Using Earned Media & Your Customer’s Social Connections to Spread Your Company’s Message

word of mouth Using Earned Media & Your Customer’s Social Connections to Spread Your Company’s Message

Let’s say your company recently came out with a new product and it has fallen to you to inform all of the potential customers about the new offering and to spread the message as widely and efficiently as possible. What do you do? Well, one of your first steps is to identify the target market for the new product by compiling all of the relevant demographic and geographic data. While this is all well and good, it turns out that there is another important factor you should consider about your target audience aside from simply who they are and where they’re located if you want to create the most successful campaign possible: your potential customers’ social networks. Indeed, online social media platforms have not only made discovering your potential customers’ social networks easier, but have vastly multiplied the power of what is generally called “earned media.”

Defining Our Terms

First, some definitions. When companies seek to spread a message they generally utilize three different types of media: owned, paid, and earned. Owned media comprises all of the channels that a company can control, such as their website, company blog and social media accounts. Although this represents the easiest and most direct way for a company to get the word out to customers, there is no guarantee that anyone will see these messages, especially people who are not already customers. Paid media, by contrast, includes all of those channels that a company can pay to spread their message for them. These channels include display advertisements, paid search, sponsorships, etc. While paid media guarantees that your message will get in front of lots of eyeballs, many people tend to discount whatever they see in these kinds of advertisements, viewing them as having poor credibility or, at worst, being spam.

pic1 Using Earned Media & Your Customer’s Social Connections to Spread Your Company’s Message

Earned media, on the other hand, is the term used to describe when the customers, themselves, become the channel through which a company spreads its message. Sometimes called “word-of-mouth”, “creating a buzz”, or “viral marketing”, earned media offers companies the least control over how and to whom their message is spread, is hard to measure, and can easily turn negative. However, earned media is far and away the most trusted kind of media in the eyes of consumers as the message is conveyed not by the company or an advertisement but by a person that the consumer already knows and trusts.

How about an example of earned media at work: Let’s say your company creates a video about the new product and posts it on all of their owned media, including the company’s Facebook page. At that moment the video has a fairly limited reach as only the people who already know and “Like” the company will be exposed to the video. Then, one of those people who Likes the company watches the video and enjoys it so much that she decides to share it on her own Facebook page. Now all of that user’s connections on Facebook are exposed to the video, dramatically increasing the video’s reach and allowing the company to spread its message to a whole new group of people they may not have otherwise targeted in the first place. Maybe one of that user’s friends decides to share the video, too, exposing it to all of his Facebook friends. You see where this is going…

Show Me the Money

That is the power of earned media and leveraging the social connections of your target audience. When customers become the vehicles of delivery for a company’s message, the message gains far more credibility, reaches far more potential customers, and accomplishes all of this at little to no cost to the company. Don’t believe me? How about some numbers: As of August, 2013, 93% of marketers said that they used social media for business purposes. Up to 92% of consumers say that they trust word-of-mouth recommendations (i.e. content that they receive from their social connections), but only 24% say they trust online advertisements. Indeed, a report by Wildfire discovered that 82% of users that clicked on a friend’s news feed post about a quiz they’d taken went on to take the quiz themselves. According to AdAge, earned media is responsible for 25-40% of all traffic and lead generation and yields 5% or higher conversion rates, as opposed to only 1% or less for traditional paid media. Another study which focused on a large telecommunications firm that was marketing a new service found that “network neighbors” of current customers (i.e. those customers’ social connections) ended up adopting the new service at a rate 3 to 5 times greater than the baseline groups selected by the best practices of the firm’s marketing team. Because it is organic and authentic, earned media clearly has the advantage over owned and paid media when it comes to getting potential customers to engage with a company.

So what about the value of earned media? How much is a Facebook Like or a friendly blog post really worth? Well, thanks to Social Chorus we can now concretely measure the value of social word-of-mouth marketing efforts. For example, Social Chorus found that a blog post endorsing a company or one of its products or services is by far the most valuable type of earned media with an estimated value of $853.00.  Facebook Likes, the most widely deployed of all social endorsements, is valued at $1.60, while Facebook shares are worth $10.17 and Twitter Tweets and Retweets represent a $5.00 value. And remember: because earned media is delivered by the customers, all of this value is generated at no direct cost to the company. So from a strict budgetary perspective, there’s no contest when you compare paid media to earned.

Tips for Getting Earned Media

So how can your company start getting some earned media of its own? Well, the most important thing to do is to create content that people find so interesting and cool that they decide to share it (see our article in Denver Post’s YourHub on Content Marketing for more on that).  As social media is an inherently selfish platform, generally the most “shareable” kinds of content are things that allow a user to discover an aspect of their personality they weren’t aware of or to display facets of their personality to share with their friends. One recent and highly successful example of this comes from LinkedIn, which sent out emails to some of its users early in 2013 telling them that they were among the top 1%, 5%, and 10% most-viewed profiles in 2012. Wanting to impress their friends with their newfound status, these users then went on and shared this information with all of their connections, thereby providing tons of free publicity for LinkedIn.

A more obvious tip to get your company some earned media is to provide value to your customers. According to that Wildfire report mentioned earlier, posts that get the most engagement on Facebook include information about coupons, giveaways, and sweepstakes. However, discounts and the like are not the only kind of value people care about. Providing information about a new product, giving out helpful tips, or sharing behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the company are all ways of delivering value to your customers and fans. How do you know what your customers value? Use social media to listen in on how your company is being discussed by people and in what context.

Also, you can always use both owned and paid media to create earned media for your messaging campaign. While some people are busy predicting the end of paid media as a useful form of message promotion, smart marketers know that paid media is actually shifting in purpose from the foundation of marketing efforts to a catalyst for earned media. For example, there’s no reason not to use paid media in the ramp up to the holidays in order to get your message out to as many people as possible who, in turn, may decide to share that information with friends and give you some valuable earned media.

pic2 Using Earned Media & Your Customer’s Social Connections to Spread Your Company’s Message

 

Finally, the other option available to businesses who want to generate earned media for themselves is to hire a company that specializes in this sort of thing. Relevance Media, for example, targets individuals on social media based on behavioral profiling and leverages network effects to spread highly targeted messages from the nodes (people) they can readily identify to other nodes (their friends) that have not yet been exposed to the message. In this way, companies like Relevance Media can build audiences for messaging around specific profiles while identifying and reaching other, previously unknown, users.

Now, let’s be clear on one thing: earned media is not necessarily free media. It requires hard work to generate and sustain steady coverage and to build on the momentum of past successes. However, by providing real value to your customers and by utilizing platforms like social media that allow customers to share this value throughout their social networks, your company will be able to make the most out of earned media and maybe even generate content that achieves that coveted “viral” status.

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Why Photos and Videos are VITAL to Social Media Marketing (And Regular Ol’ Marketing) Success

In writing up one of my earlier blog posts about the biggest trends in social media for 2014, one particular trend popped up on every single list: the rising importance and power of visual-centric platforms. Whether its Instagram, SnapChat, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc., the platforms in which visual content is the main form of communication have soared in popularity and seem poised to change the way individuals and businesses communicate with their social connections.

