Communications

Handling a Crisis: 9 Steps to Take

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If you pay any attention to the news these days, it seems like crises are lurking around every corner. One month, there’s news of millions of people’s private data getting into the hands of hackers and thieves. The next, some government official or another has used the public’s money for reasons that have nothing to do with his or her job.

While your company might not have to face crises of this magnitude, in all probability, it will have its own problems to deal with at some point in time. How a company responds to a crisis, particularly in the eye of the public, can make or break it going forward.

If you try to brush things aside or sweep problems under the rug, you will earn the ire and disrespect of your customers. In some cases, poor handling of a crisis can be seen as a violation of the law, landing your company in even hotter water.

Having an action plan in place will allow you to respond to crises if and when they occur, or even avoid them in the first place. Follow these steps to quickly navigate a crisis situation and emerge from it in one piece.

1. Make a List of Every Possible Crisis

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If you have an idea of the kinds of crises that can happen to your business, you’re better able to make a plan in case one occurs. Take a look at the experience of companies in your industry. For example, wholesalers or retailers can look at credit card breaches experienced by their competitors for an idea of what to expect.

2. Evaluate Your Company’s Readiness

Review how prepared your company is to handle a crisis. Do you have a plan, and if so, when was the last time anyone took a look at it? Do you have a list of key people to contact in case the worst happens?

3. Make One Person the “Point Person

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It’s a good idea to assign one person, preferably someone on your communications team, the role of spokesperson or point person. He or she should be trained to handle the demands of speaking to the press without casting the company in a bad light.

4. Prep Members of Your Team

Although you want to have one person be the official spokesperson for your company, it’s still important that everyone else on your team who might be interviewed by the press have some preparation and training. Such training can provide valuable tips on how to talk to the media, and even how to stand and position themselves when being interviewed.

5. Be Proactive About Your Company’s Image

One way to soften the blow of a crisis is to work on building your company’s image and reputation. For example, you can heavily promote any charitable work completed by members of your team or by the business’s leaders.

You can also try to place positive profiles of your executive team in newspapers, magazines or online. Maintaining a positive social media presence and responding to people’s concerns or comments in a timely way can also help to bolster your company’s reputation.

6. Hold Crisis Response Drills

Just as your workplace holds regular fire drills, it’s a good idea to hold crisis response drills on a somewhat regular basis. The drills will give your team a chance to practice what they have learned and will help you see where there is room for improvement.

7. Respond Quickly if a Crisis Does Occur

In the unfortunate event of a crisis, you need to act quickly. Getting in front of the press and media before they have a chance to define the story gives your company an opportunity to smooth things over and present itself in the best possible way.

8. Don’t Cover Things Up

It can be a natural response to want to bury a crisis, but that never works out well. Companies that ignore major problems, whether they are public relations gaffes or security holes that affect millions of people, usually make more work for themselves when it comes to regaining the public’s trust.

Be transparent about what happened, and perhaps most importantly, own up to it. Don’t point fingers or place blame on others. An unfortunate situation occurred at or involving your company: it’s time to let the public know what you plan to do about it.

9. Review and Assess

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After a crisis, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate what happened. How did your company respond and how did people respond to your response? Was there a noticeable drop in business or a rise in negative sentiment? Or did people seem to accept what happened and move on?

Although you don’t want to end up in a sticky situation in the first place, you can look at it as a learning experience for your company. Assess your response and the outcome and consider what you can do differently going forward.

 

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A Social Media Checklist for Businesses

There’s a right way for businesses to use social media and there’s a wrong way. The right way actively engages with customers and users. It involves creating and sharing engaging content. The wrong way uses a purely promotional angle. It creates posts full of random hashtags and doesn’t respond to or interact with others.

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Using a checklist to monitor your company’s daily, weekly or monthly social media tasks will help you use social media in the right way. A checklist will also help you make adjustments or change course as needed.

The checklist should include the following:

  •  Respond to Comments and Messages (Daily)

One of the most important things you can do on social media is respond to comments and messages from your followers, fans or customers. When people reach out to a company over social media, they expect a response, fast.

