Category Archives: VerticalResponse

The Ultimate Procrastinator’s Guide to Facebook Timeline for Brands

This post was originally published on the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

Facebook Timeline

So, they’re finally here. Last month, Facebook announced that they would be rolling out the new Timeline design to all brand pages on the social network. While Timeline has been available for brands since the announcement last month, Facebook will be automatically converting all brand pages to the new design today, March 30th. To some of you, this is old news. For the rest of you (don’t worry, we won’t tell), it’s high time you figured out what these changes mean for you and your business. If you fall into that latter category, fear not, we’ve got you covered. The social team at VR has been scouring the web for the best blog posts on optimizing the new design for your page so that you wouldn’t have to. Without further adieu, everything you need to know to get your brand page on the up and up.

More Facebook changes? NOOOOOOOOOO.

Yes. But fear not, this is actually a good thing. Here, Mike More explains why marketers should embrace Facebook’s new Timeline for brands, arguing that Timeline is an excellent opportunity to focus on what’s most important for businesses using Facebook, listening to and engaging with their fans. That chance for more engagement seems to be paying off. In a recent study by Simply Measured, brands using Timeline have seen a 46% jump in engagement per post!

Getting Started

A good place to start would be with Facebook itself. The king of social networking has put together its own FAQ which does a good job of addressing some of the most pressing questions. Speaking of royalty, the undisputed queen of all things Facebook (and turquoise), Mari Smith, is all over the new design with her post, Facebook Timeline for Business Pages – 21 Key Points To Know. Rather than just dive into it though, we’d suggest taking a more strategic approach to setting up your new page. Thankfully, Edelman Digital has made that easy with The Timeline Checklist All Facebook Pages Must Have.

Cover Photos

Possibly the most obvious change in the new design is the addition of cover photos to brand pages. The cover photo is the first thing anyone visiting your page will see and, as such, not a feature you should take lightly. You’ll want a photo that is eye-catching and speaks to your brand’s aesthetics and sensibilities. If graphic design isn’t your thing there are plenty of tools out there that can help you put a cover photo together. Be careful not to violate Facebook’s rules for cover photos, though, which are covered well in this post from the HyperArts blog. If you’re still at a loss for ideas, here are 20 Facebook Page Cover Photos to Inspire Your Brand.

Content Considerations

With all of the new features available to brands using Timeline, there are certainly going to be changes to the kinds of content that make the most sense for your page. John Haydon covers the gamut with Eleven Ways Facebook Page Timelines Change Your Content Strategy. As noted earlier, Timeline is a fantastic opportunity to increase your fan engagement on Facebook. Learn how to take advantage in this post, How to Engage Your Audience with the New Facebook Timeline for Pages. One of the most interesting new features of Timeline is the ability to “pin” specific content to keep it at the top of your page. The All Facebook blog gives some great ideas of what content will work best for this functionality.

What’s Missing

Perhaps even more interesting than new features, are the Facebook features we’ve come to know and love that are no longer available with Timeline. First on the chopping block: default landing tabs. While you used to be able to default non-fans of your page to a specific custom landing tab, Facebook is now requiring all traffic to arrive at the Timeline view first. Easy to lament, the change might just be good for you in the long run. Here are the Top 7 Ways to Overcome Losing the Default Landing Tab on Facebook Pages. Another related phased out feature is the ability to “like-gate” specific content on your page. But again, there are alternative methods to spur new fan growth. Finally, if you have come to rely on Facebook Insights to measure your efforts (and I hope you have!), you’ll notice that Insights as you know it has been modified and upgraded. The most notable difference is how you view and manage your page, all from one convenient dashboard known as the Admin Panel. There’s a lot going on in the Admin Panel and this post does a great job of teaching you how to use it.

Inspiration

Now that you have a good idea of the changes in store for you and the various considerations there are when it comes to strategy, it’s time to start building an amazing looking and effective Timeline for your brand. If you’d like to see how some of the pros are handling Timeline, take a look at these Five Brand Pages That Got the Facebook Timeline Layout Right and these 10 excellent examples of Facebook Brand Timelines. Also, remember that it isn’t all about aesthetics; Timeline allows brands to tell a very compelling story of their history. Check out Fast Company’s look at 5 Innovative Uses Of Timeline For Facebook Pages for some great examples of how this looks in the wild.

What Are You Waiting For?

Whether you’ve made the switch for your company already or are waiting for Facebook to do it for you today, there’s still plenty of opportunity to leverage the new features. Take a look at VerticalResponse’s Timeline page and let us know what you think. We’d also love to see what you’re doing with Timeline, so please share your pages in the comments!