Why is this the case? Well, before I blow your mind with some numbers and statistics, let’s think about it. The major trends in social media all have to do with accommodating the increasingly limited attention spans of users. Long-form blogs gave way to microblogs, Facebook posts gave way to 140 character Tweets, YouTube videos gave way to micro-videos, and so on. This doesn’t seem too complicated a concept to grasp: people tend to be pretty busy, and even when they’re not they have little patience when it comes to digesting the content they find online. As 65-85% of people describe themselves as being visual learners, it only makes sense that companies looking to squeeze the most engagement out of every post will start utilizing multimedia whenever possible.

In the spirit of this blog post, I’m going to use lots of pictures to communicate my points. First up, let’s look at some of the statistics that prove the importance of multimedia content:

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1909 Victor Flash Lamp Why Photos and Videos are VITAL to Social Media Marketing (And Regular Ol’ Marketing) Success

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Facebook icon Why Photos and Videos are VITAL to Social Media Marketing (And Regular Ol’ Marketing) Success

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So now that we know how important visual content is, what are some ways you and your business can increase the number of image or video posts you produce? If your company is in the business of selling products, that’s a simple fix: put up more photos of your products! Maybe add some neat facts and features to the images. Upload a video of someone using and/or reviewing the product. If your company sells services, create and upload some visually interesting PowerPoint presentations onto platforms like SlideShare and share them across your social media accounts. Design a cool infographic detailing some important facts and figures about your industry, your services, your customers, etc. Regardless of what kind of business you have, you can always post pictures accompanied with quotes or tips.

Most important, of course, is to consciously consider what you want this content to do and where you want people to go after viewing it. Do you want someone to see this photo and go buy your product? Do you want to tease your audience with a piece of your infographic in order to drive them to your website? Overall, the most successful social media posts are those that evoke an emotional response. So whether you’re looking for an “aww” or a “ROFL!”, make sure that your photos and videos are made with a concrete goal in mind.

I’ll finish this post up with a couple infographics I found during my research that contain even MORE fun facts and statistics about the importance of multimedia content! (Click to view them on the original web page)

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Images Infographic 276x1024 Why Photos and Videos are VITAL to Social Media Marketing (And Regular Ol’ Marketing) Success

 

 

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Why Being Mobile Matters

This probably won’t come as a shock to you, but more and more people are buying and using mobile internet-connected devices, like smartphones and tablets, to conduct an increasing share of their online activities. It seems that people increasingly can’t fathom a single moment where they’re not able to conduct a Google search at will wherever they happen to be. Don’t believe me? Get ready for some numbers.

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It has been projected that the number of mobile devices around the world will soon surpass the total population of the Earth! As it stands today, there are roughly 6.8 billion mobile devices used by 7 billion people. In the US, a reported 56% of adults own smartphones while another 34% own a tablet. And these numbers definitely translate into dollars and cents. In 2011 mobile purchases accounted for $6.7 billion in the US, or a full 8% of online sales. Given these facts, it seems fairly obvious that businesses should be doing everything they can do make sure their website is fully optimized for mobile usage, right?

Turns out some businesses still haven’t gotten the message. In fact, according to a 2013 report by Adobe, a full 45% of businesses still do not have a mobile-optimized site or app. Another survey released around the same time found that, of those businesses that don’t utilize mobile devices 65% say they have no plans to do so in the future. What are they, nuts?!

For those of you trying to figure out how best to get your business onto mobile devices, here are a few important things you must consider:

First off, you need to recognize that having a mobile presence is not simply about making sure your website fits onto the range of mobile devices out there. A truly successful mobile presence must first and foremost take into account the behavior and context of mobile usage. Typically, when users turn to their mobile device they are doing so with a specific goal in mind, and for the most part it’s about finding a few key pieces of information to help them solve a problem they are dealing with that instant. You need to go to an ATM, but don’t know the neighborhood well. You’re going to be late for your doctor’s appointment but forgot the phone number. You’re assembling a piece of furniture you bought and can’t understand the printed instructions. In all of these cases, these users are looking for one or two distinct pieces of information, and they want them NOW! Therefore, when designing your mobile-optimized website or app, make sure you first understand what the user is most likely going to be looking for when they come to your site via mobile. Once you’ve figured that out, you then need to make sure these users can access this information as easily as possible. That means putting all of that information right on the first page a user encounters when visiting your site and organizing it in such a way as to be readily apparent. Users do not want to click deep into your mobile site to get at what they want.

Next, it’s time to reverse the traditional thinking about mobile optimization. For most companies who invest in mobile sites, they try to find ways of condensing their normal, desktop-viewable, website onto a 5-7” screen. Unfortunately, this strategy just ain’t going to cut it anymore. Rather, you need to be considering how content is going to fit onto your mobile site from the point of creation. Rather than making content and then scaling it down, make the content and then scale it up.

Another important factor is site loading time. Mobile users are especially impatient when it comes to waiting for a webpage to load. In fact, according to a Mashable report Amazon apparently discovered that sales increased by 1% for every 100 milliseconds they could shave off webpage loading times. Therefore, you need to make sure to keep your file sizes as small as possible, keep the number of steps required to complete a certain action to a minimum, and avoid pop-ups whenever possible.

Also, be sure to take full advantage of all the opportunities mobile has to offer. A big part of that is utilizing geolocation technologies to customize the user experience and deliver more value. This is obvious when it comes to helping users get directions to your place of business, but you should also use this for your marketing efforts. If a user accesses your mobile site when they’re in or near your store, send them a coupon. If they’re opening up an email newsletter from you on the go, direct them to your nearest store and tell them what the hottest selling items in that particular branch are.

Finally, let’s talk a bit about design. Accessing your website on a mobile device means that the screen space you have to work with is minimal. Therefore, you need to design the layout of your mobile site with this in mid from the get-go. As mentioned earlier, put all the most pertinent information that a mobile user could possibly want right up front. Make sure your headlines really POP and grab attention. Use eye-catching images and micro-video to add to the user experience. Limit the number of text fields and opt for drop-down menus or checklists instead. Make big, clickable buttons that utilize white space to create a cleaner, more intuitive feel. Use BIG FONTS! Essentially, just put yourself in the shoes of your users, assume they have fat fingers, and design with their comfort and experience in mind.

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I’ll end this post with a brief word about local searches, which make up a dominant portion of all search activities. Indeed, local mobile searches are expected to exceed desktop searches by 2015. Even at home or work, where a PC is readily available, users turn to mobile searches 75% of the time. Therefore, along with having a mobile-optimized site that takes into account geolocation, you need to make sure you’ve listed your business on all the important local search directories. First and foremost is Yelp, which has become a necessity almost entirely due to the fact that Apple’s Siri uses Yelp when delivering local search results. And Siri prioritizes the results largely based on customer reviews, so get yourself a Yelp profile and get your Yelp-using customers to give you some glowing reviews. The next big hitter in this field is Google+ Local, which feeds into every aspect of Google’s search indexing. If you don’t have a Google+ account, you’re clearly not paying enough attention to my blogs, but in short: get Google+ if only for the amazing SEO properties it will bestow. Google+ Local also utilizes customer reviews, so get your most loyal clients on there and typing away. Finally, here’s a quick list from Inman news of the top mobile apps used for local searches:

  1. Google Maps (All you need is the Google Plus Local page from above.)
  2. Facebook
  3. MapQuest
  4. Apple Maps (All you need is a Yelp account!)
  5. Bing
  6. Yellowbook
  7. YPMobile
  8. Yelp
  9. SuperPages
  10. CitySearch

If you’re not already, get yourself a listing on each of these to ensure that your business shows up prominently when someone is searching for it.

