The Starling Social team is growing!

- by Alyson Shane


We're thrilled to have Joy Balmana join the Starling Social team as our new Account Manager! 

A graduate of Red River College's Creative Communications Program, Joy has quickly become a sought-after communicator thanks to her endless passion, creativity, and intellect. 

In addition to working with Nuit Blanche Winnipeg, Culture Days Manitoba, Spur Festival, and Holiday Alley, Joy tied for second as The Uniter's Top 30 Under 30, "Favourite Local Achiever Under 30" and nominated for CBC's Top 40 Under 40. 

We're beyond excited to have her on board, and look forward to all the work she'll be doing for our clients across North America.

In addition to being a communications and PR dynamo, Joy volunteers with Bear Clan Patrol Inc, a community-safety patrol in the North End of our city or reading Haruki Murakami novels (also a favourite author around the Starling Social office; clearly she's a great fit).

Please join us in welcoming Joy to the team!


 

Here Are the Answers to Your Hottest Local SEO Questions

- by Alyson Shane

Looking for answers to your hottest local SEO questions? We've got 'em! 

SEO is a "hot button" topic these days, and as businesses look for ways to expand their organic (non-paid) reach in order to help potential customers find them, many are waking up to the fact that spending a little time optimizing their website and Google My Business pages will help their business rank higher on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP.)

With that in mind, today we're going to answer some of the most common questions we hear from our clients when it comes to optimizing for local SEO. Let's dive right in:


"How has local SEO changed recently?"

Google makes so many updates to their search algorithms and associated business services that it can feel confusing to keep track of it all, so here are some of the most important changes that have taken place over the past few years:

  • Google has anchored Local Packs (the top three results you see after performing a search) to pretty much every SERP that it considers to be locally-focused. This is a big boon for businesses who have registered an account with Google My Business, Google Maps, etc.
  • Google My Business has also rolled out several features to help differentiate your business from your competitors, including: Posts, Product Posts, Q&A, Messages, Video, and more. By completing and updating as many of these features as possible, you can really hone your content offerings to target local search.
  • There have been a lot of rumblings recently about the explosion of voice and mobile search, but to date these trends haven't appeared to affect local SEO beyond ensuring that your data is clean and consistent across the web. This will be beneficial when the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes even more commonplace than it already is because it will allow businesses to easily integrate into these systems.
  • Reviews and link building continues to be critical for local SEO success. 

"How do I beat out competitors like Yelp when I have a small budget?"

The good news for small and medium businesses (SMBs) is that Google has an incentive to show more truly local businesses in each Local SERP, which means there's less opportunity for big companies like Yelp to dominate over the competition, even if you have a modest budget.

As long as you have your basic website, Google My Business Page, and your local citations set up and up-to-date, earning a high ranking on an SERP becomes a game of links, reviews, and content. 

In particular, SMBs need to focus on gaining positive customer reviews on Google, Yelp, and any other site that's relevant to your target market or industry. Another way to attract new customers is to make use of the Posts feature in Google My Business, which is a great (free!) way to attract new customers who may already be familiar with your brand.

"How much does social media impact my local SEO efforts?"

Social media doesn't appear to play a huge role outside of reviews. Instead, focus your "social SEO" efforts into being active on social platforms where you know your customers spend their time. For example, if your business markets products at women who are 45+, then your business should have an active Facebook Business Page, at the very least. 

"How do I differentiate myself from other local businesses in my industry?"

The best way to truly differentiate yourself from local competitors is to build a brand with a voice and tone that sounds unique online, and which helps potential customers see you as "different" than other, similar businesses. 

This typically comes down to how well you convey your values, and how well you can explain how your product or services will solve your customers' problems. 

Of course, many businesses who are just starting out and don't have a lot of word-of-mouth activity can still earn high local SEO rankings by setting up their website and GMB pages and focusing on getting links and reviews. 

"What are the 'must-haves' for succeeding in local SEO?"

Businesses that kill it at the local SEO game all share the same qualities:

  • Their a website is easy for Google to recognize, understand, and navigate.
  • Their Google My Business pages are optimized them using Posts, Q&As, etc.
  • All their local citations are in place in GMB.
  • They have a content strategy to target high-converting search queries. 
  • They consistently generate customer reviews.
  • They build and get links.

Remember: winning at local SEO isn't a one-time play; it takes ongoing effort to make sure that your website continues to rank highly in local SERP results!

Optimize Your Local SEO Today

Getting your business listed in Google's SERP Local Pack won't happen overnight, but by taking the proper steps to optimize your website, Google My Business profile, and focusing on getting a steady stream of reviews from places like Google, Yelp, and other niche-specific review sites, you can start to work your way into that exclusive club of anchored Local Packs.

Are you trying to rank for local results in your city? Drop us a line

Have a comment or question on what we just covered? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page.

Have a hot local SEO tip to share? Tweet us your favorite.

Looking for a more B2B connection? Follow us on LinkedIn.

Want some eye candy? Let's connect on Instagram.

Want to stay in touch? Subscribe to our newsletter.


 

4 Ways to Include Your Customers in Your Content Marketing

- by Alyson Shane

Every business owner knows that the best thing your customers can do for you (in addition to buying your products and services, of course) is to refer people they know to your company.

After all, 92% of consumers trust referrals from people they know, and people are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend. (Source: Annex Cloud)

To this end, business owners will often spend significant amounts of their marketing budget to reach new customers and encourage organic word of mouth... but when was the last time you thought about how your existing customers can actually help you grow your customer base?

