How to Incorporate a Blog into Your Content Marketing Campaign

To blog or not to blog? That is the question businesses often ask themselves. The answer to that question depends on the purpose of the blog.

For ordinary individuals, a blog is a means of communicating their ideas to the world. But for businesses, a blog can be a powerful weapon in their content marketing arsenal.

In this article, we will explore how blogs can become an effective part of a business’ content marketing strategy. We will also discuss how any brand can implement a blog as part of its overall marketing activity.

Using a Blog as Part of a Content Marketing Campaign

An effective marketing approach seeks to position a brand’s image in its consumers’ minds, therefore becoming the go-to reference for specific products and services.

This consideration suggests that consumers will automatically choose a specific brand over others based on their value assessment. Therefore, consumer perception of a brand’s value is the most effective means of positioning it.

Through content marketing, companies endeavor to provide value to consumers without sacrificing the brand’s overall proposition.  

While opting to give away free product samples, running special offers, or discounting products can help the consumer become acquainted with a company’s product, they cannot effectively position a brand’s value proposition due to their sporadic use. Consequently, brands require a consistent and cost-effective approach without sacrificing their value proposition.

Brands must instead show consumers their products’ values by showcasing their usefulness in solving specific pain points. These pain points encompass consumers’ needs that require a specific solution. The challenge is for companies to show the consumers how their brand’s products and services can provide those solutions.

But how is it done?

Through a concerted content marketing approach, businesses must provide valuable information that consumers can use for their benefit. Often, this information is “free” to consumers. Thus, content marketing can deliver value consistently.

This “free” value is where blogs can significantly contribute to an effective content marketing campaign.

Blogs are a predominantly text-based medium. While blogs may include images, sound, and video, their true value resides in useful text. Blogs can tackle specific issues in a long format. As such, blog posts can be as long or short as marketers need them to be.

Editor and publisher Tom Foremski offers this insight into the nature of blogs: “Blogging is a communication mechanism handed to us by the long tail of the internet.” Indeed, blogging intends to serve as a means of communication. Therefore, content marketers must look at blogging as an ongoing conversation between brands and customers.

Generally speaking, blogs are a one-sided conversation. Unlike social media, blogs do not usually afford readers the opportunity for a two-way exchange. Nevertheless, blogs allow brands to communicate with consumers outside of traditional media outlets.

Moreover, blogs provide a cost-effective vehicle to communicate as much content as necessary, allowing brands to break down a large message into smaller, more manageable chunks. This approach gives consumers a chance to come back regularly.

Blogging Strategies

When deciding to start a blog campaign, companies must begin by coming up with a blogging strategy. This strategy should include the purpose for the blog, as well as the theme and topics that the blog will address.

Pinpointing Your Blog’s Purpose

The biggest misconception most marketers hold is assuming that a blog means an abundance of writing. Thus, this misconception frequently leads to writing for the sake of writing.

While it is certainly true that blogs require content, more does not always equate to better. A blog must strike the right balance between the amount and quality of content.

The most significant consideration in a blogging strategy is to determine its purpose. Hence, marketers must ask themselves what the purpose of their blog is.

For instance, will the blog fill a purely advertising role? Will the blog strive to be informative? Also, will the blog serve to educate consumers on a specific topic? The answer to these questions will determine the blog’s overall scope.

In general, a blog should play an informational role. This role entails providing consumers with content they can use to solve a perceived problem.

For example, consumers looking to save money can turn to a blog to find helpful suggestions. Ultimately, the blog’s scope is to create awareness on saving money. In doing so, the brand can attract attention to its financial advisory services.

Also, a blog’s content must reflect its intended audience and support that audience through the value it provides. Consequently, a blog ought to share the vision and passion of its audience.

A fashion blog, for example, should attempt to capitalize on its audience’s love for specific items. The brand uses the blog to convey meaningful content that resonates with like-minded individuals.

Deciding on a Theme for Your Blog Campaign

A critical decision content marketing teams must deal with pertains to topics and themes for their blog.

On the whole, all blogs must have an overarching theme. As such, a blog must build an identity that can hit home with followers. This identity needs to be indicative of the brand’s ideal consumer. As a result, all content should fall within the blog’s thematic umbrella.

While the particular topic could vary, they ought to remain within the blog’s overall scope.

Renowned online marketer Neil Patel has this to say about blogging: “If you want to continually grow your blog, you need to learn to blog on a consistent basis.” Certainly, this approach is highly useful.

Successful blogs post content consistently. Doing so creates an expectation in followers’ minds, as the followers become attached to the blog’s content. Ultimately, making consistency synonymous with the brand’s identity boosts its positioning.

International film star David Aston offers this highly insightful tidbit: “Successful blogging is not about one-time hits. It’s about building a loyal following over time.” This insight underscores the importance of patience.

All successful blogging strategies must have a long-term vision. By delivering consistent value, blogs can build a loyal following reader by reader.

Selecting Appropriate Blog Topics

The most complex part of any blogging strategy is selecting appropriate topics. Choosing topics begins with the blog’s overarching theme. Naturally, a blog’s theme needs to reflect the brand’s identity and value proposition directly.

Particular post topics can subsequently focus on specific areas of interest.

In addition, individual topics can address consumers’ queries. A common practice asks consumers to submit queries and comments. This approach creates a two-way interaction between brands and consumers. Therefore, consumers themselves become a source of the material.

The relationship between theme and topics must also closely align with the target audience. Thus, it is necessary to define the target audience precisely.

Age, gender, and socioeconomic status all determine consumer profiles. From there, the alignment between theme and topic must coincide with those profiles.

For instance, a sporting equipment brand aimed at young males should deliver relevant information on topics of interest. These topics may include equipment maintenance, storage, or durability. The brand could then state how its products can alleviate the issues consumers face.

Matt Wolfe, the creator of the WordPress Classroom site, sheds light on successful topics: “There’s a lot of information out there for free, so you’ve got to figure out what makes your information different.”

Wolfe’s comments accentuate the need for a unique value proposition. Given the immense amount of information online, a unique approach is paramount to ensuring success.

The most practical means of producing relevant topics is through customization. Customization involves developing a keen understanding of consumers so that content creators know what consumers want.

A good rule of thumb consists of simply asking consumers what they want to know. Undoubtedly, audiences will let their favorite brands know what they want.

Clever marketers openly acknowledge follower questions and comments. This practice allows followers to spot how significant they are to the brand. In turn, brands must reward their followers’ loyalty by incentivizing their participation. Often, followers only seek attention. Thus, brands must take full advantage of their followers’ willingness to participate.

Lastly, a great call to action on every blog post is to ask consumers to comment. By encouraging the consumer to comment, brands openly foster active participation.

Instead of spending resources on costly surveys, brands can harvest comments for future blog posts. This practice creates a positive feedback loop that keeps consumers coming back.

Renowned blogger David Calacanis once said, “The currency of blogging is authenticity and trust.” Brands can create that trust by acknowledging their consumers’ needs at all times.

Building trust requires brands to keep their content authentic. Therefore, generic information will not suffice. Effective content must become as specific as possible. That type of authenticity will help position a brand in its consumers’ minds.

Getting Started with a Blogging Campaign

Image by Pexels

Starting a blogging campaign calls for three essential items.

First, a blog must fit within the brand’s overall content marketing efforts. A blog should represent another weapon in a brand’s content marketing arsenal.

A blog can make a great addition to social media, video, and even conventional advertising, filling a gap not previously addressed. For consumers who prefer long format reading materials, the addition of blogs can prove to be incredibly valuable.

Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo once remarked:

“The Internet destroyed most of the barriers to publication. The cost of being a publisher dropped to almost zero with two interesting immediate results: anybody can publish, and more importantly, you can publish whatever you want.”

