Tagged: content marketing

Write Better Instagram Captions in 5 Minutes or Less

- by Alyson Shane

Instagram is a visual social network by design, which means it's essential to focus on creating and finding eye-catching visuals to help your account stand out from the crowd... but what about the captions?

Many people don't realize this, but captions are one of the best tools at your disposal to help convey your message. Taking the time to write engaging, personal captions which express who you are (business or personal) and your reason for posting can go a long way towards helping keep your Followers engaged.

Luckily, sprucing up your Instagram caption game is as easy as can be! Let's take a quick look at how you can write a better Instagram caption in five minutes or less:


Use Your Instagram Captions to Sound Authentic

Before posting anything on Instagram, ask yourself: why should my Followers care about what I'm sharing? What sets my post apart from other, similar, content on this social network?

Some other things to ask when crafting your Instagram caption are:

  • Does it tell a story?
  • Does it help my Followers learn more about me?
  • Does it sound personal and authentic?


Let's use this photo of some lovely items I picked up from one of my favourite local shops, Public General Store to illustrate an example of what I mean.

Which of these two captions inspires you to take action?

Got some new stuff from @shop_public today. Check them out!

vs.

Yesterday I braved the cold to pick up some treats from my favourite new local shop, @shop_public. The dried lavender makes the house smell amazing, and I can't wait to relax with this vegan, handmade bath bomb from @blackflorawpg after a good skate. Make sure to check them out the next time you're in #WestBroadway!

See what I mean? Now my Followers know where I got the items, the reasons why I like them (local, handmade, vegan, etc), and have a personal recommendation to go check them out for themselves.

How does this example apply to my business? I hear you asking. Here's how:

Consumers demand more authenticity and personality from the brands and businesses that they interact with, the more "human" they want those interactions to feel. By using longer sentences and slang in the caption above it sounds more like... well, me.

I'm a person, and that's how I speak, so it makes sense that a brand wishing to emulate a "human" style would want to adopt a similar tone.

Use Your Instagram Captions to Tell a Story

Gone are the days when a brand could throw up an image and assume that consumers would buy based on the image, alone. Buyers in our modern economy are interested in how products and brands make them feel, and there's nothing that makes people feel good like being part of a story.

With this in mind, ask yourself: how can I wrap my products and posts in a story that will interest my Followers?

(Don't worry: if you're stuck here are a few suggestions to get the wheels in your head turning):

  • Share a story about something that happened recently
  • Mention specific customers, employees in your caption
  • Get personal - share a success or struggle which relates to your image
  • Share your favourites (places, people, food, products, etc)
  • Talk about upcoming plans, dreams, and events
  • Quote books, speakers, or people who inspire you and helped shape your brand

Use Your Instagram Captions As a Call-to-Action

Now that you've hooked your Followers with an interesting, authentic caption it's time to guide them to what you want them to do next. 70% of small businesses don't use a call-to-action in their marketing copy, which means doing so can give you a competitive advantage.

Stumped for a few effective call-to-action examples? I've got you covered:

  • Check out the link in our profile for details
  • Looking for more decor inspiration? Check out the link in our bio
  • Tag a friend who...
  • Share your experience/memory with us by tagging us in your photo!
  • Leave a comment and tell us what you think

Encouraging your Followers to talk to you, share their stories, and get your brand involved will help with those feelings of engagement and participation in your brand's "story". Not sure how to tell your brand's story? Here's a comprehensive how-to on marketing your brand through storytelling.

Do you have any favourite tips on Instagram caption etiquette? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!


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Debunking 3 Popular Social Media Myths

- by Alyson Shane

When it comes to social media, there's a wealth of information out there. A quick Google search for "social media tips" comes up with over 166,000,000 results. That's a lot of information!

Especially when you're first starting out, it may seem like there are so many "dos" and "don'ts" in terms of building an effective social media strategy, but while there are lots of great tips out there... I'm sorry to say that there are also a few myths which need to be debunked and removed from our collective memory.

What kinds of myths am I talking about? Let's take a look:


Myth 1: There's only one "right" time to post

This myth continues to exist because it's a well-intentioned one. Of course you want to post your content at times when your audience will be most likely to see it, right?

This is absolutely true, but what you need to keep in mind before you start pre-scheduling your content to go out every Tuesday at 4:45pm is this: do you know that that's when the majority of your target audience will be online?

This might be easy to figure out if your target audience happen to live in the same city as your business (if you're a local restaurant, for example) but if you're trying to reach a wider audience, and one which may even be in a different time zone than you are (say, if you're an international chain of restaurants) then you need to spend a little more time thinking about when they'll be online.

Myth 2: Your business needs to be on every social network

Often, one of the first things that a new client will ask me is: do I need to be on every social network?

The short answer, and the one I always give them is: no.

While it may seem like a good idea to get your name on as many social networks as possible, what you need to consider is the quality of the conversations and content that you can have on each network, not the quantity of them available for you to use.

it's also important to think about the kinds of people you want to reach, and where they spend most of their time online*. According to SmartInsights, 57% of Snapchat users are 16-24, whereas only 25% of the same demographic are regular Facebook users, and a paltry 29% are on G+.

So if your business is trying to target young people, Facebook and G+ may not be the best place to focus the majority of your marketing efforts.

