Gift Marketing: The Best Things in Life Are Free

Big brands have been giving away free samples forever as a way to get new customers. Back in the day they use to have booths stationed at grocery stores handing out samples. The evolution of that has been street teams giving out product samples in big cities, sporting events, and concerts venues.  They’re still giving away free samples – albeit full-sized – hoping to gain market adoption of their product.

What I’m seeing now is an evolution of that same idea brought online in a more streamlined way. It’s being made easier and more affordable due to the amount of social content and influencer data to track and measure the impact of these campaigns.

The Future Is Free

Look at how Freemium is changing the way consumer Internet products go to market.  Just recently, David Cahill wrote a compelling comparison between Carbonite (paid) and Dropbox (Freemium) business models to acquire a new customer.  Carbonite spends up to $97.00;  Dropbox, $1.20. Why? Dropbox gives their product away for free (up to 2GB) and enhances their word- of-mouth reputation using a clever incentive referral program that leverages word-of-click marketing.  Both the originator and recipient get exclusive value – free 500MG of space on top of the 2GB – if the recipient signs up.

Instead of buying users via ads, affiliate programs, and search marketing, you could try giving away free product to your target customer base and trust that the positive referrals will increase awareness of your brand and consumers’ purchasing decision.  This may sound crazy, but it’s not. It just requires a great product or service, a way to measure the impact, access to your target market and the deep understanding of your business metrics to test it.  Products that are not remarkable won’t be able to capitalize on this approach since the “wow” factor won’t be present.

Measuring The Impact

The key to measuring is closing the attribution loop, something that Groupon has solved on a local level and typically gets overlooked by naysayers, in the local space. Having the ability to attribute new business from coupons is only the beginning to the future of Gift Marketing.

As more businesses learn to measure their customer acquisition cost (CAC), lifetime value (LTV) and retention – they’ll be better armed to try different marketing tactics including gift marketing, the idea that you can acquire a net new customer by giving away free product. Just like Freemium in the consumer internet space is still very knew and the metrics and tactics are still being perfected, we see gift marketing becoming a viable channel for all businesses to acquire customers either directly (sampling) or through their existing customers (referrals).

Accessing Your Target Market

Big brands have been doing this forever – they call it product sampling.  They usually work with an agency who can help identify “influencers” or consumers in the target demographic. Then, they ship free stuff to them.  Over the years, entire companies have developed around this concept.  Examples are BzzAgent and Klout (with their perks program).

Some of the more creative brands are implementing “Social Sampling”: they build a microsite with an app that lets consumers redeem free products, and gift them to friends using social channels like Facebook and Twitter. They seed these through email lists or viral apps on Facebook.  It’s the beginning of the future in marketing for all businesses.

Finding consumers based on demographic profiles has never been easier and will be even easier for brands wanting to give stuff away.  Just look at the Facebook ad platform, or some of the re-targeting platforms that let you buy ad impressions for users who match your target demographic or have shown purchasing intent for your product.  How about a Twitter search using keywords, influence filters and location?  The problem of getting in front or getting direct access is solved.

Window of Opportunity  (It’s Now)

As with all marketing media, over time consumers will grow weary and get fatigued. As more companies start doing it, some will abuse it, others will spend without measuring and eventually the cost benefit ratio will tip out of favor for marketers.  The good news is that it’s just beginning and it’s going to be a huge opportunity for at least the next 10-15 years. New technology and infrastructure will emerge to make it even easier to manage and track and the best companies will prosper most as they truly have something great their customers will want to share.

I hope you’ll join me in redefining how customer service, loyalty and new customer acquisition is done in the future and the best practices that will certainly need to be defined as more businesses give it a go.

Gift marketing is now.

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3 Great Ways to Automate Your Small Business Marketing

Running a small business takes a lot of time and energy. Between the many tasks and crises that constantly surface and the stress of maintaining everyday operations, a business can be stretched thin. And though marketing is one of the essential ingredients to keep a small business successfully running, many owners find it difficult or overwhelming to stay on top of. Luckily, in the digital age, a plethora of technologies exist to help you market smarter, not harder. Automating the following three areas can save you time and energy while ensuring you’re covering your marketing bases.

Automate Your Content Creation

Content is king when it comes to helping your web presence. Fresh content helps elevate your search rankings, making it easier for Internet users to find you; and providing your visitors new and interesting things to check out encourages them to return to your site — and can establish you and your business as an industry thought-leader. But if you find you don’t have time to cobble together a post on breaking industry news or publish a steady stream of content, automating it may help. Content creation tool gathers relevant articles and links from the Internet and posts the content to your company’s website and social media accounts — problem solved!

Automate Customer Relationship Management

Service-based small businesses thrive on customer engagement. But taking the time to extend personal communications or track ongoing interactions takes both manpower and brainpower that may not be in high supply. Luckily, you can automate all your customer communication using Demandforce service, which lets you manage all this through automatic appointment scheduling, reminders, customized email campaigns, and more. Plus, you can easily track results to see what’s working for you. This leaves you free to focus on the customer in front of you, knowing the others are well taken care of.

Automate Social Media Updates

Maintaining your social media presence is necessary, but with so many different platforms, managing each account can be exhaustive. Helpful service Ping lets you update all your social networks through one portal. You can even email or text updates that you want to share for ultimate convenience. Of course, you also want to make sure your social media updates are making the most impact.

Ask Yourself What You Should Automate

Automating any of the tasks above, as well as other business operations, can be advantageous. However, before you decide to automate any of your marketing, do your research and ask yourself what will benefit you and your business most.