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Get Your Share: 5 Easy Ways to Help Your Content Go Viral

This post was originally published on the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

Social Sharing

Virality. You know what it is, but do you know how to get it? Sure, you’ve included references to LOLcats and #Linsanity in your most recent blog posts and emails, but perhaps you’re yet to have seen a lift in the sharing of your content. While it’s true that there’s no silver bullet for how to spark social sharing (though killer content is a great place to start), you may be overlooking some pretty simple ways to facilitate the spread of your content. Here are six things you can do today:

1) Strategic Button Placement

Including social sharing buttons with your content may seem like a no-brainer, but simply having them there isn’t always enough. Do a little exercise in design theory and put some thought into what button placement makes the most sense for your content’s layout. For example, if you have a banner across the top of your email and your main content doesn’t start until a bit further down, consider placing your social sharing buttons down there, right next to the content. The same rules apply for blog posts. Since most of your readers won’t decide to share something until after they’re done reading it (one would hope, at least), why put your buttons at the top where they’ll disappear as the reader scrolls down? Instead, place them at the bottom so that readers will be triggered to share as soon as they’re coming to the end. If you have the drive to get a little fancy with this, take a cue from Mashable and install a social share bar that scrolls down as you do: 

social sharing bar

2) Give ‘Em a Reason

With the seemingly never-ending stream of garbage great content that is social media, sometimes folks may need a little more convincing to pass your content on. Incentivizing sharing can be a great way to provide that extra push. While there are plenty of app companies out there that can provide you the tools to do a more complex sharing promotion (check out Offerpop, Wildfire, or North Social just to name a few), a simplified approach will do the trick more often than not. Simply determine an incentive (e.g., a free product or purchase discount), define the parameters of your campaign (e.g. the 10th sharer wins), and choose your social network. Note that this kind of promotion violates Facebook’s terms of service if you’re not using an app, but can be great on other networks like Twitter, Google+, or even Pinterest. Here, Simon & Schuster uses Twitter to offer a free copy of a book they’re promoting:

incentivize sharing

3) Do The Heavy Lifting

Sometimes people might be inclined to share your content, but have trouble figuring out what exactly it is about something that is most shareable. The longer your readers have to think about this, the less chance they hit that little Tweet button. While you might scoff at the logic behind this, realize that a share is a share and come to terms with the fact that some folks might need a little more handholding. Remember, it’s all about removing barriers here! One blog that does a phenomenal job of this is from our pals over at KissMetrics. Here they not only provide their readers with the HTML code to embed a graphic onto their own blogs, but they also provide a list of 140-characters-or-less tweetable stats: 

social sharing

4) Change the Channel

Perhaps you’ve been posting a lot of content to the network you spend the most time on (ahem, Facebook), but when it comes to that content being reshared all you hear is crickets. If this sounds familiar, it may be time to shake things up a bit and consider changing your distribution channel or adding others. Depending on your product or industry, niche communities may ignite more sharing. Additionally, newer networks like Google+ and Pinterest that have more defined user demographics (tech crowd for G+, women for Pinterest) and don’t have the same level of saturation that more established networks do could be just the way get your content out there. Pinterest is a great example of this idea in practice. While social media’s new darling has far fewer active members than LinkedIn, Google+, and even MySpace, according to a new report from Shareaholic, Pinterest drives more traffic than all of these networks combined. Here we see an example of some infographics (see, it’s not all weddings and food porn!) that have truly gone viral on Pinterest:

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5) Ask!

Possibly the most underused (and certainly easiest) way to prompt more sharing may also be the most obvious; just ask. Whether you’re asking for likes on a Facebook status update or RT’s on Twitter, you’d be surprised how often this simple call to action will actually work. On Twitter, just a simple “please” works wonders, as evidenced by John Haydon, a social media consultant for non-profits:

retweet

Asking for a share isn’t exclusive to Twitter, though. Take Facebook for example. Instead of just posting a link to a post on your blog, add a little context and encourage your fans to “like” the update for one reason or another. Remember that “likes” show up on Facebook timelines, so they are a great opportunity to get your content in front of a wider audience. Wildfire Interactive, a company that builds the kind of Facebook apps I touched upon earlier, does a fabulous job of this on their fan page: 

facebook status update

Remember, nothing will ever trump genuinely good content when it comes to sharing, but like anything else, it never hurts to stack the deck in your favor. Ultimately, if you want your readers to share your content, you have to make it easy. Try testing these five ideas and let us know how they work for you!

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Learn From the Pros: Facebook Fan Pages We Love

This post was originally published on the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

I spend a lot of time on Facebook. A lot. Fortunately for me, it’s part of my job. And between browsing pictures of puppies, kids, and Ryan Gosling, I spend much of my time looking at fan pages for businesses of all types. There are many of them out there. So many, in fact, that it has become harder than ever to rise above the clutter and reach potential customers. You, on the other hand, have better things to do while running your business than scouring the world’s largest social network for small business marketing ideas. Fear not, though, I’ve done the legwork for you and put together a list of some of the best fan pages out there and the marketing lessons you can steal (ahem, borrow) from them.