Peer-to-peer (P2P) marketing, which is when an existing customer becomes a "brand advocate" and promotes a specific product or service to their friends and colleagues, has become an important aspect of any business' marketing plan in both the B2B and B2C spaces.

Successful P2P marketing draws from your existing network of happy customers and taps them to help your business grow through referrals, social selling, and thought leadership. 

Have you considered including your customers in your content marketing strategy? If not, you should, as 91% of B2B purchasers have reported that past buying decisions have been influenced by referrals from industry peers.

Not sure where to start? Below are four easy ways you can include your customers in your content marketing strategy:

1. Customer Case Studies


Case studies are one of the easiest ways to showcase the value of your products and services to prospective customers by creating a story that others in similar situations can relate to. By demonstrating a clear narrative of Problem, Solution, Result, you can show customers across a variety of industries that choosing your business will yield similar positive results. 

What should a strong case study include? Make sure to write with these elements in mind:

  • The challenge. The most important part of a strong case study is a challenge that your reader can relate to. For example, showcase how your business helped a nonprofit convert 3x more donors in the last quarter, or how your insurance clients generated 50% leads in the last year as a result of your services. If your company services a variety of different industries try to craft a few different case studies that tell relatable, industry-specific stories.
  • The approach. Use this section to describe how your product or service resolved the issue and build credibility with your reader. This section should use specific examples like highlighting the steps your team used to achieve a specific outcome, or how choosing your service led to increased productivity and customer satisfaction. If possible, use visual examples like charts and data to illustrate the positive net benefit. 
  • The Result. This section should be focused on your approach solved the customer's needs and should highlight the tangible impact of your services. Use cost savings, leads generated, and other key performance indicators relevant to the target industry to secure buy-in from your reader.

2. Start a Guest Blogging Program

Does your business have a blog? If not, back up and check out this post on how to get your business' blog going, then start including your customers in it in order to share new perspectives, ideas, and grow a community around your products or services.

Identify some of your company's top customers or biggest brand advocates and ask them to write a blog post about a particular pain point they have, and how your business has helped them solve it. This is also a great opportunity for cross-promotion, so make sure to ask contributors to share the post on their own social media profiles, and their blog if they have one. 

This is a unique opportunity for your customers to tell their story and enhance their own brand by positioning themselves as thought leaders while also showcasing the value of your services, so what are you waiting for? Reach out to 2-3 of your most loyal customers and see if they're interested; we guarantee they'll say yes.

3. Showcase Customers During Webinars

If your company services a variety of industries, or if you have a fully built-out product suite, customer-centric webinars are a great way for your customer to share information and challenges relevant to their industry, and to share how they've found success using your products or platform. 

One of the benefits of using a webinar over a case study or a blog post to showcase your customers is that a webinar allows them to go more in-depth in their industry, show live visuals, and chat with attendees through live chat. By giving your customers a real voice as part of your content marketing strategy you can put real, human faces to your brand and build trust and connections with your customers. 

4. Start Live Streaming

Have you noticed an uptick in the amount of live streaming happening on social media lately? If so, you're not alone: this emerging market is expected to be worth over $70 billion by 2021.

Need another reason to consider live streaming? How about this: 80% of customers would rather watch a live video than read a post from a business. Why? Because live streaming created a sense of urgency - people need to tune in right now - and it offers an"behind the scenes" look which builds authenticity, trust, and transparency. 

Not sure how to work live streaming into your content marketing strategy in a way that features your customers? Try these ideas:

  • Live events like lunch 'n learns, breakfasts, and panel discussions.
  • Announcements and updates.
  • Interviews and Q&As, at conferences or on-site.

Featuring your customers is an easy way to cross-promote your live streaming content. Just make sure to promote the live stream in advance so your audience has enough notice that they can tune in and participate. 

Start Including Your Customers in Your Content Marketing

We've listed just a few of the ways you can start including your customers in your content marketing strategy, but there are lots of other ways you can get creative and leverage technology like live streaming and video to enhance your customer experience and showcase the value of your products and services.

Not sure how to write a case study or create a content marketing plan that highlights you customer success stories? Drop us a line

Have a customer success story you want to share? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page.

Know a brand that's rocking the webinar game? Tweet us your favorite.

Looking for a more B2B connection? Follow us on LinkedIn.

Love eye-catching visuals? Let's connect on Instagram.

Want to stay in touch? Subscribe to our newsletter.


 

5 Marketing Books That Are Perfect for the Cottage

- by Alyson Shane

We're halfway through summer, and many of us are booking weekends (or weeks, if you're lucky) off to catch some much-needed rest and relaxation. If you're in Canada, like we are, then it's likely that you're enjoying your time off at a cottage or cabin, hopefully near a big body of water that's perfect for swimming, hiking, boating, fishing, and catching up on some sleep.

While getting a sunburn and over-indulging on BBQed meat is a staple of the cottage experience, we love using our "unplugged" time away from wifi and screens to catch up on a few good reads to get us back in the "marketing mindset" when we're back at our desks.

Looking for a few good reads to sink your teeth into and get that creativity flowing? Check out these must-read marketing books that pair perfectly with a sunny dock and a cold beer:


1. Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content

Good content drives good marketing, and to create really good content you need the copywriting skills necessary to convey your ideas in a compelling and interesting way. In Everybody Writes, marketing dynamo Ann Handley offers thoughtful advice and guidance for writers of all skill levels on how to level-up their writing chops and deliver copy that gets attention and delivers results.

