All the reasons you MUST update your WordPress Plugins

11 Feb

I always have a *facepalm* moment when I log in to a client site to get to work, only to find 10+ plugins with updates. If this is you, don’t feel bad, it’s also about 80% of my new clients so you’re not alone.

It happens so often that I have a pre-written paragraph that I send to them explaining why keeping things up to date is so important and how to do it. I also mention my monthly and quarterly maintenance packages in case they’d like someone to do it for them.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I honestly can’t blame my clients or anyone else.

It took a long time before I ran across an article explaining how important updates were. On top of not fully understanding, they used to scare the heck out of me. What if the update broke my website?! I’d heard of it happening to others and I wasn’t sure what I’d do to fix it if my website did go down. Would I lose everything?

Yes, plugin updates can occasionally cause problems, but the 2 minutes it takes to login via FTP and remove the broken plugin is much better than the possible alternative.

why it’s so important to update your wordpress plugins

Think of it like this. Most of the time, plugin creators aren’t making updates for the fun of it. It’s not like they’re sitting around their apartment bored and think “Oh, I’m going to go push out a random update!”

Yes, sometimes they add new features or make a few simple tweaks, but a good portion of the time the updates are due to bugs or security vulnerabilities.

Now, think of yourself as a hacker. Hackers are always looking for security issues to take advantage of. It’s literally what they do. If you were that hacker and saw a big security patch was just pushed out for a plugin, wouldn’t you quickly learn how to exploit that vulnerability and use it to attack websites?

I’m not an awful person so I’ve never done it, but that’s what I’d do! 🙂

In case you’re doing a quick scan and didn’t put those two pieces together, a good portion of plugin updates are done to fix security issues. When security issues are fixed and you don’t update, hackers know exactly where to attack your website.

Other than hackers gaining access to your website due to weak passwords, plugin vulnerabilities are the easiest way for them to get in.

some plugin update examples

I went ahead and looked up some of the more popular WordPress plugins to show you the kinds of reasons they’re pushing out updates. Let’s take a look at a few.

akismet

In October, Akismet pushed out an update that “closed a potential XSS vulnerability”.

What is XSS, you ask? It’s basically a security issue that allows hackers to inject their own code into web pages. Sometimes this is harmless, but other times it’s all it takes to allow someone to take over and possibly destroy your website.

wordfence security

Yep, security plugins have issues too. As a software developer, I can confidently say that no developer is perfect (as much as they want to be) and small bugs are easy to miss.

Like Akismet, an update to Wordfence “Fixed stored XSS vulnerability”.

You already know what XSS means, so I’ll just reiterate, sometimes these issues are nothing, but do you want to take the chance?

disqus comment system

The last quick example I’ll give is the popular commenting system, Disqus. Lately, they’ve released two separate updates with one of the items being “Security fixes”.

That’s all the information in the change log, but if you want to be safe here’s a place where you can assume the worse.

how to update your plugins

I’m sure you get the point I was making above. The amount of damage that can be done through these security vulnerabilities definitely warrants a few seconds of your time to complete an update.

Think about it, you could truly lose everything.

However, it does take a bit more work than clicking the little “Update” links if you really want to keep your website safe.

If you see the little orange numbers in your WordPress Dashboard, you know it’s time for some updates.

Update Your WordPress Plugins

Here’s the quick process I use:

  1. Complete a full site backup using BackupBuddy. (If you’re looking for a free option, try Duplicator)
  2. Complete plugin updates
  3. Make sure everything still works as expected
  4. Tadaaaaaaa

Now, I’ve personally never had a problem on my own website. If you want to be even safer you could follow this slightly longer process:

  1. Complete a full site backup
  2. Complete one plugin update
  3. Ensure everything is still working
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until all plugins are updated
  5. Tadaaaaaaa

That way, if a plugin did break your website you’d know exactly where the problem was.

See? That wasn’t so bad!

Now that you know that making plugin (and WordPress!) updates is worth a few minutes of your time, go do it! Remember, take a complete backup of your site just in case something does go wrong.

3 Tried-and-True Ways to Get Your Small Business Organized This Year

4 Feb
Getting organized involves a lot more than just neatening stacks of papers and dusting off the clutter you have on your desk. Organization involves creating systems and procedures for all different parts of your business; this has the potential to help you become more productive and profitable.

