Why the FCC's Net Neutrality Rollback Matters To You

- by Alyson Shane

Yesterday on December 14. 2017 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States voted to eliminate net neutrality rules, effectively allowing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to become gatekeepers to content on the internet, and allowing them to legally block websites and services.

Today we want to talk to you a little bit about why this matters so much to us here at Starling Social, and why you should care, too.

What is Net Neutrality + Why Does It Matter?

Net neutrality, also referred to as "internet freedom" is the idea that your ISPs should treat all websites the same. 

This means that anyone, anywhere, can launch a business, new website, or social network and have access to the same market as big tech companies, media conglomerates, and corporations. It ensures a fair playing field for everyone.

Here's a quick summary of the top four reasons why Net Neutrality is one of the most important battles of our time:

1. Net neutrality ensures equal access to information

Access to information is a human right, not a privilege. End of story.

2. Net neutrality helps prevent unfair and discriminatory pricing practices by ISPs

Without an open internet, corporations and ISPs will control how we access information by treating internet like cable packages. 

So instead of paying a monthly fee to access the entire world wide web, companies will be able to charge higher premiums for access to certain websites, meaning that people who can't afford to pay the price don't have access to the same resources, information, and audience as everyone else.

Under the new rules these companies would be able to slow down or block access to services they don't like. They could also charge higher fees to rival companies and make them pay for higher transmission feeds, or set up "fast lanes" for their preferred services.

This also means that as a business you may be subject to additional fees if you want your website to be included in specific content packages - a toll nobody should have to pay.

3. Net neutrality protects freedom of speech

Your ability to speak your mind, share your opinions, and provide feedback to private business and government is your right as a citizen, and by eliminating net neutrality rules the FCC has taken steps to effectively limit free speech online.

The internet is revolutionary because it allows everyone with an internet to create news, participate in conversations, and be an active member of their local, national, and global communities. Think of recent movements like #MeToo, the Women's March, or even the rise of alt-right conservative views. 

Regardless of where your political leanings lie, it's impossible to deny that the internet has played an increasingly pivotal role in political expression and organizing, and allowing ISPs to control what users can see, do, and say online undermines this democratic right.

Are you ready for an internet that looks an awful lot like the Great Firewall of China? Because that's what's coming.

4. Net neutrality promotes innovation

If you're a business owner then the repeal of net neutrality regulations should terrify you. We cannot state this plainly enough.

By giving complete control to giant corporations the FCC has cut the legs out from underneath any up-and-coming tech startup who may otherwise have had a fighting shot in a completive, but otherwise egalitarian, online ecosystem.  

Until yesterday anyone - a tech startup in India, a teenager in Ohio, or a mompreneur in Australia could start a website or e-commerce store and have the same access to market as anyone else running a digital business. Now, however, your "new" website may not be included in the latest AT&T package, which means your business may lose out before you've even begun.

For example, AT&T and Verizon are expected to be the biggest beneficiaries of the FCC repeal since they can now freely give priority to the content they provide to viewers, which will likely hurt rivals like Amazon, Sling TV, YouTube... or the next wave of tech innovators and disruptors.

What Can You Do?

The internet was built on a powerful, yet amazingly simple idea: anyone with an internet connection can have access to the entirety of the world wide web, and the internet providers don't get to control what you access, or who has access to you. 

Anyone who wants to start an internet service is free to do so without paying extra fees, and users were free to choose the services that they prefer - including which social networks to frequent, news sites to read, businesses to support, and so much more.

Whether you're a Canadian pal, an American colleague, or any of our digital friends from across the globe, please join us in taking these steps to fight back against this horrific attack on our most basic rights:

  • Use the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)'s online form to ask your Member of Congress to use the Congressional Review Act to reverse the FCC’s "hasty and misguided dismantling of net neutrality protections”.
  • Sign Save The Internet's petition to put pressure on U.S. lawmakers.
  • Share your thoughts on social media. Make sure to use #NetNeutrality and tag @FCC on Twitter.
  • Scroll down to the bottom of this page on the Fight For the Future website and use some of their more creative visual methods to spread the word.

Tell us why net neutrality matters to you by tweeting at us or leaving a comment on our Facebook page.


 

How To: Create Facebook Lookalike Audiences That Deliver Results

- by Alyson Shane

In our last post we talked about how to choose the right Facebook Custom Audiences for your business' targeted advertising campaigns, and now we're back with an even better, more hands-on set of steps to help stretch your advertising dollars further and increase conversions: 

Facebook Lookalike Audiences

What Are Facebook Lookalike Audiences?