As always, if you have any questions or are looking for more personalized help in getting your business optimized for mobile, give us a call over here at Zephyr Marketing Consultants. We’re happy to help in any way we can!

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What Is A Freemium, and Can It Work For My Business?

Initially envisioned in 1994 by Esther Dyson, a prominent technology analyst, freemiums have since become a predominant feature of the market, especially for internet-related goods and services. Coined in 2006 in Fred Wilson’s blog, the freemium business model has been buoyed by the unabashed success of companies like DropBox, LinkedIn, and Skype. However, freemiums are not the best choice for every company, and executives considering the freemium business model need to think long and hard about several important questions, which we’ll get to later. But first, let’s have a quick overview of what the term “freemium” really means and how it’s been used by companies so far.

What’s a Freemium?

At its most basic, a freemium is a product or service that a company gives away to its users for free in the hopes that a significant percentage of the freeloaders will convert into paying customers. Why would anyone pay for something they can get for free? Good question. Generally, companies make their case to users by getting them hooked on a “lite” version of the product or service with limited features and then dangling all of the really neat features they could be using if only they would pay for it. A freemium can also be a piece of content that a company gives away, such as an article or market research report, that provides value to the user but doesn’t give away the game. For example, you could write a report that discusses a great method of doing something and provides examples, and then give away either the method or the examples, but not both.

Now let’s go a little deeper. Check out the diagram, below, from this article in the Business Insider. The graph displays four distinct types of freemium business models: the Tip Jar, the Special Member, the Standard Upgrade, and the Network Upgrade. The x axis represents product enhancement, with more features being added as you move up. The y axis depicts user interdependence, i.e. how much users can interact with and benefit from other users. Briefly, here’s an explanation of each.

freemium chart What Is A Freemium, and Can It Work For My Business?

  • Tip Jar: With this approach, everyone gets the same product and the company merely asks for a donation. A lot of museums operate in this way. More famously, perhaps, was Radiohead’s In Rainbows experiment in which the band asked their fans to decide whether and how much to pay for the album. Wikipedia could be considered another example of this.
  • Special Member: As with the Tip Jar, everyone gets the same product in this approach, but paying members get extra goodies not available for free.
  • Standard Upgrade: This is one of the more widely-used approaches. With the Standard Upgrade model, users get access to the product or service but only with a limited range of features. By paying for an upgraded version, the user then gets access to a much wider range of functionalities. DropBox does this by offering increased data storage space for paying users.
  • Network Upgrade: Similar to the Standard Upgrade, the Network Upgrade persuades users to pay by offering more features. However, the Network Upgrade goes one step further by giving users access to other users, thereby allowing network effects to kick in and generate serious value. LinkedIn and Skype are examples of this: the more members there are, the more value there is to the members already there.

Why on Earth…

Now that we’ve gone through the What of freemiums, let’s touch upon the Why, as in, “Why would any sane company give away their products for free?!”  Glad you asked. Part of the reason is: it’s Google’s fault. The search giant provides so many other services to users for free that, at this point, users just kind of expect free stuff online. No company can compete with Google’s free services unless they give some of their own goodies away for free and, once they’ve hooked the user, get them to pay for more.

Another partial reason is that freemiums are an awesome way to market your product. Nothing grabs people’s attention like FREE! And once they start using it and loving it, they’ll tell all their friends about it. Although not all of these freeloaders will turn into paying customers, some of them will, and that will pay for the freemium (assuming you do everything else right, see below).

Oh Yes its FREE   iStock What Is A Freemium, and Can It Work For My Business?

Probably a better reason companies choose to use the freemium model is because of the nature of online products. Thanks to the internet, the marginal costs of producing and distributing a product or service online has shrunk to almost zero. If the cost to serve a customer is zero, then the long term price of that product in the market will also be zero. And since many internet products and services are of the kind that require users to play around with it a bit before realizing its value, it makes sense to give it away for free in order to convince them that they need the upgraded (not free) version in order to truly live a happy and meaningful life, or whatever.

Now you’re thinking, Ok, this sounds legit, I guess. But does it really work? Another great question. Let me hit you with some numbers. Despite the fact that, in general, only about 1-2% of freeloading users convert into paying customers, a full 77% of the top 100 grossing mobile apps in the iOS App Store use a freemium pricing plan, up from 4% in 2010. Furthermore, data from App Annie Intelligence shows that revenue generated by freemium apps has totally eclipsed that generated by premium apps for both iOS and Android devices. While iOS global revenue for freemium apps has quadrupled, and tripled for Google Play Store, revenue from premium apps shows no significant signs of increasing anytime soon. Granted, these numbers are only for mobile apps, but you get the picture.

What About Me?

“So should I use a freemium pricing model for my business?” Another fantastic question. You’re on fire today, dear reader. There are several great articles that provide questions you should ask yourself when considering a freemium model. I’m going to go ahead and summarize and condense those down here, for your convenience.

  1. What is my market like?
    1. Does my market have customers with a proven spending habit for the kind of product / service I provide?
    2. Is there a gap to be filled in this market by my product / service?
    3. How big is the market, as a whole? As Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, says, “The easiest way to get 1 million people paying is to get 1 billion people using.”
  2. Am I providing a compelling reason for my users to upgrade?
    1. This aspect is, obviously, the most important. You need to make sure you’re giving away enough goodies so that your user finds value in your product / service, but not so much that they feel no need to upgrade to get at all the features. Sometimes referred to as the Penny Gap, getting users to pay the first penny is the whole ballgame, so make sure you’ve structured your freemium as best as possible.
  3. What metrics will I use to measure success?
    1. This seems obvious, but is often overlooked. How much does it cost you to give away the freemium and how much do you expect to earn when X amount of users convert into customers? How often should you update the content you give away? What’s your expected ROI?
  4.  Have I made an effective funnel to push users down the path towards paying for the premium version?
    1. Give users just enough of what they want to make them realize they actually need more of it, that there’s a problem in their life they didn’t know they had and now they need your product / service to fix it. Then guide them gently (but forcefully) to the pay wall.
  5. What is the value, if any, of the free users?
    1. Are they useful purely for marketing purposes? Can you sell their data? Can you sell ad space?
  6. How much does it cost to serve the freeloaders?
    1. If it’s prohibitively high, forget about it.
  7. Does my product / service have network effects?
    1. Does your product / service get more useful and provide more value to users as more people use it? If so, you may have a winner on your hands. Go for the Network Upgrade model.

