How to un-tap social media and measure ROI with technology

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I was recently asked what technology or innovation in digital marketing that I was most excited about. Although I am biased in my answer, I am always excited to see the results when technology can provide both innovation, and results in the bottom line.  

There are many successful case studies of brands leveraging user-generated social content to tell their stories. Early adopters have been rewarded with deeper relationships with influencers, powerful website and marketing content that is so captivating to their audiences that they are staying connected to the brand website longer.

The longer that eyes remain engaged with the content, the more meaningful the  experience will be in learning about the product, service or experiences that a brand offers.

 

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The technology behind user generated content marketing is not new. However, executing the strategy around the technology to fully leverage the thousands of images and video content being created around every brand, product or experience, is the key to ensuring that an investment in technology or software generates the return on investment that it should.

How to un-tap the power of social media

Greatwaterway.com

Ontario’s www.thegreatwaterway.com invites visitors to become part of their story.

There are hundreds and maybe thousands of pieces of content being created and shared about your brand every day.  Consider the amount of social content being posted and shared by these two popular brands, just in the last 30 days:

HashtagSearch_Hashtagio

 

This is the “visual word of mouth” that the socially connected consumer has created, and that wise marketers have untapped in helping them to reach, capture and retain both new influencers who will be their best brand ambassador’s, but also more engaged customers – at the point of transaction.

What should marketers be thinking about when determining a technology platform and  strategy to capture and un-tap crowd-sourced content as part of the marketing mix?

 

Influencer marketing

Photos, videos and brand stories are being created and shared by Instagrammers, top influencers on Twitter and YouTube stars who have an engaged community of followers en mass. Rewarding influencers with a shout out, a follow, or a reward, and featuring their content alongside other brand messages is a means of not only generating good content – but also in building an army of powerful brand ambassadors.

The future of influencer marketing is to be able to build and engage with a wider net of influencers, who may have niche communities and a smaller audience as a whole – but powerful content and more targeted reach. Marketers must find a way to manage and measure this in order to gain reach.

Social Media Contesting

Social media contesting works to engage new Fans on Facebook, but are these leads being nurtured and developed into a perspective customer or brand ambassador?  How do you determine a return on your investment when the transaction or lead generation has occurred outside of the brand web asset?

The idea is to pull the contest to a landing page on the website instead of running it through Facebook or YouTube, and manage both the content assets, as well as the entries to ensure that the lead generation you are looking for is not simply lead gen for Facebook. Leverage social media channels as the powerful marketing vehicles they are – and drive your customers back to the point of conversion.

 

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Nova Scotia tourism was recently named by SKIFT as one of the Top 25 Destination Websites in the World, with a specific mention of the creative use of crowd-sourced content.

 

Managing permissions and rights for images and videos

All UGC marketing platforms, or social media aggregators of content worth looking at should have the ability to pull in and re-publish social media content and provide an automated permissions request built in. Outside of the obvious reasons to obtain permissions to use content posted on Facebook or Instagram, asking permission also gives marketers the opportunity to initiate a conversation with posters of content, encourage more content submissions and increase the number of shares. This also allows the brand to build an arsenal of images and videos that can be re-published to become part of the brand marketing strategy.

Adding fresh social media content to the website will immediately improve the stickiness of the website and keep customers close to your point of conversion longer. Consider nurturing relationships with professional photographers who use Instagram as a means of promoting themselves. Work with them to showcase their work – and tell your story. Follows and shares are the currency of the social media economy, and content creators will be thrilled to be recognized and supported by your brand.

Social data asset development and management

Sourcing photography and video production from vendors can be an expensive hit to your bottom line. In addition, research shows that user generated content is more engaging and more trusted than professionally produced content. It is important for marketers to start to build asset libraries of user generated social media images and videos to add into the marketing mix to keep it fresh and vibrant. In addition, keeping image and video assets sorted and categorized by content type increases marketing automation and efficiency.

Lead capture and measuring ROI on social media

Many companies struggle to find their ROI from social media, but believe it or not, you can gauge the return on your social media investment. By using technology and analytics, marketers are now able to track conversions on a sign up, App download, purchase, or page visit as a means to measure the impact that social media content has on their sales.

They key is to use social media channels as marketing tactics to drive users back to the point of conversion, not send them back out to Instagram once you have the customer on the website.

SEO and Website content

Website bounce rates, time on site, and average  number of pages per visits have been illustrating to marketers for quite some time that websites are not engaging or as good at closing the sale as they once were.

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Consumer user behaviour has changed, but most brand websites have not kept up to ensure that their storefront is engaging to a new kind of customer.

Consumers spend more time on Social Media channels than ever before, and less time on websites. By showcasing social stories on the website,  visitors are able to engage and share social media content from the website, and are more likely to remain on the website, instead of bouncing out to Facebook or Instagram. By giving users a similar experience they get on Instagram or Facebook – brands will keep customers on the website longer, and have the chance to further engage them to sign up or buy.

In addition, “Social signals” – or referring traffic back from a social network have also become a key factor in Google’s search ranking. Marketers need to continue to add links to social media posts to encourage users to go back to the website and engage with the brand. By providing similar content on the website, marketers can capture and retain that lead longer, and also increase the amount of fresh SEO friendly content added to the website.

