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How to Be an Expert People Trust – and Buy From

Fri, 05/25/2012 - 06:00

When it comes to business, credibility is crucial. People are more likely to pay attention, trust what you have to say, and – most importantly – buy from you when you're reputable. And while things like lots of good word of mouth and positive PR will help boost your credibility, they’re not always something you can control.

Building yourself as an expert in your profession, however, is something you can control. People look to experts to provide new perspectives and help solve their issues. Think about that CEO who has a regular column in a top magazine. Or the person who’s on stage at a conference giving a great presentation. They’re not doing it just for kicks; they’re doing it to establish expertise and credibility so that people, and potential customers, will remember them.

You can do the same; after all, no one knows your business better than you do. Why not show off that knowledge? Chances are, there are people who haven't experienced what you have, and would be interested in what you have to say. Here are a few ways to get started. 

 

1. Determine your topic of expertise – and stick to it

Think about what you can offer in the long term that will help your colleagues and customers. (Tip: It’s not your product or service; see No. 5.) If you own a catering business, you probably have tons of recipes and kitchen shortcuts to share. If you're a fitness trainer, you're the perfect source for people who want to know what works and what doesn't for getting fit. Now's the time to let everyone else know.

Consistency is key when you’re trying to establish yourself as an expert. Our friend Andy Sernovitz, for example, is a well-known thought leader and expert on marketing. He also loves bbq, but you won’t find him blogging away about grilling equipment on his website. Being focused on what you want to be known for makes it easy for people to remember who you are and where they’ve heard about you.

 

2. Stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest

It’s impossible to be an expert at anything if you aren’t aware of what’s going on in the world and in your business category. Keep up with the latest news, trends and issues affecting your industry and your customers. Carve 30 minutes out of your day, every day, to read the headlines. The more you know, the more opportunities you have to provide a perspective on something that's on everyone's radar.

 

3. Produce helpful, compelling content

Now that you’ve got a topic and interesting stuff to say, say it! An easy way to get your viewpoints and expertise out there is through your own blog. The key is to create new content regularly (at least weekly, preferably more often when you’re starting out). This helps create momentum and gives others a reason to check back regularly. Not to mention, all that fresh content is great for search engine optimization (SEO). Get the word out by teasing your blog posts using social media and email marketing. Inform all your colleagues, too, about your blogging efforts so they can share with their networks.

Once you’re in a writing routine, reach out and offer to write for other websites that post content relevant to your industry. This is a great way to get your expertise in front of new eyeballs and boost your authority. Just be sure the site is high quality (beware of content farms) and reaches the audience you want. Trade magazines, too, are often looking for contributors. Whether it's an online or offline publication, you usually can include a short author’s bio with a couple of sentences about who you are and your company, as well as a URL.

 

4. Apply for speaking engagements

Old-fashioned face-to-face is still very important when it comes to establishing expertise. Plus, with everyone live-tweeting and live-blogging these days, being a speaker or panelist is even more rewarding. Every industry has trade shows and conferences with presenters, panelists, workshops and more, and they usually issue a “call for speakers” four to five months before the event, depending on event size. (If there isn’t one, reach out to the event coordinator.) Start with smaller events to get your feet wet and gain some experience.

 

5. Don’t be self-promotional

Approaching this as a strategy to talk about how great your company is will get you nowhere fast – and ruin your credibility. You must be genuinely invested in helping your colleagues and customers. Whether it’s blogging or speaking, you need to provide real, ongoing value so that people will remember you. Once you’ve established that awareness, it’s much easier for them to choose you over the competition when they’re in the market for your product or service.

 

Becoming an industry leader won’t happen overnight, and it shouldn’t – building credibility and trust requires time. But if you’re committed, you should start seeing a positive difference in your reputation and in your business.

Who are the leaders in your industry, and what do they do to establish their expertise?

 

Posted by Connie Sung Moyle

Connie Sung Moyle is the Public Relations Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @sungmoyle.

 

 

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Not Just for Job Seekers - 3 Ways to Get More Out of LinkedIn

Thu, 05/24/2012 - 06:00

If you're like most Internet users out there, you probably think of LinkedIn as the world's largest career-oriented social network. With 161 million members and hundreds of thousands of job opportunities listed every year, this would indeed be an accurate description of the company. What you may not realize, though, is that LinkedIn can be far more than just a networking site for job seekers. In fact, for many professionals, it is arguably the premier social network for personal branding in a professional environment. Here are three easy ways to get LinkedIn to work for you:

 

1) Showcase Your Content

LinkedIn provides a great opportunity for you to share your content on the web. Aside from simply posting content as a status update, as you would on Facebook or Twitter, though, give your content an extra boost by using a few additional methods:

  • Post to Groups: LinkedIn Groups are a powerful way to interact with other professionals with similar interests as yourself. Join groups based on your industry and affiliations and post your original content to your groups' "Discussions" section. Ask for feedback and use your posts as a springboard for deeper conversations.

 

  • Link to Your Blog: Most major blogging platforms provide an application to display your most recent posts on LinkedIn. Go to the "Applications" section under the "More" tab on your LinkedIn profile, find the app provided by your blogging platform, install and you're done. Your profile will then automatically update whenever you have a new blog post.

 

  • Share Presentations: Create a SlideShare account to host your presentations and use the SlideShare for LinkedIn app to display them on your profile. SlideShare presentations also support YouTube videos, making them a great way to add video content to your LinkedIn page. Additionally, you can also use links in your presentations to drive traffic to conversion pages on your website.

 

2) Improve Your Personal SEO

Because of the way LinkedIn indexes its pages for search engines, it is the most powerful social network for search engine optimization. Do a web search for your name and company to see for yourself; LinkedIn profiles frequently appear in top search results. There are three key areas in your LinkedIn profile to focus on if you'd like to improve your SEO for people who might be searching for someone with your skill set: Headline, Summary, and Skills and Expertise. Make sure that the copy you use in all three of these places reflects the keywords people would use most often to discover you.


 

3) Highlight Your Expertise

LinkedIn Groups (mentioned above) are a great way to show off your expertise by participating in relevant discussions, but there is another LinkedIn service that is often overlooked and arguably an even better method: LinkedIn Answers. Set up in a familiar Q&A format, LinkedIn Answers represents an opportunity for you to provide value to people looking for specific information. In many cases, folks asking questions are right at the purchase consideration point of looking for products or services. This can be a sweet spot for you to be in if you're what they're looking for.

Regardless, answering questions relevant to your industry is also a fabulous way to establish credibility and thought-leadership in your industry. While providing valuable information to the inquiry should be your first line of business, don't be afraid to promote your offerings as well in the context of the answer. To find questions that you're most suited to answer, simply visit LinkedIn Answers and perform an advanced search for topics you can speak to.

 

This list is by no means exhaustive, but these actions are a good place to start when looking to get more out of your LinkedIn presence. For even more ideas on how to put together an awesome LinkedIn profile, check out our free recorded webinar, LinkedIn for your Business.

 

Posted by Ellery Long

Ellery Long is the Social Media Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter at @EL.

 

 

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5 Golden Rules to Creating a Significant Email Newsletter

Wed, 05/23/2012 - 06:00

Do you remember the theme song to The Golden Girls? Don’t hold back now, sing it with me: “Thank you for being a friend. Traveled down the road and back again. Your heart is true, you’re a pal and a confidant.” In the world of email marketing, guess who your customers’ pal and confidant is? Ding, ding! Your newsletter… and there’s research to prove it!

According to the Nielsen Norman Group's latest and extensive Email Newsletter Usability report (based on 270 email newsletters across 6 different countries), readers feel an emotional attachment to their email newsletters.