Break the Mold

One big limitation of Facebook, or really any social network, is that the look and feel of your profile is left to the whims of the network’s creators. Instead of viewing this as a constraint, though, think of it as a creative challenge. Bonobos does an excellent job of this on their Facebook fan page. By doing a few simple things within the Facebook profile structure, Bonobos lets their branding truly shine:

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  • Picture Pane: The five pictures that appear across the top of your fan page default to the images you most recently uploaded to Facebook. If you don’t pay attention to what these pictures are, it’s easy for the picture pane to start looking like a jumbled mess. Fortunately, by just clicking the “x” on any picture in the picture pane you can remove pictures that you don’t want there. Don’t worry, you’re not deleting the pictures altogether, just removing them from the pane. With this in mind, create a new album on Facebook that has pictures you specifically want to show in the picture pane. Bonobos has a fun series of images that will look good no matter what order they are displayed.
  • Profile Picture: While Facebook limits profile pictures for brands to 180 pixels wide, you can use an image that is up to 540 pixels high. Use this to your advantage and don’t just stick with your company logo. Have some fun and use the space to communicate something about your brand. The Bonobos profile picture does a great job of this by incorporating their square logo (important for the preview that is shown on comments) with an image that works very nicely with their picture pane montage.
  • Wall Content: There is nothing less appealing than a wall full of text-only status updates. Pictures and videos are proven to spur more engagement on Facebook, not to mention the fact that they can be a huge help in improving your EdgeRank and ensuring your posts are actually seen by your fans. In this example, Bonobos repurposes content from their catalog to get people talking.

Sidenote: Facebook is due to slowly roll out the new timeline look for fan pages starting at the end of the month. While this transition will likely be a slow one, it’s a good idea to start thinking about your updated visual branding strategy now. No one will know for sure what the changes will look like until Facebook lets the cat fully out of the bag, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start speculating!

Build a Killer Branded Welcome Tab

Facebook enables brand pages to specify a default landing tab for all new visitors to your page. For vistors that aren’t already familiar with your company, this is your chance to put your best foot forward. A custom welcome tab can say more about your brand than your Facebook wall ever will. How To Market Your Horse Business, a company that, well, helps you market your horse business, pulls out all the stops:

Fb_horse_biz
  • Strong CTA: It’s important to make sure any welcome tab you set up encourages your visitors to like your page. Here, How To Market Your Horse Business puts that call to action right at the top with a bold green arrow drawing your eyes to the like button.
  • Video: As mentioned above, using video is a great way to engage your fans. Here, a message from the company’s owner is a nice way to add some personality to the page.
  • Other Social Properties: Some of your customers may find you on Facebook, but want to interact with you on other networks too. Make it easy for them and link to all the social networks that you are active on as well as your website.
  • Social Sharing: By including like and share buttons on the welcome tab you enable your fans to spread the word about your company on your behalf. Again, don’t limit this to Facebook. Some people will prefer to share on other networks so why stop them?
  • Email Opt-In Form: Just because it’s social media doesn’t mean you have to keep it there. In fact, email still remains the ultimate touch point for messaging your customers. Collect email addresses from your Facebook fans and watch your list grow!

Don’t Just Ask, Compel

Whether in a TV commercial, email signature, or anywhere else, have you ever seen a company ask you to like them on Facebook and thought to yourself, “yeah, I get it, you’re on Facebook, do you want a prize?” Maybe that’s just me. Anyhow, as we’ve already established, there is a ton of noise on Facebook competing for customers’ attention. People no longer like pages willy nilly. You have to give them a good reason. Minted uses their welcome tab for just this: 

Fb_minted

In this case, Minted is incentivizing likes with a discount. Once you click the like button the tab changes to display a promo code for your next purchase. Minted is doing three very specific things here.

  1. The incentive they are offering is centered around their actual product. If you offer, say, a chance to win an iPad in exchange for a like, you’re sure to see a huge spike in fan growth. Who doesn’t want an iPad? The problem is that you want your new Facebook fans to really be potential customers, not just Facebook junkies looking for an iPad fix. On the contrary, give away some of your product as an incentive and you’ll be identifying genuine leads. 
  2. The promo code, just like any other sale you run, spurs incremental purchases. You know, revenue. What’s not to love about that?
  3. By using a promo code specific to your welcome tab you can begin to tie back individual transactions to your Facebook efforts and (gasp) start to measure return on investment.

Create a Recurring Feature

One of the biggest challenges for marketers using Facebook is that very few of your fans ever return to your page itself. Your customers may occasionally see your updates in their newsfeeds, but without actually visiting your fan page they could be missing out on the bulk of your messaging. Help combat this by giving them a reason to keep on visiting. Best Friends Animal Society does this with their Pet of the Week feature:

Fb_best_friends

This example works for many reasons. Best Friends Animal Society is appealing to their supporters’ interests by featuring animals that the organization has rescued. While not every business will have as furry or cute of a feature, all companies have something that interests their customers. Maybe you have new projects you can highlight or employees doing interesting things outside of the workplace. Of course, one of the best ways to keep your fans coming back is to feature them. Pick a fan of the week or do a customer profile in the form of a case study. Not only will you be giving recognition, but you’ll also be providing potential new customers with actionable use cases for your product or service.

