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3 Ways to Save on Your Website Redesign

Alison Kawa - Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Websites are really important, but not every business has $100,000 to throw at all the latest and greatest features. Last week we talked about how to figure out which features to include. Here are some ways to keep costs down without sacrificing your visitor experience.

1. Choose Classic Features.

Flash sites were really cool when they first came out. They were also really expensive, took forever to load, weren't SEO-friendly, and are no longer widely used. Before you copy something a competitor is doing, ask yourself these questions:

  • Will this make my site more complicated to use?
  • Will this cause my site to load more slowly?
  • Will this affect a visitor's ability to use the site on a mobile device?
  • Will this require a visitor to download a plugin or other software?
  • Do I just want to add this because it's cool and new and everyone else is doing it?

If you answered Yes to any of these questions, skip adding the feature. Unless, of course, you have the dough to design a mobile-specific site. Even then, it's much more of a headache than a design that looks good on all browsers and devices.

2. Incorporate Pre-Existing Software.

Why build something from scratch when a number of companies offer thoroughly-tested programs with 24/7 support? There are so many wonderful options for storefront software, payment systems, and email software that are reasonably-priced. These things should almost never be hand-built unless you have extreme needs. Just be sure to choose an option that has the features you need in the near future so it will allow you to grow.

3. Make Your Own Edits.

WordPress Logo in Halo
Image from GeekEstateBlog.com.

You don't have to know how to code in order to edit your site. Most websites can be built using a content management system like WordPress. The design can be completely customized so it no longer looks like a blog, but you retain the functionality. You can add and edit pages, write blog posts, and upload images without contacting a designer. Just don't be afraid to shell out a couple extra dollars to make sure big changes like updating your logo and editing navigation are done according to the latest design standards.

Let us know if you have any more money-saving tips. Happy designing!

The 5 Things You Need to Know Before a Website Redesign

Alison Kawa - Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Before you approach website designers for estimates, you should already have an idea of what you want. Most designers will not be able to give you an estimate until they understand all the functionality you need. Once they know all the features you would like to include, they will be better able to provide you with a price. 

It will likely cost you extra to make changes in the middle of the project, so it's best to have everything written down up front. Below are some key things you should know before you reach out to your design contacts.

1. The structure of your website.

Will you need to be able to create and edit pages? Will you upload your own photos? Will you need to change the navigation regularly? If you don't plan to do these things, you will need to pay a designer to make each edit, so budget accordingly.

Is there any special functionality you will need to build into the site? For example, will you need a slideshow on the home page, a contact us form, or a secure client login? Will you need to be able to sell merchandise? Will you need to process credit cards?

2. The look and feel of your website.

What are some websites you like, and what do you like about them? What are your competitors doing that you like or dislike? This can include colors, images, features, etc. Put together a list of at least five websites, along with your reason for listing each one.

Keep in mind you don't have to follow all the latest design trends. Some of them are expensive and will quickly fade, making them a waste of money. Stick to features that make your site easier or more engaging for your visitors without making things load more slowly or more complicated to use.

Is this site part of a larger brand redesign? If so, you should have all the new brand guidelines nailed down before your designer starts working on initial mockups. Otherwise they will have to make additional edits to the designs, and this will eat up project hours.

3. Your website design budget.

Great, fast, or cheap.
Image from YourAuthenticWeb.com

There is a saying among designers: "Great, fast, or cheap. Pick two." If you want a complicated website done quickly, be prepared to shell out some money. If you have a relatively simple design, it will be much quicker to implement and should cost you less in the long run.

If you're unsure how much to budget, talk to a colleague. Depending on the functionality you need, a website can cost you anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000. 

Don't take this time to skimp on quality. If a highly-recommended designer with a nice portfolio is coming in higher than your estimate, consider scaling back the project or doing it in phases so you can afford working together. Remember, this website is often the first impression for a potential customer.

4. Your timeline.

You should have a date you would like the site up and running. This will help keep everyone on track. If you need it live before a big event, be sure to give yourself two to four weeks extra time. You never know when someone will get sick or a major storm will wipe out power for a few days.

5. Your website maintenance plan.

Your website isn't finished once the new version is live. As we've discussed in other blog posts, your search engine ranking depends on how often your site gets updated. In addition to obvious edits like updating employee bios and adding product information, you should consider blogging at least once a week. Knowing how many people will need to edit, or whether you will need a web designer to make edits, will allow them to estimate more accurately.

Hopefully you have all this information ready when you start to ask designers for estimates. If you have any questions, or you're worried an estimate is unreasonable, don't hesitate to call or email us. We're happy to help.