The lack of barriers to publishing suggests that brands have unlimited possibilities to reach their target audience. Therefore, a blog is another publishing platform like any other.

The major difference lies in the lack of restriction. As a result, brands can personally engage their followers. This type of engagement is extremely difficult to achieve through traditional means.

Second, the brand must establish the blog’s purpose. This crucial decision hinges on choosing between a purely promotional or informational platform.

Blog marketing expert David Risley states, “Blogging is not a business by itself. It is only a promotional platform.” This statement showcases that blogging is a tool within a brand’s overall marketing scheme.

A blog with a promotional purpose delivers useful information while featuring the brand’s products. The products need to factor into the solution the consumer needs. Otherwise, the blog would revert into a shameless promotional plug piece.

An informational blog does not openly endorse the brand’s products. Like a promotional blog, it provides actionable information. However, the content intends to serve customers rather than pitch products.

Once the blog has a purpose, the last step is to define its content strategy. Topics comprise content strategy. As such, content creators must carefully address their consumers’ needs and interests. Initially, content creators can produce cross-cutting content. From there, consumer feedback can serve to define future topics.

Writer and entrepreneur Brian Clark offers this advice: “Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.” This advice points to the need for consumer-focused content.

As such, great writing can miss the mark if it is not relevant to followers. In contrast, great blogs resonate with their readers on a personal level. This degree of communication is possible when the content is tailored specifically for the target audience.

Last, a successful blog does not emerge from a mathematical formula. Many times, building an effective blog is a question of trial and error. Thus, content creators must learn to recognize what works and what does not. Eventually, a winning game plan will lead to delivering consistent value.

What Are Infographics?

Infographics are visual representations of quantitative and qualitative data and other types of information. Infographics provide clear and easy-to-understand formats that enhance an audience’s ability to grasp patterns and trends in a topic.

Infographics are highly visual. As such, they contain minimal text. Mainly, images are attached to numerical data to facilitate comprehension of large or complex data sets.

Their aim is to engage the target audience by providing interesting and useful facts. Because of this, opinions are not commonly represented in infographics.

Infographics may be standalone documents or part of a larger document. Infographics can also summarize an entire document, thereby facilitating its distribution and readability.

Photo by rawpixel.com form PxHere

Uses of Infographics

Infographics have the following uses:

  • Provide a quick and easy summary.
  • Facilitate complex processes.
  • Visually present research information or survey data.
  • Sum up a long text.
  • Compare and contrast analyses.
  • Generate awareness on a topic or issue.

Types of Infographics

  • Thematic. Used to raise awareness of an issue or topic.
  • Reference. Used to present data from  research or to support claims.

Governments commonly use infographics to provide information, while companies often use them as a sales and marketing tool.

Parts of an Infographic

While there is no specific format for infographics, they contain the following parts:

  • Visual elements (colors and graphics)
  • Content (data and other information)
  • Key Points  (main takeaway)

Often, a simple statement summarizes the main takeaway of the infographic. Nevertheless, the main focus of the infographic is the presentation of data. Interesting color schemes and layouts serve to highlight the data and facilitate comprehension.

Image by Muhammad Umar Hamzah from Pixabay

Coronavirus Response: How and Why to Ramp Up Your Blog Content Quickly

As more and more Americans self-quarantine or are asked to work from home, online activity is skyrocketing. In fact, from January 29 to April 8,  usage rates rose 105 percent (from 22.6 million people to 46.2 million people in the U.S. using the internet during peak hours).

While the circumstances aren’t ideal, most business owners are asking themselves how they can capture the attention of all of those online browsers. In other words, it’s time to think about how you can attract those new visitors and grow your business (or brand). Even though it’s true that more people are surfing the web, it’s also true that how you approach your content during this sensitive time can determine the future health of your brand.

To Pivot or Not to Pivot

People’s interests have shifted during the pandemic, and content creators should consider this shift when creating their content over the next few weeks or months.  In general, content creators have two choices: pivot or don’t pivot. For some, pivoting will be easy because virus-related content easily fits in with their current content. For example, a business that focuses on working from home could write articles that include information about overcoming social isolation.  For others, pivoting their content may be more difficult.  Or, perhaps, your company believes pivoting to coronavirus-inspired content feels unnatural, contrived, or just downright tacky. 

Pivot

Those who can easily pivot their content may have an advantage during this unusual time. For instance, hunker.com typically publishes articles about home design and improvement. But the site has recently changed its content to keep up with the new demand trends. Today, you’ll find articles like “Grocery Stores Empty? These Cleaning Solutions Will Help” and “How to Disinfect Your Washing Machine After Being Sick”.

Royal Caribbean is publishing articles such as, “Fun, Royal Caribbean Indoor Activities for Families”.  Verizon Wireless’ latest post is titled, “Everyday heroes help us all, Verizon supports them.”  Amazon has gone so far as to devote an entire blog to coronavirus.

Don’t Pivot

Some companies will continue business as usual and keep putting out the same type of content that they always have.  As of this writing, for example, you’ll find little to no COVID-19-related content on the Costco Blog. Exxon has decided to keep its Energy Perspectives blog content true to its original purpose without straying into coronavirus territory.  Even if you decide to (mostly) ignore the pandemic in your content, you can still ramp up quality content production, which will help your site to take advantage of the global increase in internet traffic.

What Not to Do

Whether or not you decide to write a lot of COVID-content or just a few paragraphs, you will need to learn to be sensitive with your wording and approach.

Here are three things you should avoid in your content:

Don’t Pretend the Pandemic Doesn’t Exist

People’s lives are being affected by the virus, and companies that come off as insensitive may experience a negative impact on their brand. If you completely ignore the current situation, you could publish content that may be considered inappropriate. For example, an article about the best local places to eat out may fall flat, as will an article about arranging travel plans to Europe.  Publishing content like this could cause you to come across as tone-deaf during this crisis.

Don’t Blatantly Use the Coronavirus as a Marketing Tool

It’s natural to want to reach out to your customers and the general public to offer support. But even if your products or services can benefit them in these times, you should be careful in how you approach them through your content. For example, a blog titled “How to Take Advantage of the COVID-19 Quarantine by Using our Data Organization System” will come across as insensitive. Instead of trying to sell consumers something right now, try creating content that helps them get through these trying times. For instance, if you’re the data organization software supplier, you would do better by writing a blog entitled, “5 Ways to Be Productive While Quarantined” and subtly mention your data organization system as one of the talking points.

Don’t Spread Rumors or Criticize Politicians

These are polarizing times, and the last thing you want to do as a business is to take sides or spread rumors that may prove to be false. For example, if you don’t agree with a politician’s actions related to managing support efforts, keep it to yourself. Otherwise, you could end up offending the readers who don’t agree with you.

 You should also be respectful of the consequences of the virus when mentioning it. Only use official sites to relay information and stick to the facts. Some of the official sites you can use for reference are:

What to Do

Successful content creators will focus on a few strategies during the pandemic. Here are some key points to keep in mind as you create your content.

Talk About the Things Important Your Customers

Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole.  You still need to stay relevant to your customers.  Don’t write about the phases of coronavirus on your pottery website, even if it does show up is an oft-Googled search trend. However, if you run a financial blog, you could write about stock market tips for today’s unruly market. A real estate blogger could publish tips about house showings during quarantine, or a dating site could write articles about how to maintain relationships during social distancing.

Inform People About Your Business—Subtly

Being sensitive doesn’t mean you can’t subtly promote your business. As with the example above, data organization content is helpful and lets consumers know about a product that could help them in this time.  Hunker is continuing to establish its brand as an expert on how to live well in your home, but the content shift is interesting to today’s reader. The key is to give readers the information they want, while in a non-salesy way, informing them how your service or product can help them.

