Attract + Convert B2B Prospects With a Killer Content Case

- by Alyson Shane

Whether you’re a B2B startup, franchise, consulting agency or full-fledged enterprise business, your online content game is what marks your place as a unique and authentic company, and helps convert those prospects into lifelong customers who believe and trust in your brand.

You can have an eye-catching headline, a lead that sparks interest, and values that people can get behind, but without content that builds a case for why your customers should care about what you have to offer, you won’t be converting nearly as many prospects as you might imagine. Remember: 96% of buyers who visit your site are not initially ready to purchase what you’re selling.

The best content cases are the ones where you’ve anticipated potential rejections and have taken preliminary steps to eliminated them from your conversations. Risk Reduction is the name of the game in an engaging content case.

Advantages of A Strong Content Case

This is where effective content marketing comes in: in order for your content to begin converting your prospects from the first point of contact, your marketing efforts need to be backed by personalized, data-driven content that speaks to their pain points.

In fact, 56% of marketers think that personalized content leads to higher engagement rates, according to an IBM Digital Experience Survey. The right content case and content strategy promotes genuine brand recall, helping your prospects remember your brand when making purchasing decisions.

Mastering how to develop a well-rounded and persuasive content case means that you’ll connect with leads naturally and positively, in a fashion that feels genuine to them. This starts with your web copy, and how readers and prospects interact with it.

Want to create a content case that works for your businesses unique client profile? Use these tips and tricks throughout your content marketing strategy to attract new leads, and convert prospects into sales:


1. Include Relevant Data

When you’re generating any long form content on your website, blog, or perhaps even your social media posts, find relevant data that backs up your assertions and claims. By including information that’s scientifically or mathematically sound, you’re showing readers that you have the answers they need, and that you truly care about the honesty behind your words.

2. Back-Up Your Points with a Respectable Third Party POV

You’re already a professional in your chosen industry, and work hard to share that knowledge honestly across your content. But as you’re developing a content case, sharing a similar recommendation or review from a third-party that your ideal client engages with regularly allows you to demonstrate your position amongst other leaders in your market.

For content marketers like us, we like to link to reliable resources like Marketo's blog, Buffer's blog, and other sources like Social Media Examiner, HubSpot, and Sprout Social to lend some gravitas to a point we're trying to make.

3. Display Social Proof + Testimonials

As you can see from the above points, social proof of your claims makes your content more accessible and valuable in the eyes of your prospects. You know that you’re amazing at what you do, but by tying in testimonials throughout your website and content, you’ll be solidifying your claims with social proof of your amazing-ness.

When asking previous clients or employers for a testimonial, guide them to focus on a certain area of your expertise to keep the testimonial concise and accurate. Other testimonial providers can cover other aspects of your services so that you’re equipped with a well-rounded display of expertise.

4. Keep Only the Essentials

This doesn’t mean that all of your copy needs to be quick and to the point, but rather, that any additional information you include in your web copy coincides with your original promise or claim.

Prospects want to know that the decision they're making by purchasing your product or service is right for them. Providing them with enough information ensures that every prospect can gauge your value-add based on the amount of information that they need to feel assured.

5. Remove the Risk

Removing the risk or providing a guarantee: whatever you want to call it, giving your prospects proof that you take responsibility for your claims provides them with a powerful reason to genuinely trust you. Whether you’re guaranteeing complete satisfaction or full refunds if your product or service doesn’t match your claims, your sales volume is bound to increase when take the weight of risk off of your prospect.

Keep an eye out for more blog posts to help you convert prospects, and make sure to sign up for our newsletter to get your copy of our free ebook Get Social! Content Marketing for You & Your Brand, chalked full with worksheets and questionnaires to help you master your brand and build a community!


 

Walk the Walk: Why Content Marketing Agencies Need to be Actively Blogging

- by Alyson Shane

This post comes from our Owner, Alyson Shane.

As content marketers we often "talk the talk" about digital marketing. We have meetings, conference calls, planning days, and spend the majority of our time preaching the positive benefits of a robust and well-developed content marketing strategy for our clients.

We understand that blogging is one of the key components of a strong content marketing strategy. We know that your brand's website should act as the "hub" of all you do and say online, with your social networks, newsletter, advertising, and other additions feeding your customers back to your website where they can take action and start their journey through your business' sales pipeline.

We also know that generating content not only provides your audience with a reason to visit your website and helps with SEO, but that it also plays a pivotal role in differentiating your brand from your competitors by positioning you as a thought leader in your industry.

But here's a thing I've noticed recently: many digital marketing agencies don't "walk the walk" when it comes to creating their own original content. Their blogs are lackluster, and the content they produce relates to their own internal challenges, not those of their prospective clients.

Here's why agencies need to step up their content game:


Your Customers Care About Your Content

Look, it's great that your company had a BBQ, but a blog post about it doesn't really convey the ROI of your services to your potential customers, does it?

Even the most well-written, optimized website isn't going to convert leads unless you can give them a reason to stay engaged. As far as websites go, the best way to provide them with this reason is to regularly publish content that speaks to your customer's pain points and answers their questions. This means developing blog copy which demonstrates the following qualities:

  • Informational + detailed. Blog posts should be info-packed and use data, statistics, and examples (when applicable) to back up your findings.
  • Comprehensive. If you can't fit everything you want to say into a single post then consider breaking it into multiple posts or reworking it into a piece of gated content.
  • Easy to understand. Remember that the readers who fit an agency's Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) are likely only tangentially interested in the content, and are more focused on it as a means of showcasing why your agency would be a good fit with their own.
  • Personalized. Don't just explain how to do something, but explain why your brand believes that this is the best solution (stats and case studies help here, as well.)

So if a CEO of a large digital marketing agency is blogging about managing employee burnout, for example, that post doesn't add anything to their company's ROI other than showcasing that they're mindful not to overwork their employees. This is great, but it doesn't help a prospective client understand how they can solve their digital marketing challenges.