Take the time to think about where your target audience are spending their time, and how your business can establish a presence on those social platforms. Otherwise, you'll just be wasting your time trying to connect with customers and clients who aren't interested in what you have to say or offer them.

Myth 3: You need to blog every day

Blogging is one of the most valuable tools at your businesses' disposal: it allows you to explain, in as much detail as you'd like, what your brand values are, what you offer your customers or clients, and your thoughts and insights in your industry, which can be helpful to your readers.

However, posting multiple times a day, or even multiple times a week, can actually damage your readership and reduce the flow of traffic to your blog.

Why does this happen? In a way, it's twofold: firstly, scarcity creates value. If your followers see that you're posting multiple blog posts every single day, then it's pretty likely that they will stop clicking through to read them because you're inundating them with information.

Secondly, people know that good content takes time to write, and if you're churning out blog posts faster than your readers can hit 'refresh', then it's pretty likely that the quality of the things you're saying isn't as high as it could be.

Instead of trying to post every day, aim for 2-3 posts a month of well-researched, well-documented content that will really help meet your readers' needs.

Did I miss any myths that need to be debunked? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!


What is a Content Strategy (and Why Do You Need One?)

- by Alyson Shane

Before the internet was as embedded in our everyday lives as it is now, marketing took a very "one size fits all" approach compared to today's standards. Billboards, print ads, and commercials were certainly still created with specific audiences in mind and placed accordingly (eg: ads for lipstick in Cosmopolitan magazines), but they didn't provide a lot of information to the consumer.

In today's digital age, marketers have to do a whole lot more in order to stand out from the crowd, and these days consumers take their time to research, cross-reference, and familiarize themselves with a brand and its products or services. Putting white space on a page to stand out from the crowd just won't cut it anymore.


What's risen up to replace traditional marketing is content marketing. Content marketing differentiates itself from the traditional variety by supplementing promotional content (ads) with useful, informational, and entertaining content (blog posts, memes, lists, etc).

Content marketing helps businesses build familiarity with their target audiences, and by sharing information that doesn't directly relate to themselves over time (and with some luck) a trusting relationship will turn that audience member into a customer.


Content marketing strategies are essential for any sort of meaningful long-term success online. They help determine how, why, and who you can reach using your content, and act as a "game plan" to direct those efforts and measure results.

Without a content marketing strategy you (or your employees) are simply throwing information against the wall and hoping that it sticks. While there is certainly a level of experimentation which can (and should!) happen within the contexts of a long-term content strategy, your day-to-day actions should be determined by a set of values and goals set by your content strategy.

What should you include in your content marketing strategy?

It's all well and good for me to say "you need this" but I'm not doing my job very well if I can't break down exactly what you need, right? Below are some of the essentials that I include in every content marketing strategy (and you should, too):

Goals & objectives

The first thing you need to determine is what is your content marketing strategy meant to achieve. Some common examples include:

  • Increasing website traffic
  • Growing social media profiles (Likes, Followers, etc)
  • Increasing newsletter signups
  • Downloads of a specific product, PDF, etc

Who your target audience is

The first thing to do here is create a buyer profile which will help you understand what motivates your customers, and what their "pain points" are that your product or service can help them solve. You can read more about creating effective buyer profiles here.

Touch points

Modern customers often encounter a business in a variety of places: searching, paid digital advertising, customer reviews, and social media, just to name a few.

Pay attention to customers are finding you (your website analytics and keyword analysis are very helpful here) and define which channels and social networks you will use to help guide your customers, and what your goals for each channel are going to be.

Your messaging

Content marketing should tell your brand's story; that is, what makes your business, service and/or products different, and why your customers should care.

Gone are the days when you can be a faceless monolith and still create real, meaningful connections with your audience.

Some things to keep in mind are:

  • What sets you apart from the competition?
  • What makes your business unique?
  • How can your product/service help your customers?
  • What kind of tone will you use (formal or casual)?

The kind of content you want to share

Before you start sharing memes left and right, take a moment to think about how your audience will react to what you're sharing, and how they will work to help you achieve your objectives.

Your buyer profile should really come into play in this area, because while there are lots of blog posts, infographics, videos, and much more available online, if you're sharing it with audience members who don't engage with that kind of content, then you may be doing more than just boring them: you may start alienating them.

Don't worry about limiting yourself (you can share blog posts, news articles, and infographics, for example); it's more about identifying which kinds of content work best together, not focusing on one specific type.

Pick your content topics

Once you've figured out the kinds of content you want to share, use your buyer profiles to figure out how the information contained within those forms of content can help solve your customer's pain points.

For example, if your business sells personal protective equipment for construction workers and labourers (helmets, vests, steel-toe boots, etc), then sharing articles relating to worker safety, staying safe on the job, and updates about your industry are all good content topics to start with.

How to measure success

No content marketing strategy would be complete without determining how you will measure success, and your Goals & Objectives section of your plan should help direct these efforts.

Whether you classify success as a monthly increase in social followers, 500 newsletter subscribers, or 100 downloads of your latest white paper, make sure to track these stats over time to see how well you're doing.

Do you have any questions about content marketing strategies? Did I miss anything in this post? Let me know in the comments or drop me a line.


How to Create Facebook Ads That Actually Get Results

- by Alyson Shane

Facebook is the world's largest social network with more than 1 billion worldwide users, and it's an important social network for businesses to be able to connect with their audiences and share their content.

