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Don't Let Meetings Suck Your Time

Wed, 10/17/2012 - 14:40

This article by VerticalResponse CEO and founder Janine Popick originally appeared on Inc.com.

I was recently out to lunch with a few colleagues who work at a very cool company. The CEO of their company had left, and the second in command had taken over. They like her, but they said the number of meetings they're required to go to now has doubled.

They were describing my hell.

Now, I don't think that meetings are completely useless. But I do think that most companies have useless meetings, including my own. And the people at VerticalResponse will tell you that they know how I feel.

Why do I hate meetings? Let me count the ways:

1. Meetings allow people to delay decisions.

In a meeting, Jonathan says to the sales guy, "Jason, let's take that offline and have a meeting about it next Tuesday, cool?" What he really meant to say was, "Jason, let's take that offline and have a meeting about it next Tuesday, because it's too much for me to think about it now and make a decision. I'm a wussy, cool?" Jason just lost a full week of revenue.

2. Most people who are in meetings don't need to be there.

You can tell, because these people jump on their computers during the meeting not to take notes, but to instant message or catch up on email. Let me tell you how much time is wasted by these very people saying, "Can you repeat that?"

3. People call meetings because they're afraid to make a decision.

They get their boss and their boss's boss into the meeting so that they can bring up an issue only to be told what to do because they're scared to have a brain. Hey, people, news flash: You've probably been hired to walk into your boss's office and make recommendations on what YOU think the business should do, so do that and stop wasting everyone's time.

4. Many people who call a meeting don't have a clear agenda or objective.

Here's an idea: At the start of the meeting, say, "Here's what we're going to get out of this meeting," or, "By the end of this meeting, we'll dole out responsibilities so you know what you need to do."

5. People call 30-minute meetings for things that can be decided in five minutes.

Three people can probably come together and give the go-ahead in seconds rather than book a room, meet, probably come up with a PowerPoint presentation (more time wasted) and come to a decision that someone else needs to decide. BOO. My motto? DO SOMETHING! Even if it's wrong, you went for it, and with any luck, you either hit a home run or learned what not to do in the future.

6. Most meetings cost too much.

Two cool apps: Meeting Ticker and Effective Meetings. 'Nuff said.

Do I think there is a place for meetings? Absolutely! But the result of any meeting has to be to make your business better. Are your meetings doing that?

 

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.

5 Pinterest Knockoffs to Keep Your Eye on

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 06:00

Currently the third most popular social network behind Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest has taken the world by storm. With a simple “virtual” pinboard concept, Pinterest is easy to use, and as you will see, easy to imitate. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but some "similar" sites have taken imitation to new heights, leaving users wondering where Pinterest ends and the “knockoff” site begins.

So sit back and enjoy our commentary of some of these “other” pinboard sites that are trying to make it in the social world by leveraging Pinterest's business model.

1. Gentlemint – Known as the Pinterest for men, Gentlemint was launched in January 2012 after a 12-hour “hack day” by co-founders Glen Stansberry and Brian McKinney. The concept behind the venture was to build a “manly social site.” They have succeeded from that point of view, as the site is chock-full of weapons, men’s fashion and cult movie references. So, if you have a male-dominant audience for your products or services, Gentlemint just might be the pinning site de jour. The site was also redesigned recently with the goal of providing a little flair and functionality to their minimal design. I think they succeeded. 

2. Pinspire - There are copies and then there's Pinspire. Seriously, if you took the Pinspire logo off the site and replaced it with Pinterest logo, you'd be hard pressed to know there was a difference. They even go as far as lifting description terms in their "About Us" section that Pinterest has become known for, including weddings and recipes. This is what one would call a true copycat site. If you're currently using Pinterest in your social media strategy, it might be wise to pin your content on Pinspire too. This might save you from missing those potential customers that haven't been bitten by the Pinterest bug.


3. Thinng - This is the pinboard site that was named on a computer with a sticky keyboard. In all seriousness, this site is great from a visual standpoint. The main difference between Thinng and Pinterest is the lack of copy around the photos when you first visit the landing page. This makes for an appealing visual presentation, but it does lose a little of the context until you roll over the photo and reveal the description. You can also share these photos instantly on Facebook, Twitter and even Tumblr. So if your products or services are visually appealing, and you want to distribute them easily to other social networks, Thinng might just be the thing you need.


4. GetVega - We love the concept of categorizing photos into "Smart Lists." But unless the pinner provides fairly detailed information around the list, there's a lack of understanding of just what you're interacting with. Some of the lists only have a title such as, "Best Travel Ideas," but there aren't any subtitles for each individual photo. So this leaves you scratching your head a bit as to what you're viewing, and the photo URL link takes you to a larger photo rather than provide additional information. If you're a little more savvy, you could leverage GetVega to highlight your products. An example might be a shoe style that comes in multiple colors. You can have the same description for the shoe, but show individual pictures of each color. This would be a much better layout than you can currently present in Pinterest.


5. Stylepin - If Gentlemint is Pinterest for men, then Stylepin is known as Pinterest for fashion. If you only want to see dresses, shoes, accessories and the like, then look no further than Stylepin. This niche pinning site might be just what the doctor ordered if your products or services have a fashion-specific twist.


So there you have it: five Pinterest knockoffs that are leveraging the pinboard concept with zero shame, or are trying to put a slightly different spin on it. New Pinterest-like sites seem to pop up every day, so we'll keep an eye on these and will "pin down" any up and comers.

 

Posted by Derek Overbey

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

These 3 Questions Will Help You Close

Fri, 10/12/2012 - 06:00

This article by VerticalResponse CEO and founder Janine Popick originally appeared on Inc.com.

If you're marketing to a business, you know how hard it can be to close a new sale - It's like pulling teeth trying to get five minutes on the phone. And, if you're lucky enough to get an in-person meeting, even better!

Why is it so tough?

It might be time constraints, since everyone is so busy. It could be budgets, because the person you're selling to probably has to be careful about how much he's spending, and on what.

But the most important thing you need to know about your prospects is this: What are they really looking to accomplish by talking to you?

Understanding the needs of your prospects is paramount to a cool close. After more than 20 years in the sales and marketing trenches, I've come up with three essential questions that any person who's in a position to sell something – which everyone at a company should be, no matter what their job title – should ask their prospects.

1. What does your business do?

Knowing what your prospects do and what their needs are lets you tailor your pitch. Restaurants are far more picky about budgets than software companies because their margins aren't as big. A prospect in education might have more seasonal needs. Government prospects might make you jump through hoops in order to close the sale. Don't have a one-trick pony pitch for anyone and everyone. Tell the story that's going to work for each individual prospect.

2. Are you using a product or service like ours now? What do you like and not like about it?

This gives you insight as to whether the prospect even knows what it is you sell. If they haven't purchased a product like yours before, don't really know what you do, or why they need you, they may need more of a sales pitch on your industry rather than what your company does specifically. Then, get into what problems your business can solve for them.

3. When would you be looking to make a change or buy this product?

This question tells you what a prospect's motivation might be. It might be that their boss is telling them to look into the product more. It might be that they'll lose budget if they don't spend it now. Or, it might be that they're tired of not having a solution to a problem and your solution will save them time, effort and money.

Getting clarity on your prospect's situation with just a few easy questions will get you on the road to ABC: Always Be Closing!

 

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.

Be the Webinar Host with the Most - 4 Tips!

Wed, 10/10/2012 - 06:00

I conduct a lot of webinars here at VerticalResponse. From giving product demos to hosting special guests with great advice, I've done and seen it all. If you've considered creating and hosting your own webinar, or you already have and need some pointers, look no further! Read on as I share 4 tips on how to be the webinar host with the most!

1. Choose a Topic - Before we jump into the nitty-gritty, let's consider the most important thing - what to talk about? This may seem like a hurdle, but you'd be surprised by what your customers are interested in learning. Think about what your customers should know, or want to know about your business, products or service. What can you do to help them get past any obstacles they may have? What advice or tips would you offer? Do you get frequently asked questions? If you have a service, for example a non-profit, consider conducting a webinar to create awareness, or demonstrate how to use the services you offer. If your organization works with other businesses or software programs, demonstrate how they work together, and maybe consider co-hosting with a partner business.

