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How a Small Business Owner Turns Instagram Followers into Customers

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 06:00

Small businesses are flocking to Instagram to create an album of marketing eye candy. While this visual channel is a great engagement tool, can your social audience actually become paying customers? Yes.

Kate Marie Grinold Sigfusson, the owner of luxury baby brand Babies4Babies, says her small business gets more customer conversions through Instagram than any other channel, social media or otherwise.

“We actually don’t call our Instagram followers ‘followers’ because they are so much more than that. They are our community,” Sigfusson says.

So how did this relatively young Chicago-based business, which just opened in January, create such a profitable audience on Instagram? Here are her trade secrets:

1. Share your story

Most small businesses treat Instagram like a photo gallery. It’s a site that serves as a nice place to post a picture of your product or an employee working late on holiday orders, but owners rarely use the platform to tell their story. That’s what Sigfusson did

When she launched Babies4Babies, she was expecting. She took the opportunity to share pictures and information about her pregnancy. She posted everything from pictures of herself at 40 weeks pregnant, to her plans to launch a line of premium baby products like swaddles. The entire Instagram page chronicles her journey.

“By sharing the Babies4Babies story, specifically my journey as a new mother and entrepreneur, we have humanized the brand,” Sigfusson explains. “It makes the company more of a family rather than a product.”

Sigfusson says every business should treat Instagram in a similar fashion. As small business owners, show your audience the human side of your business. Show your audience pictures of you packing orders, heading to the post office, helping other customers and dealing with obstacles.

Get used to taking snapshots and “selfies” to populate your page with faces and images that tell your story, rather than just images of products. Use the platform to tell your business story one picture at a time.

2. Build a community

Once you share your story, you’ll probably find engagement goes up. When people can relate to your story, they are more apt to reach out, comment on posts and ask questions about your business.

If comments are piling up, it’s a good sign that you’re doing something right. However, your involvement shouldn’t end there. As with any social media channel, engagement is a big part of the conversion process.

Take the time to turn your posts into conversations, rather than just daily updates, Sigfusson says. On the Babies4Babies Instagram site, just about every picture has a stream of comments. Some are related to products, others are just friendly conversations between Sigfusson and other moms.

“By engaging in a dialogue in the comment section you will begin to know your followers and can learn what they want as customers,” she says.

These conversations become the foundation of a strong online community. With that kind of support, customers are compelled to learn more about your brand and eventually make their first purchase.

3. Network

Instagram shouldn’t just be a place for you to interact with potential customers; it’s also a good place for you to network. Follow others in your industry and keep an eye on competitors. While it sounds a little like a spy mission, think of it more as an online business association. You can follow and converse with other like-minded industry folks, which usually has rewards.

“See what other brands are doing well on Instagram, learn from them, engage with them and partner with them,” Sigfusson suggests.

“By following other baby/mommy brands and communicating with them on Instagram, we have established many wonderful contacts and working relationships that have resulted in everything from successful giveaways that provide increased brand exposure to product design collaborations.”

Additional Instagram tips to keep in mind:

  • Share quality photos. You don’t have to have a professional photographer follow you around, but you want to share quality images. You can certainly use your cell phone or tablet to take pictures, but keep the crooked, blurry images off your site.
  • Get fancy with apps. If you want to up your Instagram game, there are photo editing apps that can help you create killer pics. Aviary, for example, can boost the quality of your image and Snapseed can help you create a more artsy shot.
  • Upload video. Add some spice to your page by uploading videos. For example, when Sigfusson’s son started crawling, she posted a short video on her site.
  • Post frequently. If you’re telling your brand’s story, you need to give your audience a piece of that story often. Figure out how frequently you can post and stick to it.
  • Use hashtags. Hashtags allow your posts to come up in search results. New customers can find you by searching hashtags. You can also find others who are posting about similar topics.

Is your small business using Instagram to turn followers into customers? If so, how? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 a Small Business Owner Turns Instagram Followers into Customers appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

5 Ways to Maximize Google Webmaster Tools for Better SEO

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 06:00

Google Webmaster Tools is a powerful resource for website owners, webmasters and SEOs alike. Once you’ve set up Google Webmaster Tools, you might be wondering what to do next. If you need basic tips, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Google Webmaster Tools. If you’ve dug around Google Webmaster Tools and are longing for more in-depth tips and advice, you’ve come to the right place! Let’s dive into five of the advanced Google Webmaster Tools features you should be using to improve your site’s SEO:

1. Adjust Your Sitelinks
When someone does a specific and branded search (in our case below, VerticalResponse), Google displays groups of related results, typically popular pages, underneath the main search result. These groupings are called sitelinks and are considered shortcuts to enable users to navigate a site quickly. In the example below, the sitelinks include: Log in, Pricing, Marketing Blog, Features, Non-Profit and About.

As we mentioned, Google will usually select your most popular pages as sitelinks, and while you cannot choose which pages Google decides to display, you can specify which ones you don’t want displayed. This is a rare opportunity, so take advantage of it by only displaying your best pages! To remove any unwanted results or pages from your sitelinks in Google Webmaster Tools, click on Sitelinks on the left hand side fond under the category Search Appearances. Then, type in the URL of the page you’d like “demoted” or removed and click Demote.

2. Monitor Your Most Linked Content
The Links to Your Site section of Google Webmaster Tools (found under the category Search Traffic) is an awesome way to find out what content people love on your site. Odds are, your homepage is the top linked content, but you might discover that a blog post you wrote 2 years ago is still compelling. This information provides you with the number unique domains that link to your content – The more unique domains that link to a piece of content, the better. If some of your most popular content is a bit older, we recommend taking another look at it and making sure everything is up-to-date. Check to make sure your images are still working, all the links are correct and even try adding a call to action into the post if you don’t have one already, to help drive sales or sign ups. 

3. Fetch as Google 
Your website might look fine and dandy on your iPhone, but to Google and their special Internet robot, GoogleBot, it can sometimes look very different. With the Fetch as Google tool (found under the Crawl category),you can see how any page on your website looks to the Googlebot. This is important because you can see which areas of a page aren’t rendering correctly for the Googlebot and fix them. If your pages look good to the Googlebot, they’re more likely to be shown in search results. 

4. Use the Data Highlighter
SCHEMA Markup, another functionality found in Google Webmaster Tools, allows webmasters to markup HTML pages so that they’re recognized by major search providers. This structured data tool is very easy to use; locate it under Search Appearance and Data Highlighter. Watch the introduction video, click Start Highlighting, then plug in your page and start clicking away. Pick your most popular product page and start marking up the page – it’s as easy as clicking a product and choosing it. You can markup the product image, add a price, availability, reviews and more! When you’re all done marking up, just click “publish” and you’re good to go.

5. Search Your Keyword Ranking Data
Unless you’re manually checking, recording, and monitoring your keywords, you may not have any idea how your website’s keywords are ranking. You can pay for a tool like Moz, which will do the tracking for you, or you can check out the keyword ranking data section of Google Webmaster Tools. Find your keyword ranking data under Search Traffic, then Search Queries. On this page, you’ll see a 30-day rolling view of your traffic and keywords that bring visits to your site.

You can click each keyword for a deeper dive including the display page for that keyword, the position it was ranked in, as well as the number of clicks, and the click through rate for that keyword. This is some of the most valuable information that Google Webmaster Tools provides. If you know what pages are driving visits to your site, spend some time optimizing and testing to make them even more efficient, and optimize pages that aren’t performing well even better.

Now your Google Webmaster Tools skills are sharper than ever, so put them to good use! Know of any other useful functionality in Google Webmaster Tools? If so, share in the comments, and let us know if you have any other questions, too!

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Ways to Maximize Google Webmaster Tools for Better SEO appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

4 Emails Your Service-Based Business Should Send

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 06:00

Whether you’re a fitness coach, a dentist, run a plumbing company or a computer repair business, as a service-based business, your email marketing needs and desired outcomes may not exactly fit that of a retailer. We’re here to help our service-based clients with a little email inspiration. To get your creative juices flowing, include these four emails in your marketing efforts.


Send an email that promotes a social media contest. Contests offer low-cost opportunities to attract customers to your business, increase “likes” on Facebook and help you solicit testimonials.

For example, Jorgensen Orthodontics ran a pumpkin carving contest on its Instagram page. One of the categories participants could enter was “best pumpkin with braces.”