What leaders can do:

If you run a digital marketing agency and you (or anyone on your team) have been blogging about anything that doesn't directly solve or answer a question one of your prospective customers may be asking, start your own blog where your content won't detract from the overall quality of your company's content.

That way your agency can begin developing content topics which are more customer-centric while still allowing you to blog about being a leader, business owner, and other more personal topics which aren't directly related to industry thought leadership and customer acquisition.

Showcasing Your Value Through Thought Leadership

Before I founded Starling Social I worked for a real estate agent managing his marketing and social media. When I brought up the topic of blogging a as way to drive inbound traffic he balked, saying:

"I don't want to share my secrets with other people in my industry."

Let's clear one thing up: there are virtually no 'secrets' to most industries these days. The explosion of content marketing has all but eliminated these 'silos' of industry secrets, especially when it comes to the digital marketing landscape. Websites like HubSpot, Buffer, Social Media Examiner, the Digital Marketing Institute, and more regularly provide timely and comprehensive content relating to all aspects of a digital marketer's job.

I can hear your real estate agent answer already:

"So, why should I write about what we do if they're already doing it for me?"

The answer is simple: because you're not HubSpot, Buffer, Social Media Examiner, or the Digital Marketing Institute. We live in the age of information, and customers and consumers expect to not only be able to thoroughly research a brand and their products and services, but to have the means to develop a well-rounded impression of the company and their values.

Unless you're an enterprise digital marketing marketing agency who is already regularly publishing blog content, then you need to step up to the plate and start sharing what you know so you can start to differentiate yourself from all the other digital marketing agencies out there.

It's this impression that's key, because it determines whether your future customers reach out to you or not.

What leaders can do:

Spend some time talking to to your leadership and staff about the questions, challenges, and processes they use and encounter day-to-day and craft content around their feedback.

For example, talking to your Sales reps may yield a few blog posts which answer key customer questions, or talking to your Account Managers may yield insight into a process you can explore in an upcoming post.

Really, the content is limitless. All you need to do is ask and listen.

Not Just "How," But "Why"

As digital marketers we have a responsibility to convey not just how what we do, but why we do it, as well.

Remember: the majority of people reading your blog content aren't other digital marketers. Being able to articulate your agency's thought process helps humanize your brand and demonstrates that not only have you and your team thought about solving your client's challenges, but that you understand it well enough that you can articulate it in an easy to understand, comprehensive blog post.

For example, a post with the title "5 Hashtag Secrets to Boost Your Brand on Instagram" is likely going to drive a lot of click-throughs, which is great! But if the content in the post doesn't dive into why hashtags are important, how to avoid hashtag abuse, and some strategies to finding hashtags relevant to the reader's target audience then it's not a very useful post, and it doesn't do much to convey an agency's understanding of those tools, steps, and processes.

Speaking of processes: it's not enough to say "we're process based" - agencies need to provide examples of the steps, tools, and processes that they use with their clients in order to show prospective costumers that they not only understand what they're doing, but that they understand it well enough to replicate that same success regardless of a new client's industry, target audience, and ICP.

Otherwise they're just making statements that aren't backed up by quantifiable understanding and shared knowledge, and prospective clients need to do more guesswork in order to determine whether the agency is a good fit for their brand or not.

What leaders can do:

Take a look at your agency's process documentation* for insights into how and why you take the steps you do on a per-client bases, as well as overarching insights for each social network, step-by-step instructions, and the like. Look for ways to break this knowledge down into "snackable" blog posts which can be used to target specific buyer types and showcase your team's understanding of what you do.

*If your agency doesn't have well-developed process documentation then back up, do not pass 'Go', and spend some time developing these documents, as they're critical to understanding your own agency as well as your clients.

Want to chat more about why blogging is the best way to convey the ROI of your digital marketing agency? Tweet at me or drop me a line on my website, I'm always happy to explore new ideas.

If you're a brand looking to step up your digital marketing game, get in touch with us and learn more about how Starling Social can help your brand grow, connect with your target audience, and convert that audience into lifelong customers.


 

​Why You Need a Voice + Tone Guide for Your Business

- by Alyson Shane

Whether you’re a mom-and-pop shop or an enterprise-level organization, determining who you’re talking to and how you want to talk to them is essential for long-term success, sales, and growth. However, even the most established businesses can have a hard time figuring out how their written content should sound, never mind being able to nail it down perfectly every time.

How can you avoid this problem?

It’s simple: develop a Voice and Tone Guide for your brand. These documents should be foundational for your marketing department and social media managers, as they set the standards by which your copy and content should read, sound, and feel.

However, trying to determine all of these attributes can be a challenge, especially if you’re a busy business owner who doesn't know where to start. Today, we’ll explore some of the foundational elements of Voice + Tone Guides, why they matter, and how to build your own:


Finding Your Voice

The ‘Voice’ of your business refers to who you are throughout all of your written content.

As a business, your job is to sell yourself, literally. You’re selling your perspectives, your beliefs, and your passions, just as much as you’re selling your products and services. In fact, 96% of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders, which means there’s a huge opportunity for businesses who spend the time to cultivate their brand’s voice and messaging.

Consistency is key when you’re cultivating your voice online, and a well-developed voice and tone guide will act as your go-to material when you’re in need of a refresher of your business’ cadence.

Who you are and the way you talk demonstrates your brand’s personality, which shouldn’t change day to day, in the same way that your own personal voice and personality doesn’t go through drastic changes when you wake up each morning.

‘Voice’ refers to who you are when we are speaking as your brand. Some example attributes include:

  • Making decisions using well-researched data and statistics.
  • An inclusive, positive, and supportive place to work.
  • Forward-thinking, cutting edge.
  • Tech-focused and lean.

… you get the picture. These qualities will vary depending on your brand, what you do, and the qualities you want to showcase in your content marketing copy.

