Email Marketing & Social Media Interview: Kristin Hersant of StrongMail

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Kristin Hersant As a long time and trusted marketing agency, TopRank Online Marketing gets to work with some amazing B2B technology and SaaS companies. One of those companies is StrongMail.  Today Kristin Hersant, VP of Corporate Marketing joins an esteemed group of marketers and thought leaders ranging from Guy Kawasaki to David Meerman Scott interviewed here at Online Marketing Blog.

Kristin is a firecracker of smarts and energy towards online marketing. Her company StrongMail is the leader in an array of email marketing and social media marketing services. Read on to learn more about the future of Email Marketing and its intersection with Social Media:

Please share a bit about your marketing background and StrongMail. What types of companies do you serve?

I have held a variety of B2B Corporate Marketing positions spanning from program management to event marketing, PR and marketing communications. The industries I’ve worked in include internet advertising, online marketing, desktop software, enterprise software and magazine publishing, which have all contributed in one form or another to my position here at StrongMail. I joined StrongMail in 2004 and have loved every minute of our explosive growth since then.

StrongMail provides email marketing and social media solutions to some of the world’s biggest brands including InterContinental Hotels Group, Travelocity, Viacom, T. Rowe Price and Zappos. Our solutions offer the highest ROI of any enterprise email service provider, which means that we make a lot of sense for B2C companies sending over 1 million messages per month and offer exceptional ROI for companies who send over 5 million messages per month.

How did StrongMail get into the social media business?

StrongMail became a social media marketing provider in 2009 through a series of strategic acquisitions. First we acquired PopularMedia, a Sequoia Capital backed company with a suite of social media products that we integrated into our platform. We currently offer Social Studio, a suite of social media marketing tools that is comprised of a referral marketing platform (StrongMail Influencer), a content sharing tool (Social Notes) and a social media management tool (Social Direct.)

Last year, we also announced the acquisition of two NY-based web firms that we combined to form StrongMail’s new boutique email and social CRM agency. This compliments our suite of technology tools with the strategy and creative expertise that brands need to effectively leverage the channel. All of our social offerings are available either in conjunction with or separately from our email platform, and our social media clients include Castrol, Mint.com and Discover Card.

A big challenge for many email marketers is deliverability. What are some of the common issues companies are facing?

Controlling spam has become a major problem for ISPs worldwide. On average, 90% of all email sent is categorized as “unsolicited commercial email” or spam.

When you narrow that down to look at the burden on one ISP, of the 8 billion email messages that Hotmail receives globally each month, 5.5 billion are blocked at the gateway and 1 billion are marked as junk. That’s a lot of unwanted email… and unfortunately not all of that is sent from the Nigerian fraudsters and prescription drug pushers that we traditionally think of when we think of spam. A fair percentage of what ISPs classify as “unwanted email” comes from legitimate senders, including many of the brands that we know and trust.

In an effort to improve the Inbox user experience for their customers in 2011, the four major ISPs (Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail and AOL) have all announced plans to change the way that they block and filter email this year. Among other things – including adding social functionality to the Inbox – they have announced that they are going to start factoring engagement into their filtering algorithms.

What this means is that it’s now going to be critically important that your subscribers not only open and click on your emails, but that they do so on a regular basis. If they don’t, it could potentially affect your overall email deliverability and negatively impact revenue driven from the email channel.

To manage through this shift, StrongMail recommends employing a combination of two things:

1)     Carefully scrubbing your list to either remove or attempt to re-engage non-responders after 6 months of inactivity.

2)     Implementing marketing tactics to increase subscriber engagement as soon as possible.

If you’re interested in learning more about how the Inbox experience is changing in 2011, I encourage you to download our December whitepaper on the subject, “The New Rules of Deliverability: 2011 and Beyond”.

Except the intersection with social media, (I’ll ask about that shortly) what’s the most important change in email marketing over the past year? Any surprises?

In addition to what I mention above, there appears to be a migration from batch email marketing towards triggered email marketing automation. Marketers have been talking about it for years, but we’re finally seeing a shift towards more wide-spread adoption. This is a result of technology advances that put easy-to-use workflow-building functionality into the hands of marketers and a drive for enterprises to generate a single view of their customer across all channels.

We recently published a great case study on this with InterContinental Hotels Group that I recommend reading if you’re looking at a similar program.

Many companies are implementing Email and Social Media Marketing solutions independently but you’re a strong advocate of a synergy between them. What are your recommendations for companies looking for best practices and an approach to making their email marketing more social?

When social media first started gaining momentum, many industry pundits were saying that it signaled the death of email. Neilsen set out to prove that hypothesis, and fielded a study that broke internet users in to four groups – three focused on varying levels of social media usage and a fourth group did not use social media at all.

Then they overlayed email usage on top of those segments and discovered that their hypothesis was wrong. In fact, the more engaged a person was with social media, the more heavily they consumed email.

Email Consumption

This intersection of highly engaged email and social media users tend to be more active online – generating reviews, recommendations and comments in forums. In many cases, this segment also contains your most influential brand advocates.

The good news for email marketers is that, these influencers are already in your email database. The most successful socialized email marketing programs target these influencers with something of value that incentivizes them to spread the word about your product or service. We’ve seen brands drive as much as six figures in additional revenue off of one socialized email program that was targeted in this fashion. Another was able to generate 8,500 new subscribers off of one email campaign using a similar strategy.

The key is to be thoughtful with your email and social media strategy. Provide your influencers with genuine, true value in your campaigns, and if you can make them look like a hero by providing them with something of value to share with their networks, even better.

Simply integrating passive social sharing is good, but it will yield a much lower lift in click-throughs.

Companies that have been involved with social media publishing, sharing and networking for a while often find themselves overwhelmed and looking for efficiencies through tools. What types of social media tools do you recommend? Is there a process for evaluation that you’d recommend?