Have you tried any of these Facebook techniques for your business? Are there any other fan pages out there that you love? Let us know in the comments!

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It’s Not Too Late! Five Ways to Make This a Social Holiday Season

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone and holiday shipping deadlines are beginning to loom. You’ve got your email marketing campaigns designed and scheduled (you do, right?) and have already dusted off and set up the seasonal decorations in your store or office. While it might be tempting to think that it’s time to pour a hot toddy and watch the sales roll in, there’s still time for one critical part of your marketing mix. One of the most powerful aspects of social media marketing is how truly real-time it can be, and right now is the time to use that to your advantage. Here are five ways to go social this holiday season:

1. Drum Up Some Excitement With Countdowns

Twelve days of Christmas, eight nights of Hanukkah, 31 days of the awesomeness that is December; reward your customers with perks spread across the holiday season. Think about how you might use a daily deal strategy like Invino does with their 12 Days of Access promotion.

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Countdown rewards don’t only have to be discounts and deals, though. Get into the giving mood and reward your customers with a series of perks. From prizes to tips to exclusive content, there are plenty of options out there. TastingTable does a great job of this with their 12 Days of Cookies recipe campaign. Not only are they treating their customers to some great content, but they also win by driving repeat traffic back to their website and using placeholder countdown slides to keep anticipation building.

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2. Use “Last-Minute” to Your Advantage

If you think you’re running out of time to drum up holiday sales, you better believe your customers are feeling the pressure too. Tap into this sense of urgency by actively communicating shipping deadlines, product availability and other time-sensitive information across all your social networks. I may or may not have taken advantage of this last-chance offer tweeted by the New England Patriots.*

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*Full disclosure: Go Pats!

3. Let Your Fans Get In On the Action

The holidays are a perfect time to get your fans to share in the conversation. Ask questions on your social profiles and tap into the holiday buzz, like Gilt Man does here. Who doesn’t want to talk about Champagne this time of year?!

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You can also ask fans to submit pictures or videos of anything from their favorite gift to what the weather looks like where they live. This is a great way to let your customers know that your brand is engaged and interested. Take it to the next level and use a custom Facebook app from a company like Wildfire and turn it into a contest. 

4. Do the Work for Them

Chances are, if someone is still looking for gifts at this time of year, they could probably use some inspiration. That’s where you come in! Tweet links to your products or set up a regularly updated gift guide on your Facebook page. Think about how you might position your products based on who your fans might be shopping for. This tweet from Flour & Water, a restaurant in San Francisco, appeals to all the foodies out there.

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5. Pay It Forward

Does your company do any charitable giving, employee donation matching, or community service efforts for the holidays? If not, bah humbug. If yes, awesome! Why not share your efforts with your social community? This is a great opportunity to give your brand a bit of personality beyond business as usual. It’s also a fantastic way to recognize your employees for the efforts they make. Win-win!

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Optimize Your Way to Business Blogging Success

This post was originally published on the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.


IStock_000005808631XSmallOne of the most insightful and actionable sessions I attended at BlogWorld was Optimize & Socialize for Better Business Blogging, presented by Lee Odden of Top Rank Online Marketing. While social media is still marketing’s darling in terms of spending growth (and the channel that keeps me employed, thank you very much), Lee reminds us that search engine marketing is still by far the largest piece of the spending pie. If blogging is in any way important to your overall marketing mix, the lessons from this session are critical for getting the most out of your efforts. And that, my friends, is where optimization comes in.

In his presentation, Lee said that the key reason many blogs don’t see success is simply a lack of strategy. By setting goals, thinking about your audience, putting a content plan in place, and continuously taking feedback into account, you can optimize your blog for maximum potential. Lee outlined three key opportunities for optimizing your business blog and the kinds of questions you should be asking in order to put together a blogging strategy.

1. Discovery How does your target audience prefer to discover new information? How do they search? What search keywords and social topics are relevant to them?

For your customers, discovery is where the entire process of finding your content begins. Think about how your target audience is finding you in the first place and use that information to sculpt a strategy of how to get your content in front of them. Use a tool like SocialMention or UberSuggest to identify the key terms that are associated with the kinds of topics your customers are looking for. Once you’re armed with a better understanding of what your customers are searching for, use this information when setting things like post titles, body copy, image alt text, tags, and categories. If it can be searched for, it can be optimized for better performance. 

2. Consumption What kind of content resonates most with your audience? Do they prefer videos to photos, original content vs. content curation? Who is your audience and what topics do they care about?

The real meat of the blogging world, your content strategy, will determine how you provide maximum value to your customers and keep them coming back for more. Consider what your business has to offer that will meet your customers’ needs and use that insight to create your plan. So, where do you get all of this information? Your blog’s analytics are a straightforward way to see what content has resonated in the past, but Lee outlines some great tips of how to discover new content ideas.