Mastering Your Tone

Your ‘Tone’, on the other hand, is how you convey your Voice throughout your copy. This varies depending on your audience and each unique situation or piece of content you’re creating, and should sound different when writing for consumers (B2C) and for other businesses (B2B).

“Tone” allows you to share convey knowledge, industry insight, “value adds” of your products and services by relying on the characteristics outlined in your Voice document. Your Tone allows your brand to align your business with the needs of your ideal customer as they read your content.

Important: Your tone may differ as you’re sharing exciting news or speaking out on an issue the world is currently facing.

Examples of Tone include:

  • Using words like “our friends” when referring to local companies.
  • Conversational and personal; the content we share should always feel as though it’s coming directly from one of the founders.
  • Sharing blog content which is reflective and personal and shows deep thought + insight into industry trends.

A solid Voice and Tone Guide also allows you to save time both when developing content internally, and as you work with outside freelancers and agencies, as well. Without a guide as to how they should be developing content for your business, freelancers are left to try and piece these elements together based on your existing copy to try and get a hold of your voice and tone.

As a result, this can lead to lackluster first drafts that don’t match your brand, which can create bottlenecks in the content creation and distribution process. By spending the time to develop easy to understand guide, your employees and contractors not only gain an understanding of your voice and tone, but of your audience and how to speak to their needs, as well.

Help Your Business Thrive With a Personalized Voice + Tone Guide

The key to nailing voice and tone for any business is staying consistently authentic. In the same way that people’s perceptions of you vary depending on the voice and tone you use as you speak out loud, the perception a reader has of your brand changes drastically based on the voice and tone you use in written content.

Having a Voice and Tone Guide helps you steer your content in the right direction right from the get-go. A well-developed guide allows you and your team to reference back to the foundation of your voice and tone, and modify based on the audience, platform, and type of content.

Think of your business’s voice and tone as it’s personality: do you think of your business as funny and casual, or professional and formal? What are the unique perspectives your brand can offer? What kind of impression do you want to make with people who engage with your content?

Additionally, think about the people who will be engaging with different kinds of content. For example, the CEO of a major organization won’t have the time to read a ton of in-depth copy about the benefits of your service, but a mid-level manager may have more time to sink their teeth into a PDF, case study, or white paper.

Conversely, if you’re a B2C business you’ll want to write different kinds of copy for different customers on different social platforms which takes age, household income, personal spending habits, and other key contributing factors into consideration. For instance, a Millennial with no kids who is entering the workforce out of university will respond to a different tone and calls-to-action (CTAs) than a Boomer single dad raising two kids on his own who had worked in the same office for several years.

What to Include In Your Voice + Tone Guide: a How-To

We've been working with Skaled, a tech and process-based sales consulting firm in New York City which helps organizations use the latest sales tech, tools, and processes scale to their highest potential, to deliver social and blog copy which is on-brand, capture their unique voices and perspectives, and highlights their position as ‘Thought Leaders’ within the modern sales landscape.

The team at Skaled knew that they wanted to be both professional and knowledgeable, but didn’t want to blend in with the status-quo of stuffy B2B business content that’s already available. Instead, they were in search of content that showcased that they were knowledgeable and cutting edge while being personable and easy to work with.

As we worked with their executive team to develop their Voice + Tone Guide, we identified key areas which needed to be included in order to create a useful, effective, and comprehensive guide that both teams can use and reference.

Some of the key components we developed included:

  • A clear definition of their ideal ‘Voice’, including necessary attributes such as who they are, and how they want to position their business.
  • A ‘Tone’ section which breaks down the necessary attributes outlined in the ‘Voice’ section in greater detail. Existing marketing materials, pitch decks, and other internal content is especially helpful here.
  • A description of their ideal tone and listed attributes including everything from the importance of keywords to the type of positioning statement necessary at the start of long-form content.
  • Examples of previous written content which aligns with the intended voice and tone.
  • ‘Personas’ for various individuals for use when writing from multiple perspectives (this is especially helpful with blog content.) These should include areas of education, professional expertise, and personal qualities to highlight in “their” copy.
  • The perspective of the company and a detailed outline of their Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and Buyer Personas.
  • A comprehensive list of industry terms and keywords that relate to your business to demonstrate that their company is operating at the “same level” as their B2B customers.

Not only has developing this document helped eliminate bottlenecks with content creation, approval, and distribution, but we've we've been able to ensure a high level of consistency across all of Skaled's social platforms, blog content, as well as newsletter and Gated Content material.

Having a dedicated document outlining your unique business's Voice and Tone, allows you and your creative team to dive deeper into your own brand, discovering key elements which may have gotten lost in the chaos of developing and running a business.

At Starling Social, we’re dedicated to sharing company stories through engaging copy and content. Have you sat down to develop your brand’s own voice + tone lately? We’d love to hear your strategy or tips, so make sure to tweet at us at @starling_social.

Want more insight and tools to help your brand stand out online? Download our free ebook Get Social! Content Marketing for You & Your Brand today.


 

3 Steps to Building a Community for Your Business

- by Alyson Shane

How businesses communicate their values to their customers has changed dramatically in the last few years. With the emergence of social media and networking sites, businesses have pivoted from relying solely on one-off marketing campaigns, to a long-term content marketing strategy which builds communities of engaged, interested customers who are loyal to their brand and eager to try their new products and services.

Let's face it: building a community can be a challenge. However, research has shown that customers in communities spend 19% more than customers who aren't, which means spending that time developing a community could seriously impact your business' bottom line.

With this in mind, forward-thinking brands should be considering how they can leverage existing social networks in order to talk to (and hear from) their customers and target audience.

The key element to building a community is participation. Social media managers tasked with managing a brand's community need to be just as devoted to their own followers if they expect anything in return. Respect, as they say, is a two way street.