However, recent changes to Facebook's "timeline" feature presents a challenging problem: many businesses depend on Facebook to connect with their audiences and Facebook's organic reach has been steadily declining. In fact, the company recently announced that it would be curating users' timelines to show even less content from Pages (the business equivalent of a Profile) than ever before.

Shock! Panic! Is this the end of Facebook for businesses?!

Well... no, not really. All it means is that we have to start changing our tactics to meet the shifting demands of the social network, which means spending more time to reach the same number of people that we once (easily) reached for free.

Is Facebook still worth it?

For businesses with Facebook Pages this news may leave you feeling frustrated; after all, now you'll reach fewer people when you publish new content than you did previously. However, it's important to note that users who regularly engage with your posts by liking, commenting, and sharing (aka your "hardcore fans") will still see your content on their timeline on a regular basis.

While this shift in timeline content may feel discouraging, it's important to note that Facebook's users continue to increase every year, which means that it's still a growing and powerful network that deserves your time and attention.

With this in mind, there are basically two things you can do to increase visibility:

Encourage users to share your content

I recommend this to everyone I work with; getting users to share your content is an easy (and free!) way to reach a wider audience and encourage people to like and engage with your page. Contests, promotions, and timely, informational content are all ripe for sharing, but creating this content takes time and isn't all that reliable, because it's difficult to predict exactly what will resonate and get shared, and what won't.

So while I work this kind of content into every content calendar I manage, I strongly encourage my clients to consider...

Paid Facebook Advertising

Facebook's page advertising platform is incredibly powerful, and one of the reasons that I love it is that you can reach a large targeted audience on a daily basis very easily.

Let's say for example you want to promote your restaurant's newest dinner feature. You can use Facebook's Ad Manager to target people in your city with upcoming birthdays and anniversaries who like steak, wine, locally-sourced food, and earn an average annual household income of between $75,000 - $100,00.

Facebook Ads allow you to target exactly the kinds of users you want to see your ad, meaning you get you a direct connection with the kinds of people you want to be coming into your restaurant.

This is the biggest benefit from Facebook advertising: instead of creating a one-size-fits-all ad and hoping that it works, you can target users who live in a specific area, or who have already expressed interest in similar products or services to the ones you're selling.

While many people may still feel frustrated with online advertising, they'll still stop and click on a link if it interests them enough.

Getting started

Every business is unique, and their audiences are unique and will respond differently to different messaging and images, and part of effectively using Facebook Ads is simply making the investment and experimenting with different ads to see which ones will resonate best with your target audience.

With that in mind, here are a few things to remember as you start wading into the big, wide (or small and targeted) world of Facebook Advertising:

  • Do your research. If you don't know how to create a buyer persona for your business then check out this post on the subject, then get to making those ads. Otherwise, you won't have any idea who you should be targeting, and you'll waste valuable dollars figuring it out.
  • Be patient. As I said, generating the kind of long-term sales and click-through rates that most businesses are looking for takes time. Some campaigns will perform wonderfully; some may flop completely, but it's staying committed to it and learning as you go that will generate real results.
  • Test extensively. There are lots of ways to reach the same groups of people: where they work, where they went to school, what their interests are, which Pages they like, etc. Experiment with targeting different interests and see what happens!
  • Change up your images. I rarely run a Facebook Ad campaign with fewer than three photos because I like being able to compare and see which kinds of images did better. Not only does this help me understand which images resonated better with people, but it also helps me know which images not to use the next time around.

One last thing...

It's important to remember that a single Facebook Ad won't produce brilliant results overnight. Like social media, blogging, or any other form of advertising (online or otherwise) these things take time. It's a much better long-term business strategy to allocate a monthly "ad spend" budget, and cycle through and try different kinds of ads to see what works.

However, if you can tap into your audience's needs and interests then Facebook Advertising is one of the most powerful weapons in your marketing arsenal, so why not give it a try? (and if you need a hand, drop me a line - I'm happy to help!)

Do you have any tips for Facebook Advertising? Tell me in the comments!


How to Create Buyer Personas That Work for Your Business

- by Alyson Shane

Let me tell you a dirty secret: I hated building buyer personas when I was taking my business courses in university. I thought they were useless, frivolous, and something that marketing agencies could charge exorbitant fees to their customers to develop.

Then, as it so often happens in the world of Being an Adult, I started running my own business and learned that I was totally wrong.

In fact, understanding and developing buyer personas was, in fact an integral part of understanding a businesses' target audience, and how best to communicate with them.

As I so often say when it comes to advice I dole out on this blog: do as I say, not as I've done. Learn from my mistakes; understand what a buyer persona is and how it benefits your business, and use it to the best of your abilities.

Not sure what a buyer persona is, or how it can help your business? No worries, I've got you covered:


What are buyer personas & what do they do?

At it's core, a buyer persona is essentially a portrait of your ideal customer.

In terms of content marketing strategy, having a comprehensive buyer persona helps businesses (or people like me!) deliver content which is timely, informative, and that your audience actually want to see and consume.

Different people respond differently to various kinda of images, messaging, and communication, and it's important to take these perspectives into consideration while figuring out how to best serve your customers.