The ideas below include some of the best ways you can become more organized in your small business. Try just one for slow and sustained improvement or make a plan to incorporate a new organizational process each month in your business this year.

Take Control of Papers and Documents

We’ll start with paper since that is the biggest disorganization culprit for most of us. What do you do with documents after you take action on them? How do you store papers for future reference? If you don’t have a filing system and/or a digital archiving system in place, now is the time to build one. Start by taking a look at the papers you have laying around. Make a keep pile and a discard pile, then shred or recycle all of the papers, magazines, newsletters, cards, notes, etc. that made it to the second pile.

Now that you have a better idea about the type of documents you’re working with, it’s time to create — or improve — your office filing system.

If you decide it’s time to start moving toward a paperless office, then you can start by scanning in and digitizing your receipts, using online invoicing and payment services like FreshBooks, moving to a digital signature program like DocuSign, and using the Cloud for data backup and archiving. If you collect business cards at events during the year, it may also be a good idea to invest in a business card scanner so you can digitize contact info immediately and ditch the paper cards.

Use the Right Productivity Tools

We all have our favorite apps and tools we use every day, although some are probably more useful than others. In fact, for every one productivity-enhancing app you use, I bet there is another one that is just not the right fit, but you keep using it because you’ve been using it for so long and you’re used to it. This is why it is so important to — at least once a year — take stock of the apps and tools you are using in your small business and decide if they still meet your needs. This is also a great time to consider if you have some gaps and find the right tools to fill them. Below are some of the top areas where many small business owners find productivity tools useful. These should give you a solid starting point for getting your productivity tools organized this year:

  • Contact management. From keeping track of your customers to remembering people you meet while networking, every small business owner needs a system for managing contact information. You can opt for a comprehensive customer relationship management (CRM) system like Salesforce, or for smaller scale management you can set up your existing Contacts app to work for your business.
  • Meetings and communication. Whether you conduct meetings face-to-face, on the phone or via video chat services, there is a way to make the process more organized. You can use a service like Do to get your meetings more organized — before, during and after.
  • Accounting and bookkeeping. Organize and streamline the way you invoice, take payments, and manage cashflow with tools like Quickbooks Online, Xero and Wave.
  • Travel and expense tracking. You can use apps like Expedia and TripAdvisor to make travel plans easier. Then, once on the road, apps like Expensify help you track expenses and make reporting when you get home a lot more organized.
  • Social media management. We all know how much time can be wasted on social media if you’re not approaching it in a systematic and organized way. This is why tools like Hootsuite and Buffer can be invaluable for small business owners.
  • Email management. If you use Gmail in your small business, you have access to quite a few Google extensions that can quickly get your inbox organized. If you’re using another email app, try SaneBox for automatic filtering, reminders and more.
  • Project management. A good project management app will help you track tasks, share files and collaborate with teammates all in one place and it can be one of the best tools you can use to get your work organized. Try Basecamp or Asana for an all-in-one project management solution.

Productivity is a very personal process and the apps you need will be specific to you the work you do and the way you tend to work. Take time to explore what your needs are before incorporating a new tool in your process. You may not need as many as you think.

 

Get Your Computer Organized

This is a big one for any small business owner who does the bulk of his or her work on the computer. You probably know that it does not take very long for your desktop to become cluttered with icons, your Downloads folder to get so full of strangely named documents that it is impossible to find anything, or your email inbox to get so out of control you start to think it really might explode. Not only is this horrible for your productivity, but it can also slow down your computer’s performance significantly.

Here is a list of things you can do right now to get your computer organized and back into working shape:

