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How to Prep Your Business Now for the Holiday Season

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 06:00

For many small businesses, the holiday season accounts for a large percentage of annual sales, and the holiday train seems to pull out of the station earlier every year. Before Halloween has even passed, snowflakes, lights and all other manner of holiday-oriented decorations pop up in both stores and on e-commerce websites.

With a huge chunk of annual revenue at stake, and the fast-approaching deadline to promote, it’s time to start prepping for your holiday selling season now. Here’s how you should prepare:

Use What You Already Know

Think about what you did last holiday season. What worked? What didn’t? Apply what you learned from that experience to this year’s marketing strategy. You also know what’s worked this year thus far – product types, advertising, social media campaigns. Leverage what’s been working for you and apply it to your holiday marketing activities.

Determine Your Holiday Product Promotions

Which products will be your hot sellers? If you know, consider applying heavier discounts now on your least popular items to make room for those more popular later in the year. Once you zero in on those products, consider the following:

  • Make sure you have enough inventory of hot sellers. Forecast what you need based on last year’s holiday season or what the most popular items have been year-to-date. 
  • Order early so you’re not left scrambling to fill your shelves. 
  • What discounts or incentives (if any) will you offer for these products? Percentage off, free shipping, buy one, get one XX% off another item? 

Plan Out Your Holiday Marketing Activities

Once you know which products you want to focus on, start thinking about how you want to spend your advertising dollars and where you want to expend your marketing efforts. What’s going to create the biggest bang for the buck? Here’s an example of how one retailer can promote their Black Friday sale (the day after Thanksgiving) which is Nov 28th of this year. 

What’s effective about all these marketing activities is that each one can be prepped now. You could create your landing page, email and social posts and have them ready to launch in November. This work can be done up front and then edited, if needed, closer to launch date. You can get these marketing steps done in advance so you can focus on all of the other things you need to do to get ready for this heavy buying season.  

Other marketing campaigns that may need a special holiday touch include:

  • Paid Search – If you’re doing paid search now, like Google AdWords, take a look at your keywords. Do they need to be updated to highlight a specific product, holiday name (e.g., “Black Friday Special”)  or other?
  • Marketing Collateral – Make sure you’re stocked up on your marketing collateral – business cards, brochures, flyers, etc.  
  • Holiday Cards – Whether you send an email or an actual post card, customers always appreciate a note wishing holiday cheer. Send your holiday greetings early to stay top of mind when customers are getting geared up for their gift shopping. 
  • Gift Suggestions – Help your customers out by offering gift suggestions or a holiday bundle for that hard-to-shop-for relative. 
  • Coupons – As we learned earlier from Vouchercloud, “66 million digital coupons were redeemed industry-wide” last year – They work, and they’re popular. Drive users to your website or to your physical location on specific days with, “Good on Black Friday only,” or “Valid only Dec 26th through Jan 2nd” offers.

Get Your Website and/or Retail Location in the Holiday Spirit

For those who have retail locations, determine which seasonal touches you’re going to use to amp up the holiday vibe. If you need decorations, make sure you order or purchase them ahead of time. Get shoppers in the mood with some holiday music. Pick a Pandora station, Spotify playlist or a popular CD and pipe in that music to get customers in the holiday frame of mind.  

For business owners who rely upon online sales, you can get in the holiday spirit, too. Update your logo to match the season. Check out how this company updated their logo for Thanksgiving:

If you don’t have a graphic designer to help you out with “holiday-izing” your logo, we can help.

One overarching strategy for your e-commerce website that’s especially important during the busy holiday season is to make your website mobile friendly. More and more shoppers are buying via smartphones or tablet devices. According to Nielsen’s Digital Consumer Report, “mobile shopping is gaining momentum among U.S. consumers, as more than four in five (87%) smartphone and tablet owners say they use these devices for shopping activities, up 8 percentage points from 2012.” Don’t miss out on sales because you don’t have a mobile optimized site. 

Besides buying online, many mobile users (up to 55%) are using their smartphones  to read reviews and 23% are writing reviews after their purchases.  If you haven’t checked out your online reviews lately (on sites like Yelp), make sure to do so now. Get actively involved in responding to reviews – whether positive or negative. Shoppers will be more likely to visit you if you’re engaged and proactive in your business. 

The holidays are a busy time for small business owners, both professionally and personally. By planning your marketing activities now, you’ll have more time to help your business be a success during the holiday season.

When do you prep for the holiday season? Have any other ideas to share? Let us know in the comments below. 

Get your holiday marketing started now with VerticalResponse

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post How to Prep Your Business Now for the Holiday Season appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

A 5-Step Recipe to Snag Subscribers’ Attention

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 06:01

You want your emails to stand out, grab attention and make your readers take action. To do that takes a dose of creativity, a pinch of time and a heaping-helping of tips from your favorite email service provider, VerticalResponse.

We’ve created a recipe of sorts, so the next time you sit down to whip up a batch of sweet emails you’ll have all the ingredients you need to grab readers’ attention.

1. Create a killer subject line from scratch
When you bake chocolate chip cookies your whole house smells great, right? That smell grab’s attention and motivates your family to head to the kitchen for a treat. Think of your subject line as that mouth-watering, cookie-induced aroma.

“Your subject line needs one fantastic lure to get people to open and check out your email,” says our Community Education and Training Manager Jill Bastian.

To create a killer subject line you should:

  • Be creative. You can use a play on words, a little humor or create a fun title for an upcoming sale that’s mentioned in the subject line. Fabletics, an online shop that sells women’s workout clothes, had an effective play on words with their subject line: Stop meshing around. Their pre-header continued with: stay cool in brand-new mesh styles
  • Tell readers what to expect. If the email contains a discount code, say so in your subject line.
  • Intrigue your readers.

2. Add an incentive
One of the best ways to get recipients to notice your emails is to offer an incentive. Who doesn’t love a good deal? Consider sending an email with a discount code or free shipping. Maybe your loyal customers receive a free gift with their purchase, or a gift card when referring a friend. has a great example. 

Of course, promotional emails like this should be sent as part of a varied email diet. In other words, these emails should be sent once in a while, not every day.

3. Add a pinch of inspiration
An email that advertises a sale is great, but providing inspiration is even better, Bastian says. Take a look at the example below. Bastian, who loves to knit in her spare time, says the email below inspires her to get her needles moving.

“What I really want is content to inspire me to create something new with the yarn I have,” she says. “Those are the emails that I spend time looking at, or clicking to check out a pattern on their website.”

When you’re creating your next email, inspire your customers. Help them use your product in new and fun ways.

4. Stir in a call-to-action
One of the biggest eye-catching ingredients in your email should be a call-to-action. When a recipient opens an email, he or she should know exactly what you want them to do. If you want them to email you, there should a call-to-action button that says “Contact Us.” If you want them to make a purchase, there should be a call to action that says, “Start Shopping.”

These buttons should be visibly different than the rest of your email. Take a look at the example below. The call-to-action grabs your attention. It’s a different color than the text, its size draws your eye, and it’s in a prominent location. 

5. Presentation counts
If a dessert looks tempting, it will sell. It’s the same with emails. Your emails need to have a professional, modern look to catch people’s attention. Fortunately, we have a bunch of vibrant, easy-to-use templates already set up for you.

How do you make sure your emails grab attention? We’d love to hear your suggestions. Feel free to share them in the comment section below to fuel everyone’s email appetite.

Ready to whip up your next email? Get started with VerticalResponse

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post A 5-Step Recipe to Snag Subscribers’ Attention appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

The Dos and Don’ts of Email Delivery [Infographic]

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 06:00

When you send an email for your business, you expect it to simply appear in your subscribers’ inboxes, right? Well, there’s a lot more to getting email delivered than you may expect. Email Service Providers (ESP), like VerticalResponse, do a lot to ensure your email makes it to the inbox, but you play a part in delivery, too. This infographic outlines dos and don’ts you should follow to help your emails make it into the inbox, rather than the dreaded Spam folder.


