Insta-LOVE: How We Leverage Instagram to Make Clients Shine

This post illuminates how a creative digital marketing strategy can find meaningful opportunities to shine a positive light on a client’s value.

A recent, fun example of how this kind of content marketing works is the way we brightened the Instagram feed of our client, Marin Airporter. In this case, we used passenger produced photos (also known as “user generated content” or UGC) to leverage the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Beyond our recent website redesign for Marin Airporter (described here), we now help this client stay connected with its passengers (and potential passengers) with engaging social media content.

How the Golden Gate Bridge Became a Social Media Asset

It’s not unusual for small companies—many of whom struggle to engage successfully through social media marketing—to still be playing catch up with regard to leading edge social platforms like Instagram. Nonetheless, every company’s customers are already on these networks, and often they are communicating in ways with which any business would want to interact. Marin Airporter offered us this kind of “golden opportunity” because, prior to working with us, they had no Instagram presence whatsoever.

Once ComBridges got involved, we noticed that many passengers on Instagram were sharing an exciting aspect of riding on Marin Airporter, a memorable trip across the iconic, world famous piece of art deco architecture known as the Golden Gate Bridge! They were even sharing videos in the rain, at night, and in the dark.

The passengers themselves made it clear that the Bridge crossing is an important part of the Marin Airporter experience. So, we decided to celebrate these customer posts by compiling some of the best videos and pictures of their buses’ Golden Gate Bridge crossings into a blog post on the Marin Airporter website. As you can see, it showed just how special the Marin Airporter route is. Check out the full blog post here.

Content Marketing Meets Customer Listening

Through this example, you can see how well-conceived content marketing leverages customer awareness to create content that shines a spotlight on our client’s value.

In this way, ComBridges opened another door for our client to connect and communicate. With our support, Marin Airporter now reaches and interacts with its passengers in a 21st Century way. Because social media is a two-way medium, these messages also provide critical feedback, questions, or moments of gratitude from happy customers. And, thus, they are a form of customer service that needs attention.

In today’s world, this kind of creativity is a critical dimension of successful digital marketing. Done correctly, it is also an important branch of customer service and customer listening.

If you are ready to shine online and make better connections with your customers, please let us know.


Email Marketing Beyond Newsletters – Conversations & Conversions

Sad, but true: Email marketing is more complicated than most people think it is.

In a recent Fast Company “From the Editor” column, Robert Safian said:

“In so many ways, we are guinea pigs in an ecosystem that is undulating more rapidly than anyone can keep track of.”

True that, especially with regard to small business digital marketing. So, depending on your attitude, this “undulating ecosystem” can either be fun or overwhelming. 

Your Virtual Guinea Pig in the Digital Mud

As I see it, part of my value is to “span the Grand Canyon Gap between people and technology with ease and fun” by experimenting and sorting out options—like a virtual guinea pig in digital mud—in order to find the most effective small business digital marketing applications and strategies. My intention is to use my passion for finding and testing applications in order to make your work easier and more productive.

Specifically, in this post, I’m sharing a quick overview of why I have migrated my own and one of my largest client’s email marketing to a new cloud-based email marketing application that is an alternative to MailChimp and Constant Contact.

Email Marketing: Use a Laser, Not a Shotgun

I recently migrated my email list from MailChimp to Convert Kit (affiliate link). Sure, Mailchimp is easy and serves many people very well. In fact, I still use it in my work with a number of clients who, out of necessity, need to keep things on the simple side. However, MailChimp, ConstantContact and other entry-level email programs have significant limitations with regard to list segmentation; and, as I explain below, laser-focused list segmentation is now a far more effective email marketing strategy.

Why Is Easy Access to List Segmentation Important?

Here’s an important fact about email marketing, especially when you consider today’s over-crowded in-boxes:
The more you can segment your lists the better.

