How to Create Awesome Infographics Without Being a Designer

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If you’re anything like me, you learned how to use programs like Photoshop and Gimp out of necessity to do minor changes to photos. You might have even dabbled in some easier graphic design projects for your own website, but it takes you hours to get the image or the design looking just right and you’re left exhausted. You might even spend time looking up tutorials on how to achieve a certain effect and still have trouble re-creating it.

In short, while you do know your way around the programs like Photoshop to a certain extent, it takes you forever and there’s absolutely no way you’d call yourself a graphic designer. But then, you’re surfing around the web and you noticed some really cool infographics on things like fashion, music and food and you can’t help but wish that you could create something like that; even if it’d take you a week.

Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s definitely possible to create some awesome infographics in any category that you choose, EVEN if you’re not a designer. In this blog post, I’m going to introduce you to three awesome tools to create the best infographics, tell you how to use them AND how you can share your infographics in different channels all over the web. So, let’s get started!

Introducing Easel.ly

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First of all, I love the name of this tool, it’s a great play on words using easel (as in drawing pad) to play on easily’.

Launched two years ago in 2012, Easel.ly has hundreds of awesome infographic templates and design objects that even the most design novice can customize and share online. You can drag and drop design elements however you see fit or even upload your own background image from scratch as a template. The best part? Easel.ly is free!

Easel.ly is super popular with students, teachers and business owners who need to put together lesson plans or concepts in easy-to-follow visual forms. In fact, Easel.ly received the 2013 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning Award from the American Association of School Librarians (AASL).

So how does it work? Simply go to Easel.ly and click on ‘Create an Infographic’. Once you land on the page, you can pick a blank template or one of the other several hundred and get started!

Choose a category to find the best template that you want and then work your magic, dragging and dropping different backgrounds, themes, shapes, objects and putting in text. Then you can save it and share it through a browser link, a web link you can embed into your blog and share it via Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

In terms of going the extra mile in sharing your awesome infographic via social, you could even try attracting new audiences on LinkedIn, Google+ and Instagram and even using new tools like Glossi to create a new platform like an online magazine featuring cool infographics before sharing them. Creativity and a little out-of-the-box thinking can go a long way.

How to Describe Piktochart

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Piktochart is another awesome online tool for creating cool infographics. It’s little more in-depth then Easel.ly in that it’s a software platform that allows you to embed videos, change the fonts, colours, add different line elements and even charts.

You can even import Google or Excel spreadsheets to create your own charts and customize the infographic by uploading your own images or using the more than 2000 high-res, print-ready graphics in the Piktochart library. Note: While you can change the colors of the icons and graphics from the Piktochart library, you can’t use the program to change the colors on your own images. You’d have to make the changes on an external program first

When it comes to sharing your Piktochart infographic, you can choose the size and the orientation, down to the paper size that you want to print it on. You can embed it in an email campaign and send it through your email campaign client such as MailChimp, MyEmma or Constant Contact and share it via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ just by uploading it to your status update.

You can even include it in online Flickr galleries and share it in your Google+ communities, LinkedIn groups and Google Hangouts to help make online collaborations a little more creative and visually informative.

How ReciteThis is Different

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OK, so up until this point, I’ve been sharing a couple of really cool infographic tools with you that help you make IMAGE-based infographics. So they’re all a little more visual. But, what if you want to create a cool infographic using quotes or proverbs?

That’s where ReciteThis comes in. You can turn a quote into a masterpiece simply by typing whatever quote or proverb into the text box, or choosing a quote from the ReciteThis database. Then you select a background from a slideshow at the bottom of the page and press ‘Create’.

ReciteThis

Afterwards, you have the option of posting it to Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or StumbleUpon to share with friends, downloading it for printing purposes or to share with other platforms like LinkedIn or e-mailing it to anyone you want.

So now you know how to create some amazingly fun, creative and detailed infographics-even if you’re NOT a graphic designer! Keep it locked here for more great tips on content marketing, new social marketing and online tools AND tricks on how to better reach your audiences.

Still looking for more design tools? Check out my post on 34 Content Hacks Part 1 to get cool planning, writing & design tricks!

Generating Leads With Mobile Marketing

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Whether it’s viewing a website on your phone or playing an online game on your tablet, by now, you’ve probably been exposed to mobile marketing.

What is mobile marketing, exactly? Mobile marketing is as simple as optimizing your marketing strategies for people using a mobile device-it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the device itself. According to a Google Report, over 90% of people use multiple screens to accomplish a task.

What does that mean? Well, it means that someone could start reading an article on their phone, continue on their iPad and finish on their laptop. To make things easier for them, your job is to create a seamless, optimized experience for every single device. That means, if a website loads on their laptop, make sure people are also able to view it on their phones.

How do you make sure that every person on a mobile device has a seamless, optimized experience? Well you need to put some thought into responsive design and mobile ROI. When your website has a responsive design, it will be formatted properly across any device and you can start generating leads based on similar tactics I’ve already covered in previous blog posts such as Top 12 Calls-to-Action.

A Mobile Strategy Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Building an App

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If you’re thinking that all mobile strategy leads to app creation, stop it. Mobile strategy is about much more than an app. It’s about driving traffic to your website using responsive design. Responsive design gives users an optimized experience while browsing through your website no matter what they use, from their phones and tablets to laptops or desktop computers. This web design concept automatically re-packages the design so that it fits the device viewing it. What makes it versatile is because you can even use free website building tools like WordPress.com and it will allow you to preview how each template design you’ve chosen or created looks on a laptop, a tablet or a phone.

Top 4 Benefits of Responsive Design

1) Responsive design leads to higher conversion rates

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RW-CO_MobileClose to 70% of users are more likely to purchase a product if the website is mobile friendly. That means closer to 30% of users will leave the website if it’s not optimized for their conversion experience.

Take a look at this example of the RW & CO clothing website. Not only do you have to scroll down quite a ways to get to the clothing items you’re looking for, but every time you want to zoom in on an item, you have to pinch your fingers together, if you want to zoom out, you have to spread your fingers apart. Add that to the fact that you also have to wait for longer load times.

Compare that to Nike US’s mobile website and immediately after you enter the URL, you’re taken to a main page where you can see all the links immediately, the photos load up quick and crisp and navigation is breeze to scroll through. In a few clicks, you can find what you’re looking for.

So remember, the easier it is to convert on a website and for customers to find what they’re looking for, the more likely it is that customers will purchase products on the mobile site. Just help them along by making your website mobile-friendly.
2) Responsive design is less stressful to maintain than apps

Even though it may seem like a lot of work to manage and maintain content and design on several versions of the same website, in fact, with responsive design, you only have to update ONE version of your website because it’s just one device that conforms to the size of the screen. So, with one update, you can still maintain a website that’s easy to access to across all devices!

The result is that you save time, money and energy and you don’t have to have a web developer make updates for you! You avoid bottlenecks, save time on meetings and the approval process, which will help your marketing department become more efficient!

3) Responsive design improves SEO

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As you probably know by now, it’s vital to optimize your webpages with the keywords you’re trying to rank for. By having responsive design, you can update your web pages once and your website will automatically update across all platforms. Responsive design also eliminates the chances of you publishing duplicate content and splitting your inbound links.

Also, one URL helps Google establish indexing properties for your content on the website which helps the site rank better. Google also ranks mobile-optimized sites higher in mobile searches. With 15% of traffic coming from mobile devices, it’s really important how well your website ranks.

4) Responsive design calls for better usability

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Having a mobile-optimized website allows for better usability because it fits all different screen sizes. Moreover, according to Google, close to 75% of users want mobile sites to fit their smartphone screens better, have bigger CTA buttons, scroll up and down rather than left to right and be more clean and efficient.

Responsive design satisfies all these requests from mobile users by fitting into screens of varying sizes, having bigger CTA buttons, be clean and efficient and allow users to scroll up and down.

Now that we’ve covered why and how responsive design works to help you generate more website traffic, here’s 6 tactics that will help you generate leads.

1) Employ Progressive Profiling Forms

Most of the time, web forms can be too small for a mobile site, not to mention all the scrolling and zooming it you’d have to do to see and fill in the entire form.

But forms are vital to marketers, it’s a great lead capturing device, so you can’t exactly get rid of them. That’s where progressive profiling forms come in.

Progressive profiling technology is an extension of dynamic form fields allows you to set up forms that designate what questions appear to each lead based on what you already know about them. That way, every time a lead fills out the form, you’re progressively gathering more information and keeping your forms short and easy to complete. This helps you optimize your mobile site with shorter forms and higher conversions.

2) Create Simpler CTAs.

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This is a topic I’ve already covered in my post on the Top 12 Tips for Great CTAs, but on mobile sites, it’s even more important. Make sure whatever images you use are large enough with clear text on them that get your point across quickly.

3) Provide Discounts and Customer Loyalty

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You can measure your mobile presence through discounts like promo codes and customer loyalty discounts that are redeemable through your mobile device. Starbucks is a great example. Mayors of individual Starbucks stores were able to unlock the Mayor Offer and enjoy a money-saving perk for their frequent store check-ins.

4) Optimize Content for a Mobile Screen

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When you’re writing for a mobile audience, there’s a few things you need to remember. Frontload your content in case people don’t read all the way to the bottom and don’t put the punch line as the last line of the article and make sure the purpose of the article is visible from the beginning. Bold your headlines and make them something that people will want to share. Lastly, test some of your content to see what your audiences like better. Are top 10 lists getting more shares and comments or are how-to articles?