2. Pick a Tool - Hosting a webinar has become easier, inexpensive and much more accessible over the last few years with just a few tools:

  • Hosting system - You'll need to do some research to see which system best suits your needs and budget. At VerticalResponse, we use GoToWebinar, but there are many others including WebEx, AnyMeeting or InstantPresenter just to name a few. Some offer free trials so you can take them for a test drive, and some are free. And, while free may seem like the best deal, make sure you have access to all the tools you'll need to conduct and follow up after your webinar. If your phone line cuts out in the middle of a webinar, of if there's a small limit for the number of attendees you can have, a moderate fee may actually end up saving you stress and headaches. A few things to look for in a webinar hosting system:

    • Emails - Does the system send out reminder or follow-up emails, or will you need to do separately? There are pros and cons to each.
    • Recording - If you wish to have a recording of the webinar and don't already have software to record it for you, make sure the hosting company does. If you don't need a recording, find a system that doesn't, or a plan that doesn't include it so you aren't paying for something you won't use.
    • Platform - Make sure the program runs on your system, the version of the OS you have, your preferred browser and internet connection. Providers list the minimum system requirements on their website, so check that out before you sign up.
    • Number of attendees - You'll want a lot of people to attend your webinar naturally, but most systems charge based on the number of attendees. Think about how many people could show up (generally about 30% of sign-ups will attend) and if the hosting system can accommodate that many. For example, GoToMeeting allows up to 25 attendees but GoToWebinar can allow up to 1,000 depending on the plan.

  • Slide deck - For most webinars, you'll need to create a visually compelling presentation deck. We use PowerPoint at VerticalResponse to create our decks, but there are a slew of other options to jazz up your deck including Google Docs and Sliderocket.


3. Send an Invite - Sending an invitation to your customers, prospects and clients is a must if you want them to register to attend your webinar. Without this step, you may just hear crickets on the other end. Let's go over a few ways to get the word out and create  buzz:

  • Email - Create a targeted list for your invitation and send out an email with a link a to register. Include a description of what attendees will learn, any take-ways or incentives for attending.
  • Social media - Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are easy ways to get the word out and its allows your followers to spread the word to their networks. Potential attendees and word of mouth about your webinar is a win-win.
  • Website or Blog - Advertise your webinar on your website or blog. Again, include a blurb about the webinar and a link to help pique interest and get sign ups. 


4. Follow-up - Once your webinar is over, follow up! Some webinar hosting services will automatically send out a follow-up email, which is handy, but you'll want to edit the message to give it your own voice and include a link to the recorded version if there is one. If your service doesn't send out a follow up email, you can easily create one yourself (and VerticalResponse can certainly help you with that). Simply download a list of all attendees and registrants from the hosting service, then upload to your email service provider and send out a follow up.

Bonus tip - Always log in and set up your webinar early. If you run into any technical issues, you can fix them well before the webinar starts. Plus, most webinar hosting systems let attendees know if the presenter (you) has logged in yet, so an early arrival will make you look good and will ease the minds of your attendees. 

With a little planning and some easy-to-use tools, you'll be webinar pro in no time!

Are you hosting any webinars, or planning to after reading this post? Do you have any tips to add? We'd love hear them in the comments!

 

Posted by Jill Bastian.

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

DIY: 5 Free Tools for Creating Killer Infographics

Mon, 10/08/2012 - 06:00

To paraphrase from The Social Network a bit here, a million (words) isn't cool, you know what's cool? An infographic. Nowadays, people don't have the time or energy to sit and plow through pages or screens of text; they want to be able to ingest information as quickly and easily as possible. Thankfully, with the recent rise of infographics (information graphics), what used to require an avalanche of stats or analyses to dissect, can now be interpreted and relayed into an easy-to-read, fun, and visually appealing schematic - an excellent content marketing concept! Indeed, you can use infographics to spruce up your different online assets (and again, avoid the monotony of text-only posts), such as your website, blog, email/newsletter, or your social network pages (Facebook, Pinterest...). 

Listed below are 5 free (!) apps that allow you to start easily infographic-ing:

1. Visual.ly


Visual.ly hosts a large database of infographics created by other users, while allowing you to create your own in a matter of seconds and share it afterwards, no design skills required.

2. Easel.ly


While still technically in beta, Easel.ly is an incredibly easy-to-use application, as you can simply select a template (called "vheme," short for "visual theme"), add some info, drag-and-drop elements to move them around et voila, you have a workable infographic. 

3. infogr.am


While not as simple as Easel.ly, Infogr.am should also appeal to non-designers. It allows you to upload your data to the site, then translate it through static charts or complete interactive infographics using the tools’ different features, all in a smart interface that includes different options for displaying information.

4. Wordle



Describing itself as a "toy" for generating word clouds, Wordle can automatically generate a colorful design based on the content you provide (either from a URL or text you paste in), emphasizing the most commonly used words from your source. You can then put your own twist on it by playing with the fonts, colors or layouts. We created the image above with the words from our Marketing blog.

5. StatSilk


StatSilk offers both web-based and desktop client software that lets you create infographics using interactive, customizable and animated graphics, charts, maps and any other type of data visualization. 

 

Are you using, or have you used of any tools not mentioned here? Share away in the comments!

 

Posted by My Truong

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

Subject Line Length - Is Longer Better?

Fri, 10/05/2012 - 06:00

I've spent years in the trenches of email marketing cranking out my fair share of messages. Hence, I've also done a heck of a lot of testing around the basics, including subject line length. For years, we lived and breathed the golden rule of "keep your subject line to 40-50 characters." Why? Most email browsers cut off anything longer, and that put the kibosh on your open rate.

Fast-forward to 2012 and a few things have evolved in the wild world of email marketing, including devices we use to read email, like mobile phones and tablets, and the emails we receive, like flash sales (which have the longest subject lines known to man). So, does your subject line length need to evolve too? Let's examine some facts first:

In a recent article on the EmailAudience blog, Jordie van Rijn cites a study from Adestra in which nearly a billion email marketing messages were analyzed. The study shows some thought-provoking results which vary pretty drastically between messages targeted at businesses (B2B) and consumers (B2C). According to the article and study, "in B2B emails, longer subject lines work better than shorter subject lines. Also when looking at the number of words. Subject lines with 6–10 words will drive open rates, but don’t deliver the clickthroughs. In the report 6-10 word subject lines are advised for awareness emails that don’t necessarily have a direct need for a call to action to click.

After 130 characters, there is a drop of the open rates, but also a huge increase in the number of clickthroughs. Anything over 16 words can deliver on both opens and clicks."

And the study further notes, "The differences in B2C are much bigger than in B2B. Subject lines with 3-5 words appear to have a very bad effect on open and clickthrough rates. Subject lines with 3 or 4 words perform around 40% worse than average both in open rate and in clicks.

The subject lines with over 80 characters do hugely better in B2C email marketing. It seems to be that making your subject line stand out, is ever important. A long subject line can do just that in B2C, with the added information and length to account for higher open and clickthrough rates. A 20-word subject line appears to be the real champion in this research, with a 115% uplift in opens and 85% uplift in clicks."

Does this mean that all your B2B email subject lines should be long, and all your B2C emails should be 20 words? Nope. That would be far too easy, and it's truly not all about how long or short your subject line is, but also about how targeted your email is to your audience. As with many things, one subject line length does not fit all, or even most. But, the good news is your subject line is one of the single fastest and easiest things you can test in an email.  

Inspired by daily deal sites and our own desire to provide more context, we recently began testing longer subject lines for our weekly VR Buzz newsletter. Like many of you, we struggle to pick just one topic from the newsletter we think will resonate with most of our readers. So, we started using longer subject lines like the following:

In this example, we made the subject line longer (using about 67 characters) and included 2 topics vs. just one, as we'd done in the past. Over a nine-week period, we saw about a 1% improvement in open rates from our most engaged subscribers. This isn't earth-shattering, but what's interesting is that it lead to a marked improvement in our CTRs (clickthrough rates) - an improvement of nearly a percent and a half. To make things really interesting, the longer, multi-topic subject line newsletters also produced significantly higher revenue (ca-ching!). So, what seems to be hitting the mark for us, is not just the length, but also the multi-topic inclusion.