A survey conducted by Convince and Convert found that 32% of respondents expected a business to respond to their message on social media within half an hour. Forty two percent expected a response within an hour. Customers want a quick reply anytime, whether it is the weekend or midnight on a weekday.

Responding to any messages should be a daily social media activity. In fact, you should have someone constantly monitoring your social media profiles for messages or mentions, so that you can reply quickly. Additionally, it helps to do a search every day for your business’ name on social media. People occasionally post about companies without using hashtags or usernames. It can be easy to miss those quiet mentions, but if you catch them, you’ll win your way into the hearts of customers.

  •  Find and Follow Others (Daily)

Along with replying to anyone who reaches out to you, it’s worth it to find new people to connect with through social media on a daily basis. You can search for leaders in your industry to follow or you can reach out to people who look as though they’d be interested in what you have to offer.

To do that, search for phrases or keywords that are relevant to your business on your various platforms. When you find a conversation or post about a topic that’s relevant to your company, find a way to jump in and add your input or some advice.

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One thing not to do when you’re looking to connect with others on social: follow then unfollow once that user has followed you back. If you’re going to follow a lot of people, commit to following them. It’s just bad manners to unfollow once you’ve gotten the follow back, even though it happens frequently.

  •  Create and Stick to a Social Media Content Calendar (Weekly)

You can’t post anything or share anything on social media if you don’t have an idea or plan for what to post. Creating a weekly social media content calendar gives you an idea what you need to post and when. It also helps you see how much you need to post on each site you use.

While maintaining and updating your content calendar should be a weekly (or even monthly) task, actually posting the content should happen daily. You’ll want to post at least once a day on most social accounts, but at least six times a day on Twitter, where people tend to be much more prolific.

  •  Pay Attention to What Your Competition Is Doing (Weekly)

It helps to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing on social media and on how they are using their social accounts. You don’t want to copy what other companies are doing, but you do want to check in from time to time.

Doing so lets you see what those competitors aren’t doing, so that you can fill in the gaps with your own social accounts. You can also see what’s working for them and what’s not and use that information to shape your company’s own social strategy.

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  •  Check Your Data (Monthly)

Every month, check out how your business’ various social profiles are performing. Analytics available from each social network make this pretty easy to do. For example, Twitter will tell you how each of your posts performed, how many people engaged with each post and how many people it post reached. Facebook does something similar. You can also see how many new people liked or followed your page each month and whether you’re social presence is growing or shrinking.

  •  Make Adjustments as Needed (Monthly)

The social media landscape is always changing. As social networks update or change their policies, your company will need to adjust its tactics. Keep up with the policies for each network you use and adjust your plan as needed.

You might also want to set monthly social media goals. For example, you might aim to get 100 new Twitter followers a month. If you reach that goal, increase it. If not, take a look at what you are doing and figure out what’s not helping you or what’s standing in the way of you reaching your goal.

4 Budget-Friendly PR Tips

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When your business is just getting started, you might not have the budget to hire a public relations and marketing firm.  But don’t put your PR strategy on the back burner. A few do-it-yourself options can help you promote your company, until you can hire some professional help.

Do Your Research

A major component of public relations is building connections and relationships with people in the media. Often, one of the things that makes a PR firm so attractive is its ability to connect with key media influencers in order to promote your company and its products and services.

Without a firm behind you, you don’t have access to those contacts. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t try to establish connections yourself.  It can take a bit of research and digging, but learning who covers your industry and for what publications, then taking the time to reach out to and introduce yourself to them can be well worth the effort.

Although it’s traditional to reach out to people who work in media, you don’t necessarily have to limit yourself to reporters or journalists. It could benefit your company to connect to a local business that offers a complementary service, for example.

Focus on What You’re Saying

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Knowing what your company’s message or story is is crucial if you want people to pay attention to you. Remember that PR isn’t the same thing as advertising. A media outlet typically won’t want to cover a business if the coverage feels like a blatant ad for the company.