Every smart social media strategy starts with listening, so your first investment should be in a listening platform like Radian 6, Attenisty or Alterian’s SM2. In addition, you need a social media management console to schedule, track and respond to your mentions across social channels. StrongMail has one called Social Direct, but other popular ones include HootSuite or even Tweetdeck, which is free. If you’re a large enterprise that has a team of people tweeting on behalf of your brand in a customer service capacity, you should look at Co-Tweet.

Additional technology investments could include a community platform like Jive or Lithium (if you determine that’s right for your business), or a referral marketing platform like StrongMail Influencer.

But to be honest, most enterprise level social media marketers are still investing in internal education and training. I heard a great quote last week… “Social media is too young to be a science. It’s still an art.”  This means that the right strategy and set of tools is going to be different for every brand. The good news is – like email marketing – there is a wealth of free information out there for you to help devise your social media strategy if you’re budget strapped. However if you don’t have time, there are also plenty of agencies to help you quickly build a strategy that makes sense for your business.

“Social Media” is the darling topic for many business publications, blogs (including this one) and even mainstream media. Do you think at some point there will be a social media bubble? If so, when do you think it will pop?

That’s a great question… Gartner’s hype-cycle shows that every new, promising technology will enter the trough of disillusionment before it enters the plateau of productivity. By that theory, we are absolutely headed for a bubble-burst, but it’s not certain when that will happen. I suspect that it will have something to do with a consumer privacy backlash. Social media is free for a reason… Mark Zuckerberg might not think consumers will ever care about how their information is shared, but I think they eventually will. Companies should make sure that their data management practices and privacy policies are above board and clearly articulated in their privacy policies in preparation for this.

In the recent StrongMail webinar, 2011 Social Marketing Business Forecast, Jeremiah Owyang talked about social media budget allocation for the coming year. What are some of the shifts in priority that you’re seeing with companies that are maturing in their social media programs?

Mature social media marketers are starting to shift their limited budget dollars from traditional agencies (that maybe handled their PR or advertising campaigns) to boutique agencies that specialize in social media marketing. This enables them to generate significantly higher returns from their social media marketing programs. Our agency is doing some groundbreaking, data-based Social CRM Marketing work in this area that is producing incredible results for our clients.

ROI is a big topic when it comes to social media marketing. How does email marketing help facilitate or achieve greater business value from social participation?

I just spoke at OpenDialogue’s Social Media Marketing Conference in Toronto and 2/3 of the audience came from a marketing background, whereas less than 5 people in the audience came from a PR background. That is a significant shift from who owned social media a few years ago. Marketers are taking over… which signals a shift towards needing to prove ROI. In PR, that’s a fuzzy metric.

Email marketing is a direct marketing discipline, which by nature means that everything needs to be tracked and measured. Social media metrics are more engagement focused, however smart marketers need to start analyzing those metrics in conjunction with their email marketing metrics, purchase metrics, customer lifetime value metrics to build a holistic picture of each consumer’s value to your company. This is the holy grail of social media marketing ROI, however I don’t think it’s that far off for companies with the right organizational structure and integrated technology infrastructure.

What are some of the biggest myths, misconceptions or outright misinformation you’ve been seeing about email, social or a convergence of the two?

Probably that social media is going to kill email, which I alluded to earlier. Social media is just another channel to add to the marketing mix. Did television kill the phone? No. Did Email kill the phone? No. Did Email kill direct mail? A little bit… but I don’t think social media can be compared in the same way. Email is literally an electronic version of mail… so of course it’s going to affect the usage of print. But it’s never going to kill it completely. And social media is most certainly *not* going to kill email.

What are you most optimistic about for online marketing in 2011?

The move towards engagement filtering by the top ISPs is driving increased pressure for email marketers to up their game. As any marketer who has ever been blocked by a major ISP know will tell you… once you’re blocked, it can be quite a challenge to get unblocked.

The four major ISPs aren’t making the specifics of their algorithms public, nor have they announced exactly when they will start junking emails based on lack of subscriber engagement. However by taking steps to increase subscriber engagement now, you will not only protect yourself from being negatively impacted by this change – you will have the added bonus of improving the performance of your email marketing programs.

Email marketers are paying attention. According to a recent StrongMail survey of just under 1000 global email marketing executives, 52% cited increasing subscriber engagement as one of their top priorities in 2011. This makes it the #1 initiative for email marketers in 2011 – followed by improving segmentation and targeting and integrating social media with their email marketing programs.

In my opinion, this is awesome news for everyone. Its forcing email marketers to evolve and start paying attention to engagement metrics on an ongoing basis – not to mention keep their lists clean – if they want to continue to have their email delivered. This is going to hurt lazy email marketers and spammers, but that’s the point. But if you’re on top of this change, it will only create a win-win situation for consumers, ISPs and brands alike.

For in-depth examples of how brands are successfully increasing subscriber engagement, I recommend downloading our whitepaper on the topic, “The Ultimate Email Marketing Guidebook: Increasing Subscriber Engagement.”

Thank you Kristin!  For more insights and to connect with Kristin on the social web, visit her on Twitter or her blog on the StrongMail website.


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Email Marketing & Social Media Interview: Kristin Hersant of StrongMail | http://www.toprankblog.com

Inspired by Iceland & Microsoft – Social Media & the Marketing Mix

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Mel Carson & Kristjian Hauksson

The last session of the day on the last day of SES London was on Social Media in the Marketing Mix with Kristjan Hauksson of Nordic eMarketing in Iceland and Mel Carson of Microsoft in London.

Kristjan started things off: What happens when a volcano goes wrong?  He recounted the situation last year when Eyjafjallajokul erupted (say that 3 times fast – I dare you) and so much ash spread into the atmosphere that hundreds of planes were grounded from flying.  This, you can imagine, had a dulling effect on Icelandic tourism. Iceland regularly has more tourists than there are people who live there.

Understand that everything we do in broadcast and digital needs to take advantage of all channels available.

Problem - Iceland hit by a volcano eruption that stops most flight traffic and threatens tourism.
Solution - Created a website with a video. An AWESOME video: inspiredbyiceland.com.  Amazingly, Kristjan says none of the people in the video were from Iceland – they found most of them randomly.

