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4 Essential Apps for Increasing Profits in a Small Business

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When it comes to running a business, it’s important to take advantage of every tool you can find to make things run more efficiently. This is especially true of small businesses where you don’t have as many employees to take care of organization, payment and other tasks. Fortunately, the following apps are examples of tools  that can help your small business become more profitable by helping you save time and keep organized.

paypal PayPal – Stay Connected to Your Transactions

PayPal is easily one of the most used services for payment on the Internet. It’s become practically a staple for bother buyers and sellers. Additionally, both casual users and business users will find plenty to like about the app. Some features that are especially useful for streamlining the payment process for small business owners include the following.

  • Automated Shopping Carts

This allows you to setup an easy way for customers to buy items through stores like eBay. You can get “add to cart” buttons, add shipping costs automatically, and even receive automatic records about all of the funds that you have going in and out through that part of your business.

  • Accept Credit Cards in Person

As part of the Virtual Terminal program, you can sign up for a PayPal card reader that will connect to the top of your phone or other compatible consumer tech. PayPal will actually send you the reader device for free in the mail.

There are multiple options for taking payments in person. CardFellow has a great comparison of PayPal and Square, and this is another great comparison can be found on Digital Trends.

Image via Google Play


expensify Expensify – Keep Track of All Expenses

Managing expenses for a business can be a colossal time sync. The amount of time and paperwork required to keep track of everything your business and employees are spending can be staggering. This app lets you and your employees take pictures of receipts with your phone and upload them to an account.

The app can also keep track of additional business details including the following:

  • Time

By adding a rate per hour and an amount of time, the app can calculate any expense incurred based on time. An example could include any additional temporary personnel hired.

  • Mileage

The app can either let you add mileage directly, or use the “GPS” feature to  automatically add mileage based on your phone’s changing GPS location.

Image via iTunes


google drive app Google Drive – Store Information in a Limitless Cloud

One serious concern for small business owners is how you get employees who aren’t in the same area to work on the same projects.

Google Drive is a free solution for organizing all of your company’s documents in a single place. You can create a single document spreadsheet that all employees can add to no matter where they are. You can also give yourself, employees, outside collaborators or clients access to documents in a fast and efficient way, straight from your mobile phone, tablet, or other device.

In addition to Google Drive, the Dropbox app is a great way to share documents and resources among employees, even if you aren’t in the same office.

Image via Google Play


timebox Timebox – Efficiently Distribute Your Time

Timebox lets you keep track of the time you spend on various different tasks using the Pomodoro technique, which breaks down you work into cycles called pomodori.

Each cycle lasts for 25 minutes, with a 5 minute break given right after to help you refocus. Once you do four of the cycles in a row, the app will give you a longer break of 15-20 minutes. You can easily look down at the app on your phone at any given point to get a sense of how much time you have left in each cycle or task.

Looking for more time-saving tips? Check out this edition of Brilliant Bloggers.

Image via Google Play


Overall, management apps will do much more than save you time. They’ll save you energy and sanity as well, which small business owners often need to keep their stress low and their profits up. 

Find the Perfect Bite For Customers’ Mobile Appetite

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mobile appetite

Mobile web site up and running. Check. Reading latest trends on marketing for smartphones and tablets. Double Check. Wondering what to serve up next to your mobile audience. Triple Check.

Now is the time to…pause between courses. First off, congratulations on making the jump to mobile. Next up:  Step back and look at your business big picture and assess what to add to your mobile marketing menu.

Consider these factors before embarking on a deeper financial and time investment:

#1 Focus on short and long term business goals: Does mobile fit with how your customers engage with your business? Are you a local business seeking new customers? Do you have an established clientele? An online store with a wide-reaching audience?  These are but a few questions to answer before proceeding.

#2 Mobile is part of your marketing strategy, not  plate du jour: Mobile promotion is an extension of your  integrated marketing program and should not operate in its own silo nor be a stand-in for a plan. In the excitement of the collective mobile moment, best intentions can get burned, resulting in a disconnect between your online and offline messaging and brand look and feel—not to mention confusing your customers.

#3 To-go with your customer adds responsibility. Sounds heavy but it’s true. Or as Ford Global Head of Social Media Scott Monty said at his NMX keynote this January, “Mobile is like a piece of jewelry, you have to be invited there.” He advocated using that privilege wisely. Otherwise, your business could be dismissed just as quickly as it was sitting down at the table.