Whether you're new to the concept of content marketing or are a seasoned content marketing looking to sharpen their teeth on some innovative ideas, this book is a must-read for any writers and content marketers out there.

2. UnBranding: 100 Branding Lessons for the Age of Disruption

Scott Stratten has been dissecting how we communicate for years. In addition to his hilarious and long-running podcast, he's also a branding expert with a key eye for detecting B.S. in the marketing industry.

Unbranding is a collection of stories that showcase how branding is just as important as ever, and provides clear and actionable advice to apply lessons learned from the examples in our changing digital marketing landscape. From dealing with criticism on social media, to building and maintaining trust, to cutting through the "noise" online: it's all in this swift little read.

3. PRE-SUASION: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

If you studied marketing in university then it's likely that you've already encountered Robert Caldini's seminal work: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which was released in 1984.

Pre-Suasion acts as a follow-up to this book and goes much deeper into the subtitles of areas like: place, identity, shared action, attention and importance, the subtleties of persuasion, and much more. This info-packed read will not only help you persuade your colleagues and the executives you work for you support your marketing initiatives, but will also help you persuade customers to take the action you want.

4. Exactly What to Say: The Magic Words for Influence and Impact 

Someone's decision to work with you often comes down to what you say and how you say it, and that's true in sales, marketing, and life in general. This fantastic read by Phil M. Jones, one of the world's most respected sales trainers, digs deep into the power of the words we say, and offers a fascinating look on the art of responsive, thoughtful, and engaging conversation to achieve the results you want.

Sure, a book like this can help your sales team close more deals, but it can help you state your case more persuasively, present your ideas with more confidence, and become a more powerful speaker both in and outside the boardroom.

5. Marketing: A Love Story, How to Matter to Your Customers

This book is all about how to matter to your customers, and how to build the emotional connection necessary so you continue to matter to them for years to come. 

What we love about this book is its unusual structure: it's adapted from a series of blog posts written by the author, but at 81 pages that doesn't really matter because every page is packed with thought-provoking points that apply to marketers and entrepreneurs working in both the B2B and B2C spaces.

If your business has struggled to inject emotion into your sales and marketing copy, then this read will give you insight, inspiration, and steps to think about how to sell your story, not your product. 

What are your favorite marketing books? Tell us by leaving us a comment on FB!

Got any good marketing books or podcasts to recommend? Tweet us your answer!

Looking for a more B2B connection with us? Follow us on LinkedIn!

Love eye-catching visuals and snappy captions? Let's connect on Instagram!

Oh, and if you're looking for help developing a killer digital marketing strategy to propel your business to success in Q4, drop us a line


 

How to Increase Click Through Rates Using Emojis

- by Alyson Shane

It's hard to stand out online these days.

Between social media, digital ads, email marketing, and every other kind of advertisement out there, users see an estimated 11,250 ads each month each month. That's a lot to take in, and it's a lot to try to stand out from.

But it's not enough for your business' content to stand out; you also have to get your customers to engage with it, and take action. But how can you do this?

We're going to tell you:


How Emojis Can Solve Your Low Click-Through Rates

The most effective way to tell if your campaign is going well is to calculate your click-through rate (CTRs.) Your click-through rate is “the percentage of people who view your ad (impressions) and then actually go on to click the ad (clicks.)”

Low CTRs are usually an indicator that your campaign messaging isn't resonating with your audience. Sometimes it's the messaging; other times it's the visual elements. Occasionally, low CTRs are due to poor audience targeting. 

Most often low CTRs are because your content sounds stuffy and wooden.

Modern consumers expect their brands to talk and sound like them, with 45% reporting that they like "brands that don't take themselves too seriously." These results, along with the growing consumer class made up of Millennials, may explain why big food brands like Wendy's have started roasting their competitors on Twitter:


Now, we understand that most businesses out there aren't about to start sassing people online, but an easy way to copy the "humanness" of a Wendy's tweet is to start using emojis.

According to one study, 68% of millennials said they are more comfortable expressing emotions using emojis, and by literally speaking their language your business immediately becomes more relatable and will stand out from the other brands competing for their attention. 

But how can you choose the right emojis to increase CTRs without committing emoji abuse and sounding inauthentic as a result?


Be smart with the emojis you use. 

A recent study found that this list of emojis earned the highest click-through rates: 

What do you notice about this list? If you noticed that none of them are faces, then you're correct! In fact, the data shows that using uncommon emojis increases click-through rates by attracting extra attention to your link because people don't see them very often.

Increase CTRs by Adding Emojis to Email Subject Lines and Body Text

Did you know that 44% of consumers prefer email as their favorite way to interact with a brand, and that email users send and receive approximately 269 billion emails every day?

That's a lot of email to compete with. 

Even worse, one study found that even though people are opening your emails, 52% of them are unlikely to bother taking an additional step to click-through to your website.

Luckily, research shows that emojis not only increase email open rates, but emojis increase click-through rates as well. The study compared campaigns for Valentine's Day and Father's Day that A/B tested two email subject line formats: one with emojis, and one without, and the results were startling: 

The Valentine's Day email that included a "lips" emoji in the subject line drove a read rate of 24% and an inbox placement rate of 89%, compared to a read rate of just 20% and an inbox placement of 83% for text-only subject lines. 