For example, a 20-year-old Snapchat user who is starting university and has very little disposable income will have respond to different messages, and will have different motivations, goals, and purchasing power than a 45-year-old father of two who is a CEO at his company and has lots of disposable income. Now, your business may not be trying to appeal to both of these extremes, but what this is meant to illustrate is that you need to know who your ideal buyers are, why they should care about your business, and (more importantly) how your product or service can appeal to them or make their lives easier.

How can you build buyer personas that really work?

The key to building effective buyer personas is that you have to make a bunch of them. This may feel like tedious work (my university-era self would agree) but creating a few personas can help you develop well-rounded ideas about the kinds of people you want to communicate with, and who you think are the ones who would be interested in buying what you have to offer.

You don't have to get super specific, but identifying the following areas are generally pretty useful:

Basic info

  • Name. This isn't technically necessary, but I like naming my buyer personas. I find it helps with keeping track of who they are, and makes them feel a bit more "real".
  • Job title. Are they CEOs? Mid-level management? Students working at Starbucks? Like I said earlier, where they are in their professional life will influence their purchasing power.
  • Details about their job title or role. These flesh out their day-to-day motivations at work and help inform what they may be looking for professionally.

General demographics

  • Age. Different generations and age brackets have different motivations and priorities, and it's important to identify what they are in order to figure out what they want.
  • Gender. Are you marketing your products to men, women, both, or otherwise?
  • Location. Where your ideal customers are can make a huge difference on how you craft your message to them.
  • Salary. Lots of people are afraid to talk about money and finances, but let's be honest: how much your buyers have to spend influences whether or not they have monty to buy your products or services.
  • Education. People's level of education shapes a variety of areas such as their level of employment, salary, interests, and much more.
  • Family. Are they single? Married? Do they have 2.5 kids? Are they close with their extended family? Their ties to their families and those obligations will influence their purchasing power.

Values & objections

  • Values. What are the things that your buyers believe to be important or valuable? Eg: buying local; investing in secondhand or slow fashion; or driving an expensive BMW.
  • Objections. What are some objections that could come up during the sales process? Eg: your product is too expensive; too niche; too complicated for a layman to see any value, etc.


(do your buyers shop like Kanye or like Macklemore?)

Extras

This area can change a bit depending on what your business sells, but generally some other areas which can help build an accurate buyer profile are:

  • Computer literacy. Do your buyers go mining for Bitcoins, or do they struggle to find the Any Key?
  • News sources. Your customers' values will likely be different depending on whether they get their news from Fox News or Al-Jazeera.
  • Hobbies. How your customers spend their free time can help you understand more about their motivations and values.
  • Interviews and real-life examples. If you already have an existing customer base, take a look at your reviews and customer service experiences. How do people talk to your team, or speak about your business?

Sussing this information out

Figuring out all this information by yourself may seem like an impossible task, but it isn't! There are actually a variety of ways that you can find the information you need to build a series of effective buyer personas, which are:

  • Asking your team and colleagues. As I said earlier, if your business is already customer-facing you can speak to team members who interact with your customers to build complete profiles.
  • Check your website stats. This should be obvious, but if not some things to look for are: keywords people used to find your website, where your visitors came from, and the actions they took while they were on your page. If your website doesn't have Google Analytics installed, back the hell up and install it before coming back to this article. Your analytics tool is one of the best tools at your disposal for understanding customer behaviour.
  • Use social media. Look for services or products similar to your own and spend some time analyzing the discussions happening on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and on blogs. People are more likely to share negative experiences than positive ones online, which can provide you with important insight into the areas where your buyers feel your industry could be doing better.

Why does this process matter?

This may seem like a lot of work (and trust me, it is!) but taking the time to investigate and research your potential customers and to create well-rounded buyer personas can go a long way towards helping you understand your businesses' strengths and weaknesses. Spending time on this process helps your business provide a better experience for your customers.

Still want a little more help creating an effective buyer persona? Check out these free buyer persona templates from HubSpot. They're what I use day-to-day, and I'm sure you'll find them to be invaluable, as well!

How do you create buyer personas for your business? Do you have anything to add to what I've outlined in this post? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!


How to Get Your Start as a Digital Marketer

- by Alyson Shane

A few weeks ago, while travelling around Central America, I received a comment on my Instagram which I wanted to take the chance to respond to here on the blog. Here's the question:

How did you get started doing social media marketing? I am interested in this but have no current knowledge of marketing.
-Brittany T.

Instagram isn't the best way to answer a questions like this in an in-depth way and I've been chomping at the bit to get home and write a longer, more detailed response because I wish someone had told me all of this stuff back when I was trying to figure out what I want to do.

Not only because it's great to hear what other people did to get to where they are in life, but also because being a digital marketer isn't really something that anyone worth their salt can just start doing successfully. That's because there's a lot of ongoing effort that goes into crafting a personal brand that people (freelance clients or future employers) will feel comfortable handing their social profiles over to.

So without further ado, here we go:


Build your personal brand

Your "personal brand" is exactly what it sounds like: it's the image of yourself that you project out into the world through your words, your actions, and your behaviour.

What's beautiful about the internet is that you can craft your personal brand to reflect whatever parts of yourself you'd like to accentuate.