So…are you hungry to go further down the mobile marketing path? Here are some popular and effective ideas to consider:

The Free Appetizer: Search

One of the most basic but sometimes overlooked mobile marketing tactics is listing your business on mobile search engines, portals, and web sites. And if you’re a neighborhood business, even better: Google reports that half of all mobile searches are local. Keep these three things in mind:

  1. Duplication is a good thing: mobile search is often separate than “desktop” search.
  2. Use consistent contact information everywhere.
  3. List your business in as many broad categories as possible so it’s found searching multiple ways.

Google Maps and Facebook are the most popular search methods, but other major ones include Google Local, Bing Business Portal, Yahoo Local, and YP. Don’t forget about secondary listings like CitySearch, city and neighborhood directories, and industry/trade group listings. Make sure you are also covered on mobile business sites like Yelp, Facebook, and Foursquare. Think of all the places you do business with, official and unofficial partners, and awareness opportunities.

The Weekly Special: SMS (Short Messaging Service aka Texting) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service)

According to Mogreet, SMS texts have a 95% open rate and are accessible to 98% of all mobile consumers, making it one of the most cost-effective, targeted marketing tactics—yet one of the most underutilized. Reason? Companies sometimes overlook the humble text as not sexy enough or  right “image”…they might want to think again, but proceed with care.

While the high open rates is great news, there are caveats: Make your text count with a strong CTA, especially since some receivers may incur a fee, and there are also reams of intimidating text marketing guidelines. The three most important ones:

  1. Get  opt-out permission.
  2. Document it.
  3. Be clear on what the receiver will get.

(See Guide to Text Messaging Regulations and Best Practices for complete rules).

There are numerous ways to laser-focus your text program: day/time (lunch specials, holidays), customer segments (repeat buyers, zip codes), or exclusive offers (VIP, limited-time), to name a few. There are no official “rules” on frequency, but general guidelines are no more than once a week or as part of a specific campaign. There are many text service vendors and prices vary on quantities and features.

MMS is a bigger time and money investment but also more attention-grabbing. Add video, mobile coupons, QR codes, music files, or any other visual elements. The same rules apply as SMS except it may eat up more data for the receiver or be slower loading.

Cross-promote SMS/MMS and provide ample opportunities to sign up on your web site, place of business, social media, business cards—anywhere your customers can see it.

The Fine Diner: Mobile Apps 

You might think apps are reserved for big budgets, large companies, and out of your league. These days, apps for your small business are within reach. There are many reasons to consider this prix fixe: For starters, if you are local business, research shows users prefer apps to connect.  Apps also show that you are catering to your customers, and lastly, they serve as a virtual mobile screen billboard  24/7. That said, an app should not replace a mobile web site, but serve as an alternate way to interact with your business. Make the app useful, intuitive, and require only few steps to complete a task. Be sure to cross-promote the app on your web, social sites, and ads.

There are several ways you can build an app for an iPhone or Android  (the most popular, but others are available): vendor-created or DIY . Because apps are now an established category, small businesses can take advantage of common pre-built functionality like maps, online ordering, appointment setting, social sharing, and other tasks that require  simple tailoring to your business. Not surprisingly, the more customization, the more expensive the app.

What’s the special sauce for your business?

These ideas may stir up  your mobile marketing recipe—there are also ads (including in-app ads), video,  and other tactics that haven’t even been introduced yet. Mobile marketing is a fast-paced, ever-changing landscape. Whatever approaches you take—like a new entrée—taste-test it, refine it, or decide it’s not delicious enough and scrap it altogether before making a big time or money commitments.

Image Credit: Altered, from Bigstock

Using Mobile Video for Your Small Business

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As an increasing number of companies move online for most of their business activities, it becomes more important for customers to have a way to visualize who and what they’re working with. Mobile videos are a powerful tool for connecting with your customers and giving your business a personable face and real live voice. Used correctly, videos can help you grow your small business in big ways.

filming with ipad

Getting Started with Mobile Videos

You don’t need to invest in a lot of expensive equipment to make compelling, high-quality videos. While you can outsource this task, your video will seem more genuine and personal when it’s produced in-house. At the very least, make sure your own marketing department works closely with the production team so the finished product doesn’t look like a cookie-cutter piece put together by someone else.

While one video is good, a series of videos is even better. Continuously updating your mobile videos keeps customers coming back for more. Taking the time to learn how to make these videos yourself will make them easier to churn out regularly. As you’re developing your video concepts, look for ways to turn your ideas into a continuing series with new releases every week or month.

Identifying Your Message

Before you put your video together, you need to decide what the message is. At the end of the video, your customer needs to walk away with a clear idea of what to do next. Whether that message is “go visit our webpage” or “buy our blender and make a smoothie,” clarity is all-important. A great video with no call to action is a waste of resources.

