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Category Archive: Social Media Marketing

  1. What Does The Perfect Instagram Post Look Like?

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    There’s no question that social media marketing is one of the most popular and profitable strategies around today—why else would 84 percent of marketers be keeping or increasing their social media budgets moving forward?

    Among these platforms, the ones that tend to get the most attention are the giant pillars of our age: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Why? Partly because they carry some of the biggest user bases of any social media platform, and partly because they’ve been around long enough to reassure skeptical marketers that they’re going to be a good investment.

    But what about Instagram, a decidedly popular app growing quickly in terms of users and owned by Facebook, one of the major social pillars of the world. Many business owners and marketers are intimidated to get involved with the platform, partly because it’s relatively untested (compared to the big three), but I’ve found it’s mostly because the average Instagram post is more demanding than the average post on other platforms.

    When you look past the initial learning curve, Instagram posts aren’t as intimidating or intensive as they might seem on the surface. In fact, I can teach you all the ingredients of a “perfect” Instagram post in the body of one guide—or at least I’m going to try. Are you ready?

    Why you should care about Instagram

    Since it does get less attention than some of its contemporaries, you might first ask yourself why you’d bother with Instagram in the first place. Well, let’s look at the numbers: Instagram has over 400 million monthly active users, and that number is growing consistently, month over month. It’s become an incredibly popular platform in a relatively short amount of time, and its growth trajectory doesn’t indicate any signs of that momentum coming to a halt.

    Moreover, much of the Instagram population skews toward younger demographics, making it an even more powerful social force (especially if younger demographics are your target market):

    instagram statistics

    (Image Source: Sprout Social)

    If you’re targeting older generations, or rural users, Instagram probably isn’t the best platform for you, but then again, social media in general may prove an obstacle for these markets.

    I’m going to assume that Instagram is a good platform for your business or organization in general, because this is the case for the vast majority of businesses. With that in mind, we need to take a look at how your business can be successful.

    Perfect posts are a good way to start

    There are a lot of ingredients that go into a successful Instagram campaign, but at the center, there must be high-quality, effective posts. Drilling down to uncover what makes an individual Instagram post effective is a good first step to building a solid strategy. Here, we’re looking to accomplish a few goals:

    • Attractive. An ideal post is one that will attract new people to your brand, helping you build and retain a massive following, which you will then hold influence over.
    • Engaging. The more you engage with others, in some meaningful, connective way, the more influence your brand will hold and the more actions your users will take.
    • Valuable. Your posts should also carry some direct value for your brand, such as generating more traffic or sales, without disrupting the relationships you hold with your followers.

    Without further ado, let’s take a look at the factors you’ll need to consider when creating and posting your brand’s images and videos.

    The Basics

    Before we get too deep in the types of content and specific details you’ll need to consider for your strategy, we need to cover the basics. These are fundamental principles you’ll need to keep close to your campaign—some of them are rules of etiquette, some of them are best practices, but all of them are necessary if you want any of your posts to make an impact.

    Take lots of pictures, but choose only the best

    Instagram revolves around images. Yes, you’re able to post videos these days, too, but first and foremost, Instagram is an image-based platform. Accordingly, you need to pick the best and most impressive photos you can to fill your profiles. It helps if you have some kind of photography experience, or are at least familiar with the basic principles of what makes a good photo, but even if you don’t, you can make up for it with one basic approach. Take lots and lots of photos, experimenting with different angles and lighting, and only choose the best ones to fill your account. Even if only 1 in 20 of your photos is worth posting, if you take 20 photos, you’ll get that 1 important take (on average). The perfect Instagram post is the best of a group.

    As an example, thousands of people a day take photos of the Eiffel Tower, mostly from this angle. But how many do you think turn out like this:

    Eiffel Tower

    (Image Source: BGR)

    Edit and crop appropriately

    Once you take your photo, your job isn’t exactly done. Instagram offers some awesome editing and cropping tools, but you need to use those tools effectively if you want your image to have the right type of impact. Instagram has a great guide on how to use these tools in general (if you’re unfamiliar), but you’ll need to trust your artistic and creative instincts if you want to get the framing correct.

    This is a great example:

    cropping photo

    (Image Source: BGR)

    Imagine if the photo was zoomed out any further—you’d miss the person swinging as a bit detail. Zoom in any further and you lose your sense of scale. There’s a delicate balance here, and it’s important to know where it is.

    Add the right filter

    Instagram offers a number of filters you can use to modify the final appearance of your photos, each one with different effects. Some alter the coloration of your image and others alter the lighting. You’ll find that several of these filters will directly affect your engagement rates, so choosing the right one is vital:

    instagram photo filters

    (Image Source: TrackMaven)

    Unfortunately, there’s no convenient guide to let you know which one is the most appropriate for your specific image. You’ll have to experiment and trust your visual sensibilities to find the one that best enhances your source material.

    Of course, if you don’t feel like using filters at all, or if your photo will have more impact if it’s unedited, you can take advantage of this with the #nofilter hashtag.

    Make your message short

    Instagram allows you to include a message with your photo, which is an excellent opportunity to further engage your audience. However, it’s in your best interest to keep this message as concise as possible. Remember, this is an image board. A message can enhance or clarify the meaning behind your post, but don’t use this as a platform for verbal expression; there are several dozen other platforms available if that’s your main goal.

    For example, take this post from forever21, which simply says: “wakeup, run, repeat” with some emoticons, hashtags, and a call-to-action (these other ingredients are significant too, but I’ll dig into those in a bit).

    forever21 photo

    (Image Source: Curalate)

    The nature of this message should be directly related to your image, and relevant to your audience, hitting a few main points I’ll explain in my section on content.

    Incorporate hashtags

    Yes, hashtags. They’re a polarizing strategy because it’s easy to cross a line here, but the fact is, they’re the best way to get your content discovered by new audiences, hands-down. People search for and follow hashtags for their favorite topics, and if they search for yours, your post will get in front of them. Your existing followers will see your posts in their newsfeeds, but your ideal post should include hashtags to attract the people who don’t follow you.

    There are only two lines you need to be wary not to cross:

    • Relevance. Whatever hashtags you use, make sure you’re using them appropriately. If you try to exploit a hashtag that you don’t fully understand, you could wind up alienating your audience or seeming ignorant. If you’re in doubt, do your research. If you’re still in doubt, drop it.
    • Volume. Don’t stuff your post full of hashtags for the sake of stuffing it full of hashtags. This turns users off almost immediately. Instead, select only a handful that you feel are most appropriate for your post.

    instagram hashtags

    (Image Source: ShortStack)

    Tag people

    This is more common for individual users than it is for brands, but tagging specific people can be a good way to increase your visibility, so I’m counting it as part of the “perfect” Instagram post. For example, you could feature a contribution or a member of your audience specifically and call them out as a way to bond with them. It’ll also make it likely they’ll share it with their own audience:

    tag people on instagram

    (Image Source: WishPond)

    If that doesn’t work, you can select specific people in your audience you feel the post would be relevant for, or if you’re really strapped, you could simply call out the individual accounts of your employees and team members. The key is to include some form of engagement that makes your post more accessible.

    Miscellaneous quirks

    In addition to the best practices I listed above, there are a handful of other, less obvious quirks about Instagram that could help you craft the ideal post:

    • Blue images get more likes. According to a recent study, images with blue tones tend to get more likes than those with red or other color tones. If you can, try to post more images with a sense of “blue” about them, with the color dominating the majority of the image’s area.

    blue images

    (Image Source: DailyMail)

    • Images with lots of background space get more attention. Cropping in your photo too closely will lead to a drop in engagement. The idea here is to preserve a level of minimalism.
    • Images with low saturation and block colors are popular. Walden and Rise are two filters that can help you lower your saturation, so use them to desaturate your photo.

    rainbow picture

    (Image Source: DailyMail)

    • Forget the hyperlinks (or go simple). You can’t hyperlink on Instagram, so you’re going to have to get creative here. You can use a short or instantly recognizable link, or refer people to general names like “the [your brand] blog.”

    The Content

    With the basics out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the content elements you’ll have to keep in mind when crafting your ideal Instagram posts.

    Brand voice and significance

    First, your post needs to “fit” your brand. Your brand is your company’s identity, reduced to one concept, so it’s important to keep your brand present in every post you make. What do I mean by that?

    • It should be in your voice. When it comes to your messaging, your tone, subject matter, and direction should all fall into the “personality” you’ve ascribed to your brand. Formal or informal, direct or playful, your posts need to match your brand.
    • It should be in your niche. Though it’s possible to deviate on an occasional basis and earn significant engagement, for the most part, your posts should fall within your niche. Are you an auto manufacturer? Keep your posts related to the automotive industry.
    • It should show off what makes you unique. For example, do you have a signature product line? Show it off!

    unique branding

    (Image Source: Curalate)

    Audience considerations

    You’ll also need to consider what your audience would want to see—keep in mind that the demographics for Instagram skew younger, so if you’re targeting multiple demographics, aim for the younger ones here. Are your customers currently in college? Try to relate your posts to the college experience. Are your customers parents? Relate to the challenges of raising a young child. This should be a modifier to your posts, not a direct influence, so try to keep this in mind without getting carried away.

    Value

    All of your posts should be of some value to your users; otherwise, they won’t engage with them and your content approach will fall flat.

    • Practicality/utility. One straightforward angle to value is one of utility or practicality. Here, your images will give users ideas or instructions—they serve as tutorials or inspiration that people can use in their daily lives.
    • Entertainment. Your posts could also be pure entertainment in some way—they might be funny, or they might be aesthetically pleasing (if you have a strong enough eye for photography).
    • Thought. Thought-provoking posts can work too, but be careful here; these tend to be more text-oriented than visually-oriented on an image-based platform. Still, they can spark discussion, and discussion is good.
    • Emotion. You can also capitalize on some emotional reaction from your users, which should lead to more sharing and engagement.

    emotional message picture

    (Image Source: Curalate)

    • Compensation. Finally, you can add a monetary benefit to your post, such as offering a discount, promotion, or contest.

    Compulsion

    Instagram is a relatively fast-paced platform, even though its new content sorting algorithm is not strictly based on posting time. That means you need some sort of immediate appeal; the content of your post should be obviously and instantly available. That might mean a standout feature of your image, or a concise headline to grab attention—either way, you need to get your followers’ attentions fast.

    Calls to action

    This is more about the value of your post to you as an organization, rather than the value to your followers. The majority of your posts should include a call-to-action of sorts, prompting users to visit your site, share your content, participate in a discussion, or otherwise engage with your brand in some meaningful way that adds to your bottom line. Just be careful here; if you come across as too overly self-promotional, you may alienate your followers. The key to success is moderation. When you can, aim for calls-to-action without a direct cost attached to them, such as advertising your blog rather than a specific product you’re selling.

    call to action instagram

    (Image Source: ShortStack)

    The Follow-Up

    Okay, so you’ve got the “perfect” Instagram post at this point, and you’ve published it. If you want to nurture your post’s success, your work isn’t over. How you treat your post after it’s been submitted is just as likely to influence that post’s overall success as its content.

    Responders and discussions

    If someone comments on your post, respond to them! It doesn’t take much, and it does a number of things for your brand:

    • It cements follower loyalty. The follower who comments and gets acknowledge will think highly of your brand, and will be more likely to post again in the future.
    • It shows you care about your followers. This is a major boon for your brand reputation, and will encourage more people to engage with you.
    • It increases the visibility of your post. The more conversations and comments you attract, the more visible your post will become on the platform.
    • It encourages discussion. Discussions and debates help you foster a social community, which can only help your brand in the long run.

    The more followers you have engaging with your material, the better.

    Cross-pollination with other apps

    Instagram can be integrated with a number of other apps, so don’t take this functionality for granted. Make use of your different platforms, for all their advantages and disadvantages, both specific to your post and as general networking opportunities. Get your Instagram followers to connect with you on other platforms, and vice versa, and get your Instagram post as much visibility as possible by featuring it on other platforms and mediums.

    Revisiting a popular theme

    If one of your posts is particularly popular, use it as fuel for future posts. For example, you could use it as a jumping-off point for similar sequel-like posts in the near future, or you could simply re-post your image at a much later date to recall its initial publication.

    More Than Just a Post

    I mentioned this briefly before, but it bears repeating; a successful Instagram strategy demands more than just a string of “perfect” posts. The content will certainly help you, but just as having a bunch of delicious ingredients doesn’t mean you’ll make a delicious pizza, you’ll need to plan, organize, and balance your ingredients if you want to reap the full rewards of your Instagram strategy.

    • Timing and frequency. A perfect Instagram post will have different levels of impact based on how and when it’s distributed. Instagram is a platform with lots of highs and lows in terms of user engagement, and while the new time-independent newsfeed algorithm has helped balance this out slightly, there are still key times that are objectively better than others for posting.

    timing and frequency instagram post

    (Image Source: HuffingtonPost/Latergramme)

    On average, 2 am and 5 pm are the best times to post. In addition, you’ll have to make sure your account remains consistently active—that means you’re posting at least once a day, every day     (at least through the week) to keep your users engaged.

