optimize description

When you set up a group you need to create a summary about your group and a full description. Craft these carefully! The summary serves as the page description that appears in Google Search results, so it will be key to ensure your page does well if people are searching in Google. Use the longer description to give members a thumbnail sketch of your group’s interests, goals and activities. This is where you entice members to include your group as one of only 50 that LinkedIn allows them to join.

5. Create a welcome banner

The page banner is a slider, but only the first slide features your hero image. After that, content is determined by the items in your list of Manager’s Choice posts. (Click the Search tab to access the Manager’s Choice list.) To create a welcome message for the slider, first post a welcome message to the Discussions. Then set the order of Manager’s Choice items so that your welcome message is first in the list. When your banner image slides over, users will see the welcome message next. You can create additional posts that help users with the group, such as etiquette when posting.

6. Create an automated jobs feed

Remember your audience! Many LinkedIn users are networking to look for jobs. Your group’s Jobs tab provides a place to discuss and post jobs. The tab gives you the option of creating an automated jobs feed that pulls in job opportunities from across LinkedIn. Click on the Jobs tab, and click Edit in the Create a Feed box. Choose keywords that align most closely with your group’s topics. You might need to fine-tune the keywords to get the most relevant jobs. You can also customize the feed by selecting various filters such as countries, junctions, industries and experience. Be sure to let users know about your jobs feed in your messaging. You can also create a post and make it a Manager’s Choice so it appears in your banner area (see #5). If you try to put more than ten discussions in your Manager’s Choice list, you might encounter bugs with the list. Keep it to ten or less and things should work fine.

7. Create a URL shortener

A URL shortener is useful to post information about your site in Twitter. To get a link to your group’s About page, click Manage>Send Invitations, and you will see a box labelled “Link”. (See #9 for tips on sending invitations.) Use Bitly to create a user-friendly URL that helps users recognize the URL’s topic. The best thing about the URL shortener is that you can use it to track the number of clicks. So you could create variations on a URL and then track it to specific networks and webpages. For example, post bit.ly/mygroupA only to Twitter. Post bit.ly/mygroupB only in emails. Post bit.ly/mygroupC in the comments of influencer blogs. Then you can compare which posts get the best response. Hootsuite (free for up to five social accounts) provides a URL shortener with various analytics tools.

8. Post some initial content

Before you put effort into promotion, seed your group’s Discussion page with some initial content. The easiest way to start is simply to post links to information and news that will interest your group. Be sure that the content is relevant and useful. To find up-to-date content, you can set up Google Alerts and Twitter streams.

gold star with text tipPOWER TIP! Be sure to optimize your own profile before going wild with promoting your group. Users will check out your profile. If it sucks, they might be a bit reluctant to join your group, especially just as you are trying to get it off the ground.

Promote

9. Reach out to your network

Once your group is primed and ready for action, now is the time to begin promoting. The first step is to use the “Send Invitations” feature, under Manage Group in the Manage tab. However, group invitations cannot be customized. My advise is don’t use the generic messaging. Send invitations one-on-one to your network. This is your network, so speak to them about your group, why you’re inviting them, and how they can contribute. Always personalize the message!Here’s an example:

“Hi <Contact Name>, I hope you don’t mind a message out of the blue! It’s just that I am so excited about this new LinkedIn group I created. It’s called <Group Name>, and it features news and jobs for professionals like you. It’s also a great opportunity to contribute to relevant discussions about <Group Topics>, and your opinions are sure to be valued by group members. Just click the link to join. Thank you so much! Regards, <Your Name>.”

10. Post on other social networks

Once you have a few members in your group, start reaching out on other social networks. Twitter and Facebook are good places to start. Google Plus also has an audience that may be interested in professional networks. My biggest successes have come with posting links on Wikipedia. You do need to be careful, since Wikipedia editors are very strict about external links and will quickly delete any links that smell at all spammy. It helps if you’re already an established Wikipedian. Otherwise, get an established Wikipedia editor, if you can, to help you post a link to an appropriate page. (Contact me if you’re interested in this option.) 

11. Use message templates

Automated messages are sent to a user when they request membership, or they’re approved. I am not a huge fan of automated generic emails, and neither are your group members. Message templates (under the Manage tab) are a good way to personalize those messages, and to set the stage for building a relationship with your group members. For example, you can customize the welcome message. If you don’t, the default LinkedIn confirmation message will be sent instead.

