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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
4 Tricky Social Media Challenges & How to Solve Them
- by Alyson Shane
Let's face it: social media is challenging, and most people feel totally overwhelmed when they first sign up for a social network without any prior knowledge of how to use it.
This is totally normal, but unfortunately it's the reason that many people sign up for social networks, spend a little bit of time trying to get to know them... and then promptly abandon them when they encounter a challenge (like getting new followers, or having authentic conversations) that they don't know how to overcome.
Stop the madness! While social media can certainly be complicated and feel challenging (trust me, I know) it's not rocket science, and with that in mind I wanted to cover four of the biggest, trickiest challenges that people ask me about on a regular basis.
Let’s jump in!
Challenge #1: Creating an authentic connection
One of the things that people seem to struggle with the most when it comes to interacting on social media is authentic interactions. An "authentic interaction" is when a person or brand takes the time to get to know their audience on a personal level by interacting with them in a natural, non-salesy way, and is an important part of building feelings or trust and familiarity online.
How to solve it
The easiest way to create an authentic connection online is to be legitimately interested in other people, and to engage with them in a variety of positive ways. These can include:
- Asking questions
- Sharing links to articles and blog posts
- Responding to posts, tweets and comments
- Offering advice or a solution to someone's problem
One of my favourite ways to engage with other people is to find relevant Twitter chats and participate regularly. Never participated in a Twitter chat? Don't worry, I have a whole series called the Twitter Crash Course to get you started.
Challenge #2: Developing a social media strategy
Most people are on social networks without much of a plan, but when you make the decision to start investing the time and energy into growing your audience, it's time to sit down and start planning how to do it.
How to solve it
There are lots of things that you can do to pave your path to social media success, but a few of the most basic ones you ought to have figured out before diving in are:
- Why you're on social media. Don't just say "because everyone else is"! Legitimately ask yourself why you want to invest your time growing an online audience and let those goals guide your actions.
- How you're going to achieve those goals. Maybe you'll put together a kickass paid advertising campaign, maybe you'll start sharing hilarious cat videos, whatever the case may be.
- How will you measure success? There are lots of ways you can measure success: number of page views, tweets, responds etc over a specific period of time, etc. What matters is that you keep records (I do mine on a monthly basis) to track your progress.
Challenge #3: Creating engaging, quality content
If you think that consistently coming up with good, consistent content for your social media feeds and blog is challenging and time-consuming... well, you're right. In fact, it's exactly why people like me exist: because most people simply don't have the time to create, update, curate, monitor, respond, and schedule content across multiple social media profiles.
But if you're not ready to invest in someone else handling your content for you, it can feel like an overwhelming amount of work, and is often something that leads to people avoiding or abandoning their social profiles entirely.
How to solve it
One of my favourite ways to suss out high-quality content ideas is to use a great tool called Buzzsumo, which allows you to punch in topics or websites and see the most popular posts about those topics. You can also try finding relevant Twitter chats and paying attention to what people discussing your industry or products are asking, or searching forum websites for questions and discussion threads.
When posting articles, make sure to use eye-catching images whenever possible; if you're sharing a link an image from the page will usually auto-generate (it's usually fine to just use these instead of your own), but if you're posting links to your own blog posts and content, take the time to create a unique and original image to go along with it.
Challenge #4: Getting the word out about your content
Unfortunately setting up a blog and social feeds doesn't necessarily mean that people will immediately flock to you (I wish it were that easy!) - you'll have to hustle your content in order for people to know that it's there. No matter how great your content may be, if you aren't promoting it then nobody is likely to find it.
How to solve it
The trick to getting your content out there is to be proactive in sharing it and encouraging other people to share it, as well. Try and identify people who would benefit from seeing your content and make a point to share it with them. There are a few ways that you can accomplish this:
- Share your blog or website updates on social media.
- Reach out to influencers in your industry (in a nice, non-sleazy way) and ask them to share it or work with you to promote your content.
- Tag people you mention in your post. For example, last year I wrote a post about the Winnipeg Folk Festival and tagged them in the tweet, which they retweeted and subsequently earned me a lot of traffic.
- Post links to your content on relevant Facebook or LinkedIn groups, Pinterest groups, and forum websites like Reddit and HackerNews (be sure to mind the posting rules on these sites!)
- Repost your content on Medium.com, and reach out to publications to see if they would be interested in republishing your work.
There you have it! Four steps to social media success and overcoming some of the trickiest obstacles that people face when they first start wading out into the big, wide world of social networks.