“Newsletters feel personal because they arrive in users' inboxes, and users have an ongoing relationship with them… The positive aspect of this emotional relationship is that newsletters can create much more of a bond between users and a company than a website can.” 

Did you read that? Newsletters create a bond. Cue Golden Girls theme song again. So how do we ensure we remain the Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia of newsletters to our readers? Follow these five steps and you’ll be golden: 


 

1. Be informative   

You might be rolling your eyes and scoffing, “well, duh,” but being informative and relevant is the end all/be all in the newsletter stratosphere. It’s also how we make friends (hint hint: girl/bro talk!). If your email looks like a newsletter and smells (?) like a newsletter, but isn’t valuable, educational and/or dripping with juicy new content, then you can’t call it a newsletter. So what do people consider valuable content?

According to the Nielsen Norman Group, more than 40% of users said that each of the following aspects make for valuable newsletters:

  • Informs of work-related news or company actions (mentioned by 2/3 of users)
  • Informs about personal interests/hobbies 
  • Informs about events/deadlines/important dates 
  • Reports prices/sales

Hungry Girl has an uber-informative daily newsletter (with more than 1 million subscribers!). If you love food, but you’re watching your weight, she’s got the know-how on just about everything including newly released low fat/cal sweets, eats & recipes. Starting out with an email newsletter in 2004, Hungry Girl today has exploded into NY Times Bestseller book deals, a Food Network TV show, and features on The Rachel Ray Show, Good Morning America and more. Looks like having an informative newsletter is nothing to scoff at! 

 

2. Lose the (sales) hype

People like to be informed of sales, but it shouldn’t be your main focus in a newsletter - that’s what promo-specific emails are for. To the contrary, your newsletter is a trusted friend being let into your reader’s home/inbox. If someone lets you into their home and you instantly transform into a pushy salesman with a pitch, they’re going to think twice about opening the door for you (i.e., opening your newsletter) again. If you want to promote a sale or a product in your newsletter, do so like a friend would: “Did you know they’re having a friends and family sale at Gap until Sunday? Let’s go!” and leave it at that.


3. Keep it brief & aim for a click 

Guess how long the average person spends reading a newsletter? Hours, perhaps? That’s flattering, but in reality: 51 seconds! Don’t let that get you down though. We live in scan-to-survive times because attention spans are spread thin. Keeping your content scannable with content blocks, brief blurbs, snapshots, takeaways and/or bullet points will give your readers’ eyes a scanning sigh of relief. But remember, friendship is give and take, and you deserve something too! Satisfy your readers just enough, but leave them eager to learn more via a click. Lead readers back to your site/blog/social media network for more info. The point of a newsletter isn’t to make a sale, it’s to build a relationship with your audience, to inform/educate, and snag some clicks... which, with any luck, will eventually lead to a sale.

“Newsletters need to be smooth and easy: they must be seen to reduce the burdens of modern life. Even if free, the cost in e-mail clutter must be paid for by being helpful and relevant to users - and by communicating these benefits in a few characters in the subject line.” - Nielsen Norman Group

Save the Waves Coalition (a VerticalResponse non-profit customer!) does an excellent job of breaking up their content into brief content blocks with additional links for more information:



4. Be reliable and consistent 

Don’t you just hate flaky friends? I mean, you love them, but they’re unreliable, unpredictable, and the more they flake, the less likely you look to them for friendship. The same goes for your newsletter. If you tell readers to look for your newsletter each week, you better be there, because oh, they’re expecting it! Pick a frequency, whether it be daily, weekly, monthly, etc. and stick to it. Make sure to tell readers on your opt-in form just how often they can expect to hear from you – some people don’t like surprises, last minute drop ins and/or no shows.

“69% of users said that they look forward to receiving at least one newsletter, and most users said a newsletter had become part of their routine. Very few other promotional efforts can claim this degree of customer buy-in.” - Nielsen Norman Group


5. Let them opt-out easily

Breaking up is rough, but would you rather someone break up with you calmly, or unknowingly throw you under a bus? A person unsubscribing from your newsletter is just a fact of life, and it’s nothing to take personally. However, the harder you make it for someone to unsubscribe, the easier it allows them to click that seemingly insignificant “spam” button, and BAM! under the bus you go. Let your readers go easily if they so desire (they can always come back!) and make your unsubscribe link easy to find. Otherwise, sitting in a spam box will only cause your delivery, open, click through, etc. rates to go down.


Creating a personable, presentable and significant email newsletter takes work, but it creates a friendship with your customers that most marketing strategies can't. Follow these five golden rules, and your customers will “thank you for being a friend.” 

  • Also, did you that know that we’ve done a lot of the newsletter design work for you? Check out our newsletter templates (page 3) in your VerticalResponse account.

 

Posted by Colleen Corkery

Colleen Corkery is a Lifecycle Marketing Coordinator at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @youcollme.

 


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How Mobile is Your Marketing? 4 Tactics to Try Today

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 06:00
Go Mobile with Your Marketing

We’ve come a long way since the first mobile phone call was made in 1973. Back then, the mobile phone weighed a hefty 2 pounds and cost nearly $4K! Fast-forward to 2012 and 70% of the world’s population has a mobile phone. That’s more than 5 billion mobile subscribers, and in the US, that's 9 out of 10 people!

Mobile phones are a way of life that enable us to communicate and interact with each other in real-time. Does this change the way you market your business? It should. Here are 4 tactics to try to connect with customers in ways you never dreamed possible:


1. Create a mobile site
About a year ago we launched a mobile version of our website to capitalize on the roughly 69% of consumers that are using their smartphones for Internet access. This way, when someone is searching for our site on a smartphone, they're presented a mobile-optimized version of our website that is streamlined for mobile usage. We include a call-to-action to sign up for an account to capture any new customers that may be browsing for an email service provider, and we’ve had thousands of signups as a result. Not bad considering these folks might not've signed up otherwise. A little effort can go a long way. And, while slightly less than 5% of our overall traffic is coming from mobile users, we know this is an important channel that will continue to grow.

 

2. Get Listed
Is your business listed on a mobile directory? Say what, you ask? Yes, that’s right, there are directories specifically for mobile search and if your business isn't listed, you may be missing out on valuable opportunities. Some of these listings and directories include Google Places Mobile, AroundMe and Yahoo! Local Mobile. When someone is searching on a mobile device, it'll recognize where the user is and will deliver search results based on that location. Get your business listed and capture the potential of mobile search.



3. Click to Call
If you’re sending out emails to promote your business, good for you. We’re big fans at VerticalResponse because that’s what we do! We’ve penned a ton of blogs with tips for designing your emails for mobile devices which is a must-do. Heck, we've even written an entire guide about it. But, have you thought about simply including a "click to call" link in your emails? It's a powerful “touch” because with a single click, the recipient can immediately be connected to your business. Quick, simple and effective.



4. Get Social
Social networking websites like Foursquare and Facebook Places use the smartphone's GPS to enable users to “check in” at different locations around their neighborhood, or around the world. If you haven’t already, set up your business page on these sites and others like them so customers can actively engage with your business and help spread the word when they post their check-in to their social networks. Then, their friends will see the check-in and see your business. It's simple word of mouth marketing, without the mouth.

 

There you have it. 4 things to take action on with your marketing to get mobile-friendly. Let me know how it works for you!

*Stats via Digital Buzz & Google

 

Posted by Kim Stiglitz

Kim Stiglitz is the Director of Lifecycle Marketing at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @Stiggy1.

To Personalize or Not to Personalize - Which Drives the Best Results?