Be Consistent

As we established earlier, people are online a lot these days, and they are establishing new browsing habits. They are looking for sites that offer the most relevant content and are likely visiting those sites again and again. Your goal is to create content that keeps them coming back to your site. Publish daily or weekly, but stick to your schedule so your visitors will know when to come back for more.

Use Content to Strengthen Your Brand

Finally, if you create a page on your website that tells people how your business is responding to the coronavirus, it can give your customers a sense of security regarding your business continuity.  For instance, everyone understands that gig workers are being financially impacted by the virus. Uber did a great job of addressing this problem by creating a page on its website outlining the steps it’s taking to ensure the financial well-being of its drivers.

A “coronavirus-response page” can also showcase how your business is helping your local community.  If you are donating medical supplies to your local hospitals, talk about it on your website. If you are organizing a food drive for the local community, be sure to mention it on your site. Or if you are taking care of your employees by allowing them to work from home, let the public know about it.  Just be sure that when you mention these things, you don’t come across as self-serving. Instead, focus on your community and the people you are serving.

5 Ways to Quickly Ramp Up Your Content

Now that we’ve talked about the do’s and don’ts for content creation during the pandemic, let’s talk about how to ramp up your content to reach all those people who are online most of the day.

Here is a 5-step plan to help boost your content fast:

1. Think About What Your Audience Needs Right Now

We’ve talked about the topics people are searching for right now, and if you can write content to match those needs, you are ahead of the game. You will first need to understand your customers and then determine how your brand can help meet their needs. For instance, if you sell pet supplies, you can write articles about how to exercise your dog during quarantine, how to keep your pets clean and, using the latest scientifically backed research, whether pets can transmit the disease to humans.

2. Create an Editorial Calendar

It’s always a good idea to create an editorial calendar when running a blog, but if you’re going to ramp up your content, it’s even more essential. First, determine how often you want to publish, and then begin thinking of the topics you will cover. This will require some brainstorming and research about what people are currently reading. Use Excel to create a spreadsheet or just make a list of your content for the next month or so. When you use an editorial calendar, it reduces the time spent on each article and allows you to concentrate on the writing.

3. Use Social Media and SEO to Increase Your Reach

If you want to bring more people to your blog, expand its reach by posting your blogs to social media. This will allow others to share your content. You can use any social media platforms you want—but the bigger your audience, the better this tactic will work for you. For instance, you can create a live steam on Twitter to talk about the highlights of your article or post your blog to Facebook or LinkedIn.

Also, using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a great way to drive traffic to your site from the search engines. Use a keyword tool to determine the best keywords for your article and then use them in the title, headers, and content. And if you use more than one keyword, it will increase the visibility of your article.

4. Open Up Communication with Your Readers

Everyone is isolated right now and craving communication with others—even if it’s online. One way to offer that is to open up the comments on your post and interact with your readers. Starting conversations with the people who leave comments is a great way to build your brand and readership. In addition, use your social media accounts to communicate with your readers by encouraging comments and then responding to them.

5. Hire Professional Writers to Keep Up with Content Creation

If the thought of creating additional content seems overwhelming, think about hiring professional writers to do the job for you. If you’re not used to writing, creating a daily or weekly blog can take a lot of time. But experienced writers have it down to an art—and they will make you look good without your ever having to write a single word.

Are You Ready to Ramp Up Your Content?

Even though more people are online, only savvy business owners will benefit from increased internet traffic. If you want to get more eyes on your blog and build your brand, be sure to follow the above steps and advice!

Marketing Buzzwords Demystified

If you have turned on the TV or engaged in social media over the past decade, you have almost certainly heard the buzz about buzzwords. They are everywhere. From politicians to celebrities to company CEOs, it seems that everyone is using buzzwords. But, what exactly are buzzwords? And what are they used for?

Let’s start with a basic definition. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a buzzword is:

1: an important-sounding usually technical word or phrase often of little meaning used chiefly to impress laymen

2: a voguish word or phrase

The original point of a buzzword was to make things easier to understand and to give terms a common phrase that encompasses everything that has to do with them. Frequently, though, buzzwords are overused in an attempt to make oneself sound smarter or more impressive than they actually are.

While buzzwords may seem like a new phenomenon, they have actually been used in American English since the mid-1940s. In fact, the word buzzword was originally coined by 1940s Harvard students, to describe key words used in a lecture.

It is likely, though, that popular buzzwords from the 1940s no longer have the same meanings today. That is due to the fact that buzzwords are just a trendy party of the living language that is English. And being that it is a living language, it is constantly changing and adapting to the times.

Take the word boat, for example. In today’s culture, the word likely brings to mind images of a water vessel.  However, in the 1940s, boat was a common buzzword that referred to a large, luxurious car.

But, why do we use buzzwords?

As much as buzzwords frequently appear to just be a trendy way of speaking, they actually do have functional purposes.

In the business world, buzzwords are often used as a type of shorthand between people who are already familiar with a particular subject and do not need lengthy explanations of ideas. For example, “touchpoint” may not mean much to the average Joe, yet anyone in the customer-service industry knows that it refers to the first moment of contact a prospective customer has with your business.

Buzzwords are also a very popular sales marketing tool. And when used carefully, they can compel and convince audiences to buy a product or take a specific desired action.

Take the word “superfood,” for example. As one of the latest buzzwords in the health-food world, seeing something labeled as a “superfood” makes consumers believe that the product has some kind of magical, life-changing quality.  In reality, there are no legal qualifications for calling something a “superfood,” so it truly is just a fancy buzzword used to sell food.

What’s the buzz on marketing buzzwords?

The marketing world is full of buzzwords— some valuable and helpful, and some just fancy sounding filler words.

If you do marketing for your business, though, it’s important to know what these words mean (and be able to use them when necessary). So, to help break these words down, here is a list of the top eight buzzwords you should know:

Authority Marketing 

Authority marketing is the art of putting yourself in a position where you are the expert, or authority, on a particular subject or industry. This is an effective way of marketing because, by establishing yourself as an expert in your field, consumers will be more likely to go to you for the products or services they need. Being an authority allows you to dominate your competition.

Branded Content

Branded content is the strategy of putting the focus on the value of your brand, instead of on the actual products themselves. Branded content uses the emotions of consumers to make them feel a certain connection with a specific brand, motivating them to be loyal to it.

Branded Journalism

Much like branded content, branded journalism differs from traditional advertising methods. However, branded journalism focuses on building stories to highlight a company or organization’s value. Through branded journalism, companies can build trust and establish themselves as an authority with their audience.

Content Marketing

:

Content Marketing focuses on the strategy of creating and putting out valuable and relevant content, and then letting the content do your marketing for you. Content marketing can refer to anything from social media posts and YouTube videos to blogs and newsletters. Content marketing differs from traditional marketing in that it focuses on what the consumer wants or needs, instead of the actual product that is being offered.

Content Marketing focuses on the strategy of creating and putting out valuable and relevant content, and then letting the content do your marketing for you. Content marketing can refer to anything from social media posts and YouTube videos to blogs and newsletters. Content marketing differs from traditional marketing in that it focuses on what the consumer wants or needs, instead of the actual product that is being offered.

Long-form content

Long-form content is basically just what it sounds like: content that is lengthy, comprehensive, and detailed. While shorter, more concise articles used to be considered “best practice,” it has actually been proven that long-form content generates more leads than shorter articles and improves a site’s rankings.  Long-form content is also viewed as being more authoritative and generally gets more shares (which, in turn, translates into more views to your site).