How can you make your subject lines hit the target with your readers? It might be time to try multi-topic subject lines or to test out the length. Longer may be better for the new iPhone 5, but will it get results for your subject line?

 

Posted by Kim Stiglitz. 

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

10 Common Facebook Questions Answered!

Wed, 10/03/2012 - 06:00

One of the great things about working at VerticalResponse is that we help solve problems, and not just with our own products or services. We make it a point to keep up on new trends and technology because our customers usually don't have the time, and count on us to provide answers.

Today we're focusing on 10 commonly asked questions we get about Facebook:

Question #1: I feel like I'm only seeing posts from a certain group of people on my news feed. How do I see post from all my friends?

Answer: There are two feeds you can see in your news feed: Top Stories and Most Recent. The default is set to Top Stories, which basically shows you people the platform thinks you would be most interested in. If you'd like to see posts from all of your friends, in chronological order, change this setting from Top Stories to Most Recent.

 

Question #2: How do I change my privacy settings?

Answer: Next to your name in the upper right-hand corner you will see the word Home. Next to it is an upside down triangle. Click the triangle and a drop down menu will appear. Click on the Privacy Settings link. This will take you to the section where you can edit all your Privacy Settings.

Question #3: Can I send messages to "Likers" of my Business Page?

Answer: Yes you can, but only if they message you first. The messages appear in the upper right-hand corner of the Admin Panel of your Facebook Page.



Question #4: Who are the Subscribers on my Facebook profile?

Answer: Several months ago, Facebook implemented the ability to allow users to subscribe to a fellow user's Profile instead of "friending" them. This is very useful for public figures, as it allows them to share content with a larger audience as opposed to the 5,000 friend limit previously enforced on Profiles.

Question #5: Can I invite my friends to "Like" my Business Page?

Answer: Yes! If you click on the "Build Audience" button at the top of your Admin Panel, you will see the "Invite Friends" option. When you click "Invite Friends" a box will open allowing you to send a Page request to friends. You can only send one request, as your friends' names and pictures will be grayed out if you've previously sent them a request, or if they've already "Liked" your Page.




Question #6: Can I control what posts I see from people/pages in my News Feed?

Answer: Yes. If you move your cursor over the post you'd like to control, an arrowhead will appear in the upper right-hand corner. Click on it and a drop down menu will appear. From here, you can follow the post and receive a notification on any update to this post. You can also hide the post or report the story if there's questionable content. If you hide a story from a Page, another message will appear that will allow you to hide all future stories from the Page or allow you to unlike the Page all together.



Question #7: I created a Facebook Page, but I don't know where to access it from my profile? How can I find it easily?

Answer: When you're in your profile News Feed, if you look on the left-hand side of the page under your name and photo, you'll see a listing of all the Pages you're an admin for. If you click on one of the names, you will be taken to that Page.


Question #8: What is the difference between a Page and a Group?

Answer: A Page is like a secondary blog or website. People can view your Page and interact with the content, but you have almost complete control regarding the content that's shared and the interactions that takes place. A Group on the other hand, is more like an advanced chat room. You can start a group around a particular topic, make the group open or more private and allow anyone in the group to participate by posting content or creating a discussion.

Question #9: How do I create my own Facebook Page?

Answer: Go to: http://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php. You can then create a Page under six different categories. Most businesses will use the "Local Business or Place" or "Company, Organization or Institution" options. The easiest way to distinguish between the two is that a "Local Business or Place" is usually used when your business has a distinct "brick and mortar" location.

Question #10: What is "Timeline" all about? And why is my Facebook Page and/or Profile missing a Cover Photo?

Answer: Facebook has officially changed all Profiles and Pages over to the new "Timeline" format. Timeline is a new way to look at the information and content you share on your Profile or Page. It puts all of the information in chronological order and even allows you to include significant information from the past. The layout also has a more artistic aspect to it and includes a large photo at the top called a Cover Photo. If your Profile or Page has been changed over and you're missing a Cover Photo, you'll see a button in the upper right-hand corner that says "Add a cover." Click it and you will have several options to add a Cover Photo to your Profile or Page. You can learn more about Timeline on Facebook, or you can read our post: The Ultimate Procrastinator's Guide to Facebook Timeline for Brands


Well there you have it. 10 answers to some of your most pressing Facebook questions. If we haven't answered a question you've been pondering, provide it in the comments and we'll get on it!

 

Posted by Derek Overbey

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

5 Must-Knows for SEO

Fri, 09/28/2012 - 06:00

Search algorithms seem to change more frequently than the latest fashion trends. Although the Panda and Penguin updates have received lots of the attention lately, experts say that Google alone makes adjustments to their algorithm several hundred times per year. Every time Google makes another update there's a mini-panic from webmasters and small business owners – “oh no, now what?!?”

Take a deep breath and stay calm because there are some things in SEO that stay consistent. Here are five SEO constant concepts to consider and build upon:

1. Build your site for people, not for ad dollars or search engines. When creating your site, remember who you're building it for. Don’t bombard your visitors with too many ads or anything other than what will provide a positive user experience. Don’t make them click “next” 25 times to see 25 ways to make Ramen. Put your readers first and deliver the user experience they're looking for. This improves bounce rate, repeat viewers and, maybe you’ll get a new newsletter subscriber (if you have your opt-in form on a page), which could lead to sales.

2. Be a resource. There’s no Candyland slide for good content. Create content that will reach your desired audience. Make useful pages that educate and inform, and ensure that it’s easy for viewers to navigate and find what they're looking for. Teach, share and most importantly, don’t limit your site to just selling. Show some personality, your artsy side and/or spread knowledge through guides, articles and examples. Show Google what a good resource you are by including outbound links, plenty of images and even a video or two. Don’t forget to include social sharing icons so your website visitors can easily share all your great content with their own social networks!

3. Use Keywords. Use relevant keywords in copy that users may use in search to find you. Unsure what they are? Check the AdWords keyword tool for ideas. Don’t over-optimize by stuffing these terms too much throughout the copy (remember #1 above). Include it only where it makes sense when reading. Include it in the page title, description and throughout the copy a few times. You can also include it in the image name if it’s relevant, as well as the alt tag attribute.

4. Don’t cheat. I’m a firm believer in playing fair. If you don’t want to get de-listed or bumped down to page 50+, be a white hatter (aka - do the right thing). Don’t spam, keyword stuff, buy links, cookie stuff, create fake profiles, buy “likes” or any other shady tactics. The last thing you want is to have your site to be removed from the Google index. Yes, this does happen!

5. Get links. Put your wallet away, you don’t need to buy links. The right way to get links is to create link-worthy material. You can create guides, infographics, interactive calculators, a unique article, comparison charts, an illustration, a storytelling photograph or dozens of other content types.  No matter what it is – the more thought and care you put into it the better. Another great way to gain new links is to guest-post on a blog relevant to your brand's services or products.

These five simple concepts have been consistent in SEO for the last 10 years and will most likely hold true for many more. Although this generally means working harder than some folks, rest assured you won’t be banned, blocked or have to duplicate your efforts to regain visibility. Learn more about webmaster best practices.



Posted by Bonnie D'Amico Rogers

Bonnie is the Affiliate & SEO Marketing Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter @bonnie_d_rogers

Build a Content Marketing Calendar, Customers Will Come

Wed, 09/26/2012 - 07:00

There’s someone I’d like you to meet! My biggest frenemy in the world: Procrastination. Oh wait, you two have already met? Of course you have, procrastination gets around, am I right? And, when it comes to content marketing, getting involved with procrastination is an intense whirlwind relationship full of stress, guilt and shame. Meanwhile, customers are eagerly awaiting our educational emails, super sales, bangin’ blog posts and shareable social updates. So how can we retain and gain new customers, yet kick that no-good procrastination to the curb? Meet a much better catch: The content marketing calendar.

We know producing quality content is at the core of keeping our customers engaged, buying, liking, talking and subscribing. But oh, how do we find the time! It’s pretty simple if/and when you create a calendar. Organization is power! Build a content marketing calendar and customers will come.