Videos for Product Promotion

Product promotion is a popular strategy for mobile videos. Get creative about how you do this. Customer testimonials, live demonstrations on the street, and infomercials all carry out the goal of providing product promotion. If you’re selling a technology that buyers probably haven’t seen before, simply demonstrating it in a video will make them more likely to buy, since it will answer their lingering questions about the item. Seeing something in use or just viewing it in a person’s hand provides a better idea of the size and purpose than what you’ll get from a written product description.

Giving Your Company a Face

Companies that do most of their business online can use videos to give the business a live face. Take the cameras behind the scenes and show your customers the manufacturing process. Introduce your staff so the people on the other end of those emails finally have a face. Hearing a personable voice gives customers the sense that they know you. Seeing the office where your business takes place makes your company seem much more real and reliable.

livefyre interview

How-To Features

How-to videos are another popular area to explore. If your products have a variety of uses, use your videos to highlight these. A cookware company can offer weekly recipe videos featuring their products. A business that sells craft supplies might make videos featuring a quick how-to for popular crafts using their yarns, ribbons, and fabrics.

Engaging Your Customers

Length isn’t important when it comes to getting your viewers engaged with a mobile video. In fact, busy viewers have a better chance of getting through a short snippet. Consider quick and interesting ways to engage your customers and start a conversation. Show off your latest artisanal cheeses and ask viewers what summer recipe they’ll be using them in. Feature a snippet of your latest running shoes hitting the pavement and ask where your viewers are running this weekend.

Choosing Your Platform

Most people immediately think of YouTube when they think about mobile videos. Thanks to streamlined apps and fast connections, viewers can connect with your YouTube videos from their home computer, tablet, or smartphone.

YouTube isn’t the only player in mobile videos, though. Vine is a mobile app that allows users to post short videos directly to Twitter. These videos are just six seconds in length and loop continually. This is obviously better for engaging customers in a brief fashion. Vine is an exciting new way to connect visually with just a few seconds’ worth of effort.

When Videos Go Viral

A viral video is something you should always strive for, but it’s not something you can purposefully create. Simply saying that something is viral does not make it so. A viral video is something so engaging that viewers share it with friends and family. The exact definition of “viral” is unclear. Viral video guru Kevin Nalts defines a viral video as something that gets over 5 million views in a period of three to seven days. Try to create something shocking, hilarious, or over-the-top to snag that elusive viral fame.

all the screens

Putting it All Together

Once you’ve established the purpose and general idea of your mobile video, you’re ready to put it together. Longer videos are more engaging when they feature several different shots. If you have trouble speaking directly to the camera, enlist an assistant so you’re speaking to someone else and not the screen. Video editing software is easy to come by, so there’s no excuse for sending a completed video out without a little polishing and trimming. Finally, cut excess fat out of the finished product so it’s as concise and to-the-point as possible.

Sharing Your Mobile Video

Once you’ve created a great video, you need to share it. Post your video to your Facebook page, include it on your company’s website or feature it in the blog. Email engaging videos to customers in your newsletters. Promote your finished piece heavily to get the most out of your work.

Mobile videos are still extremely underused, but don’t count on this trend continuing. Jump in now and become one of the smart businesses that are ahead of the trend of using video for engaging promotion. As these video creators state over and over, stay passionate and keep creating!

Have you already found mobile videos helpful for your business? Make sure to leave a comment and let’s discuss.

The Mobile Majority Wants Your Small Business

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mobile small business Remember when mobile phones used to be about..making a call? Neither do I. The explosive growth of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices over the past few years has drastically and permanently changed the way we socialize, work, and do business. The net-net? It’s imperative to travel with your customers and prospects wherever they go.

In fact, a recent report revealed that 28% of smartphone users and 55% of tablet users shop online: That means they are searching, evaluating, or making purchases—possibly all three in one fell swoop. That’s why small businesses—whether  a consultant, online site, or retail—are now expected to serve up discoverable, easy to navigate, and actionable content on mobile devices. If not, there is a gaping hole of awareness, customer and  prospect interaction, and the opportunity for your competition to grab business.

Consider these recent mobile device statistics:

Convinced?

Even though you know it’s the “right” move for your business, thinking about the effort required can be overwhelming, or perhaps you don’t even know where to start. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to position your business in the mobile marketing game without reshuffling your plans, allocating a huge budget, or calling yourself a tech-genius.

Depending on whether you have a store-front, are a consultant, ecommerce site, or other business model, you will have one or more content areas to mobile-ize. Additional factors to consider will be your overall marketing goals, tools you use to promote your business, and how often you communicate with your customers and prospects.