Facebook Lookalike Audiences are exactly what they sound like: they're audiences created from the profile data you've previously uploaded when creating your Custom Audiences. 

This option is a huge boon for marketers and business owners alike, as it allows you to take a relatively small sample size (say, 10,000 of your customers) and create a Lookalike Audience of hundreds of thousands of people. 

Facebook will use the profile data from these audiences to create a new list of Facebook users who share similar demographics and interests. This is a super-reliable way to optimize your campaign targeting and make sure that you're not just re-targeting the same people from previous campaigns. 

Before we get started, you'll need to have the following prepared and in-hand:

  • Access to your customer lists (emails or phone numbers), usually pulled from a system like MailChimp, or Shopify for our e-commerce friends.
  • Facebook Conversion Pixels set up on the pages you want to track results for.
  • The visual assets, headline and ad copy that you want to test*.

* We recommend using at least 2-3 of each, which will allow you to test how different combinations of words and text perform with your audience.

Let's get started!

1. Open your Business Manager and click on the "Audiences" option under your Assets column. 

2. Select 'Custom Lookalike Audience' from the drop-down "Create Audience" menu.


3. Select the Audience Size you'd like to target. We recommend creating two versions of the same custom audience: one at 1% and 3%, which will allow you to target users who most closely match your original Custom Audience, as well as a broader audience of users who may not be as close a "match" as the 1%.

4. Click "Create Audience" and wait while Facebook matches users and populates your new list. 

5. Once this process is complete (it may take a few minutes) open up your Power Editor and begin setting up your Ads as you normally would. When setting up your targeting, just select your new Lookalike Audience from the drop-down menu:


... and that's it! Now you can take your visual and content assets and begin setting up your Facebook Ads like you normally would.

Using Lookalike Audiences to Increase Sales

Now that you've learned how to create your own Facebook Lookalike Audience, it's time to begin using it to drive conversions and increase sales... starting now!

Here are a few ways you can leverage the power of your audience:

Grow Your Facebook Page 

One of the easiest ways to grow your Facebook Page is to target one of your Lookalike audiences. This allows you to save time and takes the guesswork out of targeting new users who may not have interacted with your page before. 

Increase Sales for Your E-Commerce Store

If you run an e-commerce store you can set up Facebook Ads that deliver to your Lookalike Audience which sends them directly to your website to start buying. For example, if you have a women's wear section on your website you can create a Custom Audience of only women, then you can use Lookalike audiences to deliver ads to women who closely match interests or demographics of the women who have completed a purchase.

Increase Subscribers, Signups, and Get Leads

For B2B businesses like us here at Starling, we want to focus on increasing the number of actions which will allow us to connect with other businesses (lead gen). The easiest way to do this is to encourage people to take any of the following actions:

  • Fill out a contact form
  • Subscribe to our newsletter
  • Sign up to receive a piece of gated content

This tactic is similar to what an e-commerce website would do: upload a Custom Audience, create the Lookalike Audience, and then send people directly to a landing page on your website specifically set up to encourage them to submit their information.

Get started!

Now that you know how to set up and use Facebook Lookalike Audiences, it's time to start implementing them as a routine part of your Facebook Ad strategy. If you still have questions, drop us a line or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. We're always happy to chat.


 

Choosing The Best Facebook Custom Audience for Your Business

- by Alyson Shane

Businesses are starting to wake up to the fact that, often, organic posting and engagement just isn't driving the traffic to their Facebook pages and Instagram profiles that it once did and are turning to Facebook Ads as a cost-effective way to get in front of hundreds or even thousands of new potential customers.

Here at Starling Social we've used Facebook Ads to help our clients increase webinar registration, generate new B2B leads, drive inbound website traffic, and more. We love it because Facebook allows us to dig deep and create Custom Audiences which help us retarget people who have previously engaged with our client's business in some way. This helps us keep their advertising budget low while achieving a high return on investment (ROI) for our efforts on their behalf.

If you're new to the world of Facebook Ads, or if you're still trying to wrap your head around which types of Custom Audiences you should choose for your next Facebook Ad Campaign, then you've come to the right place.

This post is a comprehensive overview on what Facebook Custom Audiences are, and the various types you can choose from to increase brand awareness and generate new leads for your business.

Ready? Let's get started!


What's a Facebook Custom Audience?