5) Make Your Phone Number an Active Link

When someone picks up their phone, they’re much more action-oriented than if they were on a laptop. Whether it’s searching for a website, opening an app or composing an email, people tend to do a lot more on their phones. Knowing this, one of the most effective ways to get your potential customers to the point of conversion faster is to make your phone number a clickable link. By doing so, they can automatically give you a call for more information. The fewer steps it takes for a potential customer to act, the more likely it is that they’ll do it rather than leaving the website.

6) Try a Text Campaign

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Although this might seem like a riskier option, there is still room in a marketing strategy for you to try an SMS campaign. Take Julep, for example. They ran a SMS coupon campaign for their newest nail polish and Julep was able to track what percentage of their mobile subscribers clicked on the link in their SMS coupon and how many of those subscribers purchased the promotion. This one SMS coupon generated a 34.23% click-through rate, and an astounding 17.44% purchase conversion rate based on subscribers that clicked the link.

How to Unlock Mobile ROI

Online-On Device Conversion

Most businesses allow customers to purchase products through their mobile sites. 61% of consumers have said that if they can’t find a product in that mobile site, they’ll turn to the competitors. The easier it is to convert on a website, the less likely consumers will turn to competitors. You must also make sure that the flow and design of your mobile site is optimized for the best usability.
Online-Mobile Apps

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Apps are popular because they can resourceful and easy to use. Typically, a purchase can be made within two steps, which makes them an efficient alternative to mobile sites.

The travel booking agency Priceline recognizes that 82% of their customers make their bookings less than a day before their arrival. So, they made their app easier to book reservations on the go. On the Starbucks mobile app, you can purchase items, locate the nearest location, reload your Starbucks card or share your purchases via social media.

Offline-Click to Call

Lots of times, consumers want to be able to phone the businesses easily. Comcast makes it easy for users to call them by including their phone number in their mobile site and their search ads. The company built a mobile ad extension that allow people to call directly from the search results.

As a result, Comcast got a 270% click through rate through their mobile ads than their desktop search ads.

All of these points indicate just how valuable mobile sites are to your overall marketing strategy. By providing mobile users with the information that you know they’re looking for, you can guide them through to a purchasing decision; which helps your business and leads to happy customers.

Keep reading every week to get more posts on awesome marketing strategies and tips on how to use different marketing tools. In meantime, learn more about how to understand your customers better!

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Understand Your Customers & Use Unorthodox Ways to Develop New Content Ideas

OK, I know that I’ve been focusing on content development a lot lately-from talking about user-generated content (UGC) can really improve your marketing campaigns to last week’s post on Part 1 of awesome content tricks. But there’s just so many different ways to generate great, shareable content that I want you to know about as many of the tools and tricks as possible.

After all, no matter whether you have a bricks-and-mortar company or an online business, don’t we all deserve to know how to develop amazing content that generates customer loyalty from fans and brand interest from people all over the world? (PS. After this, I promise I’ll be focusing on other creative aspects of marketing, including infographics and Instagram to give you a sneak peek at what’s coming up next).

So, what are some of these OTHER useful tools and tricks that can help you understand your customers better and make it a little easier to generate some great content? Read the list below to familiarize yourself with some of the best OTHER tools and tips for content development out there!

How to Understand Your Customers Better

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Whether you can see it or not, there are probably thousands of potential customers searching for your company right now. While they may not know your brand or company name personally, they’re definitely searching for and comparing products and services online that you offer. So how do you find out what they’re looking for? With these tools, of course.

Google Keyword Planner

Google Keyword Planner

Remember Google’s old keyword tool? Well, the keyword planner is Google Keyword Tool 2.0. You can use it to search for keyword and ad group ideas. Type in a keyword or phrase, website URL and/or and Adwords category and the Keyword Planner will return potentially relevant keywords. Each keyword will also be accompanied by the average # of times it’s been searched, its competitive score and the cost per click.

Once you know what words and phrases your potential customers have been searching for, it gives you the ability to create content that contains those keywords, so the next time a customer searches for said keywords, your company will be found. The keyword planner also gives you every combination of keywords you provide it with, which gives you endless possibilities of keyword phrases you can use in articles and blog posts!

Google Suggest

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It’s often overlooked, but it can be really useful for finding keywords that your audience is searching for. Simply type in a search term on Google and look at the suggestions that pop up underneath the search bar. Scroll to the bottom of the search results page and you’ll see other awesome keyword phrases that you can use in your content.

UberSuggest

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It’s like Google Suggest on a power trip! Here’s how it works: you write a term in the box, choose a language and a source, including regular Web search or from search verticals like Shopping, News or Video. Then Übersuggest takes your base term, add a letter or a digit in front of it, and extracts suggestions for it and you can click on each word to get further suggestions based on that term.

You can get thousands of keyword ideas from real user search queries instantly and use those as inspiration for your next hundred or so blog posts! For example, if you search ‘wine’, you will get results for wine + every letter in the alphabet!

Using Social Tools & Real-Time Trends to Generate Ideas

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Looking up what’s popular in your area and what stories make the news could help you generate content ideas. It can also show you seasonal trends on topics you want to write on and how popular related terms may be.

Google Trends

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Google Trends is a tool that helps you to discover what topics are relevant in your country. It can also show you how popular related search terms are and how many people are searching for it. By having a clearer picture of popular topics, you can also use them to newsjack stories for your blog posts. Don’t remember what that is? Check out last week’s post on 34 Content Hacks & Tricks.

SocialCrawlytics

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SocialCrawlytics is an awesome tool that gives you the inside track on how content your competitors produce is being received-it crawls a site and shows how many social shares by platform that a URL has gotten.

SEOGadget’s Content Ideas Generator

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This handy tool is an extensive Google Doc that’s populated with news stories, articles and tweets related to a certain topic. If you want to brainstorm content for blog post ideas, simply type in the keyword and the generator will give you a whole treasure chest of ideas with just one click.

Quora

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Quora is a great social FAQ platform. Type in any query and you can look at the top trending topics and questions and questions that are currently being unanswered. If there’s an unanswered question that you feel you can answer, you’ve got the setup for a great blog post!

Social Inbox

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Hubspot’s Social Inbox allows you to take monitoring further than keywords. You can view social activity by customers and leads and set up monitoring streams by Twitter handles and get email notifications as soon as anyone on Twitter mentions them. It gives you the ability to see what customers and leads are saying about your keywords, giving you the inside track to customer insight and generating content ideas.

Getting Ideas from Internal Resources

Many businesses have a tendency to forget that their own employees can be great sources of content ideas. The most effective is to put out a questionnaire to your staff to get insight from them and you’ll have content ideas for a long-term editorial calendar.

Sales Team Questionnaire

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Asking your sales team about current trends in the market is a great place to get content ideas. They’re in the field firsthand, listening to challenges and issues that prospective customers are facing. They hear the common objections as to why prospective customers aren’t buying, so getting them to complete the questionnaire will give you a ton of content ideas.

Sample Questions:

What are the main objections to why prospects don’t buy?

What are some of the goals your prospects are trying to achieve?

What are some of the biggest challenges your prospects are facing, leading them to find a solution?

Customer Questionnaire

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You can leverage customer stories for case studies and testimonials, but you can also use their answers to questionnaires as lead generating content.

Sample Questions:

How did you find us?

What problems have we solved for you?

What problems are you still facing?

What do we provide for you that you find the most valuable?

Get Creative With Different Content Formats

Great content doesn’t just have to be written, you know. By experimenting and mixing up different formats in your content strategy, you can have fun with developing it, give your prospective customers new and exciting content to grab their attention and not be boggled down with writing all the time.

SnapApp

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SnapApp allows you to easily create branded interactive content like contests, quizzes and polls. There’s more than 40 different customizable content types for web, mobile, social and email marketing campaigns.

GoAnimate

GoAnimate for Business allows you to make an unlimited number of marketing videos in the cloud using easy drag-and-drop tools. Much more than slideshows, it can help you create awesome videos your clients can’t resist.

You can use it to create a product or service demo and post it to your blog and social media channels or turn industry stats into compelling animations.

HipCast

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HipCast is a podcast tool that lets you manage and create audio and video podcasts from the cloud and post them to your blog. All the tools and tutorials you need are on their website. You can interview industry leaders & trendsetters to create a cool interview series or report live from an event and broadcast it on your blog.

Glossi

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Glossi lets you create your own digital magazines. It’s free and the DIY aspect lets you present info, objects and ideas in an elegant format that’s easy to use and read. To make things even easier on your audience, you can turn blog posts into a digital magazine that are easy to flip through and share. It’s also a great way to share videos and photos from events.

Stay tuned for posts on more awesome tools for your marketing toolbox, advice on how to master different social media platforms AND news on some of the coolest campaigns that I find. Until then, check out my previous post on 21 Online Tools to Make Your Business More Efficient!

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34 Awesome Hacks & Tricks to Create Great Content Part 1

Content. It’s the cornerstone of any successful inbound marketing campaign. Creating your own high-quality unique content is the best way of enticing new fans and potential customers to embrace your business and having them understand precisely what makes you different from everyone else out there. You can share all the great industry-associated fun articles, videos and blog posts you want via social media, but in order for your audience to know WHO YOU ARE, you need to create your own content.