Let’s start making your content mobilicious:

  • Entice with easy-to-read mail: The great thing about optimizing email for mobile devices is that you’ll get a two-for-one: Not only will your email be easier to read, visually pleasing, and clear on what action to take, it will result in a better promotion on any size screen. Here are some rules of thumb:
    • Keep the text short and punchy: Edit. Edit. Edit. What email wouldn’t benefit from that?
    • Use time and space wisely with your Call-to-Action (CTA): Think discounts, free offers, and new services you want to promote.
    • Have few images but make them clickable: Streamlined but effective graphics can pull double duty by being touch-friendly to navigate and also prompting action, such as pointing to social media icons, or click to buy, to name a few.
    • Let the fingers do the walking: With virtually all smartphones using a touchscreen these days, make sure your email is “finger-friendly” to open, navigate, and zoom around the content.
    • Consider getting help: If email marketing is a big part of your business, think about hiring a vendor to do the heavy lifting for you, such as Movable Ink or BrightWave Marketing.

So is your small business ready to join the mobile majority? Yes, it will require some initial work, but taking these steps today will put you front and center with your customers and prospects wherever they are, now and in the future.

Once you get on the mobile marketing train, I recommend that you stay up to speed on the trends: Because it’s a growing and ever-changing technology, being ahead of the curve will help improve your chances for mobile marketing success. Check out resources on all aspects of mobile marketing. There are tons more online.

What’s next? Start thinking about blinging out your presence with apps, QR codes, video, texting, advertising, search widgets, which will be covered in my article next month.

Image credit: Bigstock

Mobile Apps That Would Make The Pentagon Proud

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Apps these days go far beyond fun games and finding a great restaurant. These extremely useful apps seem a little like something out of a spy movie. Nevertheless, this technology can really be helpful if you lose your phone, want to create hidden accounts or snap a stealth photo of the person who stole your iPad. After all, there is no such thing as having too much security for a device that holds some of your most sensitive information.

Find My iPhone 1. Find My iPhone

Forget cell phone insurance. Next time you lose your phone, simply track it on a map to pinpoint its exact location and go there to pick it up. It’s easier than you think with the Find My iPhone app.

This app has a ton of great features. You can display a custom message to the screen of your device, sound an alarm that will go off for up to 2 minutes, or even remotely wipe all of your personal data if there’s no chance of getting the actual device back.

This app also has a feature called “Lost Mode” that works with your passcode to display your phone number on the lock screen for the good Samaritan to call you once they find your phone.  It also tracks the various locations you phone might travel to if it happens to be stolen.

Editor’s note: This would be great to download before the next NMX, since lots of cell phones are misplaced during the course of the conference.

2. GadgetTrak

Whether you lose your iPhone or it gets lifted by a thief, you greatly increase your chances of getting it back if you have GadgetTrak. This app allows you to initiate tracking so you can pinpoint your device. You can even take a picture of the thief to help the police catch the criminal. Similar to the, Find My iPhone app, it also provides you with detailed reports about the location of the device and allows you to data wipe your device, which provides a piece of mind to those who save their banking information on their devices.

The app also has something called “SIM change detection.” This feature alerts the owner whenever the thief attempts to add his friends to your contact list. This feature should make finding your device much easier.

GadgetTrak is available on all your devices, not only your phone or tablet. And is designed to encrypt both your photos and contact information. As an added bonus, GadgetTrak is the, “first and only mobile security solution to be enterprise certified by AT&T,” according to the GadgetTrak website.

3. Stash: Private Photos, Videos, Docs and Browsing

Stash is a fantastic app if you want to make sure no one knows what you’re doing what you’re doing online via your phone. They’re the self-proclaimed “most advanced private media and download manager in the App Store.”

You can use Stash’s private web browser to download media directly to your library and make sure it’s all cloaked. You can create hidden accounts that are only accessible if you use a secret gesture, transfer photos and other media wirelessly, and utilize the boss button to immediately hide whatever it is that you’re doing.

4. Safe Eyes Mobile

This is the app every mom has been waiting for and is the “first internet filter for the Apple iPhone.” With Safe Eyes Mobile, you can ensure that your children are not exposed to inappropriate content, from websites to ads and more. The app allows you to block things like pornography, violence, certain websites, etc. You can even use the app to enforce time limits across devices.

This app was recommended by Parents.com for cyber-bullying safety, and is a great app for those who have youngsters that access the Internet. It was a Mom’s Choice Gold Award Winner in 2011.

What apps do you use to make your phone more secure? Leave a comment with your recommendations!

BlackBerry Wants to Reward You to Make Your Online Content an App

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Blackberry is excited to tell you about our port-a-thon that starts this Friday, January 18th at 12pm ET and runs for 36 hours straight. It’s your chance to earn big rewards for just a few minutes of work.