  • Clean up your desktop. There are a couple of ways you can go here, and it all depends on your work style and how you use your computer. You can get rid of everything from your desktop except for your trash bin (remember that the app icons on your desktop are just shortcuts — all of your actual apps usually live in your Applications folder). Or you can add a few shortcuts to your most frequently used apps and files. I tend to err toward the first option, going as streamlined as possible, but often using my desktop for easy access to files I am currently working on. Then I move them to their permanent home once I am finished.
  • Set up a digital filing system. Speaking of giving your documents a permanent home, this is where you create a filing system that makes complete sense to you so you can find the documents you need when you need them.
  • Update software. If your computer is set to automatically install the application and operating system updates, great. If it’s a manual process for you, you should check for updates at least bimonthly since many include security patches. Then, once a year, review the current versions of software you are using and make the decision if its time to upgrade.
  • Scan for viruses and performance issues. Regardless of what type of computer you have, all of them can get viruses or malware (yes, even Macs!).  Set up a regular computer maintenance plan to keep everything always running smoothly in your business!
  • Verify the integrity of your data backup. You are backing up your data, right? If not, skip everything else for the time being and do this one first. You can either use a Cloud-based data backup service like Carbonite, Backblaze or CrashPlan or you can use an external hard drive that you plug into your computer (I do both). With either option, configure the service or drive to conduct continuous automatic backups so you don’t have to do anything manually. Then, once or twice a year, go into your backup service or drive and poke around to make sure everything is there and accessible should you need to pull copies to your local computer.
  • Wrangle your inbox. Many small business owners have a love-hate relationship with their email inbox. They love it because it’s a highly productive and efficient communication tool; yet they hate it because it can quickly get out of control causing unnecessary stress. There are things you can do to keep your inbox in line, such as using automation, streamlining what you receive on a daily basis, and limiting how often you check email during your day.

The tips above will help you get your small business more organized immediately, but remember how fast things can get out of control. Pair these activities with a resolution to conduct a quick and easy review of your papers, productivity tools and computer status a few times a month so you can stay organized and prevent things from reaching overwhelming levels of disorganization.

10 Reasons Why Your Small Business Needs Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

28 Jan

When most people hear about standard operating procedures, or SOPs, they often think about a large corporation with hundreds of employees and pages and pages of documented processes. Rarely does one hear the words small business and SOP in the same sentence and we think that is a BIG business mistake!

Regardless of the size of a business, establishing SOPs can make life simpler for everyone involved – the entrepreneur, staff, business partners, and ultimately the customers.

What Is a Standard Operating Procedure – or SOP?

An SOP is essentially a step-by-step guide for handling routine tasks and recurring events in business. Along with the sequence of performing an activity, SOPs also usually include a timeline for completing each step. Some examples of where you might use an SOP in your business include:

  • New Customer/Client Onboarding SOP: Steps you take as a business to add a new customer
  • Customer service SOP: Steps to handle common customer requests and complaints
  • Blog Management SOP: Instructions on how to post on your website, standard components of a post, frequency and time of posting, steps to promote new blog posts via social media etc.

As a small business, following standardized operating procedures can save you time, allow you (and your team) to be more productive, eliminate a lot of errors, and improve compliance with industry guidelines. Here are ten reasons why every small business should have SOP.

10 Reasons Every Small Business Should Be Using Standard Operating Procedures

1. Better Manage Your Team

SOPs are a highly effective tool for managing your team. Here’s how you can use them.

Train New Employees Faster
For new employees, providing SOPs allows them a start point to learn about the business. It helps them understand the frequency of each process, what is entailed in completing, and the responsibilities of each person in the business. This allows them to get up to speed much faster and relieves you, or another team member, from having to spend countless hours training.

Improve Employee Productivity
After the initial training, SOPs act as a guide for staff to ensure that they perform tasks correctly and within specified timeframes. The more they follow the SOP, the more confident employees become in their skills. Improved employee productivity means you save on work hours, and at the same time reduce chances of errors in performance.

Prepares the Business for Delegating/Outsourcing
Once you are confident that a standard operating procedure is working well, you can delegate the work to a newer recruit, or outsource to a virtual assistant. This frees you up to work on higher level tasks to build the business.

Useful in Writing Job Descriptions
It can be difficult to evaluate the contribution of employees in a small business. SOPs form the basis for listing critical business processes as well as daily tasks and assigning responsibilities for each.  Therefore, they become the baseline document for drafting job descriptions of each member of your team.

2. Maintain and Improve Quality

Ensure Product Quality
How do you deliver the same product quality consistently? One way is to have quality checks at different phrases in your process. The other is to ensure that everyone understands the specifications of the final product. Manufacturers, as well as service organizations, can use standard operating procedures to communicate effectively with their staff on how they want things done to meet desired product quality standards.

Create a Benchmark of Service
While your customers may never catch a glimpse of your internal SOPs, they will certainly know how professionally you run the business. Having ‘Service’ SOPs ensures that each member of your team has a clear understanding of the expected outcome of service interactions. This could include the way a customer is spoken to on the phone, the resolution to a customer problem, or the time it takes to complete a customer order.