Learn more about email delivery in our Ultimate Guide to Email Delivery – To the Inbox & Beyond. 

Start emailing with VerticalResponse now. 

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post The Dos and Don’ts of Email Delivery [Infographic] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

5 Time-Saving Business Tools You Need to Know

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 06:01

Running a small business involves wearing many hats, and you may find yourself wishing you had an extra set of helping hands. Luckily, Using online apps and business tools can help run your business more efficiently.

We’ve found five business tools which can help you boost your favorite pages or profiles in search engines; monitor online reviews; track down specific individuals you’d like to reach out to; and even see what stories and blog posts your friends and colleagues are discussing while you’re busy running your business. Pick and choose the tools specific to your goals and industry, and voila! All the results in a fraction of the time.

1. Nuzzel
If you need to keep tabs on the latest news and opinion pieces online, Nuzzel can keep you in the loop in substantially less time. Nuzzel is a free app for iPhones that allows you to see just what people posted while you were working. You can look at news by people you’re connected to on social media, as well as stories you may have missed. You can even read what your friends and colleagues are saying about each post – which is useful whether you were away from your desk or just need a refresher. Another option is to look at featured feeds or your friends’ feeds. Nuzzel is also a good complement to your favorite news sources. Getting too many or too few alerts? You can set the max number of alerts per day, as well as decide how many shares from friends you’d like before receiving an alert.

2. Reputology
What people say about your business on Yelp, Google+, TripAdvisor, and other review sites can impact on your bottom line. Reputology helps you monitor incoming reviews, making it easier to build loyalty by responding to both positive and negative reviews. Reputology can cut down your response time and make sure you’re monitoring reviews on various sites where people share their opinion.

Reputology costs $25 a month, though a limited free version is available as well.

3. BrandYourself
If poor reviews affect your business, or you just want to make sure to push up the positive results found on Google and de-prioritize the ones that are either negative or irrelevant, BrandYourself can help. It offers a free service that can help you boost up to three links – and if you’re a relatively new business and not well known yet, it can help get your name out there. Paid version options are more robust, allowing you to boost additional pages as well as profiles in sites such as Pinterest, WordPress, Flickr, FourSquare and more.

4. Google My Business
If you’re interested in increasing your visibility in Google (including Google Maps, search and Google+), use this site to access all of your applications in one place. This is particularly important if you’d like to correct any inaccurate information on your website URL, address, phone number, and so forth. It also allows you to look at Google reviews, share information on Google+ directly from the page, look at analytics, and even gain insights on your site’s engagement, audience and visibility. And, it’s free.

5. Reachable
Meeting the right people can absolutely make a difference in your business, but building connections and forming relationships takes time. Reachable doesn’t turn an ongoing process into one you can complete overnight, but it does point you in the right direction. By linking into your social media networks – and, ideally, those of your teammates as well – Reachable helps you see the degrees of separation between you and an influencer you wish to meet. Reachable helps you see the path, so you can leverage personal and group connections for specific introductions you want.

What are some of  your favorite business tools/ Share away in the comments!

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 5 Time-Saving Business Tools You Need to Know appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Google Retires Google Authorship

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 10:22

Google announced yesterday that after three years, the company has retired Google Authorship. Authorship joins other retired Google products like Google Reader to face an early Google grave. We saw the writing on the wall a few months ago when we shared that Google reduced the appearance of Authorship photos in search engine results pages (SERPs). 

John Muller of Google Webmaster Tools announced in a Google+ post that the Authorship project has been put to rest after continuous updating, tweaking and honing. “Unfortunately, we’ve also observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results. With this in mind, we’ve made the difficult decision to stop showing authorship in search results,” says Muller.

Google’s primary reasons for ending the project: Low adoption rates by authors and webmasters, and very little change in “click behavior.” John Mueller stated back in June when they decided to remove author photos that, “our experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.”

SearchEngineLand found that “about 70% of authors from 150 different major media websites did not make any attempt to connect authorship.” This isn’t shocking because majority of Authorship implementation was done by SEOs and marketers who were trying to get a leg up on the competition.

SearchEngineLand suggests the project failed due to a lack of Google Authorship promotion and a complicated set up. “We realize authorship wasn’t always easy to implement, and we greatly appreciate the effort you put into continually improving your sites for your users,” says Muller.

Muller also mentioned that Search users will still continue to see Google+ posts from friends and pages when they’re relevant to the query.

There also isn’t any reason to remove the code from your site, if you did implement it.

Did you use Google Authorship? Why or why not? Share away in the comments.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Google Retires Google Authorship appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Are You Committing Content and Social Media Sabotage?

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 06:00

Recently, I had a music journalist and friend conduct an interview with one of our favorite artists. The day the interview went live, I was beaming with pride for my writer pal and couldn’t wait to share his article with the rest of the world. When I finished reading the interview, I enthusiastically searched the bottom of the article for a sign of those social sharing buttons, but I couldn’t find them? “Maybe they’re at the top!” I thought. So I quickly scrolled to the beginning of the article, and found nothing. Astonishment began to sink in.

Was this very well known website (which shall remain nameless) really making me work this hard to share its content? Sure, I could copy and paste the URL of the post into my various social accounts, but I’d also have to log into Twitter, Facebook and my email individually to do so – which is also more difficult and time consuming to do on a mobile phone. I wanted to share this content ASAP with one click, but I couldn’t. So guess what I did? Nothing. I didn’t share the article at all.

You may not realize it, but making it difficult for readers to share your content is committing content and social media sabotage. You’re obstructing eager readers who, might I add, are helping you with your social media marketing efforts for free, and getting your word out. It can also give the impression that you don’t care.

Am I making a big deal over a few missing or hard-to-find social sharing buttons? Who even notices them, right? Well, according to new research from ShareThis, “the sharing of content through social media and email consistently outperforms both consumer ratings and consumer reviews. And, surprisingly, online sharing carries essentially the same weight as in-person recommendations.”

Plus, according to the study, “positive online shares generate a 9.5% increase in purchase intent.”

New research from AddThis also shows that clicking the “share to Facebook” button is more popular (26%) than copying and pasting the URL (21%), when it comes to sharing content. For certain topics or industries, such as entertainment and sports, the tendency to “share to Facebook” is even more popular, reaching heights of 36 percent. When it comes to food-related content, clicking the “Pin it” icon sweeps the competition with a popularity of 46 percent.

If you don’t have social sharing buttons, if they’re hard to locate or they’re hidden, if you don’t have enough, too many, and/or they’re not located in just the right place, you, my friend, could be sabotaging your very own content and social media marketing efforts! Here’s how to recover:

1. Get the right social sharing buttons ASAP

If you don’t have social sharing buttons on your blog, website, or in your email, add them ASAP. If do have them, but they’re hard to find (ask someone who’s never seen your site before), make them visible STAT.

You can easily grab social sharing buttons directly from each social network, which you can embed on your site. There are also several third-party social sharing widgets and applications you can choose from such as AddThis, ShareThis, or WordPress plugins like Digg Digg. Most of these third-party applications are free, easy-to-implement, customizable, and even provide you analytics.

2. Find the right mix

So how many social sites should you include, and which ones? If it wasn’t obvious from above, Facebook should absolutely be your number one social sharing site to include in your sharing widget.

There’s a lot of conflicting data about how many you should offer, but according to a recent article by Rebecca Watson and research from the Content Marketing Institute, audiences are continuously shifting to various social channels. Only offering a limited number of social sharing options such as Facebook and Twitter, limits page views. “Our data — based on access to share and click-back data for hundreds of thousands of websites — indicate that websites giving users a minimum of five choices generate the largest volume of sharing,” Watson says. However, don’t let loose with that stat just yet.