After our warm welcome, successful app generation efforts and many connections made at NMX in Vegas this month, the BlackBerry team came home to hold the third and fourth in a series of port-a-thons we have been running in our effort to generate apps for BlackBerry 10.

That said, we are thrilled to let you know about this weekend’s “BlackBerry 10 Last Chance Port-A-Thon.” This event expands the acceptable apps to include those built with our BlackBerry App Generator, as seen on site at NMX. It’s a great opportunity for anyone or any business to build an app for BlackBerry 10, BlackBerry PlayBook, and BlackBerry 6/7 smartphones, with no technical knowledge required.

Why does this matter to you? The app takes advantage of any existing content you have in an RSS feed, WordPress or Blogger blog, Tumblr or Posterous site, YouTube channel, Facebook page or Picasa/Flickr gallery.

That’s not all. There are some great rewards for participants, with up to $2 million (USD) available. Register and submit an app during the port-a-thon and you’re eligible for $100 per app, up to 20 apps. Submit five or more apps to be eligible for a BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha device draw (250 devices to be drawn)!

Register and port your content into an app to see for yourself how simple it can be to provide your readers with an engaging, shareable app.

Benefits of a Mobile-Compatible Website

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Odds are, when someone looks at your website, they’re doing so from an iPhone or other mobile device. A 2010 Pew Research Center report showed that 6 out of every 10 Americans use the mobile Web, and that number is likely even higher today. Yet despite this fact, many businesses and blogs still design their sites only for traditional desktops or laptops. Is this true of you? How does your website look on mobile devices? Do you even know?

 

Why Build a Mobile Website

Designing a mobile-compatible website means recognizing how many potential readers are on their phones. When you build a site to suit them, here are some of the benefits you get in return:

  • Improved User Experience: Mobile sites are made to look and perform better on mobile devices than on traditional desktops or laptops, which makes for an improved user experience.
  • Longer Visits: The most common reaction visitors have to sites that don’t load properly? They leave. By designing your site to be mobile-friendly, you encourage visitors to stick around, clicking through more pages of content.
  • Faster Page Loads: Because they are designed specifically for the dimensions and standards of mobile browsers, mobile sites load faster for users.
  • Improved SEO: A mobile website does better on mobile-friendly search engines, bringing in new traffic and visitors who are searching on their phones.
  • Professional Image/Better Branding: With a slick, high-quality mobile website, you communicate a sense of professionalism to your audience. What’s more, you enjoy one more opportunity to increase brand awareness.
  • Competitive Advantage: With a mobile website, you have an extra way to differentiate yourself from the competition. When mobile clients scroll through your site and your competitors’, yours will be the one from which they pull information.

Mobile Website vs. Mobile App

You know you need a way to connect with mobile users, but does that mean a mobile website, or could it mean an app? The truth is, both options are excellent ways to reach your readers.

  • Option 1: Create a Separate Mobile Site: Desktops and laptops are not the same as smartphones. They are not the same size. They do not offer the same browsing experience. They are not used in the same ways (desktop/laptop users are at a computer; mobile users may be anywhere). So why would you assume a made-for-desktop website is adequate for mobile visitors? Build a separate, mobile version of your site to reach these readers.
  • Option 2: Create a Separate Mobile App: Another option is to create a custom mobile app. While building an app is typically more expensive than creating a mobile website, research shows it works—mobile apps traditionally have higher success rates than websites. If you choose to go this route to make your online content mobile-friendly, make your app is feature-rich and legitimately valuable to your audience.

Tips and Ideas for a Mobile Website

OK. You understand a mobile-friendly website makes sense, so now what? Before you build your mobile site, what should you keep in mind? What’s good to know? Here are some important tips:

  • Redirect Automatically: Ideally, your mobile website automatically comes up for users on mobile devices. Your designer/webmaster can control this functionality for you.
  • Think Simple: The homepage of your traditional website may have header navigation, a sidebar, multiple columns, and so on. The homepage of your mobile website needs to be simpler. Rather than attempting to duplicate your entire website, focus instead on the most relevant information.
  • Link to Traditional Site: For readers who want more details, provide a link to the desktop version of your site. This way, more information is still available for anyone who wants it.
  • Be Fast: Load times are vital on mobile devices, so make sure your site loads in a few seconds. Minimize image sizes, pare down the JavaScript and CSS files, and do whatever you can to make your site run quickly.
  • Think Touch: Thanks to smartphones, touch is the new way to surf a site. With that in mind, design your site with dropdown menus and pre-populated fields when possible.