    • Diversity and consistency. While consistency is absolutely necessary if you want your brand to be developed on Instagram, you also need to have a degree of diversity. Imagine you have a formula for a perfect Instagram post: a shot of your product in a natural environment. You do this, once a day, every day, for months. You change your product and your environment, but the formula remains consistent—don’t you think your users will get bored? Even if it deviates from the “perfect” Instagram post, strive to shake up your strategy every once in a while with something new.
    • Outward engagement. Instagram is a social media platform, so don’t forget the importance of being social. Don’t just post content and hope for the best—go out of your way to engage with others’ content posts. Comment on images you think are noteworthy, and reach out to new individuals. This is the only way to build up your social community and show that you care about your users as much as they care about you.
    • Ties to value. I mentioned this briefly in my section on calls to action, but it’s important to tie your posts to some kind of value for your business. Yes, it’s nice to build up a huge following for your brand, and there are always hard-to-measure, intangible benefits like brand visibility and brand reputation to consider, but eventually, you’ll have to get your users on your site, looking at your products and services, if you want your Instagram account to yield a positive ROI.
    • Analysis and adjustment. You aren’t going to have a perfect Instagram strategy at first, even if all your posts meet all the criteria I’ve outlined in this guide and then some. User behavior is too unpredictable, brands are too unique, and trends change too quickly for any one strategy to be universally and predictably effective. Accordingly, you have to spend time measuring, scrutinizing, analyzing, and evaluating your efforts to find out what pieces of your strategy work and which ones don’t. From there, you have to update your strategy and refine it to better suit your needs.

    Instagram is the social platform with the highest propensity for growth, and it’s one of the most valuable new platforms to emerge from brands. If you know what makes an Instagram post successful (as you do now), you can build and maintain a strategy that will earn you tons of followers, and of course, more bottom-line revenue. Get started early, stay flexible, and keep building until you get to the level you want.

  2. How Much Does Social Media Marketing Cost?

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    Social media marketing has been popular for years, and according to our recent “What Works in Online Marketing” survey, it’s still on an upward trajectory. Marketing professionals everywhere are looking to increase their social media marketing budgets, while marketers and entrepreneurs who haven’t yet tapped the enormous potential of the strategy are scrambling to make up for lost time.

    Still, there are marketers out there apprehensive about getting involved with social media marketing, mostly concerned about its effectiveness and its long-term viability. These are legitimate concerns; on a superficial level, it’s easy to understand why one might view social media marketing as a fad, and the relative unpredictability of bottom-line results can be troublesome to the uninitiated.

    If you’re concerned about the potential return of social media marketing, I encourage you to first look at the costs. Social media is extremely affordable, especially considering the level of returns you can potentially earn, and being aware of its estimated costs can help you budget your strategy efficiently.

    (NOTE: this article explores the organic side of social media marketing. Paid social advertising is not taken into consideration here).

    How to Pay for Social Media Marketing

    First, let’s take a look at the potential cost bases for social media marketing. Claiming accounts and posting on social media is completely free for almost any platform, so what you’ll actually be paying for is the human effort it takes to manage a strategy.

    There are four main options to work with here, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

    • Full-time workers. First, you can hire a full-time worker (or a team) to manage your social accounts. Alternatively here, you can put the responsibilities on one of your existing team members. Either way, you’ll be paying a salary for the work.
    • Consultants, freelancers, and contractors. You can use a platform like Upwork to find a freelancer, or find one through networking, to find candidates to handle your work on a per-project or per-hour basis.

    upwork

    (Image Source: UpWork)

    • Agencies and firms. An increasingly popular option, you can work with a marketing agency on a monthly retainer to plan, execute, and manage your social strategies.
    • Hybridization. There’s also no limitations here, so you can mix and match these approaches to suit your business best.

    Cause and Effect

    It’s important to note that how much you invest and what you invest in has a direct bearing on the results you’re going to achieve. For example, if you’re only interested in setting up a basic network for social visibility, you can invest a pittance, but if you’re interested in building an audience of thousands, you’ll need to invest significantly more.

    This makes it difficult to project any one “standard” cost basis for social media marketing, but I shall do my best to present the general considerations you’ll need to bear in mind when creating your budget.

    The Elements of Social Media Marketing

    Now, let’s take a look at the individual elements of a social media marketing campaign, and approximately how much they could cost. For the most part, we’ll be looking at raw man-hours of work here, rather than a monetary value, because your mode of work will modify the final cost as a critical variable.

    Strategy and Planning

    Don’t overlook the strategy and planning portion of social media marketing. If you go in without a formalized plan, you’ll have no goals to reach for, no direction on what to do, and your team members will end up wasting time. You should spend many hours doing competitive research, researching your demographics, learning best practices for social media, and eventually coming up with a step-by-step game plan for success, formally documented to ensure accountability. This can take days or weeks of work, depending on the depth of your strategic aims, but the good news is it only needs to be done once (future modifications aside).

    Account Claiming and Setup Costs

    Next up, you have setup costs, which include the time cost of finding and claiming your individual social media profiles. If your business already has these, you can skip this step, but if not, you’ll have to go through the motions of establishing your social presence. For the most part, this is simple; take a look at how easy Twitter’s initial signup process is:

    twitter signup

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    Admittedly, there are a few steps beyond this, but they still aren’t complicated. The hard part is filling in all the details, like your hours of operation, business description, and some basic images for people to find you with. Still, even if you’re claiming an account on every major social media platform, it should only take you a day or so to wrap everything up.

    Posting

    The bulk of your strategy is going to revolve around creating posts. These can take a number of different forms, but the bottom line goal for each one is to provide some meaningful content to your audience:

    • Original posts. Original posts are written (or created) solely for your platform of choice. These can include news, factoids, tips, jokes, or anything else you can think of. Depending on the platform, your posting frequency, and a few other factors, this could eat up an hour per day per platform.
    • Content distribution. These manifest in the form of shared articles from your website or blog, and generally don’t take much time to post. In fact, most of them can be scheduled in advance.
    • Shared posts. Shared posts take some time to find and share, but not much. They’re a negligible time component (unless you’re building your strategy on shared posts).

    shared tweets

    (Image Source: SkilledUp)

    Ultimately, your posting strategy will probably take 1-3 hours per day, possibly more if you’re pursuing an aggressive strategy.

    Engagement

    Engagement is the other side of social media marketing, and I would argue, the more important of the two. Engagement is the truly “social” element of social media—here, you’ll be responding to inbound posts, answering questions, and otherwise interacting with your audience. Without these community engagements, your social media platforms will function more as a megaphone than a means of conversation, and your users will become disinterested.

    It’s hard to estimate exactly how much your engagement will take, since at least half of it is based on how many people you have reaching out to you. Some days, you may be flooded with inquiries, and others you may get none. In either case, you’ll have to check in to look for new notifications, and initiate some engagements of your own. Count on at least an hour a day here.

    Relationship to Other Strategies

    Also consider the fact that your social media strategy will be tied to other marketing strategies your brand utilizes. I’ve already mentioned how social media plays into your existing content marketing strategy, but your SEO strategy will also be indirectly affected; engaging with influencers can help you in both these areas. Email marketing, specific sales, and other promotional strategies may all require additional or special efforts from your social campaign, so count on some extra time expenditures for those.

    strategy relationships

    (Image Source: IAG.me)

    Automation and Assistance

    Once you get past the hurdle of building an initial social media following, you’ll start having to post more often, engage more frequently, and keep track of more complicated statistics. It’s almost impossible to do that all alone, so you’ll probably need some assistances with tracking software, post schedulers, and organizational tools to improve your efficiency. There are dozens of tools like this on the market, most of which require a paid subscription, and you’ll need at least a few of them to keep things moving. Overall, you’ll end up paying a few hundred dollars a month in these tools; it’s possible to scrape by without them, but they do add a lot of value to your campaign, especially at higher levels.

    social media automation

    (Image Source: Sprout Social)

    Measurement and Analysis

    Finally, you’ll need to spend time measuring and analyzing your performance. You can use some of the tools you subscribe to, but you’ll still end up pouring in a few hours a month to compile and draw conclusions from the data. The hardest part here is forming actionable takeaways, which you can feasibly use to update your original social media strategy and refine your approach for your future campaign execution.

    Overall Time

    It’s hard to ballpark a “general” amount of time needed for social media marketing, but as you can see, you’ll need to count on at least several hours per week—at larger scales, you can probably justify a full-time dedicated position.

    Key Variables: Niche and Scale

    Now, let’s take a look at the two key variables that will influence how much you need to spend to be successful in your campaign:

    • Niche. The type of audience you have, your competitors, your product, and your main goals will all influence how effective social media can be for you, and what tactics you’ll need to adopt.
    • Scale. Your scale depends on your specific goals; put simply, if you want to reach more people, you’ll have to invest more money.

    Take a look at these key considerations for niche and scale, and how they’ll influence your overall budget.

    Competition

    Look at how much your competitors seem to be investing in social media marketing, and how they seem to be investing it. This is going to tell you three things:

    • How easy it is to get results in your industry. If most of your competitors are actively engaged on social media with sizable followings, they’re obviously seeing some significant rate of return.
    • How hard you’ll need to fight for the market share. If your competitors are posting constantly, you’ll have to fight hard (i.e., invest more money) to make waves for yourself.
    • What opportunities you have to exploit. Are your competitors neglecting one specific platform? You can allocate your budget to exploit this opportunity.

    User Activity

    This is mostly going to be dependent on your demographics, but your type of business may also come into play here. Think carefully about how active your users are going to be on social media; if they’re highly active, you’ll need to invest far more time into posting and engaging with them. If they’re more passive, you can let off the gas. For example, younger generations tend to be more active on social media than older generations, but you’ll also need to consider where your business fits in; will people be coming to you with complaints and questions regularly? Or are you the type of brand people only need once every few years?

    Opportunities

    Some businesses are naturally going to have more posting opportunities on social media than others; this is inherent to your industry and the types of actions your company takes on a regular basis. This is best illustrated by example.

    Consider National Geographic, a brand that prides itself on photography. Instagram and National Geographic were a match made in heaven, because National Geographic can use the photos it’s already taking as the fodder for its campaign.

    national geographic

    (Image Source: National Geographic/Hubspot)

    This is a form of corporate multitasking; if the bulk of your posted content can come from actions your company is already doing, you’ll require substantially less investment of man-hours than a company trying to develop all its content from scratch, 100 percent of the time. The reverse of this is that to be successful in social media, you may have to go out of your way to find more opportunities to post.

    Platform Appropriation

    This is a complicated variable, because there are no right or wrong answers, and there’s an infinite combination of approaches you can take. Eventually, you’ll have to settle on one group of different social media platforms to support your brand. The types of platforms you choose will have a massive impact on how much time you’ll need to invest to keep your following growing.

    For example, Twitter is a platform that’s fast-paced and generally built on in-the-moment content consumption. You’ll have to check in to Twitter more frequently than something like LinkedIn, and you’ll probably have more engagements to worry about as well. Instagram, on the other hand, is a bit slower paced, but also demands the more complex task of finding images to post. Obviously, working on more platforms is going to mean more costs, and sometimes those extra costs aren’t met by an equal rise in rewards. Consider your platforms carefully to maximize your efficiency.

    Alternative Uses and Multiple Accounts

    Depending on the nature of your business, you may also consider using social media for multiple different purposes. The SaaS industry, in particular, has high enough demand and enough of a digitally active user base to qualify it for hosting multiple accounts. As an example, SalesForce uses many different social profiles to host its many different options, services, and functions, from support to careers and options for developers:

    salesforce support twitter accounts

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    All of these will take extra time and effort to manage, so bear that in mind when outlining your strategy.

    Comparing Different Cost Models

    Now that you know the different types of costs you’ll need to account for, let’s explore the pros and cons of each type of cost model you can use, as well as approximate costs for each option.

    Full-time workers

    Full-time workers, as a model, are the hardest to gauge from the outset. Do you need one full-time staff member? If so, and you end up requiring fewer than 40 hours of work per week, you may end up wasting time and money. Can you dump your social media responsibilities onto the plate of someone who’s already a full-time staff member? Feasibly, but at what point do you need to scale?

    In any case, the costs here can be prohibitive. If you’re hiring a professional (as you should), you’ll end up paying at least $40,000 a year in salary and benefits, which translates to between $3-4,000 a month. Feasibly, you can split the responsibilities here, but even if you’re only using 10 man-hours per week, that still translates to $1,000 a month. You’ll also have a hard time with the scaling process; eventually one worker will be overwhelmed, and you’ll have to hire a second. The learning curve here is steep, and the costs only get steeper as you add more team members.

    social media salary

    (Image Source: PayScale)

    Consultants, freelancers, and contractors

    Consultants and freelancers tend to be less expensive than full-time hires for a variety of reasons:

    • They’re specialists. Most freelancers specialize in a certain niche, which means they’ll execute your work with extreme efficiency. You’ll also never have to worry about a learning curve interfering with your bottom line—they’ll be able to jump right in to almost any project.
    • You get what you pay for. You’re only going to pay for the services that are rendered, with no more and no less. This helps you keep your costs under tighter control than with a full-time hire.
    • They must prove their value. Some, not all, but some full-timers eventually become complacent. Freelancers must continually prove their worth.
    • You can mix and match. Instead of hiring one person for 40 hours of work, you can hire 8 people for 5 hours of work each, catering to strengths and weaknesses with more precision.

    However, freelancers are also less reliable and somewhat harder to find, and you may experience growing pains as you try to manage all your workers at once. On an hourly basis, fresh freelancers may charge as little as $20 an hour, on up to hundreds of dollars an hour for experienced consultants.

    Agencies and firms

    For the most parts, agencies and marketing firms are an ideal investment. They carry a number of advantages over both full-time workers and freelancers:

    • Guaranteed results. Agencies have to prove their worth or get cut. They have tons of experience, and they know they need to prove their worth—every cent of it—if they want to be retained.
    • Multiple experts. With an agency, you’ll be tapping into an entire hive-mind of thinkers, never just one person.
    • Flexible plan options. You can invest as much or as little as you want, and there’s usually room for negotiation.