Use the B=MAT Model to Drive Engagement

The idea of building a community, enticing new members, retaining existing ones, and creating and sharing content that engages and produces qualified leads for your business can be daunting when you look at all the details involved, so we recommend starting at the beginning:

When it comes to creating environments that motivate people to take the action you want, we like BJ Fogg's Behavior Model, which breaks actions down into three categories: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. When a behavior doesn't take place, one of these three elements is missing from the equation.


Image via behaviormodel.com

We can also break these elements down into questions that we can refer to while building our communities:

  1. Are community members motivated to participate?
  2. Do they have the means to participate?
  3. If there a trigger that encourages participation?

Keep these questions in your mind while designing, managing, and creating content for your community in order to make sure that you're always keeping your members in mind and providing them with opportunities to connect with your brand.

Plan, Build, Grow: A How-To

Building a community is much more than just creating a page and clicking 'Invite'; it takes planning, preparation, and work to build a successful community that speaks to your brand values and encourages two-way communication with your members.

Here are three steps to get you started:

1. Plan

Start out by planning your community. Ask yourself: what value will our community bring to our business and our members? How can we design something that motivates members to contribute and come back for more?

If you're not sure how to get started, ask around. Speak to people in your Sales department, refer to your Buyer Profiles, and speak with Customer Service to determine the questions customers ask the most, their likes, dislikes, and challenges, and how your community can grow into a place that not only helps members feel good about engaging, but encourages them to come back for more.

2. Build

Start small - don't try to be too ambitious from the get-go or you may let yourself (and whoever you report to) down. The best, most successful communities are the ones that start small and build organically thanks to ongoing member engagement and successful "triggers" from you. The most effective way to do this is to invite members slowly, over time, to avoid a huge influx at the start and avoid "empty bar syndrome" which occurs when your community looks empty, and as a result members disengage because they don't want to be the only ones participating.

By starting small and building up you can show your community members how to engage with your content and each other. This creates a positive and active community that members will want to return to over and over.

3. Grow

You've done your research, consulted with key stakeholders, and have created a game plan to build and your community organically and in a way that promotes engagement and activity within your member base. Now it's time to think about growing your community so that it can continue to grow and meet the needs of your members and generate confidence in your brand.

Some ways you can organically grow your community include:

Connecting to existing events and brand initiatives

Link to your community on your website's home page; promote an upcoming company or industry-related conference; post about community initiatives, sports teams, or other local events your brand participates in or supports.

Use your community to showcase who your brand is, not just what they sell or provide to their customers. By showcasing multiple facets of your organization you can appeal to a wider member base who will start to visit your community regularly, and may even invite others to do so as well.

Identify Community Champions

Your Social Media Manager shouldn't be the only one welcoming, encouraging, and interacting with new community members. While these tasks are important, the key to long-term community success is to find "advocates" for your brand who are actively engaged with your community, and who

One of the best ways to do this is to have a few employees, stakeholders, or parters involved in your community who are invested in seeing the community succeed. These individuals should be tasked with Liking, Commenting, and engaging in conversations with community members; this way members are engaging with more people than just your brand.

Next up: It's Time to Engage!

Stay tuned for our next post on building a community around your brand, and make sure to sign up for our newsletter to get your copy of our free ebook Get Social! Content Marketing for You & Your Brand, which is full of questionnaires and worksheets to get you started with building your community.


 

20+ Essential Social Media Marketing Tools to Grow Your Business

- by Alyson Shane

You're a smart, savvy business owner who knows that social media marketing is a critical aspect of promoting your business, reaching your target audience, and connecting with your customers.

However, without the proper tools to manage, track, and hone your social media activities managing your profiles can feel overwhelming, frustrating, and downright confusing.

Why? Because not all social media marketing tools are created equal.

The right social media management tools will streamline your processes, help you stay organized, and keep you on track, but it can feel confusing and overwhelming when you're trying to figure out which ones to use.

Here at Starling Social we use a variety of tools to manage our client's activities, and today we want to share some of our favourite tools to take you from social media novice to pro in no time.


Managing Social Media Content

1. Buffer

Buffer is our go-to scheduling app for social media content across multiple platforms. Paid users have access to a calendar view which is incredibly useful for plotting out what we want to share and when, as well as comparing when we shared previous pieces of content.

"Buffering" your posts will allow the app to publish your content at a time that Buffer's analytics engine deems appropriate based on when it believes your content will earn the most clicks and shares.

However we don't recommend relying solely on this feature - tracking your engagement levels is the best way to determine when to post.

2. Hootsuite

Hootsuite is another social media scheduling app, but with an important feature: Hootsuite allows you to view "streams" of each social network you manage in order to stay on top of the action. This can be especially useful for checking Twitter Lists, and for staying on top of comments, @ mentions, shares, and direct messages.

We keep Hootsuite open in a tab all day long and use it to track engagement as it happens in real-time across all of our client's social networks.

We'll admit: we're not wild about using Hootsuite for scheduling content (we prefer Buffer's user interface and range of scheduling options) but ultimately it's up to you which tool you prefer.

3. Edgar

Meet Edgar, your new content BFF: this adorable little octopus is actually a super-powerful app which allows you to create content "libraries" that you can re-use again and again. Once you've added some content to your library (eg: "My Blog Posts") you can select a social network to post to and schedule it to post as many times a week as you'd like/ This means you can schedule weekly, recurring content across multiple social networks without having to worry about re-scheduling it every time it gets shared out - major time saver!

Not just that, but Edgar will analyze your content to determine which posts in your library have earned the lowest levels of recent engagement and will re-share that content in order to help it get seen by more people. So, if you have a 6 month old blog post that hasn't been seen in a while you can count on Edgar to make sure your followers see it again.

4. IFTTT

If This, Then That (IFTTT) is a powerful app which connects multiple apps for you. IFTTT can do things like automatically push out a new blog post to your social feeds when you hit 'Publish' on your website; automatically send out reminders each week; and so much more - the 'recipe' possibilities are basically endless.