 

What’s next in the technology behind UGC marketing platforms?

 

Personalized delivery of social content upon returning to the website, within marketing messages – and in emails.

This can be done now with platforms such as Hashtagio, allowing brands to tag and categorize UGC content to be searched and re-published at any time, to any place.

Automated tagging of visual content via AI technology

Although this is the not so distant future, I would caution that many brands are not even fully leveraging crowd sourced content now.   There are only a few brands that are fully un-tapping the potential in injecting social stories into the marketing mix.  Testing how crowd sourced content can impact the website performance and sales should be the first step before investing in automating the tagging of content.

It is the curation and categorizing of the content itself, as well as the implementation and measurement of success that is more of a priority for most brands.

 

UGCmarketing

Technology and marketing automation are on the minds of marketers more than ever before.

Keep this advice in mind when researching solutions for managing user generated content, or any other software or technology for that matter. Software bells and whistles will not be the key to tapping into the power of crowd-sourced content. Take the time and deploy resources to the right implementation strategy. The results will be improved efficiencies in social media marketing, proven ROI and of course, increased sales.

 

By Alicia Whalen

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 3.17.50 PMAlicia Whalen is a blogger, speaker and Chief Evangelist for Hashtagio the platform pulls in social content by Hashtag, Location or @handle. Content is tagged and searchable and can be republished on brand websites, in emails, and in other media. The Hashtagio UGC marketing platform provides automated rights management to obtain permissions to use images, and advanced analytics to brands build direct connects with Instagrammers, tweeters and Youtubers. Hashtagio is a social data asset management tool, a UCG marketing platform, and a website marketing automation tool that allows brands to fully leverage social media stories.  

7 Must Do’s before you re-build or migrate your website

 

It must be that time of the year. Are you having the February “I hate my website” blahs?

 

Your website is your cash register. Whether your website has 30 pages, or 300 pages. Whether it is ugly, or just hasn’t been updated since your first born University Grad finished grade 8, there are some important steps to take before you decide on your next website developer, CMS platform, consultant or creative agency:

  1. Understand your goals: How will your website update improve your overall marketing and sales efforts?

Your website is your point of sale. How will it support all of your digital marketing efforts including search, social media, offline marketing, and review management and brand awareness?

I too have undergone a website refresh.  I wish that I had considered many of the items on this list before I changed my wordpress theme – and then subsequently had to comb through 7 years of posts to update broken links and long lost plug ins.

  1. What functions to you expect your website to have and why to you need those functions to improve conversions? 

Do you need a Blog? Do you want to integrate social content to your website? Do you need a better check-out function?

This is an important exercise as the website CMS you choose will need to have the flexibility to work with your ecommerce solution, mapping functionality (if applicable), social plug-ins, and other functions of your website.

If your mandate with the new website is to improve website conversions, then your chosen developer or platform will need to accommodate by having social media plug in’s, a Blog platform, RSS feed, or a gallery.

If you are limited in resources to manage updates and creative changes, as well as the financial resources to continue to “add on” –  you will need a platform that is easy to update and manage without a team or agency support.  There are “do-it-yourself” solutions that may cost more initially, or monthly – but may save you some costly headaches in the future.

In my case, what I needed what a WordPress theme that was not different than the original theme I had used.  A learning curve in understanding how to update your own website is not ideal.

“A learning curve in understanding how to update your own website is not ideal”.

 

  1. Document current website performance for future benchmarking

Use Google Analytics (and any other analytics tool in addition) to understand what is working and what needs improvement with the new website.

Look at a typical month, as well as a year-over-year comparison over a period of time and identify key metrics that include:

  • Number of unique visitors per month Bounce rate.  The bounce rate should be under 40% at a minimum.
  • Time on site (2 minutes, or preferably more than 2 min. per user session)
  • Current SEO keywords used to find the site.  If your website was verified in Google’s Search console, you will see this in Google Analytics.
  • % of overall traffic coming from organic search and top performing referral traffic.
  • Device usage breakdown – this illustrates how much of your traffic is coming from desktop, mobile or tablet devices. This is important to know when re-designing a website or moving to another platform. You must design for your user, and most of us are spending much of our time on mobile devices and tablets.
  1. Website asset inventory: Create a site map – or road map of all pages of the website.

Inventory your website assets that include content pages, images, video’s, blog posts etc.  Using Google analytics, determine high performing content pages, and highly indexed pages in search, and ensure you have a site map of all pages in the website.

If you are migrating to a new website platform, create a 301 re-direct plan to give your new website developer or platform provider. This will ensure that you carry over pages that were indexed in Google to the new website.

TIP: Many web designers miss this important step. Ensure that a 301 re-direct strategy plan is completed before you pull the plug on your current website. If you are working with a SAAS based platform, make sure that there are resources available to assist you with this as you make the transition.

  1. Checklist – Must have functionalities for best performing websites:

Template designs, or pre-formatted design websites (for those of us who cannot code to save a life) are both cost effective and proven.   CMS platforms, Design and theme layouts become templates because they have been used successfully for other similar businesses. Remember, the website has to be functional and visually pleasing. Consider this when working with your next website developer. New design is not always the best route to take.