Here's how:

Make decisions
First, decide what type of content you’re going to wow your customers with. Will you  create promotional emails, newsletters, videos, blog posts, Twitter and/or Facebook updates? Write down every type of "content" you want or need to produce, plus how often you'll publish or send it. This will give you a better understanding of how and when you want to communicate with your audience.

Get cookin’
Determining content type is fine and dandy, but cooking up content topics may cause a slip up with procrastination. Set up weekly, monthly or quarterly editorial brainstorm sessions, whether it's with yourself or members of your team, and get creative! Do some pre-brainstorm research, create charts, doodle, scope out competitors, feed off each other’s ideas and stir up enough content ideas that’ll hold you over until next time. No one wants to eat a half-cooked cake (or read a frantically whipped up blog post), so don’t leave your brainstorm session until your content calendar is bursting with juicy ideas.

At VerticalResponse, we have quarterly brainstorm sessions for our marketing blog, weekly sessions for the VR Buzz newsletter, and daily ones for our social posts. The longer the content takes to produce (blog post vs. tweet), the earlier you should plan ahead. Once you have your ideas, place them into a content calendar so you don't forget them.

Shoot: (and set a) goal!
Once you’ve decided on desired content types and ideas, give yourself frequency goals: I will update Twitter twice a day, I will send an email newsletter twice a month, I will write a blog post three times a month, etc. Once you’ve determined your content and frequency goals, it’s time to get crafty and put them into play!

Pick a tool, any tool
Simply put, use whatever’s easiest. At VR, we rely heavily on Google Calendars and Google Docs. A simple Excel sheet or Word doc, even your email calendar (Outlook or iCal) will easily suffice, as well. We’ve also recently discovered a handy project management tool called Basecamp that allows you to create projects, to-do lists and assign them to people. Anything that’s been assigned with a deadline automatically shows up in a calendar – snazzy. 

Be a mastermind
Create one mega master calendar featuring all of your content: email campaigns, blog posts, social posts, etc. Once everything’s laid out, analyze. Are any of your emails overlapping? Are you sending too much/too little? Is it possible for you to produce this much content? These are questions that’ll instantly be answered with a master calendar in place. The Content Marketing Institute also suggests to keep the following in mind:

  • Track key dates such as events, holidays or other things that may impact which content you want to share and when. If you have an international audience, include holidays in the various countries you serve as well.
  • Include a brief overview of all of the content that is planned by content type.
  • Looking at all of your key dates and planned topics can give you ideas for topics and help you think about how you can re-purpose content in multiple sources. For instance, if you have a new guide or case study planned, you can plan one or a series of blog posts around that. Or, if you have an event, you can plan to develop an eBook based on the top 30 takeaways from the event. Seeing the calendar at a glance helps these connections jump out more easily – and helps you remember which dates to avoid.

Once you’ve created a master plan, create mini-calendars per platform – blog, email, social, etc. At VR, we keep track of blog posts and email campaigns in the same Google Calendar; however, we manage and schedule our social posts elsewhere (VR Social hint, hint).

Here's an example of our master calendar (Google Calendar) including emails, blog posts and even 'splash pages' we feature on our website:

 

Here's an example of the VR Buzz newsletter calendar in Google Docs (as featured above with Ryan Gosling) broken up by quarter, week and audience:



Make deadlines for deadlines
When I worked in advertising, I had to manage and keep track of hundreds of clients and their deadlines. Do you think I ever gave my clients their real deadline? No way José. As much as we love to think people will stick to deadlines, they simply don’t. This is why you need to give others (and yourself!) deadlines for your deadlines. Marking faux deadlines on your content calendars will also keep things perfectly in check... It'll be our little secret.

Gain an entourage
Just because you created a content calendar doesn’t mean you have to manage it. Is someone in your company super-organized, has great attention to detail (and is a little bit bossy? - hmm, no wonder my director chose me to manage our blog!) Perfect. Put them in charge of managing your content calendars and deadlines, even if it means they’ll be after you. Also know that you don’t need to produce content all by yourself. Recruit a team of writers, or even consider a freelancer. Knowing you have an entourage of content creators will also justify the importance of maintaining a content calendar and adhering to it – more people to count/rely on!

Stick to it
Remember when we set goals? Here’s where we stick to them! Producing content may seem daunting, but think of all that revenue, exciting engagement and possible new prospects you’ll gain once that content is out there! Keeping your goals will be much easier and way more rewarding especially with a concise and organized content calendar. And remember, stay strong – procrastination doesn’t even deserve you.

Have content marketing calendar tips and tactics of your own? Spill it!

 

Posted by Colleen Corkery

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

Small Email Marketing Changes = Big Results

Mon, 09/24/2012 - 06:00

As small business entrepreneurs, we often find ourselves crunched for time and resources on a daily basis. Getting our bi-weekly email newsletter out the door can be challenging enough, let alone having time to test, optimize and segment it. But, I'm here to tell you, making a few small (and fast) changes can produce big results in engagement with your emails, social posts and more.

If you look at the open and click-through rates of your emails/newsletters, you may be wondering how you can improve upon either or both of them. Content is the #1 most important factor, which I've covered extensively in other posts, but besides providing killer content, you can make the following small changes that may produce big results:

Try adding the following: (Points coordinate to the numbers in red in the image of our own VR Buzz newsletter header below)


  1. Preheader Text - This is the first line of text or copy in your email. The preheader serves as a secondary subject line and gives your readers more motivation to open your email. It's powerful because it shows up right after the subject line in the inbox - essentially turbocharging it.
  2. Table of Contents - A table of contents helps your readers navigate your content quickly and easily to find what's most interesting to them vs. trying to scan through chunks of content. Anchor link your table of contents directly to each section of your email - This makes it super fast for your reader to jump to each piece of content that interests them the most, and gives you the intended action.
  3. Alt Text (not shown in image) - Almost all email browsers "turn off" images by default, hence, our pretty pictures don't initially render until the reader clicks the "display images" link. When an image isn't displayed, alt text is the copy that shows up instead of your image. Instead of your alt text reading something like, dogfood.jpg, (if you don't actively change your alt text, it'll use the name of your image), you can change it to reflect not only what the image is, but the action you want taken, like: Save 25% on Dog Food, or Win Free Dog Food for a Year! This is way more action-oriented and will get you more click-throughs. To learn more about alt text check out this post.
  4. Social Sharing Icons - Social sharing icons in your email/newsletter allow readers to share your message/content with their social networks on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This is a major opportunity to get your content in front of tons of new eyeballs and get some new prospects and customers. At VR, it's as simple as inserting those social icons in your email with a simple click in our email editors. You can learn more about that here.
  5. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn & Pinterest Links - Unlike social sharing icons that we talked about above, another simple, but effective tactic is to include links to your social networks so your readers can connect with you there, as well. If you have a Facebook page, Twitter handle or your biz is on Pinterest, include them in your emails. Your readers will likely follow, like, pin and engage with you. Including your social sites in an email is fast, easy and allows you another channel to communicate and engage with readers - Win-win.
  6. Provide an Incentive/Offer - Many readers join your mailing list because you promised to provide them something of value. Besides informative and educational content, people want discounts. Send out coupons, offer special discounts and notify readers of upcoming sales. We recently launched our new Coupon tool that allows you to create a coupon you can share via your social networks on Facebook or Twitter. You can also share it in an email, making it fast and easy to get your discounts and offers out to all the places your customers and prospects may be interacting with you. See the sample below:

What small changes can you make, or have you made in your own email/newsletter that delivered results? We'd love to hear about them!


Posted by Kim Stiglitz.

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

Acquisition or Partnership? How to Decide

Fri, 09/21/2012 - 06:00

This article by VerticalResponse CEO and founder Janine Popick originally appeared on Inc.com.

Instagram and Facebook. Microsoft and Yammer. Is an acquisition or partnership a possibility in your future?

If your company is growing, first things first: CONGRATS! It's a tough economy and you're lucky to be on the upswing, no matter how big or small it might be.

One way companies try to grow quickly is to either partner with another company or acquire it. If you're thinking about forming a partnership or acquiring another business, you're in for quite the ride. I've been on both sides in the past 11 years of running VerticalResponse. It was unnerving, stressful, expensive, time consuming, amazing and exhilarating ... just to name a few emotions.