Facebook Custom Audience is just that: a custom audience you can create in your Facebook Ads Manager (or Power Editor) that you can target with your ads. One of the options available is o target people who have an existing relationship with your business - say, fans of your Page - and create a campaign which retargets this audience. 

Facebook gives you six options to define the existing relationship between your ad audience and your business, which are:

  • Customer File. Upload a customer file (eg: list of individuals who have purchased from your e-commerce store within the past 365 days) to match your customers with people on Facebook to create an audience from the matches. 
  • Website Traffic. Create a list of people who visited your website or took a specific action which corresponds to your Facebook Pixel.*
  • App Activity. Creates a list of people who launches your game, app, or took specific actions based on the Facebook Pixel installed in your app.
  • Offline Activity. Upload a list of people who have interacted with your business in-store to create a custom audience based on phone numbers or other offline channels.
  • Engagement. Creates a list of people who have recently engaged with your content on Instagram or Facebook.

* A Facebook Pixel is a code you (or your developer) installs on your website or in your app to track conversions from Facebook Ads and collect data to do stuff like build the Custom Audiences we're discussing here.

Let's sink our teeth into the different Custom Audience types available, and how they differ from each other:

Customer File Audiences

Customer File Audiences are based on a list of existing contacts available to you, such as newsletter subscribers or customers who have purchased from your e-commerce site. Syncing your customer list can be done one of two ways:

  • Manually uploading your audience in a .csv or .txt file.
  • Syncing your email CRM to your Facebook Ad Account.

Important: you can't mix data types, so you'll need to upload separate files for emails vs. phone numbers, for example.

We recommend giving your Custom Audience a short, easy-to-identify name which describes the specific audience, such as "Email signups" or "Past Customers."

Website Traffic Custom Audiences

If your business doesn't have a large enough database of emails, phone numbers, or Facebook User IDs to create a Custom Audience based on the steps above, you can use Website Custom Audiences to retarget visitors who have already visited your website.

This is a big boon for many businesses who are in the process of building their newsletter lists, for example, because all you need to do is make sure your Facebook pixel is installed and wait for people to visit your website. When they do, Facebook will recognize the users and automatically add them to an Audience, ready to be retargeted. 

App Activity Audiences

With the explosion of mobile app popularity and Facebook mobile ads, it's no surprise that this option is becoming a popular solution for many app-based businesses.

The option allows you to target people who have previously used your app but haven't come back to use it within the last month (for example), or, you can target people who have abandoned their carts (added an item to their cart but never completed the purchase.)

There are lots of ways to retarget app audiences (currently there are 14 actions/non-actions you can target), but the most popular options are:

  • Achieved a certain level in your game.
  • Completed a large purchase.
  • Recently opened your app.
  • Recently completed a purchase.

By targeted users who have (or haven't) completed a specific action you can tailor your retargeting ads with copy and visual content which compels them to come back, such as new levels, discounts, or ads featuring new items for purchase.

Offline Activity Audiences

The Offline Activity option allows you to build Custom Audiences based on one or multiple offline events, such as Add Payment Info, Add to Wishlist, etc. 

When you choose "Offline Activity" as tour Custom Audience type in Ads Manager, you can add multiple filters to refine the audiences to your specific needs. You can select multiple offline events and filters such as People Interacted Offline, Add Payment Info, Initiate Checkout, and more from the drop-down menu to restrict your list.

If you want to get super-granular, you can refine your data even further using the Custom Value or Aggregated Value options, which allows you to add conditions or values which are specific to your business goals. For example, you can add "source equals to call" to track the number of calls your business has received.

Engagement Custom Audiences

The Engagement option is especially exciting because it means you can use your ads to retarget people who have already shown an interest in your business on social media, which increases the likelihood that they will convert by 70%, according to FetchProfits. 

If you click on "Engagement", a window will appear which will prompt you to define an Engagement Audience based on six different engagement types. They are:

  • Video. This will target users who have watched at least three seconds of your videos on your Facebook Page or Instagram business profile.
  • Lead Forms. If you already use Lead ads, you can get in front of people who have opened or completed your lead form.
  • Fullscreen Experience. This option relates to the Facebook Canvas Ad option, and will retarget users who have opened your Canvas collection ads.
  • Facebook Page. This is our favorite because it allows you to retarget anyone who has interacted with or visited you Facebook Page. 
  • Instagram Business Profile. This is similar to the Facebook Page option, but retargets to people who have interacted with your Instagram business profile.
  • Event. Event retargeting is the latest addition to the Facebook Engaged Audience family, and allows you to retarget people who have RSVP'd to an event on Facebook.*

* Events must originate from your business page. Facebook won't allow you to target people who have attended similar events, or events which weren't hosted from your page.