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4 Ways to Make Timeline Work For Your Business

Businesses that use Facebook to build brand awareness, sell products, and gain new clients will have to adjust their pages now that Facebook has converted them to the Timeline format. The good news is these changes can actually help fine-tune their promotional methods and increase social media visibility, all of which will result in more sales and an increase in new customers. Here are our tips to make the new Timeline work for your business.

1. Choose a Strong Cover Photo

Facebook has significantly changed the rules for cover photos on its business pages. Businesses can no longer run a strip of photos across the top of their pages. Instead, they must feature one large image that measures 850 pixels by 399 pixels, along with a 30 pixel by 30 pixel profile picture.

Note that your cover photo can’t include any calls to action, so don’t add messages such as “Like Me,” “Share” or “Contact Us.” Instead, choose a nice, focused image (that fits within the dimensions) to make your first impression professional and impactful. The photo should be reflective of your brand and business: showcase your company culture, your industry, or your satisfied customers. Avoid a boring image of your logo for your cover photo—the profile pic box is the best place for that.

2. Control What Content Your Visitors See First

Timeline now lets you pin stories to the top of your Timelines for up to a week. This means you can control what you want fans to read and interact with. The one-week expiration may seem a nuisance, but it is actually good. It gives you more reason to create more fresh content, which is the key to engaging and sustaining a relationship with your consumer base. Note, however, that only posts created by you may be pinned.

To really draw attention to a post, you can also highlight it, which will make it span across your Timeline. To do this, click the star icon in the upper right corner of the post.

3. Highlight Your Apps

Facebook has eliminated the default landing tab, a function upon which many business owners have long relied. Now, however, you can more prominently feature your apps (12 in total, though only 4 will appear at the top of your page). You can change the photos that appear for each of your featured apps, rearrange positions, and rename the app so that it provides a call to action. Note that the more visually appealing your app photo, the more fans will be enticed to click.

4. Monitor Your activity

Facebook has also changed the administrator panel, which places all of the stats you want and need—a list of who’s talking about your posts, who’s interacting with your pages, and what content they’re viewing—in one easy-to-find location. This gives you the ability to better analyze your stats and engagement, and adapt your activity accordingly.

Many of these changes reflect a move toward sharing more visually and dynamically. This is essential to grow your business. As Kevin Olivieri, global social media analyst with TIG Global, notes, businesses that hope to utilize Facebook to its fullest potential will have to focus on providing great content. This means that businesses will have to learn more about what their fans want and what they want their brands’ Facebook pages to do for them. Luckily, Timeline for business pages enables you to do just that.

Do you think Timeline will help your business? Tell us how in the comments below.

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The 3 Keys to Twitter Influence

Reach

The first place that any Twitter user must start if they want to increase their influence is their reach. Generally, people build their reach by following a ton of people and hoping they’ll follow them back. While this method, known as churn, can be somewhat effective, it’s far from the best way to go about building your network.

Building a strong Twitter reach starts with the people you know. Your current customers and contacts are the most likely to want to follow you. Sometimes, it simply takes asking.

Through all available channels, ask them to follow you. Use your Facebook pages, email database, CRM, and even your physical location if you have one to encourage these people to follow you. Do not use the standard “Follow us on Twitter” message. It’s so beaten into us that we no longer notice it.

Give people a reason.

People use Twitter in different ways. Match your Twitter stream to one or more of the major reasons that people use Twitter and you’ll be much more likely to get more real followers:

  • “We are posting daily tips on Twitter: @yourusername.”
  • “Twitter-Only Daily Deals and Coupons Broadcast Regularly: @yourusername.”
  • “Breaking News about (your industry) posted as it happens: @yourtwittername.”

Notice that we didn’t ask anyone to “follow us on Twitter” in these particular messages. People who use Twitter know what to do. We want to show them that there is a valid reason that applies to them so that they have a desire to add your stream.

On your website, you can “bribe” people to follow you. This sounds worse than it is. By bribing them, you are offering something tangible in exchange for them following you. Some would say that this method is not a way to get good follows. Some would be wrong. If they are willing to jump through the hoop of following your Twitter account in exchange for something, they were obviously interested in your business in some way (otherwise, they wouldn’t be on your site).

For example, you can say, “Receive a DM with a link to our latest case study! Follow us @yourusername. We’ll follow you back and DM you the link.”

Quality in your reach can most easily be achieved by getting followed by people who are active on Twitter. The term “DM” is very Twitteresque. It’s subtle, but by using that term rather than saying “Direct Message,” you’ll be letting them know that you know something they know. As odd as it sounds, the psychology there is that it will make you appear to be a Twitter pro.

Network

People often confuse Reach and Network. Your reach is everyone connected to you. Your network is the quality of the people connecting and interacting with you, which can be larger or smaller than your actual reach.

Think of it like this: you can reach X-number of people by getting them to follow you, but your network can expand to the people not directly connected to you, but who are connected to people that you influence.

It can be very confusing understanding how it works, but the techniques to improving your network are simple.

Involving influencers in your tweets is the easiest method. For example, you could Tweet a short quote from Guy Kawasaki’s new book and mention his Twitter account in the quote. If he replies with a thank you message, you are now part of his network and are thus influencing your own network by association.

Another popular method is talking to large companies who are active on Twitter. It’s a “cheap” method but it works. By talking to them and getting them to talk to you in return, you’re able to embrace their reach into your network, again simply by association.