But, in my experience, content is a seven-letter word that strikes fear into the hearts of even the most experienced small business owners. Whether their background is in tourism/hospitality sales, counselling, healthcare or interior design, I’ve had scores of clients come to me and say that they’re stuck on creating content for their website, their blog or for great social media updates. They’re all very knowledgeable and comfortable in their expertise and yet, when it comes to expressing themselves on paper, they’re stymied.

In honor of all my awesome clients and to help make your lives a little easier, I thought I’d go through the first part of 34 awesome content hacks that I’ve found can help you plan better, write better and even design better. Without further ado, here’s the first section of planning tricks.

6 Planning Tricks You Need to Know

1) Create a Headline Swipe File

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What is a headline swipe file, you might be asking? Well, whenever you notice great headlines that might help you generate new ideas for content, simply put them into a document and keep it on hand to help inspire you whenever you get stuck or share it with your team to inspire them. Try taking a look and them and focusing on what could make your audience want to click on the link or give you their email addresses. Headlines need to grab attention ASAP.

2) Use RSS Feeds to Find Newsjack-Worthy Content Topics

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What do they mean by “newsjacking”? Newsjacking allows you to use current relevant news stories as a marketing opportunity for your company. While having a story directly related to your industry is ideal, you could also use a human-interest story or a celebrity news story. In your RSS reader like Feedly or in Google Alerts, you can set up search alerts based on keywords of interest and have relevant news stories delivered to your inbox daily.

Try searching for keywords with the highest rate of search volume and incorporate those into your original content. Make sure you also look into the original story to ensure that you have your facts straight and to make sure you’re not copying other content that’s already out there.

Remember, newsjacking isn’t about re-writing the news story word-for-word, it’s about using that news story to TIE INTO your original content, while keeping in mind exactly why you audience should be interested in the story. It’s about using the story to leverage ideas that your fans and potential customers will want to read.

3) Turn Questions Your Clients Have Into Content Ideas

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Over the course of running your business, no matter what industry you’re in, you’ve probably gotten a ton of questions about your industry, on how your products and services work, what to look for when hiring a technician, buying a house, booking a vacation etc. The list goes on and on. What you may not know is that in addition to answering what questions you can in person during client meetings or networking events, you can also use these questions to create blog posts, ebooks, videos and white papers.

Not only will this provide answers for people who have personally asked you questions, having great content will also help those who have questions that need to be answered, but haven’t asked them. Great content pushes them to visit your website, turns them to leads, nurtures that relationship, shortens the sales cycle and turns them into happy customers.

4) Organize Content Ideas Using Evernote

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Coordinating content ideas for your blog as well as other social media platforms and following industry trends can be as bad as herding cats (For the record, Mythbusters proved it can’t be done.) Enter Evernote. As I talked about in one of my previous posts, 21 Awesome Online Tools to Make Your Business More Efficient, you can use Evernote to organize content ideas by notebook, labelling them as ‘blog ideas’ or ‘meeting notes’ to better manage where different content strategies are coming from.

If you have Chrome for your web browser, you can even install Evernote Clipper, which takes anything you’re interested in from the Web and organizes it into notebooks for you!

5) Share Relevant Content With Your Team

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If you work in an agency, you’re undoubtedly creating content for clients in a wide variety of industries. When you’re going through RSS feeds, emails and social media updates, you’ll definitely find fresh content that is very relevant to one of the client accounts. So, to make things easier on everyone, make sure you always forward that awesome content on to that particular account manager. That way, they’re always up to date and organized on what’s going on out there that could make for great content for the accounts they manage.

6) Host a “Ask me Anything” Event

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If you’re like me, you’ve obviously heard of AMAs. Reddit is famous for hosting AMAs for a wide variety of people (some of my favorites include the Hillstrand brothers from Deadliest Catch, Adam Savage from Mythbusters, Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters and the late, great Robin Williams). But, AMAs aren’t just for celebrites, authors or well-known people of note. You can host an AMA for your fans too!

Hosting an AMA allows your audience to ask you anything that’s on their minds and you give them amazing answers! The two-way conversation allows you to develop relationships with your audience, establish yourself as an authority and give them insight into who you are. You can host an AMA on Google Hangouts, which lets your audience get some face time with you, or as a Twitter chat with a hashtag so all questions with that hashtag are easier to organize OR even as an online meeting on a platform like GoToMeeting.

6 Tricks for Writing You Have to Know

1) Always Start With a Working Title

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One of the many reasons people struggle with writing is because they get stuck trying to come up with a title. It’s something that’s plagued me in the past so I understand how hard it can be to write a title.

That’s why, instead of going with one title from the very beginning, start writing with the knowledge that your title is a working one. Make it one that’s reflective on what you’re writing about, but recognize that sometimes, even if you create an outline, the final product is always going to turn out a little different than you think it will. Not worrying about the title means that you can wait until you’re done writing that article, that blog post or that ebook, before writing in the title, which cuts down on stress.

2) Reuse Existing Copy for New Content

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The more your company grows, the more you’ll start seeing the value for re-purposing content. You might have written a PR release 6 months earlier and now you’re looking for some bullet points to put in a blog post, you can abbreviate that content from the press release. You can reuse parts of older content and re-post them in different ways to allow different segments of your target market to absorb it. For example, the audience who reads your PR releases might be different from the one that reads your blog posts, but there’s nothing wrong with sharing the same content with both audiences in different formats.

3) Guide Your Writing W/ Themed Blogging Days

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Writing can sometimes be made easier by having a theme for each day to help make it more fun and entertaining. The best way to start with themed blog posts-and build on your previous blog success-is to analyze your most successful previous blog posts and then create similar posts.

If your most popular post is about “Top 25 Best Mexican Restaurants in San Franciso”, try writing about the “Top 25 Best Latin American Restaurants” next. Designate a day for your themed blog and let the ideas flow!

4) Keep a Dictionary and Thesaurus Handy

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Sometimes, when you’re writing a lot of articles or blog posts that use several descriptors, it can be hard to not to repeat yourself. There’s absolutely no shame in keeping a dictionary and a thesaurus on hand to give you some new synonyms to insert into a piece. It can also help you refine what you’re writing, in case you get stuck on defining a word you want to use.

5) Listen to some classical/easy listening/ambient music while you work

In my experience, listening to the latest Foo Fighters record or some old-school Boyz II Men while working can sometimes distract you. You start singing along and stop writing. I find that that easy-listening, classical or ambient music is really great for stimulating the brain, but it doesn’t have the loud lyrics to distract you. If Beethoven isn’t your thing, I’d also recommend Enya for easy listening or even look up original scores for your favorite video games or movies. I find inspiration from the soundtrack for Assassin’s Creed 3, for example. Anything that keeps your brain stimulated but doesn’t compete with that inner voice works.

6) Use Wikipedia as your style guide

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Every academic and professional muscle in your body is probably screaming at the tip above. After all, weren’t you always told that you can’t use Wikipedia as a source for your writing? Well, this isn’t about using information on Wikipedia, it’s about using it as a style guide. If you’re ever unsure about whether something should be capitalized, in quotes or italicized, check Wikipedia instead of diving into a massive style guide. They’re very accurate regarding style.

5 Design Tips You Have to Use

1) Create CTAs with Keynote

If you don’t want to spring the cash for Photoshop to create an awesome looking CTA, that’s OK! You can use Keynote instead. Just open a new image in Keynote, add a background or fill color, put in an image if you’d like one, add a text box and type in your offer copy. Then you can do a screen capture of the CTA and you automatically have a .PNG image that you can put in any blog post!

2) Snag Images for Your Blog with SnagIt

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SnagIt is a great screen capture program that captures video display and audio output. You can easily use it to add relevant images to your blog. If you see an image you want to use, you can simply SnagIt, copy and paste it into your blog post as a .PNG. It’s just that easy!

3) Change Up the Visuals to Break Up Text-Heavy Paragraphs

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Keep your blog post visually interesting for readers by changing up the visuals you use. You can use infographics, call-out text blocks, quotes and other images. You can also label diagrams, images and graphs with descriptions to summarize the materials for readers that skim.

4) Always Sketch Out Your Ideas

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Before opening any design program, try sketching out a few thumbnail versions. Don’t focus on the details, focus on the composition, the relative scale of the elements and the spacing. Creating the first basic versions force you to think about the basic structure of the design and past the first couple of versions. Sketching takes time, but it can help you save energy later when you’re designing the image in a program like Photoshop.

5) Add Text Overlays to Your Images with the Over App

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With the Over app, you can crop the image, change the lighting and add text and inspiring icons to it. You don’t have to spring for Photoshop, Over is available in almost any app store and it’s fairly inexpensive, easy to use AND you can do it to all your high-quality photos WHILE you’re on the go!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of 34 Awesome Hacks to Create Great Content, coming soon! In the meantime, read this on how to Turn User Generated Content into Sales for Your Company to leverage the awesome content your fans are creating about your brand!

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16 Companies in “Boring” Industries Delivering Awesome Content

Whether you realize it or not, there’s definitely industry sectors out there that are easier to create great marketing content for. You probably don’t have to wrack your brain to write a great brochure about promoting a resort in the Bahamas or develop an online contest to market your restaurant’s grand opening or sell your new line of clothing.

Let’s face it, the tourism/travel, food/beverage, film/entertainment and fashion/beauty industries are generally pretty easy to generate buzz for, get fans excited about and create some awesome content for. Just photos of great events & locations can be enough to get fans buzzing about the latest developments.