Ensure Business Continuity
To ensure continuity of business, it’s essential to identify a backup staff for each task. In the absence of the key staff member, someone else can refer to the SOP, quickly get up to speed and ensure that the work is completed correctly.

Identify Areas for Improvement
Over time, SOPs becomes a source for identifying opportunities for improving your internal processes, which could save additional time and money and further improve customer experience. Ideally, you should review critical SOPs at least once every three or four months to assess if you need to make changes.

3. Reduce Business Risk

Improve Compliance
If you are in a business that is highly regulated (e.g., food business, medical billing, financial advisory), you need to ensure that you continually follow the laws and regulations at every step. Documenting these requirements in your SOP serves as an important reminder for both you and your staff on steps crucial for compliance.

Reduce Risk of Accidents
Compared to many businesses, restaurants and bakeries, and manufacturers are relatively more accident-prone places of work. As the employer, it is your responsibility to ensure a safe working environment and SOPs can help you achieve that. As an example, at a restaurant, you can create SOPs for cleaning the work area, handling and maintaining dangerous kitchen equipment, and expected handling of any accidents.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the notion of creating a massive SOP manual for every single process in your business, start small. We suggest you start by noting down the steps you take the next time you perform a work task. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate form or follow any special formatting – it’s just a recording of each of the steps that need to take place to complete the process successfully.

Alternatively, you could make a video-based SOP for sharing information with your employees or contractors on the tasks that you handle and want to delegate to others. From the video, they can take over the process and write out the steps as well, so you have an official written SOP and the video.

At Sala Social Marketing, we are BIG believers in the power of standard operating procedures for every business. Don’t get intimidated by the process, though. Just pick one task (heck – it could be how you order supplies!) and get started. You’ll be glad you did!

The Best Tools For Planning Your Social Media Marketing Strategy

21 Jan

There are numerous great social media scheduling tools out there – depending on what your needs are, you’re sure to find the right options easily with enough research. However, when you also account for planning and all that entails – collaborating with numerous people (including clients), coming up with ideas and getting them approved, creating workflows – things start to get a bit more difficult.

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about some of the best tools for planning your social media strategy.

A good workflow will help you come up with better ideas for your social media campaigns (good collaboration often brings out the best ideas) and to make sure that everyone on the team (whether it’s your manager, a client, or simply your other team members) is on board with the proposed social media calendar/strategy.

Here are some of the best tools to help you create powerful workflows and better plan your social media marketing:

ContentCal

ContentCal is built specifically to aid in the planning and approval stages, as well as help you put together your entire social media calendar in one place (plus, it’s a social media scheduling tool too).

There are a few reasons why I had to put it first in the list: it’s super easy to use and set up (which is very important as you don’t want to lose time trying to understand how it works, especially when you’re collaborating with others who might not be as tech-savvy) and because it’s very versatile.

To start with, you can add your entire team, your managers, clients (and anyone else) to the tool; then, assign specific roles to each person so it’s very clear who does what and what limitations they have. Not only, that, but you can also create approval workflows; for example, someone creates the content, another person reviews the content and makes any suggestions, while the manager or client can approve the content to be scheduled and/or published. Without the express approval of the manager/client, the content can’t be published via the platform; this way, if there are any mistakes, you know you’re covered as the right person had to approve an update before publishing it.

You can also add multiple social media accounts to your ContentCal and separate them in different calendars; otherwise, if you’re managing several social networks for one account, you can view them all in the same calendar, add media to each update and easily categorize with the update type.

As I mentioned earlier, you can also plan your content here; simply use the pinboard to “pin” any update ideas and once finalised and approved, drag and drop them in the calendar on the days/times you want. Then, they can be scheduled to be published.

You also have access to social media analytics to track content performance (as well track follower growth, best posting times, etc.); this then comes in useful to identify top performing updates to be republished – it takes a click to repost your content.

And finally, you can also respond to comments and messages, as well as monitor your social media activity all within the same tool.

CoSchedule

If, on the other hand, you want a solution for all your marketing campaigns, CoSchedule is a great option. It’s not as easy or straightforward to use, but if you invest the time to learn all the different features and how to make the most of them, it’s definitely worth the effort.

The idea behind CoSchedule is to help you create a planning calendar for all of your marketing projects, whether it’s social media, email marketing, or any other marketing campaigns.