Make sure you give the media a “why.” What’s the special hook for your company, why is it different from the others out there, how does your company benefit the community, if at all?

To figure out your company’s message, it sometimes helps to look at what other businesses use as their story or messaging.  Look at the key stories of competing businesses and craft your company’s stories in a way that responds to or is considerably different from those stories.

Get Noticed on Social Media

A sharp social media strategy should be part of every budget-PR plan, as social media has changed PR in several ways, as this article from Cision points out. Even if every traditional media outlet in town is ignoring your requests, you can use social media to get your story out there.

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Depending on how well you use it, the information you put on your company’s social media pages can end up reaching millions. For example, you might share the story of your company’s beginnings on Twitter. An influencer, someone with a massive Twitter following, might see that story, be moved by it and share it with his or her followers. All of the sudden, your company is getting a considerable amount of attention, without having had to spend much, if any, money.

While social media success stories abound, keep in mind that there’s no way to guarantee your business will be the next viral sensation. Along with telling your company’s story, use social media as a way to interact with your current customers. Offering great service online can do a lot more for your business’ public image than hoping that one day one of your posts will go viral.

Consider Newswires

Although PR is more than just sending out press releases, sending out releases is still an important part of the process. Online newswire services, such as PRWeb, are a great, inexpensive tool to use. The services distribute press releases to journalists, bloggers and others in the media, around the world, at rates that start at less than $100.

A survey conducted by Vitis PR found that 37% of journalists use newswires daily and 30% use them occasionally. You might not establish a long term relationship using a newswire, but you just might catch the attention of a journalist who wouldn’t have found out about your company otherwise.

While budget-friendly, DIY PR techniques can help your company when it’s just getting started, in the long run, you’ll want to work with a professional to develop a comprehensive PR strategy. When you do have the budget for it, a strong PR strategy can end up reaping numerous rewards.

Marketing to the 21st century reader

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Changes in technology have led to a major change in the way people approach text and reading. You can see this in several places, from blog posts to today’s bestselling novels.  Although there are still plenty of big, thick novels and long blog posts out there, there’s been a fundamental shift in the way those posts and books are written and formatted.

The 21st century reader is one who skims, who wants whatever it is she’s reading to get to the point quickly. Today’s writing has been largely influenced by social media, which, with its character counts and limits, has shortened what people can say. It’s also been influenced by the introduction of screens. Reading on a laptop, mobile device or e-reader is a very different experience from curling up with a book or newspaper.

In today’s marketing world, you not only want to think about the message you’re presenting to customers. You also want to think about how you convey that message and the best ways to do it.

Think Vertically

Before people began to read on screens, the experience was linear. To get to the next part of an article or story, they’d have to flip a page. Today’s reader is more likely to experience text vertically, meaning he or she more likely to scroll up or down a screen while reading or skimming.

Designing your writing with the vertical reader in mind helps make the text more attractive to that reader and can make him or her more likely to read to the end. One way to embrace the vertical is to use lists, particularly bulleted lists.

When someone is scrolling down a page, a bulleted list is much easier to absorb and take in than a block of text in traditional paragraph form. Bullet points also give the reader the chance to pick and choose the information that’s relevant to him or her right away, versus having to sift through a dense paragraph to find what’s useful.

Break Things Up

Bullet points are just one way to break up the text and make it easier for the modern reader to digest what’s on the screen. It’s also important to aim for brevity, in terms of the length of sentences and paragraphs.

While in previous centuries, a reader might have been OK mentally digesting a large paragraph, today’s reader finds two to four sentence paragraphs much easier to process. Short paragraphs also help guide a reader through a blog post or article. When text is presented in small blocks, with a lot of white space around it, it’s easier on the eyes. People are more likely to keep reading from one paragraph to the next.

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A similar thing occurs in books. Shorter chapters appeal to readers and make them more likely to finish a book. In 2013, the New York Times reported that people are 25 percent more likely to read a book with short chapters until the end.