Mon, 05/21/2012 - 06:00

There’s been a lot of back and forth regarding the use of personalization in email. Many argue personalization (in the subject line for example) can leave your emails feeling spam-like and generate negative results when it comes to open and click rates. Others swear by personalization, claiming it increases clicks and engagement. What’s the verdict? Like most things in life, there is no right answer. Testing your email to find what works best with your audience is key. See below for tips on using personalization in email and determining which method of personalization works best for your business.


Personalize with a purpose – Including personalization for the sake of attaining an extra open or click will get you just that…an extra open or click. To truly engage recipients, include personalization to address a subscriber's preferences and needs. Use the data you have on purchase history, demographics, location or customer status to personalize messages and give a more intimate and tailored feel. For example, a winery may include the name of a particular Sauvignon Blanc a customer has purchased paired with suggestions of similar flavors; or an airline may include a merge field for the number of frequent flyer miles each recipient has earned along with suggested travel locations.


Example of Loyalty Points Personalization

 

Use the appropriate salutation – Including a recipient’s name in the introduction or greeting of an email is one of the most common forms of personalization. The salutation one selects to pair with the first name can determine whether your email sounds causual or more formal. A simple “Hello, {First Name}” or “Hi, {First Name}” is appropriate in most communications (remember to include a default such as "Valued Customer" in case your list or data is missing the first name for one or more list members). It can be especially important in B-to-B, or more formal communications to include the first name merge in your greeting. It'll appear professional and will make recipients feel as if they're reading a message that was composed for them specifically.


Example of Frist Name Personalization and Default Value

 

Get creative with your data – Think outside the box and get your recipients’ attention by using crafty personalization tactics. Your customers will be more likely to engage with an email they notice, will appreciate your effort and your business will appear clever, timely and relevant. This subject line from last Valentine’s Day, "The clock is ticking! Send Rebecca a Valentine's Day Bouquet" merged in the name of a recipient's loved one - a great example of using personalization wisely.  


Example of Personalization in the Subject Line

 

Not sure whether or not you should personalize or which salutation will get your recipients to respond? Perform a split test and  send one email with personalized information and one email without. Testing is the best way to determine what will give you the best results. It really comes down to whether or not the information you include in your email is relevant, interesting, and useful. Once recipients find your content engaging, they'll continue to open your emails and interact with what's inside.


Posted by Savannah Stewart

Savannah Stewart is a Lifecycle Marketing Coordinator at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @savannahstewart.

 


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Thinking about Launching an Online Contest? Read This First

Fri, 05/18/2012 - 06:00

It used to be that you literally had to throw your name into a hat for a chance to win something. Now that online promotions are the norm, you have more tools than ever to create a cool, engaging contest to excite your audience and build your brand. Just recently, the VerticalResponse Next Teen Tycoon video contest came to an end and we wanted to share what we learned (some of it the hard way!).

If you’re thinking about launching a contest of your own, these eight tips will start you off on the right track.

1. Set your goals

Just like any marketing campaign, you need to establish what you want to get out of the contest before you get into anything else. Is it more Facebook fans? Traffic to your website? Press coverage? Set specific metrics you want to accomplish at the end of the contest, whether it’s an X percent increase in fans or traffic, or X number of stories and articles written about the contest. Then develop your promotion, user interaction flow and follow-up based on those goals.

 

2. Know the laws

This isn't a whole lot of fun, but the most important. There are different laws and regulations for different types of promotions (sweepstakes versus giveaways, for example), and they can vary by state, too. We strongly advise having a lawyer or legal expert review your official contest rules. Check out Social Media Examiner’s great post on online promotions and the law.

Additionally, if you’re using Facebook or another third-party platform to host your contest, they may have their own set of guidelines. For example, promotions on Facebook must be administered within Facebook Apps. Here are the latest Facebook Page rules, including promotions.

 

3. Make it easy to enter

It makes sense: The more hoops people have to go through to enter a contest, the less likely they’ll do it. It’s best not to require participants to do something complicated unless the potential payoff is in line with the large amount of effort. Sweepstakes have the lowest barrier to entry, since all you need to do is throw your name and email address into the bucket. With giveaways, a prize that’s exclusive or in limited supply will attract more interest than just something off the shelf. Video contests, with all the preparation and equipment needed, tend to draw fewer (but more engaged) entrants.


4. Give ’em something worth their efforts

When was the last time you entered a drawing for a free pack of gum? Yeah, I can’t remember either. I’m not saying the prize needs to be worth X amount of dollars, but it should feel special. Some of the most creative online promotions are memorable and successful because they speak directly to their audience’s interests. Side note: Having multiple, tiered prizes makes people think they have a greater chance of winning, something to think about.


5. Consider an online promotions app

The idea for your contest might be a simple one, but the technical aspects of running it – tracking, sniffing out fraud, measuring success, etc. – might be beyond your in-house abilities, especially if it turns into a wildly popular contest. We used Wildfire Interactive to help manage our Next Teen Tycoon contest and that decision ultimately saved the team a ton of time; their prices are small biz-friendly too, starting at $5 per promotion plus $0.99 per day of the contest.

 

6. Be prepared for fraud

You’ll be surprised at how “creative” people can get to try to game the system – especially if there’s a big prize up for grabs. Sites like Fiverr.com and FansGalore.net make it super simple for someone to buy votes, likes, fans, views, etc. We’ve also seen people on forums trading points, virtual gifts and other types of currency for votes (we learned this the hard way). Not cool.

What to do? First and foremost, include a clause in your contest rules that states you have the right to disqualify a contestant at any time for any reason. Once the contest is launched, monitor things closely. If someone gets a big, sudden spike in votes, strange comments/commenters, email addresses or social media accounts that don’t seem real, you’ll need to put on your detective hat. This is when a third-party app vendor comes in handy: They can provide vote logs, IP addresses and other information you might not have easy access to otherwise.


7. Partner up

Reach out to other companies, individuals and organizations that might be interested in supporting your contest so you can leverage their clout and willingness to spread the word. You’ll be surprised at how willing folks are to help, especially if your contest is tied to a feel-good cause. Being associated with well-known organizations boosts your contest’s credibility, too!

For example, with our Next Teen Tycoon contest we partnered with respected groups like TEDxTeen, The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and Teens in Tech. They promoted our contest like crazy to their own networks because we were looking to help teen entrepreneurs, and teen entrepreneurs are their audience. Even big companies like Dell and Inc. Magazine hopped on board because they wanted to be associated with a program that promotes entrepreneurship and small business.


8. Get ready to shout from the rooftops

Just because you built it doesn’t mean they will come. Create a link or badge for your website’s home page directing visitors to wherever your contest is hosted. Once it’s launched, mention it regularly on social media (don’t forget to create a unique #hashtag for Twitter). Send out a dedicated email marketing campaign or two. Ask your employees to include a link to the contest in their email signatures. And don’t forget to remind your partners to let their peeps know!

If your contest involves a semi-finalist or finalist round, those who advance will likely be super motivated to get their followers to help them win. Make it easier for them by creating badges that they can post to their websites or blogs, and provide suggested copy (with link, of course) for their social media posts and tweets. Don’t forget to include a clear call-to-action so their followers know what to do.

Running an online contest or promotion takes time, effort and a leap of faith in your audience, but the results can be well worth it, if done right. Have any cool contests come across your radar lately? 

 

Posted by Connie Sung Moyle

Connie Sung Moyle is the Public Relations Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @sungmoyle.

 

 

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Small Biz Social Secrets - Episode 2: Wesley Faulkner [VIDEO]

Thu, 05/17/2012 - 06:00

We are back for our second installment of Small Biz Social Secrets. This time around we had the distict pleasure of sharing a few moments with Wesley Faulkner, Digital Strategist at Snoball. Wesley shares background on how Cause Marketing can get your business involved in your community.  