According to, a 2012 study by Sesame Communications found contests like this example have a high success rate. Results from the study include:

  • An average of 194 “likes” per practice, per campaign
  • Four appointment requests
  • An average of 17 recommendations on Facebook


People love DIY tips and how-to tutorials, and although they might not need a plumber, dentist, personal trainer or mechanic today, they’re much more likely to call you if you’ve helped them solve a problem, or save time and money in the past.

While videos shot on your phone or tablet can work, you risk audio and video quality. However, if you want to do it yourself, check out these production tips.

Once you’ve created your video, send an email including a screenshot of the video linking back to the video on your YouTube or Vimeo channel, or the video embedded on your blog or website.


There are several reasons newsletters outweigh traditional advertising in terms of marketing success.

First, according to Ideal Marketing Company, newsletters have four times the readership of traditional ads or brochures. This is largely due to the fact that they can be easily shared by forwarding an email or sharing a link on social media. In addition, according to, newsletters have a longer shelf life than advertisements.

Johnny Shelby, VerticalResponse customer and endurance and multi-sport specialist for Third Coast Training says newsletters have especially helped his business grow. “Though I have a reach into most of my clients socially, it doesn’t mean they’re connected. Their inbox allows me to occasionally drop in with an event. Without the newsletter campaign I’ve done over the years, I would not have had the 10% to 15% growth year over year.”

Here are a few content topics for your next newsletter:

Seasonal and periodic reminders. This reminder for a tune-up is an effective reminder with a call to action to drive in soon.

  • Industry news and trends. For example, an insurance agency could include information about changing state policies.
  • Educational information. The tips below to winterize your home could be included in a newsletter.

  • Announcements. Invite subscribers to a seminar, upcoming workshop or open house.
  • Before and after shots. An interior designer could include before and after shots.

Discounts and promotions

Everybody loves a deal, and they’re not just for retailers! Plus, what better place to promote it than in a shareable email?

According to a survey by Blue Kangaroo, 35% of people said they made use of a coupon or discount from a marketing email within the last week, and 33% used one from a marketing email within the last month.

Joe Alberto of Joe’s Body Shop says he gets results by emailing discounts, referral specials and instant rebates to his clients.

“After being in integrative healing and massage for 17 years, I’ve built up a wonderful group of loyal clients,” says Alberto.

“I’m amazed at how many regulars I have and how many of them have been with me for so many years! I like to reward their loyalty with pre-paid discounts, quarterly discounts and instant rebates. I also get the majority of new clients from referrals, so everyone benefits when I offer referral specials.”

Give one or more of these emails a try and your service-based business will be on its way to attracting customers. You can send emails, newsletters, offers and invitations for free with VerticalResponse.

Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer with four books and thousands of published articles to her credit. Contact Wendy at

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Emails Your Service-Based Business Should Send appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

8 Holiday Fundraising Tips for Non-Profits

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 07:01

While retailers are gearing up for their busy season, so are non-profits. A survey from Charity Navigator shows that charities raise 41% of their annual contributions in the last six weeks of the year.

Dan Quirk, marketing specialist for DonorPro Nonprofit Fundraising Solutions, a company that specializes non-profit management software, says every organization is preparing for a donation blitz.

“A big part of nurturing relationships with prospects, donors, volunteers and supporters is through digital communication,” he says.

To help your organization make the most of this time, we have eight tips to help boost your year-end donations.

Tip #1: Share stories

Ask the people you help to share their story. Create a blog post or a video that highlights one person’s story. Share that link in an email to show donors what kind of impact they can have.

This email doesn’t necessarily require a push for donations. Try a different call to call to action like “Hear From Others You Can Help.” Show your supporters how they can help and provide the option if they want to donate.

Tip #2: Make holidays count

There’s a bunch of holidays between now and January that you’ll want to mark on your calendar. From Thanksgiving to Hanukkah, take a few minutes to flip through the calendar and plan to engage with donors on or around these holidays.

  • MarcFirst, an organization that helps those with disabilities, asked supporters to make a contribution as part of their New Year’s resolution.
  • Near Thanksgiving, ask your audience to make a donation in honor of all those they are thankful for.
  • For Hanukkah, provide eight reasons to donate to correspond with the eight nights of Hanukkah. 
  • Around Christmas, ask donors to buy a gift for those in need. Before they drop it off, encourage them to post a picture of the gift on your social channels.
  • At the beginning of the year, send an email that showcases how many people your organization helped.

Tip #3: Remember Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday is December 2. This national day of giving is a great way to boost donations, Quirk says.

“Any time the world agrees to dedicate one day of the year entirely to donating to causes, non-profit organizations should take advantage of it,” he says. “People will give because of their desire to be a part of something big.”

  • The non-profit, College Mentors, created a special graphic for Giving Tuesday and shared it on Twitter.

Tip #4: Be transparent

Tell your audience exactly how their donations are used. Send an email that encourages donations and explains how far each dollar goes.

  • LiveStrong, a non-profit that supports cancer patients, puts that information right on its donation form.

Tip #5: Host and promote events

Consider planning a few events during this time of year. Yes, planning events can take a bit of time, but use your network of supporters to help. Food shelters can host a can drive, an animal shelter can host a low-cost class for kids to make pet-shaped ornaments and a homeless shelter can encourage volunteers to take shifts serving holiday meals.

Tip #6: Plan an easy giveaway on social media

Engage with your audience by offering a holiday-themed giveaway on social media. Partner with a local business to giveaway a 20% off coupon with every donation, or ask your audience to share what they’re thankful for around Thanksgiving and giveaway tickets to your annual fundraiser.

  • CityPlants, an organization that plants trees in Los Angeles, gave away a turkey dinner on Facebook.

Tip #7: Create a gift catalog

People love to buy gifts around the holidays, so consider turning your services into a gift catalog. Create the equivalent of an online flyer to encourage shoppers to make a donation.

  • Red Cross uses a holiday catalog to showcase its services. Donors can buy services for those in need. For example, you can buy a blanket for $15 or a military comfort kit for $40. Here’s a look at the email that Red Cross sends out to encourage donors to purchase from its catalog:

Tip #8: Be specific

Asking for donations is fine, but sometimes people want to buy an actual item and give it to an organization. So, if you have a specific need it’s okay to ask for it.

How will your non-profit communicate with supporters during this donation-driven time? Share your tips in the comments below.

Send your holiday and end-of-year fundraising emails for free with VerticalResponse.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 8 Holiday Fundraising Tips for Non-Profits appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

How to Gain More Subscribers on YouTube

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 15:58

Have you created and posted videos on YouTube only to realize they’re not garnering the engagement you’d hoped for? To be successful on YouTube, you need to build an engaged subscriber base. In this short video, we show you how to use your existing YouTube videos to gain more qualified subscribers.


Get more helpful marketing tips and advice in the weekly VR Buzz.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Gain More Subscribers on YouTube appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

9 Must-Attend Retail Trade Shows for 2015

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 06:00

Whether you’re a one man-or-woman run business just starting out, or a 20-year-old company of 50+ employees, one should never underestimate the power of attending a trade show. In a recent article on Forbes, Georganne Bender, a retail speaker, consultant and recognized industry expert, and her partner Rich Kizer both stressed the importance and value that businesses of all sizes gain from attending trade shows.

“Over the years we have spoken to retailers who have avoided trade shows for a variety of reasons, but one reason that is fairly common is due to the expense of travel to attend. What they don’t realize, however, is that it actually costs them more by not attending. Missing out on your industry’s trade shows can impact your business success in a variety of ways, including the missed opportunities of finding new vendors, staying competitive to your competition, and not expanding your store’s inventory based on market trends and proven data,” says Bender and Kizer. 

With that, we’ve compiled this list of nine must-attend retail trade shows in 2015 – Feel free to add and share your favorites!

CES International
January 6-9, 2015
Las Vegas, NV

Why they say to attend: “International CES is the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies. Held in Las Vegas every year, it has served as the proving ground for innovators and breakthrough technologies for more than 40 years—the global stage where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace.”

National Retail Federation’s Annual Convention & EXPO
January 11-14, 2015
New York City, NY

Why they say to attend: “Today, retail’s big show is NRF’s flagship industry event held annually in New York City. The four day event offers unparalleled education, collegial networking, and an enormous EXPO Hall full of technologies and solutions.” NRF also has many other events including dinners and webinars.

February 17-19, 2015 
Las Vegas, NV

Why they say to attend: “With 85 years of experience and attendance from over 120 countries, we move fashion forward globally. From the fabric to the finished product, the hottest brands to the top designers, and the tastemakers to the power buyers, if it’s fashion, you’ll find it at MAGIC.” 

