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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:

pinterest repin

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:

Fb_bonobos
  • 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.

Screen shot 2011-12-06 at 4.30.48 PM

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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