These techniques may be discouraging as they require you to get your accounts interacting with other accounts of influence, but influence is something that requires more than just what you’re saying. Who you’re saying it to (and what they’re saying back to you) is a measure of influence that helps you expand your network.

Amplification

On Twitter, there are two components used in grading one’s amplification: retweets and mentions.

Retweets are often the most challenging to get as they require you to be both interesting and connected. It’s challenging to get retweets if your reach or network are low. It’s not impossible, though. In many cases, you just have to work on the quality of what you’re saying.

It’s easier said than done, but you must be profound to maximize your retweets. This isn’t the time to talk about the weather. Making interesting (and often funny) observations on topics of interest can help.

Look at Skittles. Even with a modest number of followers, they are able to get nearly everything they say retweeted.

Not all of us can be that funny, so sometimes we have to rely on being interesting. One popular method to expose your interesting tweets is by using popular hashtags. Don’t just jump on the spammer bandwagon and start popping trending hashtags into everything you tweet. Be selective. Attach hashtags to your tweets surrounding topics that people have an interest in.

It can’t be said enough: no technique can save you if your tweets suck. Don’t say things for the sake of saying them. Say something. Empty tweets will not be retweeted.

Mentions are often a bit more challenging and similar to working up your reach, getting amplification requires rubbing elbows with influencers. It’s hard enough to try to get mentions from your followers. It’s even more difficult to get mentions from influencers who are not following you.

One way to do it is to ask questions. Twitter is a realm of “me, me, and me.” People talk about themselves a lot on Twitter. Give them a reason to continue doing so.

One final thought for bloggers: if your blog is automatically retweeted by a lot of people, use it. This is a “hack” but because so many quality blogs get put on automatic RSS retweet feeds, pop @yourusername in there every now and then.

Influence on social media is really an artificial indication. Real influence is something that people achieve in real life through extraordinary actions or circumstances. On social media, influence can be manufactured. It may not be pretty, but it’s effective and is becoming a self-imposed requirement for branding, customer relations and marketing.

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The 5 Types of Small Business Marketing You Should Outsource

Small business owners have plenty on their plates. And though marketing is an important part of the business picture that many owners can — and should — take part in, there are some areas of marketing that are better left to professionals. As Harvard Professor Gail McGovern points out, “The benefits of outsourcing your marketing include cost savings and improved quality, as you can hire experts that can do their job efficiently.” Wondering which marketing tasks to outsource? Here are the top five areas where outsourcing can help you most:

SEO and Internet Marketing

Internet marketing is vital in the digital age, but it requires some expertise to implement the techniques and tools that will get you the most ROI. Tools like Search Engine Optimization and Google Analytics are intimidating to most novices — for good reason. Considering that search engine algorithms and other web practices are constantly changing, this aspect of marketing is best left to experts immersed in the field. If your product or service relies on web presence, you definitely need extra help to gain footing.

Tip: The company you hire should be highly ranked in the any Internet search you perform (it’s their expertise, after all). Also make sure to ask about their practices. Though you want visibility and traffic to your site, there are some online practices that are frowned upon and can hurt your reputation.

Social Media

Though you can create a Facebook page or Twitter account on your own, using social media to its full advantage takes a little more effort and time than most small business owners have. This specific segment of Internet marketing has great potential if used effectively, and social media marketers know all the tricks of the trade to get the best results from social media campaigns.

Tip: If you plan to outsource this marketing, make sure you ask the right questions to find the right person for the job. And carefully read online reviews of any candidate, particularly on social media sites such as LinkedIn.

Public Relations

PR is an area that small business owners can greatly benefit from when needed. Do you have a new product launch or have you recently attracted some bad attention? Hiring a PR firm to do some damage control or support a campaign can help enormously. Not only do PR experts have more established contacts (and therefore greater reach), they can hone in on exactly what type of support your particular business needs. “Outsourcing gives you access to experienced marketing professionals who can quickly develop plans and campaigns on the tightest of schedules,” says The PowerMark Group President Colleen Edwards. Though you may not need a PR team year-round, it is a valuable tool when necessary.

Tip: Look for a PR firm that specializes in your industry and avoids contracts. This is a sign they’re confident in their ability to service your needs, not your checkbook.

Advertising

Many small business owners advertise the best they can with the budget they have. But if you’ve found that your current placements aren’t garnering enough sales, consider passing the task on. With knowledge and experience, an ad expert will help you put your resources in the right place to generate the best ROI. They can also help protect your reputation. As Staff Editor CT Moore of Revenews.com points out, a professional will know the best practices for your industry. “For example, the laws might let you make all kinds of claims in your TV ads, but that doesn’t mean that your customers will accept you making those claims.”

Tip: When hiring an ad agency, look for agencies that have crafted effective, long-term campaigns, not just clever one-offs.

Lead Generation

If your sales are stagnant and your in-house resources are tapped out, outsourcing your sales lead generation can take the weight off your shoulders. In fact, it may be the better option altogether. According to Marketing Sherpa, outsourced lead generation gives you 43 percent better results than in-house. A professional in this field will help you target potential clients and deliver not just quantity of leads, but quality—and that’s what will give you a competitive edge while saving time.

Tip: There are many lead generation services, so hire one that specializes in your industry or niche. Identify the qualities you want in a lead generation representative, and base your search on that.