So I thought to myself, there's got to be something to make it a little easier to decide what path is best. Here are three questions you should ask yourself:

1. Is your goal to acquire more customers, to own intellectual property I might not have, or both?

Partnerships come out of the need to grow a business. A marketing partnership might be as simple as a restaurant owner who advertises a neighboring wine bar in his email marketing campaigns, and the wine bar owner does the same for the restaurant. This could drive traffic into the local area where both businesses benefit from increased sales.

Another good example: a contact management software company that finds they get more business customers when they have email marketing companies integrated tightly into their software, so that their business customers can easily interact with their customers.

In both of these cases, either an acquisition or a partnership would be appropriate. In the former, the restaurant owner could benefit from the wine bar's customers. But taking it a step further, he could also get some major cost benefits from scaling when ordering food, wine and beer since he's already sourcing them for his current restaurant. He could also benefit from an administrative perspective, such as managing, menu planning and scheduling. In the latter example, the contact management company might hurt itself if it chose just one and could really benefit from the email marketing companies driving customers to use its software.

So you have to decide: Do you want to form a partnership to drive more customers cost-effectively, or do you need that business for more than just access to its customer base?

2. Is it core to what you do or where your business needs to go?

Here's a real-life example. VerticalResponse is known for email marketing services, even though we've got pretty incredible online surveys and event marketing services, too. Why? Mostly because we'd just launched our event marketing tool, and our online surveys have been around for just four of our 11 years in business. Then started to talk to companies in the social media space, because many of our small business customers were using social media in their marketing.

We started having discussions with a company called Roost, a social media marketing technology platform for small businesses. At first, we approached the relationship as a partnership because we thought both companies could really benefit. As the conversations furthered, both sides realized that an acquisition of Roost could really give us, VerticalResponse, a competitive edge in our industry from a product, customer, people and valuation perspective. What could be a better acquisition candidate? It was clear to us that diving into social media wasn't really a "nice to have," it had turned into a requirement. So we welcomed the Roost team aboard, launched a very nice email-and-social integration, VR Social, and it's working – quite nicely, I might add.

If the company you're thinking of working with has a product or service that's a "nice to have" for your own business, you may want to start out with a partnership first, and prove it successful before you jump in.

3. Will it make you more valuable?

What makes a company valuable? Many years ago, a company was looking to acquire us because of our domain expertise in delivering email to inboxes. But we had so much more than that. We had tens of thousands of customers, pretty cool technology, great people and revenue that was climbing. They were only interested in the fact that we could send email. They wanted a "feature," not a company, and in the end it wouldn't have really added value to their bottom line.

So I walked away. Why? Because I wouldn't have gotten the value for everything we worked so hard for, and our investors wouldn't have been rewarded the way they deserved to be.

The lesson here? If you're thinking of an acquisition, make sure you want to acquire a company for all the right reasons, and that all of those reasons add value to what you've already got.

When I was faced with whether to partner or acquire, these three questions led to many conversations and pretty tough company-changing decisions, hopefully for the best. I'd love to hear any questions you think I'm leaving out!

 

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.

How to Create a Successful Email from Head-to-Toe

Wed, 09/19/2012 - 12:01

Ever wonder what makes an email look great and work successfully? You probably have, we get this question a lot. To help answer that question we’re going to go through an email from head-to-toe and point out components that will give you a successful email.

Let’s start at the top:

From Label – This should be your company name, as most people will recognize your company more quickly than say, your personal name, and since you have just a few seconds to get someone to open your email, you want quick recognition.

Subject Line - Once your reader understands who sent the email, the subject line is what will entice them to open it. Write something catchy or interesting, but also informative (easier said than done, right?) Check out our free Savvy Subject Line Writing for Success guide for help!
 

Background – Use an email background color or pattern that's easy on the eyes. The colors in the example below aren't too bright, dark or distracting. Using black text (dark gray is good too) on a white background is the easiest to read.

Social Sharing – Make it easy on your recipients to share your email socially. These buttons are built into our system so they’re easy to add, plus you can put them anywhere in your email.

Pre-header – We can’t talk about this enough! Some email programs (including iPhones) pull the first line of text in the email into the subject line. Take advantage of this feature to get better open rates.

Table of Contents – If you have a longer email, include a table of contents to show your readers the great info found further in your email.

Links – Give your reader lots of opportunities to get to your website and do what you want them to do. Link your images, text, pre-header, buttons, etc. Plus, link clicks are tracked, so this will give you more insight into your recipient’s interests.

Industry News – Including blog posts, third-party articles, statistics, and industry news that's relevant to your business and recipients will keep your email readers engaged. Plus, your readers will look at you as a knowledgeable resource - Just make sure to give appropriate source credit.

Keep in Touch – Include several ways to get in touch with your company, including a direct email link. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, also include business hours. And, with the holidays rapidly approaching, it’s a good place to list any special holiday hours.

Forward to a Friend – Including this link will allow your readers to share your great content with their friends or colleagues. And anyone who receives an email forwarded this way will have the option to be added to your mailing list - An easy and free way to keep your list growing.

Two things I would add to the already great email example above:

Call-to-Action ButtonsButtons are more compelling to click than text links, and easier for mobile readers to touch. Include a couple buttons in your emails and you could see your clickthrough rate go up. We have a free tool to help you create them too!

Social Buttons – In addition to the social sharing buttons, include buttons that link to your company's social accounts: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, wherever you have an account for your business.

Easy, right? Hopefully the answer is yes. Most of these components can be added to your emails through your VerticalResponse account via the tool bar, in either the Wizard or Canvas editors. Try them out in your next email and see if you get better engagement.

Have you tried using any of these tips in your email? What were your results?

 

Posted by Jill Bastian.

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

Make Your Content Pop with Pictures

Tue, 09/18/2012 - 06:00

It’s a scientific fact that we all love to look at photos! Okay, so it’s not a fact, but photos are a great way to build engagement on your Facebook page, Twitter feed and even your blog. Why?

First and foremost, visuals evoke emotion in the viewer that is quick and direct. When you see a photo, your brain kicks into action and you have a visceral reaction to it. Photos are usually easy to understand. They may be funny, cute, sad or interesting, but all you need to do is look and let your emotions do the rest. In today's world, photos are also very easy to take. Smartphones and inexpensive cameras have enabled almost anyone and everyone to take a picture of nearly anything. In fact, every 2 minutes we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity took in the 1800s.

When it comes to social, you don’t have to look any further than the success of Pinterest and Instagram to see how popular photos are. Pinterest is now the 3rd largest social network in the US. And startup darling Instagram was acquired by Facebook for a cool $1 billion in April 2012.

So I think we have an understanding that photos are very popular. But how can you leverage photos in the social efforts for your businesss? Here are some tips:

  • Use photo centric sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram in your social media outreach. Especially if you have visually appealing products and services such as food, clothing or anything beauty related.
  • Intermix photos relating to your business with general items such as scenic shots, local sports teams or animals.
  • Interject humorous photos in the mix. People love to like, comment and share funny photos. This provides an opprtunity to expose your page or board to new people via the photos you are sharing.
  • Post at least one photo a day on your social sites. People may think they'll  bombard their followers, but realize the information streams on these sites moves pretty quickly. So only posting once a week for instance will get you lost in the shuffle.

At VerticalResponse, in our own social media marketing with Facebook, we've seen huge organic and viral traffic increases since we started to make photos an integral part of our social marketing efforts. In fact, we had one photo post that received 396 Likes, 492 Shares and 44 Comments. Not bad for a Facebook Page that only had a little more than 6,200 “Likers” to the page.

Most of the photos we use on Facebook are ones that we take ourselves, or that we share from our Facebook feed. On our blog, we approach it differently. We purchase about 98% of the photos, including the one in this post. Why you ask?


Back in the good old days, people didn’t really pay attention to attribution or copyright infringement when it came to using photos on their blog. They’d go to Google Images, type in a keyword or phrase that complemented their post, download the photo and slap it up for the entire world to see. Big mistake. Copyright laws are there to protect the author of the image. You’re not only taking money from the originator of the content, but you also run the risk of legal action.