In terms of workflows, you can easily create workflow templates for your campaigns where you outline each step.

Then, in the Workboard, you can plan and create your calendar before actually scheduling anything.

Outline each phase of the project clearly and then start proposing ideas; once done, you can drag and drop the best ideas in the calendar to be scheduled and/or published.

In terms of the social media calendar, you can schedule your updates in bulk easily, as well as share any great content you find online, without leaving your browser.

If you’re the manager/editor, you’ll be able to track all progress and actions made by your team, including any scheduled messages so you can review them and pull them if necessary.

Other useful features include Best Time Scheduling (leave the tool to schedule your updates for the best possible times, based on analytics) and ReQueue which uses artificial intelligence to fill any gaps in your schedule with your top performing social media updates. This way, you’re automatically republishing your best content with basically no effort on your part, which is especially useful when you don’t have any new content to publish or you don’t have the time to create and/or schedule any new social media updates.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite needs little introduction, as its one of the first and most popular social media management tools around. And, it’s also a pretty great option for teams, but you will need to get certain plans to get these features – the business plan allows for 5-10 team members to be added.

Once you add users to your Hootsuite account, you can then set their permissions; unless you want them to have complete access to all your networks, you can create custom permissions for each one so that they can only access certain profiles and networks, and so that they can only take certain actions.

In terms of planning and collaborating, you can use the Drafts space to have everyone suggest their content ideas and upload different assets before they’re approved for publishing.

Plus, you can assign social media tasks, put together your social media calendar, and schedule your updates – not to mention, of course, all the other social media management features as well (like seeing all of your comments and mentions in one place and responding to them, social media monitoring, analytics, and so on).

All of the team features are included in 3 different plans: team, business, and enterprise.

Sprout Social

Sprout Social is another top social media management tool, with several handy team collaboration features. So you get all of the regular social media management features only it’s all built with teams in mind (you will need to get the Corporate or Enterprise plans though to get the full set of team management features).

In terms of planning your social media strategy with Sprout Social, you first have a shared publishing calendar where you can start planning your content; you can be very clear about who gets to approve an update so that other team members can’t just publish or schedule something without it being checked first – once someone writes a draft, they can quickly submit it for approval and even choose which approver they will notify about it.

You also have the option to save your content ideas as drafts so that you can discuss and perfect them with other team members.

Apart from planning your social media, there are a few other useful team collaboration features. For example, you can easily collaborate with your team when managing your social inbox (tag messages, assign them and include a note, and see in real time who is viewing or replying to a message) and you can check your team performance and see how much time they spent on tasks, what their completion ratio is like, and so on (which can help you improve your team’s productivity and find any time management issues that can be easily solved).

Conclusion

Social media collaboration can be prove to be very problematic when you’re relying on numerous tools: one – or several, in fact – for the actual collaboration (discussing ideas, approving them, and so on), one for scheduling and publishing your updates, and one for getting approvals.

Whether you’re an agency, a brand, or even a small business, use a social media planning tool built for collaboration to help you make sure you’re publishing the right updates, to avoid mistakes, and to come up with better ideas. Plus, not to mention, it will save you hours every week for all your planning and scheduling.

5 Major Social Media Marketing Mistakes And How To Overcome Them

14 Jan

Most modern businesses understand the importance of using social media to promote their brand and interact with consumers. Indeed, social media is at the core of many companies’ digital strategy, often delivering measurable results in terms of sales, leads and customer service. That said, there are many social media mistakes that we see time and time again: strategic errors that leave leads on the table and opportunities unexplored.

In this blog post, I will focus on just five of them and highlight why they are dangerous from a marketing perspective. If you’re already using social media for your business, great; but how many of these mistakes are you making? And how much better could your social media marketing really be?

 You’re not listening to your audience

Your audience is speaking; but are you listening? Sure, you might see notifications appear on your dashboard but they represent a fraction of the social dialogue centered on your business, industry, service, products or competitors.

According to Brandwatch, 96% of people who discuss brands online do not actually follow those brands on social media.  As such, business owners have to look beyond their own feeds to keep tabs on that chatter and obtain insights to influence overall strategy.

Utilizing social media listening tools is like turning up the volume on the conversations which represent opportunities for your business. Not only that, but they offer a unique means of researching a market, highlighting consumer demographics, gauging possible interest in new products and lines, reinforcing brand values, tracking the health of your company (and your rivals) and enhancing customer satisfaction.