ASD Market Week
March 1-4, 2015
Las Vegas, NV

Why they say to attend: “ASD Las Vegas (held twice annually) brings the world’s widest variety of merchandise together in one efficient consumer-goods trade show that’s as easy to shop as it is to love. Loaded with quality choices at every price point, this well-established trade event continues to grow, attracting tens of thousands of loyal attendees from every retail and distribution channel who come here to discover new suppliers, new product categories—and new ways to profit.”

World Alliance Retail Merchandising and Marketing Conference
April 25 – 28, 2015
San Antonio, TX

Why they say to attend: “Knowledge, networking, relationship building and for some – several games of golf. The (2014) conference delivered all that and more!”

May 18-20, 2015
Las Vegas, NV

Why they say to attend: “If you’re in the retail industry, then you need to be attending SPREE, the world’s largest event for the cart, kiosk and temporary retail industry.”

June 2-5, 2015
Chicago, IL

Why they say to attend: “Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition is the flagship event of the e-commerce industry. A gathering of retail trailblazers across every industry segment, IRCE is the event to network with and learn from industry leaders of all sizes. Total attendance at IRCE 2015 in Chicago is projected reach nearly 10,000.”

July 21-23, 2015
Las Vegas, NV

Why they say to attend: “It’s the must-attend event of the year for smart pet retailers who want their businesses to succeed! Everything to expand your customer base, increase your sales and improve your profits is waiting for you right here.”

ABC Kids Expo
October 18-21, 2015
Las Vegas, NV

Why they say to attend: “ABC Kids Expo is your opportunity to meet face-to-face with domestic and international buyers, media and fellow manufacturers at the premier juvenile products show in the world! Don’t miss out on your chance to take home orders and get leads that will help sustain your business for months and years to come!”

Strengthening and building relationships with peers, vendors, potential or current customers in person, as well as keeping up with industry trends and competition is reason enough to jump on the trade show bandwagon. As a retailer, which trade shows do you attend, or why do you find trade shows valuable? Share with us in the comments.

Interested in food and beverage Conferences? Check out these 10 must-attend events.

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© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 9 Must-Attend Retail Trade Shows for 2015 appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

4 Surefire Ways to Prep for Mobile and Tablet Holiday Shoppers

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 06:00

Brace yourself. The holiday shopping rush is upon us. You’re rolling out discounts and bringing in extra staff to handle the influx of customers. You’re ready for traditional shoppers, but are you prepared for mobile buyers?

These days, shoppers can search for and order the perfect gift from their smartphones. They can be sitting in front of a Yule log without Jack Frost nipping at their nose. In fact, according to this year’s Deloitte Annual Holiday Survey, 63% of tablet owners plan to use their devices for holiday shopping, and 68% of smartphone owners will use their devices for holiday shopping. Yes, 68 percent.

To help you cater to mobile and tablet shoppers this season, we’ve created a few tips to make sure your business is attractive to smartphone-savvy consumers.

1. Check your website design
Is your website optimized for the mobile or tablet shopper? One of the best ways to optimize your site is to use a responsive website design.

By using responsive design, your website will look great on any device. If a customer is looking at your site on their smartphone, the site is modified to fit the screen and allows for easy navigation. If you’re already using a responsive design, you’re ready to go. If not, you may want to consider upgrading your site.

2. Send holiday deals via email
Shoppers are multi-taskers. If they come to your store, or before they make a purchase online, they may check their email for discounts to use at your register or during check out.

“Many times email marketing messages are only opened on mobile devices and, during the holidays, customers are typically looking at them in real-time to quickly spot offers while they’re shopping,” says Jennifer Sassen, senior vice president of marketing at Sage, a supplier of business management software.

Even if customers aren’t physically in your store, an email can still trigger a sale. When a shopper opens an email with a discount, enticing offer, event invitation, or donation reminder, they tend to be motivated to act on the spot. Whether they’re waiting in the grocery store checkout line or browsing through email while eating lunch, a well-timed email could boost your holiday sales.

Here are a few mobile and table-friendly tips to remember when sending email:

  • Keep your subject line short to accommodate a smaller smartphone screen.
  • If you’re emailing a holiday deal, say so in the subject line to encourage shoppers to open it immediately.
  • Your emails should have a holiday look. Whether you use festive holiday colors or select an image or graphic that’s holiday-themed, it’s important to get shoppers in the right mindset.
  • Create a clear call-to-action. Shoppers should be able to get the coupon or go to a blog post by clicking on the one, easy-to-spot call to action in your email.

3. Use social media to its fullest
Shoppers aren’t just reading email on their phones, they’re also scrolling through their social apps. According to comScore’s list of most popular U.S. mobile apps, 115 million people have the Facebook app on their phone, making it the most used app in 2014. Twitter is second on the list, with 34.7 million people users. These statistics are a pretty compelling reason to use your social media channels.

While most small business owners post a message about an upcoming sale or tweet a picture of an in-store customer appreciation event, there are many ways to utilize social media during the holidays. Here is a quick list of social media ideas that you can use to entice mobile shoppers to buy:

  • Share your emails on social media. It’s a good idea to dual-purpose your content. If you send a discount via email or a link to testimonials about your hot, holiday gift; share that information on social media, too.
  • Share useful holiday information. Create blog posts that help holiday shoppers. For example, create a gift guide full of fun products that your company sells, offer how-to articles about the perfect holiday meal and share local charitable events with your audience.
  • Offer killer customer service. Customers will reach out to you via social media for information about exchange policies, store hours and product questions. Respond to every post to show your audience that you’re on top of your holiday game.

4. Use Google My Business to increase visibility
Shoppers can use their smartphones to look up information about your business. When your business comes up in a search, you want customers to see your address, store hours and customer reviews. How do you make sure information like this pops up? Use Google My Business. With this free service, you can create a business listing that offers shoppers information in an instant. Here’s an example of what your listing could look like:

If you’re new to Google My Business, here is a post that will walk you through the site.

How does your business prep for mobile holiday shoppers? Share your insights in the comment section below.

Send your holiday emails for free with VerticalResponse

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Surefire Ways to Prep for Mobile and Tablet Holiday Shoppers appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

5 Terrific Tips for Stellar Holiday Service on Social Media

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 06:00

Social media has been a game changer for the holiday shopping season. Once upon a time, gift inspiration came from catalogs, and customer inquiries were handled in-store or on the phone. Now, more and more customers are turning to social media to get both gift ideas and real-time customer service.

When it comes to gift ideas, Crowdtap statistics show 64.8% of shoppers scroll through their social feeds to find ideas for the perfect present. Most small businesses  and non-profits have caught on to this trend and share gift guides, mention upcoming sales or specials services, and/or provide year-end donation suggestions. While your holiday marketing efforts on social media may be up to par, is your customer service on social top-notch, too?

Current or potential customers are extremely vocal on social and reaching out to a business publicly on Facebook or Twitter garners the attention of many. With increased sales and inquiries during the holiday season, follow these tips to ensure you offer the kind of social customer service that will wow shoppers this holiday season:

1. Respond quickly
Every comment, question, complaint and kudos should get a timely response. This is true whether it’s the holiday season or not, but it’s even more important when the masses are keeping a close eye on your social sites.

“The immediacy of social media communications creates an expectation from customers of immediate response by brands,” says David Erickson, vice president of Online Marketing at public relations firm Karwoski & Courage. “If customers don’t get an immediate response, it is by definition a negative experience.”

In other words, don’t let feedback sit unanswered on your social sites.

2. Offer a positive experience
Research shows that customers who have a positive exchange with a business on social media are 71% more likely to recommend that business to others.

During the holiday season, referrals are crucial. Every interaction that a social media visitor has with your business should be positive. So, how do you deal with unflattering reviews? You do so with tact. Apologize for any inconvenience, be sympathetic to the customer’s needs, and offer to speak about the problem in private. That’s exactly what an Arizona car dealership did in its response to a customer’s negative experience with its service department.

3. Spread some holiday cheer with images
Keep your social sites updated with current holiday images to show customers that your business is in the holiday spirit. Find a dozen or so photos that you can use throughout the season for your cover art on Facebook, create a holiday-themed Pinterest board and tweet images from classic holiday movies.

4. Give support
During the holidays, customers may have questions about how your product works or need troubleshooting tips. Social media is a great outlet for this. Xbox, for example, answers gaming questions via Twitter. Consider offering this kind of special customer service around the holidays; this could boost your reputation and relationship with buyers. 

5. Offer holiday-themed promotions or tools
Your social customer care shouldn’t just be reactive; it should be proactive, too. You want to do more than just respond quickly and politely to feedback; you want to engage with customers.