More commonly—and especially with the typical style of email newsletters—many small business marketers employ a “shotgun” approach. These “email blasts” are essentially “un-targeted” in that they are sent to the whole list, and thus they are very often delivering a bunch of information to people who don’t really want it. Subscribers get “hit” with this blast and are force-fed these messages whether they want them or not.

Another common mistake, in my view, is putting a whole bunch of different information into one email message, i.e. the newsletter format itself, by being broad, works against the fact that a limited attention span is a fact of life with today’s subscribers. Short and laser-focused messages are better.

Even more importantly, e-blast newsletters are not a very nice way to treat people, especially your subscribers. And, of course, your subscribers are also your prospective new customers and your top referral sources!

Thus, your email messages need to be better-targeted in order to be more relevant, meaningful, and respectful of people’s time. (One caveat is that if you consistently deliver real value with your email messages, periodic broad email blasts are OK, but you should not expect them to create a “trail to the sale,” i.e. conversion rates on those messages can be expected to remain low.)

Why a More Subscriber-Centric System Is Better

Very briefly (because this gets a bit technical), what sold me on ConvertKit is a fundamental limitation of MailChimp’s software architecture. Specifically, MailChimp’s software is built around a structure of lists. Yes, you can create segments within a list, but what if you want a segment that goes across lists? For example, what if you want to create a follow up email message specifically for people who have responded to (clicked on) a particular offer? In MailChimp, you can’t do that. This is important because that offer was presumable created in order to follow up with those individuals who expressed interest in it. In my view, that’s a pretty bid deal.

In order to get this kind of power, in the past, I have experimented with more sophisticated email programs like Infusionsoft. And, yes, it offers the tagging of segments across lists, but both the cost and the complexity (not easy to use) ended up being deal breakers for me.

Convert Kit does a lot of these same things, but with a much simpler interface that is more intuitive and accessible. (However, it does not do some of the other things like e-commerce that are built into Infusionsoft.)

Yes, Email Marketing Can Be More of a Conversation

The building of meaningful relationships online requires finding out what people are interested in, listening and getting feedback, and then tailoring your messages to what readers have said that they are interested in. Ideally, this makes our email marketing outreach more like a conversation—a conversation where you are listening as well as speaking.

Given all that is going on—disconnection, automation, not feeling heard—our email communications need to speak to people as if one is having a conversation, not like you are standing on a soapbox and yelling, on a very crowded street. 

I believe that this means that we all need to move to strategies that encourage us to speak explicitly, in different ways that are appropriate to each highly-segmented audience. In this way, we can do a better job of delivering what people want, when they want it—not by deciding for them, but by listening to them. 

I, for one, am listening.

Your thoughts please (there’s always more to learn). Thanks for reading.

And, of course, if I can help you with improving the effectiveness and quality of your email marketing, please contact me. I’d love to hear about what you are doing and explore how we might make things better.

Blab: The New Social Video Streaming Platform ROCKS!

This is a quickie post to let you know about a surprisingly good new video streaming conversation platform called Blab. I just did my first Blab session and had 39 viewers from around the world. The recorded segment is embedded below. I was joined on-screen by video participants from Brazil, Argentina, and Philadelphia. 😉

I think this application is more user-friendly for multi-user video than anything I’ve seen (Spreecast, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.) It is also way better than Periscope or Meerkat because it’s two-way. Those video streaming tools are really only one-way.

Blab now has a mobile app as well as desktop. And, now that I think about it, it’s not only two-way, it’s up to four-way, four simultaneous video participants. And that’s nicely complemented by a fully functional chat stream where you can paste URL’s and animated GIF’s as well as very nice Twitter integration.

One of the people who jumped in, Richard Berger, had this to say about our conversation:

[testimonial author=”Richard Berger, English Teacher”]”In just those few minutes my awareness of new social media/video streaming/website development was exploded, and now you got me “back at the drawing board”, thinking of applications for my teaching work. Thanks again!”[/testimonial]

Here’s my first session which was a spontaneous “Ask Me Anything” about websites, social media marketing, video, etc. Pretty dang fun! Please click “Watch Now” button on the image below to watch this Blab session, and feel free to scroll ahead to see the multiple participants. And, please let me know what you think. And stay tuned for a special Blab next week with Twitter Power author, Joel Comm, at 4pm PT on Friday, August 28th. Thanks!

