Social Media

How to Create Engaging Content

Is a blog post only as good as the number of comments it receives? If you post something on social media and no one likes or comments on it, did the post happen?

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Creating engaging content is one of the top challenges for marketers, according to the 2016 B2B Content Marketing Benchmark report from the Content Marketing Institute. Sixty percent of B2B marketers stated that producing engaging content was their number one issue. (#2 and #3 were producing effective content and producing content regularly.)

If your blog’s comments are low or people seem to click away quickly, it may be time to give one or all of the following a try:

Be Topical (With Care)

“Newsjacking” is the process of using topical, timely content to get your brand’s message out to the world. There are good instances of newsjacking and some not-so-good ones.  A good instance might be to take a trending story and create an educational and informative blog post from it.  Similarly, you can write a piece that references a popular TV show or that connects to something that’s happening in the news, as long as it’s relevant to your business and positive.

On the other hand, using a recent tragedy or crisis to try to promote your brand is in bad form, even if your product might be relevant to readers’ lives at the moment.

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Listicles, or articles that are simply a list of things, tend to get a bad rap. But research shows that people actually do love listicles, and are more likely to share and comment on them than other content forms (one study by  Lumanu showed that listicles received 10 percent more social engagement per article.)

Why are they popular? It turns out that the human brain is wired to respond positively to lists. When a reader sees a list on your blog or social platform, he or she knows a few things right away – like what will be in the article, about how long it will be (if it’s a numbered list), and whether the article will be interesting to him or her. Ranked lists are particularly engaging for people, since they sort the information in a clear way.

Give Something Away

People are more likely to share their thoughts and opinions with you if you promise them something in return. You have a few options when it comes to running a giveaway. You can offer a small freebie to everyone who comments on a blog post or who shares a post (such as a free e-book).

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Another option is to have a contest for a bigger prize, such as a month’s worth of your product or services for free. Enter the names and emails of everyone who shares or comments on your post by a certain date into a drawing, then pick a winner at random.

If you mainly create social content or want people to engage with a special hashtag, create a social media giveaway.  Encourage people to post on Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest (choose the network that is most relevant to your business), using the hashtag and mentioning your company. Give the person who creates the most likes or shares a prize. Your brand can end up with a lot of engaging content, courtesy of current or potential customers.

The bottom line:  Engaging content connects to people in some way, whether it’s giving them a reward, promising them useful information or helping them learn from a recent news story or pop culture phenomenon. If you’re not seeing results from your content, experimenting with a different form might be all you need to do.

 

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4 PR and Marketing Trends to Pay Attention to in 2017

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As one year draws to a close and another one gets set to begin, it’s only natural to reflect on what has happened and to guess about what’s in store. While no one has a crystal ball when it comes to marketing and PR, a number of trends seems likely to continue, while others will become increasingly popular.

Knowing which of these trends to focus on in 2017 will help you better connect with your customers and put together a more effective marketing and PR strategy.

The Increasing Influence of Influencers

Using influencers to promote a product or service isn’t a new thing. But it’s expected that influencers will become even more influential in 2017. Influencer marketing is effective because when a well-liked or respected figure on Instagram, for example,  recommends using a product, people are more likely to be receptive to that recommendation than they would be to traditional advertising.

A survey conducted by eMarketer found that 48% of people who responded plan on raising their budget for influencer marketing in the New Year.  Another survey found that 86% of marketers used influencer marketing in 2016, spending between $25,000 and $50,000. Most marketers intend to double their influencer marketing budget in 2017.

Content Becomes More Immersive and Interactive

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The days of producing static content are over. In 2017, content will continue to become ever more interactive and immersive.

Interactive content can range from simple quizzes on a website to clickable infographics and from live streaming video feeds to fully immersive, augmented reality programs, such as Pokemon Go. The more engaging the content, the more likely it is to create tangible, real results with audiences and customers.

Native Ads Increase

Although many people dislike traditional ads and will go out of their way to avoid them by installing ad blockers or skipping TV commercials, native advertising is generally much more accepted.

Native ads blend into their surroundings a lot better than traditional ads and look as though they are meant to be there. Over the next five years, native ads are expected to increase from 56% of display ad revenue to 74%, according to a report from Business Insider.

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The format for native advertising is also evolving. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, new ad forms are continually being invented while certain types of formats, particularly visual or video-based native ads, are gaining in popularity.

As native ads become more common and popular, one of the challenges IAB anticipates is having those ads continue to focus on storytelling, rather than on simply selling a product or service.