Neil Patel at Quicksprout did a social sharing button study in which he added two more social network options in addition to his current three. What did he discover? He received a decrease in overall shares by 29 percent.

Bottom line: Test this out with your own content. Some social sharing button applications/widgets even include logic (like the one we use here at VR via AddThis), in which they only display the social networks that are commonly used amongst your individual reader – Pretty neat.

Bonus tip: Don’t go crazy! Including several social sharing buttons/options can slow down a blog or website big time. Page load time and speed should be a major priority for your website or blog. According to Kissmetrics, 40 percent of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Choose just a handful of main social sites to display, and use an additional button that has the capability to roll up several social sites into one such as this example:

3. Get strategic with your placements

Anywhere you have content (blog posts, email, videos, pictures, case studies, press releases), you should also have social sharing buttons. But where exactly should they be located? It all depends on your visitors, the length of your content, the type of engagement you’re trying to achieve, or already have, etc. Here are the pros and cons of each placement:

Pros: People see your social sharing buttons immediately, and they also know exactly what they’re sharing, as your buttons are most likely located near your headline, video or image. If you choose social sharing buttons with counters (the number of times your content has been shared on a particular social site), and you’ve got big numbers, readers will see the post is popular, may be more enticed to share it, and/or will also associate your post with even more authority/validity.

Cons: People have to scroll back up to the top to share your post and may get distracted in the process, especially if you have enticing related articles at the bottom.

Pros: If you have lengthy blog posts, a hovering social plugin that follows readers along the side of the article will ensure a reader knows where your social sharing buttons are at all times. Chances are, not everyone will make it to the bottom of your post.

Cons: Depending on the screen size, a floating sidebar can sometimes cover up your content, which can result in an irritating user experience.

Pros: Once people have made it to the bottom of your post, they can share it immediately.

Cons: People may not make it all the way to the bottom, and if they don’t get there, your opportunity may be lost.

Bottom line: Try a combination of no more than two placement, and again, test.

Bonus tip: Don’t place your social sharing buttons in the navigation bar of your site. No one will look for them or expect to find them there.
4. Write Relevant Content

The inclusion and strategic placement of your social sharing buttons doesn’t mean much if your content is blasé – the biggest sabotage of all. Take the time to write valuable, educational, inspiring, and/or relevant content first, and the shares will follow.

Have a favorite social sharing application? Share it with us!

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Are You Committing Content and Social Media Sabotage? appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

3 Highly Effective Word-of-Mouth Marketing Tactics

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 06:00

Despite the rise of social media, many recommendations still happen offline, with people sharing their experiences with friends over the phone or face-to-face.

On the surface, word-of-mouth marketing may seem more geared towards large companies, but this isn’t entirely accurate.

“Small businesses have a huge advantage over large companies in word-of-mouth marketing because the distance between company owner and customers is much closer,” says Brad Fay, chief operating officer of Keller Fay Group, an award-winning word-of-mouth research and consulting company, and chairman of the board of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. “There’s an opportunity for customers to have a relationship with management, and so it’s easier to customize offers, to give personal attention, and these are things that tend to raise the level of satisfaction that the customers have and their willingness to advocate [on behalf of the businesses],” he adds.

For example, Fay points out that, typically, local banks have stronger customer satisfaction scores than big banks.

“The reason is that the smaller banks are closer to their customers,” he says. “The customer feels like the bank is more committed to the local community, they feel like they’re getting more personal attention, and they’re more likely to be recognized when they walk into the bank, so that more personalized service is absolutely more likely to lead to advocacy.” Because people want to recommend the companies and brands that they know and trust, small businesses have a huge advantage.

While there are no prototypical word-of-mouth marketing campaigns, the options are limitless. Here are a few that Fay mentioned:

  • An email campaign where you encourage your subscribers to forward a message to their friends
  • A referral campaign where your readers can send new customers your way, perhaps with a discount or perk
  • Creating shareable content on your website
  • Producing event marketing with the intention of having your best customers or clients bring their friends
  • An ad campaign designed to generate conversation

“What all word-of-mouth campaigns have in common is a strategy of encouraging customer recommendations and conversation,” Fay explains.

Here are three highly effective word-of-mouth strategies.

1. Have a good founding story. “When people recommend a company they like to explain the background, the reason the company was started, and so forth. You want to feel a personal connection, and if there’s a story you can relate to, you’re more likely to recommend them.” For more information on creating a compelling brand story, see our post on finding your brand’s content marketing narrative.

2. Treat your customers like gold. Although some businesses like to offer great deals for new customers or clients – offering better rates than they do for their regular, established clients, for example – Fay warns against the practice of sacrificing current customers to try to gain future ones. This can make it more difficult to get referrals from those who are satisfied with your business. Keep current customers extremely satisfied, and it will encourage them to spread the word.

3. Find ways to show that you care for your current customers or clients. Even small gestures can have a big effect. A recent example: I stayed at Magnolia Hotel in Denver, and was thrilled that they offered free milk and cookies before bedtime – to the point that I mentioned it on social media and even texted my husband to let him know my options: regular milk, chocolate milk or strawberry milk.

Fay’s example: a local wine shop called the Princeton Corkscrew. “They keep a record of my past purchases and my credit card number, and it makes it incredibly easy for me to call them up and say, ‘can you please send me a case of wine I got last time?’ and they’ll deliver it,” he explains. “The way they manage the information and the service they have in delivering the wine makes me incredibly loyal, and I advocate them to everybody. Sometimes it’s just providing a really good service and being convenient.”

This is in addition to the personal touch referenced earlier. When Fay walks into the store, they recognize him and give him advice on new wines to try. This personal touch can have a greater effect than social media marketing. “The owner of the shop is very visible. He does have a LinkedIn profile and a LinkedIn group, but I’ve never engaged with them on LinkedIn,” Fay explains.

People are likely to tell everyone they know about a bad experience with a business, but they’re usually thrilled to pass on information about good experiences, too. And that’s what word-of-mouth marketing is all about.

Your Turn: Which small businesses do you recommend to your friends? What did they do that stood out?

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 3 Highly Effective Word-of-Mouth Marketing Tactics appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Instagram Rolls out New Tools for Businesses

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 11:40

Instagram has officially jumped on the ‘social media is for businesses, too’ bandwagon. This week, the image-based social site with more than 200 million users worldwide, has announced a new suite of tools and real-time campaign data “to help brands better understand the performance of their paid and organic content on Instagram.”

The tools available for businesses will include:

  • Account insights – Impressions, reach and engagement analytics

Image courtesy of Instagram

  • Ad insights – Paid campaign performance including impressions, reach and frequency analytics
  • Ad staging – The ability to preview, save and collaborate on create for future ads

Instagram states they’re currently making the tools available for all Instagram advertisers in order to gain feedback, and will be rolling out the features for all other businesses in the next few weeks and months.

Want more breaking news like this? Get the VR Buzz.

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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2 Simple Ways to Get Real Feedback from Employees

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 06:00

No matter how big or small your company is, you need to know what’s going on with your employees. After all, they reflect who you are and how you want your business to be perceived.

So, how do you find out how your employees feel about you, their peers, or the company in general? There are two really simple ways you should try: Exit and stay interviews. You’ve probably heard of them before, but putting them into practice – and doing them right – is easier said than done. Here’s what I’ve learned: 

The Exit Interview

When someone leaves our company, we hold a casual exit interview before they leave. We want to get insights into why they’re leaving and what we could have done better to keep them. Our human resources director, Leslie captures all the feedback and circulates it to their managers and me. Sometimes it’s a tough read, but it only helps in the long run to assist us in addressing issues.