Do you have any social media challenges you struggle to deal with, or tips for overcoming some of these tricky issues? Tell me in the comments or tweet at me!
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:
- 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.
- 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?)
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.
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.
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
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:
- Winnipeg Social Media & Technology Group
- BANG! Business and Networking Group
- I Love Marketing Winnipeg
- Secret Handshake (I'm usually at this one - say hi to me if you see me there!)
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!
4 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Blog Bounce Rate
- by Alyson Shane
Whether you blog for yourself, your business, or your employer, minimizing your blog's bounce rate should be a top priority. Readers who click on your site are much more likely to come back than the ones who don't, so managing your bounce rate can go a long way towards building your audience.
If you haven't heard this term before, your blog's bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who arrive on your site, stay on one page, and then leave without clicking around.
This might not seem like a big deal - after all, if they clicked on a link you shared to get to your site, then didn't you accomplish your goal? Well... sort of.
Why is your bounce rate important?
If you run a blog simply for the sake of writing about your life or your interests, then maybe your bounce rate isn't that important to you.
But if you're anything like the millions of bloggers, artists & creatives, and businesses who feature a blog as a single section of a website designed to sell a product or service, then making sure that your site aims to encourage users to explore your site should be a top priority. You don't want them to visit your blog without looking at everything else that you have to offer, do you?
What is a "good" bounce rate?
According to this article, most websites will see bounce rates fall somewhere between 26% and 70%, so as long as you fall within that range, depending on what you do and the purpose of your website, you should be okay.
The same article cautions that a bounce rate below 20% or over 90% is usually a bad sign. The former hints at a problem with the analytics setup, the latter with the website. If you've never taken a look at your bounce rate before, you can find it in Google Analytics (which you should have installed!)
How can you reduce your bounce rate?
I'm glad you asked! It's not as difficult as it may seem, and with a few tweaks and adjustments, your blog will soon be converting like crazy.
Below are four easy ways to spruce up your blog, make it visiting better experience for your audience, and to reduce that bounce rate:
1. Improve your site's speed
Sites that load slowly are my biggest pet peeve! There's nothing worse than waiting for a website to load, or (even worse) try to navigate one which keeps refreshing because the image files take longer to load than the text (I'm looking at you, every single Huffington Post article).
If you're like me the most likely culprit is huge image files or lots of videos; I just did a speed check and managed to get my speed up by 60% by resizing just three photos. Oops. Now my website loads faster than 79% of all tested websites on pingdom.com.
Want to see how quickly your site loads? Punch your URL in here and take a look!
2. Use a clean, easy-to-navigate design
Remember when the internet looked like this?
Unfortunately, many websites still look a lot like this, with people trying to cram too much information onto a page at once, providing a visually unappealing and difficult to navigate and read experience for a first-time visitor.
Your website should be designed to move your readers on a journey through your site (generally called a "sales tunnel" but the same idea applies whether you're selling something or not), from the first post they read to other important areas, such as your newsletter signup page, contact form, or online store. If you're struggling to cut back on the content on your page, make a list of the most important parts of your site (e.g., your blog, your About page, your services page, etc.) and try to remove links that don't lead visitors to those areas.
Also, this should also go without saying, but you should also make sure that your site is mobile responsive (aka that it resizes to fit the width of the screen on a mobile phone). Trying to read and navigate a website which hasn't been optimized on mobile screens is a nightmare, and is one of the easiest ways to make sure that first-time visitors to your blog never come back.
3. Keep your content relevant to visitor's needs
What do you blog about? Take a look at the posts you've written recently, and then take a look at your Google Analytics. Are the search terms that are leading people to your website the same ones that you're writing about? If not, then it's time to start honing your content strategy, and then to start paying attention to how you use your headings and subheadings.
Not only does using proper headings and subheadings make your posts easy to read and understand, but it also helps boost your search engine rankings. This is because sites like Google pull information about your page based on what's in your H1, H2, H3, etc., and will help make sure that the people arriving at your site are coming there for the information that you're providing.
4. Link to related posts
One of the easiest ways to reduce your bounce rate is to offer your readers with more to do on your site once they've finished reading. Most bloggers (myself included) just add a footer to the bottom of our posts which recommend posts in the same or similar categories. Adding this at the end of a post is an easy way to entice your new visitor to explore more of what you have to say.
In addition to the footer trick, I also organize my posts into categories so my readers can quickly browse all of the posts I've written on a single topic.They can also browse posts by category and by month and year, and see a list of the most recent posts I've published on the right-hand sidebar.