Don’t just aim for short paragraphs. Go for shorter sentences, too. In an interview with the International Association of Business Communicators, writer, editor and consultant Jeff Herrington lists long sentences as one of the most common mistakes he sees in business writing. Don’t lose a reader in a 60 word, multi-clause sentence. Keep it simple.

Leave Out What People Skip

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It might seem facile to say leave out the boring stuff, but in the age of lots of content, it’s crucial. Don’t bore your readers with long descriptions of places or people. Either let them use their imaginations or trust that they can Google something if they aren’t sure what it is. In a blog post, a link can substitute for lots of descriptive text.

There’s also a lesson to be learned from social media here: That’s to only include the most relevant information to get your point across. Give yourself a limit, such as 140 characters, and see if you can convey your message within that limit.

Read More

One last piece of advice when you’re looking for writing help or ways to modernize your marketing. Read as much as you can, whether it’s marketing material and articles from those in your industry, or entertainment blogs.

Pay attention not only to what the writers of those materials are saying. Look at their format and style. Something about it appeals to you. Once you figure out what it is, try to copy it in your own writing to make it appeal to the 21st century reader.

How to make the most of content marketing

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As more and more people are able to skip or otherwise avoid the commercials that play during TV shows or bypass ads online, marketers have gotten smarter about the way they reach out to consumers. With content marketing, the focus is on providing useful information to a consumer, instead of directly pitching a product or service to him or her.

When well done, content marketing builds trust with consumers, ultimately converting them into customers. Selling isn’t the direct focus of content marketing, even though the goal is to win people over.  Although it can be more effective than traditional marketing and advertising, there are a few potential issues with content marketing.  For one, it’s getting to be a crowded field out there, so it can be tougher to make your company’s content stand out. There’s also a tendency to “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” when it comes to content, instead of figuring out which methods make the most sense for your company. Whether you have been using content marketing for some time now or are just getting started, there are ways to make it work best for you.

Find the Balance Between Quality and Quantity

There was a time when having the most content was better than having the best content. But, now the focus is on quality over quantity. That said, there is still some value in finding the best ways to reach your audience and in trying multiple approaches. For example, putting out one blog post per month, even if it is well-written and fun to read for your audience, is probably not going to help you  make the most of your content.

Along with producing top-quality content, you need to find the way to get it in front of your customers. That can mean writing a blog post, then promoting it over social media and email. It can also mean turning the subject of an excellent or popular blog post into a video or a podcast, so that it can reach an even greater audience.

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Know Your Audience

Different demographics consume content differently. For example, as this infographic from NewsCred shows, the Millennial generation is most likely to find content through a Google search or on Facebook and is most likely to share content they like on Facebook. That means that if your goal is to reach people in their 20s and early 30s and you’re not focusing on Facebook, you’re missing the a big part of your intended audience.

Focus on the Memorable Aspects of Your Content

Once you know who you’re directing your content to, the next step is to find a way to make your content memorable or to make it stand out in what’s most likely a very crowded sea of content marketing. The best content does three things:

  •  Tells a storyContent that tells a story not only stays with a customer longer, it also creates a fuller picture of what your company is doing and makes your business more relatable. When reading a story on your blog, a customer might be able to put him or herself in the shoes of the person the story is about or otherwise relate to it.
  • Uses descriptive language or imagery. Descriptive language or eye catching imagery also makes your content worth reading.
  • Sparks the customer’s imagination. No one wants to read a blog post that’s just a bunch of numbers or raw data. They want something that sparks excitement and something that helps them imagine what working with your company or otherwise being part of the story would be like.

Measure Your Marketing

If you aren’t measuring your content marketing in some way, you have no way of knowing how it is performing or whether it is worth your time to keep going in the same direction. One way to measure your marketing is to look at who is coming to look at your content, how long they are staying, and whether or not they take the time to look at other pages on your site.

One tool that can help you measure your marketing’s data is Google Analytics. When you placing a tracking code on your webpage, you are able to see what types of content are doing the best and what sources are directing the most people to you.