The 4 Things You Should Never Share Digitally (with Wince-Worthy Examples)

Alison Kawa - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

If the web had a tagline, it would be, "The Internet is forever." On Thursday, May 8, 2014, Snapchat settled with the FTC over concerns about deliberately misleading consumers into thinking their information was secure and private. "According to the FTC's complaint, Snapchat made multiple misrepresentations to consumers about its product that stood in stark contrast to how the app actually worked."

It's hard to understand how people believed Snapchat was secure in the first place. Like anything and everything sent over a wire or through the air, digital information can be intercepted. The fact that software also exists to recover Snapchat messages from your phone long after they have been deleted by the app should have been a clue that nothing is safe.

What this trial really illustrates is the fervent wish that people don't want to be held accountable for their questionable content choices. The bottom line is, don't publish anything you wouldn't want future employers, political opponents, or family members to see. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

1. Stories you haven't fact-checked.

I would like to live the rest of my life without ever again seeing the "inspiring" (and totally untrue) tale of the bald eagle who rips off its beak during a mid-life crisis in order to grow stronger. Sharing stories like this not only spreads misinformation, but makes you look uneducated.

Familiarize yourself with popular satire sites like The Onion, Private Eye, and NewsBiscuit and don't share their links without a disclaimer. If you're still not sure about the source, search for the topic on Snopes, a website debunking urban legends, Internet rumors, email forwards, and other stories of questionable origin.

2. Hateful comments.

Even if you have the privacy settings as high as you can set them, and you believe all your Facebook friends agree with you 100%, you will still find your darkest sentiments exposed if you share them. Just ask super-racist Donald Sterling, whose own girlfriend turned him over to the press. As your mother always said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

3. Sexy talk.

The recipient of your cheesy pun about breakfast meat may think it's clever at the time, and may even be turned on if you're lucky. After you part ways, people seeing it on the Internet will have a field day. Save yourself the embarrassment and reserve dirty talk for unrecorded in-person encounters.

4. Nude pictures or images of your genitalia.

Anthony Weiner Sexting Scandal SummaryIf you don't want your boss or mother to see it, don't take it. It will end up in front of the wrong eyes. Guaranteed. Need I remind you of the aptly named Anthony Weiner scandal or this poor son who was tricked into seeing nude photos of his mother by a jealous ex.

Like real life, everything you do on the Internet can (and usually does) have consequences. Gone are the pre-digital days when people could walk away from an uncomfortable conversation before you went too far. Now the whole world is your audience and they never forget. Do your future self a favor and think twice before you post.

Have more suggestions or digital horror stories? Share them with us in the comments.

8 Ways To Keep and Entertain Friends on Social Media

Social Sonar - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It used to be that all it took to make a new friend was a few hours in the sandbox and a shared peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Flash forward a few decades and things have gotten more complicated--and only half of the problem is having become a full-fledged grown up. We play out increasingly larger chunks of our social interactions online. In fact, some relationships take place entirely on social networks. Tangled in with electronic missives from friends and family are attempts by brands to build ongoing relationships with their customers. So how does your business figure out how to keep and entertain friends once you’ve made them? Here are eight tips.

Leave the Selfie to Somebody Els(i)e

Instead of sharing your own selfies, create a campaign to encourage fans to share theirs, like this inspired “undead yourself” campaign aimed at Walking Dead fans.

Create Interactive Content

Quizzes, polls, and open-ended questions are few ways of easily creating interactive content. Try it yourself: craft your own quiz (from Interact) and share it on social.

Don’t Respond Badly to Criticism

Don’t create your own public relations crisis by responding poorly to negative comments. Even big companies like Nestle forget this and end up mired in bad publicity.

Don’t Be Annoying

It’s important to know how much and how often people want to hear from you. During busy times (like the holiday season), be aware of how many people unfollow you. It might be because you’re posting too much.

Show Them You’re Listening

If 90% of your followership is telling you they want longer hours at your store, show them you’re listening by pushing closing time back just a bit. Responding to comments is good form, but integrating feedback is even better.

Post Original Content

Your fans and friends are following you for your unique point of view. Leveraging the power of memes and viral content can be good in small doses, but generating your own material is the best way to personalize your brand.

Give Them Breaking News

Make your followers feel like they’re part of an exclusive club. Break news about special deals, new store locations or a brand new product to them first so they feel like VIPs. 

Showcase Fan Content

Invite your friends and fans to show you how they interact with your brand every day. Check out this campaign from the North Face, where loyal fans were encouraged to share their love for outdoor exploration through pictures. 

How do you keep your online friendships strong? Share your strategies for building strong relationships with followers in the comment section below.

Does Facebook Owe it to Nonprofits to Fix Organic Reach?