Native Advertising

Native advertising is the use of paid ads that match the look and feel of the forum in which they appear. Native ads frequently appear in social media feeds or as recommended content on a web page. Unlike traditional ads, native ads don’t really look like ads. They are made to match the editorial flow of a page, so that the reader is getting a subtle view of what is being advertised, instead of a disruptive in-your-face kind of ad.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

:

SEO refers to a collection of marketing tactics used to organically increase the quality and quantity of traffic to a website by increasing the position of the website in search results on Google, or other search engines. In other words, the better your SEO, the higher you will rank, and the more likely that your website will be viewed.

Thought Leadership

Thought leadership is all about using your experience and expertise to consistently answer the questions that are on the minds of your target audience. While being unique is a great selling point, thought leadership focuses more on giving the best answers and solutions to your customers on a consistent basis. By presenting your deep knowledge on a subject, you allow your audience to get to know you, and add credibility to your brand.

How to Write Business Emails that Sound Friendly

In today’s technologically advancing world, email has become the official choice for communication within businesses. The lack of face-to-face communication can cause a lot of issues and misunderstandings, though. Because of this, it is important that business emails convey a clear message, elicit the desired response, and, above all, not offend in any way.

But how do you write emails that are both professional and friendly?


Identifying Good vs Bad Email Etiquette

Before we tackle how to write friendly business emails, we must first identify what a good friendly email looks like, vs. a not so friendly email. Take these emails, for example:

See the difference?

In the first example, the author seems to take a bit of a hostile, negative tone. Reading this email may leave the recipient feeling like they have been attacked, and will, therefore, immediately put them on the defensive.

In the second example, though, the author was able to communicate exactly the same information, but in a much more positive and empathetic way.

Emails that are friendly and positive are much more likely to be received well and will illicit the response that you are hoping to get.

So, now that we have established what a friendly business email looks like, let’s discuss how to write one.


The Basics

When you are writing business emails, keep in mind that the recipient(s) probably already has a lot on their plate, so they are not going to want to have to read through a bunch of fluff. Keeping your emails clear and concise will ensure that they are not only read in their entirety, but that your intended message is understood.

Effective, yet friendly, business emails, should be brief and punctilious while conveying professionalism and affability.

While emails will vary, depending on who they are being sent to and the intended message, ideally, business emails should follow this format:

A Subject Line of No More Than 6 to 10 Words

Your subject line should be direct and spam-proof. “Workshop Date Changed” will immediately alert your recipient that there is information in your email that they need to read. You want to avoid things like ‘Urgent’ or ‘Reply Needed,’ though, as these subject lines might send your email straight to spam. You want the recipient to get and read your message. Check out this handy free tool that highlights phrases or words in your email that might trigger a recipient’s spam filter.

An Appropriate Greeting/Salutation

Every business email should start with an appropriate greeting. When you are writing to another professional—even to someone you may already know—be friendly and respectful, while not overly casual or laid back. Starting the email with a simple ‘Hi,’ followed by the person’s name sets a friendly tone, but does not sound stiff or too formal. When you are addressing someone by their first name, be sure that you have the correct spelling and are not using any nick-names (unless you have previously been directed to do so). The last thing you want to do is start your email off by offending someone.

The Body

Try to keep the text of your email short and to the point. When possible, one or two paragraphs of one to two sentences each is best. Your email should have a clear introduction that states the purpose of the email and a conclusion that is forward-leaning. Ensuring that your text is spam-proof is important here as well.

Your Signature

At a minimum, your signature block should include your full name, title, the company name, and your contact information, including a phone number. This will make it easy for your recipient to identify who you are, what your position is, and how they can best contact you if needed.


The Friendly Part

So, how do you write business emails that are friendly but not too casual? Recall the tips above on appropriate greetings and tone, and then consider the real-world experience of Brittany Cooper, Project Coordinator for The Writers For Hire (TWFH).

Brittany, who has years of sales and customer relations to her credit, has mastered the knack of communicating in a professional but friendly way. She deals directly with clients at the beginning and end of each project, and she checks in with them along the way. She is often the person clients feel most comfortable talking to if problems crop up.

Brittany describes her communication style as “upbeat —always upbeat.” She confesses to using lots of exclamation points to express “lots of gratitude.” It’s her way of communicating to clients that TWFH is excited to work with them and values the relationship.

Another way to convey a friendly and upbeat tone is to add a personal touch to the beginning or end of your email. Starting out by saying “I hope you are having a great week,” or signing off with “Have a fantastic day!” immediately gives your email a positive tone.

Brittany also makes it a practice to seek feedback—usually via email—on every project, following up to see if everything went smoothly and asking if anything could be done to make the process better.

Of course, things don’t always go smoothly.

There are times when clients need to be gently reminded of hard and fast approaching deadlines. In those situations, it is important to keep a friendly and non-accusatory tone. Simply reminding them of the approaching deadline, and asking if you can assist in any way, will help ensure that the deadline is made (without making the client feel like they are being scolded or blamed).

Even in the situations where a deadline is actually missed, it is important that you avoid using any kind of language that comes off as negative and harsh. For example, instead of saying “When you missed the deadline, you caused our project to be pushed back,” use something more neutral, such as “With the missed deadline, the project was pushed back…” and then follow it up with a positive suggestion for how to rectify the situation. 

And as a rule of thumb, everything you write in an email should be read and re-read before you hit “send.” Try to read each email from the perspective of your recipient. If anything sounds like it could be possibly taken in an adverse way, then it is safe to assume that it should probably be re-written with a more positive spin.


Other Helpful Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Use traditional fonts such as Arial, Calibri, and Times New Roman; these fonts are not only classic, they are easy to read. Stick to the color black, use 10-12 pt., and keep the font and size consistent throughout the email, including in the signature block. As much as you may enjoy playing around with different fonts and colors, business emails are just not the place to get creative.
  • Never write when upset. An angry screed defeats the purpose of conveying important information or soliciting the desired response. Chances are high that your anger will come across in the words you choose, and the recipient of your email will be able to sense your agitated tone.
  • Be cautious when using language such as “but” and “unfortunately.” Adding those words to your sentence tends to negate what is said in the first place, and can also come off as being condescending. “I apologize for the delay. I will have the completed document to you by the end of the day” will be received much better than “I apologize for the delay, but it couldn’t be avoided. Unfortunately, I can’t get the document to you until the end of the day.”
  • Do a spell-check but also proofread. Spell-checkers are our friends, but they can be fickle at times. Pay close attention to each suggestion you click on and re-read the entire text after you spell-check. It’s hard to be taken seriously when you send an email full of spelling and punctuation errors.
  • Think twice before hitting ‘reply all.’ The sender may have wanted a dozen or more people to see their email to you, but all recipients do not necessarily need to see your reply. Consider carefully. Is your reply important for everyone to read? Is the content of your reply appropriate for everyone to see?
  • Don’t use humor unless you know the recipient well—make that very well. What may be funny in a social setting among business acquaintances might not come across as funny in writing. Written communication is easy to misconstrue, so it’s always best to just focus on the point and leave humor for in-person conversations.
  • Don’t overuse the word “please.” This does not mean that you shouldn’t be polite and write please when it is appropriate. You should just make sure to reserve it for places where it sounds natural. Saying “Please find the attached document and let me know if you have any questions” does not sound natural, and frankly makes for an awkward sentence. Instead, consider saying “I have attached the document. Please let me know if you have any questions.”
  • Be sensitive to cultural differences. In some cultures, it may be considered rude to address someone by their first name. In others, discussing certain topics over email may be offensive. Before sending an email, do some homework on what may and may not be appropriate for your recipient.

Finally, remember that every email leaves a trace. Don’t write anything that will reflect badly on you or others should your exchange become public.