    The only downside is that agencies can be costly, depending on the scale of your campaign. Average costs range from $500 a month for starter packages to $10,000 a month or more for national brands. Chances are, you’ll only need a smaller package, but even a few hundred dollars a month can be intimidating if you’re just starting out.

    Hybridization

    Of course, the best all-around model is probably the hybrid model, because it allows you to pick and choose a plan that’s going to net you the best results within your budget. For example, you may hire a person full-time whose partial responsibility is picking and choosing freelancers to support the majority of your platforms. Or you might invest in an agency as part of a monthly retainer, while still using your staff members to help fill in the gaps.

    Bottom-Line Costs

    If you’ve read this far, you’ve undoubtedly developed a better idea of why it’s so hard to project accurate social media marketing costs in the first place. There are too many variables to possibly narrow down the costs to any one specific figure.

    Still, I’d like to try and break down the costs for a number of different campaigns and phases of development:

    • Startup costs. It doesn’t take much to start up a social campaign, especially since you can create your social profiles for free. You can probably do this yourself, but if you don’t, expect it to take 5-10 hours or $500-$1,000 depending on the platforms you choose.
    • Introductory-level campaigns. If you’re just starting out, or if you have a limited budget, it’s possible to run a campaign on a few hundred dollars a month (less than $500). This applies to most cost modes, though it’s especially hard for a full-time worker approach. Keep in mind you won’t see much growth with a model like this, as you’ll only have a few posts and engagements per week to work with.
    • Small- to mid-size campaigns. This is a decent budget option for most startups and small businesses. With an investment between $500 and $1,000 a month, you can get a reasonable number of posts and engagements on a handful of major platforms. With good content and consistent posting, you can see mild to moderate growth, and hopefully fund a next-level campaign.
    • Aggressive campaigns. This should be your target if you’re interested in growth and maximized returns on your investment. Investing between $1-5,000 a month (a huge range, I know) can get you an aggressive campaign style, with many engagements, many posts, and covering many different platforms. This is especially true if you maximize your investment using a hybrid model, tapping agencies, in-house workers, and contractors in a blend that works for you.
    • Large-scale campaigns. When your organization grows to a level that demands specific platforms for customer service, or constant customer interaction, you’ll need to spend far more than $5,000 a month, whether that’s with an agency or on a team of full-time workers. When you get to this point, you’ll be experienced enough to make your own decisions.

    Final Considerations and Takeaways

    Now that I’ve estimated the overall costs of a social media marketing campaign for small, average, and large businesses, I’d like to leave you with a handful of final takeaways:

    • Ebb and flow. It’s almost impossible to predict a steady flow for your social media campaign. Some weeks, you’ll have almost zero interest from your users. Others, you’ll be fighting them off in hordes. Whatever your strategy or budget is, it needs to be flexible enough to adapt these flukey, rarely predictable fluctuations.
    • Flexibility and adjustment. No matter how in-depth or well-researched or theoretically brilliant your initial set of strategies was, they aren’t going to be perfect, and they aren’t going to serve all your needs forever. When you start executing them, you’ll find key areas you neglected and tactics that don’t work as well as you thought they would. Your strategy and your budget are going to have to change and adapt accordingly.
    • Growth potential. Ideally, social media marketing is an avenue for growth. As you invest more time and energy into your campaign, you’ll gain new followers, a bigger reputation, and more opportunities for brand visibility. Eventually, if you want that momentum to continue, you’ll have to scale your investment as well. Therefore, if you’re successful, social media will cost you more over time (the flip side, of course, being that it will also earn you more over time).
    • Prices. Prices vary for everything, social media services included. Two contractors will probably try to sell you identical services for two very different prices. Do your research as much as possible, and know that everybody has different profit margins.

    Ultimately, your social media marketing campaign’s costs are going to depend on your niche, your competition, and most importantly, your goals. With the right strategy and enough commitment, an increase in expenditures is going to correlate with an increase in eventual return, so if you want to see the best possible results, don’t skimp. Do your research, get the best deal you can, and pick the options that are going to work best for your business.

  3. Why Community Is the Most Important Element in Social Media

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    In the world of social media marketing, there are a number of independent elements that can make your campaign successful. But when most marketers think about the social media world, they tend to think about it in one of two relationship dimensions.

    The first is a “top-down” engagement style in how your brand engages with its customers directly, such as how you syndicate blog posts or make announcements to the crowd. The second is a “bottom-up” engagement style in how your users engage with you, such as you how field comments, responses, complaints, or questions.

    On the surface, these two elements may seem to constitute everything, but there’s a third one, and it has even more connective potential than the first two. It’s the communal factor, or how your users engage with one another. Your brand takes a backseat, allowing for these connections to form (and occasionally getting involved), but the potential here is striking and underrated. Getting your users to engage with each other more, forming a community, can have a powerful effect on your brand.

    Community Increases Engagement

    First, understand that communities naturally encourage more engagement. If you have a group of users who feel like they can get along, and a mechanism for engagement, such as a forum or publicly posed question, you’ll have more followers making an effort to engage with one another. Every act of engagement brings your users closer to your brand, and serves as another brand-related post submitted to the social media world, which increases your visibility and attracts more users to your profiles. It may also encourage more inbound traffic, which is great news for your conversion rates.

    Community Fosters Belonging

    Building a community also helps people feel a sense of belonging, connected to your brand directly or indirectly. Take a look at how PlayStation has developed dozens of sub-communities for its gamers to engage with one another. No matter what type of gamer you are, you can find like-minded people to have a discussion with, which strengthens each user’s perception of how close they are to the PlayStation brand:

    playstation communities

    (Image Source: Momentology)

    You don’t have to go over-the-top with this, but you should have some kind of mechanism for encouraging more belonging. Help your followers see that they’re all a part of a group connected to your brand.

    Community Demonstrates Social Proof

    People need a reason to trust your brand. In today’s world of heavy advertising and corporate distrust, it’s not enough to claim you’re worth engaging with—you need users to prove to other users that you’re the real deal. The story of Reddit is a good example, as in the early stages of the community forum, its creators took to creating fake accounts and making fake posts to simulate an active environment and attract new people. Today, it’s so wildly popular that it attracts new users simply by virtue that it has so many users:

    social proof

    (Image Source: Reddit)

    If you can get your followers to function as a community, it will be a sign that your brand is trustworthy, and you’ll attract more followers and earn higher retention rates as a result.

    Community Self-Sustains

    Finally, understand that an active, engaged community will work to sustain itself, reducing the burden on your brand. Your users will want to submit their own forms of content, engage with each other, and find new ways to bring themselves closer to your brand. In a forum or board setting, this is easy to manage, but it can also be fostered on conventional social media channels. The more your users actively participate without supervision or prompt, the better.

    How to Develop a Richer Social Media Community

    Now that you know all the advantages of having a social media community, let’s learn how you can foster a better one from the get-go:

    Make your core brand experience a communal one.

    Start by giving your users the opportunity to engage in a community when they make a purchase with you, or enlist your services. This could include sharing an announcement that they’ve made a purchase, or encouraging more comments on your latest blog posts.

    Encourage more discussion among your followers.

    Get your followers to talk to one another by starting and engaging in more discussions. Do this on a personal level, and try to find topics that your users will really care about. This can also start offsite, if you find discussions already in progress.

    Strike up a controversy.

    A little controversy will get your users fired up and prompt them to start debating one another. On the surface, this might seem to cause ripples in a community, but when people get excited about anything, they tend to grow more committed to that environment.

    Capitalize on shareable emotions.

    Gear your content and ordinary posts toward “shareable” human emotions like surprise, fear, anger, or humor. This will encourage your users to engage with one another and share more of your items, both of which will help your community self-sustain and grow.

    Offer a forum or onsite means of communication.

    Social media can do a lot for your brand, but it’s also helpful to have another means of user engagement on your site. This could include a forum, a Q&A center, or any other place where users can connect.

    Community building is one of the most effective ways to build and nurture your brand’s social media presence. You’ll attract more followers, retain them more closely, generate more visibility, and earn a better reputation all at once. Best of all, if nurtured properly in the early stages, eventually your community could begin self-sustaining, reducing the content and engagement burden on your brand entirely.

  4. How Facebook Is Diversifying the Online Customer Engagement Experience

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    In the world of online marketing, there are few things more valuable or more important than customer engagements. “Engagements” is a somewhat general term that applies to any meaningful action taken by a customer to, with, or otherwise relating to your brand. This could be in the form of a “like” or share on a social media platform, a comment on a blog, or even a conversion (in the best scenario).

    These engagements vary wildly in terms of the amount of effort required by users to partake in the action and in terms of how much value they bring company; some simultaneously serve as opportunities for relationship development and indicators that can move your market research or analytics forward. Facebook, recognizing user engagements as a critical factor for its own success (and the success of individuals and companies that use it), has recently taken to diversifying its customer engagement experience.

    Let’s examine some of the ways it’s done this.

    Ad Preferences

    Facebook is still around because it makes a ton of money on advertising—but it doesn’t shove ads down users’ throats, either. It actually offers an ever-increasing range of ad preferences users can set to increase the relevance of the ads they see (and filter out bad ones). For example, users can click to find out “why” they’ve been shown a certain ad, and if they are offended or perplexed by an ad, they may opt to remove it and opt-out of similar ads in the future.

    Facebook Ad Preferences

    There’s a limited power to this, since Facebook still needs to make money somehow, but there’s a critical point here: Facebook is trying to make users a more interactive part of the traditional marketing/advertising experience. Rather than being passive participants, they are now becoming more active in their own advertising environments. This could potentially serve to fight back against the ad-focused backlash and resulting lack of user trust that’s negatively affected the ad industry for years.

    Organic Audience Targeting

    Next, there’s the organic audience targeting feature that Facebook rolled out just a few weeks back. It’s deceptively simple, and integrated into the UI that you’re already used to, so don’t be surprised if you’ve missed it.

    Facebook Audience Optimization

    Whenever a company or audience drafts a post of any kind, it can now access the “Audience Optimization” feature to selectively distribute that content to only certain segments of the population. There are two main ways to do this.

    In the “Audience Restrictions” mode, you’ll be able to filter out audience members who naturally wouldn’t like your content. For example, you can set a specific age range, target a specific gender, or exclude certain locations from the group of people who will eventually see your post.

    In the “Preferred Audience” mode, you’ll be able to set certain interests that your target demographics might be into, giving you a way to align your content with audience members that have shown a clear affinity for a similar subject or product.

    With audience targeting, brands are given more options to ensure their content gets in front of the right people. Doing so increases not only the total possibility for engagements, but also the quality of engagements. To the average user, there won’t be any noticeable differences—but soon, they’ll start noticing better and more appropriate forms of content entering their newsfeeds.

    Emoji Reactions

    Emoji’s are nothing new; they’ve been slowly taking over the world of online communication for the past several years, and now Facebook has found a way to use them to diversify the customer engagement experience.

    Rather than just having the traditional, straightforward “like” option, users can now choose between six total possible reactions to posts. There’s one each for “love,” “wow,” “haha,” “angry,” and “hate.”

    Facebook Emoji Reactions

    On the surface, this may not seem like much of a change; after all, users are still hitting a button to passively engage with something. But with five new dimensions of response, the social user engagement game may be turned on its head.

    For starters, users can now respond to a wider variety of posts. If they don’t genuinely like something, but feel strongly toward it, they have a more specific way to let their feelings be known. Also, users who might otherwise refrain from posting a long comment might find solace in the idea that they can express themselves with a single emoji. The combination of these effects means you’ll see more users responding to your posts—if you know how to take advantage of the new system.

    The benefits don’t stop there, either. You’ll also gain more insight into your customers’ sentiments. Rather than wading through tons of qualitative, subjective comments, you have some level of quantitative data you can use to measure the relative influence of a piece.

    The Future of User Engagement

    We live in an exciting era for user engagement. Social media platforms, where user engagements were once limited to one-dimensional, passive gestures, are becoming profoundly more diverse, and Facebook is leading the pack. In my estimation, Facebook has a ton of new features and functions to add, and their user experience improvements will never quite be complete, and in addition, many other platforms will soon follow suit. The next few years will be interesting ones. But in any case, users have more tools than they’ve ever had before for engaging with brands, and as a result, both marketers and individuals are having better online exchanges.

  5. The SaaS Company’s Guide to Social Media Marketing

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    You’re in charge of marketing for a SaaS company, and like any modern company, you’re considering social media as a channel of choice. This is the guide that’s going to make sure you do it right.

    Now, I’m not here to tell you that social media marketing is going to be the be-all, end-all marketing strategy for your brand, or that it’ll offer you a billion-fold increase in ROI. Frankly, anyone who tells you social media is an instant win is either lying or has had enormous luck in their past social ventures.

    But, if implemented correctly, social media can be a viable channel for improving customer relationships, attracting new clientele, and building your brand image overall. It’s well worth the investment for most companies, but this is especially true for SaaS companies thanks to your digital presence and scalable model.

    Throughout this guide, I’ll be going over the basics and the advanced considerations for social media marketing for a SaaS brand. I’ll walk you through an overview of social media marketing, the unique challenges that SaaS brands face, how to provide the right content, and finally, how to build an audience.

    Are you ready?