The Father's Day campaign that used a "wrench" emoji in the subject line earned a read rate of 22% and an inbox placement of 96%, compared to a read rate of 21% and an inbox placement rate of 88%.

These are huge differences that you can replicate right now just by using emojis in your email marketing campaigns. In fact, there are lots of ways to get creative with emojis! 

Use Emojis Make Your Emails Stand Out

Emojis help your emails stand out in a reader's inbox. Think about most of the emails you get: how many of them are text-only subject lines? 

It's pretty uncommon to see emojis in subject lines these days, which makes using them a power move in terms of grabbing your readers attention.

One of the companies rocking the emoji game is CoSchedule. Check out how they use emojis to enhance their message in their email subject lines:


See how they embed emojis in their titles to enhance their messaging? They catch your eye and make them seem fun without losing their informational value.

Use Emojis in Social Media Ad Copy and Headers

We've already talked about the fierce competition your business faces against the 11,000+ ads audiences see every single day, so businesses need to get creative and think outside of the box in order to create ads that grab attention and drive action.

Luckily, results have shown that using emojis in your social media ads can dramatically increase the number of CTRs your ad generates.

One company called Scoro A/B tested two ads: one with an emoji in the subject line, and another without. Check them out:


The headline with emoji resulted in 241% higher click-through rate. Wow!

Ask yourself: what are some upcoming social media campaigns your business is planning that could use an 'emoji injection' in the ad copy? Get creative and start experimenting!

Use Emojis on Social Media

Adding emojis to your social media content is an easy way to sound relatable and authentic. Check out how thredUP uses emojis to easily respond to a tweet:


We also love how Cath Kidson uses "checkmark" emojis in their tweets to break up the text and create the feeling of a checklist in their tweet:


Use Emojis in Meta Titles

That's right: emojis now show up on search engine result pages. 

Emojis now appear content that's "relevant, useful, and fun." Obviously emojis will stand out in on a results page made up entirely of text, the using emojis in meta titles has an even more important function:

Did you notice that an emoji search for a dragon also returned results without the emoji in the page title? This matters, because Google is showing a variety of results relevant to the specific emoji. 

This means that by including emojis in your meta titles you can show up in search results for emoji searches as well as text based-searches. Not sure which emojis to use, and which to avoid? Check out this list of the most-used emojis

Use Emojis in Your Push Notifications, Messaging, and ChatBots

Does your business have a mobile app, or use chatbots on your website? 

If you answered "yes" to either of those questions, then it's time to start integrating emojis into your copy asap. Check out how Air Tailor uses emojis in the welcome message on their website:


According to this case study, Air Tailor has used emojis in their messaging to grow by 100% every year

This should come as no surprise as research found that push notifications with emojis drive higher engagement rates than those without. This is because emojis sound human, and make the content you're sharing (and the action you want your customer to take) more fun than just text-only notifications.

Improve Your CTRs with Emojis

Using emojis gives your business a competitive advantage by drawing attention to your content and helping your brand sound more "human" and authentic. 

Just like with all your business' content: strategic and thoughtful in what you say, and use emojis to showcase your business' casual and playful side to increase your click-through rates.

How do you love using emojis in your content? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page!

What's your favorite brand using emojis on Twitter? Tweet us your answer!

Looking for a more B2B connection? Follow us on LinkedIn!

Love visual eye candy? Let's connect on Instagram!

Oh, and if you want some help using emojis and a killer content marketing strategy to connect with your audience and grow your business, drop us a line


 

4 Social Media Faux Pas You Need to Stop Doing Right Now

- by Alyson Shane

Have you ever laid in bed and thought about a specific scenario, something that you said or did in a public setting or at an event, that still makes you cringe? If yes, you're not alone! 

Social faux pas happen all the time; whether it's an offhand remark that gets taken the wrong way; a joke that doesn't land; or any other behavior that negatively impacts your ability to make a good impression on those around you, people commit faux pas from time to time.

And just like committing a social faux pas at a party or in real life can make other people feel less inclined to talk to you, committing a social media faux pas can cause people to lose interest in what you have to say. 

Are you committing any of these social media faux pas with your social media strategy that are preventing you from truly connecting with your audience? Keep reading to find out:


Faux Pas #1: Spreading Yourself Too Thin

Many business owners feel compelled to try and maintain an active presence on as many social media networks as possible in order to try to reach as many people as possible. 

So let's put this social media myth to bed once and for all: 

Your business doesn't have to be on every social platform. Full stop. 

Taking the time to understand your business' social media needs and developing a content marketing strategy specific to each platform means you'll be engaging in meaningful conversations on the social networks that matter to your audience.

Applying a "shotgun approach" to your social media, on the other hand, often means you're spreading your resources too thin, and usually means you're spending time on social networks that won't help you connect with potential customers or generate leads. 

Faux Pas #2: Ignoring Context Online

We love our social media scheduling tools, but using a scheduling service without thinking critically about the kind of content you're scheduling (and when) can have dire consequences.

For example, if your company's Twitter feed is exploding with a tragic event or breaking news then it may be prudent to put the promo on "pause" for a little while and take the time to tweet some words of encouragement, condolences, or feedback (where applicable.)

Not only can ignoring context make your business look cold and uncaring... it may make you look like you're asleep behind the digital wheel.

Faux Pas #3: You Don't Listen to Your Followers

Another issue with relying solely on scheduling tools is that they only work one-way, meaning that you can't just "set and forget" your social media content and expect it to drive audience growth and lead generation.