They started to target keywords not directly using “Iceland” but related to news properties talking about Iceland. They also targeted multiple languages. “inspired by iceland” as a query on Google went from 0 to 428k listings in Google search results.

A lot of the promotion occurred via social channels. The video was promoted via video distribution services. They gave the video to people to mash-up and make their own versions. Other well known people started making their own versions of Inspired by Iceland. In total, 839 videos were created.

The stats: There were 150k visitors the first week. 1.1 million total visitors in 2010. That’s all traffic to inspiredbyiceland.com. Impressive. Here’s the video:

After watching this I want to go to Iceland. Really. I’d love to go for my birthday in June – we’ll see.   BTW, there’s a teeny, tiny fringe NSFW part for about 3 seconds, at 1:14.

The video gained major media coverage: Bloomberg, Fox News, BBC. The marketing team used listening tools to identify when people talked about the site and then reached out to them and gave them more content.

By leveraging Google Universal search and a holistic perspective – Display ads, FB Ads, blogger relations and keyword optimization a tourist summer that looked bleak was on par with a very successful 2009 and 2011 looks really good.

Lesson: Listen and use the opportunity when it happens.

Next up is Mel Carson from Microsoft.

Mel opens up telling a story about finding a magazine about glutes (as in butt muscles) that he tweeted about. The store where he purchased the magazine was listening to Twitter and engaged with Mel (with a sense of humor). The lesson is that the direct interaction resulted in relationship building – loyalty.

Microsoft Advertising collects content about their teams and promotes through social channels. Microsoft Advertising currently has about 30k fans, friends, followers.

Mel follows up with a story about pulling an enthusiastic and persistent fellow out of the line to get into a Microsoft party that was sold out. The gratefulness showed by the guy on Twitter demonstrated what kind of effect acting in the right way at the right time can have between brands and individuals.

Mel’s next story is about a monk. A Bishop (?) wanted to recruit a monk. Mel set him up with a Microsoft Advertising account. 3 years later they signed up a monk. “If it hand’t been for the internet, I’d still be a software engineer.” It’s a great example of paid media driving traffic to social media where they were educated and then converted.

Punch line: New metric “CPM – Cost Per Monk”

Mel says it’s important to remember that humans are social. Use ourselves as a form of media. Don’t just think about social media, but all the platforms, screens and places where you can engage customers.

7 Social Integration Tips:

- Always ask why? Facebook! Why? Then you have goals.
- Where’s your varnish – what ties your message across platforms? Otherwise you have silos.
- Optimize for people “outside the room” How to make your content discoverable, shareable
- Internal education leads to external evangelism
- Earn it. Earned media, buzz, discussion, etc. Win7 Launch 221m impressions
- Think “social media marketing” not just social media. Be disciplined
- What’s the ROI – return on interaction – return on investment

This session had some great stories about social media and engagement.  Thanks to both Kristjian and Mel. Speaking of Mel, he took a few minutes to chat with me before being rushed off by his Microsoft entourage about social media strategy and how important the “people” component of social media is, on contrast to all the emphasis on technology.

Click here to view the embedded video.


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Video Marketing Tips From SES London

February 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Online Marketing, Search Engine Strategies, SEO Tips

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Jonathan Allen, Paul Carff, Will Crtichlow

The first session of the day for me here at SES London is a topic I’ve been interested in for a very long time: video marketing and optimization. It’s a great panel featuring Jonathan Allen from Incisive Media, Paul Carff from Google and Will Critchlow from Distilled. All three speakers offered plenty of interesting tips.

First up is Paul Carff from Google who is a Developer Advocate that helps people learn about and use APIs.

YouTube is the #1 online video site with 2 billion streams per day. 70% of all online video viewing happens on YouTube. Online video is the fastest growing medium in history. 52% of people took action as a result of watching video online. 77% of Americans online watched a video last month. The amount of time people spend watching online video is growing. Their attention and engagement is higher than traditional broadcast.

Why add video to your marketing mix? Because that’s were the people are.

How do you get your content in front of those viewers? One way is through search. Google wants to create the most comprehensive video index. Google videos can show in Universal Search, on YouTube and Google TV.

To facilitate inclusion in search, marketers can use video sitemaps. The video sitemap can provide information about videos for Google: Location tag, thumbnail location, title and description, content location, player location.

Other data that can be included in video sitemaps: video duration, expiration date, publication date and restriction tag. After you submit your sitemap, then be paitent because it can take a few days. Google.com/sitemaps

If you have new meta data how do you update? Using additional tags.  Automatically submit sitemaps using plugins – drupal, WordPress.

Case study (Orabush). They tried an infomercial, retail and AdWords. None of that worked because no one knew what a tongue brush was – there was no awareness.  Orabrush asked a college marketing class how to market it. They made a YouTube video and it went viral: Millions of views and sales exploded.

Search isn’t going to work for things that have no awareness. People often “discover” video content. Video discovery is more than just search. Related videos are a form that facilitate discovery. Promoted videos (an ad) is another way. YouTube TrueView helps you manage video ads – you don’t pay unless people watch the whole video (i.e. you don’t pay for impressions, just like with AdWords).

Creative content is always the big winner. Think about who you’re trying to reach and what they’re interested in.

Case Study: Old Spice. 180 videos in 24 hours. 1 proposal. 151k subscribers. 120m views, +107% increase in body wash sales

Video inspires engagement: Over 50% of videos are commented on.

Google Leanback - like Pandora (or StumbleUpon) of video. If your YouTube profile is connected to your Facebook account, there’s a social element to Leanback in what you see.

Next up is Will Critchlow from Distilled to share an array of tips on video:

Besides video sitemaps, there are video microformats. Facebook and Yahoo (SearchMonkey).  It makes content more easily discoverable. Microformats and structured data is becoming more common for supplying/formatting content to search engines.