By utilising a social listening tool, you can start interacting with leads in real time, or at any rate use the insights gained from monitoring chatter to improve your processes. They’re simple to use, too: mostly it’s a case of entering your relevant keywords and setting up alerts. The best of these tools (AwarioMentionKeyhole) have powerful algorithms at their core and can yield valuable, data-driven results in no time.

You don’t have a clear objective

You’d be stunned at how many businesses concede to having no clearly defined goal. For those who manage to turn a profit anyway, it doesn’t seem like a pressing issue; but what if your business is stuttering? Wouldn’t it make sense to set meaningful objectives – to note exactly what you want to achieve in the months and year ahead?

This applies to business in general, but also to your social media strategy. It’s no good simply posting a selection of random updates each day, hoping to attract a steady stream of likes, shares, new followers and sales. Broadening organic reach is more challenging than ever, as the likes of Facebook have become pay-to-play platforms. As such, stimulating interest and growing your audience requires investment in advertising.

With social media advertising, you can forensically track engagements, and as such it is crucial to set clear goals. How will you define the success or failure of a campaign? How much are you willing to spend to win a customer? And remember, it is essential to connect your social media output to wider business aims (and ROI) from the get-go: if you don’t, social media can become a siloed platform, a form of brand waving with no real connection to the company as a whole.

You’re not optimizing for each social network

At this point, you’re probably utilizing a range of social media platforms – and largely that’s a good move, even if some succeed more than others. However, a common mistake business owners make is to simply replicate updates and re-share them on different platforms. Not only is this somewhat lazy, but it overlooks one key point: audiences on different social networks are not homogenous; they are unique, and the content they expect is unique too.

When using multiple social platforms for marketing the same brand, you need to think outside the box but also reflect the desires of users on those particular channels. In some cases, improving ROI may even necessitate the closing of social accounts which are not performing or are not aligned with your business objectives. Decreasing your post output may also yield better results.

Utilizing the correct platforms by scheduling engaging, custom-tailored content is the way forward. Focus on creating valuable posts that have been shown to work well on the platform in question, and pay attention to the direction of the networks too. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg remarked a few years ago that the service would consist mostly of video “within five years.” Twitter, meanwhile, works best with newsworthy items and company updates.

You’re stretching yourself too thin

The pitfall of being active on social media is that you’re, well, too active. So committed are you to driving brand awareness and gaining top marks for engagement, you wind up stretching yourself thin without really hitting the mark on any one medium.

As with any area of focus, you have to pay attention to which social channel is working and invest your time (and budget) accordingly. Using analytics to better appreciate which networks are paying dividends, and which are stagnating, is paramount.

This doesn’t have to be a burdensome process, incidentally: you can leverage intuitive social media management tools to save time handling your accounts, streamline your workflows and ensure your content reaches your target market at the most advantageous time. Importantly, they’ll help you drive meaningful engagement and yield tangible results, thereby ensuring you don’t spread yourself thin.

You’re not offering real value

One oft-cited mistake that remains worryingly common is this: you are too busy pushing your brand without providing value. While you may believe it’s smart to use social media exclusively to build awareness, users gravitate to these platforms to engage and interact – not to buy.

Social advertising has many merits, but you absolutely must mix it up by sharing other relevant, topical or shareworthy content to ensure you’re providing value. Create content – infographics, blog posts, videos – that answers a question or delivers a message that resonates with your audience. Content that humors, enlightens and gives pause.

Content that evokes emotion, a reaction at gut level, tends to play better than direct sales messages. And is it any wonder? Try to remember the last time a sales message on social media had you heading to an online store. Now think of the last time a status update or tweet put a smile on your face or made you mad!

Social is a two-way medium, so establish value by employing role reversal and asking your clients questions. Starting and then stoking conversations will undoubtedly improve your brand image and increase the likelihood of conversions.

Conclusion

Avoiding these all too common social media snags is necessary if you want to increase your reach and influence ROI. While you heed the mistakes, you’re sure to capitalize on opportunities passed up by your oblivious competitors.

Should Facebook still be part of your social media marketing in 2019?

7 Jan

Many small businesses are trying to decide on their social media marketing in 2019. Marketing for most small businesses is often not a priority, but it should be. How else will people learn about your product or services? Word of mouth? Well that might have worked 15 or 20 years ago, but does not work now. Today’s audience does not “talk” to each other; they text, chat, and wave to each other online.