  • Engage with your community and ask what topics they’d like to see. Surveys are a quick and easy way to do this or you can just ask the question on your Facebook wall or Twitter account.
  • Look for what others are already asking. Answers sites like Quora and LinkedIn Q&A are a great place to start. You can also mine web analytics data to see what keywords and questions drive the most traffic.
  • Take a look inside. If you have an internal database or search engine at your company, take a look at what queries have already been logged. Even simpler, though, is to talk to the people within your company who are on the front lines (think sales or support). Their insights on customer questions are second to none.

3. Engagement When and how are your customers sharing your content? Specifically, what call to action, social widgets, sharing platforms, or times of day are motivating them to pass your content on?

Ultimately, you want your content to reach beyond your initial audience and there is no better way to trigger this than to optimize for social engagement. Take a look at what levers play in to how your content is shared and draw insights from that. Use these learnings to make sure that you are making it easy for your customers to share the way they like to. After all, your audience can’t share your content if you don’t provide a way how! Beyond having the right tools in place, there are a few other things to focus on when optimizing for engagement. 

  • Screen shot 2011-11-16 at 12.44.37 PMFind the social platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc…) that spark the most engagement across your audience and be sure to cross-promote your blog content to all of them.
  • Develop content specific to these networks that can drive traffic back to your blog.
  • Reach out to your network and other topical influencers and ask them to share your content. 
  • Make these same folks part of the process and mention them and/or include them in content creation so that your content will reach their networks as well. 
  • Remember that social shares drive search engine optimization as well. Don’t overlook a social network just because you don’t use it (ahem, Google+), because as long as the search engines are indexing it (ahem, Google+), it will remain a key opportunity for optimization.

Blogging can be a huge part of any content marketing strategy, but it also requires a fair amount of effort and resources to do well. Lee’s session at BlogWorld (you can see the whole deck here) was a great reminder that just publishing a blog and waiting for it to work for your business just isn’t enough. Give that hard work and creative energy the chance for success it deserves and start implementing these optimization strategies today!

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10 Steps to Engaging Online Influencers

This post was originally published on the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

Engaging Online Influencers
A recurring theme at this year’s BlogWorld Expo was the importance of identifying and engaging online influencers to talk about your brand and, hopefully, help to build buzz around it. Influencers come in many forms, but bloggers and other active social networkers with large followings in particular, have the potential to put your company in front of a whole new audience. While services like Klout and PeerIndex exist to help make locating influencers easier, most BWE participants stressed that these ratings can only be part of the bigger picture when identifying influencers, and that no single metric will tell the whole story when it comes to finding the right ones for your publicity campaigns.

Once you’ve found a group of influencers to reach out to though, how do you contact and engage them in such a way that they’ll want to talk about your brand or product? Is sending free samples or offering endorsement deals enough in a very crowded market? These are exactly the questions that Arik Hanson and Greg Swan addressed in their BlogWorld session, Blogs, Bribes, and Blasphemy: Engaging Influencers in a Changing World.

The takeaway: simply broadcasting your message through a megaphone and hoping it gets picked up just isn’t enough in today’s marketing environment. You need to cultivate and engage influencers in meaningful and impactful ways.

So where do you start? In their excellent session, Arik and Greg outlined ten steps to a successful influencer engagement strategy:

  1. Personalize/individualize
  2. Be brief, very brief
  3. Don’t solely focus on the “A-listers”
  4. Don’t forget about offline activities
  5. Make your ask compelling
  6. Lead with them, not you
  7. Collaborate, don’t preach
  8. Always have a follow-up ask
  9. Disclose paid relationships
  10. Measure, evaluate, adjust

You can see the entire slide deck and commentary over on Arik’s blog, which has more details and clarifications on each point. Influencer outreach programs are a necessity in today’s marketing world, but like anything else there are right ways and wrong ways to approach it. Putting some time into thinking about how best to engage influencers is a worthy investment towards a successful outreach strategy.

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9 Ways to Delight Your Facebook Fans Without Giving Away The Farm

This post was originally published on the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

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When it comes to social media marketing, and Facebook in particular, the name of the game is engagement. Conventional wisdom says that the best way to keep your Facebook fans engaged is to reward them, the most obvious way being with free products, discounts and other types of giveaways. For many small businesses or businesses with limited resources, though, doing this on a regular basis is unrealistic. So, instead of thinking of this as a barrier, think of it as a creative challenge. Here are nine other ways the creative marketer can engage and delight their fans and customers without spending a dime.

1. Ask Questions

One of the primary reasons your customers become fans on Facebook is to have a channel to interact with your brand. Make it easy by asking them questions and giving them a reason and an opportunity to start a dialogue. Asking questions on Facebook can be a great way to gather valuable customer feedback about your company, but can just as easily be used to have a little fun. Think about the kinds of things that will get your customers talking and start the conversation!

2. Provide Exclusive News

People love to feel in the know or ahead of the curve. Have a new product coming out or an upcoming sale that hasn’t been announced yet? Reward your Facebook fans by sharing the news with them a few days early.