But unfortunately, not every industry has that luxury. Have you ever had to create a marketing campaign for accounting software? How about for soap or maybe even a pharmaceutical company? Ever felt stuck doing that and wanting to pull your hair out?

Well, I’ve got some examples that might be able to pull you out of that marketing funk. From soap to file storage and customer service, here’s 16 companies in so called “boring” industries, doing marketing right.

1) Soap

Take soap, for example. It’s pretty plebeian, right? You use it to keep clean on a daily basis and more often than not, I’m sure you purchased a certain one based on price rather than any other attribute. With over 40 different brands, it’s a product that’s more about daily utility, rather than actual consumer interest. But, there ARE a few brands that make marketing for soap/body wash exciting.

Take Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, for example. From deodorant to body wash and everything in between, the brand has done an amazing job of emphasizing that every woman, no matter the ethnicity, age or body type is truly beautiful. The campaign has expanded from TV ads to billboards and online videos, with 2013’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’-where women describe their appearances to a forensic sketch artist-one of the most watched ads of all time.

Why does it work? Maybe it’s because instead of focusing on positioning themselves against the competition and coming up with a USP, Dove instead chooses to focus on how they can empower their consumers through subverting what advertising traditionally tells us is beautiful and focus on accepting ourselves just as we are.

2) CRM Tools

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CRM tools to make life easier for online businesses? Yawn. It’s an absolute necessity to help businesses better manage contact lists, gauge campaigns stats and manage their presence on social media. But is it as fun and exciting as reading about the latest movie premieres @ TIFF? Probably not, but there are a few companies that are working hard to make CRM topics more interesting.

Take Sprout Social, for example. One of the most comprehensive CRM when it comes to helping you leverage content on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, their blog does a great job of explaining all of their new features in layman’s terms and gives great advice on how to better use other platforms such as Google+.

3) File Storage

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Cloud file storage and sharing products to make organizing and sending documents at work easier. Sounds like a sleeping pill, right? Even so, it’s a process for people to wait for your files to sync, upload and finish storing. There’s still a lot of people out there who may not understand the newer concept of cloud storage instead of using a USB drive or a CD. So cloud storage companies have their work cut out for them in trying to make their products sound user-friendly and fun at the same time. But there IS one company that’s doing a good job.

Dropbox’s email campaigns keep their messages short and snappy, they use great photos and they use language that has personality, which makes you want to interact with them.

4) Meeting Platform

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Who doesn’t love attending meetings at work? Even when you’re away travelling for work, you don’t ever have to miss a meeting in the office with convenient online meeting tools…..Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? Meetings aren’t exactly peoples’ favorite thing to do, but there’s one company that does a pretty good job of making the most out of it.

Check out GoToMeeting’s Twitter feed. They do a great job of taking a friendly professional approach to their content. They post everything from popular Internet memes to retweets and articles about the modern workplace. They make things interesting instead of focusing on their products all the time. They also share customer success stories which goes a long way to endearing clients to them.

5) Household Cleaning Supplies

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Vacuum cleaners and other cleaning supplies can be pretty boring huh? Almost every ad you see on TV shows the amazing cleaning powers of the vacuum or broom in question. From Dyson to Swiffer WetJet, all they seem to focus on is how it gets dirt off your floor. It’s definitely useful to know, but not very exciting.

Take this heart-warming campaign from Hoover. When they heard about a young man named Marcus who was autistic and had a special love for vacuums as he was always drawing them, they took his pictures and started displaying them around the office. Even better, they took his drawings and put it online for people to download, creating a mini-campaign in which Marcus’s love for vacuums could be spread to homes all over the world.

6) Real Estate

Finding a new place to live, whether you’re renting or buying can be a huge headache. There’s a ton of listings to go through and open houses to attend AND a lot of questions that should be asked in order to determine if it’s the right place for you. After all, it IS the biggest investment you’ll ever make.

The best companies try and make the experience more enjoyable. Memphis Invest did an entertaining video showing a typical property that a real estate investor would be looking at in the region. It has a Cribs-esque feel, complete with pop-up prices. It make touring through the property both informative and fun at the same time.

7) Consulting

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Consulting is booming amongst baby boomers who retire from full-time work but aren’t quite ready to stop working. As of 2011, there were some 400,000 consultants in the US alone. Not all of them were sole proprietors either, some companies employ several consultants on their roster.

Either way, that’s a lot of companies and a lot of people. With that many people out there with the title of consultant, how can companies differentiate? One great way to do so is through authoritative content, which one company uses to their advantage.

Accenture does a great job of creating authoritative content in a number of different forms, from blog posts to podcasts and they’re also not afraid to bring pop-culture references into their content to make things more interesting and helps to turn industry content into something COOs and CMOs can use to help generate interest among their audiences.

8) Health

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Having written academic papers myself on direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising, I can see how it can be extremely boring to the average consumer. Everyone knows for example that probiotics are good for you, but how many people are actually interested in hearing an explanation on how they work? Many health topics are convoluted and hard for the general public to understand and the biggest content opportunity for that industry is to break it down into layman’s terms that everyone can understand and absorb.

Vega, a plant-based nutritional supplement and health company does a great job of disseminating quality content that promotes healthy living through their social media channels and on their blog. They focus on inspirational stories on what inspires their consumers to get-and stay-active. Check out this great post on what inspired a consumer to start running.

9) Marketing Automation

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In a nutshell, marketing automation platforms allow you to streamline your marketing campaigns, scheduling tweets, managing workflows and automating follow-up emails. Are you falling asleep or switching to another website?! I get it, compared to other awesome aspects of marketing, marketing automation isn’t really considered to be ‘hot’, but it IS integral to improving everyone’s ability to create better marketing campaigns. Still, it sounds fairly bland and robotic compared to talking about the latest ad from Chrysler 300.

There IS one company that’s spicing up the more boring aspects though. Eloqua has been creating an awesome content-rich blog for years, but where they particularly excel is at infographics. Their infographics are awesome because they make a point of adding value rather than just color and they do a good job of laying out statistics in such a way that everyone understands them.

10) Insurance

Everybody knows what a necessity insurance is in the modern age. The demand for information can be pretty high, whether it’s about health insurance or car insurance, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t boring. It’s an important part of personal and professional security, but that doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it. Luckily for us, there’s two insurance companies that are creating popular buzz-worthy content that definitely isn’t boring.

Geico’s marketing campaigns with their mascots, the gecko and two offbeat guitar/ukulele players have been causing audiences to be in stitches for years. All-State has also been generating their fair share of laughs with the character of Mayhem, doing everything from streaking in a football field to running into the road like a deer in headlights.

11) Customer Service

Most people cringe about calling customer service. They worry about having long wait times or dealing with customer service representatives that aren’t helpful. However, there are quite a few companies that don’t deal with customers this way that don’t get enough credit. That’s why awesome content can help the customer service rep and the customer, making their lives easier. Here’s one company that has recognized how exceptional content can help.

ZenDesk offers customer service and support ticket software, but they do a good job of infusing the human element of customer service into their marketing. In one video, they sit two people next to each other, one ‘the business’, one ‘the customer’ that allows them to speak personally with one another, showcasing how ZenDesk can add real-world value into improving their relationship.

12) Crutches

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Crutches can become a necessary evil when you have an injury that affects your mobility. Until you actually need them, it can be tough to figure out which ones you should buy or which ones work for you. A great company can provide content to help you decide if crutches are right for you.

Goodbye Crutches provides free ground delivery for all of their alternatives to crutches. To make the process of choosing an alternative, they have a great quiz on their website that will help you find which crutch is the best for you, eliminating guesswork and making things easier for you!

13) Toilet Paper

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It’s a necessity that you use every day, but you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about which one to buy unless it’s about price. But when you do buy it, there’s a ton of options to choose from.

You don’t generally think about toilet paper as having great marketing, but Charmin’s been doing an amazing job keeping their products top of mind with their TV spots and their Twitter feed. They’ve converted their Twitter account into a hilarious hub for humor, with #tweetfromtheseat, their most popular hashtag generating hilarious responses. They’re not afraid to even keep the conversation going and respond to even some of the more NSFW comments.

14) Radiology

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Ah, radiology. The ability to take X-rays when you have an injury. Not exactly making you feel warm and fuzzy, is it? Especially since you only go there when you’re already dealing with an injury.

Radiology, like the rest of the health industry, isn’t crystal clear, but there’s an organization out there that’s staying top of mind and making it a little easier to understand. The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) successfully uses their Facebook page to connect with their audience in a light and funny way. They even hold contests for the public to submit and then vote on their favorite X-ray images.

15) Everything

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You know what’s interesting? A multi-national conglomerate company that has their hands in every industry from consumer to industrial, finance to energy and technological infrastructure. Basically, your company does everything and yet how do you take everything and make it interesting?

Check out GE’s Pinterest Page, it’s proof they don’t take themselves too seriously, with boards named #Badass Machines next to boards like #Brilliance in Motion. They even go so far as to incorporate the Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl” meme into a Pinterest board, but making it about Thomas Edison instead and hold a contest special board #GEInspiredMe to entice the public to post photos of how GE inspires them.

16) Software

People don’t typically turn to software companies for entertainment or educational content. But with the right mentality and the organization to keep great content always in the pipeline, software companies can gain recognition and spread the word by producing the right content for the right people at the right time.