“Take a consumer first approach to your website.  Build what they like, and they will come.”

 

Prepare an action list for the new website. This should include:

  • Mobile optimized website option included. (This should not be an add-on as any website/theme today must function well on a mobile device)
  • Mobile responsive design option.
  • SEO plug in or CMS platform that is SEO friendly (every page of a website should have unique on-page keywords, and back end meta-data to show the search engines the site is relevant and should be indexed for those keywords)
  • Rich media asset manager: Check for storage, ease of use.
  • Plug in’s to Marketing Automation tools

Note: Some photos and video asset manager’s are cloud based, and some may be included as part of a full digital marketing platform where photos and video’s can be pushed out to the website, as well as other digital marketing platforms including social media, and other online directories. Ensure you have taken the steps above to understand what you expect from your website to understand what you need to efficiently manage your content.

  • Easy to use CMS: A website that is easy to update on the fly – with or without a designer or programmer is easy to find. Simple website updates should not incur additional costs to update on a regular basis.
  • Google Analytics plug in or place for the code: All websites should be tracked via Google analytics. This is a universal and free analytics platform. Make sure that your analytics is set up under your property Gmail account so that you may carry your analytics data with you if you migrate to another website again. If you are working with an agency to support you with analytics, ensure that you have a second Google Analytics code added that is your own.
  • Social media plug ins and share tools.
  1. Once the website is live:

Ensure that the 301 redirect plan has been applied so that none of the pages on the previous website become “broken links”.  Google does not like broken links and will penalize.  Verify your website with Google and BING search console. This will give you access to your SEO tools in Google analytics, and also may speed up the re-indexing of your new website in search.

       7.  Benchmark Improvements

Measure your new website month-over-month to benchmark improvements in search visibility, website user engagement (metrics like time on site increases and reduced bounce rates) and of course increases in sales.

A website is never done. Continuously optimize and adjust your website content based on best performing content pages, successful content shares in social media that drive traffic back to the website, user feedback and of course – increases in sales.

It’s that simple! 😉

 

 

Innovate or miss your “Target”

Innovate or miss the mark. Change is not only good, but necessary.

Target is the perfect example of failure to innovate. I am certain that the Target Corporation had the best of intentions bringing its promise of quality retail at low prices to Canada – only two short years ago.

The popular US retail giant had successfully positioned itself in the US as an upper-end discount store, and all indications were that Canadian’s were ready for it.

Why did Target fail to hit their target in Canada? Lack of innovation.

The Target brand launch in Canada was big and splashy. Colourful (note the Canadian spelling) Ads, with messaging that showed Target understood Canadians.  The creative and messaging almost invited the country to welcome the big kid from next door. I dare say that the Ads were even “Tim-Horton-esque

targetcomestocanada_ideahatching.com

The ads and fanfare brought excitement and a promise that the Target cache, products, and pricing model could be replicated for Canadian’s, who loved to shop at Target when across the border.

When Canadian discount retailer “Zeller’s”, succumbed to the competition in 2011, Target swooped in to save the day. Surely it was just that Zeller’s, the Canadian retail staple founded in 1931, and acquired by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1978, failed to keep up with new superstore discount retailers like Wallmart. The Zeller’s stores that failed provided much of the initial space for the first Target stores to open in Canada.

Obviously Target had all the right stuff to make it right?

 

Innovate.Def

Wrong. Target failed to innovate.

 

Whether it was that Target did not understand retail in Canada, how to work in Canadian communities, or the government policies that may have impacted how they delivered on their brand promises, Target failed to meet the requirements to thrive in Canada. They rested on the success they had in the US, and did not recognize the need for change.

Target was not the first, and it won’t be the last brand that has failed to innovate while pushing forward into a new market, sustaining profitability, or attempting growth.  Even brands that have a unique offering, and strong brand have failed due to lack of focus on systems and process that may have worked at one time.

Think Blockbuster.

 

Had Blockbuster Video innovated by providing something like the new “Red Box” that now sits at the front of supermarkets – perhaps Blockbuster’s fate may have been different?

Or consider Netflix. Netflix launched in Canada in September of 2010 This is a brand that saw the opportunity in streaming video that came with increased access to high speed WIFI and mobile devices that could handle streaming media.  Netflix took the lead in delivering streaming content, and then showed innovation in producing the content as part of their offering.

 

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Netflix took a queue from HBO and Showtime – traditional content producers, and added what worked for them into their mix. They changed what they offered their customers, and provided more value.  More importantly, they innovated at a time where the competition could have left Netflix lost in cyberspace.

The Netflix model is now being replicated by others including Amazon with “Amazon Studios” and Yahoo!. Both are producing their own content, and adapting tactics that have worked in other mediums.

It was only in November 2014 that Canadian streaming media competitor “Shomi” – a joint venture between Rogers Media and Shaw entered the market as an alternative to Cable and Netflix.  Shomi came out of the gates as an alternative to the streaming service that Netflix offered in 2010 – in November 2014!

Bell Media’s “Crave TV” launched only a month later in December 2014, one month after Shomi. Need I say more?