This takes time. People aren't going to start recognizing your name overnight, and

The more time you spend working on and crafting your personal brand, the stronger your image will be and the sooner opportunities will start coming your way based on people's perceptions of you. Your audience will see you as a sincere, intelligent person and will be breaking down the door to work with you. I wrote more about personal branding here.

Build a badass website

I've said this before, but your website should be the centre of everything you do online; all of your social media feeds should attempt to drive traffic back to your website, and it should clearly and succinctly explain to people who you are, what you do, and what you're about.

Make your website as easy to navigate as possible. Try to aim for a slick, clean layout without a lot of clutter, and try to use bright, eye-catching photos. Personally I prefer websites with a white background and dark font, because it's easier to read and looks cleaner, but do what works for you.

Start blogging

I've been blogging since 2003, and the latest iteration of my blog (what you're reading right now) has been active since 2009. In that time I've transitioned from being a "lifestyle blogger" to someone who, largely, writes about their profession, but what matters is that I've been publishing content online for a long time.

Regardless of the topic, maintaining a blog for an extended period of time looks great professionally. Here's why:

  • It's the best way for you to showcase who you really are in more than 140 characters.
  • It shows that you can commit to an ongoing project (blogging).
  • It demonstrates your writing skills.

Blogging has helped me establish myself as someone who understands their industry, is a strong writer, and has allowed me to expand my audience. My blog has allowed me to speak at MBlog, get published in the Winnipeg Free Press, and even to get featured on ShawTV as one of Winnipeg's Hottest Bloggers. When I was applying for jobs all of my employers checked out my blog, and it's the first place most of my clients find me nowadays.

But... what if you hate writing?

I get asked this question a lot, and to be honest I never really know how to respond to it. In my view, people who are interested in social media enough that they want to do it professionally should have a deep interest in how we communicate online and how we use persuasive language (aka rhetoric).

Because let's be serious: someone in my position spends most of their days writing in one form or another. Maybe it's website copy, maybe it's scheduling tweets, maybe it's writing a blog post or a newsletter, but either way all day every day, we're hustlin' writing.

If you don't like writing and understanding the nitty-gritty of how we communicate with each other... maybe this isn't the profession for you.

Having a social media presence

I can't stress this one enough.

If you are genuinely serious about pursuing a career as a social media manager or digital marketer, you need to jump into social media feet-first and do your best to maintain an active presence on platforms which will help you get a bit more well-known. I prefer Twitter for this purpose, personally, but if you don't have at least a Facebook profile, Twitter presence, and Instagram account, it's unlikely that prospective clients will take you seriously.

This is because how well you manage your own accounts gives people an insight into the kind of person that you are (are you nice online, for example), demonstrates that you know your way around at least a few of the major communication platforms, and shoes that you're relevant because you update them all regularly.

Oh, right: update them all regularly. This is key. Nobody is going to take someone who sells their services managing and understanding social media platforms seriously if their last tweet was from 2014.

Not just that, but social media is the easiest way to share that blog content that we talked about earlier. Cross-promoting yourself across a variety of social networks is one of the easiest ways to get noticed by a potential employer or client.

Show up to local Meetups

This expands a bit on the earlier point about building your personal brand: while connecting online is great, it's important to turn those digital connections into real, face-to-face ones, and the easiest way to do that is to show up to things.

If you're in Winnipeg, there are plenty of opportunities to connect and get known. Some of them are:

Not in Winnipeg? Check out Meetup.com for local social media-related gatherings near you!

Let your passions drive you

I believe that being passionate about what you do is the single most important asset in this equation.

While I make my living as a digital marketer, I actually identify as a writer. That's it. I love to write, and am obsessed by rhetoric (aka persuasive language) and the ever-evolving nature of social media, so applying what I love to do (writing) to something that interests me (communication/social media) just made sense.

If you aren't passionate about what you do, then you won't take the time to explore it and understand it, and part of being an effective digital marketer is keeping up with the ever-changing trends in your industry. Not just that, but if the idea of developing marketing plans for Instagram, or spending your days monitoring @ mentions on Twitter doesn't make your heart go pitter-pat, then you may want to rethink your career choice.

A lot of this comes down to perspective, too: like I said, I identify as a writer above all else, and managing social media profiles, developing copy for marketing strategies, and keeping up-to-date on how to effectively communicate on each platform (to hashtag, or not to hashtag? That is the question!) is just another way to sharpen my writer's chops.

So, figure out what you love the most about social media and make that your focus.

Hopefully that helps, Brittany! Good luck to you on your career journey!

Do you have any questions for me about being a business owner, digital marketing, social media, or anything I mentioned in this post? Ask me in the comments or drop me a line - I'm always happy to hear from you!


How to Build a Killer Digital Marketing Strategy

- by Alyson Shane

We live in tumultuous digital times, my friends. New social networks seem to be appearing every day, and if you're trying to promote your business online, it's easy to feel like there are too many options to choose from.

Most clients I talk to when we first meet have an ad-hoc strategy when it comes to promoting themselves online; they know of a few social networks and have accounts set up, but in many cases their messaging is muddled, unclear, and in many instances they are trying to reach an audience who simply aren't there.

That's why developing a digital marketing strategy is so important. Having a strategy which has taken into consideration both your brand's needs and those of your audience and customers can make or break your marketing efforts, so today let's go over some steps to build a badass digital marketing strategy to help you stand out online:


Determine your goals

The first thing I ask a prospective client is: what do you want your digital marketing strategy to accomplish? Many people have never thought about this before, and if you haven't until just now, that's okay! But now is the time to start thinking about what all the time and effort is going to do for you.