 

Posted by Derek Overbey

Derek Overbey is the Senior Social Media Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter at @doverbey.

 

 

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How to Get Your Customers to Grow Your Business for You

Wed, 05/16/2012 - 06:00

This article by VerticalResponse CEO and founder Janine Popick originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

If you're running a successful business by your standards, then good for you. But I'm going to drop this bomb: It could be better by leaps and bounds just by asking your customers the simple question, "How did you hear about us?"

You might think I'm nuts saying you could grow your business that much with word-of-mouth, but I'm not.

We tested this out at my online marketing company, VerticalResponse. Any small business can sign up for our service by providing a few pieces of information to get a free account automatically set up. But for this test (which we ran for about six months), we included a drop down menu on the sign-up page that asked, "How did you hear about us?" In the menu, there were answers like "article," "online ad" and "search engine," but the No. 1 way people heard about us was simply, "friend."

Now, I thought my team members had gone off the deep end telling me that many of our new customers probably came from existing customers. We even had the drop down menu dynamically display these answers in random order so people weren't just choosing the first one on the list. And still, the number one answer was, "friend."

To take it one step further, 50 percent of all people who came directly to our website to sign up for our service cited "friend" when asked how they heard about us.

That's pretty powerful stuff. I'm sure that our business isn't that much different from yours in terms of how people get their information and make a decision.

So what can you do right now? 

  • Ask the question on your website. Do it directly to your customers and at your location. Look at trends to see if anything changes. You might find that positive changes you make to your business have an up-and-to-the-right effect when it comes to referrals.

  • Start a refer-a-friend program. A few of your customers might not mind getting rewarded for the referrals they bring you; some might just like to be your advocate.

  • Crank up your remarkableness. Since you're probably already doing some really great things for your customers to refer you, do even more really great things that are worth talking about. Stay open later, have proactive chats on your website, get to know your customers better by using a contact management software program, and engage with them directly through social networks.

  • Listen to your customers. If your customers are telling you they want you to change specific things about your business and you take their ideas and put them to work, great! Tell them they've been heard in an email, on Facebook and Twitter.

The bottom line is that spending money on advertising alone just doesn't work anymore. You are not the proud owner of your brand; your customers are. Listen to them and do whatever you can to make them happy, and watch your business grow – by leaps and bounds.

 

Posted by Janine Popick

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @janinepopick, and check out more of her Huffington Post columns.

 

 

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7 Free Apps That Will Make Life Better

Tue, 05/15/2012 - 06:00
This article by VerticalResponse CEO and founder Janine Popick originally appeared on Inc.com.

Who doesn’t like the word free? I know I sure do. The great thing about being an entrepreneur these days is the huge variety of free or low-cost online business tools out there to help keep everything organized and your company running smoothly. It seems like every day I hear or read about a shiny new app or service promising to save me time and money. It’s hard to resist saying, “Sign me up!” … Especially if it’s free.

Here are seven free (or next to free) business tools that I can’t live without:

Animoto: We’ve all heard how video can increase engagement with customers and attract more eyeballs than just text and pictures alone. But getting a video produced can be pretty expensive. About a year ago, I needed to create a quick video for an employee get-together. I hopped onto Animoto, uploaded a bunch of employee photos, selected a music track from my library and voila! Everyone loved it, and I didn’t need any fancy video editing software. Cost: Tiered pricing, beginning at free

UserVoice: With UserVoice, small businesses can quickly set up a feedback forum and/or helpdesk where customers can submit (and you can track) customer support tickets. This is especially useful if you aren’t at a point in your business where you can have a customer support team or call center. You want your customers to air their concerns in a place you have complete access and control over, versus a third-party forum, as much as you can. Cost: Tiered pricing, beginning at free

Roost: Full disclosure: My company, VerticalResponse, recently acquired Roost … largely because it has a strong reputation for being a super easy social media marketing tool for small businesses. With Roost, you can view and schedule your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn posts in advance. It also provides suggested content, like news articles and quotes, based on your industry and interests – so you don’t have to waste time searching. Cost: Free

Evernote: I admit, until January of this year I was one of those people who still jotted down notes and ideas on paper. One of my resolutions for 2012 was to organize all my thoughts via Evernote, and now I’m addicted. I have it open all the time on my computer, and the iPhone mobile app is a breeze to use whenever I’m on the road and see or think of something I want to follow up on later. Side benefit: I can clip recipes from the Web and have the ingredients list on my iPhone when I’m at the store. Cost: Free for basic version

Join.me: Virtual meeting providers like WebEx and GoToMeeting certainly offer lots of bells and whistles (with price points that show it), but there are others out there that offer similar features – for the cool price of free. With Join.me, viewers just have to type in your code onto the Join.me home page for instant access to your screen, no app for them to download required. Cost: Free for basic version

Instagram and Postagram: Think Instagram is just for hipsters? Think again. The ability for someone to follow, comment or share photos in your Instagram gallery is another way for people to engage with your content – especially if Instagram’s artsy aesthetic reflects your brand. And with Postagram, you can send those cool photos in postcard form – a blend of old-school and new, and another great opportunity to get in front of customers in a pleasantly surprising way. Cost: Free for Instagram, 99 cents per Postagram postcard

Granted, there are countless tools that I’ve tried out and for various reasons, and they just keep comin’. Just like a good pair of jeans, you might need to do some shopping around to find the ones that truly are a great fit for you.

What business tools are in your everyday arsenal, and how have they improved your life?

 

Posted by Janine Popick

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @janinepopick, and check out more of her Inc.com columns.

 

 

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Don't be Afraid of the Dark, er, Video

Mon, 05/14/2012 - 06:00

Using videos in your email can be great for engagement; including them can help you achieve higher clickthrough rates and help keep your recipients opening your emails. This might sound complicated (or even frightening) to you technophobes out there, but videos don't have to be like a scary B-movie. Here are some Dos and Don'ts to get you using videos with ease:

Host your video with a reputable company. Once you've created your video you'll need to host it somewhere that's public so that others can see it. There are lots of options out there, but a few ideas are YouTube, Vimeo, or Viddler. Any of these companies will host your video, provide embed code (for your website) and a URL to where the video is hosted. You'll need this URL for your emails.

Use the embed code provided by the hosting company in your email. This type of code is what you'll need if you want to post the video on your website or blog. But most email service providers (ESPs) will either find the code too big or won't be able to read it, so the video will not show up in your email.

Take a screenshot of your video, preferably with the 'Play' button placed on the image. The more it looks like a video, the easier it will be for your recipients to know what they need to do. Use this screenshot as you would any image in your email, and once you've placed it in your email, use the URL of where you hosted your video to link your image. The example below shows you how your video will look in your email: just like an image, but the 'Play' button makes all the difference.



Forget alt text! Including alternative text essentially provides you with backup in case a recipient cannot initially see your images because their ESP is blocking them. Just like any image in your email, alt text can help encourage your recipients to turn on the images, and in this case, watch your video.

 

There you have it, easy tips to using videos in your email, nothing to be afraid of at all!

 

Posted by Jill Bastian.

Jill Bastian is the Training and Education Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter @Jillieb3.

 

 

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We Want You! Call for Customer Submissions

Fri, 05/11/2012 - 06:00

If you're a frequent reader of this blog, you may have noticed some new recurring features over the last few weeks. In VerticalResponse Customers We Admire, we take a look at VR customers who are getting it right when it comes to their email, event, and social media marketing. With our The Results are in! series, we take a look at the (sometimes surprising) discoveries we make when conducting split tests.