Perhaps if Target had spent additional time and dollars in preparing to enter Canada, and more importantly considered how to manage products, services, people, and pricing that may be different in a new market – we would not have 17,000 Canadian’s unemployed as of last week’s announcement.

The moral of this story?

 

Innovation might be the next buzzword or hot catch phrase, but those who are actually putting it into practice will hit their targets.  Of this, I am convinced.

###

 

About:

Alicia Whalen is a process innovator, social media influencer, digital media evangelist, and Co-founder of the successful digital marketing conference – Online Revealed Canada – now in its 10th year. A Blogger at ideahatching.com, speaker, trainer, and lover of ah-ha moments. Tweet me @acoupleofchicks or connect with me on LinkedIn

PredictandPromote_ORC2015

 

Online Revealed Canada Conference:  Join us March 31-April 2 2015 in Toronto for the 10th annual Online Revealed Conference for digital marketing in tourism and travel.  After a decade of challenging the “old ways” of marketing online, and with a theme of “Predicting and Promoting A Look at The Future of Travel Marketing.” my partner and co-founder Patricia Brusha and I are excited to deliver a special 10th anniversary edition event with a new format, exciting venue and top speakers in the industry CONFERENCE REGISTRATION is now open.

I look forward to seeing friends and colleagues to share in where we have come and where we are going in digital marketing for tourism. What a ride it has been so far!

 

Article references:

  1. Financial Post: 2015/01/15 
  2. Financial Post: 2015/01/19
  3. Toronto Star: 2015/01/25

The beginning: One post, tweet and heart at a time

I am feeling especially reflective as we approach the end of another year. It may have been Christmas music and snow day that have brought me to this place. Maybe it is the Songza Singer-Songwriter playlist that did it.

Or perhaps it was the highlights of our collective social story over the past year highlighted in a Wall Street Journal article…but I digress.

Our use of social media in all area’s of our lives has made us “Life Scribes,” documenting not just pop culture and news applicable to the masses, but also the daily life, relationships, work, connections, the desires and dreams of well…everyone on the planet.

The way we tell our stories has changed.

heart

Our stories have become interwoven into all that we do. Media weaves over from our televisions, and into our Facebook timelines and tweets.

 

“Our moods move with the streaming song lists and Netflix binge watching.

We consume our media and share our stories, our music, our feelings.”

 

We share it all, across multiple devices, and sometimes while sitting in the same room. We watch and participate at the same time, and are all contributing to one big collective social story.

I wonder now where storytelling will go from here.

A tweet has the shelf life of about 30 min or less depending of course on your chosen #hashtag. A beautiful moment caught on Instagram may be shared a few million times.

 

What if we are simply flying by these beautiful moments?

 

Social media and our ability to always be connected and interconnected has made us all story tellers, journalists, photographers, artists and therapists. The devices that connect us to our social networks have enabled us to participate in our world, far outside of what we were able to do only a few years ago.

Consider that we are now getting birthday wishes from people from all area’s and times of our lives on Facebook. Well wishes posted to our walls from childhood friends, to business colleagues, to family and friends – allowing us a connectedness to people and experiences that would have been impossible to maintain and grow in the past.

We are sharing music, personal photo’s, locations, and are able to express ourselves with words; comments and reflections, and sometimes overused quotes from Deepak Chopra, Oprah, and of course Bethany Mota.

  We are now contributors to the collective story and not simply passive observers. We have a big responsibility.

 

I feel especially responsible to reflect on my highlights and observations as a student of digital media. I am excited to say that I intend to do this the good old fashion way.  I am going to write a book. This article is the start to my adventure.

This book might be written as a series of blog posts, or on Wattpad, but while reflecting on how we are telling our collective story, I am excited to tell my own in whatever place I am comfortable to do it.

Thank you for listening friends, followers and fellow scribes.

AliciaWhalen_stories

 

Lessons in “LIVE” social media marketing and retail

I had the great opportunity to work on the Social Media launch of the new Outlet Collection at NiagaraIt was an adventure in live event social media management and marketing with many lessons learned.

The new outlet collection is situated at the center of the Niagara region in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and was developed by Ivanhoé Cambridge, a Canadian-based global property owner, manager, developer and investor, focusing on high-quality urban shopping centres. The new Outlet Collection at Niagara is the flagship in the collection of future planned developments, and a shiny new attraction for the Niagara region.

Launching such a brand in social media channels Twitter, Facebook and Instagram was a labor of love for myself, and the on-property team, retailers and excited fans who made it such a success.

Lessons learned in social media for retail:
1. Choose the right Social Media communities to focus on and do it well:

We launched @OCNiagara on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

2. Have a strategy – then prepare to abandon it:

Social media became the central point of integration for all of the grand opening events and media. A plan for hashtags and content was created and then it happened – viral word-of-mouth and buzz took over.
3. On the ground LIVE social media was key to leveraging all of the buzz surrounding a new mall and tourist attraction:

On-site content curation (the photos of retailers, new stores, shoppers and and ongoing monitoring and response times were critical in quickly building the communities and tracking what content was engaging – and it was fast!