Try experimenting with your layout and see how you can entice your visitors into exploring of your blog content!
By making these changes we've not only managed to increase your blog's look, feel, and navigation, but we've also made sure that your visitors who care about your content can find you, and that your site's slow response time doesn't drive them away before they get through the first paragraph of your latest post.
Have you had issues with high bounce rates? If so, how did you solve them? I'd love to know!
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
- 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!
5 Essential Content Marketing Habits
- by Alyson Shane
Content marketing is one of the move valuable tools at your disposal to add value to your marketing strategy. Good content educates your audience, prospects potential clients, and when done correctly does a powerful job of advertising your brand message.
However, if you're managing multiple accounts at once and want to stay as organized and focused as possible, it's necessary to start developing the right habits as early as possible. Below are a few key things that I've learned which have helped me save my sanity, and be better at what I do.
1. Track Your To-Dos
I've mentioned my daily checklist in a previous post, but having a concrete, written plan for what you need to do each day/week/month/etc is unbelievably helpful. This is especially true when you're working on a project which requires a team effort, and a bit of project management.
My favourite tool for this purpose is Trello because it's super-easy to learn to use, has a simple design based on columns and checklists, and allows you to drag specific tasks "bubbles" around between columns, so everyone can see where you are on a specific project.
Here's an example via a quick Google Image search to give you an idea of what it looks like:
Having tools like Trello (or Asana, or Slack, whatever your preference) helps with communication in teams who may not be in the same office, or even the same country, and allows you to easily keep track of who is working on which portion of the project, and where they're at. Being able to access this stuff at-a-glance is super easy, and saves a ton of time.
2. Establish Milestone and Conversion Goals
Before you sit down and start tweeting or posting, establish what your definition of "successful" looks like. Is it 2,000 newsletter subscribers by Thanksgiving? To speak at a nationwide conference next year? Maybe hit a million visitors to your website this month?
Whatever the case, by developing a clear vision of success and what it looks like not only helps you plan how you will achieve those goals, but also helps you have a clear game plan which can be adapted to deal with any unexpected changes.
Conversions are the best way to measure the success of your campaign (think bread-crumb trail) and anything that you do which leads a user down your breadcrumb trail is worth tracking.
3. Analyze Behaviours and Achievements
Behaviours are the actions that visitors take once they arrive at your website, and achievements are when they behave based on the breadcrumbs that you left for them to follow.
By keeping track of how people move through your (or a client's) website, you can gain valuable information as to how people are getting there, and how they're moving around. Ideally, they'll follow a set of pre-defined steps that you've put in place in order to get them to visit a particular page, or buy a product.
So whenever you identify a new measurable behaviour (maybe your traffic goes up, your website's ranking increases, your click-through rate increases, etc) you can analyze the behaviours that led to the increase, and refine and revise when necessary to make sure things keep going well.
4. Get In the Cloud
This took me longer to get into the habit of doing than I'd like to admit, but saving all your documents, contracts, photos, and work in the cloud (I use Google Drive) is the only way to be truly effective wherever you are, and saves a ton of headache down the road.
Here's an example: I invoiced a client before I went out of town, but they sent me an email a few days later and said that they needed me to re-submit it. So instead of having to worry about re-creating an invoice from scratch because my original document was on my iMac back in Winnipeg, I opened the Google Drive app on my phone, found the invoice (I also have all of my invoice templates saved there, just in case) and re-shared it within the span of a few minutes.
It saved me a ton of time time and and I was able to avoid the headache and stress of re-creating an invoice to make sure I got paid when I was expecting to.
There is literally no excuse for you to not be using a cloud-based sharing service, so get on it!
5. Report & Tweak
Though many people are starting to see the value of of it, a lot of people still view content marketing and social media as a wishy-washy thing to spend money on, so us content marketers need to be able to prove our worth.
The best way to show value is through reporting - showing successes, areas of improvement, engagement levels, and providing recommendations on how to move forward. It also helps with long-term planning, as reports can indicate shifts in behaviour and engagement over time, which allows you to identify things that succeeded, and things that didn't.
Reporting can be (okay, almost always is) a chore. It's boring, but by taking the time to put together a comprehensive report you can effectively demonstrate your value, as well as open up lines of communication with your clients. Reporting builds trust and helps clients feel like they've got a good grasp of what's happening, even if they're totally hands-off day-to-day.