Research shows customers who engage with companies over social media spend 20 to 40 percent more money with that company. That’s all the more reason to get shoppers socially engaged. Here are few holiday-themed ideas:

  • Try a holiday giveaway: Who doesn’t want free stuff, especially during the holidays? Host a gift giveaway on one of your social sites (Note: Always follow the contest terms and conditions for each social site). Joby, a camera accessories business, for example, created a “12 Days of Giveaways” on its blog and promoted it on Twitter.

  • Offer useful content: Share content that helps make the season bright. For example, Taste of Home offered holiday recipes on its Facebook page.

  • The Mall of America uses Twitter to help holiday shoppers find available parking spots with #MOAParking, a tool that Erickson and his firm suggested to the mega mall.

  • Team up with a local charity: Encourage customers to bring in a canned good for a food drive or run a “Buy one, Give one” promotion. Every time a customer buys a certain item, your business donates one to a family in need.

How do you use social media to provide customer service? Add to our list of tips in the comments section below.

Visit our Everything Holiday site for more helpful holiday marketing resources, and you can do all your email marketing for free with VerticalResponse!

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Terrific Tips for Stellar Holiday Service on Social Media appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Your December Holiday Marketing Checklist

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 06:00

December is right around the corner – is your marketing plan intact? Nearly one-fifth of the industry’s annual sales last year came directly from the months of November and December, according to the NRF. To ensure your business maximizes holiday sales and makes the most of the quickly approaching holiday frenzy, we’ve compiled this handy checklist of marketing tips and reminders – Let’s get to it!

Week 1: Nov. 30 – Dec. 6

Cyber Monday & Cyber Week
Cyber Monday is December 1, but it’s not too late to send a last-minute offer. Even if your business doesn’t have an online presence, you can still take advantage of this shopping event with a tie-in. For example, you could host an “anti-Cyber Monday” event to encourage shoppers to come to your location instead of shopping online, or try partnering with an online business and offer a discount to customers who show their email receipts at checkout.

Fundraiser Reminders
If you’re a non-profit organization and are hosting a holiday fundraiser, send an email this week reminding your subscribers of the details of your event (who, what, where and why), and how they can donate. Hint: make it as easy as possible!

Week 2: December 7 – 13

Focus on Product and Service Highlights
Use the second week of December to continue focusing on product or service highlights and specials for holiday shoppers in your email communications and social media posts. Call out things like special shopping hours, free gift wrapping, free shipping or anything that will make this hectic, but festive season easier for your subscribers. 

Send a Holiday Calendar
Send an email with a holiday calendar to let customers know about important holidays in December, including Hanukkah (December 16 – 24), Christmas (December 25), Boxing Day (December 26), Kwanzaa (December 26 – January 1), New Year’s Eve (December 31). If you have holiday specific specials, now is the perfect time to promote them.

Week 3: December 14 – 20

Share Shipping Deadlines
For businesses that offer shipping, use this time to remind your subscribers of shipping deadlines. If you offer free shipping, turn this into a promotional opportunity to woo hesitant shoppers and bargain hunters.

Engage Procrastinators
Never underestimate a customer’s ability to wait until the absolute last possible minute to do their holiday shopping! Reach out to them by email and social media using phrasing that is both time-sensitive and sympathetic, e.g. “it’s not too late,” or ”we’ve got you covered,” etc. Doing so can boost last-minute traffic to your store or website.

Week 4: December 20th – New Year’s Day & Beyond

Give the Gift of Gift Cards
Continue engaging those last-minute shoppers – especially if you offer gift cards or certificates – as these make great go-to gifts for harried customers. Follow this email up the following week with a “top 10″ list of ways to spend gift cards.

Turn Returns into Exchanges
While exchanges and returns may be an inevitable part of the holiday shopping season, they’re also a promotional opportunity in disguise. Consider an exchange promo that emphasizes how easy it will be for customers to exchange gifts that didn’t quite fit the bill. Here are a few fun ideas to inspire you:

  • “Many happy exchanges.”
  • “The Great Gift Exchange-aganza.”
  • “Turn that ugly sweater from Aunt Bertha into something fabulous.”
  • “Did he buy you a size 16 when you’re a 6? Not so much.”

Need a little extra help? You can find many more holiday marketing resources, like the Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing on our Everything Holiday site!

Send your holiday emails out today with VerticalResponse – No trial necessary, it’s simply free

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Your December Holiday Marketing Checklist appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

3 Easy, Last-Minute Black Friday Ideas You Can Use

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 06:00

The holidays are a busy time for every small business. In the past few months, you’ve probably ordered additional inventory, stocked the shelves and hired additional staff to handle the rush. With so much to do, devoting time to Black Friday may have been overlooked – but it’s not too late! That’s why we’ve created a list of last-minute marketing ideas to make sure your business brings in the Black Friday bucks.

1. Email a hot deal
Black Friday shoppers are bargain hunters. The expectation for steep discounts is high. So, create a holiday email that offers shoppers a discount they can’t refuse.

“People are looking at $10 toasters and $100 TVs,” says Kari DePhillips, owner of The Content Factory. “Definitely create content that highlights what kind of deals or cool products you have for Black Friday.”

Of course, as a small business, matching the door-busting deals that big box stores offer is tough to do. If you can’t offer a similar discount, make up for it by offering additional incentives.

For example, if you own a plumbing company, offer a discount like the one below but promote your on-time service guarantee, too.

If you run a boutique pet supply store, offer as much of a discount as you can and throw in a free grooming session for the following year. If you sell electronics, mention your one-on-one customer service or training courses in your email. 

Remember, a good deal isn’t defined solely by price. Point out your strengths to sweeten that last-minute holiday deal.

2. Create a holiday gift guide
Shoppers need inspiration. Help them out by creating a gift guide. Pick five of your products and create the equivalent of a digital sales flyer, showcasing each of the products and its price. Here is an example by Coffee and Cashmere.

For service-based businesses, highlight your best service or maintenance packages. A computer repair shop could showcase its virus protection plans, annual maintenance packages and hard drive backup options.

You can tweak these ideas and use them in several ways. Here are a few other gift-guide ideas:

  • Gifts for her
  • Gifts for him
  • Five gifts you missed this season
  • Our five hottest gifts for less than $25
  • Affordable gifts your parents will love
  • Our hottest service plans at the lowest prices

Once you’ve created your gift guide, make sure you cross promote it. Put it in an email to send to your entire list, put the guide on your blog and highlight one gift from your guide each day on social media. WIth the short holiday shopping season, you want to maximize your exposure.

3. Grab attention with social media
This holiday season, turn to your social media channels where you already have an audience full of shoppers waiting for your Black Friday updates. Take a look at a few creative ideas that retailers have used in the past. Use these suggestions to spark your own ideas and cash in on the Black Friday buzz.

  • Best Buy created a Facebook event specifically for Black Friday and updated shoppers about hot deals. Here’s what it looked like. It’s an easy, last-minute idea to implement if you’re planning Black Friday sales.
  • JCPenney gave $25 to the Salvation Army for every customer that checked in on Foursquare on Black Friday. Consider giving back to your community in some way. Maybe donate a canned good to your local food bank for every new follower you get on Twitter.
  • Target gave away gift cards to new Facebook fans last year. You can try something similar. Whether you give away gift cards or a small gift, incentives can attract customers. Always check the individual rules for each social network to see what is permissible. 

For more holiday marketing tipps, check out our Everything Holiday site.

Get your holiday email marketing started now with VerticalResponse.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Easy, Last-Minute Black Friday Ideas You Can Use appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

2014 Holiday Sales and Trends – Will This Year Be Merry & Bright?

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 06:00

Every year, projected holiday sales and trends give businesses important insight into what they may expect, prepare for, focus on, or improve for a successful holiday season. This year, forecasts vary as the National Retail Federation (NRF) has high hopes, projecting a 4.1% increase in holiday sales, while others, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) forecast the average holiday spending per household to drop to $684 from $735 last year.

While some holiday spending projections clash, many findings remain consistent, such as increased spending online, increased online research or pre-planning, as well as consistent price sensitivity among shoppers.

To save time, we’ve sorted through various 2014 holiday season forecasts and trends, noting the most interesting and important findings for your business:

The National Retail Federation (NRF) 2014 Holiday Sales Forecast

  • November and December sales (excluding autos, gas and restaurant sales) will increase 4.1% to $616.9 billion – Higher than 2013′s 3.1% increase.
  • Holiday sales are expected to represent 19.2% of the retail industry’s annual sales of $3.2 trillion.