#Selfies posted to Instagram and Twitter were most engaging, and had the most viral reach.  Of course any image of a cute child or pet always wins in social.

4. Don’t forget about Foursquare:

Those who shop use Foursquare and Instagram religiously it seems, followed closely by Twitter and then Facebook.

5. Followers and Fans like special deals just for them:

They like to be on the “inside” with special access to specials and promotions. Contests and giveaways worked, especially contest for gift cards awarded to fans and followers on site during the grand opening weekend.

 

6. Have a good solution for managing and reporting:

We used Sprout Social to manage and report on Facebook and Twitter.

The days around the grand opening of the Outlet Collection at Niagara were critical in launching a successful social media presence.  Key to this was leveraging the online and offline buzz, responding to accolades and criticism, and learning what content was resonating with the audiences on each social media platform (as well as re-sharing #selfies and giving prizes for posting them).
7. #Hashtags are cool. Don’t post on Instagram or Twitter without at least one (or 5) good Hashtags – just trust me.

From what I saw, there still a large gap in the integration of the offline shopping experience with the very engaged socially connected shoppers who are tweeting, posting, liking and sharing their experiences – and ultimately spreading the word and driving foot traffic.

A huge opportunity for retailers to embrace Social Media as consumer and retail shopping behavior will continue to converge with digital and social media.

And so it was that Niagara’s newest tourist attraction opened and blasted into the social media sphere with gusto and enthusiasm, and I found a way to combine two of my favorite things!

#Shopping + #Socialmedia @OCniagara = #Heaven 4 @acoupleofchicks

For more adventures in Social Media follow Alicia Whalen and A Couple of Chicks™ Digital Tourism Marketing on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Lessons in "LIVE" social media marketing and retail

I had the great opportunity to work on the Social Media launch of the new Outlet Collection at NiagaraIt was an adventure in live event social media management and marketing with many lessons learned.

The new outlet collection is situated at the center of the Niagara region in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and was developed by Ivanhoé Cambridge, a Canadian-based global property owner, manager, developer and investor, focusing on high-quality urban shopping centres. The new Outlet Collection at Niagara is the flagship in the collection of future planned developments, and a shiny new attraction for the Niagara region.

Launching such a brand in social media channels Twitter, Facebook and Instagram was a labor of love for myself, and the on-property team, retailers and excited fans who made it such a success.

Lessons learned in social media for retail:
1. Choose the right Social Media communities to focus on and do it well:

We launched @OCNiagara on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

2. Have a strategy – then prepare to abandon it:

Social media became the central point of integration for all of the grand opening events and media. A plan for hashtags and content was created and then it happened – viral word-of-mouth and buzz took over.
3. On the ground LIVE social media was key to leveraging all of the buzz surrounding a new mall and tourist attraction:

On-site content curation (the photos of retailers, new stores, shoppers and and ongoing monitoring and response times were critical in quickly building the communities and tracking what content was engaging – and it was fast!

#Selfies posted to Instagram and Twitter were most engaging, and had the most viral reach.  Of course any image of a cute child or pet always wins in social.

4. Don’t forget about Foursquare:

Those who shop use Foursquare and Instagram religiously it seems, followed closely by Twitter and then Facebook.

5. Followers and Fans like special deals just for them:

They like to be on the “inside” with special access to specials and promotions. Contests and giveaways worked, especially contest for gift cards awarded to fans and followers on site during the grand opening weekend.

 

6. Have a good solution for managing and reporting:

We used Sprout Social to manage and report on Facebook and Twitter.

The days around the grand opening of the Outlet Collection at Niagara were critical in launching a successful social media presence.  Key to this was leveraging the online and offline buzz, responding to accolades and criticism, and learning what content was resonating with the audiences on each social media platform (as well as re-sharing #selfies and giving prizes for posting them).
7. #Hashtags are cool. Don’t post on Instagram or Twitter without at least one (or 5) good Hashtags – just trust me.

From what I saw, there still a large gap in the integration of the offline shopping experience with the very engaged socially connected shoppers who are tweeting, posting, liking and sharing their experiences – and ultimately spreading the word and driving foot traffic.

A huge opportunity for retailers to embrace Social Media as consumer and retail shopping behavior will continue to converge with digital and social media.

And so it was that Niagara’s newest tourist attraction opened and blasted into the social media sphere with gusto and enthusiasm, and I found a way to combine two of my favorite things!

#Shopping + #Socialmedia @OCniagara = #Heaven 4 @acoupleofchicks

For more adventures in Social Media follow Alicia Whalen and A Couple of Chicks™ Digital Tourism Marketing on Twitter and LinkedIn.

the evolution of an online marketing agency

Reflecting on the past 6 years, it is amazing just how much the online world has changed. When Patricia and I started A Couple of Chicks eMarketing over lunch in September 2005 (now that is another story!), we were inspired by a great idea and a passion for sharing what we knew about how the internet was changing how we reach our customers.

It was our mission to make sense of how the internet was going to change marketing and distribution, to demystify online marketing, and to provide a fun and non-intimidating approach to educating brands about the power of the web.

At the time, our primary focus was on developing strategies for marketing websites, and above all for making sure that websites could be found in the search engines.  It was all about search engine optimization (SEO), paid search marketing (PPC), and website usability – and specifically about showing marketers how to leverage this new powerful distribution channel to reach their customers.