If you’re looking to use photos for commercial purposes, you may want to check out these options:

There are tons more out there and it’s always a good idea to mix it up with different commercial photo sites so you get a new look and feel from the photos offered.

But, if you're looking to save a buck and put your own spin on your blog or social posts to Facebook and Twitter, use your smartphone or camera to take your own photos. This could be as easy as taking a photo of your blue plate special, or the new dress that came in. You may be surprised by the engagement/reaction you’ll get from a simple photo. It's no coincidence there is a saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words."

 


Posted by Derek Overbey

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

Google & Social: A Cautionary Tale

Mon, 09/17/2012 - 06:00

Google's recent acquisition of Wildfire was just the latest in a long series of big moves made by the search giant in their quest for prominence in the social sphere. But it was the first significant one in a while that didn't involve launching a product of their own. True, there have been social-oriented acquisitions in the past (Blogger back in the day comes to mind), but lately Google's most memorable efforts to dabble into the social space came straight out of the labs over in Mountain View and, unfortunately for them, didn't reach the heights they were undoubtedly hoping for. 

Let's take a look back at some of their efforts and learn some lessons of our own for launching a new product/service.

1. Google Wave: Too Smart for its Own Good?

Back in 2009 when Google VP of Engineering, Vic Gundotra, and his team first unveiled Google Wave at that year's I/O conference, people believed they had just witnessed the second coming of email. Combining the latter with instant messaging and layering a boatload of functionality on top of the already impressive combo, Wave promised a radical shift in the way we communicated on the web. Expectations couldn't have been higher, and everyone and their mother in the tech/geek world (including yours truly) just couldn't wait to get their golden ticket and grubby hands on the beta (limited to 100,000 users only at first).

Initial feedback ranged from mixed to very positive (check out Engadget's and Ars Technica's hands-on reviews at the time for instance), with everyone agreeing that this was a tool with a tremendous amount of potential. But analysts also waved a few red flags, cautioning people to keep their expectations grounded as Wave needed to work out some kinks before being officially anointed the future of the Internet, most notably that it lacked a clear purpose and viable real-life applications. Unfortunately, those hurdles proved too great, adoption never took off, even after removing the invite-only gate, and Google pulled the plug on Wave barely a year after introducing it.  

But come on, this was pretty cool:

 

 2. Google Buzz: Parlez-vous Privacy?

As with Wave, Buzz was greeted with a fair amount of buzz (OK, that was too easy) upon release. Some were already dubbing it the "Twitter killer" as Google was looking to leverage its considerable Gmail user base by integrating the new product directly within their email client. This would allow users to post updates visible to anyone in their Gmail contact list, directly from their Gmail page. In addition to the convenience of not having to change windows/tabs, Google enabled auto-following between a user and all his/her Gmail contacts, public and private sharing (which meant your posts would be indexed and thus Googleable) and a customized recommendation system for access to only the most relevant updates. All in all, it seemed the search giant had finally hit a social home run, and initial numbers posted on the official Gmail blog seemed to confirm it. Within 56 hours Buzz already had over 9 million posts and comments, which represents more than 160,000 comments and posts per hour.

Google however, neglected one vital aspect that would eventually bring about the demise of its newborn product: privacy. As soon as Buzz was announced, and even prior to launch, industry experts started pointing out the various breaches of user information that the company's decision to automatically opt in its customer base, had caused. Chief among these complaints and considered the biggest privacy flaw was the public disclosure of the names of all Gmail contacts on a given user's Google profile. After being hit with various lawsuits and settling a few of them, as well as being investigated by the FTC, Google decided to shut down its Buzz service a little over two years after its inception.

3. Google+: Is This Thing On?

By launching its own social network, pitting itself in direct competition with Facebook and its already built-in user base of 500 million-plus (at time of launch), Google knew it was taking a big gamble. So, when they officially announced the launch of Google+, it was immediately met with skepticism, fueled undoubtedly by the company's recent history with failed social products. Features such as Circles (a fancy term for lists) or Hangouts (a glorified chat) didn't do much to help the matter. When asked whether he felt threatened on the Charlie Rose show, Mark Zuckerberg said Google was just "trying to build their own little version of Facebook" (even though he eventually got on it too).

Fast-forward to over a year later, and the jury is still out as to whether Google+ is a success. Some still believe in its potential, believing it's only a matter of time before the social network truly takes off. But when faced with the hard, cold truth, we can only note that there just isn't much going on there right now. People from within the company itself seem to have lost faith as well, as illustrated by Steve Yegge's infamous rant. Instead of a list of raw numbers, here's a nice little infographic (courtesy of Umpf) to prove my point:

So as you can see, even one of the largest and most innovative companies in the world has had its own share of hiccups when launching new products/services. Google prides itself in letting its teams run independently to pursue their own projects, with the firm belief that it breeds innovation. But we can see in the 3 cases mentioned above that some coordinated homework and research wouldn't have hurt. The good news is the lessons learned are applicable to businesses of all sizes:

  • Make sure your product has legs: Wave was considered a genius idea with the potential to revolutionize the way we interacted online, but didn't live up to its lofty promise by failing to explain exactly what it was for or to promote its benefits clearly. Buzz was a good idea to begin with, but its utter disregard (blissful ignorance?) for privacy laws pretty much crippled it from the start. So do some research on your target audience and gauge potential interest, and identify any risks/opportunities that may arise during your product's lifecycle before moving forward with any development. A beta is a great way to get an initial read and make tweaks before exposing your new product/service to the masses.
  • Be wary of the state of the competitive market: Google+ hasn't offered enough difference-making features to make it a viable alternative to Facebook yet. If you are going after a market with firmly established leaders, identify some of the pain points that users are facing (using SWOT analysis, BCG or McKinsey matrices...) and launch a product that serves unmet needs in order to carve out unique market share. 
  • And most importantly, make sure your product is ready for consumption: Wave was available to only a limited number of people, in part due to the lack of technical resources to support heavier use. By the time Google was ready to accommodate everyone, the hype was over, and even the most fervent supporters had lost interest. At time of launch, your product/service needs to be robust enough for your consumers to, well, consume and enjoy. Beta testing is a great way to battle-proof it prior to general availability, but make sure to gather feedback from your testers and adjust accordingly in quick fashion.

Have you had issues launching a product or service of your own, and if so, what have you been able to take away from the experience? Share away in the comments!

 

Posted by My Truong

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

Become a Rock Star on Social Media: 4 Ways

Fri, 09/14/2012 - 06:00

This article by VerticalResponse CEO and founder Janine Popick originally appeared on Inc.com.

At VerticalResponse, we truly believe that email and social media go together hand in hand. Why? Because your messages need to be where your prospects and customers are reading them, no matter what channel they like to pay attention to. And, if the stats are right, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn alone will reach over 1.5 billion consumers in 2012.

So I came up with four little tidbits you can do with your email marketing campaign to get more friends, followers, fans and fervor:

1. Be Proactive

Send a "like me" or "recommend me" email campaign to drive people to your Facebook page. Use a template like the one you see below. (This is just one of more than 700 free email templates that VerticalResponse offers.) It's important to have a presence on Facebook since it's the No. 1 social media network that your customers and prospects are using on a daily basis.

Give your followers and fans a reason to "Like" you by giving them a coupon or special offer. A few other ideas to get people to visit your page:

  • Ask a question. You'll show up in the feeds of anyone who responds.
  • Run a contest. We ran the Next Teen Tycoon video contest and had really amazing results. You might want to use a third-party app like Wildfire Interactive to help you manage it.
  • Post photos. Research suggests that people comment on and like photos the most.
  • Post your blog content to your Facebook page. You spend a lot of time creating the content, so why not publish it in as many places as possible.
2. Incentivize Your Twitter Followers Similarly, send a "follow me on Twitter" email campaign with one solo message: Get special deals if you follow us. Using a template like this one here makes designing it a snap.


3. Button Up

In every email campaign you send, include "follow me" buttons that link to your social media profiles. It has become as common as including your phone number, URL and address. Side note: Include the buttons in your customer service emails that you send out when a customer has a question.  4. Pin Your Emails If you're on Pinterest (like we are!), post the hosted version link of your email to a board. Choose the offer or article you want to show, and in the pin description make sure you use your keywords so that if someone is searching Pinterest for your products just like they'd search Google, they'll find your products or business.