Marketo does a great job of creating top 5 and top 10 lists of marketing ideas and other aspects that are easy to read and follow. They also do a great job of creating videos that opens the dialogue between them and the customers, almost as if you really were having coffee with them and asking them questions, known as “Coffee with Marketo”.

I hope that no matter what industry you’re in, these companies have inspired you to create awesome content and to not let the label of “boring” stop you. Keep checking back here for more awesome blog post on how to make the most of your marketing campaigns, including this post on how you can improve your calls-to-action (CTAs)!

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Be Your Own Storyteller: A Guide to Successful Inbound PR

In PR, conventional wisdom dictates that you do one of two things to get press in different areas for your clients, company or event: 1) draft a media kit, stocked with company/event backgrounders, info on the key people involved, PR releases and maybe photos and send them to a journalist covering that area OR 2) draft a traditional one-page PR release that details who, what, where, why and when, send it to the correct journalist and cross your fingers to hope for press.

There are 3 issues that come up with both these approaches: 1) Journalists don’t work off your promotional calendar. 2) Journalists need to give their readers what they’re looking for. 3) Journalists are absolutely drowning in pitches.

How does these 3 issues affect the media kit or the PR release you’ve sent the journalist of your choice? Let me elaborate on each of them individually so that you know understand why the traditional media kit or PR release doesn’t always work to get press.

First of all, the reporters you contact for press have their own deadlines and editorial calendars to work with. Chances are, they’re not waiting around for your press package announcing a new product or your company opening its doors. Secondly, journalists have a duty to tell a great story that’s newsworthy and relevant to their audiences and they may have a different angle or similar story to yours that has already been featured recently, which means they’ll pass on your story. And lastly, journalists are so inundated with traditional PR pitches on a daily basis that yours could easily get lost in the pile because your traditional pitch looks the same as 500 others.

So how do you go about standing out from the piles of PR releases? Here’s a list of awesome ideas to help you stand out from the crowd and build better relationships with media.

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1) Craft a narrative your customers care about: A news story on your newest product, service or office is going to focus its implications on how it will affect your industry or geographical area, depending on the publication. What your customers and your audience care about the most is how your products, services or new location will benefit them. Does your product make running a business or lifestyle changes easier for them? Does a new location make customer service more seamless for them?

Releases should reflect how your customers think and talk about your products and company. Eliminate any nonsensical terms and flowery language that your customers won’t understand and speak to them in ways that they’ll respond to; instead of catering your releases and blog entries to impress reporters.

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2) Think outside the box: You might not have a big event or huge product announcement always on the horizon but there’s always an opportunity to get noticed.

Does your company do a fun scavenger hunt as a team-building event every year and raises funding for a local cause? Or maybe you have employee perks that are unheard of in your industry. It might not be immediately press-worthy, but by posting your own blog post on your website about it, you keep customers engaged and you drive traffic to your website.

Don’t be afraid to think beyond the usual for content formats as well. Use formats to your advantage. For example, when oneforty was bought by HubSpot, the PR release was formatted entirely in tweets, which caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal and many other outlets.

Skew the traditional PR release altogether and get your fun story across with an infographic or two or even a video.

When you’re trying to show that a senior VP at your company is an expert at a given topic, don’t pitch that to the reporters first. Publish a blog post with some of your VP’s insights and then send it to reporters so that they know it’s relevant.

Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun and don’t be afraid to be creative!

3) Create Awesome Content

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Typically, in a traditional PR release, you focus on applying the ‘who, what, where, why and when’ approach to content, which although informative, isn’t really all that exciting. Reporters are people just like you and they respond better to content that’s fun and exciting, not a bland template.

Focus on what makes your story unique and worth reading, make it shorter and more concise, maybe even add a few ‘Share This’ or ‘Tweet This’ links to encourage reporters to share your content.

Don’t wait around for reporters to take notice, get your company out there. Research a few high-profile industry blogs out there and see if you can guest post. That will help drive traffic to your website and result in potential media coverage because it establishes you as an authority in your field.

The first step in successful inbound PR is to learn how to tell your story first. That includes creating your own infographics, blog posts and whatever other fun content you want to generate attention. It’ll help you gain valuable traffic to your website and attract coverage.

Inbound Marketing that Journalists Will Thank You For

Journalists today unfortunately don’t have all the time in the world to research for story angles, find the right phone number or email to reach a publicist or your marketing team. So do what the best companies do: make it as lightning quick, easy and intuitive for journalists to get the info they need.

That’s why your website should have a press page containing the contact info of your media relations professional, company backgrounders, recent news etc. and any other associate materials a journalist would need. Some best practices for a press page include:

Provide real contact info: Give reporters the name and contact info of a real person that they can talk to rather than a generic company email. It shows that you care about the kind of response they’ll receive
Decode You ‘About Us’ section: Make sure the description of what your company does is crystal clear to journalists. Use illustrations or diagrams to showcase your business in visual terms if it becomes too lengthy to explain in words. If a reporter doesn’t understand what you do, there’s no way they’ll be able to explain it to their readers in an article, so keep it short, concise and specific.
Include profiles of your executive team: Most of the time, reporters want to know information about your CEO, CTO, CFO etc. are in order to develop stories. Provide high-res photos, bios, social media profiles and maybe a quote or two for reporters to investigate and reference. Having the info readily available makes it hassle-free for journalists to get the content they need.
Other helpful industry data: if a reporter is working on a story about your industry, chances are she will also need statistics and data to help capture market growth or trending topics. So putting a few industry stats and info about trending topics could make their lives easier and increase the likelihood that they will return to your website with a similar request in the future.
Add social media sharing buttons: Make it easier for employees, customers and media alike to share your news with the world. It’ll help the conversation start on social media about what your company’s up to.
Share your coverage: When your company is covered in an article or blog post, interviewed in a video or mentioned in print, post a link in it on your Press page. When you build a long list of coverage over the years, create a news coverage page so journalists know exactly where to go to find the buzz about you.

Building Relationships With Media

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First and foremost, respect their role. A journalist’s job is not to sell or promote your product no matter what outlet they write for. Their job is to capture relevant news for their outlet, tell a great story and make sure that they give a fair and reasonable assessment of your company, product or service. By recognizing that, you’ll get better results, manage expectations more carefully and build lasting relationships.

Make sure you’re also patient about reaching out to journalists. Only contact the ones that cover the area you want covered and only do so when you have something of value to offer them and their readers.

Here’s 5 Tactics You Can Use to Identify, Reach Out To & Engage With Journalists in Your Space

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1. Do Your Homework-You can usually find basic contact info for the reporters on their outlets contact pages for editorial staff or using the ‘contact me’ button at the top of a story. You can use Excel spreadsheets or Google Docs to build your lists. Make sure you include their contact info, a link to their recent coverage, Twitter/Facebook profiles and a short bio.
2. Leverage Social Media-Use Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to monitor how and when reporters are talking about topics in your industry and respond with helpful tips and links. You can use Hootsuite to create notification lists based on subjects you’d like to pitch to journalists to see when they’re talking about it.
3. Take Time to Personalize-Refer to the journalists you contact by name, take the time out to personalize your outreach as well. If you know they’d rather prefer a friendly email, send them one.
4. Test, Learn & Apply-By using a program such as MyEmma, Constant Contact or MailChimp to send your emails, you can see who opened your emails and track who clicked your links. You can also track which emails bounced or who didn’t open the email. It will help you plan your next steps on who to follow up with, with a second email and where you have to update contact info.
5. Give Before You Get-Add value when you contact the reporters-comment on their status updates, promote their content and maybe give them sneak peeks of your business. Media relationships are a two-way street, so make sure you offer them value.

Check back here every week to learn more about how to make the most out of Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest, create awesome inbound marketing content & get fans engaged! Read THIS to learn how to make the most of Twitter & Vine.

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How to Turn Brand Advocates into Content Creators

It seems like brands everywhere can’t get enough high-value good quality content to fill their growing marketing needs. Content marketing isn’t exactly a new strategy but it has definitely taken off in the last 2 years. After spending the last few years focusing on building followers and social media ROI, marketers are now seeing the benefits of educating and entertaining their customers, fans and followers using quality content.

However, content marketing poses a few problems for marketers. Not only are fans and followers devouring content quicker than marketers can keep up, good quality content marketing also takes time and money. Many brands have taken to outsourcing content development and creating content, whether internally or externally, is expensive and brands are struggling to have their budgets meet demand.

With expert tips and tricks, you’ll learn how to leverage band advocates to get more content that is affordable, performs better and will solve your content problem.

Differences Between Brand Content & Advocate Created Content

Let’s be honest, not only is branded content expensive, with many companies spending up to 25% of their allotted budgets to create the content; most of that content is also pretty self-promotional. Consumers eventually get turned off by content that is too self-promotional. Advocate created content has an edge because it allows your brand story to be told through the eyes of others. Consumers find this type of content so trustworthy that advocate created content gets 10X more engagement than branded content. 84% of these consumers will trust honest reviews and recommendations from friends and family more than any form of advertising, according to the 2013 Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey.

So how do you find out who your brand advocates are? Your brand advocates can be bloggers who review your products, customers who have had positive experiences and even your own employees. You can find and develop relationships with your brand advocates by searching through fans and followers on social networks and filtering through customer and employee databases.