Tip: Exit interviews are the last impression an employee has of your company so ensure it is professional, respectful and leaves them feeling valued for the work they contributed. Give them a chance to communicate what they liked and what can be improved upon. You can learn a lot from this feedback.

The Stay Interview

A stay interview is essentially an exit interview that happens before an employee is out the door. Leslie came up with a similar idea: a one-year check in. She sits down with folks after a year of service and asks them questions about what they’d do to make our company better, how they like their work and what their aspirations are. Afterwards, she shares it with their managers and me so we know how we’re doing. We use this feedback to make positive changes on the inside, because everything we do inside affects the outside.

When we make changes, employees know they’ve been heard and that’s priceless.

Tip: Hold a touch-base with folks at a regular set interval to get feedback. In the beginning, it might help to check in after their first month and then at the 90-day mark. This can help identify and address issues early on.

What are you doing to understand what’s going on with your people? I’d love to hear what’s working in the comments.

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


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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 2 Simple Ways to Get Real Feedback from Employees appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

4 Quick Fixes to Reboot Your Website

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 06:01

Is your website a little drab? Is its functionality not quite up to par with others? Are you losing customers because your site looks less than stellar on mobile devices? If so, it might be time to reboot your site.

At VerticalResponse, we just overhauled our site to coincide with new services that we’re offering. So if your site is in need of a little refresher, we’ve got just the guy to offer tips: Alf Brand, our director of Marketing Communications and the man who helped launch our new site, has a few pieces of advice to help whip your site into shape.

1. Go with a responsive design
The hot, new and necessary trend for websites is responsive design. Responsive design adjusts the look and layout of your website depending on the device your visitor is using. This allows your site to look good and visible on all devices. This concept has only been around for a few years, with a lot of small businesses making the switch in 2013.

Before this design was available, businesses including VerticalResponse, were maintaining a separate mobile site to capture attention on smartphones. Now you can use one design and your site will look stunning across all devices, Brand says.

“I highly recommend making your site responsive,” he says. “More and more people are browsing on mobile every day; you need to be ready for them.” 

Here’s a snapshot of what our responsive website looks like on a mobile device:

2. Add an email sign-up form
One of the main purposes of your website is to capture new leads. Adding a place for prospective customers to receive your emails can do just that. With each new contact, you stand a greater chance of converting them into a paying customer if you can deliver a few top-notch emails.

The sign up form doesn’t have to be a pop up, or even take up a lot of room on your site, but make sure people can find it! Check out our own VR Buzz email newsletter sign up form on our blog. All we ask for is an email address. Simple. Clean. Effective. Here are six perfect places for your sign up form.

3. Add social media links
Social media is alive and kicking, and if you want to capitalize on these channels as marketing tools, you’ll want to include links on your home page. Here’s how they look on our site: 

Some business owners put the link on the contact page, but it’s a better idea to keep those links front and center and on every page. Giving potential customers additional ways to interact with your business is always a good idea.

4. Improve navigation
Can customers tour around your site with ease? The navigation might seem simple to you, but it might not be as easy to maneuver for your customers.

Ask a few friends to surf your site. Ask them what they think of the experience. Think of it as a mini-test group. Take their feedback and provide it to your web designer, or make the changes yourself if you maintain your site.

As you plan your improvements, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Don’t change it just because
Know why you want to change your site. Have specific goals, and make sure you’re making these changes for a reason. Testing changes before you make them is also a good bet. 

Make incremental changes
Make small, incremental changes. Watch how they impact your conversion rates and make adjustments as needed.

Don’t get overly trendy
Just like teased hair and flannel shirts, website fads come and go. You don’t have to go with the trendiest design. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it will work for your customers. Don’t assume any look will work. Test it to be sure.

Keep content conversational
People are coming to your site to learn more about your business or brand, so make sure you create interesting content that’s conversational. Keep it light and allow customers to navigate deeper to learn more.

How have you improved or revamped your site?

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 4 Quick Fixes to Reboot Your Website appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Advice from a Social Pro: How to Engage with Your Audience [VIDEO]

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 06:00

In this episode of “The Magic @ Ball of Social Media,” we sit down with Tom Martin, Digital Marketing Strategist at Converse Digital and author of The Invisible Sale. Martin shares his perspective on how small businesses can engage with their community.

A key takeaway that Martin shares: One thing that a big business can never take away from a small business is the perception that they are small and intimate. Big businesses have a hard time obtaining that connection with their customers.

Want more marketing tips and advice? Get the VR Buzz delivered daily.

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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7 Local Business Listing Sites You Should Claim Now

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 06:00

Finding time to update or create your online business listings can sometimes be a challenge. But, once you claim your listing, you can control what information and images are shown on these sites about your business, which is certainly worth the effort.

In most cases, you may already have a listing, so it’s just a matter of claiming the page for your business. What’s the difference between updating and claiming? Updating means you’ve created an account and just need to add new information to the page. Claiming means that a page for your business exists, but you may not have created or set it up. In this case, you’ll need to prove it’s your business before you can change any information.

There are several sites your business could be listed on, so how do you choose the best? Easy! Here are our top 7 business listing sites you should claim and/or update:

1. Google My BusinessGoogle My Business says it “connects you directly with customers, whether they’re looking for you on Search, Maps or Google+.”

How to claim or edit your business listing: Click the “Get on Google” anywhere on the page, sign in to your Google account, and follow the steps to add your business information to Google.

2. Facebook for Business - According to Facebook, it “can help you reach all the people who matter most to your business.”

How to claim or edit your business listing: If you need to claim your Business Page click here and if you need sign up for a business page click here.

3. Yelp for Business - According to Yelp, “Millions of people visit Yelp every month to find great local businesses. Help them find your business – free!”How to claim or edit your business listing: Click here to search for your business. If it exists, you’ll see two options: A Claim button or an Already Claimed link. Click the option you see and either log in, or set up an account to edit it.

4. Yellow Pages - According to YellowPages, they “will not only get you online, but can also help you get found, drive leads and expand your reach.”

How to claim or edit your business listing: Click here to update your business details and then click “Get your listing fee.” 5. Yahoo Local - According to Yahoo, they are “a comprehensive business directory complete with ratings and reviews, maps, events, and more.”

How to claim or edit your business listing: Scroll down this page to “Try Local Basic Listing for free” and click, “Sign Up.” Then, update your business contact information including address, phone number, and URL. You don’t need to pay for this service. 6. Bing Places for Business&nbsp According to Bing,”Places for Business is a Bing portal that enables business owners add a listing for their business on Bing.”

How to claim or edit your business listing: Chances are, Bing already has listings for your business. Click here to claim it.

7. Foursquare for Business - According to Foursquare, “Over 50 million people use Foursquare to discover great businesses and share what they love about them with others. Join the nearly 2 million businesses who are already taking advantage of Foursquare to join the conversation and grow their business.”

How to claim or edit your business listing: Start by searching for your business, then select your listing. If you don’t see your business just click the link at the bottom of the page to add it. Click here to manage your listing.

Vital information you should include on every listing:
Be prepared to fill out the following information, and keep it consistent on each site. Consistency helps your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) efforts.

  • Business Name
  • Address (City, State, Zip)
  • Main Phone Number
  • Website
  • Business Hours
  • Description - A description of your business, minimum 250 characters.
  • Business Categories
  • Logo and pictures 

Keep a document of each listing so you can duplicate it exactly. Check on your listings and update your information (if applicable) every six months. Also, keep images of your business current and compelling to draw in prospects and customers.

*Bonus Tip* If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, encourage people to “check-in”and write a review by displaying a sign in your business window that states the sites in which you’re listed.

Have any sites to add to our tops? We’ve got more here in the Top 20 Places Your Business Needs to Be Listed Online

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 7 Local Business Listing Sites You Should Claim Now appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

5 Small Businesses Excelling on Social

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 06:00

When it comes to social media, it often seems that large businesses get all the buzz, with high-profile marketing campaigns and monumental budgets. However, SMBs are making waves of their own. Here’s a look at five SMBS we found to be excelling on social media.