    The Benefits of Social Media

    If you aren’t convinced that social media marketing is worth the investment of time or money, you’re not alone. Many business owners have outright dismissed the idea as being a fad, or as having no tangible value, but consider the key benefits a strong social presence could hold for a SaaS brand:

    • Brand visibility. Posting actively on social media makes your brand more visible, which puts you in front of more potential customers. Simply having a fleshed-out page for social users to find when they search for you can do wonders for your first impressions, and as you grow your audience, you’ll get more and more opportunities to tap new resources for potential software subscribers.
    • Brand loyalty. If you want your users to stay loyal to your brand, you need to keep yourself top-of-mind and stay in contact with them. Staying active on social media gives you a route for both of these aspects.
    • Inbound traffic. If you’re like most SaaS companies, you rely on your website (or a specific landing page) to secure new customers. Publishing content and spreading links on social media helps you increase the inbound traffic you need to sustain your growth figures. For some companies, organic social traffic is the most effective channel for attracting new visitors (and you can track this in Google Analytics).

    traffic top channels

    • Conversion rates. Building up your consumer’s expectations and showing off your commitment to other users can also help you increase conversion rates. Imagine the difference between a user who clicked on a short, 40 character advertisement to find your landing page versus a customer who saw your engagement with their friend on Twitter—which comes in with a better understanding of your brand?
    • Customer service opportunities. Many popular SaaS companies set up separate accounts just for customer service. This is beneficial in a number of ways—it reduces the need for expensive call centers or support roles, it adds more potential modes of communication for users, and it gets in front of possible issues by making your community proactively aware of them.

    customer service on twitter

    • Customer insights. Learning how your customers interact, what else they follow, and what type of feedback they provide can help you make a better product and improve your brand. It’s almost like free market research.
    • HR and partnerships. You can also build your company by using social media to attract new talent or form partnerships. This is especially helpful for SaaSs due to their technical complexity.

    Salesforce LinkedIn Company Page

    (Image Source: LinkedIn)

    • Content and SEO enhancements. Social media is also an important enhancer for both content marketing and SEO strategies. Given a sizable audience, you can greatly increase the visibility for each of your published pieces, and potentially earn more inbound links in the process.

    What It Is and Isn’t

    I also want to take the opportunity to dispel some misconceptions about what social media marketing actually is. It isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme; it takes time and effort to see results, like with any other strategy. There isn’t a guaranteed formula; there are best practices, but ultimately each company requires a unique approach. It isn’t an advertising platform; if you advertise too heavily, you’ll turn people away rather than attracting them. Instead, it’s a mutually open communication platform where you can build a better relationship with your user base.

    A Note on Personal Brands

    For the majority of this guide, to keep things simple, I’ll be assuming your social media marketing campaign will be based around a corporate brand. Using personal brands (i.e. individual accounts) to further market your company is highly effective, and is worth consideration. Most of the techniques I list here apply to both, but keep in mind there is a distinction between a “corporate” and “personal” brand on social media—each with their own advantages.

    Unique Challenges for SaaS Companies

    With the basics out of the way, let’s address some of the unique challenges that SaaS companies face on social media (and how you can compensate for them).

    • Standing out. Your first obstacle is standing out. SaaS has become a popular model in the past decade or so, thanks in part to its massive scalability and some highly successful role models. Your users have a number of choices when it comes to doing tasks more efficiently, storing media online, or whatever other service you offer. You can’t just mimic one of your competitors’ brands and hope to be successful; you need to add something uniquely valuable to the mix. Building a unique brand is the first step to this process.
    • Addressing service concerns. No matter how good your technology is, there will be users who experience problems, and you can bet those users will turn to social media to express their dissatisfaction with your company.

    customer support via twitter

    • Incidents like this can be major blows to your brand’s integrity—if you don’t address them the correct way. When you see feedback like this, it’s important to address it immediately and work to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. Remember, these types of complaints will happen on social media regardless of whether you’re present there or not, so just having a presence in the first place can begin to mitigate these effects.
    • Building from nothing. Most SaaS platforms are built from scratch, and yours is likely no exception. With little more than a brand name and a beta product, it’s hard to build up a massive following, but don’t worry—it is possible. I’ll address this in my section on building an audience.
    • Follower retention. One of the biggest challenges for SaaS companies is user retention. User retention is imperative if you want to continue scaling your model—and the same is true for social media. Chances are, if a user leaves your service platform, they’ll leave your social media page (and sometimes, vice versa). Accordingly, it’s more important for you to focus on keeping the users you have than it is to keep attracting new ones. Keep this in mind for my later discussions on content and reciprocity.

    Choosing the Right Platforms

    When you get started, you’ll be tempted by two possibilities; either invest everything into a single social media platform, or get involved on every platform you run across. Neither of these is a good idea. You have to be choosy about which platforms you adopt, as not all of them are equal. Just because it “seems” like a good platform doesn’t mean it’s right for your brand, and it’s not worth getting involved on a platform that demands many man-hours per week but doesn’t return much value.

    Your first job, therefore, is to choose the right platforms for your social media strategy.

    Key Considerations

    There are three considerations that should dictate your decisions of which platforms to include.

    • Demographics. As you’ll see, each social platform is home to a different range of demographics. It pays to get involved on the platforms with the highest probability of offering you new customers, and the ones with the highest potential for growth.
    • Functionality. Different platforms offer different functions, both for brands and for individual users. This can help you target your audience properly, share the right kinds of content, or engage your users better in the long run. Not all social features demand active, regular engagement.

    Facebook Instagram User Engagement

    (Image Source: Pew Research)

    • Finally, consider how much time you’ll need to invest in a platform to make it worth it. For example, do you have to create all new content for it and post it in-the-moment, or can you automate your posts and set the platform on auto-pilot?

    With those requirements in mind, let’s take a look at how a SaaS company might utilize some of the most popular social media platforms available.

    Facebook

    Facebook Usage

    (Image Source: Sprout Social)

    Facebook dominates the market for a reason. It’s simple, it’s easy, it offers lots of functionality, and it doesn’t pigeonhole itself in any one niche. Facebook has more than a billion users, which gives you a crazy big audience to tap into, and because most demographics are pretty evenly represented, no SaaS company should have a problem building a sizable following. You can post regular content, images, videos, and in any format or length you like—plus interacting with others is easy and approachable. The learning curve here is low, and the longevity is high.

    Bottom line: Facebook is almost a necessity for your brand.

    Twitter

    Twitter Usage

    (Image Source: Sprout Social)

    Twitter doesn’t have much in the way of unique functionality, but it does have more than 300 million users. You’re limited in the number of characters you can post here, and its newsfeed moves much faster than that of Facebook; this could be advantageous or disadvantageous. If your brand relies on snappy snippets of messaging and quick-solution responses, this is a good thing. If you require more in-depth interactions to convey the power of your brand, this is restrictive. Its demographics are relatively even, but do skew younger—so keep that in mind if your brand targets a specific age range. The mechanics of Twitter have a bit of a learning curve, but it’s nothing you can’t figure out in a few days.

    Bottom line: Twitter isn’t as valuable as Facebook for most SaaS companies, but has a few advantages depending on your brand.

    LinkedIn

    LinkedIn Usage

    (Image Source: Sprout Social)

    LinkedIn is a unique animal. In terms of learning curve and functionality, it’s almost identical to Facebook, but it has a much lower user base and a much more specific user base—experienced professionals. If your software only caters to professionals, this could be incredibly advantageous to you. If it doesn’t, LinkedIn will be a crapshoot. There’s one other weakness you have to consider here, and that’s the fact that corporate pages can’t get involved in Groups; instead, you’ll have to rely on personal brands to supplement your corporate brand presence. On the other hand, LinkedIn is perfect if you’re trying to attract new hires.

    Bottom line: If you’re after professionals, LinkedIn is perfect. Otherwise, don’t bother.

    Pinterest

    Pinterest Usage

    (Image Source: Sprout Social)

    Pinterest is another specialty platform that many believed would be short-lived. Instead, it has a thriving audience, and now offers a sales integration for interested companies. Pinterest is based solely on submitting and sharing images, and its demographics skew heavily toward women (though age distribution is relatively even). It takes time to learn the ins and outs of Pinterest, and you’re unlikely to see a high ROI unless you have really interesting images to show. As a SaaS company, this seems unlikely.

    Bottom line: Unless you have lots of interesting images to show off and a vested interest in female users, Pinterest probably isn’t worth your time and effort.

    Instagram

    Instagram Usage

    (Image Source: Sprout Social)

    Instagram is worth noting for its growth patterns over the past few years alone. Since being acquired by Facebook, its functionality has diversified and become more accessible to new users, and its user growth rate has continually risen. Demographics here skew heavily toward younger users, but engagement rates are high. If you don’t have many pictures to take related to your brand, you’ll experience trouble maintaining an active post schedule, but if you do—Instagram is a hot platform to have.

    Bottom line: If you want younger users and have any reason to take pictures regularly, adopt Instagram.

    YouTube

    YouTube is arguably less “social” than the other platforms I’ve listed here, but with more than a billion users and consistent growth rates, it would be wrong not to mention it. Video content is becoming more popular (and of course, more important), so don’t be intimidated by the fact that it takes some time to pick up. Creating and uploading videos is pretty straightforward—the biggest challenge you’ll have is managing user interactions. For SaaS companies, this is a key spot to publish your tutorials and case studies.

    Bottom line: Be prepared for a learning curve, but otherwise, get active on YouTube.

    Google+

    Google Plus User Demographics

    (Image Source: Sprout Social)

    Google+ was once a must-have platform, heralded as the future of social media and a necessary component of SEO. Today, it’s being actively dismantled by Google into components it can use for other features. Is it fair to say Google+ is a dead platform? Maybe not. It’s a decent syndication channel, but its functionality and future growth are limited. Unless you have a specific reason to adopt it, Google+ isn’t necessary.

    Bottom line: Pass.

    SnapChat

    Snapchat User Demographics

    (Image Source: Sprout Social)

    SnapChat, like Instagram, has seen a massive growth rate in the past several years, thanks in part to its unique offer of privacy and temporary communication. It’s a hard platform to use for a marketing campaign, but its demographics may make it worth it; the vast majority of users are under the age of 25 and female.

    Bottom line: It’s a peripheral platform, so only invest in it if its demographics fit your SaaS targets.

    Others

    There are other social media platforms than these, and there will likely be several dozen new contenders emerging over the next few years alone. It’s impossible to comprehensively cover all of them, so use the factors I listed at the beginning of this section to make up your mind for each of them.

    Providing Content

    Now that you know what platforms you want to go after, it’s time to strategize about what type of content you offer. Your content plays a pivotal role in attracting new followers and retaining the ones you have; provide a steady stream of valuable, unique content, and your followers will stick with you indefinitely.

    Syndicated onsite content (and guest posts)

    Social media serves as a syndication platform for content you’ve written elsewhere (like on your company blog or as guest posts on external publishers). Essentially, the goal here is to get more eyes on the content you spent so much time developing—this increases the value of each piece of content you syndicate, increases its likelihood of earning links, and gives your users in-depth content as a show of value.

    There aren’t many rules for what type of content you should syndicate; the better the content, the better results you’ll see, but since this guide isn’t about content quality, I won’t stray too far into the details of what makes good content “good.” For SaaS companies, popular content types include studies, tutorials, and industry-specific news.

    Remember, you can syndicate your pieces multiple times to rejuvenate interest and capture portions of your audience you might have missed the first time around.

    Platform-specific content

    In addition to syndicated content, you should also post content that’s specific to your chosen platform. On Instagram, that means taking lots of pictures. On Twitter, that means writing short 160-character “tips and tricks” or humorous asides. On Facebook, that might mean an infographic or an announcement:

    Platform Specific Content

    (Image Source: Facebook)

    Learn what types of content are most popular on your demographic of choice, and utilize those in your marketing strategy. Over time, you’ll learn from experience which ones have the highest engagement rates, so focus your efforts on what brings you the best value.

    Shared content

    For most platforms, it’s also a good idea to share other people’s content, rather than only supplying your own. This accomplishes several things:

    • It shows you’re involved in the community.
    • It relieves the burden of creating new content all alone.
    • It builds relationships with other content creators (more on this later).

    Since it only takes a few minutes to find something interesting and one click to share it to your own users, I highly encourage you to use this strategy often.

    Timing and frequency

    Some social media experts will tell you that the secret to success is in timing. However, timing has a two-pronged effect. Yes, Facebook posts around noon tend to attract more attention, but because of this, most brands rush to post at noon and end up clogging users’ newsfeeds. It’s better to space your strategy out evenly, and rely on your own performance metrics to dictate when is best to post.

    When it comes to frequency, each platform is different. Once a day is more than enough to be considered active on LinkedIn, but on Twitter, even three times a day may be considered slow or inactive. Learn the ropes of each platform, and syndicate accordingly.

    The “Social” Factor

    If there’s one mistake that holds brands back more than any other, it’s the “social” element of social media. Your brand spends so much time posting and scheduling content that your profile becomes a monologue. If you want to be effective, you have to engage with users—sometimes directly—in a mutual exchange. This is especially important for SaaS companies; if a customer feels that he/she isn’t being listened to, he/she is going to leave.

    Here’s how to do it.

    Content responses and engagements

    Your first job is a simple one, so there’s no reason to neglect it. Simply respond to every customer who reaches out to your brand. Like this:

    content responses

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    It really is that simple. A “thank you” or “you’re welcome” or “glad you liked it” can make all the difference. Sometimes even a like is all it takes to communicate a level of acknowledgment. The benefits here are threefold:

    • It makes the individual you’re responding to feel personally touched by your brand (increasing brand loyalty).
    • It shows other users that your brand listens to its customers (increasing brand authority/reputation).
    • It gives your brand a good reason to post (increasing brand visibility).

