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Class in Session: Social Media Lessons from the Nation’s Best Schools

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Many of the nation’s best universities have discovered that social media is an excellent way to reach, impress and attract top-notch students. Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania are among the most active schools in this arena, turning to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, blogs and message boards to inform, entertain and recruit.

Can business owners, Internet entrepreneurs and job seekers learn from the example being set by these and other prestigious institutions of higher education? There’s little doubt that methods similar to those being used to attract the world’s best students can also work to get the attention of potential customers, employees and employers.

Stars, Presidents, and International Projects: Showing Off Your Assets

So what is Harvard doing to enhance its online presence? A recent visit to the school’s Facebook page provided a look at two diverse but equally interesting subjects: a relatively nearby system that is turning out new stars at a staggering rate and the 16th president of the United States.

If you spend a little time on the Harvard Facebook page, you’ll find out that the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is a joint collaboration of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. This information might not mean much to you if you plan to study Economics or Marketing, but, if you think your future will have something to do with what’s out there beyond planet Earth, glancing at the school’s Facebook page might convince you to take a closer look at Harvard.

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 2.46.01 PM

Along the same lines, you might be impressed to know that in the school’s Houghton Library collection, you’ll find a piece of the earliest surviving work by Abraham Lincoln: math exercises he wrote in 1825, at the age of 16.

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If you are considering a future in engineering, you may want to visit the University of Pennsylvania Facebook page. There you’ll find information about the Penn Engineers Without Borders program, complete with a photo of two Penn students working on a project in Cameroon.

Bottom line? Use social media to highlight your assets. Share information that your business has, even if it doesn’t directly rate to making a sale. Use your online presence to make your company a trusted authority.

Sharing Information

Here are some other ways universities across the country are tapping into the social media gold mine:

  • The job market – Using LinkedIn and other options, universities are putting their students in touch with employers and recruiters.
  • Sharing knowledge – Colleges and universities are sharing knowledge, experience and information online.
  • Seeking the best students – Many potential students use social media to connect with one another and learn about the world around them – and find out what specific universities have to offer.
  • Online learning – Online education gives students the option to learn on their own schedule.

These outreach efforts and opportunities make universities more valuable to students (their “customers”) and more visible to potential students.

Get Their Attention

Whether you are seeking a job or, as an entrepreneur, you’re looking for new business, it’s important to remember that you first must get the attention of your potential customers. Once you do that, here are a few tips to help you use social to keep them interested in the service or product you are offering.

  • Connect with your customers by posting on your Facebook page once a day, tweeting a few times daily and writing a regular post on LinkedIn.
  • Don’t use lingo or language that your customers might not understand. You should show them that you are interested in helping them, and you should try to develop a bond between you and the people who will be buying your products and services.
  • Offer special prices or services that are available only to the people you reach through social media to give your customers and potential customers a reason to follow you regularly on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Blogging will enhance your presence in the world of social media. You can establish a blog on your website and use it for Facebook and Twitter posts.
  • Join conversations on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. This will help you establish yourself as an expert in your field.
  • Don’t ignore your competition. You might be able to copy some of the things they are doing in the world of social media. There’s nothing wrong with investigating what others in your industry have done, and it’s okay to copy* the things they have done right.

If your business depends on your ability to use social media to attract and retain customers, take the time to learn from some of the most prestigious schools in the United States.

(*Editor’s note: we’re talking about “copying” ideas here to make them work for your business, not plagiarism, which is NEVER okay. Be ethical in your business practices when reviewing your competitors.)

What Happens to Your Traffic when You Stop Writing at Your Blog?

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I taught a Marketing with Social Media MBA course at a fully accredited university in Silicon Valley earlier this year. The class ran from Feb 9 – April 28. There were 73 students enrolled. Just over 50 survived to the end.

During the last day of class I asked my students, “How many of you have been angry at me some time during the past 11 weeks?”

They all raised their hands. Some raised both hands and waved them violently. Thank goodness there were no single digit waves … I think. But it was clear the students had had enough of blogging no matter what I called it – marketing with social media, content marketing, inbound marketing, whatever. They were done.

Indeed I was curious to know what would happen to the traffic to their sites when they stopped writing.

Now I know.

Take a look.

Aggregate After

This screen shot reflects the aggregate traffic to all the students’ sites.

It is clearly visible that the traffic is increasing overall.

Increasing?! When most of them had stopped writing?! And all of them are writing less!

Indeed. The traffic continues to grow.