 

 

Podcasting in a Mobile World

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Image Credit: Deposit Photos

When someone is looking at expanding their presence online (especially bloggers), I try to encourage them to look into starting a podcast if they have not already. I know that podcasting can seem like a daunting task and from that fear I know many people never give it a try.

I know that podcasting does take some work, but I also know that podcasting helps you reach people in a new way and many times people that otherwise may have never found out about you. And so to try and back this point up I thought it would be a good idea to look at a few statistics of the potential audience as a whole.

The Reach Of Mobile Devices

With the rise of mobile devices, it has opened up new possibilities for podcasters (or potential podcasters). Here are some of those interesting statistics when it comes to using some sort of mobile device:

  • Earlier this year it was found that about 43% of Americans owned a smartphone (most capable of listening to a podcast) and that number is rising quickly
  • Number of Ipods sold – 350 Million
  • Number of iPads sold – 84 million
  • Number of iPhones sold – 250 million

Here is the thing, all of these statistics have gone up even more as more mobile devices have been added to the market, not to mention most of these mentioned were Apple products. Think of how many people use Android devices.

So why do these stats matter? Well I can say that most (if not all) of these devices listed above have the ability to play podcasts with them. And with the rise of Apple’s podcast app, Stitcher’s App, and Dog Catcher or Pocket Cast for Android, it is already evident that people are taking advantage of podcasts today.

Think of all of the people driving to work in a car. In 2011 it was calculated that 100.3 million people drive to work alone in their car. More than likely they are listening to something during that time and it could be music, but it could also be a podcast.

From some of the statistics I tried to find it appears that there are 25 million people who have gym memberships. And I’m sure that number is probably really low even to the amount of people who just exercise. Statistically, most people who exercise have a mobile device of some kind that plays audio for them while they workout.  It is true that they might be listening to music, but they also could be listening to a podcast.  Talk about a great opportunity for fitness podcasts.

But even if we were to step back and think about all of the people working at their desks somewhere, a podcast would be something great to listen to during that time or some other daily activity.

The main point is that there is an increasing amount of accessibility to listen to podcasts for people today. With the rise of mobile devices, people can listen to podcasts anywhere. So why not give podcasting a try so that others get a chance to listen to your message and brand?

Editor’s Note: To learn more from Peder about starting a podcast, check out his NMX session this January called, “The Top Reasons Why Bloggers Should Launch A Podcast.” There’s still time to register!

10 Tips for Your Brand or Business to Get Started on Instagram

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instagram homepage

instagram homepage Photo-sharing app Instagram isn’t the first service to help brands and businesses share pictures from a mobile device to your community and it definitely won’t be the last.

Instagram, fresh from finalizing its acquisition by Facebook and crossing the 100 million users mark, has become the prominent dashboard for capturing, editing, and sharing images across the social web. With the growing importance and emphasis placed on images within social media, Instagram has become an optimal visual sharing mobile platform.

If your brand or business is ready to integrate Instagram into your content strategy and social media mix, here are 10 things you can do now to get started on the path.

GET STARTED

Reserve Your Instagram Name

Instagram is currently not set up to have brand/business accounts, but you can set up more than one personal account. If you already have a personal Instagram account, just make sure that you sign-up for another account using a different email address.

KEY TIP: If you are having difficulty securing a username, Instagram does have a trademark policy in place and by contacting Instagram you may have a chance at claiming your business Instagram name.

Set Up Your Profile

Instagram allows you to add a profile image, bio, and link to your website. Take advantage of filling these out and keep your information descriptive and simple.

KEY TIP: Since Instagram is rooted in mobile usage, make sure that the website that you decide to link your profile to is mobile friendly.

Sync Your Social Profiles

Instagram can be an excellent visual starting point for any photographic content that you wish to syndicate on other platforms. Take Facebook, for example, you can share your Instagram photos to brand pages, ensuring that your content displays larger and more prominent in Facebook streams than conventional shares and updates.

KEY TIP: Be sure to connect your account to Facebook, Twitter and any other third-party social sharing sites where you have an account (Profile > Edit sharing settings).

DEVELOP A STRATEGY

What’s Your Story

Instagram is a great platform to tell your brand story and can allow you to connect with your audience on a very emotional level. Spend time researching what Instagram consumers are most excited about, what type of content they engage with the most, and why consumers should even follow you on Instagram in the first place.

KEY TIP: Planning out your brand story and content strategy ahead of time will give you the insight into how and where your Instagram content will be distributed within your social media ecosystem.

Develop Your Editorial Calendar

Much like an editorial calendar for your blog, Twitter, or Facebook page, Instagram should be viewed with the same comprehensive tactics.

Brands can earn greater reach and results by investing in a journalistic approach to their content. Move your editorial calendar away from promotional messaging to the delivery of very useful, inspiring, and meaningful images that will drive engagement and positive viewing experiences.