Mobile Apps and Mobile-Friendly Websites for Business: 
The Next Big Thing in Internet Marketing?

Shortly after Internet accessibility via mobile phones started to take off, marketers started to encourage businesses to build mobile versions of their websites. But there is always a gap between innovations and those who follow up in order to take advantage of the latest technologies.

mobile-friendly website with responsive WordPress theme

ComBridges’ new mobile-friendly website design uses a responsive WordPress theme

But, now that there is a meaningful volume of web visitors checking out every website (yes, even yours!) via mobile devices, spanning this gap is becoming more of a requirement. And yet, there are still a very significant number of businesses who don’t have mobile-friendly websites. The really bad news, particularly for those who are falling behind, is that the gap is widening between those who are meeting the demand for mobile-friendly web communications and those who are not. The good news is that there are a new generation of business communication tools arising in the form of apps and new kinds of websites that make meeting this need increasingly accessible. Illuminating these trends with specific examples is the purpose of this blog post.

The Mobile Web is Exploding

These changes are unquestionably dramatic. While the Web was born on desktop computers, it is obviously no longer simply a desktop medium. By May 2012, fully one tenth of the world’s web traffic was arriving on your digital doorstep via mobile phones and tablets. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s the “developing” world that is truly leading the charge. In those countries where cell phones have long outnumbered landlines, more than one-half of web use is now coming via mobile devices. This demand for mobile delivery is now forcing the issue and providing further fuel for the shift in how websites are designed. In this environment, for a company to ignore the need for the mobile-friendly delivery of its Web content not only limits that company’s engagement opportunities because they are essentially “dissing” a significant segment of their audience. In the US alone, mobile is now estimated to be about 15% of web traffic. Bottom line, this form of resistance to change (or upgrades) will also exclude that company from a significant component of how the next billion people will get online.

Chinese woman with iPad

Photo by Robert May, April, 2013

Not Your Father’s Website Design

Web development for the mobile age itself is advancing quickly. One of the latest innovations is called responsive website designs. Because responsive designs automatically adjust their layout to suit the device being used, they offer a relatively simple solution that can eliminate the complexity of having to create a separate mobile-friendly version of your website. But this means that those—like my company recently—must invest in a redesign in order to keep pace with the mobile revolution. But that’s not all. The pace of change does not slow down. It accelerates.

Span the Gap with an App

Now, at least for marketers who are committed to the leading edge of engagement with social media savvy users who love their mobile devices, a responsive design may not be enough. Mobile apps are yet another important innovation because they combine the emergence of ever-expanding Web access via mobile devices with the ability to communicate directly, in a native form (i.e. within the mobile medium) via customized business-specific functionalities from Facebook feeds, to special offers, to location-based components.

A recent article by SmartMediaTips on mobile statistics points out that over 50% of an individual’s time spent on a smartphone is spent using apps. In 2011, smartphone users downloaded 17.7 billion apps, and this number is expected to increase to 108 billion by 2015. As a result, more than 300,000 apps were developed in the last 3 years. In a sense, apps are the new websites (just like “60 is the new 40.”)

The good news is that some newly developed Web-based SaaS (software as service) resources are make building basic apps far more accessible and affordable than previously imagined. The result is a new trend in mobile marketing: the development of business apps that can be used by companies of virtually any size. Of course, many large, enterprise-level businesses have already jumped on the app bandwagon, including banks, Starbucks, Google, and even Walmart’s new checkout app. Now, there are mobile apps for the rest of us.