People want to feel like they're being listened to, and that means starting and participating in conversations on your target social networks. 

When was the last time your business started a real conversation on social media?

If you don't know, then it's time to hop back in and get chatting, because by ignoring your audience you're missing out on valuable opportunities to connect with them, build trust and familiarity, and generate new leads and customers for your business.

Faux Pas #4: All Talk, No Strategy

The biggest faux pas we want to cover today is posting and engaging without knowing how or why you're doing it. 

This is where your voice and tone document comes in, as well as a comprehensive marketing strategy that outlines who you're talking to, why, and the topics you want to talk about in order to have authentic interactions with your audience.

After all, while we love memes as much as the next marketer, if you're not taking the time to act with intention then your voice will get lost in the social media noise, and your efforts won't yield the results you're looking for. 

However, make sure not to sound too wooden. Nobody wants to interact with a business (or anyone!) who sound like they take themselves too seriously and act stiffly and without humour. So make sure to toss the occasional joke, meme, or authentic reaction to current events into the mix - your audience will appreciate it.

Do you have a question for us about social media and how to create a killer content marketing plan? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page!

Found a hilarious meme you think we should see? Tweet it at us!

Want to subscribe to our updates? Follow us on LinkedIn!

Love visual eye candy? Let's connect on Instagram!

Oh, and if you want some help with developing a digital marketing strategy that grows your business, generates new leads, and endears your customers to you? Drop us a line


 

How Your Page Copy is Failing and What You Can Do About It

- by Alyson Shane

Websites exist for the same reason: to get the visitor to take action.

Whether that's reading a blog post, subscribing to your newsletter, buying your product, or learning more about what you do, there shouldn't be a single page on your website that isn't there to generate an action from the person viewing it.

But if your page copy isn't set up to convey information in a way that offers value and inspires the action you want someone to take, you're leaving customers at your digital doorstep.

As content experts, we spend a lot of time working with our clients to hone their copy and keep their pages converting and consistent. With that in mind, today we're going to review some of the most common reasons we find our client's content wasn't converting, and unpack how we approach solving their issues:


You Use Empty Words

One of the most common issues we see when developing a voice and tone guide with many clients with many of our B2B clients is a tendency towards verbosity in their copy. 

Often we'll run into sentences that sound like this:

"Our team of exceptionally qualified experts with decades of experience in their respective fields who are fiercely committed to delivering exceptional results that exceed expectation and reimagine the potentiality of our client's portfolios."

... So, how did reading that make you feel? Cross-eyed? Us, too. 

Often, we find that in an attempt to sound professional, people will stuff unnecessary words into a sentence that detract from the point they're trying to make.

The Solution: Write Like Hemingway 

Ernest Hemingway was famous for his short and quippy prose. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Hemingway's sentences were concise and to the point, and conveyed the maximum amount of information in the fewest amount of words.

When we write for our clients, we edit our work and ask "would Hemingway leave this sentence? Or can we be more concise here?" Try it for yourself and see what the results are!

Bonus: there's even a Hemingway Editor tool that's super handy.

You Lose Focus in Your Copy

If Hemingway was able to hammer home a powerhouse story in just a few hundred pages, your web page copy can be snappy and concise while still conveying your brand voice and communicating value.

But why does this happen in the first place? In a lot of cases it's because the writer is trying to up-sell the reader on something. 

Think about it this way: if you have two related products - say, a bicycle and a helmet - it may be tempting to try and sell both on the same page. 

People think: "if they don't buy the bike, they'll buy the helmet!" but this tactic often backfires because you're splitting your reader's attention.

But by splitting your audience's attention you reduce the likelihood they'll buy either item. The more things you stuff onto a page, the more divided your reader's attention (and incentive to purchase) is separated and diminished. 

The Solution: Focus on the Subject Matter

The key to writing concise copy is to stay laser-focused on the subject matter on the page.

For service pages, write one page per service.
For item pages, write one page per item. 
For blogs, write about one idea of topic.

This will keep your audience's attention focused, and will keep your brand's voice and tone from sounding inconsistent and confused. 

Oh, and by all means use embedded links to link to related topics when necessary, but be careful to focus on one topic per page.

Reading it Feels Like Work

Have you ever seen an attention-grabbing headline, clicked over to the website, and then clicked away immediately because you didn't feel like putting the work into reading the whole thing? Yeah, us too.

Typically "hard work" pages happen because they've been stuffed with empty words and sentences, like the example we showed earlier. 

These pages are dangerous because they increase your bounce rate (people who leave your website after only looking at one page), make your page look less appealing to read.

Worst of all: these pages fail to communicate value because there's so much fluff in the copy that the real points - the ones that are valuable to your audience - are lost in there somewhere.

The Solution: Optimize for Mobile

Gone are the days when crowds used to gather to hear Abraham Lincoln read a four-hour rebuttal to an opponent's platform; our modern society likes when people are to the point and communicate clearly. 

This has mainly been driven by the explosion of mobile phones and smaller screens. Lots of text is hard to read on a smaller screen, and how we write our copy has to change to adapt to these trends. 

By always writing your copy with mobile in mind, we apply these principles:

  • Avoid large paragraphs and try to keep sentences short.
  • Use shorter words to communicate your message.
  • Cut out empty words. 

Your Copy Sounds Wooden

We've noticed this tendency in the B2B space much more than the B2C space, probably because of that perception of fanciness we discussed earlier. Unfortunately, the most significant consequence of this style of writing is that not only does it tend to get filled with empty words, it often sounds wooden and unapproachable.