    Long story short? Respond to users any chance you can get.

    Customer inquiries

    Sometimes, customers will reach out to you with specific, detailed questions rather than quick comments or feedback. For example, a Twitter user might come to you asking a technical question about your software’s performance. The biggest mistake you can make here is ignoring the inquiry entirely, but there’s one that’s almost as big: directing the user to another platform, like a customer service hotline or an email address. Instead, do your best to answer the question directly. Like in the above section, this affects your reputation in the eyes of the individual as well as other users.

    Conversation participation

    Don’t just wait for users to engage with you; go out and engage with them! Look for conversation threads on popular groups, forums, and pages related to your industry, and jump into the discussion. This shows that you’re active in the community, and serves as good exposure for your brand to users who haven’t met you yet. Plus, you might learn something by seeing what others are talking about.

    Relationship building

    Building relationships with other influencers (who already have followings of their own) is one of the best ways to increase your reputation (and the size of your audience). Engaging with these influencers, by sharing their content, participating in their conversations, or even reaching out directly, can plant the seed of a relationship. Nurture that seed with more engagements and mutual exchanges, and soon, these influencers will be willing to share your content, mention your brand, or otherwise grant you greater visibility and tap into new audiences.

    Building an Audience

    Posting content and engaging socially are the two most important elements to retaining an audience, and each holds some value in building an audience as well. But what if you want to step up your audience building efforts, maximizing the quality and quantity of your followers? It’s generally a good idea, as a bigger audience means every post you make has a bigger total effect, but as anyone experienced social marketer will tell you, you can’t build a large audience by simply waiting for it to come.

    Seeding an Audience

    Audiences tend to self-perpetuate once they hit a certain threshold; if you’re posting good content regularly with 10,000 followers, those followers will likely share your work and help your audience grow even further. However, if you only have 10 followers, that self-perpetuation can’t take hold. Accordingly, in the early stages of your development, you’ll need to “seed” an initial audience.

    You can do this by asking your friends, family members, employees, and acquaintances to follow your brand, but be careful—remember that quality is more important to an audience than quantity. This is merely to help you build momentum. From there, once you’re posting regularly, you can reach out to individuals and follow them; a percentage of those individuals will follow you back, and in time, you’ll build a foundation that can lead you to a fuller growth phase.

    Growth Phase

    After you’ve built a foundation, you can enter a phase of high growth. In addition to posting good content and engaging with other users, there are several key principles you’ll have to adhere to:

    • Without a consistent brand voice or posting schedule, your users won’t have a foundation to grow accustomed to. Consistency makes you memorable, and demonstrates your professionalism.
    • People don’t trust corporations; they trust other people. You have to show off your personality if you want to forge a social connection, so speak casually, add humor, and don’t be afraid to express an opinion.
    • Everything you post should be valuable; valuable posts get shared and spark interest. Non-valuable posts get ignored.
    • Cross-Pollination. Social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum; integrate it with as many other marketing channels as you can. For example, use it in fluid harmony with your SEO and content marketing campaigns, and include your social icons on every webpage you build and email you send out.
    • Hashtags. Hashtags are a powerful way to get your content seen by new people. However, there are two important rules to follow; one, never use a hashtag unless you’ve done your research and you’re positive you’re using it correctly, and never stuff your posts full of hashtags for their own sake.

    hashtags

    (Image Source: BuzzFeed)

    • Give your users more reasons to engage with your brand, such as by offering discounts, promotions, contests, and giveaways. It’s like bribing your users to invest more in your brand (but more respectable).
    • No strategy starts out effective; it takes tinkering, tweaking, and sometimes drastic overhauls to find out what really works. Don’t be afraid to evolve.

    Incorporate these principles reliably into your campaign, and I can guarantee you’ll see growth in both the size and engagement of your audience.

    Timescale

    Okay, so I’ve practically guaranteed you a level of social media growth, but how fast can you hope to achieve it?

    Social audience building tends to function on a logarithmic scale. Earning 100 followers is hard when you have 0 to start with, but ridiculously easy if you already have 10,000 followers. Additionally, in my experience there seems to be a threshold of exponential growth for most SaaS companies; you’ll hit a limit, maybe 5,000, maybe 100,000, where it seems to become more difficult to gain more traction. Let’s call this the “sophomore plateau.”

    The foundation could take days or months to build. Depending on how much effort you’re putting in, once you’ve built a foundation, it should only take a few weeks to double your number of users. Assuming you scale your efforts accordingly, it should take that same amount of time to double them again, and again, and again, until you hit your sophomore plateau. At this point, your growth rates should level out.

    Troubleshooting

    I’ve laid this plan out very nice and neat, but as you can imagine, things won’t always go this way. Chances are, you’ll hit premature plateaus or lose users, and you’ll have no idea why. It’s important to recognize these stopgaps and work proactively to fix them. Generally, a problem can be traced back to a failure to follow one of the best practices that I’ve previously outlined; use these as checklists to evaluate your performance, and bring in a third party if you want a more neutral set of eyes to review your work.

    If you haven’t missed anything, don’t panic. You know something’s wrong, and you don’t know what, so there’s only one approach to take; change something, see if it fixes the problem, and if it doesn’t, change something else. Repeat ad infinitum until you start to see better growth rates.

    Final Considerations

    Social media marketing isn’t straightforward or easy, but it is highly valuable if you know how to invest in it. As your SaaS company begins to accumulate more followers, you’ll gain a better understanding of what makes your users tick, and will be able to incorporate that data into your future efforts. This recursive style of improvement is critical for maintaining a long-term growth pattern, so never remain stagnant with one strategy for too long. Your customers are always growing, and if you want to maintain your connection, you have to grow with them.

  6. The Ultimate System for Creating Viral Content

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    The term “viral content” has become viral in its own right. With the majority of business owners and marketers today engaging in some kind of content marketing (or at least recognizing it as a powerful marketing agent), the idea of spiking past the realm of “normal” results with viral content is tantalizing.

    Despite frequent claims of having the “secret” to creating viral content, few marketing authorities have ventured into the science behind virally shared content, and none have come up with a verifiable, systematic process to create new viral content; the former is elusive, and the latter is impossible.

    Instead of proposing a “guaranteed formula for success” or the “secret to making content viral,” I’m going to lay out some irrefutable truths about viral content, debunk some serious misconceptions, and hopefully give you a model that can lead you to the creation of better—if not viral—content for your campaign.

    Defining “Viral” Content

    First, it’s helpful to define exactly what viral content is—or at least what I mean by it. The phrase has become a buzzword, often abused and manipulated to fit into different contexts. The term, of course, comes from the word “viral,” as in, spreading like a virus. Much like a single person carrying a disease can get an entire office sick, and that office can infect an entire neighborhood, a single piece of effective, “viral” content can be shared socially to exponentially increasing audience sizes.

    There aren’t any strict definitions on what constitutes “viral”—a video with 15 million views, an article with 1 million shares, and an infographic with 100 links pointing to it could all be considered viral in their own contexts. For our purposes, the term “viral” will apply to any piece of content that is circulated, socially or otherwise, many times more than an average, similar piece.

    The Goals

    For most brands, getting more visibility is a good thing. But let’s explore the myriad benefits even a single piece of viral content can offer:

    • Brand visibility. Having more people share your piece of content means more people will see your brand, some of which will be getting an impression of you for the first time.
    • Brand authority. Having a widely cited piece makes you seem like more of an authority; circulate enough viral pieces and you’ll become known as a leading authority in your industry.
    • Social followers. If even a tenth of the people who encounter your content follow you on social media in the hopes of seeing more, a single piece of viral content can net you hundreds to thousands of permanent new social followers. This effect is amplified due to the fact that most viral content is shared on social media in the first place.
    • Increased readership. Those interested in your piece will likely return to your blog (and thus, your website) in the future to find more information. Higher regular readership means more opportunities for conversion.
    • Inbound links. Generally, when content is syndicated and appreciated en masse, it earns tons of inbound links, which in turn pass authority to your site and make it easier for you to rank for your target keywords. Take a look at this viral infographic on the daily routines of famous people as an example, which earned 71 independent links (and growing):

    inbound links

    (Image Source: Podio)

    podio open site explorer

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Keep in mind that “viral” content achieves these goals to a degree much higher than ordinary “good” content. If you charted out all the links and shares that all the content in the world received, it wouldn’t follow a normalized pattern, or a typical bell curve. Instead, what you see is a massive spike of shares and links for a very small minority of pieces:

    total shares all networks

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Assuming it takes the same amount of effort to produce a “viral” piece of content and the next-best tier of content quality, you can expect the viral piece to perform more than 5 times better! One small step in quality leads to an enormous leap in results.

    Realistic Expectations

    Just because there are ways to increase your likelihood of going viral doesn’t mean it’s a sure path. There is always a degree of unpredictability, and you need to be prepared for that. You may have a piece that, scientifically, meets all the criteria to go viral fall flat, and conversely, a seeming flop could skyrocket to success—just take Flappy Bird as an example.

    flappy bird

    (Image Source: Wikipedia)

    Moral of the story: users are weird. Take my following advice with a grain of salt, and strive for overall improvements rather than celebrity-level popularity in your landmark pieces.

    General Principles of Viral Content

    We know what viral content is, and what it can’t be. We know that “something” makes a piece popular or appealing enough for massive numbers of users to share it with other users, but what is that “something?” There’s no single or simple definition, so instead I’m going to explore a number of different qualities that, in combination with each other, can spark a piece of content to explode in popularity.

    Valence

    According to a study of 7,000 New York Times articles, valence is a significant factor in determining whether a piece will “go viral.” Specifically, positive content has a higher degree of virality than negative content. If you read headlines regularly, this may come as a surprise to you—after all, the media is frequently criticized for being too negative, and most of your friends will agree that reading the news is “depressing.” However, positively positioned pieces always outperform negative ones in terms of shareability. Keep this in mind when debating between angles like “why you’ll always be a failure” or “why you always have a shot at success.”

    Emotionality

    There are two dimensions of emotionality: initial stimulation, and contagiousness. In the former, the reader has an individual, independent “gut reaction” to your piece. In the latter, the reader sees a potential for other users to have this gut reaction.

    Initial stimulation is important because it draws a reader in, and makes them connect to the piece. Contagiousness is important because readers have a natural tendency to try and strike up emotions in other readers, particularly friends and family members. Both require a strong emotional foundation in order to trigger a viral event.

    What emotions are most effective?

    emotions

    (Image Source: Harvard Business Review)

    Anticipation, anger, disgust, sadness, surprise, fear, trust, and joy all have hotspots in the outermost and innermost edges of this emotional chart, with anticipation, trust, and surprise (more on surprise later) having especially strong tendencies to encourage shares. People naturally want others to feel these emotions when they feel them internally—so pieces charged with these emotions naturally get more shares.

    Practicality

    Instigating an emotion with a positive twist isn’t enough, however. To become viral, there must be some level of practicality to a piece. It doesn’t have to be a tutorial, or some life-changing piece of information, but it does have to add value to a person’s life one way or another.

    “Life hacks,” a viral idea in their own right, have become incredibly popular, even leading to the development of sites like Lifehacker and Lifehack.org. These sites revolve around dispensing practical, actionable information, and as a result, their pieces have achieved massive, lasting popularity and social syndication.

    Take this, one of Lifehacker’s most popular all-time pieces, with 5 million views:

    Lifehacker viral content piece

    (Image Source: Lifehacker)

    People see a title like this and can usually think of at least one time or occasion this information would have been extremely useful; they pass it on to others half to be a Good Samaritan and half to demonstrate their resourcefulness. Without digging too deep into the psychology here, know that practicality is always a good thing.

    Defying Expectations

    Going back to the “surprise” element I touched on in the emotional section, it’s important to know that defying user expectations is a major factor in determining the virality of a piece. If a piece conforms to expectations, no matter how useful or entertaining it is, it’s not worth sharing, in the same way that your morning commute isn’t worth remembering unless something unusual happens along the way.

    Take the story of the red paper clip as an example. You may remember this story from back in 2005; an active Craigslist participant started with a red paper clip, trading various items for items of slightly higher value, until he eventually traded for an entire house. This house:

    house traded on craigslist

    (Image Source: Wikipedia)

    If the piece were about a similar failed attempt, or about how someone traded a paperclip for a binder clip, or anything “usual,” it never would have circulated. Instead, it took users by surprise—even to the brink of disbelief.

    Attention

    It’s a sad fact of the content world that it’s possible to get lots of shares without anyone actually reading your material. People form fast first impressions when they see your headline, so if you want to go viral, you need a headline, image, or other first impression that hooks readers immediately.

    One good way to do this is to stir up controversy; state an opinion on a matter that is strongly debated. If you want to hedge your bets and avoid aggressively polarizing topics, you can stick to “soft” forms of controversy:

    controversial images

    (Image Source: HelpScout)

    The above example is highly debatable, yet doesn’t have high stakes or consequences. As you can see, it earned 12,372 shares.

    Weight

    This probably goes without saying, but the rule of weightiness applies to every other qualification on this list; you have to exhibit qualities to a strong degree if you want to reap their rewards. For example, don’t be scary, be terrifying. Don’t be just somewhat debatable. Don’t be kind of surprising. With viral content, it’s definitely a case of “go big or go home.”

    Variability

    The original term wasn’t invented to describe dumb trends on the Internet, but viral content truly is a good example of a meme. Memes are a cultural substitute for genes in an evolutionary environment, and like genes, they draw their power from selective pressures and variability. A small variation on an existing social more could be enough to make something go viral—like a parody video:

    151 million views for this. Seriously.