Think carefully over these questions, and if you can come up with satisfactory answers for each, congratulations! You can try the freemium model. Of course, you don’t have to use a full-blown freemium business model for your company. Many businesses which provide non-Internet products and services can still find tremendous value by offering content, like articles, white papers, research reports, surveys, games, etc., freeto users strictly for marketing purposes. Get people interested in and talking about your company by throwing some cool content at them for free, and then reel them in by showing them the value of your products / services. Well-executed freemiums can turn your company into an industry leader, an authoritative voice in your area(s) of expertise, and the company everyone’s talking about!

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Biggest Social Media Trends for 2014

Social media for public relations1reduzido Biggest Social Media Trends for 2014

With the beginning of 2014 comes the inevitable flood of predictions for what the new year will be like. Ever-cognizant of how busy your schedule, dear reader, must be, we here at Zephyr Marketing Consultants have scanned the web to bring you the best of those predictions regarding social media.

In brief, many commentators are confident that video and images will continue to play an ever-larger role in businesses’ content marketing strategies (Wow. Much insight. Very clairvoyant. Wow), and that the use of social media advertisements will reach new heights. For a more detailed description of the top social media trends of 2014, please read on!

Let’s start with some platform-specific predictions:

  1. Facebook: In December of last year, Facebook admitted that it had tinkered with the news feed algorithm in order to decrease the organic reach of posts from business pages. Obviously, this is a blatant ploy to force businesses to pay Facebook to deliver that reach through Sponsored Posts and the like. To deal with this, expect to see more and more businesses making use of Facebook’s advertisements. However, savvy businesses can still make the most of organic reach by listening to their fans and creating content that their customers really want to see, share, and engage with. Also, Facebook’s recent addition of video autoplay is likely a harbinger of video-based advertisements. Although these videos autoplay on silent, the success of YouTube’s ad serving will likely prompt Facebook to reconsider this feature.
  2. Twitter: Thanks to its recent IPO, Twitter will also be looking for ways to increase revenue, which means more advertising options for businesses. Already, Twitter has rolled out features like tailored audiences (retargeting), promoted accounts in timelines, promoted posts, and broad match for keyword targeting. Twitter has also been experimenting with a new feature, Favorite Accounts, to act less like a Like and more like a filtration system for users. Finally, with the sharp rise in video-sharing, Twitter’s Vine will become an ever-more important part of Twitter’s overall business.
  3. Google+: Even though I called this several months ago, Google+ is set to become an essential part of any business’s online marketing strategy. Already, the platform has the second highest number of monthly users (just behind Facebook). When you consider its intimate ties with Google search and YouTube, businesses without a functioning Google+ page are basically just shooting themselves in the foot. Google continues to integrate social sharing into its search algorithm, meaning that having a Google+ account is also vital for SEO purposes. As Google+ Local took over from Google Places, Google Authorship has merged with personal Google+ pages, and Google+ Hangouts have integrated with YouTube, Google+ is proving itself to be a large part of Google’s overall plan for world domination providing users with the most personalized search experience possible…and world domination.
  4. MySpace: It’s alive…IT’S ALIVE!! Seriously, with the re-branding and radical makeover, MySpace has gotten its second wind. While it won’t try to compete in the same space as Twitter or Facebook, bands and music-lovers will start to repopulate and reinvigorate the site.
  5. FourSquare: Time to start writing the obituary…

Now for some more general observations:

  1. Social Media Becomes a Must: Although companies have gradually become more accepting of social media’s role in a comprehensive marketing strategy, 2014 is the year that companies will realize it is a necessity, not a luxury or an experiment. Companies will increasingly higher full-time social media managers and / or empower more employees in more departments to have an influence on shaping the company’s social media messaging. Businesses will gradually become better at integrating their social media with their overall marketing plans, cultivating closer relationships with their customers and building larger and more powerful lists of contacts to leverage.
  2. More Social Media Ads: As we mentioned earlier, advertisements are only going to grow on social media platforms. Compared to the past, all of the major platforms are now making big pushes towards monetization. Things like product placements, sponsorships, and other types of native / integrated advertising are all seeing a resurgence on social media after decades of decline in more traditional forms of media. Although this is good news for the social media platforms and larger companies with the budget for it, smaller companies will likely suffer as their organic reach declines and they can’t afford to pay for impressions. Also, this shift has large implications regarding the concept of authenticity (earned vs paid media), what does and does not qualify as legitimate journalism, marketing budgets, and the roles of marketing agencies. As it becomes harder to tell the difference between an organic post about a company and a paid advertisement, users may find themselves unaware of what’s real and what’s not, leading them to either shrug and continue on or to disavow these platforms altogether.
  3. Rise of Images and Videos: The past year saw huge growth in image-centric social networks, and 2014 will surely see this continue. Platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter’s Vine, SnapChat, tumblr, Path, Mobli, and more will become increasingly potent as mediums for marketing. Videos and images have always generated more reach and higher levels of engagement than simple text posts, and companies will become cleverer about how they use these to spread their message.
  4. Social Media Fragmentation: It seemed like everyone last year was ringing the death knell for Facebook, citing statistics that ever larger numbers of young users were fleeing the site in favor of other, more niche platforms. While this flight is likely to continue, don’t count Facebook out yet. Instead, Facebook and all of the other platforms will develop into more specialized platforms for distinct sets of users looking for distinct types of information and interaction. According to one commentator, Facebook will soon be used more as a source of information than a social network, increasing its utility for brands while decreasing its utility for individuals. In its wake, more newcomers will take to the field. Most will fail, but some will carve out a niche for themselves and become yet another platform of which marketers must be aware. Social Media managers will have to stay on their toes when it comes to choosing the right messaging for the right audience on the right platform.

What do you think of these predictions? Did we cover all the major areas? Did we miss anything important? Let us know when we hold our Twitter Chat next Wednesday, December 15, at #COBizChat where we’ll discuss the Biggest Social Media Trends for 2014. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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Expressing Yourself on Social Media

Twitter’s New Functionality Sticks to “Like” or Nothing

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I cannot even begin to estimate how many times I’ve seen social media users complaining about the current system for Facebook “liking” (or its equivalent on other social platforms). I am confident that such complaints are among the earliest, most persistent, and most frequent frustrations expressed by social media users the world over. Undeniably, the Like button is one of the social media industry’s most iconic and universally recognizable symbols; though it’s iconic status could be a product of longitudinal increases in disdain and infamy. Certainly, one might be tempted to ask: Why it is that, in the face of pervasive and explicit public cries for change, the “Like” feature (and its identical, though often renamed, functionality on other social platforms) endures utterly without adaptation or change by technology companies both old and new?

Isn’t one of the reasons why a business uses a social media platform at all to enable them to not just listen, but hear their customers and target audiences whenever and wherever they spoke?

It’s difficult for me to name even a single social product launched after Facebook that allows one to, for example, “Dislike” other users or their content without restraint (more on this at the end). Why hasn’t a single platform allowed me the ability to express that I “Like” SupportLocal at least twice as much as I “Like” Yelp? Will my “Love” for uSTADIUM remain undifferentiated from my fondness for Evernote in perpetuity whilst stored in the celestial land of Utah?