5. RePost for Instagram

Re-sharing content on Instagram is a hassle no matter how you slice it, but RePost allows you to re-share Instagram content without having to take a screen shot, crop the image manually, and re-create a post within the app.

This is an invaluable tool for anyone who regularly re-shares content on Instagram, so make sure to add it to your list of "must have" mobile apps.

6. Tagsforlikes

Searching for new hashtags on Instagram can be a hassle and a challenge if you don't know what to look for, or aren't regularly doing research into the most popular tags being used.

Tagsforlikes is a tool which generates popular tags for you to include in your content based on various topics and themes, though we recommend saving these in a separate document to reference later if you plan on using them more than once.

Help Your Content Stand Out

7. Emoji App

This one probably feels obvious, but using emojis in your social media marketing is an easy way to create additional visual interest and help your content feel more fun and engaging.

Plus: it's free!

8. Bit.ly

Nothing clutters up a sharp-looking social media post like long URLs, and bit.ly is a great tool for shortening links that would otherwise take up your entire character count.

Not just that, but bit.ly users can also track click-through and engagement rates on their shortened links, which can be incredibly useful for tracking user engagement. We like to set up multiple landing pages with custom bit.ly links in order to see which ones are performing the best on our client's social feeds.

10. Trello

Trello is our favourite project management tool, especially when multiple parties are involved with creating, editing, reviewing, or managing a project. Trello allows you to create columns with 'Cards' for each task that you can use to create checklists, attach images, files, and links, assign actions to specific users, and more.

Find Killer Content to Share

11. BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo allows you to search the most popular content being shared most often across all social networks relating to specific keywords, find influencers in your industry, and find content to share on your social networks in order to engage with your target audience.

Even better: you can set up alerts to receive notifications if content mentioning your identified keywords gets published.

12. AllTop

Alltop is another content aggregator website which allows you to search through multiple headlines from across the web.

We like it because it will organize content topics into groups based on where they were published (e.g.: Forbes, Business Insider, TechCrunch, etc) which saves tons of time and research.

13. Feedly

For those of you that still use RSS readers, this tool is for you: Feed.ly is basically an RSS feeder which allows you to follow content from any websites or blogs that you follow.

You can organize your content, read saved content again, search for new and interesting content topics and sources, and more.

14. Scoop.it

Scoop.it is a content marketing tool which allows you to set up content objectives, build content calendars for your social media profiles, blog and newsletter (read more about creating eye-catching newsletter content here).

Scoop.it scrapes the internet for content every day and will deliver customized content relevant to your niche to you every day, providing you with an easily accessible list of fresh content to read and share.

Creating Visual Assets
(for Non-Designers)

15. Canva

Canva is our favourite tool for creating beautiful and eye-catching designs in a heartbeat.

Not only does Canva come pre-loaded with trendy and varied layout templates, backgrounds, graphics, and stock images, but you can create images sized perfectly for your blog, social networks, newsletter, and more.

16. Stocksnap.io

Free stock images are a must-have for creating social media graphics, and while there are a variety of websites and options available, Stocksnap's extensive, searchable library makes it our go-to whenever we need some sharp stock images.

Other options include: Pixabay, Death to Stock, and Unsplash.

17. GoAnimate

Need to create animated videos in a pinch? Use GoAnimate to customize backgrounds, characters, and scenes easily in order to promote your product or service.

They offer a 14-day trial with a variety of pricing options depending on your needs, an extensive library of content, and offers a hands-on, DIY approach to creating fun and interesting animated videos.

18. VidYard

4x as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than to read about it, which means if you aren't leveraging video as part of your social media arsenal you're missing out.

Vidyard allows you to create short, professional-looking videos without all of the equipment and setup traditionally associated with video productions.

Managing Your Information

19. 1Password

Tired of logging in and out of your accounts all the time? Struggle to remember your passwords for all your social media accounts? Use 1Password to keep track of your passwords so you don't have to.

Other options include: LastPass,

20. Backblaze

When was the last time you backed up your data? If you've ever experienced the stress and anxiety that comes with a hard drive crash then you know how important it is to keep backups of all of your information, whether it's work-related or not.

We recommend using Backblaze, which is cheap like borsht, which automatically backs up all of your data and will store it safely in case of an emergency.

21. Google Drive

There's nothing worse than not being able to access your information wherever you go. Instead of relying on emails or thumb drives (which are being phased out anyway), start storing your information in Google Drive, which is free if you have a Gmail account. Google Drive keeps your files synced, stored, and easily accessible no matter where you are.

Other options: Dropbox

22. Insightly

You don't have to be a sales rep to benefit from using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool for your business. Keeping track of who you meet, where you met them, and your relationships not only helps you track where your leads come from, but you can use Insightly to track your sales funnel and identify where your bottlenecks are in your sales process.

Other options: BallPark, HubSpot

23: Toggl

One of the best ways to figure out how to optimize your processes is to track your time, and we depend heavily on Toggl to help us track how much time we're spending doing different tasks.

For example, if we look at our week at-a-glance we can see how many hours we spent doing specific tasks for each client, and can use that information to find ways to improve our processes.

Do you use any of these tools? Did you learn about a new tool today? Tweet at us and let us know!

Want more insight and tools to help your brand stand out online? Download our free ebook Get Social! Content Marketing for You & Your Brand now.


 

Don't Fear the Machine: What Marketers Need to Know About Artificial Intelligence

- by Alyson Shane

Lately there's been a lot of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth around the boom in artificial intelligence (AI), and fears that it may replace the role of marketing experts in the future.

At the surface, this seems like a legitimate worry. Recently McKinsley Quarterly stated that “while automation will eliminate very few occupations entirely in the next decade, it will affect portions of almost all jobs to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the type of work they entail."

In fact, Gartner predicts "by 2018, 20% of all business content will be authored by machines.”