Mobile Apps vs. Mobile Websites

A business mobile app means that your website can be programmed to offer mobile users an interface for your website and social media content that is all the more friendly, not only with a vertical layout that fits a smartphone screen, but with an interface that features icons (rather than web-style text links) that are also a natural for the touch of a screen. Thus, an app offers more than a responsive website design. An app gives your business a mobile presence that can put local or social media interactivity in a more prominent position. In particular, an app allows your loyal customers and followers to retrieve content, like audio podcasts or video commentaries for example, that are more conveniently accessed while on the move. Likewise, Facebook posts and tweets, which are commonly accessed via mobile, can become part of your business app’s featured content.

One logical strategy is use the app to make your social media marketing and content marketing outreach more accessible. For example, when individuals are standing in line at the bank or at the grocery store, with an app at their fingertips, they will much more easily be able browse through your Facebook posts. In fact, they are certainly more likely to visit your Facebook Page while on your app rather than from Facebook’s own app where they are far more than likely to be distracted by their family’s photos, etc.

Likewise, if you host a contest, offer a coupon or some other form of promotion, those who get involved with your app can much more quickly check contest updates from an app and receive automated notifications (with permission of course). The app makes waiting for your responsive website to load, asking the user to find the contest page, then wait for that page to load, etc. seem prosaic. An app simply makes any interaction with your web content immediately available with a simple touch of an icon, rather than forcing a web page and more complex navigation through the smaller screen.

Learning from Experience

Small Business mobile app example

ComBridges’ Facebook Feed in our test mobile app

By way of example, as a boutique web design and marketing agency, our company, ComBridges used to have a mobile-friendly version of our website that was visible via smartphones. This was developed using a WordPress plug-in called WPTouch Pro. Recently, we have redesigned and relaunched our own site with a responsive WordPress theme.

What opens up the opportunity for a small business like ours (and so many others) to have its own app is online software services like Conduit.com’s Mobile. While these apps do require a small, additional monthly hosting fee, they are easy for developers like us to implement. So much so that some do-it-yourselfer small businesses could even build apps on their own. It’s a work in progress, but if you have a smartphone, you can preview our first generation mobile app via any mobile device at combridges.conduitapps.com.

You will notice that what you see on our app looks very different than what you see on our website. It’s designed for mobile interaction. In fact, thanks to Conduit, much of the content is automatically derived from our Facebook Page, Twitter feed and more. As you can see, many of our social media pages are featured along with easy options for contacting us, including click to call functionality.

Greeting the Mobile Future

According to Morgan Stanley, 91% of individuals who own smart phones keep their phone within reach 24/7. And 5.1 billion of the 7 billion people on earth own a mobile phone. With these numbers in mind, why wouldn’t every business want to make it easier for their customers, blog readers, Twitter or Facebook followers to engage with them via a mobile app?

Another benefit is that if you develop your business app now, before the gap widens further, you may well be seen as an innovator. At the very least, you will prove yourself smart enough to get an early jump on the next wave of mobile marketing strategies, rather than letting the gap widen between you and your competitors, as well as between you and your customers.


Jon Leland is author of “Internet Marketing: 8 Key Concepts that Every Business MUST Know” and is the president of the boutique web design, video and Internet marketing agency, ComBridges.com. He was assisted in this article by Tara Hornor who also writes for PrintPlace.com, an online printing company.

 

Your Social Media Future: It’s Time to Say YES.

I continue to be amazed by how many professional people still resist social media marketing. In fact, this seems to be one of the main reasons that participants find so much value in my workshop, “Mastering the Social Media Marketing Mix.”