The questions above, and many more, may be answered (or rendered of only historical import) with Twitter’s 2014 experiments involving their platform’s “Favorite” functionality.

“Favorite” is currently Twitter’s nearest equivalent to a Facebook “Like”. It confers a very similar message of approval and acknowledgment as a “Like” does when bestowed from one user unto another user’s post.

However, the “Favorite” was not initially created to emulate the “Like”. Rather, it was created to provide functionality entirely different than the one provided at present: a Tweet was “Favorited” as part of a “bookmarking” system and thus saved, separated, and indexed. That a clear convergence between the functionality of “Favorite” and “Like” has occurred in the time since only reinforces the vexing thought that while Twitter must not have intentionally sought to integrate “Like” functionality into their platform, they have since concluded it essential to emulate Facebook’s lack of any “Dislike” functionality, the lack of any sort of tiered system of “Likes” that might potentially make more nuanced expressions available to users, and the strict prohibition against more than one “Like” per post/Tweet by any given user.

Favorite 1024x207 Expressing Yourself on Social Media

A punctuated equilibrium of sorts occurred following Twitter’s decision to send notifications to users whenever a Tweet of theirs was “Favorited” by another user. Each notification detailed which other user had done the “Favoriting” and when. These notifications produced an unintentional and truly substantial increase in the volume of “Favorites” being issued on the platform. Notifications that identified the participants involved imbued “Favoriting” with all of the (for lack of a better term) social baggage embedded in our non-virtual cultural interactions and activities. “Favoriting” became something akin to receiving a wedding invitation by forcing users to consider questions such as: must you now invite these newlyweds to your own wedding? Will your wedding guests (and the uninvited outside observers) think of you and your wedding differently if these newlyweds attend? Would your wedding guests think more highly of you if you had received a wedding invitation issued by a [more popular, more influential, etc.] couple?

Occurring simultaneous with this spike in the volume of “Favoriting”, the number of Retweets issued across the platform witnessed a steep decline. Parsing the behavioral data reveals that Retweets were indeed being cannibalized by Favoriting. This cannibalism significantly affected Twitter as a whole since this steep decrease in Retweets resulted directly in a slashing of the network’s overall virality.

Now, Twitter will begin experimenting with the addition of “Recommended Accounts” or “Favorite Accounts”. For the purposes of this blog, I will refer to this feature as “Favorite Account”.

By favoriting an entire account instead of a single post, the recipient of the favorite will enjoy increased visibility and discoverability while the “social baggage” mentioned above will include increased (whether real or perceived) support for the account. Likewise, making a “Favorite Account” will at the least convey the idea that the account is generating increased engagement and interest from other users. On the other hand, the “Favorite Account” functionality has the potential to produce and/or facilitate the formation of B2B partnerships and/or increase a user’s identification and association with a brand and thus become a key driver of sales and revenues in both the short and long-term by increasing users’ brand loyalty.

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Conjecture aside, the answers to the questions above and the actual impacts realized through “Favorite Accounts” will likely determine Twitter’s path forward. However, regardless of whether “Favorite Account” functionality drives partnerships, loyalty, or revenues, it would seem that Twitter is either willing to accept the reduced virality of its platform or cannot (or will not…) follow a strategy that returns the platform to its previous high levels of virality. Without actually engaging in the comprehensive strategic planning process firms such as Agency 33 or Zephyr Marketing Consultants (ZMC) employ when faced with such a situation, I am moderately confident in saying that I disagree with Twitter’s decision to continue on their current path. Virality is at the absolute center of Twitter’s platform (alongside, inextricably linked, and interdependent with speed). These two features are on an exceptionally short list of Twitter’s most important differentiators and their strongest competitive advantages in the social media market landscape.

B2B partnerships, customer identification, brand loyalty, etc. seem to me to be very much strong suits for Facebook and LinkedIn. However successful “Favorite Account” may prove, it strikes me as a set of crutches for a torn ACL/MCL, instead of the reconstructive surgery I’d be exploring.

Off the top of my head, I would rather see Twitter consider adding functionality such as the following examples:

1) Twitter might explore how user-generated distribution channels might be assembled by, for example, allowing a publisher to segment multiple versions of a post based on behavioral, psychographic, and demographic factors, while letting a republisher (retweeter) have a chance to perform this segmentation amongst their own followers, and so on and so forth.

2) Twitter could also consider innovative content amplification strategies. For example, if one of your Tweets is Retweeted by three different followers, the Tweet is displayed before a population of user accounts equal in size to 10% of your total followers that are aligned with, but do not currently follow, your account.

3) Twitter could examine whether an incentivized system for sharing content might be instituted. For example, say you retweeted three posts over the course of one work week (five weekdays) from a single account. Then, Twitter would allow you to choose one post that you publish the following work week (five day period) to be displayed before a portion of that account’s followers (not exceeding half the number of your total current followers) selected based on the tightness of their alignment (behavioral, bio-psycho-social, and demographic) with your account and the specific Tweet.

Perhaps these are terrible ideas. Yet, they were created in the time it takes television shows to play without commercials, and they don’t sound so terrible as all that!

P.S.

Last, and well, yes, least, I’d like to quickly mention one long-established, and two currently emerging social platforms which DO feature more significant divergence from the oft-lamented, habitually useless, inexpressive dungeon that is the “Like”. The first long-established platform which many readers may have thought of while reading this post is Reddit, where “downvotes” are pervasive. The first emerging platform with such features is the New York City-based, NFL fan-driven mobile/social technology (currently available on iOS) uSTADIUM, which aims to incorporate both a “Dislike” (or renamed equivalent) functionality in it’s completed product, as well as “two or (maybe but probably not) three tiered-levels of ‘Like/Dislike’ to allow users to express the intensity of their feelings more accurately,” according to Charles Raisch, President of uSTADIUM. Similarly, the Los Angeles-based, event-centered social application for music festivals CrowdsEye currently allows users to “Dislike” submitted content but only as much or less than any account “Likes” submitted content because, as Andy Magnes (CrowdsEye’s  CTO) explained, “nobody likes a hater.”

 

 

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How to Use Pinterest for Your Business

It’s time for another blog post spotlighting one of the (ever increasing number of) social media platforms that businesses can and should be utilizing to help promote their brand, increase web visibility, and drive sales. This time, we’re going to take a look at Pinterest.

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The self-described host of “A few (million) of your favorite things,” Pinterest is a pinboard-style photo-sharing website where users pin pictures of items they like onto customized boards organized into different topics. Taking a new spin on social media, Pinterest represents one big wish list for all its users. One of my favorite quotes describing Pinterest in relation to other social media platforms comes from the UK manager for Pinterest Sarah Bush, who says that while Facebook is mainly for posting about what has just happened and Twitter is great for talking about the here and now, the attraction of Pinterest is its use for future plans. So there you have it: Facebook is about the past, Twitter is about the present, and Pinterest is about the future!