And be sure to take note where the traffic is coming from. Organic traffic is far outperforming the biggest social network on the planet.

Case Study – Info-Nepal

A look at one of the student’s stats is particularly enlightening. Her site is dedicated to Nepal. It would be a great complement to a travel agent site dedicated to Nepal as a destination.

Not a couple of days AFTER the class was finished, look what happened.

After class

I wrote to her, “Very sudden and very nice jump in your traffic! What’s going on?”

Her reply:

“Yeah it all started about 3 weeks ago. All of a sudden I am getting a lot of traffic. It increased from 40-50 per day to almost 300 per day. I am excited. I need to write more frequently. Thanks for keeping and eye on it.

In other words, she did nothing special. Just plugging away, and even writing less than during the class.
We can see where her traffic is coming from.

Lesson Learned

The crystal clear message: Creating good content results in good residual traffic, sometimes known as the long tail.
When traffic is purchased (think adwords) or pushed via social networks and social bookmarking sites (think referral traffic from other sites) traffic will come as long as it is pushed, driven. But when the buying and pushing stops, so does the traffic.  Not so with good content that is on topic and created at the home site. It’s the content that keeps on giving, um, pulling.
Content marketing is inbound marketing. And it can’t be beat long term.
What is your experience with creating content compared to buying traffic by hook or by crook? Got case study? Wanna share? Feel free to read the students’ firsthand experiences at BillBelew.com. And by all means, reach out to me if I can help you see similar results at your site(s). See you in the comments.

The Top 12 Sites in the Marketing with Social Media Course

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speaking-workshops Below is a list of the top 12 sites by unique visitors, visits and page views (they are different) upon completion of the Marketing with Social Media MBA course taught by Bill Belew (that’s me writing about myself in the 3rd person).

The course focused on content/inbound/social media marketing and was taught at the graduate level in an accredited university in Silicon Valley. Here are the details:

  • The students had different blogging rhythms – 1-3 times daily and wrote various lengths of posts – 200+ to 600+ words.
  • All actively created internal and external links and fished, legitimately, for back links.
  • The students guest posted twice each week at BillBelew.com and at a classmate’s site of their choice.
  • The students also wrote evergreen/anchor/pillar posts weekly.
  • Finally, some students actively worked their social networks if they had a presence.

For good or bad, take a look at the top 12 sites. I encourage you to let the students know what you think of their ongoing product.

Visits Uniques Page Views
Soccer Roundup 1,764 1,260 4,732
UI Design 1,134 437 3,053
Arts and Crafts* 2,789 2,393 14,691
Saumya’s Kitchen 1,887 1,163 4,329
Techno Evolution Leads Revolution 1,594 1,308 3,083
Rph at Work 1,542 1,081 5,722
Info-Nepal 1,901 1,422 4,984
Migrated Mouse 1,455 1,147 2,477
Colors n Spirits 3,076 2,115 20,907
Social Media Buff 2,453 1,726 4,855
Jinie’s Kitchen 5,332 3,419 14,284
World of Dance 2,047 1,843 3,413
 *the first month of data is missing
Course aggregate 43,599 28,376 122,680

Out of the 60 active students that finished the course, these top 12 (20%) students received:

66.5% of unique visits

61.9% of visitors

70.5% of page views. 

Where is Pareto when you need him? Indeed, 20% of the class clearly did generate the majority of the output.

Some of the questions I have at this point which I will address in future posts …

1. Does blogging pace make a difference? Multiple times/day of short posts vs one ‘meatier’ post daily? How about a combination to this approach?

2. Could the students generate organic traffic without relying on keyword research?

3. Does content have to be grammar perfect? For many of my students, English is their second and even 3rd or 4th language!

4. What about cheating and duplicate content? Does it work? Some of my students went that route and in a future post I will tell you how that worked, or didn’t work for them.

5. What is an average bounce rate? Time on site? Page view to unique visit ratio?

6. Do my instructions work in other languages? 2 of my students wrote in Chinese and one in Japanese.

7. What was the hardest part for these newbie bloggers?

8. How did they keep themselves motivated or not?

And and and …

9. What questions would you like to ask? What answers might I be able to dig out for you from this experiment?

I have a ton of data that I will share here in the coming months and at my home site – BillBelew.com and at NMX 2014. Will you be there? I will.

BTW, how’s your blog working for you?