The Dos and Don’ts of Email Greetings

In this day and age, it is not unusual to communicate with a client almost entirely by email. Emails are a quick and easy way to relay messages and keep track of important information. ­

Figuring out how to start an email (especially when you are sending it to someone you don’t know very well) can be a bit of a challenge, though. You don’t want to come off as too informal, but you also want to be sure your email makes you sound friendly and approachable. 

The actual greeting is not the only thing you need to worry about. The name you address a person by is equally important. After all, most people have strong feelings about their name preferences, and calling someone by the wrong name or title can immediately give the person a negative impression of you.

And starting an email off with a generic greeting, like “To Whom It May Concern,” or “Dear Sir or Madam” gives a very impersonal feeling and can make the reader feel like you have no idea who they are and are just sending a generic email.

So, how do you know the best way to start an email? And what name should you use to address the person you are writing to?

This great article from LADDERS explains the importance of using the right email greetings and gives some great tips to help make your emails sound professional and friendly.

While there are several greetings that they have deemed as acceptable, depending on who you are writing to and how well you know them, there was one greeting that they deemed the winner: a simple “Hi (name)…”

According to the article, this is the best greeting because it is a safe and familiar way to address someone, whether or not you know them. Plus, you can easily add formality to the greeting by using a “Mr.” or “Mrs.” title, followed by the person’s last name.

While “Hi” was the overall winner in terms of which greeting to use, there were several greetings that the article advises against using. Some of them, such as “Hey…” and “(first name)!!” are just too informal. And others, such as “Dear…,” can be too formal and impersonal.

The article also warns against using too many exclamation marks, not verifying that you have the correct spelling of a person’s name, and using nicknames.

Ultimately, when sending emails, your greeting should be something that addresses the specific person that you are sending the email to in a way that comes off as friendly and respectful, while not overly casual or laid back.

And, perhaps most importantly, never send an email without a greeting.

Copywriter Q&A: Getting Social With Dana Robinson

Our resident social media guru Dana Robinson has provided businesses with blog and social media content for nearly a decade. Her career — much like a social campaign or Instagram account — grew organically, starting with newsletter and blog and social content for a single nonprofit client. Today, she manages blogs and social media campaigns for a variety of businesses.

For this installment of Copywriter Q&A, we asked Dana to share some of her tips, strategies, and best practices. A few key takeaways: do your homework when it comes to choosing a management platform, and make sure you have a rock-solid social media policy in place. 

TWFH: For many companies, the most challenging part of social media is staying organized. Do you have any recommendations for management tools?

DR: With social, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution. In general, the best platform depends on things like your goals and the size of your company. For small and medium sized businesses Hootsuite and Sprout Social are good choices: They’re affordable, and they’re a great starting point if you only need a handful of users for one or two platforms. On the other end, you have “enterprise tools” like Hubspot that are more appropriate if you’ve got 10 platforms and 100 users. The price point is quite different, too: An enterprise tool will cost $1,100 to $1,200 per month. Something like Hootsuite starts at $20.

My advice is to do research on different platforms. Look at the price point, the number of users allowed, and the available features. Shop around based on what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to grow a following, your platform needs to help you search for influencers. Or maybe you want a tool to help suggest content for sharing. They don’t all do those things. If you’re managing social media for multiple clients, you need something that has a robust client management support. If your main goal is to engage with your current audience or customer base, you need a good scheduling tool to make sure you’re reaching the right people at the right time with the right content.

TWFH: Speaking of “the right content,” how do you figure out what, exactly, that is? How do you ensure that you’re driving traffic and creating engaging content?

DR: I use algorithms to find out what keywords are trending. Answerthepublic.com is fantastic. You can type in something like, “downtown Houston” and it’ll give you all these fabulous ideas. It gives you the exact keywords so potential readers will find you.   

You also have to know what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes, it’s trial and error; putting out a couple of different kinds of content and see what your customers are reacting to. Once you know that, give them more of that. Knowing when to say “no” to content is also a strategy. That’s a way to lose your audience: If six times out of ten, your content is something they’re not interested in, they’re going to stop paying attention.

TWFH: What about reaching the “right people” on social media? How can you identify them and make sure you’re speaking to them directly?

DR: This is another reason that you should have a good social media management tool. You want to choose a tool that offers good analytics; something that lets you extract the data and see who is interacting with your content and even when they’re interacting with it. This is especially important if your company has a marketing department — you can use the data to sort users into groups and work hand-in-hand with marketing and develop content that appeals to each group. And a good calendar tool can help you deliver that content at right time.

TWFH: Is there anything you try to avoid in social media campaigns?

DR: I’d say to keep politics out of it. Also, social is very meme-heavy, and you have to be careful with that. Sometimes as a social media manager, you can think something is funny and put it out there — and then find that it wasn’t perceived the way you meant it. My advice: Take a moment and ask, “Will this have good purpose if we post it?”

In general, smaller businesses have a bit more freedom in this area: since the company is more closely tied to one owner or a few specific people; there’s more of a personal relationship there. But larger business really have to “stick to the script” — social media is an extension of their advertising. All posts should be heavily researched and approved by your marketing department.

TWFH: And what about employees and social media? How can companies make sure that everyone in the company — not just marketing — is sticking to the script where social media is concerned?

DR: While your employee base can be wonderful tool, you also want to have fairly good control over how and where they use it. The last thing you want is someone from your company doing something on social media that damages your company’s brand or reputation or reveals trade secrets. Part of this can be eliminated by only allowing a couple of people the ability to post on your behalf.

And of course, you need a social media policy. In the event that you can’t control what an employee does on social, you’ll at least have legal recourse. Your policy should be very specific, and it needs to be in writing. You should have your employees sign something, and even provide a half-day training session on your social media policy. You also need to provide training on company image and customer service. We’ve all seen what can happen when a customer has a negative experience.

TWFH: Right, because you also have to think about how your customers are using social media.

DR: Customers have phones in their pocket, and they can record a negative interaction and post it to YouTube. Everyone remembers seeing that doctor getting dragged off of that United flight. People are going to remember things like that — and they’re not going to remember that expensive ad campaign you spent six months developing. This is why customer service has never been more important:

TWFH: Are there any legal issues companies should be aware of when developing a social campaign?

DR: Copyright laws. If you were to only ever post original content and images — content that belongs to your company, you’d be safe. But no one does that — everyone gets caught up in sharing social content. So you need to be aware of copyright laws and rules about attribution and permission. For example, if you’re using images from web sources, you always need to read license restrictions — even if it’s labeled “Creative Commons.” A lot of people see Creative Commons and think, “Okay, I can use this.” But there are different licensing levels even within Creative Commons. Some of my favorite sites for images are Pixabay and Flickr. You can find great images, but they don’t all the same license. You absolutely have to read the license restrictions on each image to see if you have permission to use it and what kind of attribution is required. You also have to be careful with Instagram. On Instagram, all images are assumed to be proprietary. So if you post an image to Instagram, it’s presumed to be owned by you. If it’s not your image, you need to have permission to use it.

Another legal issue that’s kind of new: If your company does sponsored posts or works with influencers, you have to be aware of disclosure laws. The FTC has cracked down on those recently. Ads have to disclose themselves. That was not always the case, but it is now. So, for example, if an influencer is advertising your product they have to say, “This was given to me for free,” or they have to explain how they benefit from the sale of your product.

How Email Marketing Can Improve Your Business

In today’s business world, online competition is fierce! Between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it seems nearly impossible to keep up.

Yet, some businesses seem to be thriving in the world of social media. So, what’s their secret?

According to this interesting article from Hostgator, if you’re going to have any chance of getting and keeping your audience’s attention, you have to develop a relationship with them that goes beyond the products or services you offer. And the best way to build those relationships is by giving your clients opportunities to interact with you regularly and directly through email marketing.