How to Find an Expert

If you’ve decided to outsource a task and are ready to find an expert, start by asking friends and professional colleagues for recommendations and searching online. Any talented marketing experts will successfully market themselves, so pay attention to search rankings, web visibility, and customer testimonials and reviews. Look for experts who deal with your particular industry (you can find these by contacting trade associations). Identify the qualities and type of experience you’re looking for, and interview potential candidates who match your criteria. When interviewing, make sure you’re clear about your own goals and expectations, and ask specifically how their services and practices can help you achieve them.

In this day in age, outsourcing is a reasonable and often advantageous tool that should be utilized by small business owners whenever and wherever necessary.

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Scratch “Marketing” From Your Social Media Vocabulary

As more people flock to social media sites every day, a roadblock is developing that is obstructing a company’s ability to achieve their goals: people on social media are there to enjoy and share, not for your business message. They may understand based upon their experience with television, print, and radio that advertising is a necessary part of the delivery of traditional media entertainment, but they are not ready to accept “a word from our sponsors” as readily in social media as they are elsewhere.

Advertising and marketing are different. The banner ads that you know are there go unnoticed by the masses. People don’t see ads, but in many cases they accept them because they know that these ads help websites stay afloat and pay their bills. Marketing on social media involves messaging and entering into the general conversation. If you message is all about marketing, then your audience will be slim.

Scratch the word “marketing” from your social media vocabulary and mindset and you will be more successful at achieving your marketing goals than you could ever imagine.

Fans, Followers, and Subscribers

If a tree falls in and forest and nobody is there to hear it, did it really make a sound? If you send a Tweet and nobody is following you, did you really tweet at all?

The first and biggest reason to take “marketing” out of your social media vocabulary is that you will not be able to grow (and in many cases, you will shrink) if your messages are geared around the marketing mindset. Building a following is about being interesting. It’s about giving people a reason to follow you. If they wanted marketing messages, they would just go to your website.

They want to get something from you that they do not get elsewhere.

Converse with people. Talk to them about them. Offer value and resources that only you can offer well and do so in a way that is not touting your own expertise.

Algorithmically Speaking…

Beyond the arbitrary decisions that people make about you and that you make about your message, there is an algorithmic reason to remove “marketing” from your mindset. Social media sites (Facebook in particular but most of them to some extent) have an algorithm that helps determine how much exposure your messages receive.

The more that people like what you’re saying, the more exposure you and your messages will receive. As a result, it’s important that you try to be as interesting and informative as possible. The marketing will come (below) but first you must think outside of marketing to make your converting messages work.

There are different formulas that you can use, but one that is easiest to apply is the 3 to 1 rule. On Facebook or Twitter, post 3 conversational, interesting updates to your page that have no purpose other than to create engagement. They can be questions, interesting links (not to your site), or general statements. Once you have 3 conversational pieces, go for a converting message. It should still be interesting, but its goal is to convert in some way.

Converting can be to get people to click through to your website, to know about an event coming up, or to perform a task such as answer a question about your business.

The algorithm exposes messages based upon your history, particularly your recent history. If you create conversational content that people like and/or comment on, the exposure of these messages will go up (and hopefully create more engagement as a result). The default view on the Facebook News Feed is “Top News” which is presented to users in order of relevance, their history, and the engagement that their friends are having. The more engagement, the higher and longer the updates will appear on their News Feed.

This carries over. In other words, by creating engagement on 3 messages, that 4th message (the converting message) will also be exposed well.

By thinking about marketing and only posting what is relevant to advancing your business, you will actually get less exposure to your messages. Fewer people (if any) will like your updates and as a result your updates will not be seen by nearly as many people. The effects are dramatic – in many cases we’ve seen, exposure to any given message can increase over ten-fold based upon being interesting and engaging most of the time.

Marketing Without Marketing

It takes a certain level of creativity to truly take advantage of a mindset that doesn’t include marketing. It isn’t that we don’t want to use social media as a marketing tool. It’s that we want the marketing tool to be effective. If all you’re doing is using it as a broadcasting tool for your marketing messages, you will not get enough engagement to make those messages visible to many.

Remove the mindset. Remove the word “marketing” from your vocabulary. If you approach social media from these perspectives, you will begin to naturally expose your brand and marketing messages much more effectively:

  • Entertain – While many would like to avoid this aspect, it’s the easiest way to get engagement. This doesn’t mean that you have to post funny cat videos every day. It means that in some of your status updates, your goal should be to make people laugh or smile. People like to laugh and smile and will like the messages that make them do it.
  • Inform – You’re an expert at something. If you weren’t you probably wouldn’t be running a business. Use this knowledge to help people learn about what you know. A Realtor could post about things to look for in a house that usually gets missed until after they buy. A car dealership could post tips about getting better gas mileage. A blog can discuss their niche without having it attached to a blog post link.
  • Opine – One of the things that many businesses, particular local businesses, avoid is expressing opinions about local or relevant issues. Despite the inferred risk, having polarizing opinions can lead to a much more robust level of engagement. People may agree or disagree with what you say, but if they comment, they’re helping to expose your updates.
  • Let Loose – We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: look at Skittles. Yes, it’s entertaining, but it’s also more. It’s unique. It’s well-thought out. They have created a personality so offbeat that people tell their friends that HAVE to follow them. Everything they post gets mad exposure.

Social media is not hard. Marketing on it is, but only when you don’t have the right mindset. If you start by taking marketing out of the mix, you’ll be able to improve your marketing results.