“While expectations for sales growth are upbeat, it goes without saying there still remains some uneasiness and anxiety among consumers when it comes to their purchase decisions. The lagging economic recovery, though improving, is still top of mind for many Americans… Recognizing the need to keep household budgets in line, we expect shoppers will be extremely price sensitive as they have been for quite some time. Retailers will respond by differentiating themselves and touting price, value and exclusivity.” – Matthew Shay, NRF President and CE (a division of the National Retail Federation) 2014 eHoliday Survey

  • Online holiday sales in November and December of 2014 are expected to grow 8-11%, to as much as $105 billion.
  • 56% of holiday shoppers expect to do at least some of their holiday shopping online.
  • Online holiday shoppers plan to spend 16% more than all other holiday shoppers on gifts, decorations and food.
  • 92.3% of retailers plan to offer free standard shipping of some sort

Deloitte Annual Holiday Sales Forecast

  • 2014 holiday sales will increase 4-4.5% compared to last year’s 2.8% gain.
  • Non-store sales in the online and mail order channels during 2014 holiday season will increase 13.5-14%.
  • Digital interactions (use of computer, tablet and smartphone) will influence 50% of brick and mortar’s retail store sales this holiday season

“While online sales continue to climb, digital customer interactions through both virtual and physical store channels present greater sales opportunities than online or mobile commerce alone. Our research indicates that 84 percent of shoppers use digital tools before and during their trip to a store. Additionally, those shoppers convert, or make a purchase, at a 40 percent higher rate than those who do not use such devices during their shopping journey.

Retailers should focus on the right functionality, rather than more functionality, when creating digital experiences this holiday season. Rather than offer their full e-commerce site on a mobile device, for example, retailers may be more effective by helping consumers compare prices, scan through local assortments, and navigate the store. Retailers that better understand how consumers make purchasing decisions, then deliver tools that support that process in a way that is consistent and complementary across online, mobile and store channels — may have the advantage this holiday season.”  – Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and retail and distribution sector leader.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) 2014 Holiday Outlook

  • Income divide is splitting American holiday shoppers into two distinct groups – Survivalists (67% of the US shoppers, earning less than $50K annually) and Selectionists (33% of US shoppers, earning more than $50K annually).

“The spending divide among shoppers is widening, creating two distinct groups that we are tracking – Survivalists and Selectionists – and retailers must cater to both segments. And with shoppers coming to expect a seamless omnichannel experience, deals to woo them into stores and having no tolerance for another season of data privacy invasion, it’s a complex retail landscape that retailers need to master – or they risk losing loyal shoppers.” — Steven Barr, US Retail & Consumer Practice Leader.

  • 84% of shoppers say they’re shopping for price.
  • 43% of holiday shoppers will shop based on the frequency and quality of seasonal deals like door busters and “BOGO” (buy one, get one free).
  • 50% of spending will occur in physical stores (down 55% from last year).
  • 43% of spending will occur online.
  • 41% of shoppers plan to increase online spending in 2014. “2014 could be the turning point when consumers make online pre-planning part of their holiday shopping tradition.” – PwC
  • 39% of online shoppers are “Tradeoff Shoppers” who shop around extensively and buy online if it’s cheaper.
  • 58% of spending will be on gift cards, the “hottest” category next clothing this year.

Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey

  • Consumer enthusiasm for Black Friday shopping has reached its highest level in eight years. Two-thirds of respondents (66%) said they are likely to shop on Black Friday, compared to 55% who planned to do so in 2013.
  • 71% of holiday shoppers plan to participate in “webrooming” – browsing online and then going into a store to make their purchase.
  • 68% of holiday shoppers say they are likely to participate in “showrooming” – going into a physical store to see a product and then searching online for a better price and making their purchase online, which is up from 63 percent in 2013.
  • 57% of respondents said they would likely buy items that were not part of their original purchase when they go into a store to pick up merchandise they purchased online and had shipped to the store or use an in-store pickup option.
  • Shipping issues during Christmas week last year have raised concerns among consumers this year. Almost half of survey respondents (49%) are concerned about receiving their deliveries from online purchases on time this year, and of those, nearly one out of five are “very” concerned.

“The holiday shopping season is one of the most competitive times of the year for retailers, but they also have a big opportunity to drive sales and acquire new customers… The majority of retailers look for ways to extend the holiday season as late as possible, but can face challenges in delivering a physical product in time. Personalized promotions and pushing gift cards are a good way for retailers to continue momentum and stretch this success into the post-holiday season.” – Dave Richards, global managing director, Accenture’s Retail practice.

Volusion Holiday Sales Trends

  • Holiday ecommerce sales will increase 9% for small-to-medium sized businesses.
  • Some industries are expected to outperform the general projection of 9% holiday growth. Top-performing small businesses will include arts and crafts merchants and home and garden.

“One big driver for this year’s holiday rush will come from mobile commerce, which further shows just how quickly consumers are diversifying their usage of devices when shopping online. In the second quarter of 2014 alone, Volusion merchants saw a 23% growth in mobile sales. One important thing to note, however, is that mobile still accounts for less than 15% of ecommerce sales, with the majority of purchases coming from desktop devices. In other words, mobile definitely matters, but your main ecommerce site will serve as your bread and butter for online sales this holiday season.” – Volusion

Nielsen 2014 Holiday Sales Forecast via USA Today

  • Minority consumers – Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans – will boost holiday sales more than the general population this Christmas, acting as a central driver of seasonal spending.
  • African Americans plan to spend 17% more on holiday items, and both Asian Americans and Hispanics plan to spend 13% more.
  • Middle income consumers (household income under $50K) will spend an average of 12% more than last year on holiday items vs. 8% more for consumers exceeding household incomes of $50K
  • Asian Americans are expected to exceed all consumers in online holiday shopping (one in four compared to one in five mainstream consumers).
  • While multicultural consumers expect to spend considerably more during the holiday season, 70% will “wait until later in the season” to do majority of their shopping.
  • All shoppers will spend 12% more on gift cards; 10% more on electronics and 10% more on toys

“This is a wake-up call… Holiday is just a reflection of what’s happening across the larger consumer retail landscape. This will continue well beyond the holiday season.” – James Russo, vice president of consumer insights at Nielsen. “

To get your business in tip top shape for the busy holiday season based on all these findings, check out the following resources:

What are your thoughts on this year’s holiday sales forecasts? Do you agree or disagree with any of the findings? Let us know in the comments.

For more marketing trends, tips and news, subscribe to the the VR Buzz email newsletter.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 2014 Holiday Sales and Trends – Will This Year Be Merry & Bright? appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

10 Examples of Highly Effective Welcome Emails

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 06:05

One of the most important tools in your email marketing toolbox is an automated welcome email. When new contacts subscribe to your list you want to welcome them to the group with an inviting email.

A welcome email is the first friendly exchange between your business and a new subscriber. It sets the tone for future communications and encourages new members to engage with your business.

To help you create an effective welcome email, we’ll highlight ten effective examples. These emails come from businesses big and small. For each example, we’ll point out its best feature to show you how to create your own killer welcome email.

1. Write a welcoming note
Our first example highlights the importance of a friendly greeting.

“One of the key pieces of a welcome email is a warm introduction,” says Tiffany Romero, president of Sway Group, a content marketing agency.

The David’s Bridal email above features a great introductory message. It thanks new subscribers for making the company part of their wedding day. You can write something straightforward like, “Welcome to our email list,” or “Thanks for signing up to get our emails.” Edgy clothing company, NASTY GAL likes to say, “Welcome to the party! We are so happy you’ve found us!” Or, you can be a little more formal like David’s Bridal. There’s no right or wrong way to welcome new guests, just make sure it’s conversational and fits your company’s voice.

2. Reinforce perks of your email list
It’s always a good idea to reinforce a subscriber’s decision to sign up for your emails. One easy way to do that is to offer a quick “perks list,” which tells subscribers why joining your email list was a great idea. Flood Magazine does a great job of explaining who they are, what their magazine is about and explains that newsletter subscribers will receive “all the best shows, events, contests, and content that your hometown has to offer—right to your inbox. We do the heavy-lifting and you enjoy the rewards.”

In the example below, the National Football League (NFL) lists five advantages of being a member of its email list. The NFL’s bulleted list is a good example of how to articulate the benefits.

3. Offer a deal
By offering a discount or some sort of gift, you can create goodwill between your business and your new subscribers. It may even entice them to make purchase. San Francisco dance school, ODC, welcomes and thanks new members and/or recipients by giving them a new student special.