Tip: Mixergy.com - Entrepreneur interviews – great example of video content. Great content attracts attention and supports search discovery

Tip: Publish transcripts on the same page as the video because it provides search engines with information and it provides users useful information.

Tip: Use tools other than YouTube. There are things you can do on other services that you can’t do on YouTube. Example, video length and apis. Will recommends vzaar. Gives example of showing a sign-up form at the end of a video that goes directly into MailChimp.

Also recommends Wistia, that offers great analytics, which is pretty tough with Flash based video players.

Here’s a great post on YouTube SEO tips. This is also a great example of how speaking at a conference (Will speaking at SES London) can get you a sweet anchor text link from a high traffic blog (me).

To get links to video hosted / embedded on your site – provide your own embed code that others can copy onto their own site that includes link(s) back to you. Take a step further, and include embed code in the embed code so when others embed your video on their site, it offers embed code for their users to continue the trend – kind of like Inception :)

Videos to attract links don’t need to be your own videos. You can curate others’ videos and include the embed code that links back to your site (instead of YouTube).

Last up is Jonathan Allen from Incisive Media. Online video is changing how we produce video and what we can make of it. Online video is a “story engine”.

Video marketing strategy and considerations:
- Production value
- Do you want to monetize the content or not
- What are the elements of your marketing
- Measure success

Tips on low/no budget video creation:

- You can make video out of text via Xtranormal and Moviestorm.
- Make videos out of photos from Animoto
- Make a video out of sitemaps. Treepodia will make a video out of your product sitemap.

Tips on YouTube:

- To get more video views, upload email forwards (videos people have shared with you). Copyright will sort itself out. (I cannot imagine recommending this for a brand)
- Report on events – this is evergreen content. Product demos, voxpops?, shoot crazy stuff
- Video tactics – copy other people’s tags that are already popular, keyword rich titles, descriptions. Use search suggest to modify keywords you optimize for.

Make a cheap video not look cheap:

For interviews, have the camera at eye level at 2/3 high on the screen. Pay attention to your backgrounds, they set the stage.
Use pickup shots – “b-roll” of people, scenery, backgrounds to add a professional look.

That’s it for now. There were quite a few video tips provided in this session and it went by fast. I think this topic could easily be a half or full day workshop where attendees would bring cameras and a trainer would show how to create basic videos, upload and market them using the tips above. That sounds like an opportunity :)

Is video marketing a big part of your online marketing strategy?  Have you had disapointments or successes you can share?  What are some of your best video marketing tips?

Update:

Paul Carff of Google was good enough to sit down and chat for a few minutes on his role at Google as well as some pitfalls and best practices for video sitemaps. Check it out:

Click here to view the embedded video.


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Video Marketing Tips From SES London | http://www.toprankblog.com

7 Key Elements to a Successful Business Blog

February 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogging, Online Marketing

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business bloggingOver the past 7 years of blogging, one could say I’ve become quite familiar. Online Marketing Blog has received a lot of kudos recently but more importantly, our experience with reviewing others’ blogs has been a learning experience to say the least. I’ve looked at over 1,000 blogs to create the BIGLIST and recently reviewed the top UK Online Marketing Blogs as well.

Here are a few key characteristics I’ve found that represent a highly productive blog in terms of branding, community, SEO, PR, recruiting and taking mindshare away from the competition:

1. URL - Pick something short and easy to remember.  blog.domainname.com works great, so does domainname.com/blog or even, companynamblog.com. Try to avoid obscure or long URLs like www.domainname.com/files/about/blog?home or worse, companyname.blogspot.com. If you’re a business, then act professionally and use a domain name you control for your blog URL.

2. Blog name - If your blog has a unique name like “GM Fastlane” then it should be prominent with a logo and that logo should link to the home page of the blog. If your blog is just named “Company Name Blog” that’s fine, but offer a “home” to go to.  Tag lines to go along with the blog name are useful for readers so they understand what your blog is about. Taglines are also useful for SEO.

3. Design – When a blog works as a direct extension of your brand, then the style guide elements of your brand should carry over to the blog design.  However, it shouldn’t be so close as to confuse the reader whether they’re on the company website or the company blog.  If the blog serves another purpose, then it’s fine to have a unique style with subtle brand references.

An entire book could be written about user experience and design of a blog, but here are a few key points:

  • Stand out – there are millions of blogs out there and competing social channels like Twitter and Facebook. You’d better stand out or be forgotten.
  • Add style – make an effort to convey the personality and style of your company
  • Easy to read – headlines should be much larger than the body copy of posts. Blog author, date published and other elements like comment count are useful for readers to connect with post authors and know they’re reading fresh content. We remove the dates after a year or so.
  • Header – most blogs express their creativity with header graphics or images. If you can’t have a unique logo for your blog, then have a unique header

4. Navigation – I can’t say enough about the need to make it easy to find content on a blog. Useful navigation elements include: Categories, Tags or Tag Cloud, Search Box, Popular Posts, Recent Posts, Most Commented Posts. You don’t need all of these, but most of them are quite useful.

5. Content – create an editorial plan for the blog that supports the customer personas you’re trying to engage and that represents the keywords/topics you want to be known for.  After 7 years of blogging, I like to have certain days each week planned out with specific topics and other days as wildcards.  Ex: Social Mondays, Tactical Tips on Tuesdays, Thursday Rants and Friday News Roundup.  Pay attention to web analytics, off-site citations, comments and social chatter to gauge whether your content resonates or not. Paying attention will also uncover new topics to cover that your readers are interested in.  A simple query on your search engine referrer keywords with a filter of “how to” can reveal many topics for tactical posts.

6. Social - we like the blog hub and spoke model that leverages blog content as a destination and off-blog social media participation and other content syndication as the outposts. That means the blog might have a Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, YouTube, Amplify and similar accounts that are used to extend conversation, re-purpose or mash-up blog content.