Small businesses can compete in the social media realm so long as they have a strategy.

For the first time in social media history, Facebook is in the number three spot for social networks, just behind YouTube and Google. Facebook still has 1.47 billion people logging in daily with more than 70% in the United States. Therefore, Facebook is still a safe and lucrative place to put your marketing dollars.

So, where do you start with your marketing strategy? My suggestion is Facebook, YouTube and Direct Mail Marketing. Otherwise known as cross channel marketing.

THE REAL DEAL ON SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING IN 2019

Facebook

Facebook is still a great place for your brand to get discovered. More people go to Facebook first for research and recommendations than any other social media outlet. Paid ads are a great way to get discovered, if you know your target demographics and use the audience selection features to ensure you are reaching your potential customers. It’s also cost effective with a great ROI.

YouTube

YouTube recently surpassed Facebook as the number one social network. Creating video content is a critical part of your marketing strategy. Not just video, but mobile-optimized video is crucial for brand awareness. There is nothing more frustrating to our mobile hungry younger generation than a video that doesn’t load or is not clear in the size screen they want to view it on. Slow-loading video is a quick way to lose potential customers.

Marketing is an ever-changing beast. Your market reach is no longer determined by zip codes. Social media is your marketing stage. Consider the numbers — two out of three shoppers online have purchased something from a business in another country. Does this mean we abandon the local SEO? Of course not, it actually means you have to work harder to get found because it’s not just what’s local. It’s more about convenience. Many of these studies have noted that people are willing to pay more if getting the product or using the service makes life easier for them.

So, how to appeal to the local market? Consider direct mail campaigns. This cross-channel marketing method helps you connect with your local customer in a familiar but new way.

10 Social Media Trends to Watch in 2019

31 Dec

As social media platforms have evolved into full-blown communication channels, more brands are relying on these platforms to reach their target audiences.

Consumer attention is scattered across various social platforms, not to mention apps and other online diversions. Brands that hope to capture consumers’ attention and dollars need to keep in touch with how their audiences utilize these platforms. The bottom line is that, as trends evolve on social media, so must the corresponding marketing.

With the start of a new year, it’s time to look into the crystal ball of emerging trends on social media. What is going to influence social media users? What does this mean for brand marketing? And what do we need to be aware of to stay current and relevant in 2019?

Here are the top 10 social media trends to keep an eye on in the new year.

1. Rebuilding trust in social media platforms.

Social media platforms continue to grow annually — in fact, Facebook has more than 2 billion active users each month. However, the picture isn’t entirely rosy. Consumer confidence in social media is on shaky ground.

Users are growing increasingly leery of the information they find on social media. And marketers may be contributing to the situation when they fail to properly label paid advertising posts or they bombard a platform with targeted ads that overwhelm users. All of this can leave users feeling distrustful of both the brand and the platform.

Younger generations have little tolerance for marketing that comes off as disingenuous. Brands will need to look for ways to build consumer trust. That means focusing on ways to authentically connect with audiences, and ways to highlight their humanity. Brands need to connect with their audiences on a meaningful level. No one likes being constantly swamped with ads. Even worse is when you’re being marketed to and don’t even realize it.

2. Social media is about storytelling.

Social media’s popularity is rooted in the fact that it allows us to share our life experiences with friends and families. We get to tell our stories through our posts, and we get to see a snapshot of everyone else’s lives through our news feeds. At first, that was through written posts and photos, but video content is increasingly popular.

Social media is adapting, embracing new ways to allow people to tell their stories and share their narrative with the world. Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook are embracing this trend, and it’s changing the way we consume social media content.

This opens the door for brands to share more human stories of their own, which will inspire audiences to try out their product. Storytelling feels real, immediate and personal, but it also demands a mix of more time-intensive video, images and graphics, and requires brands to be more creative and thoughtful in the intent.

3. Build a brand narrative.

Along with honing their human stories, businesses are going to need to build a strategic narrative behind their brand. Narratives capture moments and experiences shared between a user and a product; they’re the conversations that are occurring, and they’re often about trying to create a broader, more positive change.

These narratives can be distributed through social media and digital media, and they reflect what a brand’s community is saying about them. If a brand can build a larger story, it will have a better chance of success.