GAP offers a $15 discount off a purchase of $75 as a welcome gift. It’s a small incentive that can benefit both the company and the new customer.

4. Create a clear call to action
Every welcome email should have a clear call to action, Romero says.

This email is effective not only because of its clean look and promotional offer, it’s most important aspect is the call to action. Notice how it stands out? The color sets it apart, yet complements the color scheme. The button, rather than hyperlinked text, makes it prevalent. Plus, it’s urgent. The words, “Shop Now,” inspire recipients to act.

5. Shine the spotlight on your product or service with eye-catching images
As you welcome your new contacts, it’s okay to put your product or service front and center. After all, your new subscriber asked to learn more about your business or product by subscribing. Give them what they want. Use images to showcase your products like Crocs does here:

If you’re a service-based business or non-profit try using compelling or emotion-evoking images that relate to your business; spotlight a successful and happy customer, include a picture of your team or volunteers (who doesn’t love a warm welcome from everyone?), display before and after pictures, or use clean, flat, simple graphics and complementary colors like Birchbox, the beauty subscription box company does:

6. Be mobile friendly
An effective welcome email has to look good – and work well – on mobile devices. According to Adobe’s Digital Publishing Report, 79% of smartphone owners use their device for email. The report also says smartphone users are more likely to use their device for email than for making calls. Clearly, creating a mobile-friendly version of your welcome email is important. (If you’re using VerticalResponse, all our emails are responsive, so they look great no matter what device they viewed on).

7. Add social media buttons
Including links to your social media sites is another key component in an effective welcome email. New contacts are curious about your business; otherwise they wouldn’t have signed up. Fuel their engagement by sharing the social media sites your business is on. Take a look at this email below from a British department store. Notice in the bottom right corner there are links to the company blog, Twitter and Facebook page.

It’s always a good idea to give subscribers additional ways to get in touch with you and interact with your business.

With these ten examples, you’ll be able to create an effective welcome email. Plus, we have new automated welcome email feature, which makes it easier than ever.  Use VerticalResponse to send your welcome email for free! 

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 10 Examples of Highly Effective Welcome Emails appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

How to Build Your Social Media Audience from the Ground Up

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 06:01

Like a talented musician playing music to an empty room, you need to attract an audience if you want to be heard. The same goes for social media – You have to grow and engage an audience in order for people to ‘hear’ all of the great things about your business. But, you’ve got to start somewhere. In this post, we focus on building your Facebook and Twitter audiences from the empty room, so to speak, so let’s get to it!

Growing Your Audience on Facebook

Invite friends to Like your page 

Sometimes you get by with a little hep from your friends. In this case, your Facebook friends. After you create a business Facebook Page, you’ll want invite your personal friends to “Like” it. Friends are likely to see, Like, share, and comment on your content, which also increases the likelihood that your content will show up often in the News Feed. Here’s how:

Please note: It’s easy to invite friends to Like your page, however, keep in mind that Facebook is also consistently testing various page designs and layouts, so your options may differ depending the layout Facebook has given you. If you don’t see either of these options, let us know and we’ll be happy to help!

1. You can either A) Go to your Business Page and click the three dots just to the right of the Message button. 

Or B) Go to your Business Page and click on Build Audience found in the upper right hand side tool bar.

2. Click on Invite Friends and a drop down menu or pop up will appear. Here, you can scroll through your personal friends and click the “Invite” button. If you’ve previously invited them to Like your Business Page, it’ll indicate so by displaying a check mark. If you click on Search All Friends, you have the option of narrowing your friends down by city, club, those you’ve had recent interactions with, family, school and more.

Promote your Page

1. If you want to attract people who don’t already know about or Like your business, promoting your Facebook page is a (paid) option. To make a clear distinction, this option is to create an ad promoting your Business Page so more people see it and may Like it. You aren’t necessarily buying or guaranteed Likes.

There are websites that promise to provide a large number of Business Page likes, but we strongly advise against using them. Why? As we outlined in a post earlier this year, paying for followers may have a negative impact on your engagement, as these users are not actively interested in your business. Uninterested users don’t interact with your posts as often, which affects when and how often others see your content in their News Feeds.

An ideal scenario is to use Facebook to help supplement your growth in addition to other activities, like trying to connect to existing customers to help build your audience over the long run.

With that, here’s how to promote your Business Page:

Either A) click the Promote Page button on the left-hand side.

Or B) Under the option Build Audience (as seen above), select Promote Page.

2. A pop up titled “Get More Page Likes” will appear. You’ll want to upload an image, (or simply use your Facebook Page cover photo that automatically populates), fill out sections for location, interests, age and gender that are applicable to your business, as these are the people you’re targeting to Like your page. Determine your budget (you can opt for as little as $5 a day) and schedule how long you want your Like campaign to run.


Growing Your Audience on Twitter

Maximize Twitter Search

In your Twitter account, you will see a search box in the top right. To find people that you want to follow, enter a search term that’s relevant to your business. In this example, we used the term “small business.” Click the magnifying glass icon to initiate the search, and narrow the results by clicking the different options on the right-hand side. Choose people to narrow your search to Twitter accounts of people rather than businesses. You can also choose from “everywhere” or “near you” to further narrow your search.

You can then browse for people who may be interested in your business by reading their bios. Following them and engaging with their tweets may initiate and encourage a follow back. This method isn’t guaranteed, but it will provide you with a targeted list of folks that you can start to build relationships with.

Promote Your Tweets

If you have some budget to dedicate towards building your audience, like Facebook, Twitter also provides a paid option. Just follow these steps:

1. Set up a Twitter account for your business. 

2. Set up a Twitter Ads account for your business.

3. Enter your new ads account and click on the campaigns link in the upper left-hand corner.

4. Click on the Create new campaign button and pull down to Followers (Promoted Account)

5. When the new window opens, Twitter will walk you through the setup process for your promoted account. You can choose your audience by interests or followers, or if you have your own data (like a list of email addresses) you can target potential followers more specifically. Just like Facebook, you can choose all the parameters, then set a budget and you will be provided an estimate on how many followers you can expect. 

One of the key differences between the Twitter and Facebook is that brands on Twitter can proactively follow accounts that could be interested in a certain product or service. This is not the case on Facebook. Because of this difference, you may have a better chance of building an engaged following on Twitter if you choose to go the paid route.

So there you have it – A quick and easy overview of a few ways to build your social media audience on Facebook and Twitter from the ground up. For more social media tips, get the VR Buzz.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Build Your Social Media Audience from the Ground Up appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

25 Holiday Email Subject Lines That Shine

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 06:00

The day after Halloween marked the official start of the holiday shopping season and since then, holiday-related emails have been arriving in our inboxes on a daily basis. Why are holiday emails seemingly being sent earlier and earlier each year? Christmas-themed and general winter holiday season emails have higher open rates when sent weeks or even months earlier than immediately before the target holiday, according to a recent article by Marketing Profs.

To get you in the holiday swing of things, here are 25 examples of holiday email subject lines that stood out in our inbox – use them for inspiration.

1. Warby Parker: Cozy up

2. VerticalResponse: Are Your Holiday Cards in the Mail Yet? Get 60% Off!

3. WillCall: Hey, we made you something for the holidays!

4. Chasing Fireflies: Our magical Holiday Gift Shop is open + Save up to 80% in our Halloween Blowout Sale!

5. Shutterfly: We’re feeling very merry. Get 50% off your order.

6. Omaha Steaks: Wanna get the REALLY good holiday deals this year? 

7. Uncommon Goods: The Time Has Come

8. Real Simple: 10 DIY Fall Wreaths That Are Way Better Than a Welcome Mat

9. BevMo!: NEW for November! Delicious Wines for the Fall Season.

10. Workshop: FALL STEAM AHEAD: Over 80 classes up & posted, Oktoberfest weekend workshops & CAMP DIY 

11. Kabuki Springs & Spa: 3 Tips to Boost Your Immune System this Fall 

12. Alternative: First look | Alternative Gift Guide

13. Finish Line: The Holiday Gift Guide is here. Game on for gift giving.

14. Kayak: Waiting for lower Thanksgiving flight prices? Stop and book.

15. Premier Dermatology: Day of Beauty: Winter 2014

16. Paper Culture: Need Holiday Photo Card Ideas?

17. Tory Burch: Presenting: Tory’s Gift Guide

18. Zazzle Inc: Early Birds Save 50% On All Ornaments & Mugs + 20% Off Everything Else

19. Circus Center: PERFORM in our 2014 Holiday Student Gala!

20. Turntable Kitchen: get ready for holiday entertaining: recipes, cocktails, music recommendations

21. Groupon: Get a Head Start on Your Holiday Checklist

22. Travel Channel: Travel’s Best Holiday Attractions 2014

23. JetBlue Airways: A sale to escape the winter weather!

24. Bing Webmaster Team: It’s not too late: Reach more holiday shoppers with your $100 coupon

25. Harry & David: Kim, get a jump on holiday shopping with your Gift History and enjoy free shipping.

Successful holiday email subject lines 

As you can see, many of the email subject lines target early bird shoppers looking for gift ideas (gift guides) and getting prepped for the holidays. Focus your holiday email subject lines not only on offering deals and promotions like free shipping and discounts, but also on solving your customers’ problems through gift guides, tips, ideas, extended or special shopping hours, etc.