When I was in university, I took a few business courses where I learned about two crucial acronyms for planning that I still use every day: SWOT and SMART.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and is helpful when planning a project or new business venture so you can assess (you guessed it) your strengths and shortcomings before moving forward.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. When planning out your goals for your digital marketing strategy, make sure that they all meet this set of criteria. What do you want to accomplish and how will you measure it? What are realistic and attainable goals to aim for?

Understanding your SWOT and SMART goals will help direct your time and energy, so you don't waste time floundering around, trying this or that, instead of having a focused and easy-to-understand set of goals.

Ask "Why me?"

What I mean by this is: ask yourself why your business exists.

What does your organization (or your small business) do that makes you worth working with? Are you a Twitter whiz? Do you write fantastic, eye-catching copy? Are your presentation and PowerPoint (or Keynote) skills second-to-none? How do your skills and your personality set your business apart from your competition?

This may take some digging and soul-searching, and that's okay! Many of us (myself included) have had to take a hard, critical look at our business and suss out what makes us unique, and how we can convey that to our audience and potential customers.

Tell your story

Crafting a narrative about your brand is one of the most important things you can do online. Your story -what makes you unique, different, and perfectly posed to solve your customer's problems - is what sets you apart from your competition.

Humans are natural storytellers, and people will be attracted to and remember a brand whose story made them feel something. Positive feelings also lead to feelings of trust, comfort, and help shape your brand's identity not just as a company, but as somewhere where real, dedicated people work and put their energy into.

(Want more info on brand storytelling? Check out my post Marketing Your Brand Through Storytelling)

Build your buyer personas

A buyer persona is exactly what it sounds like: a fake profile of the kinds of people you want to attract and engage with online.

A complete persona should have details about the person's background (I like to name my buyers, too), what they do for a living, what their values and beliefs are, what they like and don't like, and what motivates their decision-making process.

Developing buyer personas is one of the most important steps you can take as part of your digital marketing strategy because it gives you a deeper insight into what your ideal customers are looking for online. This information will inform the kind of things you say, what you share, and the people you connect with online.

Identify where your audience will be

This is critical to implementing a successful digital strategy because if you don't take the time to figure out where your target audience is hanging out online, then you'll never be able to reach them and show them how awesome you are.

That's why doing a buyer persona is so important: it doesn't just inform what to say and how to say it, but also where you should be saying it for maximum impact. For example, if your target audience are Etsy obsessed DIYers who love Pinterest, spending all your time marketing on LinkedIn, which is a business networking site, isn't going to help you find your audience anytime soon.

Take time to think about where your ideal customers will be spending their time thinking about the things that interest them online, and how you can make yourself stand out so they notice you.

Track your success & pivot when necessary

Social networks change over time, so it's important to keep an eye on how successful your digital strategy is, and to fine-tune as you go along. Paying attention to the statistics of each social media account (and your website, if you're blogging, too) can go a long way towards informing what kind of content is resonating your audience, and which turned out to be rather lackluster.

What's wonderful about digital marketing is that unless you really screw up, your audience will usually forgive and forget about a post that didn't catch their eye, or a tweet that didn't go as viral as you hoped. This means you can experiment with different kinds of images, polls, contests, and more! Just track how successful each one was and try to duplicate the ones that did well.

Ask for help (if you need it)

Developing a robust digital strategy can be challenging and time-consuming, and even when brands and businesses have buyer personas they often can't (or don't want to) spend the time reaching out to them and connecting.

That's totally okay! You are not a machine designed for selling and promoting, and if you feel overwhelmed at the thought of having to run your business and develop and implement a digital marketing strategy, that's normal.

Many people choose to work with business consultants, who can help you determine the right direction for your company and develop a killer digital strategy to go along with it (I recommend Kyla Roma if you're in the market for someone; she's fabulous). There are also people like me who offer content management services to help keep you on track (shameless plug, haha).

There's no shame in asking for help, so if you're feeling baffled or overwhelmed make a point to reach out to someone and get the ball rolling on developing and implementing your shiny, new digital marketing strategy!

Do you have any questions about digital marketing? Do you want to know more about how to implement a killer online strategy? I'd love to know!


3 Things to do Before Breaking Out on Your Own

- by Alyson Shane

Well, I made it.

It's 2016, my business hasn't fallen apart, and my life didn't somehow implode in on itself. Yay!

Without a doubt, starting my own business and making the transition from being a full-time employee to a full-time business owner was scary as hell. There isn't really a "right" way to make the jump, and there aren't really a specific set of steps that you absolutely 100% must take in order to do it. However, there are a few key things to keep in mind before you break out on your own, which I want to discuss in this post.


Why do I want to talk about this stuff? Because sharing is caring, and because I was lucky enough to have a wonderful and very clever guide (my boyfriend, John) who helped me navigate a lot of hurdles and helped me prepare for this experience.