Integrating your email marketing and your social media efforts is the smartest and easiest thing to do to maximize the time you spend setting up your marketing. Do you have any ideas to share? Love to hear them!

 

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.

How to Make Trade Show Planning Easy Breezy

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 06:53

I love making lists and enjoy crossing things off lists even more! I create lists in both my personal and professional life. So when it comes to planning tradeshows (almost 30 a year for VerticalResponse), needless to say, I have a lot of lists. When attending a trade show, which is an excellent opportunity for all small businesses, there are two lists that everyone should use: One for event deliverables and deadlines and the second with assets that are needed for each tradeshow. Follow and create lists like these, and your tradeshow planning will be easy breezy: 

Deadlines & Deets

Event deadlines always vary and it’s important to keep track. For most tradeshows, there are a lot of things that need to be ordered in advance like furniture, electrical and internet access, as well as shipping arrivals. You usually get “early bird” discounts if you order before a certain date. I don’t know about you, but I love discounts (another pastime of mine), so keep an eye out for early bird dates and order everything, not only in advance, but also at a cheaper rate!

Here's an example of an exhibitor checklist from NYXPO, a tradeshow I’m currently coordinating. Most tradeshows don’t provide checklists so you can always use samples like this to make your own:


The Goods

The second list you want to create is pretty standard for all tradeshows, and it’s all the items you'll need to bring. Below is my mega-list of supplies I know I need. Keep this list up-to-date and add things you may have forgotten in the past. Your packing checklist should look a little something like this:

  • Business cards
  • Your product (if it's tangible)
  • Laptop/charger (for demos of your products/services)
  • Data sheets (brochures)
  • Data sheet stands
  • Extension cords
  • Fishbowl to collect business cards
  • Email signup form
  • Internet (Mi-Fi)
  • iPad
  • Monitor
  • Monitor cord - mini display port adapter
  • Pens
  • Pen holder
  • Pop-up banners
  • Portable cart
  • Return shipping labels
  • Scissors
  • Shipping tape
  • Stapler
  • Swag (branded t-shirts, pens, fun stuff etc.)
  • Thin-tipped permanent markers (for writing notes on business cards)
  • Company-branded tablecloth

This might look like an intimidating list, but you don’t have to bring everything to every tradeshow. There are some staple items that you should always have, like business cards, a laptop, thin-tipped permanent markers, a stapler, data sheets, etc. but everything else on the list varies. At VerticalResponse, we attend shows with anywhere from 50 people in attendance to 50K so it depends on the needs of the show. 

Making sure that everything is taken care of well before each tradeshow will undoubtedly make it seamless for everyone. There will always be last minute changes or things to do, but when everything's crossed off your lists, your tradeshow will also be less stressful. Win-win!

Bonus tip: Looking for tradeshows to attend for your small business? Check with your local Chamber of Commerce for any tradeshows they're hosting, or if they have a list of events in your area.

 

Posted by Jenny Klimisch

Jenny Klimisch is a Marketing Specialist at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @jenklim.

Need Help Producing Content? Consider a Freelancer

Mon, 09/10/2012 - 06:00

If you haven’t figured it out already, we here at VerticalResponse are big advocates of creating timely, relevant content as a surefire way to engage with your customers and audiences. But we also know that, for most small businesses and non-profits, it’s a huge challenge to find time to create great content – whether it’s writing on a regular basis, designing illustrations for an infographic, or producing video.

If this sounds like your situation, hiring a freelancer or consultant to help out might be the answer. Companies large and small do this, especially if you don’t have the budget (or enough work) to support a full-time hire. More than half of B2B marketers outsource at least a portion of their content marketing activities, according to a 2011 survey.

A freelancer offers ad hoc support and, if you provide regular work, should be able to adapt to your needs, schedule and brand “voice” quickly. It might take a bit of upfront work to get him or her in the groove, but the long-term time savings could very well be worth it.

Here are five tips to kick off your search for the perfect freelance hire:

Ask your networks. The best recommendations come from word of mouth; so let all your friends, family members and colleagues know that you’re looking for help. You never know who might know someone (who might know someone) who’ll fit your needs. When VerticalResponse recently needed some help producing content, I reached out to my former journalism co-workers, got some great leads and introductions, and we ended up hiring two of them as contractors. These connections are undoubtedly the best kind because someone you know has already given the thumbs-up.

Check out listings – with caution. You might want to try online job search boards, but be very careful, because there are a lot of unfiltered, unmonitored junk and questionable business practices out there. Sites like Elance.com and ODesk.com, which offer a marketplace for companies to connect with freelancers, provide some level of accountability that public listing sites like Craigslist do not. But I haven’t used either tool, so just be prudent if you try this option. (If you’ve used Elance or ODesk before, let us know your experience below in the comments section!)

Reach out to local colleges. Check out the career centers at your local universities and see if you can post a job opening or internship. Often, different departments (like the English department or the art school) have their own career or internship programs, so you better narrow your search. Many students are looking for work to boost their resumes and portfolios at lower-than-market rates, or even in exchange for course credit.

Stay away from “content farms.” “Content farms” are essentially companies that promise to produce lots of (often very poorly written, robotic-sounding) content around specific topics and keywords. They’ve become popular, in large part, because Google rewards websites that have lots of content by giving them more SEO (search engine optimization) juice – in other words, they get ranked higher in search results for certain keywords. To be sure, the always-changing Google algorithm has made significant strides in weeding out content from “content farms.” In any case, producing content with the goal of gaming Google – and not engaging with your customers – is definitely not something we recommend. Not to mention, poorly written content will only be a bad reflection of your company and brand.

Don’t hire based on resume alone. Just because you’re hiring someone for occasional work doesn’t mean they don’t need a thorough vetting. Someone might have a stellar resume, but you should ask for references, as well as published examples or a portfolio. Arrange to meet or Skype with potential candidates to make sure they’re professional and truly excited about the opportunity to work for you – qualities you need in any employee, whether full-time, part-time or on contract.

Have you outsourced your content creation to a freelancer or consultant? Please share any tips below in the comments!

 

Posted by Connie Sung Moyle

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

Optimize Your Website's Content to Improve Visibility

Fri, 09/07/2012 - 06:00
"It's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absoluely boring." - Marilyn Monroe When it comes to optimizing your website content there are more than a few factors to consider. The first goal is to get people to visit your site. Next, you'll want to keep visitors engaged for as long as possible. Finally, you'll want visitors to take a desired action. Ultimately, you want to get visitors' attention and keep it long enough to sell them on your product or service... Marilyn Monroe might even agree.

Give 'em what they want! - Check out Google Analytics or your preferred web analytics tool to see which search terms are driving visits and conversions. Google's Keyword Research tool is also a great resource to find new relevant keywords you may not currently be optimizing on your site. Once you have a list of terms related to your business or services, as well as those phrases visitors are using to find your site, you can begin to optimize content to correspond to those keywords. However, as George Aspland mentions in his post on "How to Prioritize Keywords for Optimization," not all keywords will be easy to rank for in Google searches. If a keyword is a top-searched word it may be fairly competitive and prove tough to rank for. You can easily see how competitive a keyword search is by performing an Exact Phrase search (put quotes around the keyword when searching for it in Google) to see how many files have been indexed with the keyword in content (i.e. "email marketing"); or an AllinTitle Search (search for the keyword in quotes with the phrase allintitle preceding it, i.e., allintitle: "email marketing") to give you the number of HTML page titles that contain the keyword in Google's index.

After determining which keywords are most competitive and deciding which ones you would like to go after, you can begin to alter the text on your site, page headlines or meta description tags to include them. Wherever you decide to manipulate the copy on your pages to correlate with keywords, keep content useful and make sure it sounds natural. You wouldn't want to do the work to rank for keywords and then put off visitors or lose quality interaction with awkward content that was clearly manipulated to increase search engine rankings.