In their article, Hostgator explains how email marketing is vital for building and maintaining customer relationships. They also go into the specifics of how to start email marketing campaigns and give tips for the best ways to get (and keep) your customers’ loyalty.

What’s Different – and What’s the Same – in Today’s Job Search Game

You haven’t looked in a job for 10 years. But for a variety of reasons, you’ve decided to get back into the job search game… and you’re noticing that things have changed.

From LinkedIn profiles to targeted keywords, resume writing is a whole new ballgame – and a confusing one, at that. Our internet-centric world has made job searching trickier than in the past.

So what do you need to do?

We’ve compiled a cheat sheet to help get you up to speed on the latest job search trends and strategies.

It's (Still) All About Who You Know

Networking is still king.

Because of the limits of faceless online anonymity, the personal meet-and-greet is as important as ever. Keywords – even “the right keywords” – will never take the place of a handshake and eye contact. Having someone personally vouch for you can often preclude anything in your resume.

“Job search continues to be personal,” HR expert Laura Handrick tells The Job Network. “People don’t hire from paper, they hire people they trust will do a great job in the role.”

And hiring isn’t the only thing that’s moved away from paper.

Today, most open positions aren’t even posted on traditional sources like online job boards or classifieds: According to Forbes, up to 80% of all available positions are nestled within the so-called “hidden job market.”

These positions aren’t advertised in traditional sources like online classifieds or job boards because companies are increasingly avoiding open online applications that can lead to a lengthy (and expensive) hiring process. Instead, they’re using recruiting firms, headhunters, and even referrals from their own employees. This means job seekers often have to rely on networking to find out about available positions.

But what if your network has shrunk (read: You’ve burned some bridges)?

Or what if it wasn’t very wide to begin with (read: You’ve never particularly enjoyed those meet-and-greet social functions)?

Start by contacting anyone and everyone you know or worked with in the past – from employers and coworkers to clients or suppliers to friends and college roommates. Mention you’re looking for a new gig, and don’t be afraid to send them your resume. You never know who’s aware of those hidden jobs.

Then reach out to people you don’t necessarily know. Use social media platforms like LinkedIn to find like professionals and invite them into your circle, and to join a few associations with strong social presence. And really, if you’re not already on LinkedIn, stop reading now and take care of that!

Leveraging LinkedIn

These days, LinkedIn membership is really not an option. In addition to establishing a network of folks who might be able to help you in your search, you can use the platform itself to find advertised positions.

New to LinkedIn? Not sure how to leverage your account to help in your search? Here are a few pointers:

1. Your Profile

Unlike your resume – which is a static document once you send it out – your LinkedIn profile is a living, breathing, and ever-evolving creation. You can (and should) change it regularly to keep it current.

Think twice about publicizing your job search, though. For one, that might not be information you’d like to share with your current employer (who’s likely tracking staffers’ profiles). For another – and possibly more important – reason, announcing the fact that you’re looking for a job could make you vulnerable. Recruiters shy away from desperate-looking professionals and have even been known to even weed out profiles containing the word “seeking.”

Thinking about leaving your current job off your profile? Consider this: JobHunt reports that this action could drop your ranking and push your profile “several pages lower than what it would have been.” Of course, if your current job isn’t something you’d like to publicize, by all means omit it.

2. Your Keywords

Keywords have become a big deal in today’s job market. TopResume tells us, “The algorithm behind LinkedIn looks at keyword density to rank your profile in a search.” Sure, this might sound daunting, but the casual consumer does essentially the same thing: When you search for ANYTHING online, you want only the most applicable results.

Same goes for recruiters. They are looking for candidates with very specific skills, and they target their searches to find only those who fit the bill. This means that your LinkedIn profile needs to include those target words. Be sure to use the exact wording of those desired skillsets included in the job posting. Try this hack: Copy the position description into a free word cloud app. WordItOut is particularly user-friendly and lets you visualize a summary of the qualifications that the posting highlights most.

Meanwhile, JobHunt claims that “the keywords in the Job Title field (an area highly indexed within LinkedIn’s search algorithm) can draw additional traffic to your profile.” And adding the sought-after keywords in your Skills & Endorsements section can also increase your page ranking and profile views.

3. Your Photo

Definitely post a current, professional-looking headshot. Recruiters tend to think that profiles without photos look suspicious. Plus, LinkedIn flags photo-less profiles as “incomplete,” which can negatively impact your search rankings. One statistic even claims that profiles with photos get up to 21 times more views.

4. Your Search

Use the “Jobs” tab to search by keyword, country, and even zip code. Use “Advanced Search” to refine your search by date posted, experience level, specific location, job function, company, and industry. If you have a specific company in mind, visit the company profile to see if they’ve posted job openings on their LinkedIn pages. LinkedIn can also save your job searches and send you emails about new job postings.

5. Your Contacts

Before applying, secure an introduction so someone will be watching for your application. In addition to linking with colleagues from your current endeavors, join your university alumni group to connect with names from your past.

6. Your Connections

Remember that old party game, “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?” That’s kind of how LinkedIn works. Your contacts – or connections – are organized into  a hierarchy of first-degree connections (people you know directly), second-degree connections (people who have connections in common), and so on.

Ask your first-degree connections if they can introduce you. Additionally, you could see if any of your LinkedIn contacts works there or knows someone who works there.

Once you’ve applied, don’t just sit back and worry that your application got lost in cyberspace. LinkedIn makes it possible to find contact information for the actual hiring manager, using the search bar at the top of the page. Click “People,” then input your target company name in the “Current companies” filter pane for a list of employees.

Social Media Presence

Have you Googled yourself today?

Since you’re already updating your LinkedIn profile, it’s a good time to consider your online reputation.

Recruiters will be looking you up on Google – you should do the same. Tweet this

“Google yourself once a week,” career consultant Mark Anthony Dyson recommends. “Take note of any results that tarnish your image – including those that may be about other people who happen to share your name.”

In fact, The Job Network cites statistics that 70% of employers report screening candidates via social media before offering positions. Recruiter.com even claims this tops 90%. Add to that reports that 54% of employers say they have chosen another candidate after viewing the applicant’s social media profile and another 57% report being less likely to even interview someone they can’t find online, and the implications are clear: You must be active online to be competitive in the job market.

And being active is more than just setting up your LinkedIn profile.

Sure, that’s a good first step. And keeping it current is another. Then stay alert and engaged in your industry by keeping the conversation going with your online colleagues.

Not sure what to post? Consider:

  • Responses to posts you enjoyed reading
  • Articles you’ve recently published
  • Awards or accolades you’ve received

Modernize Your Resume

Today’s job recruiter spends maybe six seconds reviewing a resume. You read that correctly. And six seconds isn’t a lot of time. You need to “impress the judges” from the get-go with relevant details they can’t turn away.

So how do you do that? What are the new “rules” of resume writing? What’s changed over the past decade or so since you last actively sent out your resume? For one, you’ll be doing a lot more fill-in-the-blank online application forms these days. Still, keeping these tips in mind will beef up your resume so yours is sharp when you hand over a copy during a discussion about hidden jobs.

1. Forego Your Physical Address

Gone are the days of including your physical address. Hiring managers don’t send job offers through the mail anymore, so they don’t need to know where you live. They do, however, need to have an easy way to find you to schedule a meeting or even offer you the job. Make it easy for them by providing your email address, your phone number, and (yes, you guessed it!) your LinkedIn profile link.