We have a lot of fun writing these posts and hope that you're finding some value in learning how other marketers are honing their craft - but we can't do it alone. So that's where you come in! At VerticalResponse, we know that our customers are the reason we get to do what we do, so we want to double down on our efforts to publicize the best of you. Here's what we're looking for:

  1. Great email, event, and social media marketing examples. Have an email campaign, event, or social media effort that you're particularly proud of and want to be considered for our Customers We Admire series? We'd love to see it! These posts are open-ended in regards to content types (the only requirement is that you must be a VerticalResponse customer), so send us your campaigns!
  2. Real-world testing examples. If you've conducted any split tests with your emails, website, or social media marketing, you could be featured in our next installment of The Results are in! Send us a description of the test methodology, the results of the test, and any supporting artwork or screenshots to help tell the story.

If you'd like to submit your company's work to be considered for either or both of these features, please send an email to the VerticalResponse blog team at social[at]verticalresponse[dot]com.

 

Posted by Ellery Long

Ellery Long is the Social Media Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter at @EL.

VerticalResponse Customers We Admire - Long Realty Takes Social Seriously

Wed, 05/09/2012 - 06:00


Many companies across the globe claim to be social. They have a Facebook Page, a Twitter account and they’ve even jumped into Pinterest with both feet. But does all this effort really make a company social?

In today’s crowded social business environment, just having a presence is not enough…you have to walk the walk. Many of the world’s largest brands are taking the bull by the horns and dedicating serious resources to their social efforts, but a major portion of small and medium businesses seem to be getting lost in the shuffle when it comes to the approach and execution of their social strategy. And this is even more prevalent when we talk about independent contractor businesses such as real estate. Some companies, though, are really getting it right when it comes to execution, and one of them just happens to be a Roost by VerticalResponse customer.

Located in Tucson, AZ, Long Realty is not some Silicon Valley startup that has a culture built on technology and social media. It’s a traditional real estate brokerage that’s been in business since 1926. Taking a look at their social strategy rollout, you’ll see why they are experiencing success with their efforts. 

Unlike most businesses that have employees, Long Realty has independent contractors (non-employees), which makes technology implementations even more challenging. That didn’t intimidate Kevin Kaplan, Vice President of Marketing and Technology though, when it came time to implement Long Realty’s social strategy. Kevin knows that people need education and training to tackle new technology and his approach to social media didn’t vary from that belief. Kevin devised a plan to educate the 1,300+ sales associates across 37 office locations.

Kevin first started by educating himself and his staff. In regards to the Roost by VerticalResponse product, Kevin arranged for me to do a deep-dive training on the Campaign Creator because he was confident it would be an asset to the social efforts of his sales associates and company. He also wanted his training staff to understand the product inside out so they could do a training road show.

Kevin then visited the offices and met the sales associates directly to train them on how the Campaign Creator social product could help them in their social media efforts. Beyond just providing a tool that would help save his sales associates time, Kevin understood that if he could get a percentage of his agents using the product on a consistent basis, it could have positive implications for the company as a whole.

Due in large part to Kevin’s approach of very specific training and education, his company has the largest percentage of consistent users of our social product of any company that we’ve worked with so far.

So what does Kevin’s approach show us? Whether you’re talking about a large real estate brokerage or a small five-person boutique, education and training is key when implementing any social program. From Kevin’s approach to getting all his sales associates comfortable with using a social publishing platform, to getting your staff comfortable with interacting with your Facebook Page, if you take the time to properly educate and train your associates on proper social strategies, only good things can happen.

 

Posted by Derek Overbey

Derek Overbey is the Senior Social Media Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter at @doverbey.

 

 

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Tap into Kooky Holidays to Engage Your Readers

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 06:00

We’re all aware of the usual national holidays and most of us seize the opportunity to send out holiday related email campaigns or blog posts such as this one. But are you aware of all the random, specialized holidays that you could use for your marketing? If you're in a niche industry, these holidays might be right up your alley. Even if you're not, it's a great way to add a little quirky personality to your brand. And by capitalizing on a lesser-known holiday you can stand out in your subscribers' inboxes.

Check out these upcoming holidays to get your creativity flowing:

 

MAY

National Teacher Day – May 8

Dance Like a Chicken Day - May 14

National Chocolate Chip Day – May 15

National Sea Monkey Day - May 16

Artichoke Day – May 19-20

National Waiters and Waitresses Day - May 21

Tap Dance Day - May 25

Learn About Composting Day - May 29

 

JUNE

Hug Your Cat Day - June 4

World Environment Day - June 5

National Yo-Yo Day - June 6

Iced Tea Day - June 10

Red Rose Day - June 12

Go Fishing Day - June 18

Paul Bunyan Day - June 28

 

JULY

Chocolate Day - July 7

Pecan Pie Day - July 12

Cow Appreciation Day - July 15

National Hot Dog Day - July 23

 

Now that you've seen just a few examples, do your own online search and see what kind of lesser-known holidays you can tap into for your business!

 

Posted by Kim Stiglitz

Kim Stiglitz is the Director of Lifecycle Marketing at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @Stiggy1.

 

 

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The Results Are in! Takeaways from VR Email Tests: Offer Edition

Mon, 05/07/2012 - 06:00

We've given you quite a few ideas lately on the different components of your email campaigns that you could test (CTAs, Personalization, etc.), but had yet to give you any tips on how to could mix up your copy/content itself to generate better results. Time to remedy that!

 

Tale of the Tape

We run sales promotions on a regular basis here at VerticalResponse, but it's proven tricky to find customers' sweet spot in terms of which offer can be most appealing to them, leading them to pull the trigger in making a purchase. 

Looking back at historical data, we discovered, somewhat surprisingly, that two very different offers had been most successful so far: we'll call them A and B, with A presenting a lower barrier to entry and B being on the higher end of the spectrum but offering a higher reward. For example, offer A would be "buy one, get one free," while B would be something like "buy $100 worth of supplies, and get a year's worth of free service." We had also run varying offers in-between, but for some reason people seemed to respond better to these extremes.

 

And the Winner is...

We chose to conduct an A/B test and to do so, split our mailing list into two segments: one that would be receiving offer A and the other offer B. Groups with offers A and B were sent 2 waves of emails, the first to announce the sale and the second as a reminder about a week later, shortly before the sale ended. The from label, subject line, pre-header text and imagery didn't present any huge variation save for the offer amount (obviously). Here are the combined results:

- Offer A: 8,456 recipients, 9.69% open rate, 0.36% CTR, 10 conversions, $334.61 revenue

- Offer B: 8,627 recipients, 10.21% open rate, 0.34% CTR, 6 conversions, $104.55 revenue

So while the email stats were quasi similar, we can see that offer A generated almost twice the number of conversions and over triple the purchase amount than offer B, despite the lower dollar amount. Version A by knockout!

 

Takeaways

We can see that offer A was more attractive than offer B for this particular audience, which seems logical given its lower barrier to entry. What's more surprising though is how it managed to generate such a higher purchase amount especially given the gap between both offers, and how it led customers to purchase in higher quantities even than what B was offering. 

As always, further fine-tuning will be required. For instance, we could take a look at whether these results apply to all channels, the possible impact of seasonality, the age of the accounts that purchased, etc.

 

What have you been testing lately?

 

Posted by My Truong

My Truong is the Marketing Programs Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter @PtitMy.

 

 

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Effective Tests We Should All be Conducting - But Probably Aren't!