Manage

12. Approve members promptly

If you have a closed group, you need to approve members. Don’t let this job linger! By approving people quickly, you maintain their initial interest. New members appear in the feed on the top right of the page, along with new discussions. By approving members regularly, users can see that more people are joining, and will be more likely to participate in the group.

gold star with text tipPOWER TIP! The profile that you approve the last appears in the the Latest Activity box first, so you want to make sure that your most recently approved member has a nice photo or a good profile, improving the group’s credibility. This also helps to push lower quality content off the prime real estate of the Recent Activity box.

13. Moderate gently

When moderating posts, again exercise the Goldilocks principle: don’t be too strict or too lenient, just about right. If you are too strict, you might put off users who overshare, which might work against you when other users aren’t posting much. Some activity is better than none! Also, some users may not be familiar with etiquette. If posts tend to be spammy, create a Discussion with appropriate guidelines and make it a Manager’s Choice, so users can see what’s expected. In any case, unless posts are totally inappropriate, you can move posts to appropriate tabs.

14. Thank frequent contributors

The backbone of your group and its key to success are the users that most often contribute quality content. Take a few moments to thank them with a personal message. They may even appreciate being thanked in a Discussion (be sure to ask!). These “ambassadors” can help in other ways, such as sharing your own content with other groups and social networks. Bottom line: social media is about building relationships. Use that

15. Send announcements sparingly

One of the best things about the LinkedIn groups is that you can email all members with the “Send an Announcement” feature. But remember that some members might have opted out of receiving the announcements. To avoid more opt-outs it’s a good idea to send only important announcements with relevant information. In other words, don’t spam your group! One way to get buy-in is to post a Discussion asking for news and other items that will be of interest to the group. This way, you can embed your own news, links, etc. in the message, while also serving the needs of your carefully nurtured community. If you follow the advice above, you have every chance of growing your group into thousands strong. I’d love to hear of any other thoughts or suggestions that aren’t mentioned above, or of your own experience with any of these suggestions.

More helpful hints and tips

 

  • Starting your LinkedIn group page

 

LinkedIn groups for beginners

LinkedIn Groups – How to Encourage, Entice and Engage

LinkedIn Groups for PR: A beginner’s guide

Top 10 Reasons To Start A LinkedIn Group

 

  • How to engage LinkedIn users

 

Engage the experts: winning content strategies for LinkedIn Groups

How to engage your LinkedIn followers

 

Four ways to make your content marketing EPIC

on Aug 20 in business, content marketing, hints and tips, social media, strategy, trends posted , by

charlton heston spreading arms in epic movie moses

ep·ic [ep-ik] 3. heroic; majestic; impressively great:

Ooh, I do love a good meme. So when my mom told my girlfriend to enjoy an “epic” birthday, that, I thought to myself, is a great word. And I love acronyms too. So in the spirit of sharing my thoughts and experience here are four ways to help make your content marketing E-P-I-C.

letter e woodcut

E is for Engage

If you can’t engage users in your content, don’t bother. Why is engaging your audience so important? Because at the heart of content marketing is the social signal. And the social signal is important because it is a key measure in the latest iterations of Google’s search algorithm. That is, all else being equal, content with higher social engagement (such as comments, shares and likes) will rank higher in search results. So first and foremost, your content must engage the audience. If not, you are certainly wasting your time. You’re also wasting the time of any content user who is kind enough to spend time looking at your material.

By engaging, you must give your fans the opportunity to interact. What is the point of social media if you are not engaging your audience in a two-way conversation? That means allowing comments on your blog, and social channels (including YouTube!). If you don’t allow comments, ask yourself what you’re afraid of? If trolls flame your social page, nine times out of ten, they’ll get a smack down from page fans. And remember, the bottom line is that you have control. Worse comes to worse, you can delete a negative comment. (I usually wouldn’t advise that, since a negative comment may actually alert you to a problem with a product or service. But you have no obligation to tolerate mindless bashing.)

Interactivity also means that you allow users to share your content. Social channels make this easy, but you can move things along by asking users to share. Also don’t forget to include a share button on your website! Designers think it’s enough to add social icons, but it’s easier for a user to bookmark or share a page if you provide one-click functionality right there on the page.

letter p illustration

Whether the goal of your content marketing is to generate leads or simply raise brand awareness, your content will always reflect your organization. So content must always reflect the professionalism of your team.

P is for Professional

Professional doesn’t mean that your blog, video or photos need to be slick and aloof. At the least, though, content should meet a minimum standard. It’s easy to figure out where to set that standard. Look at competitor’s content. Can you do better? If so, that’s your minimum standard. In practice, that means, for example, that your website meets design best practices including accessibility and coding standards.

Also a minimum standard means that text content is aligned with your audience, which usually means being grammatically correct and free of spelling errors and typos. Likewise, photos should be well-composed, appropriately sized for the medium, and given context with a caption.