1. Epicurean Connection

The Epicurean Connection, a VerticalResponse customer and small wine and cheese shop in Sonoma, California, is owned by Sheana Davis. The store sells specialty and gourmet products, including local wines, craft beers, and artisan and farmstead cheeses. Epicurean Connection events often include cheese-making classes, live music, and more.

“She [Davis] hosts these gatherings at her shop during the week and brings all these people in,” says Derek Overbey, our senior social media manager. “She’s really active on social to not only gain new clients and get people to come into her shop, but she also stays in touch with those who come in on a more regular basis.”
Davis uses her own personal Twitter account to draw people to her Facebook page. She has amassed 2,436 Facebook likes and more than 1,600 Twitter followers. Also, the shop is reviewed on Yelp and TripAdvisor and listed on Foursquare.

2. Tacolicious

California-based Tacolicious started out as a little taco stand at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s market on Thursdays. Eventually, they got so busy with the stand, they opened up a physical location as well, which has since expanded to four Bay Area restaurants. They also continue to run the original taco stand. Tacolicious has amassed close to 5,000 Twitter followers, tweeting different tacos of the week, and a robust Facebook presence with just under 6,000 likes. The popular eatery is also reviewed on Yelp and TripAdvisor, as well as Foursquare.

3. Blonde Chicken

Tara Swiger is multi-talented. She dyes and spins her own yarn, which she sells to stores and individuals, and also teaches marketing skills for creative business owners. Swiger’s social media presence is vast. In addition to using Twitter, where she’s just shy of 4,500 followers, Swiger uses her YouTube channel to share tutorials on knitting, spinning and dyeing yarn along with inspirational videos on creative businesses.

Yarn is incredibly visual, and Swiger takes advantage of that by posting photographs on Pinterest (where she has 883 connections) and Flickr. Her friends and fans can share photos in her Flickr page as well. Swiger also has a presence on Ravelry, a free site for knitters. She has 364 highly targeted friends on the site and a total of 92 in a group called Blonde Chicken-ettes.

4. Death’s Door Spirits

Located in Middleton, Wisconsin, Death’s Door Spirits works with local farmers to create gin, vodka and white whiskey. Its award-winning gin, distilled in small batches in copper pot stills, is flavored with just three ingredients: wild juniper berries, coriander and fennel. Death’s Door Spirits actually distills its own base as well, from local organic malted barley and organic wheat from Washington Island. Its website features seasonal recipes created by mixologist John Kinder, a list of upcoming events, and a web cam of Washington Island. (Death’s Door Spirits is named after the navigational passage of water between Washington Island and the Door County peninsula in Lake Michigan.)

To supplement its site, Death’s Door Spirits has an active Twitter presence with more than 5,000 followers, close to 6,000 likes on Facebook, and just over 400 followers on Instagram. Death’s Door Spirits keeps its social media presence light, with images, lists of ingredients, links to reviews, and more. Death’s Door Spirits is also reviewed on TripAdvisor and Yelp, and listed on Foursquare.

5. Northern Spark

Northern Spark may be a celebration that only takes place one night each summer, but you wouldn’t know it from its social media presence. Presented by nonprofit arts organization Northern Light, Northern Spark gathers tens of thousands of people in Minneapolis for an all-night art festival. A few smaller projects take place throughout the year. Northern Spark has an extensive social media footprint year-round, just shy of 7,000 Facebook likes and close to 4,000 Twitter followers. Its targeted audience comes in handy when there are crowdfunding goals to be met: Northern Spark recently raised more than $20,000 on Kickstarter from some 413 backers.

Know of any other small businesses who are excelling on social? Share their pages or handles in the comments below.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 5 Small Businesses Excelling on Social appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Psst! 3 Low-Cost Tools to Track What the Media is Saying About You

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 06:08

If you’ve ever worked with a PR agency or consultant, a standard offering is media monitoring – tracking your press placements on a regular basis. Typically you’d get a “clip report,” which is a compilation of all your press mentions during a given time period. PR agencies usually subscribe to a media monitoring service, such as Cision, Meltwater or Vocus, which can cost several thousands of dollars per year.

Media monitoring isn’t something that only PR pros can do. There are several inexpensive online tools that will alert you whenever you’re mentioned in the media, and some will even help you search, archive and organize your press coverage, too. (Tip: You can use them to keep tabs on your competitors, too.) While these tools aren’t as robust as the big guys who have PR agencies and corporations as customers, they’ll get the job done, especially if you’re a smaller business.

Here are three media monitoring tools to consider checking out. (Two of them are free!)

Google News Alerts

Even though here at VerticalResponse we use one of the paid services mentioned above to monitor our press coverage, I still have Google News Alerts set up to track our company name as well as all our competitors’ names, just in case. And guess what? Sometimes Google will pick up something that doesn’t come across the monitoring service’s radar until a day or two later.

You can customize how often you want to be alerted (as it happens, once a day or once a week), what sources (news, blogs, videos, etc.), even a preferred language and region. I personally prefer getting alerts as soon as Google finds a new piece of content, so we can react quickly if needed. Cost: Free


Newsle is a media monitoring service that lets you know whenever you, your Facebook friends and/or LinkedIn connections are mentioned in the news or in press releases. (Newsle was acquired by LinkedIn in July.) It’s super easy to use and even has a leaderboard showing who’s mentioned the most. What I really like about Newsle, though, is the ability to see in one dashboard what my journalist connections have recently covered. Cost: Free


Trackur isn’t free, but has some advanced options that might make it worth the price. You get features like archiving, bookmarking and collaboration tools, as well as deeper analysis on sentiment (i.e., if the coverage is favorable, negative or neutral) and overall influence (based on Klout scores). Cost: Starts at $97/month; free trial available

How do you uncover your press coverage? Have any favorite tools or tips of your own? Share ‘em with us.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Psst! 3 Low-Cost Tools to Track What the Media is Saying About You appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

A Fundamental Guide to Email and Social Media Marketing for Non-Profits

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 06:08

As a non-profit, you work hard to offer unmatched services, promote a cause and improve your community. Like most non-profits, you’re probably doing all of this with limited staff and a tight budget. Fortunately, email and social media marketing are great ways to spread the word about your organization.

“Email and social media marketing is easy and inexpensive,” says Jill Bastian, our Community Education and Training manager. “It can bring much needed attention to a non-profit. The more attention you can get, the more donations, volunteers or supporters you can bring in.”

To help your non-profit thrive, we’ve put together the ultimate email and social media marketing guide. We’ll show you how to use these two marketing vehicles to maximize your reach, boost donations, recruit volunteers and increase awareness.

For starters, let’s talk about the five biggest benefits of email and social media marketing.

1. Solid return on investment
To reiterate, email and social media marketing is an affordable marketing option, which is especially attractive to non-profits working with donations and limited grant money. Did you know we have a generous non-profit discount

When it comes to email marketing, for every $1 you spend, you get a return of about $40, Bastian says. Social media marketing is free. Of course, there is a time commitment and you can choose to pay for some social advertising; other than that, there’s no cost.

2. Boost public awareness
It’s not always easy to let the public know what you’re up to, but email and social media can help. If you work to grow your email list and social media following, you’ll be able to reach your audience in real time. Awareness is a big piece of any marketing puzzle, and email and social media marketing are easy tools to use from the comfort of your office.

3. Increase involvement
At some point, every non-profit needs a helping hand. With email and social media marketing your non-profit can instantly engage with an audience of potential helpers. Whether you want to recruit volunteers or collect donations, an email and a tweet can go a long way to increase involvement in your organization.