Today, 6 years later we are living in a world where consumers are not simply going online, but living online. The pace of change has been fast and new media has pushed marketers to keep up in an ever evolving online ecosystem that now includes Social Media, Wifi Mobile access from devices such as smart phones and tablets, Cloud computing, instant messaging, Video sharing, VOIP technology and so much more.

It has been quite a ride! On behalf of Patricia, and our entire team of 14, thank you for sharing in our adventure – and specifically thank you to all of our clients who have allowed us to share in their growth and success.

We look forward to what the next 6 years brings!

Social Marketing Steps To Success

Social media – the most overused term in marketing since Web 2.0 – is not simply changing the nature by which we consume online media, it has morphed into a way of life on the Web.

We are no longer talking about simply building websites, writing blogs, or optimizing Pay-Per-Click Advertising campaigns; the media world in which we live has become location-based, review dominated, App heavy, text happy, plug-in this and plug-in that – and do it all within 140 characters!

Planning a Social Media Strategy is about as straight forward as asking a toddler to “sit still for a minute”. So what is a Marketing Director (or Community Manager, or Digital Marketing Manager or anyone else for that matter, we don’t even know what to call ourselves anymore!) to do?

Social Media has morphed many skill-sets together and may be managed by a variety of different people or positions within an organization.  Generally, an outside agency should be brought in to set up a social strategy, as well as train and execute a brand social community – but long term, the heart and soul of your brand should be managed by trusted and skilled team members within your organization.

Having said that – stick with the three S’s and your digital media efforts will be integrated with your overall marketing efforts and will ensure success and ROI.

Strategic, Streamlined and Sexy:

1. Be Strategic

Build your Social Media and marketing campaigns with a strategy in mind, and with the right resources and a plan in place to make it happen.  Start with what channels you need to build a presence on.  Don’t jump in on every channel until you are doing one really well.  Maybe you have a killer Facebook business page but it’s time to grow the community.  Perhaps you have not had the time or knowledge to dedicate to LinkedIn for your Sales team, but you know the networking tool could really make the sales process easier.

Write a pain point about each social channel you are already using or think your brand needs to have a presence on.  What are you (or your competitors) doing well, how could you improve, how you measure your ROI, what resources are in place to manage it, and goals for each community for next year.

As one wise Chick on our team always says “plan the work, and work the plan”.

2. Be Streamlined

No one marketing campaign has ever worked in isolation.  At the same time, each of your communities will be different in the way you deliver content, respond and engage with your followers and brand champions.

Be smart and streamlined with your messages.  If you are looking to run a contest on Facebook – ensure you plan it out properly, and ensure all roads lead to a point of conversion.  Conversion may be more “likers” or traffic to your website, but ensure that your target audience follows a path to enter the contest and do what you intend them to do.

Also, be streamlined in your efforts overall – avoid trying too many tactics on too many channels.  Stick with what’s working and make sure you streamline your resources to be able to manage your social brand over the long term.

3. Be Sexy

Yes I said sexy.  Digital media allows us to think outside the box.  Try some unique marketing tactics and have fun with it!  If you are going to dedicate time and resources to develop a presence on social communities – you better use them to their fullest potential.  You have to stand out, shout out, and be proud of your brand on the social web.  Learn to listen and respond instead of pushing out messages to your target audiences.  The social web is the place to show the personality of your brand and really engage your consumers – not to announce a 20% off special.

There are many other must do’s as you are building out your digital media campaigns for 2012, but if you keep these points in mind, focus on good design and content, and at the very least commit to allocating resources to get in the game in 2012 – you will be ready for any “likes” “Diggs” “pokes” “plus’s” “sparks” “circles” or “huddles” we may be talking about next year.

 

What’s your Twitter handle?

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Perhaps you don’t have a good handle on what Twitter really is and all the ways to use it?  (it’s ok really…we are all still learning).

 

Twitter is above all else a communications tool, a vehicle for any business or person to build buzz, discuss topics of interest with like-minded people, a place to engage in a conversation with your customers and colleagues, a customer service tool – and a way to increase reach much quicker than traditional media.

Unlike Facebook and other Social media channels, Twitter is about forming new connections with people you don’t necessarily know (or will ever know) in person.

Twitter can be used to push out content (new blog posts, articles of interest, photos and videos), to stay up to date on trends, and to drive awareness to brands and businesses, and most importantly – the people behind the brands.

Twitter’s greatest power, once you have developed a twitter tone, a good following – and you have figured out how to provide your followers with valuable, engaging content – is its ability to communicate quickly to large numbers of people.

Twitter is a great tool for crisis communications, live event, or CRM, for extending customer service online, and above all, a great tool for building brand personality and credibility.

Not a place for pushed out marketing messages, Twitter allows you to communicate and engage with your target audiences. Use twitter to draw attention to other places where your brand lives such as a company website, or Blog, or even your company Facebook page where there is more room for expanded messages.

You will need time and resources to set up and manage a good twitter account, and not having a Twitter strategy will certainly lead to poor ROI and possibly some mishaps along the way.