So how can businesses make the most out of Pinterest? Well, let’s start with a few facts. With an estimated 140,500,000 unique monthly visitors, Pinterst was the 15th most visited website in 2013. As you may have heard, Pinterest users are predominately female, representing more than half (68.2%) of all users. Half of all Pinterest users also have children, so any business whose target audience is predominately female or families should have been paying attention yesterday. Pinterest users generally spend more time on the site on average (15.8 minutes) than Facebook users (12.1 minutes) and Twitter users (3.3 minutes). The most important fact for businesses, especially during the holiday season, may be the following: in a survey, 74% of users said they used Pinterest to help them with gift ideas, and 43% have at least one board dedicated to the holidays. Pinterest plays a huge role in shaping consumer purchasing habits, so any business not using Pinterest is losing out on a huge opportunity to help customers find their products and share them with their friends.

Now that I’ve convinced you to get your business on Pinterest, what are some tips about making the most of your new account? For starters, make sure you create a business Pinterest, rather than use a personal Pinterest account for business purposes. Don’t forget all the obvious things like including all your company information, linking your Pinterest to all of your other social media accounts, and fully completing the profile. Be sure to add a “Pin It” button to your website and to include a link to your Pinterest in all of your online and offline marketing materials like business cards, newsletters, flyers, signs, etc.

Next, be sure to follow other businesses. Pinterest is built on collaboration, so seek out and engage with other local businesses and check out the Pinterest pages of similar companies to do some reconnaissance and to get ideas about what you should be doing.  Also, make sure you follow your customers to see what they are pinning next to items from your business. This could give you a solid insight into how the customers view your products, and it could give you some inspiration on how better to market and advertise to them.

In line with the last point, don’t fill your boards with pins that only point to your business. People want to see a variety of content, not just stuff that you’ve produced. So along with content from your website, include related content from around the web that you think your users will find interesting. It will help humanize your brand while making you much more accessible and useful to your customers.

Utilize rich pins to give your customers more information about the content they’re pinning. As of now, Pinterest offers 5 different kinds of rich pins: products, recipe, movie, article, and (their newest offering) places. These rich pins let you add information like prices, availability, location, and more that make it even easier for your customers to find and buy the stuff they pin.

Pinterest Pinned How to Use Pinterest for Your Business

More and more companies are now finding the value in linking Pinterest to their brick-and-mortar shop displays. For example, Nordstroms now includes a special red Pinterest tag on all their products that are the most popular on Pinterest. Nordstrom even created an in-store app that matches popular Pinterest items with its current inventory in all of its stores. You can also feature the most popular items on Pinterest right on your website’s homepage.

Pinterest is also a great place to host contests and publish coupons that your customers can use in stores. Let users enter their holiday gift boards into a competition where they could win one of your products that they’ve featured or randomly choose a “follower of the week” and feature their content on your Pinterest account.

Make sure it is easy for users to find your Pinterest page and all of your boards. Use keyword-optimized titles for your board names. Describe each pin with descriptive hashtags. Disable the search privacy in your Account settings. Include Pinterest boards in your e-mails, on your homepage, and wherever else you can.

Finally, utilize Pinterest analytics so that you can track your traffic, see which pins are doing the best / worst, and use that information to constantly improve your Pinterest account. Make sure you have hard data on hand whenever you’re making decisions about what and how to market your products.

Good luck, and good pinning! Don’t forget, if you want some more help and advice on how your company can use Pinterest and all the other social media platforms, feel free to contact us here at Zephyr Marketing Consultants!

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Free Friday Download

Happy Friday Everyone

We are in the holiday spirit and feeling wonderful going into the weekend over here at ZMC. We have presents to give out just to prove it too, but first, let us explain a little bit. This week saw a few fantastic developments for our firm take place, including:

  • The solidifying of our strategic partnership with Agency 33 – a Denver, Colorado-based PR firm owned by a couple of world-class businessmen and all around great guys. This strategic partnership has already done wonders for us by providing a steady, dependable pipeline of client work. Now we are all set for next year; which will see ZMC engaged in deep cross-company collaboration on a number of next generation  technology-based marketing and advertising campaigns. Cheers guys!
  • The spectacular redesign of the ZMC Pinterest account is complete! We may be just at the beginning here but boy, no matter  what the volume of traffic to your website being generated from Pinterest is, this social platform drives the highest percentage of conversions of any platform out – hands down.
  • The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) released survey data collected from a variety of B2B firms, about one third of whom were competitors for ZMC, in a report called , “B2B Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends in North America for 2014″ which confirms our suspicions regarding ZMC’s competitive advantages: we are damn good at content marketing. In a marketplace where, “content is king,” the fact that every ZMC team member can produce engaging, optimized content for ~25 different platforms (and can do so quickly and generally without error) is one the central reasons we are getting fantastic results for our clients, delivering work product professionally and on time, and have kept our price points extremely reasonable at the same time. Competitors are increasing their content marketing budgets, aren’t innovating or expanding their repertoires, and aren’t any more confident in their content marketing than they were the previous year. Download it and see for yourselves below.

Untitled 300x197 Free Friday Download

Inside you’ll find the following:

  • Complete review of the state of B2B marketing in 2013
  • Expected trends for 2014
  • How B2B marketers view overall effectiveness of B2B marketing (hint, it’s pretty effective!)
  • How B2B marketers strategize
  • How much content B2B marketers are producing
  • Some popular B2B marketing tactics
  • The effectiveness of B2B marketing via social media
  • Measuring the success of B2B marketing
  • B2B marketing budgets
  • In- vs. Out-Sourcing
  • And Much More!

Just provide us with your contact information and we’ll e-mail you the presentation immediately!

Don’t worry, we will never use this info to send you spam. We hate spam just as much as you do.

 

Free Download!





Enter your name and e-mail address in the spaces provided below, and we’ll e-mail you a copy of “B2B Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends in North America for 2014″!

Your Name (required)

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User Engagement Tools: Discussion Forums

 

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What is User Engagement?

When asked to articulate their top 5 goals when engaging in any online marketing, advertising, or public relations campaign, there is an extremely high chance a business will include, “increased user engagement from target audiences,” as one of their primary objectives. Which begs the question, what exactly is user engagement, and why do businesses covet it so dearly?
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Engagement is indifferent to what has caused an audience’s reaction – no matter what that reaction

Sure, a dry textbook may offer a definition of user engagement focused on Likes, Shares, Retweets, Follows, Comments, etc. However, there is another, intangible (though quantifiable) aspect which defines user engagement. That is the underlying structure of the encounter itself: an engaged user is mentally, physically, and emotionally evaluating the their alignment with your business – your messaging, branding, and imaging, as well as the contexts surrounding the encounter – and acting in response to that evaluation. Engagement is indifferent to whether an audiences’ evaluation produces positive, negative, complimentary, or insulting actions – it is the process of evaluation itself, coupled with the responsive actions that follow, which constitutes user engagement.

 

Why is User Engagement Important?

A truly engaged audience is actually pretty hard to come by (e.g. such an audience cannot be paid for, most B2C engagement “windows” are both narrow and shallow, etc.), and businesses therefore, rightly, place a good deal of importance in the analyses of any such encounter. Conversions and sales are not the only spoils at play: an engaged audiences’ feedback and the chance to distill prescriptive takeaways which may have enormous long-term impacts are of great value, and (without personnel of a certain expertise in the art of data interpretation and application) can be very difficult to obtain as well.