Bonus: Custom "Lookalike Audiences"

One of our favorite ways to leverage the power of Facebook Custom Audiences is to create custom lookalike audiences. These audiences are exactly what they sound like: audiences of hundreds or thousands of people who don't know about your brand yet, but are likely to become your customers.

Lookalike audiences can be created from:

  • Email Lists
  • Current or Past Customers
  • Page Fans
  • Website Custom Audiences
  • App Activity
  • Conversion or Standard Events
  • Engagement (App, Video, etc)

Want to learn more about the incredible benefits of creating and using Facebook Custom Lookalike Audiences? Stay tuned for our next post! If you're still struggling with Facebook Ads and would like some help elevating your brand and reaching new customers for your business, drop us a line, we're happy to help.

Want to engage with us in the meantime? Subscribe to our newsletter or say hi on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram


 

SEO Research Tips for Building Your B2B Content

- by Alyson Shane

The most compelling business websites are informational, engaging, and accessible, but it’s not enough to have great content; your website also needs to be optimized to rank well in search engines in order to help prospects and readers find your content.

With this in mind, building a content marketing strategy for your business which includes a strong Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plan is necessary in an area when content is widely available, and the market is more competitive than ever, with 81% of B2B Decision Makers reporting that they conduct research on a company’s products and services before scheduling a vendor meeting. This means that your your website copy needs to be consistent in voice and tone, as well as optimized for SEO.

For content creators in B2B organizations, nailing down the phrases that prospects are plugging into search engines can feel tough. Not only can it seem like an endless process, but some content developers may feel as though they don’t have the necessary tools or expertise to get the job done.

The good news? Content creators in B2B businesses don’t need top-notch tools or years of experience developing high-quality SEO content.

Crafting great content that is SEO-driven for potential leads doesn’t have to be a mind-numbing or frustrating process. Here are some helpful SEO research tips to save you time and convert prospects into active leads:


1. Copy Social Media for Keywords Straight From Your Clients

For both B2B and B2C companies, your social media platforms are a hotbed of useful information and prospect engagement. These channels are commonly used by businesses to share their experiences, thoughts, and opinions.

As a B2B company searching for keywords that your clientele relate to your business, you can use these communication platforms to your advantage by tapping into your network and creating leading questions that allow B2B prospects to share their thoughts on your brand and business.

Twitter polls, for example, allow your online community to weigh in quickly and easily on the topic you’re researching. This means that you can gauge which keywords your audience associates with your brand while allowing for further discussions you can use in other areas of your content marketing strategy.

2. Use Technology to Find Relevant Data

Tools such as Google Analytics and the associated Keyword Planner have been tools of choice for B2B businesses for years. Whether you’re a large organization or a smaller vendor or a product or service, these tools are essential for a successful foray into SEO keyword and content development.

Often used for providing cost-per-click information, average search volume data, and creating paid search campaigns, these tools provide you with measurable data so that you can see what SEO tactics are working, and which you can further refine.

This data helps B2B business’ research and discover opportunities for greater reach, relevant keywords, and move deeper into creating a unique content plan that stands out in your chosen industry.

3. Complete Relevant Keywords Searches in Incognito Mode

If you’re a marketer then you probably have an ever-expanding collection of keywords that relate to your company’s product or service.

When you enter these keywords into your chosen search engine to see where your content is on the results page, you may be surprised to find that you’re close to the top. However, this probably isn’t a coincidence: browsers can use your history or cache to impact the results to make them as relevant to your experience as possible.

In order to conquer this system, you can perform an incognito search. Input your priority or high-performing keywords and then check where your page shows up. Take a gander at the content that fills up the first 5 spots and take notes on their keyword use, spacing, and other SEO factors that may be pushing them up on the results page.

4. Writing SEO Content Based On Keywords

When it comes to actually creating the SEO content, best-in-class content is that which plays into what a prospect wants to read and the specific keywords you should be targeting. Keep your list of developed keywords closeby as you’re creating content and reference back to Google Trends every once in awhile to ensure that your topics and keywords are relevant.

Get ready to gain traffic, earn prospects, and close more B2B deals with content that is SEO-driven and ready to perform. Have you used any of these tools to up your SEO game lately? 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.


 

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.


 

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