Social Sonar - Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Here’s something to consider while debating whether Facebook’s moves to limit organic reach are justified: Facebook wants big brands to pay to play, but should nonprofits and groups promoting social causes be hurt in the process? With more than 1 billion users using Facebook  through their mobile devices, Facebook has an audience that no sane marketer could ignore. It makes sense for big brands like Nike and Coke to for over some cash to reach your newsfeed, but what about nonprofits and online activists that use the network to promote their causes? Should they be throttled by Facebook’s changes, too? After all, many of these organizations are strapped for cash as it is, and losing a free tool with incredible potential to reach others can be a big blow.

The revolution may not be televised, but the past decade has shown that it’s often tweeted. Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms have become important places for people to share information, even when their own governments try to suppress information from reaching traditional media sources. Given that it’s so important to promoting social causes, does Facebook have a responsibility in sustaining a space where that kind of dialogue can continue to happen?

Here’s what Facebook could do to level the playing field for nonprofits:

Create a Verification Process for Nonprofits

Facebook could create a verification process for nonprofits and social causes that distinguishes them from big commercial endeavors and boost their organic reach. Facebook gets brownie points for promoting the kind of open, social platform it began as (and promoting social good), and nonprofits that have spent years building up an audience are able to reach them again.

Scaled Reach

If nonprofits and social causes can’t return to previous levels of reach, why not scale it? 2% reach isn’t enough to run an effective social media campaign, but 50% gives nonprofits a fighting chance to wield some influence again.

Offer a Few Promoted Posts a Month for Nonprofits

As it stands now, any post you want to promote will cost you. You can boost your reach this way, but without a big budget, you may soon find that social media is taking too big of a bite from your budget. Facebook could over a few promoted posts a month for nonprofits and pages that promote social causes.

Do you think Facebook owes it to nonprofits, activists and other groups promoting social causes to loosen the reins on its constricting news feed algorithm? Should users be able to see more from the pages they choose to like? Share your own ideas and suggestions below. In the meantime, make sure you check out these tips for working within Facebook’s current iteration of organic reach.

How to Keep it Pithy on Social Media

Social Sonar - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Brevity is the soul of social media posts. At least that’s what these scientific guidelines, which outline the “ideal length of everything online,” claim. While many social platforms already require writers to be as pithy as possible (Twitter’s stringent and limited 140-character limit comes to mind), it turns out that the most engaging content is even more concise than you might think. For instance, did you know that the ideal length of a Facebook post is less than 40 characters?

Don’t Try to Cover Everything at Once

A great post can consist of a short description, an image and a relevant link that directs followers to learn more. Avoid the need to be all-encompassing with the information you deliver. For example, it’s better to link to details for an event instead of trying to cram all the information into a single status update.

Convey Information Visually

Use visuals to “show” instead of “tell.” An upcoming event that's “fun, and exciting” will seem much more appealing when you promote it with a picture showing people what they’ll miss if they don’t RSVP. If you’re dealing with big numbers, avoid technical explanations and break things downgraphically.

Break Things Down into Smaller Posts

Sometimes you have a lot to say, but that doesn’t mean you have to say it all at once. Break down big swaths of information into smaller, consecutive posts. Check out this string of Tweets from Tim Tebow (remember him?) where he responds to being cut from the Patriots.

Let Your Links do the Talking

A short status update can tease content from a longer blog. If you just wrote an article about what leadership means to you and your business, you don’t have to sum up your philosophy in a single Tweet or update. Instead, introduce the topic in an enticing way by writing something like “Why supervisors are the least important people in the room.” A catchy headline is more likely to gain attention and clicks. Don’t spoil the reader’s experience by selling your conclusions up front.

Find Shorter Words, Ditch Extra Ones

Is there a shorter way to express what you’re trying to say? Picture Ernest Hemingway as your editor. The author is notorious for his direct, vigorous and concise style. Use an online thesaurus to find shorter versions of words. Comb through your writing and parse out extra qualifiers like adjectives and adverbs that might not be adding too much to your updates. If you’re describing something a new product as “beautiful, gorgeous and eye-catching,” for instance, it’s easy to see how just one of those words would get the point across. Even better? Sharing a picture so that followers can see for themselves.

How do you avoid getting too verbose on social media? Have you compared the engagement of longer posts versus shorter ones? Track your posts for a week or more to see how tightening your copy makes a difference. Feel free to share what you find in the comments below.