    That variability can also apply to your content’s ability to be changed by users. For example, take the rampant popularity of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” just a few years back:

    Countless celebrities, companies, and individuals participated in this challenge, and many of them racked up millions of views and shares.

    The key takeaway here is that variability is powerful; it gives users a bit of what they’re used to, and something surprising at the same time. If implemented properly, it also encourages a degree of audience participation, which is always a good thing for a brand.

    Quality

    I hesitate to use the word “quality” here because it’s so vague, but it’s important to recognize. Let’s say you’ve conducted some surprising, exciting, positive research and you’re presenting it in a piece of long-form content. Theoretically, your material has all the right ingredients, but your body copy is riddled with awkward phrasing and spelling errors. Do you think you’ll still attract the same amount of attention? Let’s say you have an awesome idea for a video, but the final production is grainy and the sound quality is horrible. Will it still succeed?

    Your content needs to be detailed, concise, well-researched, polished, and proofread to the point of perfection. Otherwise, even great ideas will fall flat.

    The Self-Perpetuation of Popularity.

    One more note before I move onto the next section; popularity is a self-perpetuating mechanism. That is to say, once it reaches a certain threshold, content will start earning shares simply because it already has a lot of shares. As an anecdotal example, have you ever watched a YouTube video simply because you heard it had millions of views? Of course you have. We all have. We trust the general consensus—more than we should sometimes—but this is important to recognize in the pursuit of viral content.

    To go viral, then, you don’t need to produce content worthy of 10 million shares on its own. Even getting 1 million could instantly propel you to 10. Similarly, getting 100,000 could help you get to 1 million, and so on down the line. I’ll touch on this a bit more later, in my “Igniting the Fire” section, but know that sometimes, just a few more shares is all you need to start a chain reaction, and accordingly, just a few small improvements to your content can help it cross into that new territory.

    Finding the Right Format

    I’ve covered the “ingredients” for a viral piece of content somewhat exhaustively, but how can you package those ingredients?

    There are dozens of different mediums, formats, and niches of content, all of which could theoretically support a piece of content with high virality. Take a look at this chart of some of the top-performing content types, according to a recent study by Moz and BuzzSumo covering 1 million pieces of content:

    content types

    (Image Source: Moz)

    List posts, quizzes, why posts, how-to posts, infographics, and videos are all popular formats, but how do you know which one to choose? How do you know if you’re using it correctly?

    Know Your Audience

    First things first: you need to know your audience inside and out. Yes, hopefully your content will become so popular even general audience members will catch wind of it, but you need a committed initial circle of supporters, and that means you have to write to a specific demographic. Market research can help you here, but it’s better if you rely on data you’ve gathered yourself; take a look at how previous content topics have performed in the past, and how users react to different changes in your overall content campaign. This should help guide you in the right direction in terms of content angles, brand voice, and multimedia integrations that your audience prefers.

    With that said, I want to explore four main brackets of content that you should consider for your “viral” target.

    Long-Form Content

    Long-form content is content longer than 1,000 words. Generally speaking, the longer a piece of content is, the more shares and links it’s going to receive:

    long form content

     

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that longer content is always better; you still have to adhere to all the standards I outlined above, and keep your content concise enough that every word still matters. Still, this is a convincing argument that long-form content is the best “type” of content to pursue. It requires more of an upfront investment of time and money, but it’s well worth it to get an adjusted average of nearly 6,000 shares and 11 referring domain links.

    The key to long-form content is making it meaningful. Don’t write 10,000 words to cover 1,000 words of information, or your piece will fall flat. Accordingly, your choice of topic will play a major role in determining how your piece ultimately performs.

    Short-Form Content

    This isn’t to say that short-form content is inherently less valuable. If a viral piece of short-form content only earns a tenth of the potential shares that a long-form piece receives, it may still be worth it if it only took a tenth of the effort.

    Short-form viral content, then, is a balancing act between effort and reward. This isn’t to say that you should downplay your efforts, or rush through short-form content, but there are certain formats (list posts, quizzes, etc.) that are naturally less intensive to create than others (original research, extended essays, etc.).

    The key to short-form content is to keep it fast and concise. Give people the ability to scan through your content and get the gist of it in mere seconds without sacrificing your emotional appeal or the strength of your work.

    Images

    When it comes to producing a “viral” image—simpler is often better. Take a look at one of the most popular infographics of the past year:

    coca-cola infographics

    (Image Source: Creative Bloq)

    How many graphic elements do you notice here? It’s a can of Coca-Cola on a solid background, yet it generated an impressive number of shares because it contained ample interesting information. In fact, it’s almost closer to a short-form content piece than it is an image.

    Don’t think that you need to stuff your images full of information, either; artistic images, without any written information whatsoever, can also go viral. Remember this from the 2014 Oscars?

    2014 Oscars Selfie

    (Image Source: TIME)

    Snapping an image like this is like capturing lightning in a bottle; it’s incredibly difficult to predict or execute, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be successful on your first try. Infographics, on the other hand, can be constructed the way a written post can. It’s in your best interest to experiment with both, though the latter is much more controllable.

    Successful images need to form an immediate first impression, and since there are some viral elements they can’t carry as well as written work (such as practicality), you need to make up for it by strengthening its other elements.

    Keep in mind that images don’t have to be an exclusive medium unto themselves—incorporating images into your written content is a solid strategy for increasing shares as well.

    Videos

    Video is a complex medium deserving of its own full-fledged guide, so I’ll strive to cover only the basics here.

    Like written content, video comes in both short-form and long-form varieties. Long-form is more intensive and more useful, while short-form is faster and more reactive. Use both these types to your advantage when creating video, and always keep your quality as high as possible.

    Though you can get traction by making a video on pretty much anything, the best viral videos show off the capabilities of the medium, using audio and visual elements to tell a story. If you’re simply reading off a page (like in an interview) or if you have animation with no music or audio cues, you may end up with a good video—but it’s unlikely to be a viral one.

    All of the elements for virality I listed above apply to videos, but one of the most important is defying user expectations; YouTube has a billion users watching hundreds of millions of hours’ worth of content every day. They’ve pretty much seen everything, so if you want to motivate them to share your video, you have to do the impossible—show them what they haven’t seen.

    Again, as with images, you don’t have to use video as a standalone piece; you can use it as an enhancement to a written piece instead.

    Igniting the Fire

    As I mentioned before, there’s a critical threshold for viral content; you need to achieve a certain number of shares before you can start reaping the compounding benefits of logarithmic cascades of shares; think of it as a snowball needing to achieve a certain mass and shape before it’s capable of rolling down a hill and accumulating more mass on its own.

    Accordingly, drafting a good piece of content isn’t the end of your journey. Producing viral content is like gathering wood for a fire; you may have the potential to burn bright, long into the night, but unless you provide the initial spark, you won’t achieve anything. Give your content momentum by pushing it out to your social media audience, syndicating it through social bookmarking sites, engaging users in dialogue, responding to commenters, encouraging your employees to share the piece on their own accounts, and promoting the piece through influencer relationships or even a paid advertising boost. These small steps can, cumulatively, give your piece the initial momentum it needs to start generating visibility on its own—as long as it’s good enough.

    Conclusion

    By this point, I’ve taught you everything there is to know about producing and marketing viral content. I wish there was an actionable “secret” that could guarantee results, but if there was, everybody would be using it, and the very phenomenon of virality would ebb away. Instead, take viral content for what it is: a practical, yet somewhat unpredictable phenomenon that you can increase your probability of achieving but never firmly reach.

    Thankfully, most of the best practices for viral content—positivity, practicality, emotional appeal, etc.—will make your content inherently better in the first place, so striving for viral content will nearly guarantee you better results on some level. As you spend more time and effort investing in your viral content strategy, you’ll learn new insights about your audience, new techniques to apply to your approach, and old tactics that just aren’t working for you anymore.

    As long as you don’t get too caught up in the sensationalism of virality, learning from and pursuing viral content will make you a better marketer. And after all, that’s what most of us are after in the first place.

  7. How to Prove Your Value as a Marketing Agency

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    As a marketing agency, you spend a lot of time thinking about customer acquisition and customer retention. You’ve got designers, writers, strategists, and account managers—some of the best in the business—but you’ve got to keep them busy with a steady flow of client work if you want the organization to survive.

    While customer acquisition and new business are important, customer retention is even more important, and if you’re on retainer with the majority of your clients, it’s plain to see why. Customers who stick with you become a reliable source of recurring revenue—and with enough of them, you don’t have to worry about chasing down new leads.

    There’s only one reliable way to increase customer retention in a marketing agency, and that’s by proving your value. Marketing services aren’t often seen as “necessary” the way office space or workforces are, and even if they were, there are hundreds to thousands of competing firms ready to swoop in and take your clients away from you. The trouble is, with so many digital marketing strategies with hard-to-prove metrics and increasingly skeptical audiences, it’s more difficult than ever to prove you’re worth every dollar a client spends with you.

    Fortunately, there are ways around these pitfalls. As a marketing agency, you need to deliver results worth more than the cash your clients are giving you if you want them to stick around. This is how you do it.

    General Advice

    First things first. There are a handful of general rules you’ll need to follow if you want to be perceived as a “valuable” agency. Remember, perceived value isn’t always the same as tangible value—and tangible value is worthless if it isn’t effectively demonstrated. How and when you interact with your client can make all the difference in whether your “value proof” is effective.

    Here’s how you can do it:

    • Communicate! I use an exclamation point here and put this entry first because it’s easily the most important factor on this list (and maybe the best piece of advice in the whole guide). If you want to show your value to your client, you have to communicate, all the time. Talk about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, how it went, what happened after, why it happened, and what you’re going to do next. If your client requests less communication (unlikely), that’s fine, but strive to be as complete and coherent as you can from the beginning. This includes sending over reports regularly, following up whenever things go wrong, and generally being as transparent as possible.
    • Be proactive. We all make mistakes. Just because you’re an expert doesn’t mean you’re exempt from this. Inevitably, one of your strategies is going to backfire, and your client is going to lose traction. Consider how Rap Genius’s relatively innocent idea was interpreted as a link scheme by Google (which ended up getting them severely penalized):

    Rap Genius Facebook Post

    (Image Source: Rap Genius)

    • Like it or not, this can happen to you and your client. Unfortunately, one bad mistake can take precedence over all the good you’ve done, and the shock of the initial reveal can compound this effect. However, if you’re proactive—letting your customer know what’s going on early and often—you can reduce the effects of such a blowup.
    • Be consistent. Consistency is a demonstration of reliability, and it can become an inherent value in itself. For example, if you have weekly email updates and monthly reports, keep those exchanges as consistent as possible. Send them at the same time, in the same format, with the same type of recaps to go along with them. This creates a consistent rhythm on the client side that becomes harder to break—inherently making you a more secure, valuable resource to the team.
    • Know your clients. Different clients are going to have different demands, different ideals, and different dispositions. You need to be intimately familiar with these if you want to effectively prove your value to each one. For example, you may have a small business owner who knows nothing about online marketing and is nervous about “new” marketing techniques like social media engagement or SEO. For these clients, you’ll need to spend extra time communicating and explaining the gist of your strategic initiatives. On the other hand, you might have a seasoned serial entrepreneur running an eCommerce platform who only cares about bottom-line results. Here, the better way to demonstrate value is by showing the greatest signs of numerically provable growth.
    • Once you learn what’s most effective and what your clients most want, you can start prioritizing your work. For example, if you’re seeing the best results from your content marketing campaign, you can convince your client to allow you to increase efforts there (at the possible expense of a less profitable department). This will help you maximize the results you have to show at the end of your campaign.
    • Cross-communication. Don’t blame me for using another variant of “communicate”—this should be a distinct goal. For most of your clients, you won’t always be communicating with the decision maker. For example, you might give weekly updates to a designated marketing contact, who then relays that information to a CEO, who may ultimately decide to pull the plug on your relationship. If this information is mishandled or isn’t relayed effectively, your entire relationship could be compromised. Do what you can to get everyone in the room for your most significant updates, and keep everyone on the same page.
    • Celebrate the wins. Just like every agency is bound to make mistakes, every agency is bound to have some awesome wins. Take a look at how often long-form content posts are shared on social media:

    Average Shares by Content Length

    (Image Source: BuzzSumo)

    • Your client may not be initially convinced that such a major investment in content is worth the cost—but if you’re able to successfully get 10,000 likes out of such a piece, you’ll have cause to celebrate. Don’t let these wins pass you by—call up your client immediately with the good news, and consider an even bigger gesture for the bigger wins, like celebrating over drinks or dinner. This will help cement these “anchor points” of value in your clients’ minds.
    • Establish a timeline. You’re going to have ups and downs throughout the entirety of your client relationship, no matter what. You’re at your most vulnerable when you hit a slump, or a period of stagnation. It’s in these times that your client will start to question your overall value. To mitigate this effect, strive to establish a longer timeline, identifying how you’ve improved since the beginning of the relationship rather than the past month. For example, if you’ve lost 300 organic visitors per month since the beginning of the year, you can remind your client that this “low” figure is still 1,000 visitors higher than where they started just a few years ago.

    With that introductory advice out of the way, let’s move on to more tangible ways to prove your value.

    Hard Facts: Proving ROI

    As a marketing agency, you have to love numbers. Numbers are objective; they don’t require finagling, manipulation, or candy-coating to sell your service. If you can objectively prove the value of your work, you’ll never have to worry about a client leaving.

    The question is, how can you prove that value?