Two words a business owner should never want to hear are "wooden and unapproachable."

Why? Because people buy from brands and people they like and trust. Let's think about it this way:

You're a farmer at a networking event, and you meet two business owners, Robert and Stephen. Robert is wearing a three-piece suit and is standing with his arms crossed and talking but not smiling; Stephen is wearing a suit jacket, slacks, and is telling an entertaining story and moving his hands around. 

Who are you more likely to buy from? Robert or Stephen? 

If you're like most people, you'll choose Stephen. Why? Because he seemed more approachable and friendly, not wooden and reserved like Robert, and these subtle differences in how we communicate impact how people feel about us. 

People (and brands) who seem approachable and friendly make their audience feel comfortable enough to want to buy from them.

The Solution: Keep Your Copy Approachable

Consider how your phrasing makes your page sound.

Read the copy on your web pages out loud to yourself. 

Who does it sound more like: Robert, or Stephen?

Copy that sounds like Stephen should sound clear, friendly, and approachable. 

Focusing on sounding positive and avoiding complicated language shows your reader that their experience of reading your website is what matters most, and doesn't make them feel uncomfortable, or like reading it is a chore. 

By avoiding empty words and sentences, staying on-topic, and by working to be approachable and clear, you can write web page copy that keeps your reader on the page, drives the action you want them to take, and conveys the value of your services to your audience.

Need some help figuring out how to do it? Get in touch and let us know how we can make your brand sing with a content strategy based on data, analytics, and a deep understanding of how to write content that gets results. Get tips right to your inbox, and give us a follow on  FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Instagram.


 

6 "Killer" Marketing Lessons from Sun Tzu's Art of War

- by Alyson Shane

The Art of War, written by Chinese general Sun Tzu in the second century B.C., is considered to be one of the most influential military books in history. Not only was Sun Tzu's prudent and thoughtful analysis of military strategy relevant in his time, but in the centuries that have passed Sun Tzu's influence can be felt in a variety of areas across the globe. 

From military policy, to law, to business, thinkers have been heeding his advice and applying takeaways from his lessons to think more critically about overcoming personal and professional challenges.

Below, we want to share our six favorite takeaways from this monumentally important read, and translate Sun Tzu's advice into lessons that marketers like us can apply to modern-day marketing problems:

1. “There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white and black), yet in combination, they produce more hues than can ever be seen.” 

Translation 

Get creative with your marketing approach and don't be afraid to try new things in order to discover new solutions to existing problems. 

By blending primary colors we can create a rainbow, and by getting creative with our marketing we can overcome the limitations of budget, knowledge, or even time. 

2. “The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”

Translation

Don't let hubris be your downfall, and don't be afraid to retreat and regroup if something doesn't go the way you intended. 

In short: don't be afraid to fail or to make mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn, and by accepting and learning from them, you can hone your marketing messaging to really speak to your customers.

3. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” 

Translation

Effective marketing requires both discipline (strategy) and execution (tactics.) 

Discipline refers to maintaining a macro-level, long-term vision for your company which incorporates a well-developed marketing strategy. However, without the daily to-dos of engagement, publishing content, sharing articles, and other day-to-day marketing tasks, the strategy falls apart. This is why it's essential to review goals and KPIs regularly (tactics) to ensure that you're always working towards your goal. 

4. “If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.”

Translation 

Pay attention to market trends, your competition, and what influencers in your industry are doing. 

With so many daily tasks and to-dos, it can be easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when it comes to staying on top of the ways that the digital marketing landscape is changing. However, staying up-to-date on the latest developments in our industry is essential to avoid being left in the digital dust. 

5. “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

Translation 

Planning and preparedness are great, but real marketing magic happens when we allow ourselves to be flexible and seize on opportunities to stand out.

One of our favorite recent examples of "seizing an opportunity" was when KFC ran into a bizarre crisis: they ran out of chicken in the U.K. due to a mixup with the supplier. Instead of hiding from the problem and trying to downplay it, the marketing geniuses at KFC released a series of ads which read "FCK. We're sorry." which not only addressed the problem (and earned goodwill with their customers) but also was covered in multiple media outlets and hailed as a marketing success. 

6. “Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.” 

Translation

Successful marketers are ones who are agile.

One of the cornerstones of digital marketing success is to lean on your data and analytics to understand user behavior and your most important KPIs. However, it's not enough o keep repeating the same steps as you did last month, last quarter, or even last year. 

Agile marketing means taking the time to understand your data, and to use what you see to make decisions based on what is, and isn't working. Ask yourself: what do the numbers tell me, and how can I make adjustments to what we're already doing to continue to meet our growth KPIs?

In war, in business, and in marketing, history's most successful and influential thinkers were those who took the time to think strategically about how to achieve their goals. By applying a strategic, tactical approach to your marketing, you can grow a community around your business, increase leads and reach new customers, and increase your business' bottom line. 

Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram for applicable strategy and insights you can use. Need a strategic partner to work with you to develop a comprehensive digital marketing strategy? Get in touch - we'd love to make your brand sing.


 

The GDPR: What It Is + What Digital Marketers Need to Know

- by Alyson Shane

Disclaimer: this blog post is intended to provide background information about how marketers can comply with EU data privacy laws like GDPR, not as legal advice. We're not lawyers, and if you have specific questions about GDPR we recommend that you contact your attorney for accurate info. What follows is basic information and guidelines.