The Shrinking Lifespan of Content

People’s attention spans have shrunk so much that a recent opinion piece argued that members of “Generation z” (those born after 1995) have an attention span of just 8 seconds.

Since no one’s going to pay attention to it anyway after a few seconds, it makes sense that the shelf life of content is going to continue to shrink in 2017. Snapchat, the social sharing site where content vanishes a few seconds after it’s viewed, is expected to grow in popularity this coming year.

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TechCrunch reports that the company expects its ad revenue to reach $1 billion in 2017. Although the site is thought to be a hit with younger users, its popularity with older people is growing. In 2016, the number of Snapchat users over the age of 35 grew by 86%, according to the LA Times, and the number of users between the ages of 25 and 34 grew by 103%.

Short-lived content is appealing to marketers for one big reason: There’s a sense of urgency to it. If a person doesn’t check out the image or story your company posted right away, they’ll miss it forever. That can spur customers or viewers to action much more effectively than a long-lived post on other social networks.

Of course, it’s difficult to predict the future with any real sense of certainty.  But, having a general idea of where marketing and PR are headed in 2017 can help your company better prepare for what’s to come.

 

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.

Tips for Marketing to Millennials

When you hear the word “millennial,” what comes to mind? Often, the stereotype is a twenty something, somewhat self-obsessed person from a middle class background. But millennials are much more than that.

For one thing, there are about 80 million of them in US, according to research from Accenture. For another, not all of them are in their twenties. Since marketers typically classify anyone born between 1980 and 2000 as a millennial, plenty of them are in their thirties while a good number are still teenagers.

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Whether they are 34, 26, or 16, millennials have an immense buying power. Some reports estimate than they collectively spend more than $1 trillion a year. Accenture offers a more conservative figure, estimating that millennials spend around $600 billion annually in the US.

When targeting millennials, there are a few key things marketers need to do.

Get Personal

Admittedly, people of all ages like the personal touch when it comes to being marketed to. But getting personal tends to matter the most to millennials.  According to a 2015 survey, conducted by Elite Daily, just one percent of them admits to be influenced by traditional advertising. They skip commercials, use ad-blocking software or generally ignore ads.

Instead of being advertised to, millennials are looking to be engaged with. They prefer it if brands act like their friends, providing real, useful advice and guidance, rather than simply presenting a product to them.

Influencers, whether they are celebrities or bloggers, can be an effective tool for marketers who want to reach millennials. According to the Elite Daily survey, a third of millennials are likely to check out a blog about a product before they buy. More than 40 percent are looking for something that is authentic and something that they can trust.

Embrace Their Diversity

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The common stereotype of millennials — the 26-year-old, college-educated, middle class white person — focuses on just one small subset of the generation. Although many millennials have gone to college and some have earned masters degrees or doctorates, a fair number aren’t college educated. Some are still in high school. They also come from a variety of backgrounds and many speak multiple languages or do not speak English as their first language.

Some millennials have fully embraced adulthood. They own their homes, their cars and have kids of their own. Other might still live with mom and dad or in roommate situations and have a less stable grip on their finances. Some have decided to live a completely unconventional life, plan on never getting married and don’t anticipate owning property any time soon.

That means that one single message or marketing approach won’t work for this demographic. If you focus on them as a group of post-adolescents who rely on their parents, you’re ignoring the millennials who have begun living adult lives and who might resent being grouped with those who haven’t started adulthood yet. If you focus on them as people who are getting married and starting families, you turn off those who don’t want to live that lifestyle or who aren’t at that stage yet.

It’s more helpful to focus on who your millennial customer is, not where he or she is meant to be in life. For example, you  might decide to target millennials who are into a certain style of music or who believe in supporting a particular social cause. You can create different campaigns to target different social sets of millennials, instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach based on perceived cultural norms.

Use Social and Digital Methods Wisely

Many millennials are digital natives, meaning they can’t remember a time before the Internet. Some might be young enough that they can’t remember a world without social media. It’s great to jump on the social media bandwagon and create accounts for your company with the hip, millennial-focused networks, such as Instagram and Snapchat.

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But, millennials are going to see through that. You can’t just create social accounts and expect them to come to you.  You need to give them a reason to follow your brand. If your business is one that isn’t even on millennials’ radar or if yours is a company that they associate with the “olds,” they aren’t going to follow your accounts.

Use social media to connect with and engage with potential customers. You can use Snapchat, for example, to show people how to use your products or show people using your products in creative, unexpected ways. The thing to remember when using social media is to be subtle. Don’t push your product or service on millennials. Instead, try to be a helpful guide to them and they’ll be more likely to become loyal customers to you.