Join Us for the Fiesta Movement: A Social Remix (Sponsored Post)

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fiesta movement a social remix

By all measures, the original Fiesta Movement in 2009 was a huge success. 100 Fiesta Agents helped us introduce a new vehicle to the U.S., break a Guinness Book of World Records record, travel more than 1.4 million miles and generate more than 3.7 million Twitter impressions.

However, the world has changed since 2009 and social media has advanced tremendously in the interim. New platforms have been developed, existing platforms have grown in reach and impact, and our stylish and fuel efficient Fiesta has evolved, as well. Since the Fiesta attracts more Millennials than any other Ford vehicle, we have to tell its story in a way that is different from other models.

That being said, we are so excited to announce the launch of Fiesta Movement: A Social Remix.

Unlike other campaigns, Ford will use content created only by selected influencers – “agents” – through multiple media channels and partners. This will be our first-ever entirely user-generated campaign. Once again, 100 passionate and socially connected people will be selected and given a new Fiesta and become stars in front of and behind the camera.

Ford’s CMO, Jim Farley, summed up our objective: “Fiesta was designed to reflect the individuality of the customer, so we feel the marketing efforts should give the reins to the people who will be driving it. We have a fuel-efficient, tech-savvy and stylish car that doesn’t sacrifice on performance – it truly has its own personality. That personality will come through in the stories and experiences of real people.”

Agents will debut the content they create on their own social pages and as it gains popularity, we will feature it on www.fiestamovement.com and amplify the best of the best across digital, print, broadcast and outdoor advertising. Any and all content can become part of the living, breathing story of the new Ford Fiesta.

That’s right, every advertisement you see, hear, and read for the upcoming 2014 Fiesta will come from the program. A Fiesta Agent-created YouTube video could end up as a nationally-run TV commercial or Instagram photos could be turned into print ads.

You’ll see some other twists with integrations into American Idol, X Games and music festival Bonnaroo. The new Fiesta Movement will bring together alumni from the original Fiesta Movement and will include celebrities, current Fiesta owners and new agents – all carrying out a series of exciting missions with the 2014 Fiesta. Ford will provide agents with gas, insurance coverage, cameras and other tools they need to create content.

Not only that, but you have until April 30, 2013 to apply and we know that the New Media Expo community is full of passionate content creators. Learn more and submit your application at www.fiestamovement.com

During the course of the original Fiesta Movement, content from Fiesta Agents produced 4.3 million YouTube views, more than half a million Flickr views and helped identify 50,000 interested potential customers—97 percent of whom didn’t own a Ford. This time around, it’s not just about the likes and shares; it’s about the democratization of media.

Disclosure: This post is from NMX sponsor Ford.

5 Beginner Steps to Creating a Blog that You Can Monetize

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Last week, I wrote Follow 50+ MBA-level Case Studies in Content and Inbound Marketing about a 48-hour class that is happening at a university in Silicon Valley.

In the first week, my students wrote a combined 750-ish posts of varying length and purpose – daily posts, guest posts, link bait posts. At Top 10 Content Marketing Sites in the Social Media MBA course I listed up the best performers. You’re welcome to take a look to see just how many unique visitors, total visitors and page views that much effort can produce in sites that are starting from zero.

In this post I want to articulate the 5 first steps my students and I had to take BEFORE they could think about making money with content marketing and the challenges I faced to get them there and how I, ahem, overcame those challenges just to get the students online and writing.

Step One: Get a Domain Name and Hosting

More than 2 weeks out my trusty TA (teacher’s assistant) and I started sending emails to the whole class via the school’s learning management system. No response. What do you do when you can’t get a response and the only way to contact the students is email? You spam them until they figure out they had better do something.

About half of the 60+ students showed up with a domain name and hosting.

Another one fourth showed up thinking, “What’s the difference between having a domain and hosting? Aren’t they the same?

And still others said, “You emailed us? When? You want us to do what?”

There was no easy answer. My trusty assistant, Kevin, came to class and they drove him ragged getting everyone a domain and hosting. It wasn’t pretty. But over the course of the first 2 days and 16 hours of in-class time and a ton of emails, we got everyone in the class online with a domain, hosting and WordPress installed.

If any reader here has a better solution to this problem…by all means let me know.

Step Two: Get the Right Plugins and Set Up the Back End

With a group of students who don’t even know what WordPress is, much less a plugin, there was no easy answer to this either. Throwing something up on the giant screen and having everyone follow along just wouldn’t work. Besides I had to spend a LOT of time on Steps 3-5 and couldn’t afford the time.