Once you’ve found them, you can start encouraging them to share the content they’ve created. Here are 5 tips on how to do that:

1) Make It Easy

Your brand advocates will be more willing to share your content if you make it easier for them. Provide advocates with great available content. Even though advocates love your brand, they might not necessarily go out and look for content to share. Providing them with great available content lowers the barriers and increases the likelihood that they will create and share great content for your brand.

Example: Chipotle created an animated short known as the Scarecrow to illustrate how important it is to cultivate healthy, non-processed food is and incorporated a mobile game with the campaign. Not only did the YouTube video get 6 million views and turn viral, the content was shared numerous times by brand advocates and fans all over the world.

2) Help Them Get Started

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One way to encourage advocates to create short-form content (such as an Instagram video) or long-form content (ie. a blog post) is to give them a prompt to get started. Advocates may want to share, but they could be having trouble finding something to say. Giving them a topic or theme can go a long way to getting advocates to share content quickly.

Example: The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has simply asked celebrities and festival goers to share their favorite moments from the festival using the hashtag #TIFF14. Any content with the hashtag gets shared and collated across all social media platforms and helps break the ice for advocates wondering how to get started.

3) Don’t be Too Rigid

Giving advocates prompts or directions to help them get started is great, but be aware of being too restrictive. Advocates know their audiences best, so allow them to the freedom to customize messages that fit their audiences best.

4) Provide variety

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Providing advocates with content in different formats is a great way to ensure that they always have a variety of content to choose from. Videos from events and infographics are great examples of shareable content.

5) Keep it Fresh

Update your content and prompts every couple of weeks to make sure advocates always have opportunities to share new content. Also, inform advocates when new prompts are available so they can contribute

Re-purposing Advocate Content

Re-purposing advocate content on your brand-owned channels is a great way to thank your advocates and also maximize the reach of their content. Here’s another reason to repurpose that content: advocate content performs 7X better on brand owned channels than the brand’s own content.

Where to Re-purpose Advocate Content

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Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube are great platforms to repurpose advocate content because of the high visibility the channels provide brands. All these channels are great places to re-purpose videos, photos and any blog posts or articles.

Website

Showcasing advocate content on your website homepage, blog or dedicated page is a great way to thank you brand advocates for their great content and create a content hub that other uses can go to, to see the best of your advocate created videos, blog posts and photos.

Print

Whether it’s inside a bricks-and-mortar store or in a catalogue, taking digital images offline can help extend the lifetime of the content and help to maximize its ability to reach different audiences.

Conclusion

By engaging with brand advocates to share their content to supplement what brands are already doing on their own online and social channels, brands will see higher social engagement. Powering advocates to share their story helps companies to grow their businesses.

Stay tuned here every week to find more expert tips and tricks to creating better marketing campaigns and become a PR pro!

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21 Awesome Online Tools to Make Your Business More Efficient

Technology is moving and changing at lightning speed in today’s day and age. If you don’t integrate at least some of the tools and cutting-edge platforms to help your marketing strategies and assist increasing your company’s productivity, you’re going to be left behind by the competition.

But, it’s not as simple as just pressing a button or learning HOW to use a tool or application. You need to have support for adopting new changes in your company from the senior management down to IT, marketing, sales and business development and an open environment to collaborate and share the knowledge on the new applications.

This blog post will cast the spotlight on the most popular cloud-based applications that your company should be using to improve creativity, productivity and efficiency.

The applications fall under the following categories:

• File sharing and collaboration tools that will help your business get projects done faster
• Social networking tools that make cross collaboration between teams easier
• Administrative tools that make managing manage projects, schedules and billing a breeze
• Tools that make sales, marketing and content management simple
• Misc. tools that will help you save time on managing your email and more time developing strategies

File Sharing and Collaboration Tools

1) Evernote

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Do you have Post-It notes scattered all over your desk and have a hard time keeping track of all the paper you take notes on during meetings? If this sounds like you, Evernote is the program for you.

With Evernote, you can capture, organize and write information that can be accessed using any device, even giving you the ability to read the text off of photos of notes you’ve taken. You can save and share information in your Evernote virtual notebook that can be shared with your team through Evernote Business.

You could create separate virtual notebooks for each client to keep track of business goals, campaign ideas and project notes. You can even create shareable notebooks for clients to look at, filled with informative web articles or ideas you’ve been ruminating on that you think they might like. When you’re researching on the web, Evernote’s Web Clipper can be your best friend because it allows you to capture and store screenshots of the web pages you’ve been looking at.

Cost: Individual Use: Free, Individual Premium Use: $5.00/month or $45.00/year and Evernote Business: $10/user/month

 

2) Dropbox

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By now, you’ve probably heard of Dropbox. It’s a cloud-based shareable hard drive that you can sync files, photos, videos and projects saved on your personal computer to your work computer or vice versa. When you make a change to a file, the updated version is automatically saved to Dropbox, so you’re working on the latest version no matter where you access it from. If you want to revert to working on an earlier version, you have the option to do that also.

Instead of attaching several files in an email, you can just send a link to the Dropbox folder. You can organize all your files into subfolders based on department, subject or client, so that every folder is shared with the right group of people.

Cost: Individual use: Free up to 2 GB of storage, Team use: Starts @ $795/year for 5 users with unlimited storage

 

3) Google Drive

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Google Drive is the new home for Google Docs where you can upload files and create spreadsheets and presentations to share with others. Any editing you do to the documents is automatically saved and you’re always working on the most recent version. Everyone can see the same version of the document without dozens of email threads with new attachments. Editors can highlight text and suggest changes with the comment tool and writers can hit the ‘Resolve’ button on each comment after the feedback has been incorporated.

Google Drive also has the benefit of being able to open 30 different file types right in your browser, even if you don’t have the appropriate program installed. (ie. you can see .psd files even without Photoshop). Just like with Dropbox, you can organize files into different subfolders and access the documents both on and offline. Google Drive can also recognize objects and text within images like Evernote!

Cost: Individual use: Free w/ 5 GB storage, Google Apps for Business: $5/user/month or $50/user/year

 

4) Google +

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There’s a great way you can interact and collaborate with your clients on Google + by using Google Hangouts. You can have live video chats with your clients while editing a Google Doc to write down campaign ideas. You can also share videos and documents over Google Hangouts too!

Cost: Free (Needs Google Email Account)


5) Microsoft Office 365

You can use the cloud version of Microsoft Office, email inboxes, calendars, instant messaging and file sharing. You have access to web versions of Office, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote with some pricing plans giving you access to the online version of Microsoft Sharepoint for document sharing and collaboration.

You can use the online versions in conjunction with the desktop version which will allow you to move documents back and forth without losing formatting.

Cost: Small business with 50 users: $6/user/month, midsize business or enterprise with 50k users (view files online but no editing)$8/user/month, Enterprise with 50k users (view files online & editing) $14/user/month

Internal Social Networks

6) Salesforce Chatter

With an internal social network like Chatter, you can ask questions, send files back and forth and get responses in real-time without overloading the email server. You don’t have to worry about it getting out of the office because Chatter is for your company only. You can create groups for specific clients to ask questions and provide feedback. It’s a great way to keep telecommuting employees and those in out-of-town conferences in the loop.

Cost: Basic Chatter for your company: Free, Chatter Plus: collaboration, customization with Salesforce CRM features $15/user/month

 

7) Yammer

yammer

The enterprise social network provider is now part of Microsoft Office and you can use it to organize meetings and events and create groups for specific clients to house all the campaign ideas and project details.

Used in conjunction with MS Office, you can create an organization chart for your business so that everyone knows who’s who in each department.

Cost: Basic: Free, Yammer Enterprise: $3/user/month, Yammer Enterprise w/ Office 365: $8/user/month

 

8) Basecamp

Basecamp

Basecamp is a simple project management platform that allows you to centralize all presentations, documents and meeting notes in one place. You can track and assign project milestones and keep track of the progress on your computer and on your mobile devices.

Basecamp doesn’t price by number of users so everyone involved in a particular project can access the platform to work together. You can control who works on which project and organize them based on their departments (ie. event planning, accounting). You can use the Discussion feature to keep track of all the different conversations and use email to reply to them so you don’t even have to log in.

You can coordinate everyone’s schedules and project milestones using the calendar and keep track of clients’ editorial calendars so you know what’s published when

Cost: $20/month for 10 projects with unlimited users & 3 GB of storage, $150/month for unlimited projects and users with 100 GB of storage

 

9) ActiveCollab

ActiveCollab is another easy-to-use project management system that includes the ability to create invoices and manage time. You can access projects by filtering searches by clients, label, assignee and more and you can break better tasks into sub-tasks and drag and drop project milestones into certain due dates.

You can even create quotes for new projects and mark them as ‘won’ or ‘lost’. If won, you can import the client contact information and start a new project based on the quote.

You can filter tracked time by billable and non-billable and populate a new invoice

Cost: Small business w/ unlimited users: $249/month, Corporate use w/ unlimited users (including time tracking & invoicing0: $399/month

 

10) Intervals

Intervals

Intervals is a web-based project management software that combines time and task management with reporting that allows you to see where time is being spent and adjust priorities accordingly.

There’s a built-in timer that you can use to calculate time spent on projects. You can put in task instructions and attach any accompanying files to help with a project such as research notes or website copy. You can track the evolving changes in a document and revert back to the previous version(s) if you choose. The reports help you view which clients you’re spending the most time on, which clients you need to bill, whether you need to hire someone to help with the workload and if you should be adjusting the hourly rate.