3. Lift The Curtain 

In the same vein, giving your fans a behind the scenes look at your business can be a great way to start conversations and make them feel special. Day to day activities that we take for granted might actually be fascinating to many of your customers. It doesn’t have to be directly related to your business, though. Do you or any of your employees have interesting hobbies or community service projects? These kinds of stories make for great Facebook content.

4. Let The Games Begin 

What’s more delightful than playing games? There’s a reason social games like Farmville and Mafia Wars have taken over your Facebook newsfeed, and there’s no reason you can’t get in on the fun. Try asking your fans trivia questions or challenging them to take pictures of themselves and their friends using your products or visiting your locations. Facebook doesn’t allow contests that aren’t run through 3rd-party applications, but there aren’t rules against playing games for fun.

5. Rally Around A Cause 

If your company already contributes to a charity with any sort of regularity, why not get your fans involved? Cause marketing is an extremely powerful way to engage your fans, make a difference, and give your brand a bit of personality while you’re at it. Try tying your donation to fan activity by pledging incremental donations when your fans like your status. Don’t know what cause to support? Take a cue from idea #1 and ask your fans for their input.

6. Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Simply recognizing your fans is a great way to bring smiles to their faces. In fact, recognizing a winning fan can be a great “prize” for the games in idea #4. Consider selecting a fan every week to feature on your wall and thank them for their support. A little goodwill goes a long way.

7. Be Responsive

Another form of fan recognition that is often overlooked is to respond when they leave a comment on your wall. While it may be obvious to respond to a direct question, responding to other comments might not be so intuitive. If a fan leaves a compliment on your wall or responds to one of your status updates, take the time to acknowledge it. There’s no better way to show your customers that you’re listening.

8. Take It Offline 

Does your business have a physical location? Would what you do be interesting to your fans? Behind the scenes tours are a great way to reward them. Perfect for everything from restaurants to artists workshops to manufacturing facilities, selecting a fan on a regular basis for an exclusive behind the scenes tour is an awesome way to get them to interact with your page. As an added bonus, your fans will be inclined to share this experience with their networks and you may even earn some new customers in the process!

9. Don’t Give Away The Farm, Give Away A Dozen Eggs Instead

Okay, so technically this costs money, but the point is it doesn’t have to be a lot. What little rewards might you have that fans will appreciate nonetheless? T-shirts, USB drives, a small discount off their next purchase…little rewards have the ability to delight your customers as well. Small rewards also give you the opportunity to do more promotions on a recurring basis. While one large sweepstakes may create some buzz and make one winning fan really happy, a lot of small ones make it so the fun doesn’t have to end.

 

Rise To The Top With Facebook EdgeRank

This post was originally published on the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

Facebook can be a great place to market your small business; many of you have set up fan pages and are actively building a Facebook audience. One thing you may not realize, though, is that not all of the messages you share on Facebook are being seen by your fans. In fact, many of the posts you share on your Facebook page will only be seen by a handful of people, regardless of how many fans you have. If you want to know why this is and what you can do to optimize your posts for maximum reach, you’ve come to the right place.

For the personal profiles of your fans, the default setting on their newsfeed is set to display what Facebook considers “Top News.” Users have to manually select “Most Recent” to see all posts from their friends and pages that they are a fan of. Unfortunately, most don’t. To determine what posts end up as top news, Facebook uses a proprietary formula named EdgeRank. While the exact science behind calculating EdgeRank is a secret Facebook won’t be sharing any time soon, we do have a decent idea of the kinds of things that make an impact and what you can do to affect them.

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Affinity: Affinity refers to the strength of the Facebook relationship between users. The more a fan interacts with your page by liking or commenting on your content, the higher the affinity will be between them and your page and the higher the chance that your posts will continue to appear in their newsfeed.

What You Can Do: Encourage conversations with fans on your page and start a dialogue. If a customer leaves a compliment on your page, don’t just let it end there. Thank them and start a follow-up conversation. The more interaction you have with individual fans, the more prominent your posts will be in their newsfeeds.

Popularity: As more people engage with any given piece of content, the more popular it becomes in Facebook’s eyes. So, as a post receives more likes and comments, it has a greater chance of showing up in the newsfeeds of other fans.

What You Can Do: Figure out what kinds of posts get the most reaction from your audience and be smart about what you post. Use Facebook Insights to see which of your posts saw the most activity over a certain time period. Was it the article you linked to about new regulations in your industry or was it a post on a project you’ve been working on recently? Use your findings to shape your Facebook posting strategy.

Type of Interaction: Feeding into how Facebook determines post popularity is the value that they assign to different kinds of interactions. Since typing actual thoughts on a post in the form of a comment takes more effort on the part of your reader than pushing a like button, posts with more comments are going to take precedence over those with simply a lot of likes.

What You Can Do: Try to share things on Facebook that encourage conversation or require some sort of answer to interact with. Rather than just using Facebook as a broadcast medium, ask your fans questions and get them talking.

Weight: Some kinds of shared content are weighted more heavily in EdgeRank and therefore are likelier to make it into top news. Again, we can’t be 100% sure what content types are best, but a reasonable assumption is that Facebook rates videos, photos, and links higher than plain text status updates.