I nearly killed my local and overseas staff. They were spending about 1-2 hours per site setting the permalink structure I like, getting the right plugins in place – SEO, sitemap, etc. Creating webmaster accounts for each and installing Google Analytics so we can track the results. 60+ websites at various stages of coming online x 2 hours each = a LOT of time.

Again, I knew of no simple way to do this other than throw food under the door to keep my staff happy, or at least well fed, while they brought all the sites to an equal footing. Suggestions?

Step Three: Decide What to Write About

Unlike the first two steps,  at this point I finally had everyone on the same page, in the same room, doing the same thing. I could get all 60+ students to look up and follow along.

I had all students create a tagline. My specific instructions were for them to tell me what they were going to write about in 10 words (not a magic number, but definitely less than 12) or less what they planned to write about. They were NOT to use adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions or articles. They were to come up with 3 different iterations and show them to five other classmates for feedback and pick the best one. Focus for a site from the get go is critical

Other instructions:

  • Write about something you are interested in
  • Write about something you can create an interest in
  • Write about something you have a lot to say about.

In my world, if a blogger doesn’t have a 1,000 things to say about their topic they will have a hard time making money with their site.

Step Four: Use SEO to Ensure Posts are Found

What is SEO anyway? Search Engine Optimization. But what is that?

I define Search Engine Optimization as content that appeals to real people (first) and to search engines (second). But it must appeal to both.

If a blogger only considers readers they might get read but only by the people the blogger tells to go their directly. They will not be found as well by search engines. If the blogger considers only the search engines they are likely to come up with stuff that is just unreadable. There is an ideal balance for the content. Ideal balance = optimization.

I have learned that there are some 220+ parameters that can go into an ideal post/page. I have also learned that pages can be overly optimized. But what I find of particular value is that I have also learned that there are about 20 ‘things’ you can do to a blog post that will get you 90-95% of the results you want. I will write about them in a future post.

If you can’t wait, you can buy the book – Marketing with Social Media. It’s the text book, first draft, that I wrote for this course.

Step Five: – Make a Plan and Work the Plan

For every hour of classroom work, I can require 2 hours of work outside of the class.  I am requiring my students to write 600-750 words DAILY. How hard can that be? They are permitted to adapt to their own style.

Some like to write multiple short posts.

Some like to write one long post each day.

Some like to do a combination.

It doesn’t matter to me.

Additionally, the students are required to guest post weekly at my home site about their progress (you can read their posts at Bill Belew Guest Writer AND guest post at one classmate’s web site that is relevant. Lots of link love happening that will only get better and of more value as the sites mature = get more content. Lastly, they are required to write one relatively higher quality post – link bait style.

Ongoing:

All 5 of these steps were done in the first 2 days of class, each a full 9-hour day, counting lunch. The students are off and writing at this point. Some get it, some don’t. Every educator knows that just because you tell somebody something, it doesn’t mean they learned it.

In the meantime, in about 10 weeks, this class will wrap up with some 15-20,000 posts being written over a large variety of niches and at various paces and different lengths and with different intensity and interlinking. How cool is that?

What do you think I can learn from this?
What would you like to learn?

What you can do:

Step 1 – Subscribe to the Bill Belew.com/blog to get more immediate updates from me at my home site. You will also be able to read the inbound and content marketing student experiences first hand

Step 2 -Subscribe to this NMX blog to get updates when they come out here.

Thanks for reading.

Follow 50+ MBA Level Case Studies in Content and Inbound Marketing

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I, Bill Belew, wondered to myself, what if I could get a bunch of, say 50+ MBA-level students together in a classroom setting and have them take content and inbound marketing serious? Could I learn something? What would I learn?

More prone to acting than just sitting around and thinking about things, I approached a university in the Bay Area of Silicon Valley about offering a course on content and inbound marketing in their MBA program. They hopped right on it and a class called – Marketing with Social Media – was born.

On the first day of class 65, count ’em, of  74 enrolled students showed up. The other nine students missed class for one reason or the other and are playing catch up.

There were some 16 hours of instructions over two days on the first of three weekends for a full 48-hour course.

The university allows that students be given two hours of outside-the-classroom, I think that’s called homework, for every one hour in the class room

Think big smile! I gave my students 96 hours of work EACH to do on their web sites.

Calculator says – 96 hours x 74 students = 7,200 hours of dedicated effort to creating good, meaningful, original content on brand spanking new web sites.