Brand narratives need to be compelling and lead audiences to an action. Evaluate your brand story, and ensure it is inspiring and stands out against the messiness of other social media content.

4. Quality and creativity over quantity.

Marketers often have a knee-jerk reaction to trends by flooding platforms with mediocre and uninspired content in hopes of riding the trend wave. Would-be customers react by tuning out and quickly dismissing subpar messaging. The threshold for gaining customer attention and trust has grown exponentially. Marketers who hope to gain consumer consideration must be willing to go the extra mile in creating engaging content.

The bottom line is, to have an impact, brands must be purposeful and creative. Less content, if it’s created thoughtfully and is well-positioned, will have greater impact than an abundance of content that is uninspired, heavy-handed or seen as shallow or dull.

5. Put a human face to your brand.

Personal branding is a must on social media. Putting a real, human face to a brand is key in building trust and loyalty, especially for small, relatively unknown businesses. Personal branding gives a business a human element that will naturally connect customers and make the brand seem more relatable. Businesses that learn to foster their human element will have a real advantage over those who hide behind a logo.

One popular trend in humanizing a business is to promote the personal brand of the business owner or a high-level leader. This can be done through guest blogging, podcasts and webinars. Giving the public an up-close view of the company’s leader can strengthen its brand reputation.

6. Influencers continue to grow their communities.

Influencer marketing continues to develop and grow on social media platforms. Influencers are social media figures who have gathered a defined community around themselves. Their large followings (which can range from the thousands to over a million viewers) give them influence over others. They can be incredibly effective as salespeople because we inherently trust the people we follow on social media.

Much like personal branding, when done well influencer marketing gives a human voice to brands. Influencer marketing is less direct than traditional forms of advertising, but it can effectively create authentic ways of connecting with customers.

7. Selfie videos and branding.

The selfie culture continues to flourish on social media, with the popularity of selfie photo evolving into the self-recorded video. These “selfie videos” are drawing high user interest on social media. Like the selfie photo, the selfie video allows users to capture a moment in time, but the video format allows users to communicate in a deeper and more personal way than a photo ever could. Selfie videos tend to be short and feel more immediate than a written post with a photo.

Businesses need to take note: viewers spend hours watching friends’ videos on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Brands would be wise to look for ways to incorporate first-person “selfie video” content as part of their marketing strategy.

Traditional advertising can be off-putting to younger audiences, who are more cautious about their purchases and want a more authentic experience with their brands. The selfie video can help a brand seem more relatable and trustworthy.

8. Segment your social audiences.

While brands talk about their customers and audiences, the reality is that most businesses will have multiple audiences. Segmentation is the process of organizing your audience into manageable groups (or segments) so you can tailor your messaging and communications to the preferences of each group. Social media is most effective when you segment your audiences so you can be relevant to the right groups of people at the right time.

Making assumptions about your audience and lumping them all together could limit your ability to reach more people. So the more you know about your audience and the various groups that make up your audience, the better you can adjust your messaging and narratives to fit each segment.

9. Hyper-targeted personalization.

Customers have come to expect brands to tailor special offers and discounts to their wants and needs. To keep up with expectations, businesses need to step up their game when it comes to targeted advertising. Nearly every social media platform offers some level of audience filtering when you opt to pay for advertising. These options range from simple geographic targeting to advanced filters that refine audiences into highly specific segments.

In the coming year, brands will increasingly turn to hyper-targeted personalization to reach their audiences. This is often achieved through retargeting or remarketing ads. Ever wonder why you’re seeing an ad on your social media site for something you were shopping for earlier? That’s hyper-targeted personalization at work.

Using “cookies” while you browse online, marketers collect data on users, such as online habits, the area they live in and any other pertinent information. But marketers will need to find a balance between being too pushy and being able to offer personalized advertising that will genuinely interest customers.

10. Know your platforms.

Businesses should carefully consider which social media platforms to focus on, as each platform tends to be used by different groups. For example, over 80 percent of Pinterest users are female, and more than 50 percent of users are from the US. So, if a brand is targeting American women, posting on Pinterest could help isolate that group.

Meanwhile, Snapchat users tend to be younger than those who use Facebook. And career-focused professionals spend more of their time on LinkedIn. Brands that use multiple platforms should use these distinguishing characteristics to decide where to post content and on which platforms to focus the majority of their marketing efforts.