Cost: 40 projects, unlimited users, 15 GB of storage: $50/month, unlimited projects, unlimited users, 75 GB of storage: $150/month

 

11) Workamajig

Workamajig

Workamajig is a web based project management system that combines task management, shared calendars, contact management, expense management, project requests, billing and more.

You can created customized templates for creative briefs, tasks, estimates and more-and you have the option to host it internally on your servers or on the Workamajig servers.

Cost: $38/user/month w/ minimum of 10 users

 

12) Trello

13trello

The premise of Trello, another web based project management systems, is that you write tasks on “cards” like digital Post-It Notes and attach them to different boards labeled “Need to Research”, “Delivered to Client” etc. You can create as many cards as you want to keep track of where projects are at, assign people to them and once the projects are done, you can move the cards from “To Do” to “Done”.

Create cards for different content marketing projects and even create cards for employees to store meeting notes and feedback that they can easily access rather than interrupting them via email or in person. You stay updated on all your different boards and how projects are doing using Trello’s mobile app for iPhone and Android.

Cost: Free

Content Sourcing, Creation & Management Tools

13) Kapost

You can create and manage your entire editorial calendar with Kapost Calendar and even export them to your everyday work calendar (iCal, Outlook, or Google). You can assign different user permissions to all involved in the content management process, from all access to view only AND you can add clients so that they can take a look and give feedback and their approval.

When you have a content idea, you can email the Kapost platform for editors to review, approve and then it goes into the editorial calendar. You can categorize all content according to campaigns, content types etc.

Cost: Standard: $1200/year for 8 users, Pro: $3000/year for 20 users, Enterprise: Quote

 

14) Zerys

Zerys for Agencies banner

Zerys is a content marketing and project management system that connects your company with qualified writers looking for opportunities to create content for your clients.

Post writing jobs, sample writers based on their expertise, review their work, negotiate rates and publish their work.

You can create questionnaires to ask clients what they are looking for in a project and you can then use that to create a job description for writers. It will help generate a lot of content for client blogs in a short amount of time and you can add your own company’s writers to the system.

Cost: Pricing is based on the per word rate you charge between $0.01 to $0.20

 

15) Contently

contently-screenshot

Contently offers an editorial project management program along with a marketplace that connects brands, agencies and other companies with the talent that can complete content projects.

Using Contently, brands gain access to qualified writers that have already been vetted and writers gain access to self-promotional tools and visibility into how their content is performing.

You can create and manage your entire editorial calendar, schedule publishing times and due dates, manage approvals, editing workflows and you can automate content to publish on WordPress, Hubspot, Typepad or Tumblr.

Cost: You’ll have to ask Contently for pricing plans

 

Misc. Handy Tools

16) PassPack

PassPack

PassPack allows you to store all of your agency’s and clients’ passwords, grant access to team members on a need to know basis and it saves time by allowing you to log-in into the sites with the one-touch button to login that also works on mobile.

Cost: Up to 100 passwords for 1 user: Free, Pro: $1.50/month for up to 1,000 passwords and 3 users, Group: $4/month for up to 1,500 passwords and 15 users, Team: $12/month for up to 2,000 passwords and 80 users, $40/month for up to 10,000 passwords and 1,000 users

17) Rapportive

rapportive

Rapportive allows you to find out more about your email contacts by providing info about their social media activity right inside your Gmail inbox. You can see their interests and hobbies and connect with them on a variety of social media platforms.

It helps you put a face to the name of unknown contacts in email, use recent tweets and their LinkedIn profile to find common ground to help you tailor your conversations accordingly and follow them via social media without getting distracted and pulled away from your inbox.

Cost: Free!

 

18) Skitch

Skitch

It’s a screen capture, sketching and annotation tool that makes explaining a project to a client much easier. You can overlay text, draw simple arrows, shapes and lines and blur image sections to draw attention to certain areas. As Skitch is also an Evernote product, you can save all your Skitch notes and share them between all your devices.

You can use Skitch screenshots in blog posts, reports and in emails to your clients to help you illustrate your point.

Cost: Free!

 

19) Pixlr

Pixlr

It’s a web-based, desktop and mobile photo editing tool that allows account managers and social media strategists to create and edit images without having to resort to spending large amounts of money for a Photoshop license. You can add Pixlr to Google Drive, edit your photos and re-save them on the Drive and you can easily edit any online image by clicking and dragging it to Pixlr using the Firefox and Chrome extensions. You get the mobile app to edit photos on the go when you’re away from the computer.

Cost: Pixlr Web-Based Editor: Free, Pixlr Express: Free, Pixlr Express Plus for Android & iPhone: $0.99

 

20) Pocket

Pocket lets you save everything online that you want to read later and tag them with different tags so they’re easy to organize and find when you’re ready. Pocket syncs content automatically across all your devices, so you can read it with or without an internet connection.

You can even sync Pocket bookmarks on your mobile devices to Evernote and manage your articles along with notes and ideas.

Cost: Free!

 

21) DocuSign

DocuSign

With DocuSign, you can upload a document you need signed, indicate where a client needs to sign and the date and send it off with a customized note. Once they’ve signed off, you’ll get an email notification and you can start the project.

You can upload all kinds of contracts, NDAs and employee handbooks into DocuSign and save time and money on the printing process and turnaround time.

Cost: Free for 1 user w/ 5 signature/month, Professional: $15/user/month for 50 signatures/month, Workgroup: $20/user/month for 2-200 users and unlimited signatures, Enterprise: Get a quote

 

Check back here every week for more posts on how to become an expert on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, content development and management AND learn about new tools you can use to make marketing and running a business easier!

Attracting More Customers With Twitter and Vine

vine-twitter

So you’ve created an amazing Twitter profile for your company, complete with an eye-catching branded cover photo and profile image. You’ve started following key companies as well as industry influencers and bloggers in order to stay ahead of the competition and keep on top of what’s new and exciting.

You’ve started sharing cool tweets and updates of new products and tools you have, cool infographics and fun events and people are responding to them and sharing them with their networks. So, everything’s great on Twitter, right?

Well, you’re gaining followers and fans but you still feel like there’s more that you could be doing to help gain more of an audience and stay ahead of the competition via Twitter and other social media channels.

That’s where I come in. With this post, I’m going to give you a few secrets on to optimize your branded Twitter page for search and then bust a few myths about marketing on Twitter along the way.

Later, I’ll also give you some tips and tricks on how to attract customers by incorporating Vine into your marketing strategy.

6 Steps to Optimize Twitter for Search

1) Keep Your Handles Spam Free

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You can change your Twitter handle at any time, but make sure to keep it professional and unique. Don’t put too many numbers behind it because Google could mistake it for spam because there’s no way to differentiate between which ones are real and which ones aren’t.

2) Include Keywords in Your Bios

To improve SEO, include at least one keyword about your industry in your bio, but don’t overstuff it with keywords because it’ll look forced. A few keywords in an attention-catching bio deployed in the right way to help you increase your visibility on search results.

3) Build Your Reach

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Gaining an audience of high-quality followers in important for SEO purposes. Google checks the authority of every user who’s tweeting content, so make sure you share great quality content with legitimate Twitter accounts in order to raise your search ranking.

4) Create a Subset of Keywords

Your business should have a set of keywords it tries to rank for, but not all of them translate over to Twitter. Analyze the keywords through various tools and pick a smaller subset that are easier to tweet on a semi-regular basis to raise your ranking.

5) Keep Tweets in the Safe Zone

To make sure your SEO-optimized tweets aren’t deleted when someone re-tweets them, try to aim for status update lengths of between 120-130 characters. That way, re-tweets have some leg room and you’ll also improve click-through rates (CTRs) on your tweets.

6) Fuel Your Inbound Links

Posting updates that people love retweeting will boost your optimization efforts and Google analyzes the number of followers who retweet your content and ranking your retweeted link-the Twitter equivalent of an inbound link. So make sure whatever you share catches enough attention that people want to retweet it.

Busting Twitter Marketing Myths

marketing myths

Myth #1: Having a Twitter Account for Longer Time Period is Better than a Shorter One

Your presence on Twitter isn’t measured by how long you’ve been a member, but the value that you provide which translates into followers and engagement. To increase your value, make sure you provide high-quality content and don’t spend all your time simply trying to sell your products and services.

Myth #2:Tweeting every second of the day is better than tweeting fewer times

Everyone knows that tweets have a short shelf life but that doesn’t mean you should be tweeting every single second. When you tweet every second, your older updates will move down your followers’ news feeds and having constant updates can irk your followers pretty quickly. So remember that tweeting too many times can irk your current fans and decrease the likelihood of getting more followers.

Myth #3: Following industry influencers is better than following customers

Many businesses will follow industry leaders to gain insights into what they think and follow competitors to keep on top of what they’re doing, but they ignore customers. Don’t ignore your customers, if they care enough to like and share your content, you should give them some of that love and respect back and reciprocate by following them to see what’s been going on.

Now that you have a better grasp of how to master Twitter, here are some tips on how to incorporate Vine into your marketing strategy

How to Incorporate Vine

By now, you’ve probably heard about Vine. It’s an app that allows you to capture and share short videos that are 6 seconds or shorter. It compliments the 140 character limit on Twitter nicely and gives you more of a chance to be creative in a shorter timeframe.

You can use Vine to expand your video library and incorporate more videos into your marketing strategy. You can also share them via your Twitter updates quickly and easily. Unlike longer videos, Vine’s ability for quick uploads and easy-to-use interface gives you the freedom to experiment with different topics and images without having to worry about video production quality.