Professional content also means that it is relevant to the audience. My dad told me that when he was in the Royal Navy, three topics were banned in the officers’ mess during meals: sex, religion and politics. So unless your brand is centered on those, it’s best to usually avoid them. Some things just don’t need to be shared. Even LOLcats are great fun, but are they relevant to the conversation you want to have with your audience? Talking of fun, professionalism doesn’t meant that content can’t be fun or funny. But humor and levity are spices best used judiciously in your content marketing dishes.

letter i woodcut

I is for Innovative

So much content. So few eyeballs. Well, there are a lot of eyeballs. But there is also a lot of competition. To rise above the noise, you must be creative! Innovation in content is probably the most challenging aspect of content marketing. But there are a few ways to help the creative juices flow. First, don’t be a one or two pony show. Facebook and Twitter are fine, but there’s a world of awesome channels that will stretch your imagination and inspire new ways of delivering your message.

Pinterest will force you to think about new ways to depict your content visually, whereas Tumblr offers a way to blog via video, images and podcasts as well as writing. Microvideo such as Vine and Video on Instagram, and mobile chat apps such as Kik, impose limits that encourage totally new ways to present content. Marketers are struggling with ways to leverage the appeal of ephemeral content channels such as Snapchat, but there may be untold opportunities for those that crack those particular nuts.

If you’re stuck for new ways to present your stuff, brainstorm! If you’re a team of one, remember that you can tap into your audience for ideas and inspiration. Another approach is to Google “next big thing” (and set up an alert) to make sure you don’t miss the latest developments in technology or media that will help you deliver your message in new ways.

But it’s not just about technology. Remember the Blend-Tec guy who sacrificed an iPhone in his high end blender? (This was in the days that the iPhone was the must-have device.) That video went viral, not because YouTube was new, but because he found a shocking (but SFW) way to deliver the message about his product.

letter c diagram

C is for Consistency

I worked with a client whose Facebook page had a feature: Photo of the Week. Yet, when I analyzed the timing of the posts, there was practically no instances where a photo had been posted two weeks in a row. The posts seemed random. The client thought that Photo of the Week was a good idea, but did not understand that it would mean to most users that a photo would be posted, well, once a week.

Inconsistency can reflect poorly on your product or brand. Why? When you are delivering social content you set up expectations – expectations of timing and quality. If those expectations are not met, fans will at best shrug and go on to the next meme de jour. Worse, they could troll your page, leaving you spending time on damage control rather than generating leads and inspiring loyalty.

Consistency, then, means meeting your fans’ expectations and keeping promises. It means providing quality content that is engaging, that to a minimum professional standard, and that is inventive and imaginative. It really means providing EPIC content.

I hope these suggestions will bring some epicness to your content marketing strategy. As always, I can’t include every hint and tip, so if you have any thoughts, I’d love for you to share them in the comments or just drop me a line.

Marketers need to understand the bad side of using Facebook

on Aug 15 in facebook, marketing, psychology, social media posted , , by

facebook meme ecard

According to a BBC article published today, a University of Michigan study finds that Facebook use makes people feel worse about themselves. Interesting. But what does that mean?

The research seems to raise more questions than answers. If it’s true, why do people spend so much time on Facebook? But the study does not mean a death knell for Facebook. Other research shows that Facebook satisfies an innate psychological need for social connection.

That said, the findings have important implications for brands trying to connect with users on the social network. Marketers need to understand first and foremost that one-on-one social connections are the only way, in the long run, to build relationships with users. That is a hard grind, requiring time, effort, a minimum level of competency and authenticity. Sorry, no shortcuts.

Another important implication is that brands can work to ensure that users feel better rather than worse about themselves. The report cites the Fear Of Missing Out theory as one reason people feel bad after using Facebook. This concept suggests bad feelings arise as “a side effect of seeing friends and family sitting on beaches or having fun at parties while you are on a computer.”

Marketers could counter this perception of social isolation in several ways. For example, brands can reward engagement with increased interaction or incentives such as sweepstakes. These might help the user feel as though they belong to an in-group who are granted special privileges. Another possibility is to organize online (or even in-person) meet ups or clubs where users can share stories, products, special deals and so forth.

These approaches may not be easy to implement in practice. But brands must understand that Facebook usage does have negative consequences and they must be prepared to deal with that. Marketers must also understand that there are no easy fixes for creating an effective presence in social media. It’s a hard slog, and providing value and keeping commitments are not cheap, so your brand shouldn’t be either.