The secret to marketing to millennials is figuring out what they want. And really, that same trick holds true when marketing to people of any generation or age group. Baby Boomers and Generation X might not be crying out for authentic, personal stories. But once you start incorporating that into your marketing, don’t be surprised if you find that it helps you reach customers of all ages.

Using Social Media to Build Influence

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Unlike traditional marketing, you don’t need to have a huge budget or a household name to establish yourself or your company as an influencer on social media.

In fact, larger companies are struggling to build and maintain any level of influence on social media, as an article in the March 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review points out. Smaller companies and individuals tend to have a greater reach on social media compared to national brands.  That’s because it can be easier for a smaller company to produce organic social media content that is perceived as being authentic than it is for a big brand.

Focus on Quality

Posting more content on social media isn’t always better than posting fewer items. You’ll be able to make a name for yourself or your business in the online realm if you post one thing per day that really resonates with your audience or that helps them solve a particular problem.

Although it’s important to pay attention to what topics are trending, pick and choose what you post about with care. There have been numerous cases of brands or companies jumping on a hashtag bandwagon and putting their foot in their mouths. Often, the brands saw that a particular hashtag was trending, but didn’t understand the meaning behind it and ended up posting something that embarrassed them or created an uproar.

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The “quality over quantity” rule applies  to the number of social networks you are on, as well. When you are first dipping your toes into the social media waters, it can help to focus on one platform at a time. If you prefer to make videos, focus on building your influence and subscriber list on YouTube. If concise, witty phrases are more your style, Twitter can be perfect for you. As you gain followers and traction on social media, you can think about expanding the number of networks you use.

Stick to What You Know

One way to establish yourself as an expert in your field and to earn “influencer” status is to focus on posting about the things you know. For example, if you are an accountant who primarily works with small businesses, you can write a post about often overlooked small business deductions at tax time.

It’s also important to anticipate what your audience wants to read or see from you. They might not value a post about recent events in international politics, for example, if your company sells kitchen supplies to bakeries and restaurants. But, if you run an import-export business or deal with a number of customers whose lives or businesses will be affected by the issue, a post from you on what the current events mean for business and for your audience might be appreciated.

Although providing information can position you as an expert or authority on a topic or industry, starting a conversation on social media can also help you build your influence. Solicit questions from your followers about your niche and take the time to answer them.

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You can also jump in and answer questions people might post in online forums or on websites such as Quora. Doing so will put you and your company on the original poster’s radar, as well as on the radar of anyone who ends up reading the Q&A.

Pay Attention to What Works

One of the great things about social media is that it is easy to see what is working and what isn’t. When you post an article or video, you can see how many people have looked at it, how many have reacted to it, and how many have shared it.

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You might start to notice patterns across your posts. Perhaps videos do better with your followers than written posts, for example. Perhaps people respond to posts with pictures more than they do to posts that are just text. You can build your brand and establish influence more easily if you give people want they want to see on social media.

Whether they are on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, people are looking for companies to step forward and take the lead. Use social media to your advantage and you’ll end up gaining a considerable amount of influence.

Marketing is Dead, Long Live Marketing

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Every industry needs to evolve and grow to survive. Look at the auto industry, for example.  Without innovation, everyone would still be driving Model Ts, instead of the higher-powered, more fuel efficient vehicles many of us drive today.

The same is true in the marketing and communications industry. People have been heralding the death of marketing, as it was once known, for years now. William Lee, author of The Hidden Wealth of Customers:  Realizing the Untapped Value of Your Most Important Asset, was writing about the death of marketing in Harvard Business Review back in 2012. While traditional marketing techniques might be dead and should be buried, that doesn’t mean the entire industry needs to pull up stakes and move on.

Instead, we need to find what works in today’s climate and focus efforts on that. Traditional ads and paper press releases might be the Model T’s of the marketing world, but social media and customer-focused efforts can be the marketing industry’s equivalent of the Tesla Model S.

Communicate First, Market Second

One of the traditional methods of marketing was to figure out an audience, such as middle-aged, married women who stay at home or 14 to 18-year-old boys who like sports and pizza, then to tailor an ad to target that audience. The focus was on marketing first, communicating second.

In the next phase of marketing’s life cycle, communications should come first. A marketer might not be trying to push or promote a product to a specific demographic. Instead, the goal is to share information or provide something valuable to a consumer. Blog posts or sponsored articles on a website are an example of communications-focused marketing.