Fri, 05/04/2012 - 06:00

Image Property of MGM

Imagine that Dorothy, Tin Man and Scarecrow are sitting in on your next email or website marketing meeting. “I don’t like this website, it’s dark and creepy!” exclaims Dorothy, “Do you think we’ll see any wild testing strategies?”  “Some,” says Scarecrow, “but mostly buttons, copy and layout.” “Buttons!” screams Dorothy, “and copy!” yelps Scarecrow, “and layout!” exclaims Tin Man. “Buttons and copy and layout! Oh …not again!”

Wizard of Oz analogy aside, testing aspects like buttons, copy and the layout of your website and/or email is wicked important, but since we’re not in Kansas anymore (disclaimer: Some of you may be in Kansas), there are numerous other tests you may never have thought of that could drastically improve conversion, click-throughs, revenue and lead generation.

Now, not all of us have the time or resources to build intricate multi-page testing campaigns, but we do need to break out of the norm. There are hidden (and easy) testing gems all over your website or email just itching to be picked apart. I recently attended the Which Test Won? Advanced Testing Workshop, and soaked up some invaluable tests we should all be conducting, but probably aren't. Here are the details, let’s not disappoint Dorothy:


To view the following examples/screenshots and more, visit WhichTestWon.com. In-depth details may reqiure registration.


Mobile Site

According to presenters at the Advanced Testing Workshop, 95.6 million Americans check email on their mobile phones, and 61% of customers who visit mobile unfriendly sites are more likely to go to a competitor’s site. Having a mobile site is undoubtedly vital, but test it and you could be a winner, just like Vegas.com.

Vegas.com conducted a mobile site test in which they overly simplified one version, and left all aspects of their regular site intact.  Sure enough, the simplified site (easy for finger tapping too) resulted in a 16% lift in page views, a 14% lift in hotel searches, and a 22% reduction in bounce rate.

Try testing your own mobile site by simplifying or intensifying the amount of information you include, see what works best for your audience. Give the option to remain on the mobile version or switch over to desktop.

 

Fine Print

You may think that no one reads the fine print, but Hallmark, the greeting card leader, quickly discovered that tiny print packs a fine revenue generating punch.

Hallmark tested the wording of their fine print using the terms “About shipping & mailing” vs. “Delivery details & shipping costs.” After a conclusive test, they found out that “Delivery details & shipping costs” increased their click-through rate by 14% and their revenue per visitor by 18%. Fine print for the win!

Try switching up your own fine print, whether it's the wording, length, placement, link, or existence at all (unless it’s required).


 

 Privacy Policy

They say the “Facebook generation” has zero fear when it comes to handing out their contact information for just about anything, however, this important aspect shouldn’t be overlooked. Westwood College conducted a test in which they included or excluded a privacy policy statement (also in fine print) under their lead generation sign-up form. The privacy policy simply stated, “Westwood College respects your privacy and will not misuse or sell your personal information.” Can you guess, “Which test won?” The lead gen form including the privacy policy statement generated 19.1% more leads.

Try including a privacy policy statement on your email, newsletter, or lead generation forms. Including customer reviews or statements could also be a reassuring safety indicator for some. A consumer knowing their information is safe in your hands could place more revenue in your hands too.

 

 

Search Box

A search box, is a search box, is a search box, right? Though you may think that a search box is a universal given, making slight changes to it could do wonders. Dell, the computer corporation, tested theirs by displaying a plain box with a “search” button on the side vs. including the word “search” within the box alongside a magnifying glass. Sure enough, the plain box with a “search” button increased revenue per visitor by 6.3%. Who knew?

Change up your own search box by including or excluding a button or magnifying glass. Change the placement of the search box, or try pre-determined search options vs. manual typing.

 

 

Overlay

You know how certain sites may gray out the page aside from one particular pop-up they want you to focus on? That’s an overlay. iRobot, a company that sells “home cleaning robots” (as if their products didn’t already sell themselves!) conducted an overlay test. Here, they left one page alone; on the other they created an overlay with a popup including information about their upgrade program (with discounted robots!). Sure enough, the overlay created an 18% lift in average order value and a 17% lift in revenue per session.

Try playing with the use of an overlay - Test your page with or without it, the size of it, the gradient, and the timing of when it pops up or disappears. See if it reduces friction and directs customers to your main call-to-action, or if it just annoys them. 

 

 

This equates to just a handful of the seemingly unobvious, but super important tests that we should all consider conducting. Continue testing your buttons, copy, and layout, but remember that there are other testing aspects which could deliver you down that yellow brick road to gold.


Posted by: Colleen Corkery

Colleen Corkery is a Lifecycle Marketing Coordinator at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @youcollme.

 

 

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VerticalResponse Customers We Admire - How Lotus Bakeries Got it Right for Mother's Day

Thu, 05/03/2012 - 06:00

"VerticalResponse Customers We Admire" is a new series where we highlight a customer and the things they're doing right with their marketing. Below, we discuss a Mother's Day email from Lotus Bakeries, including key lessons and take-aways.

When I was a physical education teacher, one of the first things I quickly learned was that if you constantly tell students what not to do ("Don't talk while I'm talking," "Don't be late for class," "Don't touch your classmates," "Don't swear") they won't actually know what to do. Instead, teaching with examples of what to do instead ("Do raise your hand to speak," "Be on time for class," "Keep your hands to yourself," "Use positive language") is a much more effective method. One of the quickest ways to learn, is when someone leads with positive reinforcement and by example. Many of us know what not to do when it comes to creating our emails. But what's the recipe for creating a successful email? Below is an example of email done right (and by a VerticalResponse customer too!). Check it out and maybe you'll pick up a thing or two to complement what you're already doing with your own rockin' emails!

Lotus Bakeries has been a VerticalResponse customer since 2010. They're headquartered in Belgium and have been focusing on authentic specialties from the biscuit and cake world for over 80 years. According to their website, Lotus' specialties include caramelized biscuits (speculoos), gingerbread, cake specialties, waffles, and pepparkakor biscuits produced in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Sweden. The company is founded and owned by Boone family members who have turned a once-small enterprise into a world-renowned business by honoring a tradition of craftsmanship and personal service.

In this aesthetically pleasing, seasonally relevant email below, Lotus' purpose is clear: to drive recipients to place orders by Mother's Day. They lead readers down a path to purchase with a few distinct strategies. Lotus offers three value propositions or incentives to address the concerns most individuals consider when placing an order online: price, delivery and quality. 

1. Price - Offering free shipping on orders over $50 not only makes people feel like they are getting a deal and saving money, but it also encourages them to place larger orders. Free shipping is always a great incentive to offer, especially on holiday promotions when people are likely to ship gifts/incur unexpected expenses, and are looking to save a few dollars in the process. In addition, placing a purchase threshold to get free shipping is an effective strategy to drive revenue and higher total purchase amounts.

2. Delivery - Giving information about the last day to order to ensure delivery for Mother's Day implies Lotus is both well aware of the Mother's Day deadline and cognizant of the importance of meeting the delivery date. They also provide a sense of urgency here by including the date in which the promotion ends, as well as the last day to order in time for delivery on Mother's Day. Including incentives to order early and calling attention to promotion deadlines encourages recipients to make purchases right away rather than wait, forget to order, or take a competitor's offer.

3. Quality - Highlighting that orders are made risk-free and with 100% satisfaction guarantee not only calls attention to the quality of Lotus' products, but also to the reliability of their service. Including the 100% satisfaction guarantee removes the risk and fear (yes fear, no one wants a phone call from an empty-handed mom on Mother's Day) associated with placing an online order. The statement confirms a confidence in their ability to deliver fresh, quality goods on time. Including customer testimonials as well as satisfaction and money-back guarantees are effective methods for providing evidence and support of your company's excellent service.