What You Can Do: Use photos, videos, and links as often as possible when posting to your page. Even if the main objective of your post is something else, say a question you’d like answered about what features your fans would like to see in an upcoming product release, try anchoring it with a relevant image that will catch your readers eye. Posts of these types also encourage more interaction, so it’s a win-win when it comes to lifting EdgeRank.

Timeliness: The last piece of the EdgeRank puzzle is also the most intuitive. The older a post is, the less likely it will appear in the newsfeeds of your fans. If a post is getting a ton of engagement and therefore satisfying the other EdgeRank criteria, it has a chance of sticking around. But, for the most part its safe to assume that yesterday’s news is, well, yesterday’s news.

What You Can Do: Be strategic about when you post to Facebook to maximize when your audience is most likely to see your updates. There are studies out there that purport to have found the best time of day to post on Facebook, but the fact of the matter is it’s different for every business. Post updates at varying times over a month or two and see which ones get the most reaction. This will let you know when your fans are most active.

Like any other marketing channel, there is no silver bullet or one size fits all approach to Facebook. That said, by testing different things, you can begin to put the puzzle together and get the most out of your efforts. I’d love to hear about the successes (and yes, even failures – we’ve all experienced them) you’ve had with Facebook.

 

What the Heck is Google+ and What Does it Mean For My Business?

This post was originally published on the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

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Another social network?!

Yes, another social network, but one that you should definitely pay attention to. Although dominant in the search market, Google has tried for years to break into social with little luck and some large failures. Google+ seems to be a product of the lessons they’ve learned along the way. After a week of exploring Google+ and its features, I am impressed by how well thought-out it appears to be. Sure, there are a few off things here and there, and my homepage can sometimes feel like a ghost town since only a handful of folks are on it so far, but I see a ton of potential, particularly for businesses.

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So, how’s it different than Facebook?

At first glance, Google+ actually looks a lot like Facebook, probably a good thing when it comes to user adoption. The home page doesn’t drift far from the look and feel of the Facebook wall and status updates and the commenting function works essentially the same way as well. Hey, Facebook has honed its user experience for years…no need to re-invent the wheel, right? The key benefits to Google+, though, lie in the features that aren’t available (or weren’t until just last week) on Facebook in any form. There are five in particular which really stand out to me:
  • Circles: Circles give you the ability to sort all of your contacts into separate groups based on the nature of your relationship. You can then select which circles you want to be included whenever you share something on Google+. For example, you could have a circle for your family members where you share pictures of your kids and other family news, while keeping a different circle for your friends and even another circle for just acquaintances. By sorting your contacts in this fashion, the information you share can be much more targeted, and in turn, more relevant to the people you’re sharing with.
  • Hangouts: Hangouts are group video chats. By making yourself available to “hangout” you can start a video chat with up to ten of your contacts who are also online at that time. Hangouts recognizes who is talking and the main video feed will focus on that person, making it a lot like a real conversation. You can also share things during a hangout (say an article or a youtube video) which everyone can view together. Now that’s cool!
  • Sparks: Sparks is a feature that recommends content for you based on your interests, online activity, and preferences…sort of like your very own custom content curator. Given Google’s expertise in data mining, I expect this feature to become really robust over time. Another nice thing about Sparks is the ability to share things you find to the circles of your choice without ever leaving Google+.
  • Huddle: Huddle is a group chat function that can be used online or across Android, iPhone, or SMS. Yes, Facebook just announced the rollout of group chat too, but the integration of mobile and a more professional environment (see next bullet) give Google+ the edge here.
  • Aura of professionalism: Okay, so not technically a feature, but I think the professional vibe put forward on Google+ so far (or at the very least, the ability to easily separate friends from professional contacts using circles) is a huge benefit for the network. Google+ seems to take the powerful functionality of Facebook and marry it with the professional environment and discussion topic types of LinkedIn. On top of all that, Google+ functions a bit like Twitter too, in that you can follow someone’s updates regardless of whether they are following you or not. This is a huge plus when it comes to finding good content. For these reasons, Google+ has a lot of implications when it comes to business applications.

Okay, then what does Google+ mean for my business?

For the time being, Google has asked that businesses refrain from creating a profile on Google+. The company says that they have plans for businesses to be able to get the most out of the network, but that it’s just not ready for that functionality yet. If you’re interested in being one of the first businesses on Google+ permitted to create a profile, you can sign up with Google to be notified as soon as profiles are availableUpdate: Google is no longer accepting applications for beta company profiles of Google+. Look for news on company profiles opening up to everyone later this year.