This approach is subtle but still effective. For example, many blog posts that are created to market a company don’t even specifically mention the company’s name or that it offers a service discussed in the post. But, by seeing the post on a company’s website or shared on a  social media profile, a customer begins to associate that company with that service or product.

A company has given a customer something useful or valuable. If it comes to a point in the future when the customer needs the product or service a company offers, he or she will be likely to think of that company first. Communications-focused marketing is about giving, not selling, to customers.

Turn to the Customer

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Speaking of customers, they are a valuable resource for marketing 2.0. A 2013 report from Forrester Research showed that 70 percent of consumers trust a recommendation from a friend, and only 10 percent put their trust in ads.

That means that in the new marketing world, the customer needs to become the advertisement. In his Harvard Business Review article, Bill Lee recommends looking at the big picture when it comes to a customer’s potential lifetime value. A company doesn’t have to only look at the potential revenue a customer can bring in.

It can also look at the influence that a customer has over others. For example, a highly respected customer, who others are likely to listen to and follow, can be incredibly valuable, even if he or she doesn’t purchase vast amounts from your company. Instead, that customer can direct others to your products. If someone who has a lot of followers or a large network is enthused about what your business offers, tap into that enthusiasm and let it work for the good of your company.

Blending Old and New

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If traditional marketing is dead, why do you still see ads in magazines or on TV and why do you still send out press releases or try to engage with traditional media? While it’s true that ads might no longer be effective on their own and that a  newspaper or print magazine story might not have the reach it once did, those techniques can still be valuable.

The trick is to combine them with newer marketing techniques. Your company might produce an ad that features one of your customer influencers, or the ad might specifically encourage people to engage with or share their opinion with your company on social media. The ad isn’t specifically marketing your product or service; instead, it’s marketing your company’s social presence.

You have many options for reaching customers today. While it might seem like the best idea to toss away all the old marketing techniques in favor of the new, some older methods can still be valuable, especially when combined with the newer ones.  No one drives a Model T anymore, after all, but today’s cars all still have four wheels and an engine.

 

How to get people to share your content

 When you create and publish a blog post, infographic, or other piece of content, there’s always the hope in the back of your mind that your piece will go viral, becoming a social media sensation that people just can’t help but share. It can seem that having something go viral is based more on luck than anything else, but that’s actually not true.

 Getting more people to share your content has little to do with luck and everything to do with art and science. If you’ve noticed that companies similar to yours have promoted pieces that have had more shares than yours (while not offering the same level of quality), it could be that they are doing some things differently. It’s not just what you write about or how well you write about it. How much you write, the tone of your piece, and who you get to comment on or share your content all influence its popularity.

Find the Influence

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Although high school is years, if not decades away for many people, the world of social media is still a big popularity contest. You don’t have to push your way into the “in” crowd online to get shares and attention on your posts. But, you do want to reach out to the proverbial “cool kids” of the internet, the influencers who have the clout to drive views, likes and retweets to your content.

Over at Kissmetrics, Mark Trueman outlines a 3-step to plan to find and reach out to influencers. Your goal here is to have them share your content, whether it’s a blog post, video or something else. He recommends that you start by finding blog posts or other content that covers a topic similar to what you are writing about. You can find similar posts by doing a Google search for the topic and the name of a popular blog in your niche.

Next, you want to find out who has linked to the post and how influential that person is. Bit.ly will not only shorten the length of a URL for you, it will also show you who else has shared the same link, where they shared it, and how many people clicked on that the link when shared.

If a few people got a lot of clicks when they shared a post similar to yours, it can be worth your time to reach out to them about sharing your own post. Keep your email note short and sweet. All you need to say  is something along the lines of “Hi, I saw that you shared this post on this topic. I wrote a post on a similar topic here, that I thought you might be interested in.” Trueman notes that it can be helpful to make contact with the person before you ask for a share, such as by leaving a comment on his or her blog, but you can also try cold e-mailing people.

Look on the Bright Side

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It turns out that people like to feel good when they read or look at content online.  A study conducted by BuzzSumo looked at 10,000 of the most shared pieces of content on the web. As part of its analysis, the company assigned an emotion to each piece. It turned out that the pieces that caused people to feel awe, amusement or to laugh were the most likely to be shared. A quarter of the popular pieces awed people, while 17 percent made them laugh and 15 percent caused amusement.  Joy was another popular emotion, at 14 percent.

On a similar note,  research from Dan Zarrella, a “social media scientist,” finds that people are less likely to follow social media accounts that use a negative tone. Looking at more than 100,000 accounts, he found that the more negativity on the account, the fewer followers it had.