4. Stay in front of supporters
By sending emails and being social, you can stay in front of your supporters. You’re competing for support, so it’s important to keep your non-profit’s name and mission out there for the public to see and hear. With continued communication you’re more likely to see supporters participate throughout the year.

5. Save time
Your time is valuable. That’s why when you use VerticalResponse, you’ll find it easy to create emails and post to your social media accounts. You can create an email and share that same content on your social sites. Plus, you can link your social media accounts to every email that you send through VerticalResponse. 

Now, let’s talk about the kinds of emails and social media messages you should send. We’ll start with the top five emails your non-profit should send and give you tips to make each email effective. Keep in mind all of the email content that you send can also be shared on social media. 

1. Newsletter
You can create a newsletter in a snap. A newsletter keeps your supporters in the loop. Talk about upcoming events, show pictures of recent projects, share the story of someone your organization has helped or highlight a volunteer of the month. The possibilities are endless. Here’s an example:


  •  Like the example above, your newsletter should offer a variety of information.
  • Your newsletter should include images with captions to break up the content.

2. Invitations
Inviting people to your upcoming event couldn’t be easier through email. You can create a fun and sophisticated invitation to boost attendance at your next fundraiser. Check out the example below.


  • Include all of the necessary details such as date, location and events offered. And get someone else to do a quick proof, sending the wrong date for your event will cause a lot headaches.
  • You should also include links to your social media accounts on the invitation.

3. Incentive email
A lot of businesses send discount codes as an incentive to buy, but you can get a little creative and offer incentives like free t-shirts to the first 15 volunteers who sign up for an event. Think of affordable and easy incentives to get people to participate like the animal shelter did in the example below. 


  • Include the incentive in your subject line.
  • Get to the point. Tell recipients exactly what the incentive is and how it works.

4. Thank you email
You can create a professional thank you card and send it to your supporters, volunteers and donors. It’s important to show your appreciation, and an email is a quick and efficient way to do that. When a donor came through with a big donation for an animal shelter, the non-profit sent the email below.


  • Highlight the reason for your gratitude.
  • Include links to the donor’s website or social media accounts as a way to promote them; it may boost their site traffic.
  • Include a call to action so others can donate too.

5. Welcome email
When someone new comes along, welcome him or her to the group with a nice email. This email makes a good first impression and shows your supporters that you’re excited to welcome them to the family. Here’s an example:


  • Write a friendly letter in a conversational tone.
  • Include links to important pages on your site like the example above.
  • Give supporters a point of contact so they can reach out when they want.

Now, let’s chat about the social media posts your non-profit can use. Coming up with daily tweets and status updates can be tricky, so we’ve created a list of topics to keep your social media engine running. We’ll highlight each topic with a specific example and give you takeaway tips from each one. You’ll also notice tips that combine both email and social media marketing.

Here are six social media topics to post.

1. Ask for help
As a non-profit, you rely on the generosity of those around you. Social media is a non-intrusive way to ask for help. By posting a message or two about an upcoming fundraiser, event or collection, you can get the word out to your target audience. Take a look at this Facebook post from a Minnesota-based non-profit  that offers several support-based programs.


  • Chose your words wisely. Explain the details without sounding pushy.
  • If more information is needed, include a link. In the example above, a link to a list of needed supplies is included.
  • Give people plenty of time to donate. Notice this post was sent on July 15, and the collection ends one month later.

Email + social tip

  • You could also create a Facebook event for an upcoming fundraiser and send an email with the invitation to the event.

2. Show volunteers in action
One of the great things about social media is that you can showcase events in real-time. When an event is going on, snap a few pictures or take video with your smartphone and post them to your social media accounts.

“In general, I would say people love pictures and videos, so put as much multimedia content as you can on your social channels,” says Sam Hartman with The Ecology Center of San Francisco, a non-profit that uses VerticalResponse to educate local residents about ecological awareness.

The Ecology Center created a quick video about a handmade oven it made for a community festival and shared it on its YouTube channel.

The point is to show the public what your organization is doing. Whether your volunteers are packing boxes of food for those in need, walking in a local parade, or attending a fundraising gala like those in the Facebook post below, show everyone what your employees, volunteers and donors are doing.


  • Show people. A picture of a box of donated food may not be as captivating or encouraging as a picture with a donor in it. Make sure your pictures have faces that people can connect to.
  • Showcase multiple pictures by using apps like Photo Frames for Facebook
  • Add a location to your post.
  • You can also tag others in the picture.

Email + social tip

  • When the event is over, send a group email to share the pictures.

3. Show your recipients
In some cases, the recipients of your organization may not want to be photographed or even mentioned by name. That’s okay. However, if someone is willing to explain their story, or have their picture taken, social media is an excellent platform to share it.

People want to see their contributions at work and social media is a public way to do just that. Take, for example, the Instagram post below. This non-profit, Feed My Starving Children, sends nutritional meals to poverty-stricken areas. 


  • Pictures are powerful. If you can, highlight those who benefit from your program often.
  • Offer a description or explanation of the picture along with the post.
  • Stay engaged. Monitor your posts and make sure you answer any questions that your fan base may have.

Email + social tip 

  • You can also turn that same post into an in-depth blog article and send a link to that article via email.

4. Share statistics about your cause
Pictures and video can tell a story, but statistics can pack a meaningful punch, too. Sometimes people don’t know the magnitude of a situation. The tweet below educates people about the prevalence of hunger. Statistics make your audience stop and think. Hopefully, it encourages them to do something to help.


  • A statistic is an easy post, especially if you’re a little short on time or don’t have any pictures or videos to share.
  • Include a call to action. Like the example above, give people the option to learn more about that statistic or tell them how they can help.

Email + social tip:

  • Add that statistic to a larger group of important numbers and create a blog post out of it. Share the link to those must-read stats in an email.

5. Say thanks
Your organization wouldn’t be where it is without the help of great donors and volunteers, right? Social media gives you the opportunity to publicly thank your supporters for their generosity.

Check out the tweet below. When a big donation came in, the non-profit took a second to show its appreciation on Twitter. 


  • Include the Twitter handle of the donor or volunteer in the post so it shows up on both your site and theirs.
  • Use hashtags. If you have a big event, give it its own hashtag, or try to consistently use your organization’s name as a hashtag. The public can search for you by hashtags, so they’re beneficial to use.

Email + social tip:

6. Promote other channels
If you’re using a variety of social media channels, you can cross-promote your non-profit. For instance, ask your Facebook fans to follow you on Twitter. Get your followers on Instagram to check out your Pinterest feed. The Animal Humane Society used a clever picture of a cat in a post to promote its Instagram feed. Check it out below.


  • Cross-promoting can be done once in a while to boost your following on additional sites.
  • Be funny. The post above makes you chuckle. There’s no better way to encourage people to follow you than to use a little humor.
  • Include the link to the account that you’re promoting.

Advice on email and social media posts
To ensure your non-profit gets the most out of its email and social media marketing, here are a few pieces of advice.