Although it’s a useful tool, content marketing can be a big waste of time if it doesn’t ultimately convert readers into customers. Finding what works and measuring results allows you to maximize your content marketing without putting too much stress or strain on your company.

3 Ways to Jazz Up Your Press Releases

Public relations is often more involved than simply sending out a press release and calling it a day, but that doesn’t mean that the press release isn’t a worthwhile tool to get the message out about a product or initiative.  Of course, to be an effective tool, a press release needs to be more than just an afterthought.  If you’re not getting the results you want when you send out releases, it could be due to a number of things, from the length of the release to how well it gets its point across. Paying more attention to what is in your press releases and to how they look will help you get more traction when you distribute them.

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Have a Hook

 In a column on Inc.com, contributor Erik Sherman reveals that he immediately deletes or discards 99 percent of all the press releases he gets in a week. While he admits that part of the reason why many press releases get ignored or trashed has to do with logistics — most journalists  gets hundreds a week and there just isn’t enough time to get to all of them, or another reporter might have covered a similar topic recently — others just don’t have enough zing or zest to grab the attention of a busy editor or reporter.

To get and keep a reader’s attention, a press release needs to  have a hook. The headline should be eye catching, without sounding salesy, and the first paragraph should give the reader enough information to let him or her know why the release is newsworthy.  Don’t feel that you need to keep the juicy bits of the press release for the end. Put the most engaging and important part up front, so that your reader doesn’t wander away before he or she knows what the release is about.

The headline is one of the most important parts of your press release. Don’t settle for something that simply conveys the facts, such as “Company Y Appoints New Vice President.” Instead, find an angle to use so that the reader clearly sees why your news is worth covering. If the new vice president is committed to make the company more sustainable, your headline can read “New Vice President of Company A Promises to Increase Sustainability,” so that a reader wants to learn more about how the new vice president will do that.

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Get Visual

 Can you add visual elements to a press release? The answer is yes. Should you add visual elements to a press release? The answer is also yes. In 2014, PR Newswire examined and analyzed all of the press releases, more than one million, on its site to see which ones had the greatest number of views and responses.

Visuals help press releases perform better for at least two reasons. The first is that an image or video reinforces what’s in the press release. It gives a journalist a second chance to catch something he or she might have missed within the text. Visuals also give journalists something to use in their reporting, or even more importantly in the age of social media, something to share in a tweet, pin, or Facebook post.

 Keep it Short and Sweet

 It’s better to think of a press release as a short story or even a micro story than as a novel. Few people want to, or have the time to, read press releases that are multiple pages long. Limit your press releases to one page each, or around 250 to 400 words. Giving yourself a word limit requires you to only include the most pertinent and useful information.

Remember that the goal of a press release is to let the media know about your company or know about an important change at your company. A great press release makes a journalist want to cover a company or gives him or her a kernel on which to build an exciting news story.

How to Keep Good PR and Marketing Campaigns From Going Bad

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Sometimes, campaigns with the best intentions don’t end up succeeding in the way the people behind them had hoped. What looks good on paper can end up being a mess in reality. While you might feel pressure to rush a campaign to market to coincide with a launch of a new service, product, or idea, it many ways it pays to take some time to fully evaluate a campaign, to make sure that nothing can go wrong.

 Figure Out How to Implement It

Public relations and marketing can be a touchy, sensitive area. A campaign is about more than just putting an idea out there, it’s about putting the idea out there in such a way that people aren’t immediately turned off by the concept. It’s not just how the message is conveyed, it’s the timing of the message. Generally, an experienced PR and marketing company will understand the importance of implementation and will recommend the most appropriate way to introduce a campaign to an audience.