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Go In-Depth

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While you might think short and sweet pieces end up being more popular on social media, BuzzSumo’s research suggests the opposite.  The longer a post or article is, the more likely people are to share it. The company’s research found that pieces with more than 3,000 words were more likely to be shared than pieces with fewer than 1,000 words.

Part of that might have to do with the fact that there isn’t much online when it comes to long-form, in-depth posts. According to BuzzSumo, there are 16 times more short-form (1,000 words or fewer) posts than there are posts with 2,000 or more words. It does require more time and effort on your part to write an article or blog post that is more than 2,000 words. But, if it ends up increasing the reach of your content, the extra effort can be well worth it in the end.

Getting more people to see your content is a worthwhile goal, especially in the competitive world of content marketing. But, remember that getting shares is just part of the process. You want to keep producing content that is high quality and that will keep people coming back for more.

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.

What’s Happening with Social Media and What Does it Mean?

When it comes to social media, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Marketers need to keep on their toes to stay on top of the constantly evolving social media sphere. Just when it seems as though things have settled down and you’ve gotten into a groove with your social media strategy, a new rule or change is handed down, causing you to re-evaluate your methods.

Last year was full of changes for various social networks and this year seems to promise more of the same. Whether you prefer Facebook or have started to branch out and use the smaller social networks, understanding recent changes and knowing what to expect going forward can help you make the best use of social media when it comes reaching out and engaging with your customers.

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Facebook’s Still Top Dog . . . But is Making Some Changes

At the beginning of 2014, the Global Web Index reported that Facebook was still the top social network, but that it had lost a number of teenage users, who were turning to other networks and apps. While it might not be a hit with teens, Facebook continues to be the leader in the social media world.

As an infographic from the Global Web Index shows, the network still has 1.35 billion active users and many of those users log on several times a day. A considerable number of Facebook users are older, with a quarter of them being over the age of 45.

Although people are still using Facebook, its use as a tool for marketers is coming into question. The structure of the site’s newsfeed favors compelling and engaging content, meaning that marketers should consistently bring their “A” game to ensure that their content is featured.. More recently, the company announced that it was taking aim at “promotional posts,” or posts that seem to sell a service or product but aren’t actual, paid advertisements on the site.

The change, which was scheduled to roll out in January 2015, was designed to improve the newsfeed experience for users. It means that if you’re a marketer who’s trying to engage with your customers on Facebook, you’ll need to think beyond blatant sales and promos. Instead, focus on posting things that those who have “liked” your page will want to see, such as people’s experiences with your service or product or articles that are relevant to your industry. The other option is to turn to Facebook ads, suggesting that the “pay to play” model is becoming ever more prevalent in social media.

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Twitter Considers a Filtered Feed

In the social media sphere, a battle rages between the filtered feed, which decides what users see using algorithms, and the real-time feed, which displays every post from the accounts a user follows, at the time that they are posted. Since it first started, Twitter has used a real-time feed, listing posts in reverse chronological order.

The real-time feed has some advantages and some drawbacks for marketers. An advantage is that you don’t have to worry that your post will get filtered out and will remain unseen by your followers. A drawback is that there’s a real risk that your post will get buried, especially if you post at the same time as others or if your followers don’t regularly stay on top of their Twitter feeds.

In September of last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that, according to Anthony Noto, the company’s CFO, changes were in the works for Twitter’s newsfeed. While the chronological order newsfeed remains in place, for now, at least, a few changes have already been made, including showing promoted tweets and tweets that were popular with accounts users follow. So far, the changes made to the site’s feed haven’t been earth shattering, but it will be interesting to see if Twitter does abandon the chronological feed.

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The Underdogs Are Rising in Popularity

While Facebook won’t have to give up its position as the leading social media site any time soon, several smaller sites are rapidly gaining in popularity. The Global Web Index Quarter 3 2014 report found that the Pinterest users increased by 110 percent in 2014 and that tumblr users increased by 120 percent.

Pinterest not only rose in popularity over the past year, it also rolled out some changes to make it more relevant to its users. For example, it now looks at a user’s gender when determining what pins to display in searches. The more fine-tuned search options on the site can give marketers the chance to really reach an interested and engaged audience. It’s just a matter of knowing what your audience is looking for and creating the pins that will provide it.

Using social media is about more than just interacting with customers and getting your message out. It’s also about staying on top of the various changes and developments in each network and keeping up with with the new kids on the block, so that your message really reaches the people it’s meant to reach.