Developing the right habits from the get-go allows you to not only feel more organized, but it actually makes you better at your job, which is good news for both you and your clients.
Did I miss anything from this list? Do you have anything you'd like to add? If so, leave a comment, shoot me an email, or tweet at me on Twitter!
Power Hour: 60 Minutes to Better Brand Management
- by Alyson Shane
Managing your brand's online reputation is one of the most important things you can do to boost your recognition online and help attract, engage with, and build your audience.
Despite this, however, I've met way too many business owners and entrepreneurs who fluff off managing their brand profiles because they don't see it as a valuable way to spend their time. "It's so time consuming!" they say, or "I don't know where to start, so it takes me forever to get anything done."
Like most things, managing your brand can be an efficient process if you know what you're doing, so below are a few ways that you can condense your brand management down into an hour a day
(I know, right?! What will you even do with all that extra time?)
Monitor your social media mentions
(10 - 15 minutes)
In my experience, this is where brands allow themselves to slack off the most; people forget to reply to tweets, dismiss notifications from Facebook, or simply don't know what to say and so they say nothing at all. This is troubling, especially considering that recent research finds that 42% of people on social media expect to receive a reply to a complaint or concern within 60 minutes or less.
This might seem like a daunting timeline, but there are a few ways to keep on top of everything relating to your brand on social media: Twitter, Facebook and Google+ all have built-in search bars, and socialmention.com is a great resource for searching multiple sources for specific keywords. If you're on iOS like me, the Facebook 'Pages' app is a super-convenient (and free!) to manage multiple Facebook pages at once.
If you need something a bit more complex consider options like Sprout Social or Nuvi, which are both really affordable and allow you to monitor multiple terms, engage with your audience, and manage teams if necessary.
Get involved in existing online communities
(10 - 15 minutes)
Aside from social media, other online gathering places where people come together to discuss common interests and experiences are places like Reddit, LinkedIn Groups, and other message boards and popular blogs related to your industry.
By being an active participant on these public spaces, responding to comments, sharing news, and participating in discussions your brand not looks more trustworthy (people figure you have nothing to hide when you're up-front with information) and you build credibility as being a brand who is invested in connecting with their community and developing relationships with your clients.
Protip: if you need to monitor a variety of these communities, consider outsourcing your community management to someone who can dedicate more time to the task. Otherwise 10 - 15 minutes is all you really need.
Monitor and respond to reviews
(10 - 15 minutes)
John and I are currently in the process of planning a big trip next winter, and while looking at places to stay in Guatemala on AirBnB the thing that I found most interesting was the rate of people who came back to leave reviews, both glowing and negative, and how quickly the hosts would hop onto the site and personally thank people for taking the time to leave a kind message, or to apologize and explain why a stay might have been less than perfect.
Common internet sense preaches don't feed the trolls, and while I generally agree with this sentiment, if someone has taken the time to write out a lengthy reply about your business and you have the opportunity to log in and connect with that customer, there's a chance that you might be able to repair that bond.
So if your business is on Google Business, Yelp, or Foursquare, be sure to take the time to monitor the comments and take time to personally reply to them. I was extremely impressed with AirBnB hosts who made a point to connect with and discuss customers' experiences, and ask them how their experience could have been better, and odds are your audience will be, as well.
Remember: there's no way for you to track business that you've missed out on, so doing due diligence and being as connected with every customer and member of your audience as possible is always worth the effort.
Set up blog & media alerts
(10 - 15 minutes)
Setting up alerts is a huge time-saver, and allows you to stay on top of when your brand is being discussed in the media, on a blog, or any of the online forums we talked about earlier. This way, instead of revisiting the same places over and over again, you can set up your alerts and forget about them until they ping you with a notification - then, it's as easy as logging in and replying to whatever your audience has been saying about you.
If you're not looking for anything too crazy, Google Alerts is an easy to use and free alternative, but if you're looking to manage a larger, more complicated brand, Buzzsumo is the way to go. The pro account is $99CAD a month, and allows you to create alerts based on the following:
- Your brand or specific keywords
- Links to a domain, subdomain or exact URL.
- Content from a specific author.
- Content published on a specific domain that reaches a minimum number of total shares.
Wow! Did an hour go by already?
See what I mean? It only takes a little prep and an hour a day to make sure that your brand's reputation is growing, thriving, and (most importantly) conveying the right messages to your audience.
Did I miss anything? Do you have any tips that you'd like to share? Shoot me an email, tweet at me, or let me know in the comments!