The US “premiere” of this workshop will be in San Francisco, next Wednesday, October 12th. The producer, Linda Kosut just sent out an email announcement to her list with the headline, “Social Media IS Our Future” including a commentary about how she personally resisted this idea for a long time.

social media marketing workshop in Auckland, NZ

"Social Media Marketing Mix" workshop in NZ

When I was in New Zealand, Mark Lowndes of the law firm Lowndes Associates described his experience this way:

“A year ago I was certain social media had no relevance to our commercial law firm.  Today I am convinced I was wrong. Social media will be an increasingly important part of our interaction with our clients and the business community at large. As with many businesses, I now believe there is no option but to learn how to engage effectively using social media.”
— Mark Lowndes, Lowndes Associates

When I speak about how important I think it is for companies and professionals of every variety to engage in social media marketing, I compare it to the ’80’s when I used to tell business audiences that email was as important as their toll free phone line. (Yes, amazing but true, not everyone recognized email at that point as an important customer service and/or sales communications channel.) I told these business people that they have to respond to their customers, and your customers have the right to communicate via any communication “channel” they want to use.

Now, your customers are “calling” you via social media. Of course, I think you should be pro-active in this new arena. But, for openers, if your toll free phone line was ringing, or you were getting email from a prospective customer, you would answer, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. Well, if you’re not engaged in social media marketing yet, please consider this your social media marketing “call.”

And, here’s a real invitation: If you are in the SF Bay Area, please do not miss the chance to experience the whole 3-hour presentation of “Mastering the Social Media Marketing Mix” at Ft. Mason, Wednesday, October 12th, 6:30 to 9:30pm. Frankly, the $99 registration fee is a remarkable value. My four-week online version of this workshop which will be announced shortly is expected to cost $397.

So this San Francisco live presentation, to a small interactive group offers great value. It will also deliver great inspiration that will motivate real productivity. And there will be tons of great information. I promise all of this, and I hope to see you there. Please click here to register and/or for more information. Thanks!

Luscious Links – Catching Up with the Goodness

I come across so much useful information in any given week that I’ve taken to these “Luscious Links” blog posts to try to share with you some of the best of the best that I find. Does this format work for you? Please let me know.

Google’s Focus on Quality and the PostRank Acquisition
This is an excellent & useful post from SitePoint clarifies the changing state of SEO & social media marketing. My take aways: 1. quality content rules 2. social media really does matter. 3. It’s the conversations, connections & relationships that matter most. Are you listening?

Why is Authenticity a Crucial Component of Internet Marketing?
As I’m re-grouping for the “next generation” re-invention of NewMarU.com, I was discussing with a friend, this ten-minute edited video conversation (linked above) with Robert Rabbin that came out of NewMarU’s first “guest” webinar. I LOVE what we said here and would really like more people to hear it. I sincerely believe that this is important information/perspective re marketing in the age of social media.

3 Smart Strategies for Book Promotion
Here are just a few smart ways that authors can promote their books with social media and PR. Practical steps any author can use for book marketing via SlideShare.

The “Talk Radio” Approach to Effective Email Marketing
I like the way that this CopyBlogger article underscores my core value that “it’s got to be fun.” Yes! In content marketing et al, FUN makes all the difference. Don’t you agree?

12 Awesome Facebook Stats, Charts & Graphs
Are you taking Facebook seriously as a marketing channel? If not, maybe you should check out these 12 stats via a nifty little Hubspot SlideShare presentation…

Learn How Your Website Can Be The Center Of Social Network Attention
My recent video comments on TheTVNews re social media marketing and a new solution that lets more active brands aggregate various social media conversations onto their website so it’s more of a “home base.”

How to Combine SEO and Social Media for Maximum Impact with Lee Odden
This is a good overview video interview that covers something I’ve been talking about a lot lately. It’s very important to understand the relationship between social media, SEO and content creation in order to produce effective marketing in today’s online environment. This is a valuable 5 minutes, IMHO.

Your feedback is encouraged. I’d love to hear any comments you may have.

My Ba-Rock the Vote Greatest Hits

I know this is not a political blog, but I’m pretty blown away by the inspirational energy and phenomenal creativity of the music videos, original songs and down right brilliantly edited videos that have appeared on behalf of Barak Obama. It’s a grassroots energy that lifts my soul and gives me, yes, hope.