2. Choose Your Email Address Wisely

If it’s been long enough, your last resume might not have even included an email address. That’s a must now – as is using an adult email address. Your resume is all about first impressions. Can you really expect a hiring manager to contact you via [email protected]? Even if you’re emotionally invested in that email address you set up in college, get yourself a professional-sounding handle for all your job search communications.

3. Give Yourself a Title

Add a concise (two- or three-word) position title that summarizes your skills as a professional. Run this just underneath your contact information as a quick way for recruiters to know what you do (or what you want to do for their company).

4. Use Plenty of White Space

Use plenty of cushion around the key ideas you want to be particularly noticeable. Too much copy overwhelms the reader. If your resume is hard to read, recruiters won’t bother. This means that you shouldn’t cram your resume onto one page. Keep as much white space as you need, flowing onto two (or even three) pages in a very readable font, ideally at least 11-point type.

5. Take Action

Use strong verbs and be concise. If you’re stuck using the same mundane words, check out this amazingly comprehensive compilation of resume-worthy verbs from The Muse. Describe your job responsibilities with the concrete skills you’ve honed over your tenure in the position. Better yet, detail your accomplishments and how your successes help the company. Provide specific measurements whenever possible.

While that resume tip hasn’t changed over time, there are a couple “accomplishments” you should omit at this point. Don’t claim to be an expert in Word and Excel. These “skills” are assumed at this point. And don’t state, “References available upon request.” That, too, is a given in today’s hiring world.

6. Mirror the Lingo

Many hiring managers try to save time by using software like an applicant tracking system (ATS) to scan applications for keywords and weed out the ones that don’t belong. Estimates vary, but reports indicated that more than three-fourths of resumes never even make it across recruiters’ desks – the ATS rejects them outright for missing the right keywords. Sounds a bit daunting… all the more reason to make sure that your resume, just like your LinkedIn profile, contains some of “the right words.” Match the exact wording used in the job post. JobScan is a handy way to compare the content of your resume with the language of the position listing to help earn you a nod.

7. Keep it Scannable

Employers will scan your document in a “Z pattern.” They start at the top left, scan to the top right, then move quickly down to the lower left, and end on the lower right (remember, this only takes about six seconds!). So, the strategy is to keep the important details toward the top left (above the top third of the page) and the extra niceties toward the lower right.

8. Ditch the Objective

In the past, many professionals were encouraged to add a few sentences to the top of their resumes that described their ideal positions. But let’s face it: Recruiters today don’t care about what kind of work you want. Instead, you need to convince them of why you’re the best person for the job at hand. Replace your old objective statement of “Avid bird-watcher in search of pet-sitting opportunity” with a professional profile of “Animal lover with 20 years of providing the best in-home care for pets.”

9. Highlight Key Skills

What are the 8-10 main skills you most want to highlight about yourself? Think of the tasks you complete regularly and how you most help your company; when possible, include things you can quantify.

Another “new” trend is to include a two-column list under your professional profile. Keep in mind that resume format options are infinite and extremely personal. And your resume, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If your ideal job is a straight-laced corporate position, opting for a more traditional black-and-white resume. A role in the arts might lend itself more to a bolder look.

Regardless: Clean, concise, and easy to read are always the best choices.

COMMUNICATING WITH CUSTOMERS IS NO LONGER NOT AN OPTION- Tips for Navigating the Online Customer Experience

Gone are the days when a customer walked away from a less-than-stellar dining, shopping, or service-related experience with head held low and disappointment weighing heavy on her shoulders.

Now, an unhappy customer can spread word of a business blunder in the blink of an eye by posting a bad review on Yelp, a scathing video testimonial on YouTube, or an unflattering post on Facebook.

Depending on the day and time, that post/video can go viral, causing pain and suffering for the business that did not seize the opportunity to right the wrong.

It takes insight, patience and a whole lot of customer communication to stay on top of the game these days.

Consider this scenario (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

Jim buys a coupon online for national brand carpet cleaning service.

Prior to the fast-approaching coupon expiration date, Jim calls to set up an appointment to have his carpets cleaned. Customer service representative claims not to know about the availability of online coupons and states she will have someone get back to Jim.

Three days go by – expiration date looms – Jim is sweating. Jim calls back, slightly irritated that the customer service representative did not follow through on her promise. This time, the customer service representative states that the coupon will not be honored.

Jim fumes, then contacts the online customer service department for the coupon company. He considers posting a scathing review of national carpet cleaning service on Yelp, as well as his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

However, before he has time to type up the review, the coupon company contacts the carpet cleaning company about the situation and follows up with Jim. Less than an hour later, a local franchise owner with said national brand contacts Jim, apologizes, clears the coupon with national, and sets up an appointment to clean Jim’s carpets that very week.

Carpets are cleaned and Jim is happy – coffee stains are gone.

Jim writes a great review for carpeting cleaning service on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter…and posts a picture of his spotless living room carpet on Instagram.

Scenarios like this happen millions of times each day, but they don’t always end with happy customers, clean carpets, and positive Yelp reviews.

Even though it seems simple enough to turn the situation around, companies often miss the opportunity to convert an unhappy customer into one that, at the very least, does not write a bad review on social media.

Putting the “Us” in Customer Experience

Evolving digital tools and technologies are strong drivers for changing consumer habits and expectations.

With access to what seems like an infinite amount of information available at the touch of a screen, it’s not surprising that customers expect an efficient purchase process and immediate solutions when problems arise.

But it’s important to note that, while customers’ use of technology may have changed, their expectations for customer service have remained the same: they want to be treated with respect, and they want to feel connected to the brand, the company, the product they are buying.

In their September 2015 article, “Building a design-driven culture” authors Jennifer Kilian, Hugo Sarrazin, and Hyo Yeon state that, in many cases, customers prioritize the experience of buying and using a product over the performance of the product itself.

It’s not enough to just sell a product or service—companies must truly engage with their customers.-Jennifer Kilian, Hugo Sarrazin, and Hyo Yeon

For retailers and service providers, this means it’s critical to know how your customer experience stacks up against the competition.

You’re likely not the only company offering your product or service, after all.

What makes you stand out? Why do your customers choose you? Why do some of them choose to leave? Why did they choose your competitor when your offerings are so similar?

Though not a new concept, the idea of assessing “customer experience,” is a valiant attempt at understanding what, in a nutshell, a business needs to focus on to retain customers and remain in business.

In his October 2010 article, “Understanding the Customer Experience,” Adam Richardson states that, whether it’s on online, through email, on the phone or in person, customer experience is “…the sum of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of being a customer.”

Social Media Marketing is the new Direct Mail

So how does today’s retailer stand out from the competition and build positive customer relationships?

In the past, relationship-building took place face-to-face or door-to-door: Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA used to work the cash registers in his stores to better understand his customers and their concerns.

Today, IKEA uses several digital platforms to connect with customers, such as Share Space, a site that encourages customers to share photos of spaces created using the brand’s self-assembled furniture, and “How to Build” videos that show customers how to assemble the furniture.

Even the company’s more traditional printed catalogue is available in an interactive, online version and an accompanying app with a “Place in Your Room” feature that allows users to try out furniture pieces in a virtual sense.

These advanced marketing techniques enhance and expand the customer experience, but never stray from the IKEA mantra: The customer comes first.

Billy Robinett, Vice President of Houston Pizza Venture, LLC – the company that owns the Papa John’s pizza franchise – says that, before the Internet, Papa John’s connected with customers through hand-delivered flyers and direct mail pieces, as well as through sponsorship of school and community events and sports teams.

Those tactics may have worked very well in the pre-Internet era, but today’s tech-savvy customers are less likely to shop at storefronts or pay attention to “snail mail.”

Connecting with customers now means manning the virtual cash registers (i.e., customer support chat lines) or reaching out through viral videos, Facebook posts, or targeted email campaigns.