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Social Marketing Made Easy

In today’s business landscape, social marketing is vital for both small and medium-sized businesses. It is a powerful tool that allows you to interact with and engage your customer base using different mediums such as email or Facebook. This constant engagement helps strengthen your customer relationships, making it essential to the success of your small business — and giving you an advantage over larger competitors that don’t engage one-on-one with their consumers. But whether due to a lack of skills, time, or resources, many business owners do not fully explore the social marketing gold mine.

Luckily, there are solutions out there to help your business utilize social marketing in a productive and efficient way.

The 411

We know that for any small business, increasing revenue, engaging and retaining customers, and being able to see a return on investment is of the utmost importance. If you are looking to accomplish any of these goals, then here is what Demandforce can do for you:

Easily Manage Your Social Marketing Efforts

With the right tools, you can monitor and track your all your marketing efforts in an efficient way. Demandforce users can create a centralized place for their customers to request appointments, write reviews, and connect with them 24/7; integrate with all their social media platforms; maintain a consistent Web presence; and more. By utilizing these tools, happy customers are encouraged to come back more often, spend more on services, and refer more business.

Retain, Retain, Retain

One of the most overlooked and undervalued assets is your own recurring customer base — you got them, now keep them! From reading this blog, you know there are many avenues to reach out to your customers, but initiating successful interactions using all the various resources can be time consuming without satisfactory ROI.

To give businesses that extra edge (and ROI), Demandforce’s system helps facilitate communication with existing customers and helps attract new ones by integrating with various management systems. This automatically targets clients who need a little extra attention, sends appointment reminders, creates campaigns, reactivates lost customers, and prompts the biggest fans to refer new clients.

Control Your Online Reputation

As user review sites gain popularity — and the power to make or break your business in the social sphere — your business’s online reputation has become an asset you must control and protect. Using technology to help you do this, Demandforce automates review collection to help you manage and respond to reviews and share those reviews on third-party web services, including search engines, websites, and indexes, all of which increase your online visibility to help potential customers find you.

Keep Your Online Info Updated

Most consumers use the Web to find the businesses and services they need; therefore, your business should be represented on as many sites as possible. Unfortunately, these sites are constantly changing, which makes keeping your info updated a major challenge. Demandforce works with the biggest players online, such as Google Places, Citysearch, and 90+ other sites, to ensure business information is presented consistently and accurately in Internet Yellow Pages databases, indexes, and directories.

Build Your Brand

Small business marketing can and should be about building a brand over time. In addition to effectively implementing social marketing efforts that mobilize community and increase revenue, Demandforce offers the guidance and expertise to help small businesses grow into a brand by advising on best practices, helping tell their story, and building lasting customer relationships.

Demandforce is all about helping businesses help themselves and hopefully, at the very least, our readers can benefit from their expertise.

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Optimizing Your Social Sharing

Using The Right Blog Template

One of the most important things you can do to optimize your webpage for social sharing is choose the right blog template. Make sure your blog has a RSS (Real Simple Syndication) subscription buttons, and is configured to send “pings” back to you when your post is mentioned in other blogs. Also make sure that your blogging platform can “ping” search engines every time you post (WordPress and Movable Type can do this automatically). Of course, ensure that it has social sharing buttons, as well.

Location of Your Social Share Buttons

Contrary to what you may believe, social media “share” buttons don’t need to be as big as the entire webpage or blog post to attract attention; if anything, such an obnoxious size will alienate users. The number and kind of buttons are important factors to consider, too. Does your audience use the kind of social buttons featured on your site? (For example–it might be time to eliminate that MySpace button.)

The social media experts over at Mashable recommend that social buttons be added at the top of the page for maximum visibility: ”no extra clicking or scrolling required.” A floating widget may also be preferable if you write longer blog posts.

Catchy Title/Headline

Sure, your webpage or blog will need compelling content–but an unconventional image, snappy title, and engaging headline will prompt people to share it–particularly on Facebook, where “liking” is the most valuable currency. “Liked” links show the title, headline, and image, drawing in other interested users. Shocking and controversial–but not offensive–titles are the way to go, here.

Don’t forget to utilize SEO in your blog title. Know the search keywords your audience employs the most and try to implement them as organically as possible into the title.

Flickr Creative Commons is a great resource for non-licensed, artistic pictures.

Seeding With Your Community

So you’ve got the buttons, the catchy phrasing, and the internal optimization–now what? Well, before you expect your content to show up on the front page of the New York Times, it probably first needs to be vetted among your industry peers. Write guest blogs for already-established “thought leaders” in your community. (Likewise, politely solicit them to write for your blog once you’ve got a few meaty posts up.) Post in industry-related forums or link to relevant posts in your blog in LinkedIn answers. Be consistent with your content. Get feedback from mentors. It’s called “social proof” and it’s present in nearly every social interaction: once a group of elites has deemed you respectable and worthy of esteem, others will be more willing to give you a chance.

Remember the bottom line: that the end goal of social sharing is conversion–typically emails (leads) or a signup for your product. You’ll need to balance–as much as you can–the creative and marketing aspects of each and every post. Good luck!

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Are Daily Deal Sites Worth It?

It seems like a great idea: Daily deal sites offer customers heavily discounted goods and services to get them in the door of local businesses, and business owners get a boost in sales and—hopefully—grow their customer base. But while the Daily Deal has exploded in recent years (according to Daily Deal Media the industry attracted over $1.6 billion in business capital investment this year), some small business owners are skeptical. As reports of both displeased customers and businesses surface, the real question for small business owners is simply: Are daily deal sites worth it?