If this sounds scary, we understand. But take a page out of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and DON'T PANIC. We're here to explain what you need to know about AI, marketing, and how marketers can look at this emerging technology as a friend rather than an enemy:


AI is Still in It's Early Stages

When most people think of 'AI' they don't get into the nitty-gritty of what artificial intelligence actually is, and the differences between the different kinds of emerging AI. There are actually a lot of different things that fall into the "AI" category, including:

Machine learning

This type of AI allows computers to learn without being explicitly programmed to do so. Machine learning is similar to data mining, and focuses on the development of programs which can change when exposed to new data.

Deep learning

This type of AI uses artificial neural networks which are equipped with multiple layers. These layers use output from the previous layer as input, and as a result can learn multiple levels of representations which can then be abstracted into hierarchical layers of concepts.

Natural language generation (NGL)

NGL systems are like AI translators which can take data into a natural language representation (aka text). For example, you can feed your data into an NGL AI and it can provide a text summary of all the information you fed it.

Not only are these types of AI tasked with solving different problems, but they're also at varying levels of maturity. So, yes, while these technologies are being developed and applied in various areas, they're not going to be replacing you anytime soon.

What Marketers Need to Know

The best way to feel better about AI is to start to experiment with how you can start using it to make your job easier. After all, that's what the tools are designed to do.

Whether it's sourcing new content ideas for your social media calendar; automating and optimizing your content so it's seen by the widest possible audience; perform A/B testing on content to see which your audience likes best; or reviewing analytics and producing recommendations and suggestions based on the data, there's lots of ways that us marketers can start thinking of ways to incorporate AI to make our lives easier.

AI Depends on Data

Regardless of the kind of AI you're worried about, one common factor is this: AI requires both structured and unstructured data in order to create customized solutions for your clients. This means that larger, enterprise businesses will be the first to start seeing any benefits from AI, since they tend to have larger data sets to pull information from.

Lots of marketers are worried about NLG AI taking away their content generation, but AI created for this purpose still can't create prose by itself. It requires a formatted template and data sources in order to generate content that makes sense, let alone feels as though it was written by a (very stiff) human.

This is especially important since so many brands and businesses now rely on savvy, provocative content and copy that stands out, so until AI can accurately generate a snappy tweet or add some tszuj to a blog post you're in the clear.

What Marketers Need to Know

Instead of worrying about what AI can take away from you, why not re-frame the idea and look at the ways that AI can start to make your job easier?

Start by assessing the data you have, and how you can use AI to take all of that information and start to generate things like insights and analysis, predictable outcomes, improving content, and more. Just ask yourself a few questions to get started:

  • What kind of data do I have on-hand?
  • Is it structured (columns and rows) or unstructured (documents and social media posts)?
  • What kinds of stories could NGL AI tell using this data?
  • Are there any tasks I can automate using AI technology?

Conclusion: AI Isn't Coming For You... Yet

Currently AI is still very much in its infancy, which means that marketers can breathe a sigh of relief - for now.

However, instead of sticking your head in the sand and hoping the future never comes, we suggest looking critically at the ways that you can start to work AI into your workflow and actually make your job easier.

Sure, your future self may not be writing every single Tweet or generating ever report, but is that really so bad? Just think of all the research, learning, strategizing, and analysis you'll be able to do your newly-freed-up time, and the added value that it will give to your clients.

Got questions about your content marketing? Give us a shout and ask away! We're happy to help.


 

How to Take Better Social Media Photos for Your Business

- by Alyson Shane

One of the easiest ways to grow your business and communicate value to your customers is to use social media to showcase who you are and develop an easily recognizable brand.

Once upon a time businesses had to rely almost exclusively on professional photographers to showcase their products, services, and brand values, but in the era of smartphones it's easier than ever to capture beautiful, professional-looking photos for your Instagram and other social media feeds quickly and easily.

Just follow these tips to create high-quality, share-worthy photos to help your business grow and thrive online:


Take Different Approaches to Your Visual Content

As a business owner, you’re constantly on-the-go meeting clients and developing ideas, so use this as an opportunity to capture the beauty of these everyday activities by taking photos of otherwise “normal” events.

When leading a workshop, take a crisp photo of the whiteboard. If you have a client meeting, be “that” person and snap a pretty picture of some latte art next to your notebooks. Take photos of your workspace, or the places your business is operating.

Running a business is a form of art, so represent even the most unglamorous occasions with beauty and watch the Likes, comments, and engagement roll in.

Use Videos and Animated Content

It's important to try to break up your content and keep it fresh and engaging - nobody wants to look at the same sorts of photos on their social feeds, no matter how nice they may be. Capturing yourself in your daily grind helps viewers build a relationship with the individual behind the brand, and provides a genuine insight of your daily life.

An easy way to create visual content that keeps your audience engaged is to shoot videos and create gifs using tools like Boomerang to spice up your day-to-day visual content.

Videos and Boomerangs can be especially useful if you're promoting a business that has a lot of physical activity involved, or where you do a lot of setting up and tearing down. Invest in a tripod for your phone and use an app like Hyperlapse to record a fast and fun video to share with your audience.

Spend some time playing around with different videos and Boomerangs and experiment with different angles, video lengths, using time-lapses to showcase your daily operations, and more!

Be Mindful of Your Lighting

Lighting is everything when it comes to creating engaging and interesting photos, so it's important to take elements like lighting and brightness into consideration when taking photos.

As helpful as lighting kits can be, they are a considerable investment that your business probably doesn't need unless you have a photographer on staff (in which case you probably don't need this article.) Instead, spend some time playing around with your workspace and the areas you frequent in order to understand the best places and times of day to take eye-catching photos.

And don't worry: if you struggle to take bright photos, you can always edit them with apps like VSCOcam, Snapseed, and within Instagram itself to play around with the brightness and exposure to help make your photos really stand out. Just practice and see what works!

Focus on Composition

So what's the real key to taking beautiful and interesting photographs?

The answer: intriguing dimensions.

Most people tend to take photos with the important element smack-dab in the middle of the image, but having this classic composition posted repeatedly on visual apps like Instagram can cause your followers to lose interest pretty quickly.