Not everyone starting their own business is fortunate enough to have a John in their life, so here are a few things he taught me which I think will help you out if you think that running your own business is the path that you want to take:

1. Start Hustling Early

I got my first client a full year before I started working for myself full-time. Honestly, it happened by accident (I met a guy I knew from Twitter at a party who introduced me to his friend who needed a copywriter) and it wasn't for much, just a few copywriting articles each month. It didn't make a lot of money off that first client, but the experience of working with someone for a while helped me start to understand the dynamic of different kinds of working relationships which were different than the boss/employee relationship I was used to.

Also, starting small has allowed me to scale my business in a manageable way. I've acquired a handful of regular clients who I work with on a monthly basis, as well as some copywriting work, and one-off contracts for special events or websites as they come up.

I should also point out that I have been extremely lucky. What happened to me isn't always the case, and it's not realistic to assume that just because you go into business for yourself, that clients will start pouring out of the woodwork right away.

Not just that, but securing an ongoing contract (if that's what you're looking for, some businesses operate on a per-contract basis) often takes time. The process from the initial email or meeting to signing a contract can take months to happen, or never materialize at all.

By starting to build a client base early, you can get a feel for whether or not running your own business is actually what you want to do before you jump feet-first into doing it. Also, leaving your secure 9-5 knowing that you already have a handful of contracts to take care of your living expenses goes a long way in helping make the transition less scary. Trust me on this one.

2. Buckle Down

Assuming that you're working a 9-5 job in addition to building your business, you're going to be insanely busy trying to juggle both before breaking out on your own. Get used to it.


Before I left my office job I was working most weeknight evenings from 6-11 or 12, and spending a lot of time working on the weekends, as well. If you're trying to build up a decent client base to help you make a smooth transition, then obviously any time spent doing that work needs to be done outside of regular office hours (unless your boss is cool with this, which most aren't.)

If you want to work for yourself, you need to get ready for a very imbalanced work/life lifestyle for a while. Not just before you leave your 9-5, but afterward, too. To illustrate: I'm writing this on a Sunday evening, after working all day since I got up. I've also been on "holiday" since Christmas Eve, but have spent at least 5 days of my 10-day 'holiday' working for the majority of the day (who told you that running your own business was glamorous?)

What's crazy is that what I just illustrated isn't that uncommon; lots of people I know work even more than I do! But when you run your own business you're the only person responsible for generating your own income, and the sooner you get used to working aggressive and unusual hours, the better.

3. Save Up

Without a doubt the most terrifying thing about working for yourself is the transition from going to having a regular paycheque which is deposited into your bank account every two weeks, to one where your financial situation is in a state of flux.

I try not to talk too much about my financial situation, but in the interest of learning from my experience, here's how I managed to get myself into a relatively good position:

When I got my first contract (the small copywriting one I mentioned earlier) I used it to start paying down my credit card debt and the student debt that I'd acquired while in university. As I picked up more clients and started to think more seriously about running my own business as an option, I started splitting my additional income (ie: the money I was making above what I was paid at my office job) between paying down my debt and putting it aside in a nest egg.

Having a nest egg allows me to not freak the hell out when a payment is late (which happens) because I still have a float to live on for a while. Honestly, this "float" is the key to running your own business and not being in a constant state of panic. This all changes when you start bringing subcontractors and employees into the mix, of course, because they have to be paid before you do, but that's a whole different kettle of fish (and anxiety) that we won't go into here.

One last thing about money: get your taxes in order. If you live in Canada and you run a business making over $30,000/yr you must register for a General Sales Tax (GST) number. Dealing with the Canada Revenue Agency is a hassle (believe me) but if you aren't filing your taxes correctly you can wind up owing tens of thousands of dollars. Speak to your bank or accountant, if you've got one, and make sure you're covered.

Do you have any tips for people thinking about breaking out on their own? Tell me in the comments!


Content Marketing vs Social Media

- by Alyson Shane

One of the things I find myself discussing again and again - with clients, friends, colleagues, and people who are genuinely confused about what I do, is the difference between "content marketing" and "social media."

Usually when I tell people I do content marketing and social media they respond with something like "oh, you just publish stuff on Twitter, right?" which is really only a small sliver of the equation.

While content marketing heavily involved social media, there's much more to creating content than just pushing it out across a variety of social channels. Even though there's a lot of overlap they are, in fact, two very distinct things, each with different goals, strategies, and processes.

So, once and for all, let's clear the air!


The Sun and the Solar System

Social media marketing is the focus of your marketing activity which is located on social networks.

When marketers share content on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, they're operating within the specific confines of those networks. Sure, they're sharing their own content in a lot of cases, but it's on someone else's network, and none of those networks connect to each other all that often (eg: you don't share Tweets on Facebook, and vice-versa.)

Conversely, the centre of every content marketing strategy is the organization's website.

A business' website is designed to be the central place for all of their branded content. Once the content has been published on the central website, it gets shared across the various social networks where the company has a presence. So, "social media" is the act of using specific social networks, and "content marketing" is creating content on your own website to be published and distributed.

The way that I like to describe this process is the "Sun and Solar System." In this example, your brand website is the 'Sun' - the focal point in all of your marketing efforts, and the brightest and most important star in the sky. The other social networks that you use to distribute the content are 'planets' which orbit around the central hub. Like planets in real-life, the 'planets' in this example operate independently of each other, all have unique features, and have one thing in common: they exist because of the 'Sun'.