    For most modern marketing agencies, it comes down to a basic calculation of ROI (return on investment). To keep things simple, I’m going to assume that the majority of your marketing campaigns can be measured for success based on conversions and/or traffic, but you can substitute other metrics here as well—it’s really a matter of semantics.

    Know the Costs

    First, you need to know how much you’re actually costing your client. You may or may not know this, depending on how closely your sales and strategy departments work together. For agencies on retainer, this rate is simple—it boils down to a consistent, unchanging monthly fee that you can use in all your future calculations.

    If your rate is variable, or if your client only pays for select services on an irregular basis, you’ll have a harder time making an accurate equation. Do your best to calculate an average monthly expenditure (or look at only one month at a time), and set that figure aside; we’ll be revisiting it shortly.

    Conversions

    Conversions can take many forms; for these purposes, I’ll define a conversion as an instance of a user taking meaningful action, which can then be translated to a financial benefit. This is a complicated definition, so let’s use a few examples to illustrate this:

    • A customer buys a product from your client’s eCommerce platform. Your client receives $50 in new revenue.
    • A customer watches a video asking for a donation to your client’s organization. The viewer now has a 50 percent chance of donating $10 or more, roughly translating to a value of at least $5.
    • A lead fills out an information form on your B2B client’s site. According to your client’s data, the lifetime value of a customer is $10,000 and each lead has a 10 percent chance of eventually becoming a customer. This makes the conversion worth $1,000.

    Your client may have multiple types of conversion on a single web presence; this will make it more difficult, but not impossible to calculate the total conversion value. Your best bet is to reduce the field to more manageable numbers, tracking the conversions that are most important, or tracking all conversions together to determine an “average” value.

    Ultimately, your goal here is to come up with the “average” value of a conversion. For that, you may need to calculate things like close ratios, lifetime customer values, and average cart value.

    Once you have that, we can move on to actually tracking conversions.

    There are several ways to do this, but one of the easiest is through Google Analytics. In this system, you’ll be able to create an item called a “Goal” for every conversion opportunity on your site, and then track its growth over time. To get started, head to your admin panel and look for the Goals button in the third column over:

    Goals inside Google Analytics Dashboard

    Then, you’ll be prompted to create a new Goal. If you’re running with a basic setup, like filling out an information form or making a purchase, this will be nice and easy for you. Google actually offers several templates based on the most common Goals created. To start, you’ll select one of these Goal types.

    Goal Types Google Analytics

    From there, you’ll have the opportunity to set further parameters. For example, if your Goal conversion is the act of “Creating an Account,” you can choose the exact instance when this conversion is counted as complete, such as reaching a “thank you” page:

    Thank you page - Google Analytics

    After that, you just need to fill in a few more details (which vary depending on your setup thus far). You can also assign a value (which you’ve already calculated above) or set up a funnel to track only certain types of traffic that convert.

    funnel google analytics

    Once created, your Goals (and subsequent reporting) will be the best tools you have to showcase the value your client’s site is bringing in. You’ll be able to view not only how many times the Goal was reached, but demonstrate the actual monetary value of those exchanges.

    Now, there’s one flaw with this, and that’s the fact that not all Goal completions will be your doing. To address that, we need to look at the types of strategies you’re using, the types of traffic you’re getting, and the types of traffic that are completing your Goals.

    One thing at a time.

    Traffic

    Since we’re talking about proving your objective value, most of this section will be dedicated to finding traffic you were responsible for generating, and tying those traffic figures to monetary Goal achievements. However, be aware that inbound traffic alone can be considered to have value. For example, every user that arrives at your client’s site and doesn’t convert will at least walk away with a higher awareness of your client’s brand. I’ll talk more about these “hard-to-measure” values in the next section.

    Let’s take a look at the major types of traffic that you’ll want to measure. Once logged into Analytics, check out the Acquisition tab, and head to the Overview section.

    acquisition tab google analytics

    Here, you’ll see a pie chart illustrating the main sources of traffic your client’s site receives (you may see more than these, including advertising traffic, but these four are the primary ones an inbound marketing agency should worry about).

    sources of traffic

    Here:

    • Direct traffic refers to any traffic typed into a URL bar or accessed via a bookmark. It’s hard to take credit for any of this traffic, though it’s possible your efforts have raised brand awareness enough to influence it.
    • Referral traffic refers to any traffic coming from an outside source. If you’re building links for SEO (as you should), any link-based traffic you generate will be reported here, as will any traffic from any links your content has earned.
    • Organic traffic is any traffic that came to your client’s site after finding it in a search engine. It’s the single best indicator you have for the overall success of your SEO campaign. Though some factors beyond your control may influence this figure, it’s almost exclusively a product of your optimization techniques.
    • Social media traffic is any traffic that comes from a social media platform. If you’re engaging in social media marketing services, this is another segment you can take full credit for.

    In each of these segments of traffic, you can access a “deeper,” more detailed report that will tell you about the type of visitors you receive, where they came from, what they did on the site, and whether or not they converted. For example, the Referral traffic chart will show you the biggest sources of referrals in your backlink profile, and your Social media traffic chart will show you the most popular platforms you use:

    social media traffic

    These reports aren’t perfect because you can’t prove the psychology of every user who enters your client’s site, but collectively, they can illustrate the power of your current strategies.

    Bringing it All Together

    Now, you need to bring all these figures together. Using the individualized traffic reports in combination with your total Goal figures, you can calculate approximately how many conversions your efforts have generated for your client. Combined with your “average conversion” value, you can come up with a specific dollar amount of revenue that your firm is responsible for generating. Compare this to your total monthly cost, and hopefully your newly generated revenue will exceed it. If it does, it means your value is almost conclusively proven. There’s only one point of possible contention here; your marketing firm might be generating your client a profit, but what if another marketing firm can generate a bigger profit? I’ll elaborate on this in my next section.

    If your costs exceed your objective value here, don’t worry. This isn’t the only way you can prove your value; you still have two more realms of possible value that you can prove and/or demonstrate for your client.

    Comparative Costs: Illustrating the Competitive Advantage

    There are two reasons why you’ll want to describe your competitive value, which I alluded to above; first, it allows you to demonstrate that you clients won’t find a higher ROI from someone else, and second, it increases your total value as a company. The goal here is to show that you’re worth more than just your objective ability to increase sales, either because your level of overall service is higher, or because you have some approach, disposition, or ability that your competitors don’t have or can’t match at your price level.

    That being said, there are three main ways you can prove your competitive worth.

    Know Your Competitors

    First, get a feel for what your competition is like. It’s a simple step, but too many marketing firms overlook it. Try to find out what services they offer, how they complete them, how much they cost, and what kind of results they offer.

    To start, identify marketing firms similar to yours. You can run a quick Google search to see who else is in your area, or cast a broader net by scoping out national competitors. For example, you could browse marketing-based LinkedIn Groups to find influencers in the industry, or individual consultants who might pose some kind of a threat—in my cursory glance, I found 45,000 such Groups, so don’t feel like you need to peruse all of them:

    LinkedIn Groups

    Inc.com also suggests almost 500 of their top 5,000 growing companies are marketing-related.

    List of Marketing Companies on Inc.com

    (Image Source: Inc)

    Once you find out more about who your competitors are and what they’re doing, you can better position yourself to demonstrate value. For example, if you find out that a close competitor of yours only offers monthly reporting instead of weekly, and has no social media marketing services, you could let your client know what a better deal they’re getting with you.

    You could also go a bit more abstract here and demonstrate value with the resources you’re able to provide. For example, you could claim that your experts have more experience than those of your competitors, or that you have access to more sophisticated tracking technology. Just make sure your claims are justified—dishonesty could ruin an otherwise solid reputation.

    Make Your Clients Love You

    It doesn’t take much to add a personal touch to your service; don’t forget that on the other side of this relationship isn’t a “corporation”—it’s another person, or maybe a few other people, and all of them appreciate the human element of your relationship.

    Going the extra mile can give your client those “warm fuzzy” feelings, and help them to see your partnership as an actual partnership, not just a tool to use for their own advancement. This will separate you from the competition, increase the perceived value your agency brings to the table, and make it harder for the client to walk away during brief periods of less-than-stellar results.

    Hopefully, you can master this approach intuitively; all you have to do is be friendlier. Opt for in-person meetings and phone calls over emails or text messages. Inject humor and personal conversation into your regular updates. Get to know your clients, and be straightforward and honest with them. Send them a handwritten piece of mail every once in a while, like a thank-you note or a congratulations—they won’t forget it.

    email arrived

    (Image Source: Mark Sanborn)

    Try to think about this strategy as little as possible. If you overthink it, your efforts might be misconstrued as insincere or manipulative. Instead, just treat your clients like you’d treat a friend, and truly strive to help them succeed.

    Adapt

    Digital marketing is a fast-paced industry that responds, sometimes violently, to new technologies and new trends. It’s easy to miss an update here or there with few consequences, but if you do this consistently, it will only take a few years before your entire approach is rendered obsolete. The solution is to adapt, by incorporating new strategies and making new recommendations for your clients whenever possible.

    The “newness” of your ideas holds a value, which you can demonstrate to your client (though not in a way as concrete as ROI). If your results are sagging, it could just be because you’re on the cutting edge of the latest marketing trends and you haven’t worked out all the kinks yet. If your pattern of growth has been disrupted, it’s because you’re trying to stay ahead of the competition.

    Adaptability is all about taking a short-term risk to avoid a long-term failure, and it’s important that your clients are aware of this. Some marketing firms get by with adhering to now-obsolete practices and never changing them—mark yourself as a differentiator.

    Secondary Benefits and Unmeasurable Metrics

    Finally, let’s not forget about the secondary benefits all your efforts have for your client’s bottom line. These effects are devilishly hard to pinpoint, and even harder to quantify, but they do exist, and they do provide an extra layer of value to your overall marketing efforts.

    Brand Visibility and Reputation

    Every time you do something that puts your client’s brand in front of an unfamiliar user, you are generating value for that brand. Imagine some of the following scenarios:

    • A social media user shares your socially syndicated article. One of their friends researches your client, visits the site directly, and ends up purchasing from them.
    • A frequent visitor of a high-profile publication reads your client’s article (written by you). Intrigued, they follow the link, but take no further action. Two months later, they return via a direct visit and buy something.
    • An organic visitor who found your client through search left before buying anything. However, they were impressed, and made a personal referral of your client to three of their close friends.

    In all of these instances, your marketing efforts have led to sales for your client due to the brand visibility and reputation increases you’ve sparked. These won’t show up in your Goals report in Google Analytics, and unless you make each user take a survey about what led them to your site, you won’t be able to definitively conclude how many instances like these you’ve prompted.

    When a brand appears on publications like these:

    brand publications

    It definitely leaves an impression. Be sure to reiterate this value to your clients.

    Readership

    Your client’s readership pool is a gradually increasing segment of users who either are customers or have a high potential of eventually becoming customers. Some of these make themselves evident by following your client on social media—the behaviors of these are relatively easy to track. Some follow your client via an RSS fed. Some may simply bookmark your client and return to read regularly—but these folks show up as Direct visitors, which normally aren’t credited to a marketing agency.

    It’s also hard to quantify the value of things like social shares and social engagements, the former of which is an indication of content success and increased brand reach, and the latter of which is usually associated with a positive increase of brand loyalty. Again, it’s hard to quantify these benefits, but they are there—so don’t neglect to mention them.

    Permanence and Compounding Interest

    Inbound marketing strategies generally carry some degree of permanence, unlike traditional advertising methods. When you write a blog post for Forbes, it stays up indefinitely—compare that to a billboard that comes down forever after a month of visibility. Accordingly, strategies like content marketing and SEO carry a degree of compounding return; writing 10 blog posts this month gives you 10 blog posts of value. Writing 10 more blog posts next month gives you 20 blog posts of value, and so on. What does this mean?

    It means when you’re calculating your current objective value (from the ROI section), you’re only looking at the present value of your efforts. You’re completely ignoring the future value of your efforts, which are significant. For example, if you prove that your $100 blog post yielded 100 new visitors worth $0.50 each, you’d have an on-paper loss of $50. However, this figure doesn’t include the fact that this article may generate 100 more visitors next month, and the month after that.

    Your current snapshot does take into consideration the compounding value of previous efforts you’ve taken, but because these strategies often carry exponential rates of return, you still can’t write off the future value of your investments.

    Preservation of Momentum

    It takes a long time to build momentum in a marketing campaign. It takes months, sometimes even years, to establish a footprint of thought leadership and develop the foundation for a long-term strategy. Part of your value as an agency is staying the course—to follow-up on the strategic foundation you’ve already built. If that course is deviated from, or abandoned, the initial costs of setting it up will also be abandoned, and the client will have to reinvest in a new foundation (unless someone else comes in to build off yours). Accordingly, you can argue that it’s more efficient to continue with you than it is to seek agency elsewhere.

    These secondary benefits are just that—secondary—so don’t try to position these as your ultimate statement of value. Instead, use them to complement or enhance your primary arguments.

    Key Takeaways

    This is a massive guide to try and boil down to a few takeaways, so I’m only going to recap the high level here:

    • Know that client retention is the only way to keep your business alive and thriving, and the way to client retention is proving you’re worth more than they’re paying.
    • Make sure your agency follows best practices when it comes to engagement, relationship building, and overall disposition—communication is key here.
    • Prove your worth using numbers, which can’t be argued with, calculating your costs and your value in terms of newly generated revenue.
    • Use competitive research and comparative values to strengthen your worth to your clients.
    • Include secondary benefits, even though they’re tough to measure, to complete the picture.