Instead, try the “rule of thirds”: divide your image space into thirds, or rather, a tic-tac-toe grid. Capture photos with the important elements lying along one of these lines. Having the main subjects of any photo off-center, aligned with this grid, adds intrigue and depth to your photo feed.

Along with the rule of thirds, maintain your brand throughout your feed by including items that have your brand colors throughout the photos. Whether that be a pen, notebook, shirt, or other obscure item, recognizable color trends throughout your photos helps viewers to distinguish what sets your feed apart from others.

Do you have any other stellar tips on taking great photos for your social media feed? Tell us in the comments or get in touch with your questions.


 

Forget Fake Engagement: Why We Don't Use Instagram Bots

- by Alyson Shane

Let's face it: driving organic engagement on Instagram is time-consuming. Which is why many marketers and agencies have turned to using Instagram Bots - or "botting" - to generate engagement.

While this may seem like a great way to cut costs and drive users to your page, using Instagram bots to create fake engagement is not only inauthentic, but it can drive away your customers and damage your brand's reputation.

What exactly is botting, and why is it bad? Keep reading to find out why we're 100% against this sketchy marketing practice:


What is Botting?

Botting is the process of allowing third-party automation software to access your Instagram account and use algorithms to determine accounts that you should be following and engaging with. Basically, botting is pay-to-play engagement, where you pay an automation service to grow your Instagram audience for you.

Marketers can program bots to target specific areas, users who use specific hashtags, and more, in order to create a level of fake engagement which is intended to drive traffic to your Instagram profile.

Sounds great, right?

Except it's not.

At Starling Social, we believe that all engagement should be as organic as possible, which is why we've never used Instagram Bots (or "gone botting") to generate engagement for our clients.

Sure, it would free up more of our billable time, but we wouldn't be delivering the best possible experience to our clients if we relied on bots to handle our engagement for us.

What's Wrong With Bots?

Below are just a few of the reasons that we believe Instagram bots are bad for business:

Current AI doesn't understand context

Have you ever posted a photo with a sad caption, only to receive a weird, upbeat comment like "keep posting great content "? Then you've encountered an Instagram bot.

Not only are these interactions awkward for the person posting the update, but they also clearly demonstrate that there isn't a real human being looking at your content, because why else would someone day "this is awesome!" on a photo of someone and their Grandma in the hospital, for example?

Experiences like these can get even creepier: on the Hootsuite blog, one employee recalls experimenting with an Instagram automation tool and discovered that the bot had left the comment "my pics > your pics" on a selfie of a boy who was clearly in middle school. Yikes!

Bots don't always follow the right people

Curating an Instagram news feed which is populated by content that matters to your brand - updates from customers and people in your industry, for example - is just as important as generating strong content on your own profile because it allows a level of engagement that is customized to your growth and engagement goals.

Bots, on the other hand, tend to follow hundreds or even thousands of users who may fit within specific criteria, such as living in your city or using a specific hashtag, but that doesn't mean they're actually part of your brand's target audience.

The only way to ensure that your Instagram account is engaging with real people who care about your brand is by ensuring real people are doing it for you.

You're going to annoy the h*ck out of your target audience

Bots are annoying. There, we said it.

There's nothing worse than posting something to your Instagram and receiving a slew of comments that look like this:

  • Super cool!
  • Lol I'm so jealous!
  • Great page!

You get the point.

As a user, you know that Instagram bots exist, and so when you see the same, non-specific comments appearing over and over again, you already know that whichever account is commenting isn't doing so authentically.

Even worse: as a business, your goal is to entice and excite your customers, not annoy them and make them turn off from your message. As with all things online: authenticity is key, and if your customers catch a whiff of inauthenticity from your Instagram profile, they're less likely to engage with you and give you that highly sought-after "Follow".

You may have your account suspended

Botting goes against Instagram's terms of service, which means that you could have your brand's account suspended!

This is bad for a company managing its own digital marketing, but for a marketing agency to engage in an activity which not only abuses customer trust, but puts their client's accounts at risk just isn't worth it.

One last thing about marketing automation

If this post has you feeling stressed out: don't worry, not all marketing automation tools are created equal. There's a big difference between marketing automation tools like Buffer, Hootsuite, MeetEdgar, and MailChimp (some of our faves), and Instagram bots:

Marketing automation tools help manage processes which allow time for real engagement; Instagram bots pretend to create engagement where there isn't any, and can cause real damage to your brand's online reputation.

So why take the risk? Spend the extra time building a real, engaged audience of Instagram followers and feel confident that the users following your brand legitimately care about what you have to say.

Still confused about Instagram bots, and how real, hands-on engagement can help your brand succeed on Instagram? Give us a shout, we're happy to tell you all you need to know.


 

How to Create Eye-Catching Newsletter Content

- by Alyson Shane

For many people, their inbox is their home-base in the sea of information that is the internet.

Gaining access into this sacred space as an outsider is not an easy endeavor, but is of the utmost importance when developing meaningful relationships with potential and existing clients.

Email newsletters allow businesses to attract new readers, sell products, and share important information on a continuing basis. We’ve developed some tips to help you create eye-catching content and engage leads with a well-designed newsletter.


Choose a Focus

Carefully curated content that has been developed to share specific information helps create a well-rounded brand, and why subscribers should be reading the content that you’re sending their way.

Before you write your newsletter, sit down and choose the content you want to share, such as:

  • Blog posts
  • Photos
  • Updates
  • Helpful tips or how-to’s
  • Infographics
  • Events and important dates

Make It Personal

Genuine content will keep the right readers engaged, and helps you to build a reputable brand online.

When developing an email newsletter, lose the “sales” gimmicks, and focus on cultivating meaningful relationships with your readers.

You appreciate your subscribers, so communicate with them like they’re friends, and demonstrate the value that they provide you and your business.