Types of Content

Social media marketing is designed to fit within the confines of that social network. For example, a Tweet on Twitter needs to be 140 characters or less, Pinterest pins need to have eye-catching photos, etc.

Content marketing, on the other hand, can come in a variety of styles, flavours, and lengths because websites allow for much more creative and extended types of content. On a website brands can publish blog posts, videos, infographics, white papers and eBooks... the sky's the limit, really.

This flexibility in content means that brands can exercise a higher level of creativity in the content they create on their website, because they don't have to worry about falling within a 140 character limit.

Goals

While content marketing and social media marketing are used in tandem to reach specific goals, they actually are designed to achieve two different things:

Content marketing is focused completely on the 'Sun', which allows it to focus more on demand generation and content publishing than on getting the word out about it.

As a brand publishes content on their website, the 'Sun' in the middle of their solar system, they can use social media to direct traffic back to it, developing a relationship with their audience.

Social media is used to promote brand awareness. When a visitor lands on a brand's website, the brand has full control over what kind of experience that visitor is going to have, and they already have the advantage because the potential customer has already indicated interest by going there in the first place.

Because social networks can't be controlled by brands and businesses, the purpose of those networks then becomes to use them as a means to generate discussion and interact with their audience. Additionally, because social networks are mostly democratic (I say 'mostly' because of the recent introduction of YouTube Red) and all user account are created equally, social networks become a place for brands to have informal interactions with their audience.

Social networks also notify you when someone is talking about you, which makes tracking customer mentions, feedback, and criticism a lot easier to track than ever before.

Why Content Marketing?

Content marketing and social media go hand-in-hand, but many people I talk to focus only on the social media side of things because seeing a brand's presence across multiple social networks gives the impression that it's more important.

This is not true, and I'd actually argue that content marketing actually the more important of the two.

That's because in order for your social media feeds to have a way to genuinely connect with your audience, there has to be a central 'hub' (or Sun) at the centre of things to drive brand awareness and help craft a story. You can't tell your audience about who you are if you don't create the kind of content that helps them understand and care, and social networks just aren't as efficient at doing it because you have to play by the rules of each specific network.

This is why content marketing and social media marketing, though two different things with different purposes, are actually intricately linked.

Did this explanation make sense? What do you think about the difference between content marketing and social media? Tell me in the comments!


7 Ways to Make a Buyer-Centric Website

- by Alyson Shane

One of the harsh realities about running a business is this: nobody cares about your products or services except you (sorry/not sorry.)

What they do care about is finding solutions to their own problems, and making sure that your website provides them with the information and tools to help them diagnose their problem, determine a solution, and take steps to solve it is a crucial part of turning them from a visitor into a customer or client.

One way that businesses approach helping their audience solve their problems is to link to landing pages based on the problems their product or service can solve. Each of these paths, starting with the landing pages, contains unique content designed to communicate your expertise in solving these problems.

By creating engaging, unique and helpful content, you can build some empathy and move your audience along the buying cycle, prompting them to fill in a contact form, call a number, or send you a request for assistance.

Below are a seven ways to make a buyer-centric website:


1. Make sure your site is current.

Making sure that the content found on the pages of your site is current and up-to-date within your area of expertise, and don't forget to update your employee roster, product lists, and anything other which might change over time. Additionally, having a website with an easy to navigate, up-to-date layout which is optimized for mobile is another integral part of their user experience, and one which will stick with them long after they've navigated away from your page.

2. Have some personality.

your website needs to be a reflection of you and your brand, which means that it needs to convey more about you than just what you offer; everything from the layout, to the tone of your copy, to the photos you choose, must contribute to an overall understanding of who you are.

3. Use photos and images.

The days of walls of text are long gone, and people's attention spans are honestly just too short to sift through a page that looks like something written by Charles Dickens.

(don't do this)

Luckily digital mediums allow you to break up you text and present it in various ways that don't contribute to your reader going cross-eyed, or worse leaving your page altogether. Some ways you can spruce up your content are:
  • Custom photos & memes
  • Audio feeds
  • Video clips
  • Cartoons
  • Infographics & charts

4. Make your content interactive.

Getting people involved with your content is one of the easiest ways to keep them interested and move them through your sales cycle. Include charts and forms where applicable, and links to contact you whenever necessary

5. Focus on feedback loops.

Don't make visitors hunt around your site for ways to get in touch with you. Easy to find "contact us" links are essential, and direct feedback options like "rate this" buttons, online forums, review and opportunities to post comments allow your visitors to feel more engaged with you beyond just using your services

6. Include social media share buttons.

Including social media "share" buttons is a quick and effective way to encourage visitors to your site to engage with and share what you have to say. All your content (blog posts, whitepapers, videos, etc)

7. Think about your visitors' learning style.

Some people prefer to read articles, some like videos, and others prefer audio. Some prefer all three! Doing a bit of research and seeing what similar sites are doing to present their information will give you valuable insight into how your visitors will want to consume the information that you have to share.


By focusing on these key elements, you can make sure that your website is buyer-friendly, leads them down the right paths, and (most importantly) is an enjoyable experience for them to use. Remember: for many people, your website is the first glimpse that they get of you as a brand, and their experience will likely dictate their relationship with you from that point onward!


Did I miss anything, or do you have something to add to this post? If so, leave a comment,shoot me an email, or tweet at me on Twitter!


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