Daily Deal Dilemma

As the daily deal industry grows, small business owners are wondering whether or not to hop on the bandwagon. Almost as quickly as daily deal sites popped up, a wave of criticism arose as well—a New York Times article even compared it to the subprime mortgage industry. But like most things, daily deal sites offer both pros and cons to the local businesses they recruit.

Pros

Any business owner will tell you: Some business is better than no business. Especially in this down economy, businesses are eager to generate any sales they can. This is what makes daily deal sites attractive. By encouraging consumers to buy an initial discounted deal, you get more consumers in the door—and build your clientele base. Ideally, you get a small bump in sales that will translate to larger, long-term sales from repeat customers, something every small business lusts for. In addition to sales and face-to-face interaction, the best feature of daily deal sites is the exposure you get. Though a consumer might not pounce on your current coupon, when they are in need of your good or service, you’ll come to mind. Daily deal sites offer all this, with relatively minimal effort on the business owner’s part.

Cons

However, though the daily deal site has plenty of potential to benefit small business owners, some major concerns have arisen. To start, the website you offer your deal on takes a significant cut of your already reduced profit (Groupon takes 50 percent). Additionally, some sites have non-compete clauses preventing you from working with any other daily deal sites for some time, narrowing the pool of customers you can reach.

The on-paper goal of the daily deal is to generate repeat customers. However, as consumers become used to these cut-rate deals, many have noticed deal-buyers tend to chase the deals and not maintain loyalty to the local businesses. Worse, as Chicago-based entrepreneur Romi Patel detailed for CNN, the type of demanding customers these deals attract can actually cost you more in wasted goods, time, and energy. Because of this, many have observed that daily deal sites work better for businesses providing services than products, as your loss-cost is reduced. Yet even that can cause problems, as deal-buyers expect their coupon to be available to them when they want. Services that require appointments or deals for actual goods can turn sour for small businesses unprepared for the influx.

And though the biggest advantage of daily deal sites is the exposure they offer, even that can be hit or miss. A recent study by researchers at Boston University and Harvard University noted social media reputations of businesses can be hurt by daily deals. Though a flurry of social media buzz follows a deal, it is not always good. The study found the amount of Yelp reviews increased, but they also decreased a business’s overall score by 0.12 percent after a deal.

What to Do

Ultimately, daily deal sites still remain a popular way to attract more business. If you’re considering participating, you must ask yourself what your intention is. Are you looking for word-of-mouth exposure or hard numbers? Daily deal sites still need to improve to keep both consumer and merchants happy, and it’s likely that they eventually will to stay relevant. But in the meantime, it’s up to the individual business owner to decide whether or not to participate.

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7 Guaranteed Ways to Suck at Email Marketing

Email marketing is a tricky art to master. Week in and week out our SPAM folders flood with emails that quickly get deleted without ever being opened, much less read. Other emails that make it to our inbox frequently get disregarded, moved to the trash bin, and soon forgotten about. Clearly, this demonstrates that many email marketers simply suck at email marketing. If you want to make sure that you don’t suck at email marketing, check out the short guide below for some helpful tips.

1) Sending The Email Blast From Your Yahoo/AOL/Hotmail Account.

One surefire way to get your email sent straight into the SPAM folder is by compiling a massive email list into the “TO:” field of your online email client. If you are planning on launching a serious email marketing campaign, invest in an auto-mailer application. These applications send mail in such a way that your recipient is almost sure to see it, which is the first step to email marketing success, after all. Besides, it looks much more professional to have your company’s name in the email, rather than “@yahoo.com.”

2) Writing Your Subject Line In ALL CAPS!

Although you might think that a caps-lock authored subject line with a ton of explanation points is bound to grab the eyes of your recipient, it in fact looks incredibly scammy. This mistake has been popularized by SPAM marketers, and most people have since learned to disregard any email with a subject line like “DONT MISS THE AMAZING DEALS WE HAVE ON WIDGETS!!!!!!!111one” Reputable companies don’t need to use audacious and loud subject lines like this to get their point across. If you want to be taken seriously, write a sensible, enticing subject line without the overblown capitalization.

3) Not Using A Targeted Email List.

The key to all forms of successful marketing, online and off, is proper demographic targeting. Can you imagine an ad for the latest “R” rated horror movie being broadcast during a cartoon? Such marketing is bound to fail because your message is reaching all the wrong people. Similarly, when planning a proper email campaign, you shouldn’t settle for any email list that $50.00 and a few mouse clicks can buy you. Truth be told, you should be wary of for-sale email lists to begin with. They’re not all bad, and if you can find double opt in ones for sale you should consider the purchase. The problem is that many email lists are gathered unethically and consist of droves of people who don’t want to be bothered by your emails. The trick is to identify your market carefully, and then find a source of email address of people who are interested in hearing about your thing. The best strategy is to build your own emailing list of people who already know who you are and honestly want to hear more from you. If you can do this, you will be successful.

4) Trying To Trick People Into Opening Your Mail.

There is nothing worse than getting an email with a subject line along the lines of ” Congratulations, You’ve Just Won The Jackpot!” and opening it to find that the body of the email begins, “Would you like to receive a real email like this someday? All you you have to do to strike the REAL riches is…” There is no faster way to reach someones trash folder than this tactic. It is worth noting that if you have to trick someone into opening your email, you should probably rethink your marketing strategy, because deceiving your market is no way to kick off a successful marketing attempt.

5) Selling Something That Is Frequently Sold Via SPAM Mail.