If you've been anywhere near a computer in the past few weeks it's likely that you've heard about GDPR, or the General Data Privacy Regulation coming into force on May 25, 2018 - but do you know what this means for you as a digital marketer?

HubSpot's research concluded that only 36% of marketers have heard about GDPR, and 15% of companies surveyed haven't taken actions to ensure that they comply with the new legislation, so we want to take this opportunity to explain some of the basics about GDPR, how it applies to your business, and what you can do to ensure you comply.

Let's dive right in:


Let's start by addressing two important points:

  1. If you handle or control the data for EU citizens (or their businesses) then GDPR will apply to you.
  2. Penalties for noncompliance will be severe. Depending on the type of violation companies may be fined up to €20 million or 4% of their annual global revenue - whichever is greater. So this new legislation comes with some sharp teeth.

This means that if you (or your company) has engaged in any shady marketing practices like cold emailing, spamming, or buying email lists, then you're in for a world of hurt. And honestly? We're okay with pushback on these tactics because they're outdated, shady, and damage the work digital marketers like us do to provide real value for our clients and their customers.

We'll just say this at the outset: there's a lot to keep track of when it comes to GDPR, so we're going to apply it to inbound marketing tactics and explore how to adapt to the new regulations and incorporate the changes into your inbound practice:

How Will the GDPR Impact Your Marketing Activities?

Essentially the GDPR came about in the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and the increased public attention on the fact that it can be really hard to know who is collecting and using your data. 

This change requires organizations who collect data ('Data Controllers') to be transparent in how the data provided by the user ('Data Subjects') will be used in the future, and provide the user with the chance to give their consent. The language in the GDPR dictates that consent needs to be clear, written in plain English, and must be "informed, specific, unambiguous, and revocable."

Inbound Example

Lots of organizations use gated content to build their email lists and generate leads for their business. This is usually a pretty simple exchange: the user provides some basic information, like their name, email, and sometimes their business name, and in return they get access to a ebook, whitepaper, or other type of valuable content.

Now that the GDPR has come into play, businesses need to provide additional information about how they're planning to use that data - whether it's to follow up via email, track that user's activity on their website, etc., it all needs to be communicated clearly from the get-go. 

Additionally, if the business wants to use that data for any other purpose they need to follow up and acquire consent from the user before they can legally use it again.

Data Collection + Sharing Restrictions

In addition to clearly communicating how a users' data will be used, new GDPR rules dictate that businesses can only collect data that is:

  • Adequate
  • Relevant
  • Necessary for the purpose of collection

This means any data collected that's deemed "unnecessary" or "in excess" will constitute a breach of the GDPR, and your business will be fined.

Additionally, if your business attempts to use data for reasons other than the specified, legal, and previously agreed-upon purposes, then you'll need to acquire additional consent from the user in order to do so.

Inbound Example

Collecting data in exchange for gated content is commonplace - we already know that - but new GDPR rules are much more specific about the kind of data that you can request from a user in exchange for your gated content.

For example, if your company offers an ebook about developing C-suite leadership and team management skills, then it's appropriate to ask for data such as:

  • The user's name
  • Their email
  • Business name
  • Number of employees in the business

However, if you tried to collect data about the user's personal life such as their relationship status, employment history, and salary, then it would be seen as excessive and not required by a company offering B2B resources. Additionally, your business can only use stored data for it's original, intended purposes - so additional consent from the user is required in this instance, as well.

Increased Data Security

Once data has been collected the GDPR dictates that businesses need to use "appropriate technical and organizational security measures" to protect against the accidental loss, disclosure, destruction, alteration, and access to that data. 

Inbound Example

Once a business has data stored in their system it becomes their responsibility to ensure that it is safe and secure. The type of steps they may need to take to encrypt the data and keep it secure depends on the type of data collected and how they're planning to use that data.

Keeping Data Accurate

This one's a little non-newsy, but the GDPR now makes it officially acceptable for people to contact businesses in possession of their data so that it can be updated to be as relevant as possible.

Inbound Example

You're subscribed to a newsletter that you really enjoy reading, but have switched to a new email service provider and want to contact the sender to let them know where they can reach you at your new email address.

(Like we said: this one's a little non-newsy since lots of folks already do this, but it's GDPR official now.)

Increased Accountability

Every business is accountable for how the data they collect is used, ensure that they have records of consent for all the collected information, and that policies are in place that meet the GDPR's restrictions on how that data can be used.

Inbound Example

Let's say your business wants to run a marketing campaign using data you've previously collected (like a Facebook Custom Audience) and have contracted to a third party company to handle the advertising aspect of your campaign. 

With GDPR in effect, your business will need to obtain consent from all users to use their data before using it (like we talked about above), and that consent needs to be clearly recorded, and any third-party contractors need to comply with Article 28 of the GDPR, which applies to Processor contracts.  

Updates to Data Retention + Deletion

Under the GDPR organizations can keep the data they collect for as long as it's needed to fulfill the original purpose collection, which means that a data retention policy needs to already be in place which clearly outlines how long they'll hold onto the data once it has been received.

Most companies already have data retention politics in place, but we recommend double-checking local laws and regulations, as well as GDPR rules, and ensuring that your data retention policy is transparent and clearly communicated to the user.

Inbound Example

You're a customer and you close your account with an organization because you no longer want or require their services. At this point the business will need to have a data retention policy in place (and comply with it) that meets GDPR standards if they want to retain any of the data lost when the account closes.