Part of implementing a campaign is figuring out the right tone to take and the right tactics to use. If your company is trying respond to a serious issue or is using its campaign to bring attention to a social topic, it can be more appropriate to go in depth when putting the campaign into practice, rather than to try to be coy or to tease the public. For example, let the public know what is behind the idea by having the CEO of your company sit down with a journalist and fully flesh out the details of the project instead of using short ads or catchphrases. An in depth look behind the scenes will let people know that your company not only believes in what it is doing, it also understands the issue at hand and is willing to tackle it head on.

Know Your Audience

The team behind a PR or marketing campaign should  have a clear idea of who its audience is, what the audience wants and how that audience will respond. Understanding your audience goes hand in hand with determining the best way to implement your campaign. For example, if your target audience mainly gets their news from the web, you’ll want to reach out to writers and journalists who publish online, rather than in traditional print sources. If your audience doesn’t contain many readers, you’ll want to consider other ways to get your message out, such as videos, visual ads, or social media posts.

Along with figuring out the best way to reach your audience, you want to understand what they want. For example, if your latest campaign is to engage your customers in dialogue about a topic, it helps to get the timing right so that you reach the customers who are the most willing to engage and interact with your campaign. Trying to get someone to participate when all they want to do is buy a product and go is going to lead to a campaign that backfires.

Engage the Community

Corporations aren’t usually known for their community efforts, which is why partnering with a community or non-profit organization is often a great way to launch a new campaign, particularly one with a social focus. The partnership tells the public that the business cares about a social issue and that it also recognizes the work a particular organization is doing and wants to support that work. If your latest campaign tackles a social issue, find out what organizations work with the issue and reach out to them. In many cases, partnering with a community organization will not only give your campaign backbone, it will also increase your company’s profile in the eyes of the public.

Don’t Be an Ostrich

 Every company makes mistakes from time to time, even marketing professionals. What’s most important to do, especially in the face of a campaign that’s not going the way a company intended, is to own up to it, come up with a new solution, or move on. One of the worst things to do is pretend that the campaign never happened or to completely shut your company off from criticism. Although it might seem like a remote possibility now, in a few months or years, a campaign that goes wrong might be something your company is able to use as fodder for jokes or even for a future PR or marketing project.

When creating a campaign, people neglect to think of strategy. Great ideas can only go so far when  a company doesn’t have the resources or the PR savvy to figure out the right strategy for a campaign.

Creating B2C sizzle with a B2B campaign

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By now, you are probably aware of the power social media and the Internet have in the modern marketing and public relations landscape. Those in PR are no longer dependent on the traditional media to build awareness of a brand or to spread a brand’s message, as this 2012 Fast Company interview highlighting updated best practices for B2B PR explains.

While many B2B companies are launching social media and other campaigns to better reach and interact with their customers, a few obstacles stand in the way. One is that B2B products and services tend to be fairly commonplace, and thus not necessarily very exciting. Another is that B2B marketers often forget that they are talking to actual people, even though they are targeting their company and product to a business.

You might not be able to be as creative or casual with a B2B campaign as you would be with one for a B2C company, but that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow a few tricks from the B2C toolbox to spice things up.

Add Personality

There are two things to remember when working on a B2B campaign: you, a human, are creating it, and it will be looked at by other humans. Few, if any, people want to look at something that feels as if it has been created by a machine. If you’re trying to create something that is very formal and stiff, you’ll start to bore yourself, too.

You can add personality to a B2B campaign in a variety of ways. A look at successful campaigns from other major companies can give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Olivia Perek over at the New Breed Marketing Blog highlights campaigns from General Electric, as well as one from American Express and another from a shipping company. As Perek notes, GE’s campaign focus on the people behind its products. A series of videos featured people using GE products for the first time, such as a pregnant woman in a remote location, receiving her first ultrasound. To promote its new smart air conditioner, the company focused on the man who came up with the concept, adding humanity to what would otherwise be a fairly dry topic.

Think of it this way: The people at the companies you are trying to reach might benefit from using your product or service. But, they might not be able to see the benefit of that product or service until you show how others who are similar to them use and take advantage of it.