Twitter Tips:

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Make sure your Twitter handle – your Twitter name – mine is @Alicia_Whalen_  is reflective of your brand, and ensure the bio is more personalized to the Tweeter

Pick the right image for your profile pic.  This becomes how other Tweeter’s will recognize you in the newsfeed.  Brands should use Logo’s.

Be strategic when developing your tone – be conversational and add value to the ecosystem

Share and RT (re-tweet) newsworthy or quality content. It is a good practice to “return the favour” with re-tweets and thank those who RT your content

Use @username (the Twitter handle!) when referencing another person in Twitter

Alicia_Whalen_

Mark positive feedback as “Favorites” by clicking the heart in Twitter, and retweet (RT) good content.

• In general, follow people who follow you – but not always. It is not about how many followers you have on Twitter – tweeters will look to who you follow as an indication of who you are.

Tweet interesting news and info related to your company and industry, and follow colleagues, industry associations and even competitors.

Twitter lists allow you to categorize Tweeps (Twitter people) and better organize how you follow their content

Use Hashtags # to index and label your content in Twitter. ie. #TwitterTips and #Socialmedia for this Blog post will ensure that this content will appear in a Twitter stream of content related to using Twitter – and may then be seen by more people

Set-up scheduled updates and manage your Social Media postings through tools like www.hootsuite.com or Sprout Social – or even through the Twitter APP.  You can manage comments and messages directed to you on the go easily with the Twitter App.

Monitor. Use tools like Sprout Social and Hootsuite.com – Twitter also now has analytics that show you the reach of your posts.  Deeper analytics are available for Ad posts or promoted posts within Twitter.

Twitter takes time and commitment but can open you up to brand fans, brand champions, and new customers far beyond traditional marketing communications channels.

Summary:

Be authentic, show some personality, don’t sell, make sure to drive traffic back to your transaction point (your website, a phone number, email sign up, Blog etc) use Twitter as a part of your overall marketing communications strategy – and have fun – it is ‘social’ media after all!

 

About:

Alicia Whalen  is a Speaker, Blogger, Entrepreneur  and Co-Founder of Hashtagio.com – The platform that harnesses the power of social and user- generated social content.  

 

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YouTube Strategy Tips from A Couple of Chicks

The online buying process is shifting rapidly with consumers in general spending more of their online time on Facebook then on Google, still stopping at review sites, social networking sites, blogs and forums, and now YouTube to round out the buying funnel – and in many cases starting the buying process.

YouTube is the second largest search engine behind Google itself, which means that a properly defined YouTube marketing strategy with the goals of engaging consumers, drive them to continue the research process towards other brand content on social media sites, review sites etc. – and finally leading them to conversion or purchase is a must.

With expanded marketing opportunities such as customized YouTube channels, promoted videos and display Ads, and in-stream advertising – there is a huge opportunity to position ad content around rich media – which is more emotive and “real” than descriptive content on a website or photos and reviews on Tripadvisor. This is especially relevant to marketers of travel and tourism as travel research and buying is an emotive process.

YouTube Strategy Basics:

1. Tag content with proper keywords – According to Google, approximately 1/3 of all videos watched on YouTube use search to be found, this means tagging the content and understanding your target keyword market just, like we do with the SEO for websites, is crucial for any marketer utilizing video content.

2. Consider placing ads alongside content from well known brand channels targeted to specific niche end users (like Home and Garden Television for example) or run Ads against competitor content and user generated video’s that have been tagged to be found for the keywords your audience would likely use to research travel.

Example: A search in You Tube for “Bay of Fundy” serves up video content such as this Local Tourism associations or hotels and Resorts could position Ads appearing on the content and guide the interested consumer towards making travel plans.

These are examples illustrate how effective YouTube advertising can be in leading your customer to transact. These types of ads are available as overlays or in-stream, and can click to a website or a YouTube Brand Channel.

Tip: When setting up a YouTube campaign such as this, ensure that there is a strong call-to-action and a relevant landing page to send your traffic to as opposed to simply sending the click to a home page.

YouTube Beyond the Basics:

1. Promoted Videos: The Ad message and target keywords are tagged to the video. The video then appears on results pages for contextually relevant searches, and alongside other relevant videos. This is a pay-per-click model much like Google Adwords, where the advertiser pays only when a user watches the video.

2. TrueView’ Video Ads: These ads appear in-stream pre or mid-roll, as an option to choose one ad, or as regular commercial breaks.

3. Mobile Youtube Roadblock: For an entire day, all visitors to m.youtube.com will receive the advertisers marketing message, in a variety formats. This tactic would require a large marketing spend and would be effective for targeting a specific niche audience or for overall brand marketing efforts.

4. YouTube Brand Channel: A brand channel or destination page is a customizable interface between your business and users on the YouTube platform. Users click on video’s that have been uploaded and live on a brand channel and the content will play in the brand channel, and the surrounding videos and links belong to that brand only (not other advertisers can place ads against this content).

This is a great way of keeping users involved with your content longer, and to ensure that they are not jumping off your content to a competitor who is buying your brand terms.