Three things brands must do before they engage influencers

on Jul 24 in branding, business, marketing, strategy, thought leaders, trends posted , , by

painting jesus sermon on the mount illustrate influencer

Jesus may well be the original influencer. Certainly the Church knew how to use him to market their product. Was Jesus the original influencer? Maybe so, and whether you are religious or not, influencer marketing is the next big thing for social marketers. If it’s not on your radar already it should be.

A post in Social Media Today highlights three influencer marketing campaigns. Such successes encourage brands and social marketers to include influencer marketing as part of their strategy.

Yes, influencer marketing is a vital mix to a marketing strategy. But it should only one part of the overall strategy. Even the best-crafted influencer outreach will fall on deaf ears if the brand doesn’t provide value, both for the influencer and for the audience. 

An influencer will not support a brand that has a crappy product or web presence. Would you recommend a lousy product or service to your family and friends? And no, neither will influencers, simply because they will be aware of the impact on their own reputation and brand.

Indeed, influencer marketing carries a risk, since influencers may be just as likely to trash a lousy product as they are to praise it.  Before jumping onto this particular bandwagon, influencer marketing must therefore be preceded by three essential steps. Look at these first, and if you can answer the questions, you are good to go! 

  1. Brand review — Is your corporate messaging aligned with business goals and your communications strategy. Do your mission and vision statements adequately represent your organization? Have you established a set of core values, and ensured your logo and tag lines match your brand?
  2. Social audit — Does your social presence past muster? Does your social media outreach comply with best practices (optimized profiles, engaging consistently and effectively)? Are you a Facebook-only operation or are you engaging across all relevant social platforms?
  3. Website audit — It your website up-to-date and socially optimized? Does it provide an interactive engaging user experience? Is it search optimized with rich content? 

Once you can check all these boxes you can start connecting with influencers. At which point an influencer is more likely to respond positively to your outreach efforts. If you can’t, your influencer outreach might cause more harm than good.

 

Why you should include Wikipedia in your social strategy – now more than ever

on Jul 23 in linkedin, social media, trends posted by

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. (Image courtesy of The Independent)Social media consultants rarely even mention Wikipedia, let alone include it as part of a social strategy. But recent changes to the site could change that.

Wikipedia is turning over a new leaf. According to this article in The Independent, Wikipedia’s new open initiatives include “a simplified user interface and a better-publicised API to attract developers.” What that means is that Wikipedia is likely to attract new audiences, both users and contributors.

Despite Wikipedia’s strict editing guidelines, editors can find ways to provide value on the site and ultimately drive traffic or build audiences. You just have to be smart and not greedy. The place to start is to build a presence on the site. If you contribute by editing existing articles, other editors can see that you are actively engaged and not just trying to add spammy links. As you build credibility, you can judicously add relevant links to appropriate URLs.

The results can be impressive. For example, I grew a group on LinkedIn to more than 9,000 members in about 2.5 years. I attribute that growth largely to a link I put on Wikipedia. Due to my work on Wikipedia (which includes several hundred edits), I now have a group of 9,000 users that I can email anytime I want.

So if your social strategy does not include Wikipedia, maybe you should think how it will. Until then, you are missing the opportunity to tap into the audience of one of the web’s top ten most visited websites.Actual growth of LinkedIn Biodiversity Professionals group from November 2010.

Big brands offer small businesses Google Plus opportunity

on Jul 19 in google, hints and tips, social media, trends posted by

Uh, oh. It looks like big brands are not 100% behind Google Plus.

According to a couple of recent surveys, top 20 online retailers in the UK and the US have a lackluster presence on Google Plus. Some of the big brands post rarely or not at all. Other brands post a lot, but have very low levels of user interaction.

According to the numbers, 19 of the top 20 UK online retailers had Google Plus pages but only 13 posted content on a regular basis,” and “US retailers are even less bothered about Google Plus than their UK counterparts, with just 12 of the top 20 US online retailers updating their pages on anything like a regular basis.”

So how should smaller brands respond? Should you abandon Google Plus if big brands won’t put their faith in the channel? If you’re not on Google Plus already, should you just stick to a cookiecutter Facebook and Twitter strategy? I think not.

Instead of assuming that big brands know best, recall that most of them are slow adopters. Most people reading this were probably on Facebook and Twitter before big brands jumped on the bandwagon. So it will be with Google Plus. But that’s beside the point. The lack of big brand engagement signals an opportunity for smaller businesses to develop an audience while the big brands play catch up later on.

Being an early adopter gives you the advantage of providing value and connecting with your audience without being drowned out by the blaring firehouse of big brand messaging. In fact, now is the time to put more effort into Google Plus: optimizing your profile, curating quality content and having meaning conversations. And that’s what social media is about, right?