Get Culturally Relevant

Should you make a pop culture reference in a B2B campaign? Absolutely, especially if you can tie that reference into what the company is offering. Stay on top of what’s going on in terms of breaking news and culture, and use what works with your company.

Along with borrowing cultural references from B2C campaigns, you can also look to a few to see what not to do. Some B2C companies have made major missteps when trying to work current memes or hashtags into their marketing (see: DiGiorno’s tweet from September of last year). Before you work anything that’s trending into a campaign, be sure that you know exactly what the trend is referencing.

Move Beyond Text

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B2B PR is traditionally very text based, from white papers to press releases. But, text isn’t the only way to convey a message, nor is it necessarily the best most effective way to reach your audience, as screens get smaller and attention spans shorter. Think beyond white papers, press releases, and blog posts and try experimenting with images, such as infographics, to get your message across. Podcasting, which is experiencing a bit of a renaissance, thanks to the popularity of Serial, can also be a great way to bring B2C techniques to a B2B campaign.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when trying to add some B2C pizazz to a B2B campaign is that it’s all about balance. You don’t want to be stiff and formal, but you also don’t want to risk alienating the business community by being too relaxed and informal. Aim for funny and engaging, but stop short of looking as though you are trying too hard.

Like a well-oiled machine: how to manage your blog

The best bloggers make it look all too easy. They consistently publish interesting and relevant posts and get people to talk about their posts, either in the comments section or on social media. They never seem at a loss for ideas. But, as with anything that looks easy to do on the surface, there’s a lot more that goes on with blogging behind the scenes.

It takes a lot of work to create an outstanding blog, more than simply having a few things to write about every now and then. Persistence and planning will help you create an exciting blog, one that you can use to measure your company’s success.

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Create a Calendar

The first step to managing your blog is creating an editorial calendar, which sets out the posting schedule for the week or month ahead. An editorial calendar helps you plan your posts and will give you an idea of where and when you might need more content. Most importantly, having a calendar and some sort of content strategy will help your blog be more effective, according to a 2014 survey conducted by the Content Marketing Institute.

Your blog’s editorial calendar can be as in depth or bare bones as you’d like it to be. For example, you can include the subject of the post, the date it’s due, and its publish date, and be done. Or, you can include more details about each post, such as keywords, how you’ll promote it, and the persona you’ll use when writing the post (more on that below). There are many free calendar templates available online, such as this one from HubSpot, or you can create your own in Excel or using Google Calendar.

Know Your Audience

Knowing who reads your blog and what their level of experience with your niche is will help you better tailor your posts to them. It’s also possible that a number of different demographics read your blog, meaning that you’ll want to tailor some posts to the experts among your audience and some to the beginners. Customizing your posts to specific audiences also can mean creating separate personas as content dictates.

Creating a persona is about more than just understanding what a particular reader is looking for. It also involves knowing when that reader might be more likely to click through to your blog. For example, if one of your blog personas is a busy professional, it’s more likely that readers you are attempting to target will read your blog on the weekend or in the evening. But, if another one of your personas is a stay-at-home parent, those targeted readers might be more likely to read your blog in during the day, when the kids are taking a nap.

If you assign each post a persona when putting it in your editorial calendar, you’ll have a much better idea of the tone to take with the post, the level of complexity to include, and when to schedule it.

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Keep the Ideas Flowing

As we discussed in our last post, a great blog needs great content that is both relevant to the widest possible audience and lets people take something away from the post. At the same time, your blog also has a constant need for new content.

Brainstorming ideas for posts can be a time consuming component of managing a blog. But, there are some ways to streamline the process. One way to is tie your post to something that is trending in social media or online at the time. For example, if you own a dress shop or fashion blog, the recent furor over “the dress” could have provided at least one post about ways to style a blue and black (or white and gold) dress.

You might also consider using a content generator when you’re really pressed for ideas. The title generator from Portent.com automatically creates a post title for you once you put in a subject or noun. Not all of the titles will work for you, but it can be a useful tool when you’re absolutely stumped and don’t know what you’ll write about next.