Final Take-Away - Think from your customers' perspective to acknowledge common concerns or barriers they may face when doing business with your company. Lotus called upon many barriers consumers face when doing online shopping and addressed them in a visually pleasing and timely email to instill a sense of confidence in their ability to deliver affordable, quality goods on time.

 

Posted by Savannah Stewart

Savannah Stewart is a Lifecycle Marketing Coordinator at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @savannahstewart.

 

 

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How to Get Executive Buy-in for a Testing Program at Your Company

Wed, 05/02/2012 - 06:00

As you know, VerticalResponse takes testing very seriously. While we personally make an effort to dissect each and every facet of our emails in order to optimize the effectiveness of our campaigns (be it CTAs or Personalization), we also realize that lack of time and resources or other seemingly more lucrative priorities can be major roadblocks for others. As marketers, we all know testing is important, however not everyone in your company may agree (and/or don't want to be bothered by it).

Colleen and I recently attended an advanced training workshop organized by the good folks over at Which Test Won?, presented by chief evangelist Justin Rondeau. We learned a few tips on how to bring testing to the forefront of your company's marketing strategy, and noticed that this was a touchy subject for a lot of people in the room, as most of them were faced with this very problem in their respective organizations. So here are some of the key strategies that were presented. If you've had some issues yourself getting any testing off the ground, hopefully these will prove useful.

 

1. Get Executive Leadership Onboard

Of course, your first order of business should be to convince the people who are going to pay for your venture (and your bills on a regular basis) of the benefits of running with your testing proposal. There are 4 very simple steps to getting your execs' approval:

    a. Strike fear in their hearts: OK, so maybe not literally, but get a visceral reaction out of them by pointing out that you might have a very serious problem by illustrating your points via numbers (high bounce rates, low conversion rates), graphics (heatmaps, pie charts), or survey results. Not only will this show them you've done your homework (score!), but they also won't be able to deny your rock solid data (double score!).

    b. Show them the money: After cold hard facts come conjectures. Do some forecasting on potential conversions and revenue lifts, but also on increased savings. It is always better to under-promise and over-deliver, but still make it appealing enough to pique their interest.

    c. Stoke their competitive fires: Some executives prefer to play it safe and not be the first ones out the gate, but all definitely don't like feeling left behind. Check out some testing agencies' websites such as Maxymiser or Autonomy (formerly known as Optimost) and scour their 'Clients' section for your competitors. If any of them do show up, show them to your management team and this could provide the final push you needed to get them over the edge.

    d. Mitigate any risks: Finally, alleviate any fears they may have by not just guaranteeing results, but also by convincing them that trusting you won't cost them an arm and a leg. Assure them you'll be performing your initial testing on a small, manageable area, to a limited audience using minimal resources, and even then that you won't hesitate to shift gears or pull the plug if things go awry. 

 

2. Get Engineering to Love You

There's a chance your web development team won't be happy with your initiative because a) they believe the site is already optimized and thoroughly tested, and b) they think they will be carrying the bulk of the work to be done. So, the first thing to do would be to take them out for lunch or coffee and address these or any other concerns they might have. Open communication channels and hammer out a good process to get your testing up and running that involves making their life easier and educating them on the joys and intricacies of A/B or MVT (multivariate) testing if necessary. 

 

3. Uphold Branding Standards

I'd like to preface this by saying that if there is one thing I am (borderline) OCD about, it is branding. Nothing bugs me more than poor or inconsistent branding, since brand awareness and perception are probably the most difficult elements to establish and build over time for a company. So make sure that whatever version(s) you plan on testing is in accordance with your company's brand guidelines and greenlit by your brand management team. As with Engineering, don't hesitate to sit down with them to discuss any potential conflicts between your conversion goals and the current brand rules, as well as possible new directions. 

 

4. Never, Ever Go Covert

In case my headline wasn't clear enough, running a test without prior approval is a big no-no. If, say, your test goes wrong and crashes the company's website (worst case scenario here) because you failed to inform IT or the web developers, the fact that you ran your project without their prior knowledge or approval, will only make things worse. In this case, it is much better to ask for permission rather than forgiveness.

 

5. Make Yourself Look Good

After putting in all this time and effort, you do want to come out of it looking better than when you started, right? Once your testing phase is complete and you have data that you deem truly conclusive, collect these results and present them to all parties that had a hand in or gave you their blessing for this project. Keep an eye on your basic reporting metrics, but most of all, see if there was any lift (i.e., positive variation) in these numbers due to your testing, along with increased efficiency, thus higher profitability and savings.

Remember, there are no "failed" tests per se. If you don't see any lift or even a negative one, maybe it just means you were testing the wrong element, demographic, time period, or that your original solution was already the most optimized possible. Indeed, there doesn't necessarily have to be a serious problem with your email or website to start testing. Tests can slightly or drastically improve your conversions even if these were already good, but can also confirm that your email/website is performing at its best. There is always something to learn, that's why they're called tests!

Following these steps should go a long way towards getting your testing plans off the ground. Have you been seeking support to develop a viable testing strategy? Which hoops have you had to jump through and how have you pulled it off?

 

Posted by My Truong

My Truong is the Marketing Programs Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter @PtitMy.

 

 

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New Report: Marketers Still Embracing, Learning Social Media

Tue, 05/01/2012 - 06:00

A new report from Michael Stelzner and his team at Social Media Examiner reveals that social media adoption by marketers is growing steadily, but that we still have room to do more and have plenty of questions when it comes to measuring effectiveness. The 2012 Social Media Marketing Report found that and much more after surveying over 3,800 marketers from both the B2B and B2C worlds and from companies of all sizes. You can find the full report here, but I'll share my key takeaways.

 

Social media is important for my business

1) Nearly everyone has integrated social media into their marketing mix, but its perceived importance to their business overall is declining slightly.

While 94% of respondents are using social media to market their business, just 83% of them defined it as important for their business. When the same question was asked in 2011, that number was 90% (with 62% strongly agreeing). It may be surprising to see this slight decline, but I think we are probably looking at a natural progression as social media matures. In the olden days of social media (you know, the last few years), marketers were still getting comfortable with the medium. As the new kid on the block, social still had its shine and marketers were excited just to be using it. As we get more sophisticated about social though, it's only natural that marketers might be getting more skeptical. In other words, the more knowledge you have about something, the easier it is to find its flaws. To be clear, this is a good sign. We can't expect a medium to grow if we're not asking the right questions about how to do so. My prediction is that as we get better at measuring results (see takeaway #2), we'll see sentiment towards social media move back in a positive direction.

 

2) The top questions marketers have about social media point to a need for better results.

The number one question respondents had about social media (for three years running, no less) is how to measure the efficacy of their social media efforts. As discussed in the above point, marketers have moved beyond the learning stages of social media and are ready to start applying the same level of business accountability that we do other marketing programs. The second most asked question, how to best reach your target audience, points to the same growing pains. We've moved beyond just trying to get likes and shares. Instead, we're ready to start making sure that our social audiences represent real business value. To do this, we must be sure that our efforts are focused on connecting with potential customers, not just on increasing audience size. 

 

Social media improves sales

Social media generates leads

3) Experience with social media has a direct relationship with achieving revenue-generating objectives.

The correlation between a marketer's experience using social media and the results they are able to generate is undeniable based on the report's findings. Encouragingly, marketers across the board included improved sales (40%) and lead generation (58%) as benefits they derive from social media marketing. What I find most striking, though, is that both of these figures jump roughly 20% when looking at marketers with three or more years of social media experience. In fact, as illustrated in these two charts, there is a steady growth in the ability to drive revenue-generating results as a marketer's experience with social media increases. What does this mean for you? Well, aside from reinforcing the fact that we are all learning more about how to be successful with social media as it matures, I would also suggest that you think twice about skimping when it comes to hiring the best person to handle your social media efforts. While that summer intern or new grad you're bringing in may spend all of their waking hours posting LOLs and OMGs to their Facebook walls, they might not be the best person to manage your business' social media if measurable results are a priority (hint: they should be). Business experience and judgement is important when looking for leaders in any part of your company; why would you treat social media any differently?