That said, there are several ways right out of the gate that Google+ is good for business:

  • Productivity: Between Hangouts, group chats, and the ability to create work specific circles, Google+ is poised to be a powerful internal communication tool at your company. Imagine being able to push certain information or topics towards one or a few departments without bogging down peripheral employees’ news feeds. With circles, this will be a snap. Have offices spread across several locations but need to arrange a quick face-to-face meeting without springing for a pricey web conference solution? Hangouts has you covered. And for those companies already using Google apps at some level, the inevitable integration with Google+ will be a serious game changer.
  • Professional Networking: While Google+ probably won’t replace LinkedIn when it comes to things like showcasing your experience and professional recommendations, it will be a threat to areas like industry specific content sharing and discussion groups. Additionally, Google+ enables users to allow other people to contact them via email, regardless of whether they are in each other’s circles or not. While not everyone will leave this feature on, for those that do it will open a great avenue for new business contacts.
  • Competitive Research: For the same reasons that Google+ is a powerful professional networking tool, it can also be useful when it comes to keeping an eye on and interacting with your competition. Google+ allows you to follow anyone with a Google+ profile regardless of whether the connection is reciprocated. Of course, users can specify whether or not specific content is shared with public circles, but for content that is public, Google+ can be a great way to stay up-to-date on news and announcements in your competitive space.
  • Personal Branding: Because Google+ profiles are publicly searchable and viewable – don’t worry, you control what is and isn’t shared – the network represents a great opportunity for users to brand themselves by maintaining a complete profile and sharing content that speaks to their areas of expertise. By specifying which circles see what, you can tailor this messaging even further. Remember, though, personal profiles are a reflection of the company as a whole, so be sure that employees who share their affiliations with you are representing the company in an appropriate way.

Any last thoughts?

While still in its infancy and admittedly kind of limited to tech geeks like me and our ilk at this point, I see a ton of potential for Google+ moving forward. By making the effort to truly field test the technology before rolling it out to the masses, I think Google will avoid many of the problems they’ve had with social in the past. Google is building a powerful social network on top of an infrastructure (search, email, documents, advertising, etc.) that already has mass adoption. Leveraging this fact is going to be the difference here and what makes Google+ the first legitimate contender to Facebook’s social dominance.

 

Facebook Deals: Kind of a Big Deal

This post was originally published on the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

Screen shot 2011-05-09 at 9.45.25 AMReleased to five pilot cities at the end of last month, Facebook Deals is the social network’s latest tool for businesses of all sizes to tap into the marketing potential of a community of over 500 million users. Similar to daily deal services like Groupon and Living Social, Facebook Deals offers users access to limited-time only offers from both local and national businesses. The major difference, though, is that Deals takes advantage of the social nature of Facebook, making it really easy for users to share deals with friends and for businesses to promote themselves across the site.

Because of this, Facebook is primarily focused on deals that involve products and services that friends can experience together. Take a look at the deals currently being offered in San Francisco to get an idea of what I mean:

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Like any new marketing tool available to businesses, we’ll have to wait and see how this one develops, but I have a hunch that Facebook Deals may just be the silver bullet everyone in the daily deals space has been looking for. Here’s where I think the differences will be:

Social, Social, Social

Sure, other daily deals enable users to share offers with friends, but none of the purchasing and recommending is happening in the same place, which adds the additional layer of someone having to take yet another step to spread the word. Facebook Deals automates this process, posting any deal a user purchases in the news feeds of their friends, just as if it were a status update. Friends can then comment on and “Like” these posts, encouraging a level of engagement unmatched by other services’ share features.

Hit Your Target Every Time

There is no other advertising network out there that can provide businesses as much data about customer demographics as Facebook can. Most daily deal services can give you an email address and a zip code; Facebook can provide anything from age and location to favorite movies and education level. As Deals expands, businesses will also be able to target customers who have bought certain kinds of offers in the past. Not only is this level of demographic information great for targeting your initial audience, but it will also be available to you about everyone who purchases your offer and can help you craft future marketing messages to them.

Mobilize Your Customers

More than half of Facebook users access the network on mobile devices. Included in this are millions of people that use Facebook to check-in at various business locations. As Deals develops, businesses will be able to leverage this mobile use with offers right at the point of purchase.

Virtual Currency = Real Revenue

Up until now, Facebook Credits could only be used for virtual goods in games like Farmville and Mafia Wars. Deals changes all that. Initially, Deals will only allow people to use Facebook Credits for activity vouchers, services, or other non-physical goods, but I suspect this will change soon as the currency system becomes more widely accepted. Either way, the ability to use Credits for purchases on the site is an important difference from other daily deal services. For one, it makes for a great and easy gift. Secondly, it opens up your offers to a whole new demographic of customers with money to burn: kids. Many members of the coveted tween and teen demographics don’t have their own spending money, but parents can load up their Facebook Credits accounts as kind of a virtual allowance. Reach this audience with your offer and watch it go viral!

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Facebook Deals isn’t available everywhere yet, but expect to see the service expand across the nation rapidly. If you’re interested in trying out a Deals promotion for your business, check out Facebook’s Deals Guides for Businesses here.

And remember, running a promotion like this is the perfect time to integrate email marketing best practices too. Make sure to promote your deal to your existing mailing list as well as make it easy for new customers purchasing your deal to sign-up for your newsletters on your Facebook page.