As you can see with this blog, we’ve added the Facebook fan box to the sidebar and make it easy to share on Twitter and Facebook with sharing buttons / counters at the top of each post. It’s no wonder that Facebook and Twitter drive a substantial amount of traffic to the blog. That’s not because we offer the sharing buttons as much as the fact that we’re social on Facebook and Twitter.  Flair is no substitute for interaction. So if you add social features to your blog, understand that to make them effective, time should be spent on those off-blog social channels.

7. Who – as in, who is behind the blog. This is far too rare a feature on many blogs. Create a page that describes the purpose of the blog and the people behind it. That kind of content makes it clear what readers can expect and gives them something to identify with when reading posts.

There are many, many other tips for effective blogs. Essentially, make sure your blog conveys the brand and message you’re after with its design and content. Make it easy to read, navigate and share content.  Within a few seconds, readers should be able to tell what the blog topic is and find something interesting. If not, they’ll move on to someone else.

I know we have a lot of experienced business bloggers reading, what are some of your best tips for a successful business blog? Are there features you’d like us to add to Online Marketing Blog?


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4 Ways to Find Business Facebook Fan Pages

February 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Facebook fan pages, Online Marketing, Social Media

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Either as a consumer that loves different brands or a B2B marketer who’s looking to connect with prospects, Facebook Fan pages offer an easy way to engage with others that have similar interests.  It’s easy enough to find the brand names you know, but when looking using other criteria, it can be tough. There’s a lot of room for improvement in the way Facebook Fan pages are organized but here are several ways to find the business pages you might be looking for:

Facebook Fan Pages

Fan Page List - This site aggregates information on Facebook Pages for Brands & Products, top Users as well as for Celebrities, Athletes, Politicians and other categories. Additionally, there are listings for top Twitter users and brands on FourSquare. It’s a cornucopia of social searching. It also has numerous sorting options for each category.

Find Facebook Fan Pages

The Page Finder - This site is a user-generated index of Facebook Fan pages with about 1 million entries so far. Pages are organized by tags and locations, then sorted by popularity and alphabetically.

Discover Facebook Pages

Discover Facebook Pages – This is an official Facebook Fan Page browser that will show pages organized by All, Music, Movies, Television, People, Brands & Products according to your geographic location. When you’re logged in to Facebook, it shows pages your friends like – as you would expect. I also noticed when you’re logged in, it shows two additional categories: Companies & OrganizationsLocal Businesses & Places.

Facebook Browse Fan Pages

Directory of Facebook Pages – Facebook also provides a directory of People, Apps, Groups and of course, Pages. The list is alphabetized so the A’s from AKON to A & B Doors are getting some nice exposure. When not logged in, a search for pages results in a list of users, not pages. You need to be logged in to Facebook to use the search engine within the directory and get Fan pages in the search results.

There are several other crowdsourced directories of Facebook Fan pages but I’ve chosen not to list them because of quantity and quality issues. Or because they were explicitly selling Facebook Fans.

For the most part, these tools will help you surface a variety of Business, Product and Brand Fan pages, but I think there’s a REAL opportunity here for something much better to come along. Who will it be?

If I’ve missed a quality and substantial Facebook Fan Page Directory, please mention it in the comments below. If it’s really good then I’ll add it to the list above.


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Don’t Let Your Content Marketing Fail Because of This One Thing

February 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Content Marketing, Online Marketing

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Content MarketingOnline Marketers world-wide are looking towards content marketing as a way to educate, connect with and influence prospects to become customers. Content can also play a big part in lead nurturing and engagement with existing customers.

With 9 out of 10 B2B marketers using content in their mix and predictions from the likes of Geoff Ramsey of eMarketer, “Content Marketing is Critical in 2011” and Ashley Friedlein of Econsultancy, “Content strategy & content marketing: the King is back” there’s much cause for optimism.

But like many increasingly trendy marketing topics, marketers often rush in without experience, expertise or realistic expectations.  Marketing with content has been the core of our own strategy at TopRank Online Marketing for many years. I personally read and research the topic daily and our team implements content marketing strategies and tactics with just about all of our clients, many of which are formidable content marketers themselves.

Out of all that information consumption and work with companies comes unique insights that can have significant impact on the value achieved from an investment in marketing with content. Here is that one thing I mention in the title (but there are many) that can separate “OK” and stellar content marketing efforts:

Lack of Empathy for Customer Needs AKA Egocentric Content Marketing

I recently finished reading an ebook on content marketing that covered all the bases in content types, promotion, re-purposing and measurement. When it came to deciding on the type of content, the choices made were based on what a company had to offer vs. doing research on what customer information needs weren’t being met. The idea of meeting customer information needs was there, but nothing on how to uncover those needs or apply them to an editorial plan.

Imagine you’re selling widgets and content marketing rings a bell for you. You create a microsite on widgets with online tools customers can use to creatively pick widgets out, customize and share socially with friends. You create a widget mash-up podcast and invite your best customers to create how-to videos and blog posts. There’s a Facebook page, blog, YouTube channel, even an email newsletter and quarterly print magazine.

When it comes to widgets, you’ve really got it covered!

Or do you? How do you know widget buyers visit blogs or Facebook? How do you know they prefer video or podcast content over text? How do you know they spend time reading print vs. online newsletters? Is it better to provide how-to information early in the buying cycle or just after they’ve purchased? How much do you really know about the different types of customers that buy widgets and their unique behaviors leading up to and after the sale?

It’s one of the most common content marketing fails: To create an array of content without having some kind of tangible insight that the resources you’re creating are justified by a prospect’s need for information.  Using pure intuition or taking an egocentric corporate marketing perspective becomes the old, “We have a product/service, now let’s find a market for it” approach.

To start learning about creating profiles and how they influence content marketing editorial plans, read about social content personas development here, and find best practices at Content Marketing Institute or books like Content Rules. David Meerman Scott gives a very practical explanation and examples of buyer personas as well.

Fundamentally, marketers would do well to assess what their prospect needs are and formulate a content strategy around meeting those needs at important points during the life cycle of customer engagement.  Initially, information is collected via customer surveys, social media monitoring or email appending of social profiles and as a program is implemented, the effectiveness marketing to customer segments (or personas) is made part of ongoing CRM and analytics insight.