AllinTitle Keyword Search

Along those same lines, useful content will increase the rate of repeat visitors you have to your site, while helping to increase your search engine rankings. A blog is a great tactic to provide quality information to visitors while simultaneously helping your Google rank by including fresh content. Google's goal is to rank sites that are most useful to its users the highest. So in layman's terms, the best way to increase your rankings and keep them high is to provide content that answers search inquiries and gives visitors the information they're looking for. By providing valuable content, you'll attract more visitors overall, which will help increase your placement since Google also factors number of website visits when determining search engine rankings.

What do you want visitors to do? Before you make any decisions regarding the layout, content or images on your webpage, you'll want to ask yourself why you want people to visit your site. Define what you consider a website conversion. Your priority may be for visitors to sign up for a free trial, purchase a product directly from the site, fill out a web-to-lead form or phone you directly. Regardless of which desired action you want visitors to take, it's important to make the path to conversion as clear as possible. If your ultimate goal is for visitors to call, make sure your phone number is accessible, keep it above the fold (on the top half of the page) and give visitors a compelling reason to pick up the phone.

Marilyn Monroe once said, "It's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring." I'm not suggesting you alter your site to make it ridiculous, but you get the gist. If visitors are bored with your site, it means you're not selling your products or services well. Ultimately, you have to get visitors' attention and keep it long enough to sell them on your product or service. Impress them by including testimonials on what your products or services have done for customers, include enticing images and videos that display the quality of your products and/or give them details on the ROI of your services. Your site is often the first interaction individuals will have with your brand. You'll want to leave a lasting impression by making it apparent what it is you do and how well you do it. And, now more than ever, it's key to include social icons on all of your pages to allow visitors to easily like and share your useful content on their own social feeds. This social momentum will help accelerate your SEO efforts and drive more traffic to your site.

If you're going to make extensive changes to your site's content or layout, it's a good idea to perform a split test to see which page performs the best before completely turning one off. You can monitor overall visits and keyword conversions in Google Analytics or Optimizely, and perform A/B split tests or multivariate experiments to monitor your changes.

If you're yearning for more on search engine marketing, we've got a great webinar for that: Get the Most Bang for Your Pay Per Click Buck.

 

Posted by Savannah Stewart

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

4 Ways to Combat Digital ADD

Thu, 09/06/2012 - 06:00

This article by VerticalResponse CEO and founder Janine Popick originally appeared on Inc.com.

Everyone does it.

You start off with an email; maybe it's a newsletter. It takes you to an article to read, and you read it. You get some good ideas and like what the author wrote, so you check her out.

She's on Twitter! You decide you should follow her.

You log into your Twitter account and see that someone you follow has posted a video you just have to watch on YouTube. You check out that video and then the "videos you might like" shows you a few more you just have to watch. So, you do.

All of a sudden a meeting alert pops up right in front of your browser.

You've just lost 45 minutes of your life you won't get back.

How do you regain focus and get the work done you needed to? Here are four ideas:

1. Close your email program

VerticalResponse, is an email marketing service provider, so I cringe when I say this. But sometimes you have to not be wed to your email. Block one hour off every day and close the window of your email client.

2. Turn off alerts (instant message, phone, etc.)

I wrote an Inc. article earlier this year about how much I dislike phones and IM disrupting meetings, but sometimes they just plain disrupt your day. If you don't want to be completely unreachable, turn off your IM or alerts during a different hour than when you close your email down. Then you won't hyperventilate at the thought of being totally disconnected.

3. Realize when "research" turns into surfing

Sometimes I think the Internet was introduced to us by the pharma companies that hawk ADD drugs. One simple little Web page can rob hours of my life, but hey, here I go "liking" my friend's cat pictures on Facebook and watching the baby laughing video ... again!

My day usually starts off on Daily Beast for some quick news, then I head over to TechCrunch to read up on all of my favorite start-ups. I pop over to Inc.com where I'm sure to learn something that betters my business day. But does it end there? Never. Here's what I've been doing lately: I force myself get up from my desk to "break" the habit, and walk out of my office to talk to people. Works every time.

4. Limit the number of windows on your desktop

My husband has no less than 20 tabs open in his browser at one time. I don't know how he does it. On top of it, with the ease of Apple's desktop dock you can have tons of files staring at you at any given time. Here's my solution: Every Friday, I take a moment to close down some windows I haven't used in a few days, get rid of files on the dock, and clean up my desktop. Monday will look like a different day!

Do you sometimes feel like you have digital ADD? What do you do to focus? I'd love to know.

 

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.

Baby Don't Go - How to Avoid the Dreaded Unsubscribe

Tue, 09/04/2012 - 06:00

As an avid Sex and the City watcher back in the day, I'll never forget the episode where Carrie got broken up with via a Post-it note. In this day and age of mass marketing and virtual anonymity, our prospects and customers can be and are sometimes total strangers to us. Why then, do we take it so personally when they "break up" with us via an unsubscribe? And why are they often unsubbing en masse? As a smart business person and marketer, how can you keep your customers in love with your business and engaged in your communications? Marketing, like dating or marriage can be a slippery slope to navigate. Read on and I'll share a few tips from my years in the trenches.

First, some scary stats to illustrate that this is serious stuff:

91% of consumers have unsubscribed from opt-in marketing emails. (This means they chose to subscribe to your communication, then later changed their mind - Hmm, why?)

77% of consumers have become more guarded about giving companies their email address in the past year. (Because they suspect we may do something unscrupulous with it perhaps?)

The stats speak to an epidemic that marketers and businesses face. In a split-second we go from inbox cock rooster to feather duster. Why? 

Many marketers, and I am not going to name names here, are not delivering on the golden promise they made when someone opted into their list. Deliver What You Promise. It's that simple. If, when someone signed up for your email list, you promised you would send them tips on home repair once a month, do that. If you start sending emails every week with offers for 50% off paint and wood flooring, you break your promise. When someone provides you their email address, they're saying they trust you to do the right thing with it (i.e. not bombard them with excessive self-promotional stuff). Your customers want something of value from you. There has to be something in it for them. And, usually that's what you promised them that caused them to sign up in the first place. That's why your opt-in form and page are vitally important. It is there that you vow that you're a good, upstanding person/company and that you will use the power of email marketing for good, not evil. Capisce?

You Get Old & Boring. Of all the consumers that unsubscribe, nearly half cite that they found content to be repetitive or boring over time; another 25% found content irrelevant - Egad. We're being replaced by a younger, hotter and more interesting version of ourselves? Now you get the dating analogy, eh? So, short of a tech version of a nip and tuck, how do we stay hot in the inbox? Content Rules. We've said it before and we'll say it again, you must deliver relevant, value add content to your subscribers to keep them engaged and coming back for more. We even did a webinar about it.

You can get a good feel for how engaged your readers are by keeping an eye on the open and click through rates (CTRs) of your emails. You can even segment your list (we've got a webinar for that too) on this information and provide specific content based on what your readers are responding (or not responding) to. If you notice your open rates dropping, take a look at things that may have changed. Are you sending out the same amount of mail as you have in the past? Are you sending at or around the same time and day you have in the past? Does this need to be tested or changed? And, how are your subject lines? Are they attention-grabbing and action-oriented? Or, are they a snoozefest like the oh so popular, September Newsletter? Your click through rates can actually be a stronger indicator of reader engagement because they illustrate that not only did the recipient open the message, but they found content that made them want to learn more, or do something. You can affect your click throughs by including strong calls-to-action in your message and being very clear about what you want your reader to do. Use an active voice and language in your calls-to-action and watch the CTRs climb.

SPAM I am (Not). When your subscriber has had enough, how do they choose to end it? 67% click "unsubscribe," 17% just delete the email. And 8% stick it to you - they click the spam or junk button, sending your lovely message to the black hole of email hell and your sender reputation along with it. So, how to avoid email purgatory and stay in the good books with your subscribers? Mail on a schedule and stick with it. If you decide to increase the frequency that you mail your subscribers, communicate it in advance and let them know the value of getting more mail from you. 47% of subscribers unsub because they get too many emails. We're all suffering from message overload, so the messages we allow in our inbox and engage with better deliver.

Check out this unsubscribe infographic from our friends over at Litmus to learn more.

What value are your messages adding for your subscribers? Share how you use email marketing for good, not evil, in the comments.

 

Stats sourced via Litmus.

 

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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