The Tweet Beat: Twitter's New Layout

Social Sonar - Thursday, April 24, 2014

Can you believe it? Twitter isn’t even ten years old and it’s already going under the knife for a little nip and tuck. The platform is getting ready for some cosmetic changes and you’re due to start seeing updates soon. If you’ve bemoaned the fact that Twitter’s layout doesn’t give you enough room to customize, we think you’ll be excited about this new iteration. If you hate change and always liked Twitter for its more streamlined approach, you may not be in love with what’s in store.

The new design isn't ready to spread its wings and leave the nest jsut yet, but you may have already been prompted at login to check out the new interface. Some users have already made the switch over, but changes are being slowly rolled out to give you time to become familiar with features. Here are some things to keep an eye out for.

Embedded Images and Video

Users won’t have to rely on dropdowns to view a full image or video. Instead, they’ll be able to see media directly in their feeds. What does that mean for you? Keep creating and sharing compelling visuals. Twitter has always been about pithy messaging, but there’s no doubt that photos, video, and other visuals drive engagement. That's especially true now that media will be directly visible in users feeds. 

More Room to Show Off Your Brand

There’s more room to represent your brand in Twitter’s new layout. The biggest and most obvious change is a banner up top that’s entirely customizable. It’s not unlike a cover photo on Facebook or a banner that you might upload to your company’s LinkedIn page. You’ll also notice that your own profile picture is bigger and set to the left, along with your headline and bio. It’s a good time to create a strong visual that represents you well, because it will leave a lasting impression on people who visit your Twitter page.

Highlight Specific Tweets

Tweets come and go so quickly. That’s always been the nature of Twitter’s messaging system, but with the new design, you’ll be able to hang onto the tweets that matter most. Users will have the option of pinning important tweets to the top of the page, so if you have a great comment from a customer, or a tweet about an upcoming event, you can leave it there for more followers to see.

If some of these changes seem familiar, it’s probably no coincidence. Many users have complained about Facebook’s changing algorithm, which has severely limited organic reach. Twitter’s update could be a savvy move to capture fleeing users who are already familiar with Facebook’s look and feel.

Curious about more changes and features? Check out this article for more information. Looking for some inspiration on making the best of the new layout? Here are 40 Twitter accounts that are already using the new profile.

What do you think about the changes? Are you excited about the possibilities? Or are you already pining for the old layout? Share your thoughts below.

Beyond Likes and Retweets: Why It’s Important to Convert Customers

Social Sonar - Wednesday, April 09, 2014

You’ve mastered the art of curating a beautiful Facebook page, built a robust audience on Twitter and know exactly how to tell the story of your brand through pictures on Instagram. Great. Now what?  While you might be tempted to rest on your laurels, continue to update the social channels that have become the staples of your social media strategy, capture some analytics, and call it a day, there’s more to be mined from your tweets and posts. Stop short of capturing some vital information and you might miss out on the most important business opportunity that social media can provide.

Social Media is a Gathering Place

Think of your social networks as a gathering place for potential customers--like a town square. You’re out there with your sandwich board and people are high-fiving you all day and stopping to talk to you along the way. But for customers to truly experience all that your brand has to offer, they need to step off the street and into your store. More than that, they need to become part of a community of enthusiastic customers that have meaningful interactions with your brand on regular basis.

A like, a share, a retweet, or a favorite are all forms of casual engagement. Think of them has the high-five in the town square. People are happy to see you again (or meet you), sure, but it’s a connection that’s characterised by how fleeting it is. If you want to cultivate that relationship, you need a more reliable way to get in touch with them that moves beyond social media. Considering that last year 44% of email recipients made a purchase based on something that landed in their inbox, capturing email addresses is a perfect place to start.

Sign Me Up

As part of your regularly scheduled content, share links that encourage followers to stay in touch with you through email. You can do this by directing them to a quick survey, or by capturing email addresses from purchases they make after using your online store. You can also link to web forms that encourage customers to sign up for your newsletter. Newsletters aren’t just a way to generate excitement around new products. They’re also a way to share things like news about a big move, or articles that shine a light on what you think about your industry.

Keeping Connected

If Facebook’s recent changes around organic reach prove anything, it’s that you can’t take your audience on social media for granted. You may have built a big audience, but your ability to reach them isn’t necessarily guaranteed. That’s why it’s essential to move past the “town square” to a place where you can communicate on your own terms, without intermediaries deciding how and with what frequency you can connect. Social channels come and go, and while some have become a cornerstone of digital marketing efforts, they’re subject to change. Don’t assume that you’ll always be able to reach people in the way you want. Convert early and often so that you can leverage the connections you’re making.

How do you capture email and keep the conversation going beyond social media? What other ways (on and offline) do you try to convert customers into becoming a bigger part of your brand’s experience? Share your thoughts below.  