 

4) Worry not, there's still plenty more to do.

Despite the medium's maturation, social media marketing efforts still have plenty of room to grow. When asked how they will change their social media activities moving forward, a majority of respondents said they'll be increasing their use of YouTube/video (76%), Facebook (72%), Twitter (69%), blogs (68%), Google+ (67%), and LinkedIn (66%). This is an encouraging sign for all of these platforms, but I particularly find interesting the number two position of Facebook. For a company that is consistently described by the tech blogosphere as uncool, peaked, or past its prime - some going as far as to describe it as experiencing a midlife crisis - there sure is a lot of interest in doing more with it. In fact, when asked what social media tools they wanted to learn more about, respondents had Facebook coming in at a close third behind the relatively new Google+ and the time-intensive medium of blogging.

 

Social media tools marketers want to learn more about

 

Yes, not only do marketers want to increase their use of Facebook, but they also admit they have more to learn about it. To be honest, these results are refreshing. I think many in this industry have a tendency to get caught up in the hype of what's fresh and new (see Pinterest and Google+ as recent examples). Don't get me wrong, I think it's vital to stay ahead of the curve on these things. I was an early advocate of Google+ (a position I still maintain) and I am actively using Pinterest for VerticalResponse. That said, though, it's important to note that these pursuits shouldn't occur at the detriment of your other efforts. For every company that makes the list of Top 20 Best Brand Timelines on Facebook, there are thousands more that are still getting the hang of it all. For these as much as all of us, Facebook is as relevant as ever, and these results help to confirm that.

Ultimately, I find these results promising. We are past the stage of questioning whether social media is a fad, and have moved on to the more productive discussion of what direction it is going to take and how best to measure its success. That's a good thing for social media marketers like me, and that's a good thing for business.

 

Posted by Ellery Long

Ellery Long is the Social Media Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter at @EL.

 

 

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Customer Favorites: Top 7 Webinars Everyone's Watching

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 06:00

Every Wednesday we host free webinars to help you learn more about email marketing, social media or events for your business, and much more. The webinars are also recorded and posted on our help site so a wider audience can benefit from them. So, I thought I'd share our top 7 most viewed recorded webinars of this year with you too. Take a look and find something new to learn!

1) 10 Keys to a Killer Facebook Timeline - This is the most popular webinar we've ever done since we started tracking views a few years ago. Any changes Facebook makes cause ripples through the entire marketing world, so it's no wonder this is popular! Last month, Facebook updated its look for company pages. Learn how to get the most out of Timeline for your business with this informative webinar.

2) Delivery Changes - This webinar covers changes ISPs have made over the last few months that could impact email delivery, plus some great email tips from our Delivery Director, Kiersti. This topic is important to a lot of our customers so it's no surprise there were over 1,500 views in one day when we featured it in our VR Buzz newsletter.

3) How to Avoid the Spam Folder - Learn more about email delivery and what you can do to help get your emails to the inbox. This webinar covers tips on how to create your email to avoid spam filters, which is something that concerns everyone.

4) Using Images in Emails  - We always encourage people to use images in their emails, and this webinar shows all you need to know! Learn the ins and outs of using images in your emails, including:

  • Best sizes to use in emails
  • Using Alt text
  • Creating an email from an image

5) 1 Template, 5 Ways to Use it - Our email templates are a starting point for your email marketing, and many are fully editable so you can truly make them your own. Whether you use the Wizard or the Canvas tool, you can create the email look that you want using one of our templates.

6) How To Create a Successful Email  - Perennially popular, we do this webinar live every month and it takes you through the ins and outs of email marketing best practices, tips, content ideas and, of course, lots of relevant examples.

7) Content is King- There is no question that the content of your emails, blogs, websites, and even social media outlets has never been more important for driving engagement and meeting the needs of customers. More than ever, it's essential to provide not just more new content, but content that is relevant and useful to readers.

Interested in learning more? Check out our schedule for upcoming webinars. They're always free and include Q&A at the end of the webinar, so bring your questions for our experts!

What's your favorite live or recorded webinar? Or, let us know what topics you would love to see in future webinars!


Posted by Jill Bastian.

Jill Bastian is the Training and Education Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter @Jillieb3.

 

 

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9 Mistakes We Make with Our Email Marketing Content Marketing's No Joke - How to Keep it Sweet & Succinct 
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Is LinkedIn Really a Social Network?

Fri, 04/27/2012 - 06:00

If you're on LinkedIn, you more than likely have your work history on it. You probably get connection requests from it all the time. Heck, you may even send your Twitter feed to it. But does all this type of activity justify calling LinkedIn a social network?

First, we have to understand what a social network really is. The Wikipedia definition is as follows:

social network is a social structure made up of a set of actors (such as individuals or organizations) and the dyadic ties between these actors (such as relationships, connections, or interactions). A social network perspective is employed to model the structure of a social group, how this structure influences other variables, or how structures change over time. The study of these structures uses methods in social network analysis to identify influential nodes, local and global structures, and network dynamics.  

But even with the definition fitting the general LinkedIn makeup, would you really put it in the social ranks of Facebook and Twitter? Most people automatically do when explaining what social networks they’re on, but if we take a look at their actual use of the site, they hardly use it in a truly social way.

LinkedIn has tried to bring more social aspects into the site that claims to have more than
150 million users. In 2009, they introduced the ability to bring your Twitter feed into the LinkedIn update stream. Now, a lot of people were happy about this enhancement, but if you look at your own stream today, how many people are interacting with those “tweets” on LinkedIn? I took a quick sample of the last 100 updates in my stream that were directly posted from Twitter and not a single post had any interaction on LinkedIn.

Why do you think this is? Is it because people just don’t interact with content on LinkedIn like they do on Twitter and Facebook? Are they looking for more tailored content that's better suited for the LinkedIn audience? Or do people still think of LinkedIn as a site where you put your resume? I personally think it’s a bit of all three. LinkedIn is trying to integrate social enhancements to the platform, but at the end of the day, it’s the users that'll make LinkedIn truly social.

So how can you leverage LinkedIn in a more social way? We're going to start with three sections of LinkedIn that you can explore to make it a bigger factor in your social makeup.

  1. Groups – I have to give credit where credit is due and that would be Groups on LinkedIn. There are a ton of business related topics on the platform and it's where most interaction takes place. When you enter your LinkedIn account, click on “Groups” in the top navigation bar. Here you can search for existing Groups or even start your own.
  2. Answers – Another active area, Answers is a section where you build interaction by either asking or answering a multitude of business-related questions. To visit the “Answers” section, go to your top navigation bar, click on “More.”
  3. Your Updates – To make it social, you have to be social. Go to your Update feed and interact with people. Give it a shot and see what happens. Many people have their LinkedIn notifications turned on and will get pinged if you leave a comment on one of their updates. It might be fun to see if you start to build deeper interactions on the “business” social network.

These are just three easy sections to dig deeper on what I still consider a very important network. If you’re looking for additional ideas, check out this great article titled 13 Things You Never Knew You Could Do On LinkedIn.


So is LinkedIn really a social network? Maybe not in the form of say Facebook or Twitter, but I’m willing to hang in there to see if it becomes one in the near future. 

 

Posted by Derek Overbey

Derek Overbey is the Senior Social Media Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter at @doverbey.

 


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