Everyone with an email account knows that there are certain products that are sold almost exclusively via SPAM mail. Viagra and other sex pills, get-rich-quick training courses, miracle debt solutions, online dating services, and the like, are all products that are associated with scammy email marketers and will likely not be taken seriously by your readers. If you are trying to decide what to sell, take a cursory stroll through your email’s spam folder and take stock how many messages are pitching the same generic products. Break free of the heard and sell something original and legitimate for your email marketing campaign. Assuming you invest in a good email list and professional email software, you should be landing in your target’s inbox, so don’t make yourself look like another spammer that just slipped through the grips of the SPAM folder by selling these kinds of products.

6) Making The Pitch Far Too Obvious.

Successful email marketers know that an email has to be enjoyable and engaging for the recipient to consider purchasing something from them. The best in the field build a reputation with their email list as someone with inspiring or helpful daily messages that they look forward to reading. Usually personal stories or entry-level information about your field will suffice to fill this requirement. Eventually, you should strive to work your pitch into the email as a natural, smooth-flowing part of the email. These sort of sales pitches are seen as trustworthy and perhaps worth the time to investigate further. In contrast, sending a big colorful image of a Ferrari parked outside of a mansion in hawaii with a guy leaning against it in the latest designer clothing, and putting the words “THIS COULD BE YOU IF YOU BUY MY COURSE TODAY!” is like a glass of cold water in the face. Only the most gullible people on earth ever give these sort of pitches a second glance, and relying on this approach makes your campaign very likely to fall flat.

7) Not Making The Pitch Obvious Enough.

Though you certainly don’t want to take the “glass of water in the face” approach (as discussed above), you also don’t want to leave your customers without a clear course of action they can take if they like the sound of your email. Sending an interesting and engaging email is a great strategy to take, but it doesn’t mean you should shy away from making your product or service well known. A small ending paragraph with a short but direct pitch, augmented by a link to your product page and additional contact information does the job well. Never leave the customer hanging or they will soon find someone else to pay for what you offer.

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11 Types of Marketing That Everyone Hates

While few people actually like being advertised to, there are some forms of marketing that truly get under out skin. Most of us can deal with commercials, billboards, and we have even gotten used to commercials in movie theaters, but sometimes marketers push the envelope a bit too far. When their marketing efforts begin infringing upon our daily activities we begin to get angered by their messages. Below are eleven types of marketing we are all sick of.

Talking Banner Ads

Perhaps one of the most irritating forms of advertising is the talking or musical banner ad. The truly terrible thing about these audio-annoyances is that they almost never come with a pause button. This means that as you are sitting there reading an article and jamming out to your favorite tunes, you have to contend with, “Congratulations! You’ve been selected to win a FREE iPod Nano!” followed by lengthy instruction on how you retrieve your “prize.” Face it annoying prize lady, we all know we have not been “selected” for anything.

Embedded Video Ads

With internet connections improving in speed each year and video becoming easier and faster to stream, its all too common to visit a web page and see a video player alongside the content showing you commercials. Rather than reading the content you were looking for, it now becomes your mission to seek out the infernal video on the page and figure out how to pause it without accidentally clicking through. What’s worse, some of these videos have no pause button and are significantly longer than the talking banner ads, lasting for minutes at time and all but forcing you to put up with it or close the window.

Banners and Pop-Ups With Games

Ads with interactive games in them are some of the most misleading ones around. It seems so tempting at first to try to shoot the robbers or punch the running monkey, but as soon as you give in and try to play, you are immediately redirected somewhere before you can even get a few shots off. You feel so cheated, expecting a fun little game and instead being bombarded with pop-ups and asked to sign up for a free laptop computer. They are so tempting though, and although we know the game is a lie, we always wonder if maybe the next one will be different. They never are…

Expanding Banner Ads

Expanding banner ads are the booby trap of the Internet. At first the banner looks just like any other, so surfers naturally ignore it and freely scroll around the page. The expanding ad lies secretly in wait, and as soon as your poor mouse rolls over it, a massive graphical advertisement grows out it like a perverse jack-in-the-box. This obnoxious ad covers much of the screen, making it impossible to read the content on the page. Usually trying to scroll away from it or click to close it just reopens it every time, resulting in a hurried click on the browser’s “back” button.

Contextual Roll Over Ads

Perhaps even more distracting than the expanding banner ad is the contextual roll over ad. Disguised as a hyperlink, these ads hide in various words throughout an article you are reading. Once you mistakenly roll your mouse cursor over one, however, a big dialogue box pops out from the word advertising some completely irrelevant product or website that you have no interest in looking at. The ad covers parts of the text you were trying to read and makes it very difficult to close without accidentally clicking. Reading these articles becomes more like running through an obstacle course, trying to avoid hitting the wrong words and escape having read the article un-bothered.

Promo Babes

Promo babes are a cruel, evil kind of bait-and-switch tactic that all guys despise (and sort of love). It always happens the same way: you’re standing at the bar, enjoying a few drinks, when all of a sudden your eye catches those of a gorgeous girl in skintight clothing walking your way with a big smile on her face. Just when you begin to think you’re in luck, she sits down next to you and begins talking about the delicious, soothing new brand of vodka on sale tonight, and how you just have to try it in order to really enjoy yourself. That’s when you notice that her shirt carries the same logo as the bottle she’s recommending. Your hopes sink, but of course you end up buying the drink anyway.