I was asked to put together some of my favorite videos for some friends, so I thought I’d share them with you. Some of this is really state of the art Internet video production. Of course, in the case of Dave Stewart (formerly of the Eurythmics, who co-wrote the first song below with Bono), this is new work from some of the top rock musicians in the world. But there are a number of much lesser known artists below that are also sensationally original. I offer these links with sincere appreciation for the way these folks are using the new media to make a difference. Thanks!

My American Prayer by Dave Stewart
This is just awesome. Taking inspiration from the 40 years since we lost MLK, and using top acting talent as well as top music making, this multi-layered montage takes us back to “the mountain top.” Yes, to many, Obama is an answer to a prayer.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVi4rUzf-0Q

Vote for Hope by M.C. Yogi
A young rapper whose uplifting message and visual style are first rate.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iojPaw8yX0

Respondele a Obama by Jose Conde
Infectious Latin rhythms and Latinos on the streets of NYC make me want to dance with joy. Obamanos!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ycu0sy5RW8

Hockey Mama for Obama
One mama whose voice is worth hearing. I like the moose too. Hysterical.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bh9BmNuqeiQ

A Message for Sarah Palin from “the Young Girls of America”
These young women speak for themselves. Touching & motivating.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53XnLUUL82k

The American Promise by the Obama campaign
Is there anything that this campaign does that isn’t first class?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCx0J3NiABY

The original “Yes We Can” video by will.i.am
from February just in case you didn’t see it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjXyqcx-mYY

and for good measure, how about a little
Bruce Springsteen in Philadelphia
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFnCc20E87g

Enough? 🙂

YES WE CAN.

The Real People in the Middle of this Election (and the TV hype)


Errol Morris is arguably one of the most important documentary film makers of our time. More than just an Academy Award winner (for “The Fog of War“), he has an amazing talent for listening to people and letting them tell their own stories in ways that inform and even illuminate reality.

Now, he has written for the NYTimes blog site an extremely insightful perspective, including an impressive selection of historical examples, on real “everyday” people in election advertising campaigns. This perspective, “People in the Middle” also includes discussion and links to Morris’ brand new web video site, PeopleintheMiddleforObama.org which was sponsored by People for the American Way.

About this new work, Morris says, “If you’re not going to put words in people’s mouths, if you’re really listening to what they have to say, you’re going to learn something. Admittedly, the evidence is anecdotal. I haven’t selected these people through some kind of statistical sampling. These people are self-selected. They wrote in and said that they were registered Republicans, Independents or switch-voters who were planning to vote for Obama. People in the middle. And I was interested in talking to them on film about why they were making the switch from voting for a Republican to voting for a Democrat.”

Most interesting to me was this conclusion, “The people I interviewed have embraced Obama. They are voting for a candidate, not against a candidate.”

Read more of Errol Morris on “People in the Middle” by clicking here.

Howard Rheingold Parses the Video Language

Howard Rheingold was a thought-leader before the term entered the vernacular. For example, he wrote the original book on virtual community. Now, Howard is helping people to understand what he’s calling the “video vernacular” by walking his talk ie by posting a video on his vlog (video blog).

Just like us videographers used to talk about the “language of film making,” Howard is correct that the whole video language, along with all the various forms of interacting with video are going through a radical metamorphosis. Video will never be the same. Will we? Doubtful.

Howard does a tease at the end of his six and a half minute video clip for the relevance of these new forms of video to education. In any case, I appreciate Howard’s effort to help those of us who don’t swim in this cyber-crap daily to get some perspective on what’s happening.

Obama iPhone Application Leverages Your Swing State Contacts

Once again (OK, I’m biased), Barak Obama has proven himself as a visionary leader who gets it. (OK, that was a bit over the top.) Bringing 21st century technology to the virtual campaign trail, the Obama campaign has launched it’s own iPhone application; and, it does more than you might think. For example, it supports you to call contacts in your address book who live is swing states (but without violating their privacy). Pretty impressive stuff.

Details are here in this excellent NY Times write-up, “It’s Obama on the iPhone”