Overly persuasive content will only turn-off readers. Write content that is friendly and approachable, and provide incentives for your dedicated clients or prospects.

Stay Organized

Organization is the difference between a messy newsletter, and a branded, clear message. Decide on your topics beforehand, so that you can cultivate a brief and concise message that is helpful to your recipients.

Humans are visual creatures, so creating similarly sized blocks of content that are easy on the eyes will help readers quickly scan and digest the information that you are sharing. Clarity reigns true in the world of newsletters, so having a well-developed, yet brief, message will keep readers engaged throughout your email.

Likely, you’re sending out email newsletters with the intention of increasing traffic to your business’s blog or website. A clear CTA (call to action) should be included towards the end of each newsletter, using buttons or incentives to get readers clicking back to the page you’re trying to market.

Create Catchy Headlines

For a reader to access your content, they must open your email in the first place. Headlines should convey your message briefly, but in an intriguing manner.

Building a trusting relationship with readers without coming off as “spammy” can be a tough task, but as always, being genuine and providing incentives will help you gain access into their inbox.

Strive for Consistency

Many readers look forward to receiving newsletters from brands and businesses they trust, especially when they know exactly when that newsletter is going to hit their inbox.

If you promise to send out weekly newsletters, do everything in your power to ensure those newsletters are going out on a weekly basis.

Email newsletters can be amazing marketing tools to build meaningful relationships with subscribers, while growing your awesome business.

Need some help in creating engaging newsletter campaigns? Get in touch to see how we can help you share your story with brilliant content.


 

5 Steps to Creating a Blogging Business Plan

- by Alyson Shane

Whether you’re entering the world of blogging as a casual hobby, or are dedicated to sharing your products or services as a full-time, developing a blogging business plan can help you stay organized and generate interesting and engaging content with ease.

Taking the time to develop the main ideas and concepts you want to share will help you design a relatable blog, and brand, that will keep readers coming back for more. By following these 5 steps, you can nail down the specifics of your blogging business plan, and create engaging content generated towards your target audience.


1. Develop an Executive Summary

An executive summary is the page that you’ll keep revisiting, to draw inspiration on why you started your blog and the intended goals you had in mind. An effective executive summary briefly explains the intention of your blog, and the messages you want to share. An executive summary should briefly and clearly explain to readers the important facets of your blog, including:

  • A summary of the content you’ll be sharing on your blogging platform
  • The inspiration behind your blog
  • The goals and milestones you hope to achieve through your writing

Keep the executive summary genuine, honest, and brief. This helps you, and your readers, to recognize your mission, while clearly explaining the intentions you have for your blog. Take the time to consider and develop a clear idea of why you love your blog and the content that you choose to share.

2. Define Your Target Market

Crafting blog content is one thing. Creating blog content that maintains the attention of your target market is another. Defining the target market of your blog ahead of time helps you stay on-brand, while helping you cultivate content that continuously engages your readers. By having a well-defined idea of your audience, brainstorming blog content becomes all the more fun, with less stress involved. While you’re brainstorming who exactly your ideal content consumer is, consider the following questions:

  • What is their age?
  • What is their gender?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • What is their income status?
  • Do they spend time on social media?
  • What sort of other blogs do they read?

Once you have a general idea of your target market, you can develop ideas for your blog and how to best reach the intended audience.

3. Analyze the Competition

Blogging isn’t always about “winning”, but having a healthy understanding that there are countless other blogs like yours is crucial to success. Take some time to research blogs with similar content, brands, and themes. Doing this allows you to draw on their approach to blogging, and plug in your strengths where you can. Make lists of their marketing tactics to get a better understanding of the steps you can take to make your blog stand out in your intended market.

  • Are they creating podcasts?
  • Do they have a strong social media presence?
  • Do they have a well-developed brand?
  • Are they utilizing multiple platforms to share their content?
  • Do they make YouTube videos?

4. Monetize Your Blog

Developing a blog with creative content is hard work, and can take up a large chunk of your valuable time. Luckily, bloggers have endless opportunities to create financial gain from their passionate blog development.

If you’re a freelancer who’s blogging to spread your services, or are simply blogging to create a community with similar interests, developing a monetization plan will help you generate passive income when you’re ready to take that route.

Sell Your Products or Services

Selling your products or services helps generate passive income to give you more time to perfect your content. If you’re a writer, create an e-book outlining how to navigate submissions online.

If you’re a web designer, consider developing a WordPress theme. Focus on what you’re good at, and package it up to sell.

Advertising

Advertising on your blog is an easy to develop, and requires little maintenance over time. Find an ad network that aligns with the advertisements you want to share, and connect with similar brands online.

To cultivate a reasonable income, you’ll need a larger audience, so creating engaging content beforehand is key to ad success.

5. Start Marketing

The final step in launching a successful blogging platform is generating traffic towards your awesome content. Dedicate a scheduled chunk of your time daily towards growing your brand online.

Social Media Marketing

Marketing your blog via social media platforms is a free and accessible method of promotion. If you have personal experience using certain social media platforms, find one or two sites that you love and share your amazing content, frequently.

By sharing genuine content that focuses on your brand, you’ll be able to cultivate meaningful connections with your target audience.

Nurture Relationships

Posting genuine content will yield genuine results, meaning that your readership will consist mainly of individuals honestly care about the information you are sharing. Reply to all comments on your blog or social media, or send out an amazing and helpful newsletter.

You’ll be blown away by how a couple minutes of your day spend connecting with your audience can benefit everyone involved.

Advertisements

Once your blog is up and running, with a range of well-developed content, you can consider investing in paid advertisements. Purchase Facebook or Instagram ads, or reach out to similar blogs that offer advertising space to reach readers within your niche.

Cultivate a blogging business plan before the launch of your blog that showcases your uniqueness and shares your passions with readers who appreciate it.

Do you have any extra tips or tricks on developing a helpful blogging business plan? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. If you want help putting together


 

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