You can define a schedule on how often you would like to update Instagram. At the beginning of the week you may decide to post behind-the-scenes images of your business, followed by new product updates mid-week, and finally ending with inspirational quotes or photos leading into the weekend.

KEY TIP: Entering a social platform takes commitment and consistency. Over time, your brand or business should be able to understand what type of images are most engaging within your community. You will also learn when is the optimal time your Instagram audience is most active.

Cross Platform Integration

Since Instagram is a tool that works best in conjunction with other social platforms, developing a strategy within a holistic social media strategy is a strong approach. Visually-emphasized sites such as Pinterest, Tumblr and Facebook can benefit from the additional photographic content that will help further the reach and engagement of your messaging.

KEY TIP: When re-publishing content across multiple platforms consider adjusting the copy on each platform’s post. Copy that is suited for Pinterest with a specific call to action may not work for Facebook.  Facebook and other social platforms may require a different call to action.

ENGAGEMENT TACTICS

Involve Your Staff and Employees

Sticking to a set Instagram editorial calendar can get overwhelming at times, especially when you find yourself with a shortage of visual content to update. This can be a perfect opportunity for your brand or business to begin involving your staff and employees.

Not only will empowering your staff in contributing to Instagram give them a stronger sense of ownership, it will also show your employees a more creative side of your business and how social media can play a valuable part.

KEY TIP: Like any other social platform it’s about defining a brand voice. Instagram is just a more visual medium. Behind-the-scenes photos from staff and employees can put additional faces to your brand or business, as well as show a holistic view of your brand.

Engage Your Community

Be sure that you stay engaged with your community even when at times you may feel like you have nothing to share. Just like any other social platform, remember that Instagram is a community too and that reciprocity is key! Reach out to your followers and other Instagram users by liking and commenting on photos, especially if they mention your brand or business. This can increase visibility and provide additional insights to defining your community. Responding back to comments can be viewed as active participation in the community and will continue to keep your consumers engaged and happy.

KEY TIP: Other engagement opportunities can include creating contests and promotions that encourage your community to talk about your brand or business. Feel free to share any promotions/contests you may have running on your other social profiles. This will help raise the awareness with your consumers that you are on Instagram and will be providing content that may be valuable to them as well.

Tag and Geo-Tag Your Photos

Incorporating hashtags (just like on Twitter) will help increase visibility. A great start can be as simple as using a hashtag for the photo’s subject matter, location, filters used, and maybe even additional inspirational descriptions. While hashtags can increase visibility and build context around your images, don’t go overboard.

Instagram now places additional emphasis on geo-located images with their integration of a map function in app, geo-tagging your photos can provide additional visibility.

KEY TIP: If you don’t like the look of all those hashtags in your photo caption, feel free to add hashtags in a comment below the caption. This will keep updates cleaner yet still prove functional within Instagram search queries. As for geo-tags, adding a location to your photos, whether it is a city or even your actual place of business, will provide greater context around your Instagram images that consumers can engage with.

MEASURE AND OPTIMIZE

Utilize Tools To Optimize Your Content

After all is said and done, gaining more insight into your community and content will keep you on the continued path of optimizing your photos. There are a number of different tools such as Statigram or SimplyMeasured that are available for brands and businesses that can shed light into your most engaged times to post during the day, best filter used, and even identifying your brand advocates who engage with your content the most.

KEY TIP: Define what your success metrics are when it comes to Instagram and developing your strategy. This will help you to know what goals you want to achieve and what you’ll need to optimize to get there.

Remember that Instagram should reflect your brand or business as a whole and not attempt to create it’s own identity. Instagram can be a positive investment within your social eco-system that you may be pleasantly surprised with later down the line.

Photo Credit: Bigstock

How to Optimize your Site and its Local Listings for Mobile Use

Author:
Google Mobile Search April Fool

Photo Credit: Mac Morrison

Imagine your average Joe Schmoe. Joe is driving to work, and he realizes that he wants some donuts. He doesn’t want the drugstore kind, though; he wants to get donuts without getting out of his car.

Until recently, Joe would have to rack his brain to remember the nearest drive-through donut place. Chances are that he doesn’t have any donut coupons with him, and he may not even remember how to get to the place he’s thinking of. In today’s technology-centered culture, however, Joe’s donut finding experience is a lot simpler. He just pulls out his smart phone and searches for “Donuts.” Within seconds, his phone pulls up three options, all within five miles of his location. The first option has four stars, it’s a drive-through, and it offers a 25% off coupon offer for an order of jelly donuts.