To give you an idea of the most effective subject line words from holiday emails, we created this holiday email subject line infographic:

For more holiday marketing resources, visit our Everything Holiday site, and grab our free Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing

You can create and send all your holiday emails for free using VerticalResponse. Get started today! 

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 25 Holiday Email Subject Lines That Shine appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

How to Set up a Facebook Page for Your Business

Fri, 11/07/2014 - 06:00

Does your small business have a presence on the world’s largest social network? It doesn’t have to be an intimidating process to set up Facebook Business Page. In this short video, we walk you through the basic Facebook Page set up so you’ll be up and running in minutes.

For more tips about getting started using Facebook for your business, grab our free guide

Get more helpful marketing tips and advice in the weekly VR Buzz.


© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Set up a Facebook Page for Your Business appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

3 PR Hooks for the Holidays – How to Garner More Buzz

Wed, 11/05/2014 - 06:00

The last few months of the year are here, the weather is cooling down and people in general are in a happy, jolly mood – including the media. Take advantage of this typically slow news period by amplifying your public relations efforts. Here are three press-generating ideas to help you land some positive, end-of-year media coverage around the holidays.

1. Throw a fundraising soiree

If you have a brick-and-mortar location, consider donating your space and time to host a holiday party for a good cause. Partner with a local non-profit that you’re passionate about and work together on an invite list. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to put the party together; some holiday décor, music (hello, Spotify), appetizers and drinks are all you need to make this an event to remember – and a fete the press will want to cover. Who doesn’t love a feel-good story, after all?

2. Pitch last-minute gift guides

Print magazines usually finalize their holiday gift guides in late summer, but no worries – there are plenty of online media outlets that post gift round-ups in November and well into December. Do your research to find out which reporter or writer covered gift-guide articles the previous year, find his or her email address and send them a short, one-to two-paragraph email about why your product is perfect for their specific readership. For more on gift guides and how to find the right contact information, check out our “PR Tips for the Holidays” webinar.

3. Compile a year-end company roundup

If your company had a great year, why not tout it? Cap off the year with a roundup of all your achievements over the past 12 months. Things to include might be revenue growth, employee growth, customer growth and even fun, out-of-the-ordinary stats like how many cups of coffee your staff consumed. Turn it into a press release and perhaps – if you’ve got some creative chops – an infographic, and share it with local, trade and national business press. (Don’t forget to let your own customers know, too, by sending them an email and posting the roundup on your social media networks.) We did this a couple of years ago at VerticalResponse and got tons of coverage.

Have any other ideas on how to leverage the holidays and secure press buzz? Let us know in the comments!

Get more holiday marketing tips from our Everything Holiday site and help make your holidays a success! 

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 PR Hooks for the Holidays – How to Garner More Buzz appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

3 Ways to Wrap up Retail Website Sales this Holiday Season

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 06:00

It’s hard to believe that the holiday season is here. Businesses are decking the halls for an incredibly busy time of year. The National Retail Federation predicts a 4.1% increase in total retail spending vs. last year. And expects November and December 2014 online retail sales will top $100 billion for the first time!

In fact, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) says 43% of holiday gift spending will take place online, up from 42% in 2013. PWC says 41% of shoppers will increase how much they spend online this season.

“With the day-to-day hustle of running your ecommerce business, it’s easy to forget the approaching holidays,” says marketer Richard Lazazzera for the Shopify Blog. “How many times has a holiday come, only for you to realize that you never prepared a promotion for it? If you want to make 2014 your best year yet as an online retailer, then you need to be prepared and plan ahead.”

So, we’ve got three ways to help you wrap up some of this year’s holiday sales for your business.

1. Create strong incentives to buy
A potential customer leaving a website without taking any action is the norm rather than the exception. According to the Baymard Institute, an average of 68.06% of web users will leave a website without completing their purchases.

While consumers leave a website without purchasing or taking action for for a variety of reasons, according to Statistica, the top three ‘risk factors’ are clear: People drop out of a website’s conversion funnel when they’re presented with unexpected costs,  are in a ‘browsing’ mindset, or are able to find a better price elsewhere. 

Over the holidays, competition for your website audience’s business is even more cutthroat. With competitors flooding the web with unbeatable deals, customers will have a strong incentive to leave your website.

To have a leg up, make a commitment to outsmart the noise with compelling promotional codes, loyalty program offers and timed deals. Pay attention to what your competitors are releasing. Beat the numbers game by offering something more.

2. Plan your editorial calendar
Some consumers finished their holiday shopping last February. Rest assured, however, there will be plenty of customers who are scrambling – at the last minute – to find gift ideas.

That’s where content comes in.

Buying guides, recommended products and gift ideas will give your exhausted, time-strapped website audience the creative inspiration that they need to keep shopping. By November, people will be in the mindset of ‘just getting it done,’ but they won’t be willing to sacrifice the personal touch of a great gift.

“It’s a great task to do during any downtime you have now because as the holiday season gets closer, any downtime you’ve had will disappear in a snap, and you’ll be glad you thought ahead,” said Glen Stansberry, founder of publishing website Gentlemint in an American Express OPEN Forum.

For inspiration, check out ModCloth’s 2013 holiday gift guide, which breaks down thoughtful holiday gift ideas by personality type and interest:

3. Provide options for ultra procrastinators
Some people will wait until the very, very last minute to finish their shopping. One of the most valuable ways that your business can stand out from the competition is to offer an e-gift card – a shopping option that helps procrastinators get their shopping done without forcing them to set foot in a store. 

Feature these e-gift cards prominently on your site’s homepage, in your email marketing, and across your social media. Be a resource to your last-minute shoppers who will, without a doubt, be scrambling.

Final thoughts
Start thinking ahead. As you’re planning for the 2014 holiday season, you’re in a strong position to learn and gather insights for next year. The more you learn, the more empowered you’ll be to successful in driving sales this year – and in 2015, which, by the way, is just around the corner.

Visit our Everything Holiday site for more helpful holiday marketing resources, and you can do all your email marketing for free with VerticalResponse!

This post contributed by Ritika Puri, an entrepreneur, marketing consultant and startup advisor. In the past she ran a marketing team at a large ad tech company, where she built seven-figure revenue streams and analytics programs from the ground up. Ritika writes for Forbes, The Next Web, Business Insider and Entrepreneur.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Ways to Wrap up Retail Website Sales this Holiday Season appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Big Ideas to Make the Most of Small Business Saturday

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 06:00

Small Business Saturday, a day set aside to celebrate and shop at small businesses was created four years ago by American Express to rally people to shop local during the busy holiday season. It’ll also be here before you know it.

Small Business Saturday is always held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving – this year it’s on November 29th. Falling directly after Black Friday, this specific day helps bring attention and cash to local businesses. In fact, in 2013, customers spent an estimated $5.7 billion at small, independent businesses on Small Business Saturday according to American Express. To help your business take part, there are some useful tools you should take advantage of:

1. Personalize, Plan & Promote

Create personalized Small Business Saturday marketing materials with your business name, information and even an image, from the Small Business Saturday site. You’ll need to provide a few details about your business, such as name, address and website. The site provides downloadable, personalized email images, digital banners, images for social media posts and logos to use on your blog or website. You’ll also have the option to have your business featured on and free online advertising.

Do you have to be an American Express merchant to participate in Small Business Saturday? Nope, but if you are, you get even more goodies as seen below:

With these Small Business Saturday marketing goodies, you have several options for promoting the event, however, it’ll require a little planning. Because Small Business Saturday falls during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the holiday season, decide now which products, services, sales or specials you want to promote, especially during the holidays.

Plan at least one social post per week leading up to the big day; the more frequent the posts, the better, if you can manage it. The images provided on the Small Business Saturday site work well for both social posts and emails, which creates consistency. Plan to send at least two emails about Small Business Saturday; one to save the date, and one the week of to remind people. If you also send a newsletter, include information to encourage your subscribers to visit your business or website and shop.