Analyze It

Analyzing your blog, using Google Analytics or another tool, helps you measure the areas that are doing well and getting a lot of traffic and see which areas aren’t as engaging. Looking at your blog’s statistics, you might realize that you need more posts on certain topic or posts that feature more images. Or, you might realize that one of your guest bloggers is incredibly popular, and might be worth working with on a more regular basis.

Like Rome, great blogs aren’t built in a day. It takes a lot of behind the scenes work to build your company’s blog and turn it into a well oiled, smoothly running machine.

4 ways to make your blog stand out

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These days, a blog should be a part of every business' communications and marketing strategy. The 2014 Fortune 500 and Social Media study, from the Charlton College of Business Center for Marketing Research, at UMass Dartmouth, found that 31 percent of Fortune 500 companies ran a corporate blog. The top 200 companies were more likely than the lower 300 companies to keep a blog, and 40 percent of the top five companies have their own blogs. Even as other forms of communication and social media become popular, blogging remains an important tool.

While the benefits of blogging are well documented, particularly when it comes to increasing a company's customer base, how to create and maintain a blog that engages with people and that is worth reading is a little less clear. Whether you are already blogging or are thinking of getting started, keeping a few things in mind will help you create a blog that gets people's attention.

Have Great Content

A blog is nothing without content, but content on its own isn’t enough to get people to read it or to share posts. What you put on your blog, whether it’s a short essay, a video clip, or an infographic, needs to be helpful and relevant to your audience. In a post on Ragan.com, Mark Schaefer highlights the top 10 non-tech industry blogs out there.

What do the majority of those blogs have in common? They all have great content. In the case of Whole Foods Market’s Whole Story blog, the posts reflect the retailer’s culture while providing useful tips and information to shoppers. The posts aren’t exactly salesy, but many of them highlight ways to put items commonly sold at Whole Foods to use in daily life.

Another way to develop great content for your blog is to avoid playing it safe. In many cases, blog posts that take a controversial stance or that highlight a poster’s opinion create the most engagement, as people are more likely to want to state their own opinion and strongly agree or disagree with the subject of the post.

Part of being somewhat controversial in terms of content is understanding your blog’s niche audience. Some of the things you say will appeal to the audience and not to others, which is OK. If you try to please everyone with your blog, you might end up pleasing no one.

Keep Things Up to Date

Over time, blog posts can get stale or become outdated. Keep your posts up-to-date so that your blog continues to offer useful information to readers. That can mean revisiting a post that was popular a year or so ago and putting a new spin on it, providing new information or updated stats, or writing a new post that continues the discussion begun in the first one.

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Make it Search Friendly

When you’re blogging, you’re not only producing content for human consumption, you’re producing content for search engines. A fantastically written, incredibly helpful blog post won’t make much of an impact if no one can find it. Hubspot, an inbound marketing platform, has a checklist of the things every blog needs to be search engine friendly.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is constantly changing, as Google continues to update its algorithms to make sure that it’s providing the most relevant search results to users. The search engine has penalized blogs and websites that bend the rules to increase their search rank. Along with following an SEO checklist from a company such as Hubspot or using the SEO tools included in your blogging platform, it’s a good idea to keep up with Google’s guidelines, so that you know that your blog is following the rules.

Befriend Other Bloggers

A blog is as much about personality as it is about content. In his post on Ragan.com, Schaefer notes even some of the best blogs flounder because it’s unclear who’s writing the posts or what the stories of the blogs’ authors are. Engaging with and building relationships with other bloggers, either by commenting on other blogs or by interacting on social media, will help personalize your company’s blog. Seek out other blogs in your business’ niche, for example, and start reading and commenting on their posts. Join relevant LinkedIn groups and share your posts when applicable or create a Pinterest account and pin your own posts, as well as posts from others that you found useful.

Admittedly, blogging is a lot of work. But, in the best of cases, a blog lets you get to know your customers a bit better and helps your customers get to know you. If the top companies in the country are finding blogging beneficial, think of what it can do for you.