  • Post and email frequently
  • Use your email and social media channels to communicate with your audience on a regular basis, Bastian says. If you post something to your social sites once a week for two weeks and then disappear for a month, your followers may be less engaged and less willing to help when you need it. The same rule applies for email.
  • Don’t just ask for help
    • You should vary your emails and posts by offering a good mix of content from the list above. One of the biggest turn offs for a non-profit audience is being asked to contribute too often, says Bastian.
    • “If the only thing you do is ask for money, people will lose interest,” she says. “It’s the same case for businesses. You can’t push people to buy something or donate money all of the time. Just be sure to vary your content.”
  • Watch others for inspiration
    • If you’re feeling a little out of sorts with social or email marketing, follow some of your fellow non-profits on social media and sign up for their emails. You’ll get an idea of how they use these marketing tools and can draw on that information to fuel your own campaigns, Bastian says.
  • Share other posts
    • You don’t have to write every tweet or status update, you can also share other posts from other sites. Let’s say your sister organization has a great blog post about the rising use of food shelves in the suburbs, it’s okay to share that information. In fact, it’s a good habit to get into. If you share their post, it’ll likely return the social media love later on.
  • Add social sites to your email signature
    • You can add your social media sites to emails that you send via VerticalResponse, but you should also include those links in your email signature. If it’s in every email you send, it’s easily accessible for those who want to check it out.
  • Add an opt-in form to your Facebook page
    • Combine your email and social media forces by putting an opt-in form on your Facebook page. That way, your social media audience has a quick and easy way to sign up for your emails, too.
  • Don’t take on too many social sites
    • If you’re strapped for time, don’t feel like you have to have a presence on every social media channel. Pick one or two and consistently post to them. It’s better to limit your channels than to be overwhelmed by a dozen social sites and post sporadically. 

    By combining your email and social media marketing, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of your efforts. Email and social media are such a big part of people’s lives that it makes sense to use them as marketing tools. Tell us what kinds of emails and posts you create at your non-profit in the comment section below.

    Sign up for VerticalResponse’s non-profit discount and get your email and social media marketing going in style!

    © 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

    The post A Fundamental Guide to Email and Social Media Marketing for Non-Profits appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    Successful Subject Lines Deconstructed

    Fri, 08/15/2014 - 06:07

    Sentence diagramming is the bane of every school kid, and it’s promptly forgotten the moment class is over. You don’t need to delve into the darkness of your youth, but to help illustrate how to create a successful subject line we’re going to break it down, old school. 

    Subject lines are one of, if not, the most important parts of your email. If your subject line isn’t compelling, your readers won’t open your email, and all your compelling content will be missed. Wondering why you have a low open or click-through rate? The first culprit is your subject line. So, let’s deconstruct some recent subject lines and discuss five tips that’ll help you create engaging ones:

    1. Make it Short
    Most email programs limit the number of charters that show up in a subject line, which is usually around 50. This means, to ensure your readers see all of your compelling info, you also need to be short and succinct. Can you write a subject line longer than 50 characters? Sure, but keep the most important information in the beginning so it’ll have the most impact. Also, your company name is already listed in the “from label” of your email, so there’s no need to take up even more space by repeating it in the subject line.

    2. Use a call-to-action (CTA)
    Similar to the content inside your email, the subject line can be even more effective if you tell your readers what you want them to do. CTAs are important because they lead people to take action, such as open, click, sign up or buy. It may be difficult to work in a call-to-action every time, especially with limited characters, but try to do so occasionally.

    3. Be topical and have a sense of urgency
    Successful subject lines should catch your reader’s attention by being fun, catchy, surprising, and/or informative. A subject line that includes an idea, event or story in the news or pop culture may engage your readers quickly—Just ensure it relates to the content of your email. Use a sense of urgency as well, or a include a limited time frame in which the subscriber has to act on your email, such as “10 hours only” or “3 days left.”

    4. Get personal
    Try personalizing your subject line with a first name, location, past purchase, etc. to grab attention. A word of caution about using your reader’s name in the subject line: Some people like it and will gladly open your email, others will find it too Big Brother-ish (as if someone’s watching them) and may be turned off. Also be aware that not everyone signs up with his or her real name (ex: Queen of the land!), and that can result in some strange, funny and/or peculiar personalization.

    5. Use something other than “free” 
    The word “free,” and the phrase “free shipping” is one of the most commonly used phrases in subject lines. While “free” can be compelling, your email also needs to stand out amongst the other “free” subject lines. Use a variety of words, offers and promotions, and always include relevant content to hook your readers. The same can be said for using symbols in your subject lines; less is more. 

    With these guidelines in mind, let’s take a look at few subject lines that have shown up in our inboxes recently:

    As always, test your subject lines by including a variety of calls-to-action, personalization, or even symbols in your subject lines, and let us know what works best for you!

    Want to get started with email marketing and create your own compelling subject lines? Try VerticalResponse!

    © 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

    The post Successful Subject Lines Deconstructed appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    6 Perfect Places for Your Email Sign up Forms

    Thu, 08/14/2014 - 06:07

    To keep your email list growing like crazy all year long, you need to make it easy for people to sign up. A healthy email list is one of the best ways to boost sales, says our Community Education and Training Manager, Jill Bastian.

    “An email list is vital to a business.” She adds, “It has the potential to dramatically increase sales. So, giving potential subscribers/clients/customers lots of options to sign up is important.”

    The good news is collecting email addresses isn’t hard. There are a dozens of places where you can set up an email sign up form. From your business website to a sign-up sheet near your cash register, we’ve created a list of six places to put your email sign-up form:

    1. Your homepage
    The most obvious place to put an email sign up form is on your homepage. This suggestion might not take you by surprise, but it’s worth mentioning because a lot of businesses don’t have a form on the main page.

    Having a sign up option on your blog or contact page is great, but customers might not make it past your main page, so you should capitalize on the opportunity. We’ve got a quick and easy email sign up form on our homepage. Check it out.

    2. Sidebar content offering
    People are more willing to sign up for your email list if they get something in return. You’ll notice that our sign up form above is for the VR Buzz, our newsletter. Our subscribers get some great marketing tips and advice delivered right to their inbox. You can also offer other high quality content. Take a look at the example below. Subscribers get access to a content offering. It’s set off to the side of the website, so it’s not distracting, yet it has a prominent place on the site. 

    3. Consider a pop-up form
    We know what you’re thinking; pop-up ads are annoying, right? Not if they’re done right. For example, Bastian spotted a humorous pop-up ad while she was surfing online. It made her chuckle, so she signed up for their list.

    “Even a jaded email marketer can be converted with some clever text,” she jokes. If you add a dose of humor to your pop ups, they’ll serve a purpose. You’ll grab attention and maybe some contacts, Bastian says.

    4. A sign-up form on Twitter
    Did you know that you could use Twitter to beef up your email list? By purchasing a lead generation card, you’ll attract a whole host of new customers. Think of it as a promotional tweet. You offer customers a deal of some sort in exchange for their email address. It’s an affordable way to add new names to your list. Here’s an example: 

    We’ve written a how-to article on this very topic. For more information, check out “Grow Your Email List Using Twitter Lead Generation Cards.”

    5. At the register
    A lot of retailers are asking for email addresses right at the register. When you’re ringing up a customer, you have their full attention, so why not ask if they’re interested in signing up? If you don’t want to enter it into your computer, you can always put a clipboard near the register and ask people to sign up. Remind customers the value they get for signing up. 

    6. A sign-up form for a drawing
    A creative VerticalResponse client, Cinquain Cellars, has a unique sign up system. The winery hosts a drawing. Customers can participate by entering their name and email address into an iPad that’s stationed right at the counter. And entrants are informed they are signing up for Cinquain’s email list when they enter.l 

    “This has proven to be very successful,” says owner Beth Nagengast. “It’s a win-win. We can build our list of prospective customers, and someone always wins a great prize.”

    How do you collect email addresses? Tell us the most creative spot that you have an email sign up/opt-in form in the comment section below.

    Want more marketing tips and advice? Get the VR Buzz delivered daily.

    © 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

    The post 6 Perfect Places for Your Email Sign up Forms appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    An Eye-Opening Breakdown of Back-to-School Spending in 2014 [Infographic]

    Wed, 08/13/2014 - 06:00

    The National Retail Federation recently released its 2014 Back-to-School survey projecting and portraying just how big the scholastic shopping season is. From how much money will be spent – a whopping $74.9 billion – to where, what, who, and how people will be shopping this year, the stats are valuable for every business to note.