5 Lessons from Managing Social Media for Fortune 500 Companies

Alison Kawa - Wednesday, April 02, 2014

1. The engine is already running.

Before you showed up, talented people were doing their jobs well, sometimes for decades. They have a lot of industry knowledge. There have usually been other projects that had similar requirements involving many of the same team members. It is your job to figure out if the way things currently get done will achieve your goals. If not, you need to incorporate team feedback to develop a very simple process that saves time and effort. You then need to motivate everyone on the team to participate so your process actually works.

2. Big brands need to move as fast as they responsibly can.

Posting a personal Facebook status update isn’t even in the same universe as posting on a company page. Large brands can be agile on social media, but they need to play by different rules. The organization has a brand image to uphold, a customer base to please, and a legal department to obey. Big companies have to pace themselves to avoid making mistakes and endangering their reputation, all while still being responsive to customer needs.

3. “I am the Gatekeeper. Are you the Keymaster?” -Ghostbusters

There will be a lot of stakeholders for every project. Some are there to participate, some only to observe, and some will pop in at the last minute when you need them for a crucial element and then pop back out again. From the beginning, you need to know what role everyone will play so you can ask the right person the right questions. Having an understanding of the teams around you will also enable you to combine efforts and benefit from the experiences of other projects.

4. Priorities differ greatly.

You were hired to do social media as your sole contribution to the organization. The people you work with on a daily basis are juggling dozens of different projects and responsibilities. Be very clear what you need and when you need it so you don’t waste your team’s time. Once they know their deliverables, members can prioritize according to their own schedule. They’ll be more receptive to working with you in the future, so projects are more likely to get done on time.

5. Social media should be social.

In large organizations it’s often so daunting to produce and approve content that some marketing departments will just be satisfied they were able to get anything published at all. Your number one priority after actually getting content approved and published on time is to make sure it’s engaging.

Your job is not to publish information, but to tell a story. Let prospective customers know you have the tools and expertise to help them, and that you’re listening.

Out of “Reach”: Dealing with Facebook’s Newsfeed Curation

Social Sonar - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Last week we posed the question "Is too much filtering killing social media?" We looked at the way Facebook and Twitter are putting systems into place to filter the glut of information that fills up newsfeeds and concluded that while some parsing of information is needed, there’s a big difference between having the process being user-driven and having it predetermined by social networks. While Twitter’s approach represents an optional way of sorting favorite tweets from friends, Facebook’s approach is a strict clamp down on the organic reach that business pages can expect to have when communicating to fans.

If you’ve been holding your breath while watching your organic reach dwindle over the past year, it looks like the situation is about to get even more dire. According to some reports, Facebook is working to slash the organic reach of business pages to as low as 1%. What does that mean for you? If you have close to a thousand fans, you can expect to reach about one hundred of them through organic reach (that is, without paying Facebook money to promote your post).

Is everything lost? Should you opt out of Facebook in protest? Not so fast. Unpaid reach may not be what it used to be (and that’s definitely disappointing), but don’t throw in the towel just yet. It’s time to get creative, refine your social strategy, and put these steps in place to make sure you reach the largest audience you can.

1. Avoid desperate and empty calls to action. Are you out there begging for likes and sharesFacebook is onto you. Ditch calls to action that are just about growing your followership. Good calls to action include things like “Click this link to find out how you can support our cause.” Bad calls to action sound like “Please like this picture of my dog so he can win this online puppy pageant."

2. Include quality links. Facebook’s filtering system prioritizes news items from trusted sources. Sharings news from reputable sites is more likely to help you reach more members of your audience. 

3. Tag important people and places. This is tricky because only personal profiles can tag people in images you post. Still, tagging is a great way to increase the amount of people who see your post. If you are Facebook friends with people on staff at your business, use your personal profile (not your busineess page) to tag their personal accounts. While you can’t tag people directly, you can tag other business pages, so when you find items to post that relate to other organizations with large audiences, make sure to tag them. That way, you can reach their followers as well.

4. Find stuff people love to share. Ok, this is easier said than done, and it’s always been true, but it’s more important than ever to find content that your audience loves to share. When someone shares an item you post, it opens it up beyond your own followership and makes it available to a different audience outside of your normal reach. Keep track of what’s trending and anticipate what your audience craves by looking back at old posts that have been good at driving engagement.

Feeling bitter about Facebook's filtering system? Get started with a new plan to double down on your efforts today. You may not have the same organic reach you had before, but by being creative and putting these practices into play, you can avoid losing your fanbase entirely. What do you think about the new organic reach policy? Should marketers step up their game? Or should Facebook scale back its attempts to drive businesses to pay to promote posts? Share your thoughts below.