Have you implemented a content marketing project that simply didn’t resonate with those who interacted with it?  Have you found disconnects between content and intended customers? Or content promotion channels and intended customers? How did you adjust your strategy?

At SES London this week, I’ll be touching on persona development as well as the what, why and how of Content Marketing and Optimisation – plus steps you can take back to the office and implement now. The presentation is Wednesday 2/23 at 11am. For readers attending SES London, I hope to see you there.


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Don’t Let Your Content Marketing Fail Because of This One Thing | http://www.toprankblog.com

3 Ways Social Media Is Changing Public Relations

February 17, 2011 by  
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Social Media Changing Public RelationsThe widespread use of social media has fundamentally changed how people communicate and share information. According to recent data from comScore, Facebook now accounts for 12.3 percent of the time spent online in the U.S. versus 7.2 percent just a year ago. Twitter now counts approximately 200 million accounts and over 110 million tweets per day.

This downright addiction to social media has made an impact in virtually every industry as companies seek to create strategies to engage on the social web. Public relations is certainly no exception as practitioners seek to communicate with, and hear from consumers, as well as using social channels to share information with key audiences.

Conversation Versus A Speech

PR pros can no longer get away with blasting information out at an audience. Two-way communication directly with the consumer is a tremendous opportunity for businesses to gain real-time feedback on messaging coming from the company. The live interaction allows for ongoing refinement and improvement to make a deeper connection with the target audience. Human connections made possible by listening and replying via social media bring the audience closer to a brand and softens the barrier that exists when people feel as if they’re talking to a company that views them strictly as a potential sale.

Information Gathering

The speed of information sharing is faster than ever before and PR professionals have access to a wealth of content that can be shared with consumers seeking solutions to a problem. Creating a simple keyword based search on Twitter can connect companies with people at exactly the right time to serve as a helpful resource. By engaging proactively, PR teams can create new opportunities to create a favorable brand impression that can lead to the beginning of a social media relationship and a potential business relationship.

Social media has also positively changed long-standing dynamics of the PR/Journalist relationship. Journalists seek information and sources online and PR professionals have benefited from the added access available thanks to social media. Some reporters maintain blogs and others are active on Twitter but gathering information about potential stories is significantly easier than the days of heavy, out-of-date media guides.

Personal Service

With the advance of social media, there is an expectation from consumers that they will not be subjected to mass, non-targeted information and any concerns will be addressed quickly and personally. This one can be challenging for PR staff managing social media efforts. One upset customer on a Facebook page or a challenging blog post can send brands into a crisis mode.

When dealing with this expectation of 24/7 personal service, take time to evaluate what is a real crisis and measure how to respond.  The field of public relations is always an environment of on call issues but social media has expanded both the base of potential complaints and the public visibility of these issues.

There are a number of ways that the field of PR must continue to adapt as the social media tools of today will change tomorrow. Rather than focus on the channels, focus on the expectations of the audiences and how to serve as a valued resource for them.

If you’re a public relations professional, how has social media changed your day-to-day PR work? And, what remains the same despite the new channels of communication?


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How to Overcome 4 Social Media Headaches

February 16, 2011 by  
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social media marketingSocial Media Marketing has taken a firmer position within the marketing mix of most companies in one way or another. For some, social web participation is a natural fit. For many others, being more social isn’t in the management DNA.  Regardless, marketers are held accountable for improving the bottom line and with that comes a number of common “headaches”.

Yesterday I did a webinar with a client of ours, NewsUSA, on social media headaches. As part of the prep for that, I wrote out answers to some of the questions and thought it would be of interest to our Online Marketing Blog readers as well.

Getting Approval From the C-Suite

What is the most important piece of information you need to get approval for a social media campaign?

C-SuiteThe simple answer is to make sure you tie what you’re doing to revenue growth, customer acquisition and retention, increased profitability or some other top level business goal.

Many companies approach social media marketing as a series of disconnected campaigns without coordination, overall strategy or specific outcomes defined. It’s no wonder that many of those efforts fail to deliver expected results.

Getting management approval starts with answering some key questions. First, the reason for a campaign must be clear: What business goals are you trying to achieve? Where does the individual campaign effort fall within the overall social media strategy? How could it directly or indirectly affect business goals? What resources or investment need to be made and what can you reasonably project as an outcome? (short and long term)

Start with a hypothesis and develop a plan for reaching or influencing business outcomes. Show KPI (key performance indicator) measurements and to what degree they can correlate with goals such as increased leads, increased quality of leads, reduced sales cycle, increased blogger and media mentions, increased candidate inquiries, lower customer support costs, etc.  When it’s new territory, business executives may be more likely to approve if you can show a path from where you are now towards influencing business outcomes.

Social Content Creation

What’s your favorite time saving shortcut with content?

social media contentPlanning. Creating an editorial plan can save a lot of time with content creation. Obviously, a business needs writing resources internally or outsourced to help author and repurpose content, but creating a topical plan for writing articles, blog posts and media in the way an Editorial Calendar is created for a publication, can save a lot of time.  Specific types of content with due dates keeps content creation and promotion on track and efficient.

Another time saver is to use content-type templates. As a content marketer for all of our 10 years in business, I’ve found certain formats of articles or blog posts and even social content to work better than others. Develop content formats or templates as well as libraries of keywords, hooks & clever angles that support key messages and desired reader behaviors can save quite a bit of time when you’re after a quantity of quality content.

The thing about saving time is that quality must be maintained. Getting 3 articles out in the time it takes to do one doesn’t mean anything if the 3 are crap.

A third time saver is to leverage other people in your organization, especially subject matter experts, sales people and customer service staff. People who interact with customers and prospects answering questions are a goldmine for quality content ideas.

Finding/Reaching Your Audience

What networks reach the audiences best?