Joe clicks on that result, and he’s able to see the company’s list of donuts. He taps their phone number to call them, and he places an order with an employee so that it’s ready by the time he gets there. When he hangs up, his GPS-enabled phone guides him to the store, and he’s able to get his donuts without being late for work.

This all happens in less than 10 minutes. Joe doesn’t have to remember where he’s seen donut ads, where donuts stores are, or how to get to the few donut stores he remembers. He doesn’t bother asking friends, and he doesn’t need to worry about remembering recommendations. He lets his phone do the work, right up to telling him where to turn. Considering how simple this process is, it’s no surprise that mobile local searches are taking over in the search world. Mobile search is fast. It’s easy. And anyone with a smart phone can do it.

Experts predict that by 2014, internet browsing done with mobile devices will outnumber internet browsing done with PCs. Even right now, more than half of all local searches done are done on a mobile device with internet capabilities. That’s big.

Considering the huge number of searches being done on mobile devices, businesses can’t afford not to optimize their site and their content for mobile searches. It may not be 2014 yet, but getting yourself optimized for mobile local searches and mobile applications can put you way ahead of the curve.

So how do you optimize your content for mobile searches?

Optimizing your Listing

Most mobile searches use Google Places to provide listings of businesses near the searcher’s current location. Just as a normal Google search provides only so many listings per page, a mobile search will provide the searcher with a limited number of local businesses from which to choose. That being said, it’s possible that the searcher will never even see your business unless you optimize your listing.

Both Google and mobile searchers value listings with a lot of information. If you’re a mobile searcher, you are more likely to select a business with a lot of positive user ratings over a business with just a couple of reviews. Depending on your situation, you may opt to favor a business that lists their store hours over a business that doesn’t list this information. Google understands that businesses with a great deal of information and positive user feedback are more likely to be useful to searchers, so Google lists those businesses higher on mobile searches.

In short, the best way to optimize your mobile listing is to provide as much information as possible. Make sure that your business is listed on Google Maps, as many mobile applications use this tool to find relevant results for the searcher. Provide your address, site information, store hours, and phone number. In a mobile search, the mobile search application may create easy-to-use buttons with this information, allowing the searcher to call you with just a click. The easier it is for the searcher to find relevant information and contact details for your business, the more likely it is that they will choose to patronize your business.

Positive user reviews are vital to creating a healthy, optimized mobile listing. If a searcher is on the fence about selecting your business, having even one positive review can tip the scale in your favor. You may want to ask current customers to leave good reviews and comments on your listing. You may even want to include the positive testimonies of former clients. Just make sure that your positive comments and reviews are genuine. Google and other search engines can tell if you are creating spammy, disingenuous reviews for yourself. This practice could hurt more than it helps, and it may even get your site de-indexed altogether.

Finally, remember that some mobile search applications bypass Google and other search engines by using specialized directory listings. Proactively submitting your business to relevant directories whenever possible will ensure that your business is listed in these and other mobile “answer engines.”

Optimizing Your Site for Viewers

Mobile searchers are less attentive than desktop searchers. Their focus is usually divided between their search and the other things they happen to be doing—shopping, talking, running, babysitting, driving. It’s crucial that your site be easy for a mobile searcher to read, navigate, and understand. Google has recently come out with a set of guidelines and recommendations that serve as a great guide for content writers and webmasters who are trying to make their sites more mobile-friendly. To convert searchers into customers, however, you should also consider the overall impression of your listing and your site.

Here are a couple of guiding principles that will help convert customers:

1. Offer coupons, promotions, and deals on the landing page of your site. When using a mobile device, searchers are more likely to select a company that will give them a bargain. In fact, studies show that customers are ten times more likely to redeem mobile coupons than traditional printed coupons.

 

2. Make sure that your site’s font is legible and visible (no grey text on black background). Making sure that viewers can access important information as quickly as possible will help to ensure that your customers follow through and buy, rather than simply giving up and going elsewhere.

 

3. Get to the point. Make sure that your customers see the most relevant information first. What questions do you get most often? Make sure that the answers are displayed prominently on your mobile site.

 

4. Format your site so that it is easily navigated. A lot of mobile devices have small, touch-sensitive screens. Make sure that links and buttons are easy to tap, as this will drastically improve your visitors’ experience and increase the possibility that visitors convert into customers.

 

For more info, check out Angie Schottmuller’s great SEO advice on other ways to streamline your mobile site.

Mobile marketing is already a huge, multi-million dollar industry, and it’s only getting bigger. Getting on board with and optimizing for this growing trend will help to secure your local business’ success not only now, but in the future as well!

What do you think about mobile optimization? What mobile optimization techniques have been effective for you?

 

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