Your business almost certainly employs one or another, or perhaps a combination (or all) of the tools listed below, all in the name of producing user engagement. Despite this focus, does your business distinguish between types of user engagement? For example, do you pursue the production of user engagement created during an encounter between your business and your target audience more vigorously than user engagement created between (or within) your target audience and your target audience?

Typically Employed Engagement Tools:

              • Website                                        
              • Blog                                              
              • E-mail                                      
              • Press Releases
              • SEO                                                                     
              • Gaming                                                                 
              • Social Media
              • Mobile Application
              • Advertising (Search, Social, Mobile, etc.)                                                 
              • Article or Case Study  
              • Earned Media   
              • Paid Media            
              • Webinar
              • Podcast
              • Promotion or Contest
              • Sponsorship

 

A Different Type of User Engagement

The second type of audience engagement, the one that occurs between members of your target audience (or different, though both targeted, audiences), is actually one of the primary means by which communities are catalyzed around businesses and products. Businesses and products at the center of such communities, typically characterized by a high level of intra-audience user engagement or interactions, becomes much more than a simple dealer of goods and/or services or a prized possession. A business can be completely dislodged from its functionality and physicality and take on “lifestyle” associations and meanings; it can acquire cultural and social value which is altogether separate from the mundane commercial value it has always had.

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These guys know what it is like to be at the center of one of the biggest communities ever formed through C2C engagement.

Despite the benefits generally accrued to a business due to the formation of a community around it, many businesses find it exceptionally hard to let go, and admit that their message, brand, and image aren’t created in an office or a boardroom, carefully disseminated, and perfectly understood by target audiences. Most aspects of an organization are, in fact, projected outward with carefully crafted intention, only to be shattered, reassembled, and evaluated individually by each audience member a thousand times over. There are good reasons for businesses to avoid grandiose ideas about how they are  in control when it comes to something like their messaging: success or failure is based on an interpretative process conducted on third-party platforms and through channels entirely outside their control!

If a business can admit that it is the interaction and user engagement between individual audience members (C2C) that is the strongest determinant of how a business’s message, brand, and image, is ultimately understood – not the user engagement between a business and an audience member (B2C) – the next logical step is to figure out how best to involve oneself where it counts. First of all, a business which acknowledges C2C>B2C, will realize that a reallocation of resources and priorities, which should produce significant cost reductions, makes a great deal of sense all of a sudden since a lot of the heavy lifting is being accomplished between audience members in any case. In fact, such a business should realize that the production of intra-audience user engagement goes on without any impetus, resource expenditure, or input from their business at all. Which is not to say, by any means, that a business has no agency, or that their actions are inconsequential to the final production of an audience’s understanding of them. Rather, it is meant that the judgement of an audience in response to any business’s outreach efforts is primarily determined between members of that audience, and that without inserting themselves into that audience member to audience member interaction in the slightest way, a business has forfeit their voice in the conversation.

At this point you may be saying to yourself, “Alright, brilliant, and I think I even understand what your saying, but what’s the point?”

I’m glad you asked!

Discussion Forums: C2C Social Platform

ZMC recently used one specific tool to great effect; we think it was practically designed to produce the particularly influential type of intra-audience engagement discussed thus far. This tool produces user engagement in such a way that a business is able to insert itself successfully participating in audience-to-audience engagements; and influence their results! That tool is a Discussion Forum – and it is arguably the single most effective platform for a business to encourage, and facilitate, intra-audience engagements. Providing a  Discussion Forum for your audience is also one of the only ways a business can reliably expect to participate once more in the co-determination of a target audience’s reaction to their messaging, brand, or imaging. To be clear: this is not a theoretical analysis. ZMC deployed a Discussion Forum to great effect, and has done so ~12 times before, over the course of which it became clear that the Discussion Forum is, perhaps, THE tool most often needed (and typically not considered) in order to structurally alter the process of co-determination from one in which members of a target audience pronounce judgment on a business to one in which a community, including the business in question, are consulted. Indeed, often enough a Discussion Forum may shift the power balances towards the business as target audience members engage and are transformed gradually over time into your very own community!

Intra-audience user engagement conducted on a branded-platform such as a Discussion Forum (and firmly under your business’s administrative control) is not valuable because of the brand loyalty it creates, though that may occur. The platform’s value is not primarily realized due to the central positioning of the business in an increasingly tight knight community. No, the vast majority of long-term value a business realizes from it’s Discussion Forum is a result of cheaply and easily collected, longitudinal data – straight the target audiences. The impact such high-quality data is enormous. A continuous quality improvement system will be fueled by continuous streams of data that allow for the incredibly nuanced identification of trends and fluctuations, the deployment of prescriptive analyses coordination and precision, and predictive capabilities to ensure long-term strategic success. Everything, from your business’s structure, processes, and outcomes, will benefit from newly accessible and quantifiable user engagement and feedback. Remember that B2C engagement window I described as narrow and shallow earlier? The structured and unstructured data streams captured from a Discussion Forum will do wonders to both widen and deepen it with dramatic effects.

 

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This guy has been using his Discussion Forum to analyze engagement between target audience members (C2C) for years! Results are awesome.

 

“But surely the sunk costs and upfront investments of developing my own  Discussion Forum are too great? Or the barriers to user acquisition are too high?”

“Not quite….I’ll refer you to Best Practice #3 (below).”

Pause, and consider what tools you would require to accurately plan the development and deployment of a Discussion Forum. ZMC is happy to provide our readers’ access to a set of templates chosen specifically to help ensure development of your Discussion Forum remains on schedule, and within budget. These are provided at no cost, we hope you enjoy!


Project-with-Schedule-Budget-Variance.xls (40 downloads)


4-Month-Product-Launch-with-Gantt1.xls (35 downloads)


Product-Feedback-Survey-Web-Form.xls (34 downloads)


Feature-Prioritization-Roadmap-with-Gantt.xls (40 downloads)


Corporate-Strategy-Planner.xls (48 downloads)


Marketing-Campaign-Analysis-Rollup.xls (39 downloads)

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ZMC’s Best Practices: Discussion Forums

1. Policing content that users submit on your Forum can be time intensive (and eventually can be semi-impractical due to user growth). First, identify what content absolutely must be policed. Second, ZMC recommends deputizing your most engaged users and turning them into moderators whenever possible.

2. Utilize the various opportunities a Discussion Forum presents your business to engage new strategic partnerships (or deepen existing ones). For examples, your Forum may provide a deal of advertising real-estate, generate a robust list of e-mail addresses regardless of other capture methods in use, and perhaps most importantly, provide access to a large amount of structured and unstructured data which must be collected continuously and longitudinally (as well as analyzed and interpreted). Therefore, partnerships with companies willing to provide access to powerful technology platforms (advertising, e-mail marketing, or analytics-focused) should be likely be considered. Likewise, companies with an interest in sponsorship (ideally monetary), event marketing, and/or contest/promotion/sweepstakes management might be considered. Partnership with a local non-profit aligned with your target audience should also be considered (ZMC has previously generated significant earned media and market visibility, increased rates of user acquisition and platform virality, and opened several funding channels and successfully mitigated client costs from Forum development or marketing.