YouTube brand channels also allow for in depth tracking and for content from the channel to be embedded into a site or ad. Advertising products available to brand channel advertisers include; Homepage 24 hour Roadblocks and Masthead placements, which allow brands to deliver a creative message to enormous audiences. A brand channel is not for every business and requires substantial budgets to maintain – but it is also incredibly targeted and measurable and a must for large well-known consumer brands at this stage of the game.

With 100 million unique monthly users, YouTube has become an important consideration for marketers. For more on developing a YouTube strategy or to receive the full version of this article, contact The Chicks – and of course you can check us out on YouTube too!

Facebook- more than just the watercooler

Facebook recently released “Facebook stories” which invites users to post their personal Facebook experiences related to everything from finding lost friends, to family connections, to sharing grief and beyond. When Facebook started a few years ago, it would have been impossible to predict how social media would change the way we live and behave online and how open we would become about our lives.

Now we can describe Facebook as the new watercooler, the town hall – for some it is replacing phones and other methods of communication (or simply becoming part of the phone experience – with mobile Apps that allow updates, mobile uploads of photos and videos as well as real time comments and conversations.)

We used to talk about online reputation management and security in information online in relation to making purchases online and sharing financial and other information.  Now with social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and others following our every move (with our full support I might add), I think it is time once again to address the impact these sites can have on your personal, as well as brand or business reputation.

We all have the facebook friends who post everything from where they are eating, to when their child has a tantrum, to when they are delayed at the airport – but now sites like Twitter and Foursquare have location based geo-tagging and “checking in” functionality as basic features enabling us to be “followed” everywhere – all the time down to the exact location.

A little nudge here to remember that everything that we put online, be it personal information about health, jobs, or the ups and downs of every day life – it will live online forever, and will paint a picture of who you are to future employers, family, friends, and business colleagues and to the billions browsing (or creeping as they say for the obvious reasons) online daily.

Not to mention the obvious privacy risks we all take when we post photos,video’s and information about where we are, who is with us and what we are doing. Everything online is trackable and everything posted will live there in the virtual universe forever.

It bears repeating that although social networking has opened us up to communicating and interacting with each other like never before, and it has opened us to opportunities to market our ourselves, network and interact with more people at any one time – we need to continue to be cautious about what we share online, and how much attention we pay to security features that are available to protect us. (although I would caution that even those are not guaranteed).

Although Facebook and other sites like it have become part of our every day lives and have opened us up to communicating and sharing information for business, within families, and across networks of friends – perhaps it is time to take a step back and look at how we use it, and how much we really share with 400 of our ‘closest’ connections.

The line is blurry, and it will continue to be  until the next ‘Facebook’ changes the way we live online again. Perhaps then we will be brushing our teeth with a mirror that broadcasts our morning beauty routine via real time streaming media – with an ad for Crest toothpaste appearing in the sponsored ads.

Have fun, live and share your stories – but be careful about how you share them online – unless of course you are one of the Old Spice men who have already bared all for millions on YouTube – in that case, it is too late to hide your day job from your 82 year old grandmother.

The Earthquake felt through Twitter

If this experience does not illustrate the power of social media and how it is changing the way that we experience our lives, consume our news and share information – I don’t know what is. There was an Earthquake in Ontario just now that I did not feel – but heard about via Twitter only seconds after it happened.

With Twitter connections all over Ontario and the world commenting about their experiences, using a Twitter hashtag #earthquake created within seconds after the tremor – and a minimum of 100 tweets per minute coming in with accounts of the tremor experienced from Montreal to Buffalo and beyond – I am getting breaking news not from traditional news outlets but through the twitterverse.

The act of ‘tweeting‘ 140 character soundbites and Social media in general are rapidly affecting the way that we interact, and consume overall media and there is no debating that. I still hear many complaints that there is no measurable ‘ROI’ on spending time building and managing Social media spaces – but I would say specifically using this example to illustrate the way in which communications have changed that we have no choice but to embrace the medium.

Specifically, traditional media and PR professionals must adapt to using channels such as Twitter to gain back lost readers who would consume news traditionally through print, TV and radio. Also – media must participate to stay in the know of breaking news.

Journalists must also be aware of who the ‘influencers’ are within social media spaces – and they need to embrace Twitter as a way to guide the conversation and become the offical ‘voice’ around any major breaking story and not so much report it.

The Globe and Mail and CTV – both major news outlets in Canada were quick to jump into the conversation about the Earthquake – but they were no longer the source of the breaking news as it would have been in the past for news outlets such at CNN.

Many Canadian news giants engaged an already active Twittering community to gather newsworthly insights and facts as to how wide the Earthquake impact had been felt, its scale (reported at 5.5).   Globaltvnews even “twe-ported” (just made that up…sounded good) a mapping depiction of Tweets sent within 30 min after the quake was felt – and the tweet ‘report’ came in only 35 min after the quake.

News outlets making news of Twitter as a source for breaking news – how ironic is that?

I will continue to follow the #Earthquake hashtag as a trending topic now for the next few hours to see where the conversation goes from here – but I would guess that the very way in which the quake was experienced accross Ontario and into New York state via Twitter will be the real story told in the weeks to come.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
alicia.whalen@gmail.com
905-401-2249

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