Pause Ads

It used to be that DVR customers could avoid television commercials by fast-forwarding through them during recorded shows. Gone are those blessed days. Advertisers must have begun losing money to this feature, and so they unleashed pause ads. Pause ads will randomly pause your television program at random intervals and display some kind of ad at the bottom of the screen. Usually in the form of a person or cartoon walking out onto the screen, these ads can strike at any moment and come without warning. These are especially annoying when you’re trying to follow dialogue and suddenly you’ve got Charlie Sheen walking on screen promoting the season finale for his latest show. Let’s just cut to the chase: no one watches “Two and a Half Men.”

YouTube Advertising

Until recently, YouTube was a nice little getaway, free from advertising. In the last year however, advertisements have begun playing before every popular video you watch, some of them longer than the video itself (Google is an advertising agency anyways, right?). This is perhaps one of the least-targeted forms of advertising imaginable; what make advertisers believe that just because I enjoy watching cats do funny things on YouTube, that i am also interested in purchasing a new Honda Accord.?

SMS Advertising

If ever a sign-up form asks you for your telephone number, be wary of what should invariably follow Often times unscrupulous websites will collect cell phone numbers and blast them with repeated SMS text ads for weeks on end. You can usually opt out of receiving these messages, but the problem comes when your phone number is sold to countless other partners, and soon every time you check your phone you’re being asked if you want to lower your bills or apply for a payday loan. It’s even worse when you’re waiting on a text from someone, and every ten minutes your phone buzzes with an ad for services and products you couldn’t care less about.

Singing Ads

Where do college music majors go when they just aren’t good enough to make it in Hollywood? Radio advertising seems to be the popular career choice for these wanna-be rock stars, but time and time again we are reminded of why they can’t make it on their own. Singing entire songs about the great deals at the local Ford dealership or  about how delicious the burgers are at McDonalds these days, the irritating commercials are painful at best, and downright embarrassing at worst. Try as they might, companies can never make fast food or roofing services seem edgy and “rock-and-roll”, and for the most part we are all tired of their silly attempts.

SPAM Mail

These days, most mainstream email accounts come ready-made with SPAM filters that keep all those bogus offers out of our in-boxes. The fact that most of us see our SPAM folder flood over the course of a week and then empty it all in one shot forces us to wonder, “is SPAM even a profitable marketing channel anymore?” How many of us log-in to check out Grandma’s new Flickr account and suddenly decide to”BuY ViAgRa 4 ChEaP”?….from a pharmacy based in Tijuana? SPAM is untargeted, practically useless, and just plain annoying.

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Top 10 Tips to Improve Your Local SEO

To survive in the business world, you must have an online presence. And for small businesses that thrive on local business, ranking highly in search engines is even more vital to your success.

According to research from Webvisible and Nielsen, 63 percent of consumers and small business owners turn to the Internet first for information about local companies. However, 39 percent report frequently not being able to locate a particular known business. This means implementing successful search engine optimization (beyond just a few keywords) to make your company visible to potential customers should be a top priority. The good news: Just a few tweaks can increase your presence and send online customers your way. Follow these 10 tips to improve your local SEO.

1. Get Links From Local Sources

Sites that link to you help bolster your presence in search rankings, and sites associated with your location that link to you will help connect your business in search engine algorithms. Case Ernsting of Search Engine Journal recommends submitting your business info to local directories, community databases, and even your hometown’s Wikipedia page to get encourage links to your site.

2. Work Under One Domain Name

Sure you want to be recognized and use different online outlets for different thing, but having multiple websites for different services or aspects of your business can confuse the consumer—and reduce your overall search engine pull, says the Small Business Administration. It’s wiser to keep all online activity under one name.

3. Encourage Reviews

Though many small business owners shy away from reviews for fear of a bad one, search engines factor online reviews into your ranking. Think of it this way: The more people are talking about you, the more popular you are. Ask friends and customers to review you on sites like Yelp.

4. Add Content to Your Site

Whether it’s a blog, industry news, announcements, or event recaps, adding new content your site is imperative. This creates new pages that can be optimized with new keywords, expanding your company’s reach in the eyes of search engines. You can then encourage links to that content from other sites.

5. Include Content Links on Your Social Media Sites

Post links to your site on social sites like Facebook and Twitter. As Search Engine Land notes, search engines are starting to crawl and track these links back to your site.

6. Title All Web Pages

Many SEO rookies forget to make a separate title for each web page, losing an opportunity to give search engines more content to review. SEO expert Andrew Shotland recommends putting the most important keywords at the beginning of the title and adding your city name to the titles to hone in on local searches.

7. Make All Titles SEO-Friendly

Whether a blog post headline, URL, or file name, use keywords in all titling. Rich Hargrave of Local Search Source notes, however, that a URL with more than three hyphens can look like spam. Keep naming conventions simple but relevant.

8. Add Text to Audio and Visuals

Search engines scan text to determine relevancy.  If your fancy website is heavy on audio, video, or pictures, it may be visually appealing, but search engines won’t recognize anything. Make sure to include text in the form of captions or transcripts with any of this type of content.

9. Input Correct Keywords

Keywords are the lifeblood of your site’s SEO, so make sure yours are accurate and relevant to the type of consumer you want to attract. You can review Google’s Keyword Planner to find applicable terms. Also take the time to target keywords for individual pages on your site. The SBA recommends three targeted keywords per page.

10. Use Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free analytics software package that offers data about your website traffic and how it’s performing in search engine rankings. Periodic review of this can clue you in to trends or areas you can improve.

Do you use SEO for your small business? Leave us a comment to tell us how it’s helped you.

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