We also created a Handy Holiday Marketing Calendar to make planning all your holiday marketing a breeze.

2. Spread the Word Offline

It’s never too early to get people fired up about events you have planned. Print Small Business Saturday signs or posters to hang by your cash wrap, or inside your business’ window. Consider creating postcards to send or pass out to remind customers about Small Business Saturday. Keep in mind, printing and mailing can take some time, so plan for your postcards to be printed and ready to mail 10 days before you need them to arrive.

3. Have a “Shop Small” Soiree

There are several fun event ideas you can plan around Small Business Saturday, including a kick-off breakfast, or a collaboration with several other local small businesses. To help your event efforts, sign up for an event kit, which contains welcome mats, shopping bags and other goodies. To qualify for the event kit, you’ll need provide information about your businesses and the event plan. Request your kit soon as supplies can run out!

4. Get Social

Use the hashtag #ShopSmall on any Tweets you write about Small Business Saturday so they’ll appear on the main Small Business Saturday Twitter feed. Also, check out the helpful Small Business Saturday Facebook page for ideas and info about special shopping day. Get customers in on the action as well by encouraging them to tweet about shopping small, or sharing pictures on Instagram using the #shopsmall hashtag.

With these tips, your business should be well on its way to a successful Small Business Saturday. Do you, or does your business participate? Let us know what you do to prepare or celebrate the day.

VerticalResponse is here to help with your holiday planning. Check out our ready-to-use images and banners for your holiday emails.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Big Ideas to Make the Most of Small Business Saturday appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

4 Essential Emails You Should Send to Engage New Contacts

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 06:01

Getting new email contacts is exciting. That list of new names you’ve grown has a lot of promise in it, that is, if you make the right moves. New contacts can turn into loyal subscribers or frequent customers down the road. To make that a reality, you want to send a variety of emails to start building a relationship.

The first few emails you send to new subscribers are like the first few dates with a potential new interest. You want to make a good first impression, have engaging conversation and feel comfortable with each other. If all goes well, there are many more dates in your future. It’s the same with email marketing. The first emails you send are a way for the two of you to test the waters and see if there’s a connection.

To get you on the right track, here are four emails we recommend sending to your new contacts to help maximize your chances for a long-term relationship – outline these on your sign up page so your newest subscribers know what to expect:

1. Welcome email
The first email you should send is a welcome email. This friendly message serves as the first impression component in your new relationship. The email should welcome the new subscriber, reinforce the decision to sign up, and possibly offer a discount or a deal that’s just for new members. Here’s an example:

Notice there is a quick welcome message, a $20 off coupon code and a list of benefits that new subscribers get as part of your email family. It’s simple and to the point too; it doesn’t overwhelm the new subscriber with too much information.

To maximize your impact, a new contact should receive a welcome email within 48 hours of signing up.

“When someone first signs up to get on your list, it’s fresh in their mind,” says Austin Paley, corporate marketing communications manager for Blue Fountain Media. “They will actively look for you in their mailbox, which is why you should reach out quickly.”

2. Newsletter
To continue the welcome party, send new contacts a newsletter. Newsletters are a good way to start a conversation between you and your new contact. It offers news and information that can benefit your new subscriber.

Here is an example of a newsletter: 

This newsletter talks about upcoming events and a giveaway. Recipients can click on the topics to get more detailed information from the company’s blog.

Some small businesses choose to create a special newsletter for new contacts. This newsletter contains more introductory information like business history and other fun facts about the company.

Of course, newsletters aren’t just something you send at the beginning of an email relationship. They are meant to serve as a regular communications vehicle between your business and your subscribers, but when the relationship is fresh, people are hungry for information and a newsletter can help satisfy that craving.

3. Educational email
Much like a newsletter, an educational email also offers your new contact additional information about your business, product or service. This kind of email is meant to educate contacts about a specific topic that is connected to your industry.

This type of email shows you have the subscriber’s interest in mind. Plus, you want your business to become synonymous with quality content, and this is a good first step, Paley says.

Here’s an example of an educational email that Paley sends to his new subscribers: 

The email helps people learn how to select a digital marketing company via a downloadable 16-page white paper. You want to educate and nurture your new contacts at this stage, Paley says, and this kind of educational email does just that.

4. Promotional email
A few weeks into your email courtship, sending a promotional email is a nice gesture. It’s the equivalent of getting flowers from that new person in your life. It’s a nice way to say, ‘I’m thinking of you.’ Maybe the email contains a gift of some kind, a free consultation, a 20% off coupon or an invitation to a friends-and-family sale that only email contacts can access.

Here’s an example of a friends-and-family email:

This email is for an online retailer, but if you have a storefront you can certainly invite people to come to your business. If that’s the case, encourage recipients to print the email or show it to you on a smartphone for an additional in-store benefit.

The takeaway message is to spend some time engaging with your new contacts. They deserve a little extra attention and with these four emails you’ll set the tone for a lasting relationship.

How do you reach out to new contacts? Share it with us in the comment section below.

psst… We’re launching a new welcome email feature soon, so get ready to send a stellar welcome email of your own, with VerticalResponse.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Essential Emails You Should Send to Engage New Contacts appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Your November Holiday Marketing Checklist

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 06:00

As we turn the page on October and say “hello” to November, Thanksgiving is just around the corner. With it comes the 1-2-3 punch of Black Friday (Nov. 28), Small Business Saturday (Nov. 29), and Cyber Monday (Dec. 1). For many of us, this time of year determines whether we’ll be in the red or in the black come 2015, but the key to making sure your business has a successful November is getting ahead of the competition and promoting early.

If you haven’t already prepared your holiday marketing calendar, here’s a helpful checklist of tips and to-dos for November.

Week 1: November 2– 8

Choose a Promotional Opportunity Ahead of Time
There are many holiday promos to choose from, but some are probably more relevant to your business than others. For example, Black Friday is a classic choice for retailers, but for online businesses, Cyber Monday may be a better fit. Regardless of your industry, promoting Small Business Saturday is a great way to boost business in November while competing with the big guys. Whichever you prefer, pick one early and run with it!

Inform Customers about Increased Email Frequency
If you plan on increasing your email frequency in November (hint: you should!), you may risk more opt-outs. But, if you provide value to your subscribers via these increased mailings you’ll keep your recipients opening and engaging. To proactively manage expectations, send a friendly reminder to your subscribers explaining what your holiday email schedule will be (e.g. Monday-Wednesday-Friday), when it ends and what they can expect. Then, stick to it.

Segment Your Lists for the Holidays
Get your email list ready for the holidays by segmenting your list based on those who opened your recent emails versus those who didn’t. It’s a good bet that those who did will be more receptive to increased holiday communications from you. You can also segment based on location or demographic or past purchases. Doing so will allow you to send highly targeted, relevant content that’s more likely to be opened, read and acted upon.

Week 2: November 9 – 15

Send a Thank You Email
Nothing gives customers that warm, fuzzy feeling more than a sincere email thanking them for their business. If you really want to show them gratitude, try sending a special to your most engaged subscribers. Alternatively, you can send a “thank you” promo to all your customers to cast a wider net. Either way, they’ll appreciate it!

Week 3: November 16 – 21

Holiday Countdown to the Big Four
Consider sending an informative email to your customers this week counting down the days for all the major November shopping events. Use this chance to remind them of your specials, provide gift guides or invitations to special events you’re hosting:

  • Thanksgiving – Thursday, November 27
  • Black Friday – Friday, November 28
  • Small Business Saturday – Saturday, November 29
  • Cyber Monday – Monday, December 1

Update and Share Your Holiday Hours
If your business will be changing your hours for the holidays, use this week to send your customers a heads-up email to let them know. Spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else you market your business online. If your business will remain open during a time when other places typically do not, use this to your advantage!

Week 4: November 22 – 30

Round up Last-Minute Shoppers
Use the final week of November to cater to procrastinators on your email lists and elsewhere on social media with last-minute offers. Use phrasing like “ending soon,” “today only,” and other time-based language to drive home a sense of urgency and get more feet through your door or clicks on your site.

Final Thoughts
With these tips, a little forethought and extra planning, you too can get grab a slice of the $619.9 billion expected to be spent on holiday shopping this year. Get all the holiday marketing resources you need from our Everything Holiday site and in our Complete Guide to Holiday Marketing.

Send all your holiday email marketing with VerticalResponse. It’s free! 

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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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