(On this note, you may have heard that Facebook has recently rolled out a Clear History function which not only acts as a "clear cookies" option for Facebook data, but also allows users to see which apps and services have accessed their Facebook data. You can read Mark Zuckerberg's post here, and a great in-depth discussion on the HackerNews forum about it here.)

Final Thoughts on the GDPR

While the GDPR may sound like an inconvenience from a business and marketing standpoint, legislation that protects user data and increases transparency between the people who share data and the companies that use it helps keep everyone's data safe and used respectfully.

Here at Starling Social we don't believe that sharing data, or asking for it, is a bad thing. Collecting data in aggregate helps us deliver better content and ads that grow businesses, solve problems for our clients' customers, and provide revenue that helps keep people employed, but it's important that organizations are transparent and up-front with the data they want, and how they intend to use it.

At the end of the day, the GDPR offers an important opportunity for organizations and marketers alike to rethink how we approach collecting and using data, and how we can use it to create more personalized, effective, and efficient content that serves our customers.

Want more info on GPDR and what it means for marketers? Check out some of the resources we used when putting this article together:

What are your thoughts on the GDPR regulations? Drop us a line and let us know on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or on LinkedIn - we can't wait to hear your thoughts!


 

How to Find Your Brand's Voice + Tone for Social Media

- by Alyson Shane

Every business owner knows that social media saturation, competitive paid promotions, and fierce online competition in over-saturated marketplaces make it harder than ever for a business to stand out online. 

Enter: the Voice + Tone document. 

This super-powerful document helps maintain a unique and on-brand "voice" across all of your communication channels. It's critical to help consumers understand your brand's values, mission, and your unique value proposition (UVP.) 

Not only does a voice and tone document help your brand sound more like a human and less like a robot, but this document will help to guide building a trusting two-way relationship with customers and affiliate businesses, and increases the likelihood that users will respond to and share your content, which amplifies your organic (non-paid) social efforts.

We've already written about why your business needs proper documentation to find (and keep!) your brand's voice and tone, and today we'll be digging deeper into how you can discover the elements that matter to your brand, and how to incorporate them into a killer Voice + Tone document that helps differentiate your business from your competitors and conveys your brand values to your customers. 

Let's dive right in:

Voice + Tone: A Refresher

Voice and tone sound similar, but are actually two parts of a whole. Your brand's voice should be consistent across all of your digital channels and communication platforms (blog, website, newsletter, ads, etc.); however, your tone may differ depending on who you're speaking to, and where.

Think about it this way:

Voice: How your brand expresses its personality in general. Typically we look to specific adjectives, values, and pre-determined statements about the brand to guide our voice.

Tone: How your brand's voice is applied in different situations. "Tone" can differ depending on the social network and context in which you're speaking (e.g.: users use more formal language on LinkedIn than Facebook.) 

Finding Your Brand's Voice + Tone

Finding your brand's ideal voice and tone may take several iterations to get right, especially after times of change such as a new product launch, change in management at the C-suite level, or a merger. However, these steps will get you started:

Build a Brand Persona

You've probably heard about "Buyer Personas" or "Buyer Profiles" before, but have you spent the time necessary to develop a "persona" for your brand?

If you haven't, now's the perfect time to sit down and ask yourself and your management team some important questions about how you want your brand to be perceived online (hint: your UVP may have some answers, so make sure to have it on-hand as well.)

Some questions to get you started include:

  • What are our values? What sets us apart from our competitors?
  • Who are we creating content for? Who are our "audience" online?
  • Where do our audience spend time online? How do we want to communicate with them?
  • How does our audience communicate with us and others on social media? What language and tone are they using?

Write With Buyer Profiles in Mind

One of the most effective ways to understand how to talk to your audience is to re-assess who you're talking to, and where they are in their Buyer Journeys. Tf you have them, this is the ideal time to whip out your Buyer Profiles (or your Ideal Customer Profile [ICP] if you have one) to use as your guide.

As an example, here are some voice and tone takeaways that we helped determine for a client, who runs a consulting agency specializing sales strategy and optimization:

  • CEO/Senior Sales Leaders
  • Ideal company/employee size: 200 - 1000
  • At least 20 people on the sales team
  • At least 5 years in business
  • Over $50 million in revenue

With this in mind, here are the assumptions we can make about our readers when creating copy:

  • They’re not looking for “light” content. They’re seeking out the best expertise in their field, which means applying a “data-driven approach” which uses data, surveys, and statistics to validate our claims whenever possible.
  • They’re already familiar with industry terms. We don’t need to explain what a CRM system is, for example, because these individuals will already be using - or at least be aware of - these abbreviations and terms. 
  • They’re at least somewhat tech-savvy. Or, they are interested in developing their knowledge in this area, and are relying on our content to point them in the right direction and help them define the tools and processes that will help them grow their business.

Pivot as Needed

One of the most important aspects of a voice and tone document is that it's not set in stone. Just as your business grows and changes, so too should the supporting documentation that keeps the wheels of your marketing machine on-brand behind-the-scenes. We recommend revisiting this document at least once annually (ideally during your year-end marketing review), but feel free to update as-needed.

Want some help crafting a killer voice + tone document for your brand? Drop us a line and let us know how we can help; we're always looking for exciting new brands to work with. In the meantime get to know us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or on LinkedIn - we can't wait to meet you.


 

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