Social Media PersonasThe key is to find “your” audience. To do that it’s important to construct ideal customer profiles or personas. Collect information that exemplifies your best customers and discover their information discovery, consumption and sharing preferences. What topics are they interested in? What are their pain points? What do they search for? What do they talk about on social media sites? Where do they hang out and who / what influences them?

That buyer persona can then guide your content plan as well as your social media research and listening efforts to uncover which social media and network sites to engage with.

Part of this process can involve taking a prospect newsletter email list and leveraging it with a service like Rapleaf or Flowtown. Importing email addresses into those services will reveal wherever those individuals have registered accounts on social media sites.

Along with social monitoring software that shows where key topics are being discussed on the social web, a marketer can use a social profile appending servives to see which social networks and media sites their prospects are connected to.

Imagine finding out that your list shows 85% visibility on Facebook and 35% on LinkedIn when you thought the reverse?

Ultimately, the best networks are those that provide a platform for customers to find what they looking for and for brands to be useful to and engage those customers.

Presenting Results to the C-Suite

How do you keep reporting simple and easy to understand?

Social Media DashboardDashboards are popular and many social media management services have popped up to help manage social media assets, promotions and success metrics. Those that integrate with web analytics are especially helpful.

Unfortunately, executive level social media reporting to the C-Suite is still a bit of a challenge because they most often care about the direct impact on business growth – something that is difficult to measure with social media efforts due to the indirect influence and delayed effect. However, correlation measures can be offered, such as an overlay of the progression of social media KPIs on top of business goals.

For example:

  • An increase in the community connections and measures of engagement actions that correspond to a decrease in customer service call center costs.
  • The increase trend in social content creation and citations from the community overlaid with an increase in non-campaign new prospect inquiries.

The key with C-Suite reporting is to properly manage expectations, keep it simple and do your best to focus on both the direct and indirect impact of social media efforts on overall business goals.

What have some of your biggest headaches been with social media and management?


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My Picks: 5 Top Online Marketing Blogs from the UK

February 15, 2011 by  
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5 UK Online Marketing BlogsThank you to all who participated in our little poll seeking votes for the best UK Online Marketing Blog last week. That link will take you to the full list as well as the voting results.

The purpose was to create awareness of UK centric blogs that share as much of a passion for Online Marketing topics as we do here at Online Marketing Blog. 35 blogs were listed and many put effort into promoting themselves via blog post, Twitter, email, Facebook and other channels of communication. That combined promotion effort plus our own drove thousands of visits to the post and subsequently back out to the individual UK Online Marketing blogs that were listed.

After reviewing each blog’s poll votes, AdAge Power 150 scores (combination of editorial, links, social & traffic), PageRank of home page, post recency, frequency, topics, comments and design, I’ve made the following picks as my top 5. Let me be clear, picking only 5 sucked.

Econsultancy
Econsultancy - This industry news blog covers a variety of online marketing topics with a very high number of posts, great mix of writers and somewhat inconsistent use of images. At first I was not sure what to call this blog since the Title tag says “Online Marketing Blog” and “Internet Marketing Blog” but the on-page title says “Digital Marketing Blog”. Econsultancy was one of the first blogs to incorporate Twitter in the sidebar. Social sharing are presented at top of and after each post. Content is fresh and topical with a moderate amount of commenting activity on each post.

we are social
we are social – For an agency blog, posts are information rich, with particular effectiveness at repurposing of content (stats, infographics, YouTube). Multiple offsite social integrations ranging from Twitter to Facebook to Flickr add the social to this blog. Commenting activity is below average for a blog with so much social connectivity. I haven’t seen a mybloglog widget in a very long time. As the name implies, content is focused on social media marketing as well as advertising and applications like Facbeook and Twitter.

Distilled
Distilled – This search marketing focused agency blog features robust content, few commenters and a modest amount of social sharing and features. Topics of focus include SEO, PPC, reputation management and web design.

David Naylor
David Naylor - This SEO centric blog easily has the best design. Posts are written by Bronco agency staff and Dave Naylor. Social sharing links are included with each post and top level social links are part of the side navigation. Most posts have around 10 comments or more showing great on-site engagement.

Blogstorm
Blogstorm – Posts are concise and not all that frequent, however, comments are high. All posts are written by Patrick Altoft, Director of Search at Branded3. Social features are limited to a Retweet button on each post.  This blog has nearly 10k subscribers and a fair amount of ReTweet activity.

Some of these blogs post very frequently with snack sized posts and very few comments. Others offer several posts per week that do a deep dive into advice, inspiring many comments. Others offer a great design and balanced content with social features. Still others offer robust, niche content with very little social sharing or integration features.  The notion of “best blog” really comes down to what you’re looking for and what type of content resonates with you most.  Blogs like SEO Wizz and SEO Gadget are very focused on SEO and if that was your focus of interest, then they will undoubtedly fit the bill.

If you subscribe to all 35 blogs on our initial list and then filter about 10 or 15 out from that, you’d be in great shape. Don’t forget to add Fresh Networks too, because unfortunately we did.  Also be sure to visit the BIGLIST of 400+ SEM blogs.

If you’re a writer or reader of this great collection of blogs and are attending SES London next week, I hope to see you there.  I’ll be giving away our new Content Marketing Guide on Feb 23rd after my 11am presentation “Content Marketing & Optimisation” where we outline 10 steps to incorporating content, SEO and social media to better acquire and engage customers online.


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Interview: Jay Baer on The Now Revolution

February 11, 2011 by  
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The Now RevolutionWhile at OMS and SES Accelerator this week, I bumped into (literally) my friend Jay Baer who has just published a new book with co-author Amber Naslund called The Now Revolution. I am reading it now and may do a full review, but I asked Jay about a few core principles or shifts from the book that I think are essential for helping organizations transform.

The first deals with the notion of companies “doing social” vs. “being social”.  Having personally provided social media marketing advice to a variety of companies ranging from startups to a $100 billion corporation, questions often center around “How do we do social media right?”. In other words, social media and the social web are viewed as a tactic.