    If you can do this, and assuming you’re seeing positive ROI, you should have no trouble demonstrating that you’re worth what your clients are paying you. If you’re struggling to do this, it means you need a change to your strategic approach; your client’s bottom line is your bottom line, so enlist the best services to deliver the best results.

  8. LinkedIn vs. Instagram: Are Ad Changes Foretelling the Future?

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    First believed to be nothing more than a fad, it’s clear that social media is here to stay. But which platforms will prove their longevity, and which will go the way of MySpace? Which will evolve far beyond their original intended use, the way Amazon’s online bookstore eventually became the most powerful online force in retail? Perhaps most importantly, which will be the most important platforms to take advantage of for brand visibility, offering brands the most innovation and the greatest opportunities?

    It’s hard to look further ahead than a year since the game changes so quickly, but a pair of announcements from Instagram and LinkedIn, respectively, could foretell the potential for each company’s growth and development.

    LinkedIn Shutting Down External Ads

    Last year, LinkedIn decided to take advantage of its deep knowledge of personal information to sell ads to people outside the social network. Now, after less than a full year of development, it’s shutting down that wing of operations.

    What happened? According to CFO Steve Sordello, the company is going to miss out on an estimated $50 million in revenue by closing this portion of advertising down. That may seem like a lot, but evidently, the costs of managing and developing this side of the business were too much to break a fair profit. Over the course of the past year, its total ad revenues grew by over 20 percent—yet this new sector seems mostly responsible for that, accounting for 21 percent of the company’s total ad revenue.

    All these numbers sound good—high dollar amounts, growth in ad revenue, etc.—but the company isn’t in great shape. In the fourth quarter, the company sustained an $8 million loss, prompting a downward spiral in its stock price.

    The Future of LinkedIn

    What does this mean for the future of the social media platform?

    Despite some fourth quarter losses, the company is still in good shape. Users are pleased with the platform, and LinkedIn firmly remains the only popular product serving the “professional” niche in the social media realm. It doesn’t have many competitors vying for user attention, and it’s sponsored ads are both profitable and growing.

    LinkedIn

    (Image Credit: LinkedIn)

    Still, it’s possible that LinkedIn has painted itself into a corner. By only targeting skilled professionals, LinkedIn has evolved into a glorified job board more than an actual social media site. Groups are alive with discussion, but there isn’t nearly as much interaction between users as on platforms like Facebook or Twitter, and it doesn’t carry the youthful energy of newer platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Because it doesn’t have many directions in which to evolve, LinkedIn is stuck where it is—which isn’t exactly a bad thing.

    Bottom Line: If you’re currently taking advantage of LinkedIn for content syndication, hiring, or HR-related tasks, you can count on it sticking around for a while. But don’t expect any radical or game-changing innovations on this front.

    Instagram Doubles Down on Video Ads

    Now, let’s turn our attention to Instagram, which recently announced that they’ll be opening their feeds to 60-second videos. For a platform that was once known exclusively for their commitment to still photo taking and sharing, this is a step in a bold new direction.

    Montley-Fool-Instagram

    (Image Credit: Motley Fool)

    Instagram has enjoyed a thriving growth pattern for the past several years, and is expected to hit 500 million users this summer. Users have taken well to videos, and the platform’s response of introducing longer potential video ads is an indication of that. However, Instagram faces a critical disadvantage in rolling this feature out: there are already tons of video-based mobile apps (YouTube, Periscope, Meerkat, and Vine are just a few, not to mention integrations in Facebook and Twitter).

    The Future of Instagram

    It’s hard to tell exactly where Instagram is going with this. The fact that it’s expanding its horizons is a sign of its confidence and willingness to evolve, but video content isn’t exactly a game-changer. Thanks to its steady acquisition of new users, this could be the app moving toward a more “general” service (and a more “general” demographic; a significant percentage of Instagram’s user base is young and female). If that’s the case, more marketers would have a new way to use the platform and substantially benefit.

    In any case, Instagram is still a very young platform, and has a lot of room to evolve beyond its current demographic limits. Unlike LinkedIn, which doesn’t have much room for growth, there are a number of unknowns about the potential future Instagram could carve. Like its contemporary platform SnapChat, Instagram could easily depart from its original directive and serve a larger user base while doing so.

    Key Takeaways for the Social Media Marketer

    If you’re reading this hoping for some clear direction on what to do on LinkedIn and Instagram, I’ll summarize the main things you should take away:

    • LinkedIn isn’t likely to change anytime soon. This could be good or bad for you, depending on how you hope to use it.
    • LinkedIn isn’t advancing much in the advertising or “customer reach” fronts.
    • Instagram is poised to evolve in significant new ways. This includes new mediums, new demographics, and a wider user base.
    • Instagram is about to become more approachable. If you’ve ever been interested in using the platform for your brand, now’s the time to make the transition.

    That being said, social media changes quickly, so don’t take anything for granted, and always be ready to turn on a dime.

  9. What This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Taught Us About the Future of Marketing

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    The Super Bowl generates as much interest for its advertising stunts as it does for the actual game. This year, advertisements cost approximately $5 million dollars for a 30 second spot, setting yet another new record. It’s fun to see what standout stunts major brands come up with for such a high-profile and high-budget opportunity, but as marketers, we should be looking a little deeper.

    What did this year’s ads teach us about the state of marketing? What can we apply to our own advertising campaigns?

    Lesson One: Social Is Still the Way to Go

    When people watch the Super Bowl, they’re at home with friends and family, and during commercial breaks, they’re probably on their mobile devices. This year proved, once again, that social integration is the way to go; offering one opportunity for social engagement instantly makes an ad more effective.

    Take Esurance’s ad at the beginning of the game as an example. The company offered a $250,000 sweepstakes in its one-minute ad, costing the company upwards of $10,000,000 to produce and broadcast. Was it effective?

     

    During the game, some 835,000 tweets were sent using the indicated hashtag. By late Sunday night, that level reached more than 2 million. If the ad’s budget were translated to a cost-per-tweet, it’d be about $5—not exactly attractive, but that’s a level of engagement above and beyond the first impressions the ad could have given with no social integration whatsoever.

    In today’s world, everything should tie back to social in some way. It’s a free added value, so never pass up the opportunity.

    Lesson Two: Edgy Isn’t Always a Good Thing

    Last year’s Super Bowl ads had some edgy contenders, including a Doritos commercial with a disgusting airline passenger and misogynistic undertones and a Nationwide ad featuring the perspective of a dead child. The mentality behind these choices was: go big or go home. Under most circumstances, taking risks is a good thing, even if it means alienating some of your audience. Even if a handful of people are turned off, you’ll still get brand visibility points for generating a discussion. However, these exceptionally risky ads did more harm than good by some reports, and the reaction this year was to aim for a more conservative style.

    Brands didn’t take as many risks, reflecting a recognition that just because edgy can be good doesn’t mean that risky is always good.

    Still, there were notable exceptions trying too hard to do something crazy.

    Take Mountain Dew’s Puppymonkeybaby, for example.

     

    Seriously, what the hell is this thing? A noble effort, but putting random things together doesn’t instantly make a good advertisement.

    Lesson Three: Laugh or Cry

    This year’s Super Bowl proved that emotional appeals are still effective, and the two strongest emotional peaks are laughing and crying. Divide this year’s ads into emotional piles, and you get them roughly split down the middle, with only a handful of outliers; half the ads were intended to make you laugh, and the other half were intended to make you cry.

    For example, take T-Mobile’s spot, featuring Steve Harvey making fun at his recent faux pas at the Miss Universe pageant. It got a lot of laughs, and a lot of views on YouTube—3.6 million and counting as of the writing of this article.

     

    Audi took inspiration from David Bowie’s recent death in a move some would call exploitative and some would call a moving tribute. Featuring “Starman,” the ad certainly had a timely appeal, and undoubtedly induced a river of nostalgic tears across the country.

    Lesson Four: Context Is King

    Content is important, but context can make or break your message. When people watch the Super Bowl, they’re surrounded by their friends and family. They don’t want to think about car insurance, or toenail fungi, or irritable bowel syndrome.

    Xifaxan’s ad featured sports fans watching the game with a tangled knot of—literal—irritable bowels.

     

    This isn’t a pleasant image or thought for people sitting comfortably with friends and family, enjoying processed snack foods and alcohol. Remember your audience. Remember your medium. Otherwise, you run the risk of alienating not just some, but the majority of your audience. In the digital marketing world, you’re likely marketing less than $5 million, but it’s still essential that you get the context for your messages right.

    Lesson Five: YouTube Rules

    There’s no single ad that demonstrates this, because all of them have earned a similar benefit. Several Super Bowl ads emerged on YouTube before the game even started, and by the end of the game, practically all of them were up. Most have received millions of views, with cult hits like “Puppymonkeybaby” getting 15 million or more. YouTube remains an incredibly powerful channel, rivaling the potential reach of the Super Bowl itself, and you don’t have to pay $5 million for a spot there.

    Overall Takeaways

    The power of social media can’t be underestimated, even by major corporate brands who can afford a Super Bowl spot; good timing and good incentives (like a themed contest) can generate overwhelming engagement, and YouTube seems to get more practical and more approachable by the year. Remember to keep the context of your message in mind (and always prioritize your audience), appeal to the strongest of human emotions, and don’t be afraid to take risks—just keep them grounded enough that people don’t think you’re crazy.

  10. Top 5 Management Tools for Social Media Marketing

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    “Social media marketing” can mean a lot of things; you can use it as a content syndication channel, use it as a customer service platform, leverage paid advertising, sell your products, research your demographics, and support your other marketing strategies like email and SEO. You can use one platform, a few platforms, or any you can get a hold of. It’s a big world, and one that few can command with any level of true expertise beyond simply being familiar with the platforms’ individual functions.

    Because of this, several social media management tools have emerged to make life easier for the marketers attempting to enter this world—but how valuable are they, and which ones are the “best”? As always, this is a bit subjective, but I’d like to present five of my favorite social media marketing tools, along with why I’m so fond of them to begin with.

    Tenets of a “Good” Social Media Marketing Strategy

    First, let’s take a look at what a “good” social media marketing strategy needs to accomplish; no matter what your angle is or who your followers are, these tenets are practically universal:

    • Regular, consistent posts. An inactive social media account might as well not exist.
    • Fresh, in-the-moment material. The more “present” you are, the better engaged you’ll be.
    • Engagements with individuals. Don’t just talk; listen, and let your followers know you appreciate them as individuals.
    • Responses and comments. When someone asks you a question, answer. When someone comments, respond.
    • Measurement and analysis. Without measurable metrics, you’ll have no idea whether your strategy is working or not.

    Top 5 Tools

    With all that out of the way, here are the five tools I’ve found to be the most affordable, useful, and efficient in achieving the hallmarks above:

    1. Google Analytics.

    articleimage1786 Google Analytics

    Google Analytics may seem like a strange entry on this list, since it’s mostly geared toward measuring and analyzing web traffic, but don’t underestimate its potential in improving your campaign. Once integrated, Analytics will help you identify the social media strategies most helpful in supporting your business, including which platforms tend to attract the most traffic, which posts tend to attract the most shares, and what type of user behavior you can expect from incoming followers of each platform. Best of all, it’s completely free, making it an essential for any small business with a limited budget. The only downside is its lack of scheduling and follower analysis tools.

    2. Hootsuite.

    articleimage1786 Hootsuite

    Hootsuite is an older social media management platform, but it’s still around—and still popular—for good reason. It’s one of the most flexible products on this list, offering integration with platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Among the features of Hootsuite, you’ll find a post scheduling tool to help you plan and regulate your posts, an engagement tool to monitor and manage your individual engagements, and an analysis tool to help you understand your key areas of growth (and where you need to improve). Hootsuite offers a free version of its product, but if you want all the bells and whistles, you’ll have to upgrade to a Pro or Enterprise plan.

    3. Sprout Social.

    articleimage1786 Sprout Social

    If you’re working with a team of social media managers, Sprout Social is one of the best tools you can get. It offers much of the same functionality that Hootsuite does—namely, post scheduling, engagement, behavior, and analysis tools—but it takes it a step further by adding multiple roles and communication channels for your team. For example, you can have team leaders assign other managers to respond to specific posts, or accomplish certain tasks for an account. Sprout Social offers a free trial, but is paid subscription software.

    4. SocialOomph.

    articleimage1786 SocialOomph

    SocialOomph is more of a specialist tool than the universal platforms of Hootsuite and Sprout Social, but it’s very effective at what it does. Offering integration with almost every platform you’ll need, SocialOomph gives you the ability to upload a “bulk” list of updates to schedule in advance, surpassing the common limitation of scheduling all your future posts one at a time. If you’re in the business of syndicating your content on a regular basis, this tool is indispensable. You can also track keywords, follow back people who follow you, and integrate the tool with platforms like WordPress.

    5. BuzzSumo.

    articleimage1786 BuzzSumo

    BuzzSumo is a major name in the social media and inbound marketing industry, mostly because of the amount of original research they publish. Rather than giving you more efficient control over the posts and direction of your social media accounts, BuzzSumo is a tool to increase the relevance of your campaigns. Functioning as a “content research” platform, BuzzSumo helps you find content topics that are trending, demographic behaviors, and even helps you identify key influencers in your industry.

    Any of the tools in this list should help you manage and monitor your social media campaign more effectively, in any situation and in any industry. However, I realize that not all of these tools will be perfect for the job. As you gain more experience in the realm of social media management, you may find yourself leaning toward specific uses—like customer service or paid advertising—more than others. When you do, you’ll have to do some more research to find the niche tools necessary to give you the full package. Until then, these all-in-one management systems will serve you well.

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