3. As with any digital development project, Staying in control of development costs and making sure your project stays on schedule is very difficult when it comes to technology development. ZMC strongly recommends utilizing Realtidbit’s (acquired by Livefyre) Realtime Forum widget (or a similar product). Realtime Forum is: customizable, embeddable, platform agnostic, enterprise capable, allows sharing directly to social from your Forum, tracks behavior and rewards desirable actions, offers analytics, filters spam, is mobile-friendly, is white-labeled (100% branded by your company), and is affordable (priced according to traffic; 200,000 page views costs $20.00 per month).

4. ZMC recommends identifying a comprehensive list of monetization strategies, thus facilitating decision-making regarding implementation of some or all of those strategies according to business-specific contexts. For examples:

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“My Discussion Forum parked in a tow away zone, chrome, I don’t care that platform throw away homes”

        • Offer Premium and Enterprise level memberships for users
        • Offer paid promotion for business in-Forum outreach/communication
        • Offer paid advertising for businesses
        • Structure your Forum so as to allow sales-channel functionality.
        • ZMC recommends structuring for integration of lead generation (at least).
        • Monetize your new data stream by offering databases full of raw data
        • Monetize your new data stream by offering fully-synthesized reports
        • Offer paid sponsorship opportunities for events and/or contests/promotions
        • Sell your expertise! Offer organizations their own Discussion Forum.

5. ZMC strongly recommends engaging a professional organization to assist with design, development, deployment, promotion, evaluation, and optimization of your Discussion Forum. In order to realize the most from this channel, you must remember that despite any other experience you may have – you have likely never done this before and your audience is extremely unforgiving. If they come, and leave, they won’t return. ZMC offers both consulting and direct services, delivered on-site or online (according to client preference), in order to produce top of the line Discussion Forums. Contact us to discuss your Forum today. ZMC also offers a formal training program (or support by the hour) featuring sections on Forum integration, strategy integration, product development, public relations, user acquisition, and more. Feel free to request a recommendation as well!

 

 

Contact ZMC

Click here to see ZMC’s full list of services, or contact us today (click here or call +1 (720) 310-8068) to speak with one of our in-house experts and discuss what service package fits your business best.

 

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Just like Rhaegar, many businesses are cocky about how much they can influence audience engagement. Robert explains that without a Discussion Forum, the Prince won’t even know what hit him.

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E-Mail Marketing: Basics, Best Practices, and More Bang for Your Marketing Buck

email marketing 300x227 E Mail Marketing: Basics, Best Practices, and More Bang for Your Marketing Buck

Businesses are constantly on the lookout for new and innovative ways to drive customers to their websites and physical locations, especially during the holiday season. While there has been much hype and great fanfare about the potential of social media to revolutionize marketing, according to most metrics one of the oldest forms of online communication still reigns supreme when it comes to delivering the most marketing ROI: e-mail. That’s right: Boring old e-mail messages have been shown to return anywhere from $29 to $45 for every dollar spent. But of course, e-mail marketing messages these days are by no means boring, or even old! With over 4 billion worldwide email accounts and more than a quarter of US consumers connected to their inboxes all day long via mobile devices, e-mail marketing is a must-have for any business.

It used to be that e-mail marketing was essentially the same as direct mail marketing. Every customer got the same message, regardless. Nowadays, though, with improved technology and more plentiful e-mail marketing software savvy businesses can customize their messages in a variety of ways. Sometimes called “agile marketing”, e-mails can now be targeted towards specific customer segments and can even auto-update once you’ve sent them out!

For example, Vivek Sharma, co-founder and CEO of the e-mail marketing technology provider Movable Ink provides a powerful list of suggestions for how retailers can use e-mail marketing to get customers excited and in the mood for buying. Along with some fairly obvious ideas like including multimedia (photos, videos, infographics) and social media buttons in your e-mail campaigns, Sharma describes how new technology can let businesses create e-mails that automatically update themselves to show up-to-the-minute deals, real-time shipping information, and the best-selling products. Furthermore, geo-targeting allows businesses to show the locations of the nearest stores based on the customer’s location (especially useful when opened on a mobile device). And speaking of mobile devices, some businesses are starting to include bar codes in their emails that users can get scanned for special in-store discounts.

With all these fancy whizbang features you can add to the actual messages, it’s easy to forget the single most important aspect of any email marketing campaign: the subject line!

Don’t Miss Out On These Great Deals! Sign Up For Free and Win! This Is Your Last Chance To Cash In On the Best Deals of the Season! Find Out How You Can Save 30% On Your Car Insurance! Is Anybody Even Reading This?!

Lord knows everyone’s inbox is filled with e-mails with similar subject lines. So the question is: how can businesses get people to open their emails in the first place? Already having a relationship with the customer in question has a huge impact on whether or not they will open your e-mails, with one study by Litmus showing that 82% of consumers open emails from businesses whose brands they trust. This is why your website should definitely include a space where users can opt-in to your emails. That way you know for sure that they’re interested.

Emails 300x300 E Mail Marketing: Basics, Best Practices, and More Bang for Your Marketing Buck

A recent blog post from MailChimp sheds more light on what makes for a successful subject line. First and foremost, personalization is key. According to MailChimp, including the recipient’s first and last name in the subject line has a huge positive impact on open rates, even larger than including just the first or just the last name. Another good tip is to create a sense of urgency in the subject line by using words like “urgent”, “important”, or “alert”. Also, subject lines that mention or are related to current events are generally more successful than regular ol’ sales emails, and capitalizing every single word in a subject line has been shown to improve open rates, as well. Finally, people loved to be thanked so include the words “Thank You” whenever possible.

What about things that discourage opens? MailChimp says that people generally ignore requests for donations (so much for holiday feelings of goodwill towards man!), and people do not want to be asked to sign up for anything or reminded that they’re missing their last chance to do or buy something. Also, and this should be obvious, people don’t like to be tricked. A commonly-cited example involves a company that sells antivirus software which sent out an e-mail with the subject line “Your account may have been hacked! Call us!” Unsurprisingly, while people generally open that e-mail, they also generally don’t go on to buy anything from the company. Although all good marketers know the power of inducing fear-then-relief in customers to make them more receptive to sales messages, businesses need to be careful of not crossing the line.

So now that you have a better understanding of how you can use e-mail marketing to really help your business’s marketing efforts, you’re going to need access to some quality software. The Business News Daily has a list of their three favorite companies: iContact, Benchmark Email, and Constant Contact. I would add one more to the list for those businesses looking for quality software at an affordable price: MailChimp (the company that wrote the awesome blog post I mentioned earlier).

Good luck with all of your e-mail marketing efforts! And don’t forget, if you’re looking for more help creating your own e-mail marketing campaign do not hesitate to contact us here at Zephyr Marketing Consultants. We’re pretty good at this sort of thing!

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