Robinett says Papa John’s still maintains its strong connections with schools and organizations, but the company has also shifted some of its focus to online ordering and sales to accommodate its customers’ increasing use of web and mobile technologies.

Papa John’s is also embracing social media as a way to create and strengthen its relationships with pizza lovers.

For example, Papa John’s uses Twitter’s customer service tools to scan content on that platform for certain phrases, such as “I am hungry” or words to the effect that someone had a bad experience at any fast food restaurant.

When those phrases are detected, a message is sent directly to the sender, such as, “Hungry? Why not try one of our pizzas – get 10% off with this code,” or “We are sorry to hear you had a bad experience. Have a pizza on us with the code.”

“Technology just opened another door for us to reach our customers,” Robinett said. “We still do a lot of things to create emotional connections with customers, such as showcasing our partnerships with local sports icons like JJ Watt and James Harden, and talking directly to our customers on social media.”

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

In other words, if you want to get a high customer experience score, all it takes is a shift in thinking and some virtual elbow grease.

It’s not that much different than working the cash register or hanging flyers on door handles.

The common denominator between the “old” and the “newer” is communications. Without communications tools, your efforts may fall flat.

Position Your Business for Success

Here are five communications concepts – and tools for implementation – to proactively position your business and connect with current and potential customers in the virtual world:

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

1. Catch your customer’s eye

If you’re not hanging out where your potential customers are hanging out, the potential for getting their attention is slim to none.

Various methods of advertising, media and public outreach, and one-on-one interaction are parts of the equation; but more and more a strong online presence and strategy is an essential element of a business’ marketing plan.

A clean, clear and user-friendly website is a must; as well as informative and engaging content on social media platforms.

Here are a few tips for creating eye-catching, engaging websites and landing pages:

  • Make sure your landing page(s) is crystal clear about what product(s) or service(s) you offer. Attention spans have grown short, and customers are likely to leave a website immediately if the value proposition isn’t clear. Try UsabilityHub to test the efficacy of your landing page headline.
  • Don’t forget a user-friendly mobile website. A growing share of web traffic is from mobile devices. You don’t want to drive away potential business because on-the-go customers are concerned that they won’t be able to shop or reach you on their smartphones.
  • Utilize tools like Qualaroo to get feedback about what’s working and what’s not on your website, and the reasons for both.
  • Make it easy and fun for customers to engage with you on social media. Provide direct connections to your social channels through your website, and monitor them closely with Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. Keep this in mind –social media is another way for people to interact in a one-on-one format, so if you go days without replying to a customer’s question, comment or request, it is on par with not returning a message on your answering machine from the days of yore.

2. Be human, not machine

Put yourself out there, be bold and engage with your customers, particularly when they are not satisfied. Don’t use acronyms or industry-speak. Be relaxed, yet professional. Demonstrate that you care and that you’re improving their life in some way.

Communications tools that help humanize your digital presence include:

  • Use live chat on your website so that you can talk directly to potential customers who have questions or are shopping around and want to get a feel for what you do and how you do it. For many people, Live chat is a first step toward building a relationship with a company. Based on that experience, they may be willing to take the next step.
  • Although many cyber shoppers prefer live chat or email, some want to speak directly to a company representative by phone, so ensure that you have a contact phone number on your website and other marketing materials.
  • Provide training so that your employees are well versed on personalizing a customer’s experience. There are several customer relation management software platforms available that allow you to keep track of customer contact details, time and date of interactions, and many have email and website interface capabilities so that you can interact in a variety of ways.
  • Make sure that your communications products – digital or paper – have content and graphics that are brimming with personality. People trust brands they know. If the voice of your website copy is bland or cold, you are missing a valuable opportunity to build a connection.
  • Experiment with email marketing using tools like , which make it easy to create subscriber forms and send email to your web subscribers. Again, engaging content is key in all communications, including those sent to customers through email.

3. Build their confidence

A business owner knows what his or her company does best.

Don’t be afraid to focus on what you are good at, WHY you do it, and perhaps most importantly, why it will help customers have a happier, simpler, fuller, more informed life.

Customers want and need to know WHY you’re better than all the rest – so tell them. Tweet this

And, telling them why you do it is the icing on the proverbial cake.

Your story sets you apart from the rest, gives you a human face and can set the stage for a long, loyal relationship.

  • Post blogs on your website that provide information about trends in your product line or industry, or that offer useful information to your customers and potential customers. Focus on positive messages – readers on your website want to be encouraged and shown the benefit of what you provide instead of focusing on negativity.
  • Give your customers the floor! Provide them with an easy avenue to write and post a review on your website. The benefits are two-fold: You are one of the first to see the review and can respond to negative feedback quickly, which may result in the customer taking down the review or at least modifying the content. Secondly, many shoppers trust reviews and recommendations from their peers, so a good review may go a long way toward selling your product for you. Be sure to include the reviewer’s name and company, if they allow.
  • Make sure your web copy is current and clean. More is not always better. Consider hiring an experienced consultant to assist in this process – they are good at what they do and bring a fresh eye to the process.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

4. Put a face to your name

As any good reality show illustrates, people like to know what other people are all about and what makes them tick. The same can be said for the businesses they choose to patronize.

If a company keeps customers at arm’s length, then the customer never establishes a bond with the products or services, and can be easily swayed to the competition.

There are myriad ways that you can involve your customers, from videos to events to a fun contest that you advertise on your website and social media accounts.

  • Post personalized videos on your website. Start with your business’ “birth” story and take it from there. Remember the customer as you are producing and editing these videos – few people are willing or able to watch a 30-minute documentary on any one subject, but will engage in shorter, personal videos about your employees, how you source your product, and what community organizations you support.
  • Use colorful photographs and graphics to communicate your brand to shoppers. Don’t be afraid to try unique and even quirky methods, but always remain true to your brand image. In other words, don’t try to be something you’re not!
  • Create a newsletter that provides content on your latest and greatest products and company news.
  • Create an online customer community where your customers can gather in a web-based environment to discuss problems, post reviews, brainstorm new product ideas and engage with one another about your company’s products, services and brand. offers an online customer community platform that allows you to monitor it from social media so that you can provide input when needed, and gather valuable customer insights.
  • Participate as a sponsor or volunteer in community events. Serve as a mentor at your local elementary, middle or high school. The more you get your face out there, the more customers you may draw to your company because many enjoy aligning themselves with businesses that are dedicated to making a difference in their community.

5. Avoid “turtle syndrome”

Don’t pull your head in and hide when you hear – or see – the words, “I never got…” or “This is not what I ordered…” or even the more general “I am not happy with…”

View these situations as problems to be solved so that a) you improve your product and service; and b) you gain a customer for life.

  • Pick up the phone, or respond to the email, text message or social media post that outlines the customer’s concern, and immediately jump in with both feet and work with your customer to find a solution to the problem.
  • Scan social media platforms for company reviews of all types – good, indifferent or bad, and respond immediately and directly to the reviewer in a positive way. That proactive stance can go a long way toward winning back a customer, and gaining additional customers who witnessed the interaction on social media.
  • Be proactive and ask your customers for feedback. This can be accomplished in many ways – through online surveys ( Monkey is a good source), during live chat or customer service calls, through social media channels or in person. This allows you to draw information from customers who have not provided feedback on their own, but who may have good suggestions from a user’s point of view.

Today’s business climate demands more of business owners and their employees, but the interaction with customers has its benefits: repeat sales, rising profits, and hopefully, long-lasting relationships.

When you feel the responsibilities of the customer experience process weighing heavy on your shoulders, recall the famous words of Sam Walton, founder of the mega-giant retail chain Wal-Mart:

“There’s only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company, from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”