6 Ideas to Inspire Vine Videos
1) Sneak peeks to promote an upcoming event or webinar. (ie. speaker clips)
2) Product demos featuring a particular feature or tool
3) Clips showing new gear and products in action
4) Behind the scenes look at the office culture
5) Short case studies of customers using your products
6) Clips highlighting your company participating in community events

A great way to encourage engagement with your followers with Vine is to pose a question to all of them and post the answers in the form of short and snappy Vine videos, as a video Q&A or shortened version of a Google Hangout.

Once the questions come in, a moderator will tell your followers which questions are being answered and when to expect the video. Once a video is produced, you can automatically share it via Twitter. In an hour-long Twitter chat, you can produce anywhere from 15-20 short video responses.

If you’re going to do a Vine Twitter chat, make sure you have one person monitoring responses via Twitter, one person in charge of the filming and one expert on camera answering the questions. Make sure you always have a backlog of good questions collected from Twitter on hand so you can produce the videos faster AND when you post the video make sure you use the chat’s hashtag AND include the expert’s Twitter handle.

How to Measure Twitter and Vine ROI

twitter-roi

Twitter has two purposes that you need to be measuring: Business Generated through Leads and Twitter Database/Follower Growth.

To measure business growth from Twitter, you need to look at two elements: how many visits you’ve had to your website through links you’ve placed on Twitter and how many new contacts (ie. sign up for an e-book, enter their email addresses, contacted you) those visits have generated.

You can measure your Twitter database growth using 3 different metrics: Measure how many followers you gain from month and month (which allows you to see which campaign tactics have been working and which ones haven’t), daily follower growth and how many link clicks you’re getting from these followers. You can use a tool like TwitterCounter to help measure your follower growth over time.

Tracking Vine is a little trickier, but there are a couple of ways. You can add hashtags to status updates with links to Vine videos and hashtags are trackable using tools like TweetReach. You can then search for the custom hashtag you used for the Vine video and see how many tweets the hashtag received, how many impressions and how many people it reached. You can also see the month-to-month growth of followers on your Vine account.

Stay tuned for more posts on how to better utilize Vine and Twitter in your marketing strategies!

UTrip_ScreenShot

The Top 12 Calls-To-Action You Need for Your Marketing Campaigns

So you’ve created an amazing new website for your company or a cool e-newsletter that you want to share with your loyal customers and maybe get some new ones; but there’s a problem.

You’ve noticed that you’re not getting as many people clicking through to your e-book, your web form or your videos as you would like. But the links are clearly on the front page of your website and on your e-newsletter, so what’s going on?

Well, it could be that your audience has a tough time seeing your calls-to-action. A call-to-action can be a link and/or phrase that connects two very critical pieces in lead generation: incoming traffic and the opportunities to convert these visitors into new leads. In order to drive more traffic to your website and the offers you want them to opt-in to, you need to make call-to-action improvements.

So what kind of improvements should you be making? Here’s a list of the TOP 12 Calls-to-Action that you need to drive more traffic & get more leads.

1) Calls-To-Action Using Contrasting Colors

Freshbooks-Call-to-Action

The fastest way to grab someone’s attention is by making your CTA stand out from the rest of the page by making it dominant. You can do that by choosing a color for the button or link that contrasts the background.

There’s no rule of thumb or guideline to follow about choosing colors to make your CTA stand out on the page, except THIS ONE: make sure you choose a color that works with your overall website design AND avoid patterns.

If you’re using a background on your website that has a lot of different colors and shapes, consider putting a dark semi-transparent box behind your CTA to make it readable and give it a chance to stand out. Or, use white text for your CTA on top of warm colored (such as red, yellow or orange) boxes to make it stand out.

2) Calls-To-Action Presenting An Incentive

Bauble-Bar-email-call-to-action

If you place a CTA asking someone to download your whitepaper for instance, you might want to mention a bonus that goes along with it. Maybe it’s free, or there’s a discount available or even a bonus offer of a cool template or e-book to go along with it. Sometimes offering a compelling incentive with your CTA can go a long way in having visitors take the next step.

By offering exclusive discounts with your CTA, you’re allowing visitors access to a special club that allows them to experience everything you have to offer and more, easily and efficiently. What also works well is telling them that clicking on the CTA to get started will only take a minute. People respond well to taking action as long as they aren’t a long process.

3) Calls-To-Action Showing Product

jetsetter-full-images-on1

By showing your product or service with a CTA, you make the offer seem more tangible to visitors; they know exactly what they’re getting. It captures what you’re trying to say and show the value of what visitors will be getting. If it’s compelling enough, they’d click through your CTA

Having a screenshot or video of the product with the CTA gives visitors a visual connection between the two and makes the action more attainable. Placing an animation of a product allows visitors to get a feel for the product and its features themselves and take the next step.

4) Calls-To-Action Using Great Text

Evernote-4

Before you place a CTA, make sure that you have a great description in place on what sets your product/service apart from similar products. You can reinforce the message about your product in your CTA as well.

A great message can also include incentives, add clarity AND set visitors’ expectations on exactly what they’ll be getting. Adding in a teaser to entice visitors to take the next step can also be an integral part of a great message.

5) Calls-To-Action Using Spacial Effect

teambox

Don’t overcrowd your CTA with other surrounding text or images, you want to give it some space to stand out.

Separating the CTA from the rest of the content on the page means that it’s a separate item. So the rule of thumb is that if you have a tight connection between the CTA and another element on the web page, such as a great message about your product/service, then there should be less white space between them. Only keep the CTA separate from web page elements that have nothing to do with the CTA.

Make sure you have enough breathing room around a CTA to make it stand out and help the reader focus on all the important information on the page.

6) Calls-To-Action Creating a Sense of Direction

webuybooksuk CTA

Some of the most successful CTAs have arrows pointing at them that creates a sense of direction and guides visitors to important elements on the page. This prioritizes information and creates a traffic flow on the website.

Having a CTA with an arrow that points to the right follows the natural step in terms of reading left to right, so putting that on the front page draws visitors’ eyes to the next step.

Other visual effects can also give a sense of direction such as circling the CTA with a handwritten font.

7) Calls-To-Action For Email Generation

amy porterfield email sign up

You can also use a CTA to capture emails to build your own list of loyal customers that you’ll follow up with, notify them of discounts, promotions or special events and create your own captive audience that can become advocates for your brand and generate some amazing UGC for your marketing campaigns.

An element that can help entice visitors to enter their email addresses can be a great teaser for an event, telling them to sign up for updates on a conference. It would also help to notify visitors exactly what they’ll be receiving when they enter their email addresses, so that your company has complete transparency.

Reiterating what was said earlier about providing a great message with your CTA, don’t be afraid to add that the sign up process will be free and quick and that signing up will be hassle free and offer benefits. Also, by putting the entire sign-up process on one page, you are transparent with visitors and it makes the sign up process easier.

8) Calls-To-Action With Primary and Secondary Options

Air_BnB

Sometimes you may have two or three competing actions you’d like visitors to do, such as sign up using their email AND download your white paper.

You can certainly have more than one CTA on a page, but you have to decide which one is most important. Make that one stand out with a more prominent placement, different color and a bigger size so that visitors can differentiate between the two.

You can turn the primary CTA into a button and just make the secondary one a hyperlink to make the primary CTA stand out.

9) Calls-To-Action Facilitating Segmentation

Royal Mail CTA audience-segmentation

When you’re creating CTAs you should be thinking about the people you want clicking on them. Who are your buyer personas and what can you do to make each CTA more targeted to these audiences?

Easy! Let your community identify their own sub-personas by offering them CTAs that facilitate segmentation such as placing two CTAs on the same page but for two different groups (ie. For Students/For Teachers).

You can use bullet points to distinguish between the CTAs as well as images that convey distinct messages on what each segment identifies as.

10) Calls-To-Action That Make Good Use of Video

Capital One Venture landing page

Videos are a great format for educating visitors on certain concepts, a new product or what your company is all about and they also have the power to convey strong emotions that can prompt visitors to take action. They can be a great addition to a CTA or the video itself can BE a CTA.

You can add text encouraging people to watch the video and invite visitors to simply press ‘Play’ as a CTA.

11) Calls-To-Action With Unorthodox Shapes

dollar-shave-club-landing-page

Trying out fun shapes such as stars or ovals to outline your CTA with might increase the likelihood of a visitor clicking on it because it looks so different from anything else on the page. Don’t be afraid to experiment with shapes that are asymmetrical or rare.
Using unconventional shapes lets you stand out from the competition that are all using traditional shapes for their CTAs. Ribbons can also catch peoples’ attention because they convey exclusivity. Placing your CTA on the image of a Post-It Note also creates a sense of productivity and puts you in a mindset to take tasks off your list.

12) Calls-To-Action That Reduce Visitors’ Anxiety

Revenizer CTA

Sometimes even though your community may be motivated enough to download your resources, you need to do some extra work to assure them that their time and energy is well-spent with you. By guaranteeing that their information and privacy is safe, you can build a much more effective and loyal relationship with visitors.

Place a note near the CTA notifying them that they don’t need to give you their credit card and put a disclaimer that states you won’t give their email addresses to anyone without prior permission. Putting in extra time and effort to calm visitors’ anxiety could bring you more leads in the long run.

Stay tuned for more marketing tips!