    Speaking of, we took notes for you and compiled the most interesting and useful stats from the back-to-school survey into this handy infographic. Here are some highlights:

    • Majority of people (44.5 percent) shop for school supplies one month before school starts.
    • 46 percent of people will shop for sales, and 26.6 percent will use coupons more often compared to last year.
    • 25-34 year-olds will be the highest spending age group this year, averaging $822 per person.
    • Back-to-school isn’t just for kiddos (see stat above): $20.15 billion will be spent on college gear, dorm items, food, personal care & gift cards.
    • 37 percent of people will research school items on their smartphones – going mobile’s more important than ever.
    • Shopping isn’t just for the ladies – Men will spend more than women this year, averaging $754 per guy, which is up 12 percent from last year.

    Want more marketing tips and how-tos? Get the VR Buzz delivered daily.

    © 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

    Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):

    Courtesy of: VerticalResponse

    The post An Eye-Opening Breakdown of Back-to-School Spending in 2014 [Infographic] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    3 Simple Ways to Make Email Marketing Work for You

    Tue, 08/12/2014 - 06:04

    No matter what your business, email marketing can work for you. Whether you sell office widgets or offer a carpet-cleaning service, every business can benefit from this affordable marketing option.

    “The return on investment for email marketing is high, about $40 for every $1 spent,” says Jill Bastian, our Community Education and Training Manager.

    “This is not only a fantastic number to see, but it’s also held pretty steady over the years,” she adds. “Email marketing is very inexpensive, usually just pennies per email. It reaches lots of people and can bring in sales/donations very quickly.” 

    The return on investment is one of the main reasons so many businesses turn to email marketing, but how can you make it work for your business? Read on for three simple ways!

    1. Select from professionally designed templates
    When you’re ready to create and send an email, you can select from, for example, dozens of professionally designed templates. With just a few clicks, you can upload your company logo, add links to your website, and create a must-read message for your recipients.

    No need for graphic design or coding skills; these are drop-and-drag templates that are a snap for any business owner to create. Time is money. Great templates keep your time commitment to a minimum.

    2. Integrate your emails with social media channels
    Email and social media marketing can work together to boost your business. That’s why you should link your social media accounts to your email marketing campaigns. Every email you send out shouldn’t just have your logo and a call to action; it should also include a one-click link to your social channels like this:

    3. Send a variety of emails
    From coupons to product advice, you want to offer email recipients a variety of content. Keep your email marketing fresh and valuable. It’s one of the best ways to keep your customers opening, reading and engaging with your email content.

    “Keep sending interesting and beneficial info and your readers will in turn make a purchase, donation or attend an event,” Bastian says. “It’s one of the best ways to get customers to interact with your email.”

    If you need a little email inspiration, check out “Nine Emails Your Business Should Be Sending.” In fact, our blog is chock-full of great tips to help you send an array of great emails.

    A few tips to get you started
    Now that you know how you’ll integrate email marketing into your day, here are a few tips to get your email engine running:

    • Write creative, specific subject lines
      Your subject line should entice the reader to open your email. It should explain what’s inside. Give the reader an idea of what to expect.
    • Keep it short
      Your recipients get hundreds of emails, so make sure you write a short, captivating message.
    • Have a clear call to action
      Each email should have a clear call-to-action. What do you want the reader to do? Make a purchase, read a blog post? Whatever the desired action, make sure there is a link or a call-to-action button that takes the reader to the right spot on your website.
    • Have fun
      Have some fun when creating and sending emails. Recipients respond to humorous, out-of-the-box content.

    For more information, grab our free guides, How Email Marketing Helps Your Business and The Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing.

    How does email marketing work for you? Tell us in the comment section below.

    Want more marketing tips and tactics? Subscribe to the VR Buzz Newsletter and stay in the know!

    © 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

    The post 3 Simple Ways to Make Email Marketing Work for You appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    4 Steps to Creating Advantageous Advertorials

    Mon, 08/11/2014 - 06:00

    If you’ve ever found your Internet browsing disturbed by a pop-up or flashing display ad, you already know that engaging content is much more likely to pique your interest than something that’s interruptive. But because only a small portion of your clients or prospects read your blog or visit your website, it sometimes takes a little bit more to reach them where they are.

    Enter advertorials, a type of content marketing that is seamlessly interwoven into the editorial content of news sites, or even print media. Although advertorials are clearly labeled as such, both for legal reasons – as mandated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – and ethical ones, research shows that readers are as engaged with native ads as with pure editorial content.

    Advertorials, also known as native ads, are viewed more than four times as often as banner ads, according to IPG Media Lab. Advertorials also build brand loyalty and improve purchase intent.

    Many people consider advertorials, native advertising and so-called “branded content” as synonymous, but according to Reuters’ Felix Salmon, there is a slight difference – “native content tends to aspire more to going viral” and to win social media shares by readers. Aside from occasional controversial ads, or particularly interesting super bowl ads, readers sharing ads is a rare phenomenon. Advertorials or native advertising, when done appropriately, has much more viral lift. Consider Virgin Mobile’s content on BuzzFeed, or Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” infographic in The New York Times. These native ad examples are both highly shareable.

    Ready to get started? Check out these four tips we’ve come up with to help you navigate the process.

    1. Find a good fit
    A sponsored post from the Church of Scientology in the Atlantic is one classic example of an advertorial gone wrong. On the other hand, IBM’s native content in the same magazine fared much better because it matched both the design and the type of editorial content typically seen in the magazine.

    Basically, the trick is to pick a publication that will resonate with the message you’d like to send out, or the type of content you’re interested in creating. Take a look at the types of newspapers, magazines and websites your prospects are already consuming. One of those may well be a great fit. Just make sure that readers know your content is paid, even if it’s very similar to the editorial content on the site … which brings us to the next tip.

    2. Make sure your ads are clearly labeled as such
    The FTC requires all content paid for by a business or brand to be disclosed as such. Of course, you’ll want your content to be well-written, engaging and similar in tone to the editorial articles surrounding it. However, it still needs to be clearly and conspicuously labeled as an advertisement.

    The International Advertising Bureau (IAB) has the following recommendations for native advertising: “Use language that conveys that the advertising has been paid for, thus making it an advertising unit, even if that unit does not contain traditional promotional advertising messages.” In addition, IAB states: “… be large and visible enough for a consumer to notice it in the context of a given page and/or relative to the device that the ad is being viewed on.” Native ads that don’t fit these stipulations can create distrust from readers.

    3. Stop selling
    It’s worth repeating that the purpose of native advertising is very different from that of a display or banner ad. Think of advertorials more like blog posts, where your goal is to actively engage readers and build brand recognition. Native ads should provide value to readers, whether they choose to purchase a product or service or not. The more they get out of it, the more favorably they will view your brand.

    Sometimes it’s best to work with a freelance writer rather than an on-staff copywriter who’s better versed in creating marketing copy rather than telling stories. However, versatile copywriters and marketers can oftentimes create an advertisement one day and what would read more like an article the next. Just make sure the focus is on creating highly remarkable content that’s valuable in its own right, rather than content with a call to action that’s similar to what would be a call to action in a bonafide advertisement.

    4. Consider promoting content on social media
    If you don’t have the budget to use native ads on a website or in a newspaper or magazine, or just want to tip your toe in before taking the plunge, consider reaching clients and prospects by promoting your own blog content on social media through services such as sponsored Tweets, promoted Facebook posts, Promoted Pins, or sponsored updates on LinkedIn.

    For best results, just make sure to follow the guidelines above, and provide truly valuable content rather than a pure advertisement. Readers are much more likely to click through to an article, blog post, infographic or video than to a storefront or landing page.

    Have you tried native advertising or paid content? How well does it work for you? Share with us below.

    Craving more marketing tips and advice? Get the VR Buzz delivered daily to your inbox.

    © 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

    The post 4 Steps to Creating Advantageous Advertorials appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.