Jay talks about social media and organizations as more about behavior, not tactics.  I agree with him in the sense that when companies want to understand the paradigm of social media and business, it’s more about how the business behaves vs. executing certain tactics for the sake of marketing of communications.  Check out the video:

Click here to view the embedded video.

We also talk about how strategic social media consulting and transformation to social business taps deeply into organizational development and social psychology. Social media consultants must be change agent if they are to affect and inspire the social fabric of how an organization behaves.

The C-Suite often looks at social media and thinks about a way to win more business and market share by implementing marketing programs.  What many executives will soon realize is that the shift in how customers are engaging brands and each other will require companies to adopt social technologies and practices within their organization as a whole – to become a social business.  That’s no small feat, but companies with vision can begin to roadmap and initiate those changes starting with the advice from books like The Now Revolution.


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Interview: Jay Baer on The Now Revolution | http://www.toprankblog.com

Why Your Business Needs a Content Marketing Strategy

February 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Content Marketing, Online Marketing

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social media contentGoogle sites handle about 88 billion searches each month. YouTube is the second most popular search engine second only to Google. Facebook is now over 600 million users. Twitter has nearly 200 million accounts. LinkedIn is at 101 million users and FourSquare grew 3,400% in 2010.

The variety of options for customer marketing and engagement ranging from social media to SEO to email marketing to online advertising can be overwhelming. As a result, some of the most common online marketing questions I hear from client side marketers revolve around, “How to decide which tactics are best?”

Answering that question starts with a clear understanding of goals, customers and a flexible online marketing strategy that assembles the right mix of tactics and measurement practices. Most companies are looking for more customers and to retain those they have, but the question is,

“How to acquire and engage customers more efficiently, more effectively?”

A big part of the answer is through the intersection of social media, SEO and content marketing. If Social Media and SEO fit together like peanut butter and jelly then content is the bread that holds them together. Content is a crucial part of a social media strategy and therefore an understanding of customer-centric social content is essential.

Content Marketing

Consumers are not interested in traditional interruptive marketing. They want to be educated and their behaviors for information discovery, consumption and sharing have changed. B2B an B2C customers alike expect to find solutions via search. They also expect to interact with what they find via search.

Consumers expect content from brands. They expect ease of discovery (via search or social), the ability to interact with and socially share content and to interact with others with similar interests (social networking). These aren’t “nice to haves” anymore, they’re expected.

Most corporate marketing is structured to create content around products & services vs. becoming a publisher. As a result, the idea of implementing a content marketing program can seem foreign. However, the abundance of publishing tools and platforms now makes it possible for companies to create content and media that rivals some news organizations.

Content fuels customer engagement at all stages of the customer life cycle from top of funnel to ongoing relationship. Content can educate customers about your products and services. It can help educate about the buying process and how to get the most out of the purchase. It can continue to reinforce the relationship and inspire renewals, upgrades and referrals.

The challenge is for companies to rethink their content marketing strategy and incorporate Social Media and SEO in order to fulfill customer expectations for ease of discovery, consumption and sharing. On top of that, content must educate and make it easy to follow a logical conclusion to buy.  The companies that do those things best, will win the incredibly competitive online marketing race we’re in.

I’ll be talking about this topic today at SES Accelerator in San Diego, providing specific guidelines for companies that want to leverage the most effective tactics for customer acquisition and engagement through search, social and content marketing.  If you don’t catch me there, I’ll be discussing similar topics “Content Optimisation & Integrated Online Marketing” at SES London in a few weeks. I hope to see you there.


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Social Media Super Bowl – Overhyped & Underperformed

February 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Online Marketing, Social Media, Social Networking

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Super Bowl Ads, Social Media, Online Marketing, YouTube, TwitterAt a reported $3 million per 30 second spot, Super Bowl advertising is big business. For a multimillion dollar investment, brands should be maximizing every opportunity to reach potential customers. Which advertisers took advantage of a customer base actively engaged in the big game to extend the conversation? Not too many.

In the much-hyped ads airing during the Super Bowl, big brands primarily went with small printed web addresses at the end of the commercials as a next step for viewers. They lacked direct calls to action and didn’t leverage the fact that many viewers are online while watching television. A well executed ad with a specific call to action to send a tweet with a particular branded tag would be a logical fit.

Rather than a passive mention of a Facebook fan page, companies should consider how a strategic  promotion driving viewers to just released content might play. Social media marketing is an opportunity to identify and program directly to customer needs. More can be done with social media and over time more brands will become increasingly creative with integration in the ads. However, some brands are at least working to bring social marketing into the fold.

Audi made a direct Twitter reference in its ‘Release the Hounds’ ad featuring the hashtag #ProgressIs to enter a contest to win “Old Luxury” prizes and support charity. Users submit what progress is to them and Audi will share the top entries. It’s a smart start but would have been stronger with greater prominence or context versus a passing glance.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Another luxury brand decided to advertise for the first time at the big game with Mercedes jumping in following a creative “Tweet Race” contest fueled by social media. The campaign utilized both Twitter and Facebook to support celebrity led teams on a race to the Super Bowl. The campaign allowed Mercedes to get more than just an ad out of its marketing dollars but greater social marketing could have helped the ad.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The big hit in terms of a memorable ad was Volkswagen. Blending humor, creativity and a good use of YouTube to promo an ad titled ‘The Force’, the company is now sitting on a hit. VW teased the ad in advance of the Super Bowl, showing just enough to pique curiosity and asked for feedback on Facebook and Twitter.  Over 16 million views later, Darth Vader and Volkswagen will forever be linked.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Overall, there were some interesting ads but far too many brands that made no real attempt to connect campaigns to any call to action. Gaining greater marketing value by campaigns leading up to the Super Bowl ads is a good start but advertisers need to establish a clear follow-up social media marketing strategy to continue the momentum online after the game is over.

From a marketing perspective, what were your favorites? Hits? Misses? And do you believe we will see better execution by the time Super Bowl 46 rolls around?


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