Give or take a few dropped students and some overachievers and I am reasonably expecting at least some 5,000-6000+ hours of, ahem, quality (more on the challenges in future articles) work to be done in a variety of niches on different blogs by business-minded content creators who have a vested interest in their sites. Vested interest = they will fail the class if they don’t do what I require or they really want to launch a business idea that they have been mulling over and they are using the class to do that.

15 questions I want answered:

  1. Are short articles better than longer ones? And for whom or for what?
  2. How long should articles be?
  3. Is it better to post once a day, multiple times a day, weekly?
  4. What about linking internally to one’s own site?
  5. What about linking externally to other quality sites?
  6. What’s a good reasonable strategy for acquiring back links from other sites?
  7. Can my students get mojo if they link to each other and there is a relevance to the sites that are linked together?
  8. What about images? Captions? Descriptions?
  9. Do some niches perform better than others when starting out? When already established?
  10. What about traffic from the other social networks?
  11.  Inbound traffic – is it better coming from search, referrals, direct, paid or the social networks?
  12.  What are some of the challenges, lessons learned when going from zero to 65 people online working on creating quality content for marketing purposes?
  13.  Is content marketing a good strategy to generate revenue from impressions, for selling affiliate products, for offering services, for local, national or global traffic?
  14.  Is getting a group like this together to create a network even copacetic?
  15. And what about plugins? Are some better than others? Are there some that are more important than others? Are there some that are essential?

I expect to KNOW as oppose to guess at the answers to many of these questions above as well as to questions I haven’t even thought to ask yet, which is why I’ll end this article with some questions for the reader.

5 questions I want to ask you:

  1. What if you were me?
  2. What would you do with this class?
  3. Where would you start?
  4. What would you teach?
  5. What kinds of requirements would you make of them?

Please meet me in the comments and let me know your answers.

Consider following this series as I provide insights, lessons learned, victories and failures (if you promise not to judge) from the case studies generated in and out of this class.

3 Steps for those who want in on the content marketing discussion:

Step 1 -Subscribe to this NMX blog to get updates when they come out here.

and/or

Step 2 – Subscribe to the Bill Belew.com/blog to get more immediate updates from me at my home site.

Step 3 – Read the inbound and content marketing students experiences first hand. The students are giving weekly updates in the Guest Writer category. Oftentimes, you might read about their experiences BEFORE I do. That’s right. My editors might push them through before I see them.

PLEASE: If my students blast me in one of their posts before I see it, let me know. 😎

What Businesses NEED to Learn from Romney’s Project ORCA

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Project ORCA was supposed to be the saving grace for the Republican presidential campaign. In a race that came down to the wire in many states, this new way of organizing Romney’s league of enthusiastic volunteers to monitor voting across the country could have been responsible for swinging the votes his way. Obviously, that did not happen, and in a post entitled “The Unmitigated Disaster Known As Project ORCA” one would-be volunteer, John Ekdahl, outlined exactly  how this project failed. Another disgruntled would-be volunteer shared similar experiences with Brietbart News here.

Now that how has been answered, the remaining question is why. And, importantly, what can we learn from this mess?

Simplicity, Defined

Project ORCA was designed to be extremely simple. Using smartphones, volunteers were supposed to be able to easily report who had voted and who had yet to show up at the polls. That way, registered Republicans could be contacted and encouraged to come out to vote.

While the system was fairly uncomplicated for volunteers, the introduction to it was not clear. This is where Project ORCA fell short, and this is where many businesses fall short as well. Simplicity marries design and implementation. One without the other, and you risk failure.

With Project ORCA, volunteers’ questions were not adequately answered during conference calls. They didn’t receive their packets until the night before, and the term “app” confused people (Project ORCA used a mobile website, not an app available on the Android/iPhone store, but they called it a “mobile web app”). Volunteers were not instructed properly about the information they needed to take to their polling location, so many were turned away. Questions to the help line went unanswered.

When you introduce a new technology to your customers, is the implementation as simple as the design? Is your audience prepared for the changes? Are you ready to provide customer support? Have you taken the process out of the users’ hands as much as possible?

Timing is Everything

More important that simplicity perhaps, is timing. The Republican party waited until the last minute to implement this new system, causing mass chaos on election day. Ekdahl reports attempting to reach out for help so he could still fulfill his promise as a volunteer, but it seems as though the system was overwhelmed with people having problems, so he never received a response. Undoubtedly, many others found themselves in a similar situation.

Despite conference calls about Project ORCA in the weeks leading up to election day, too much was left to the last minute, with no real Plan B in place if problems ensued. The timing was just wrong. Had the kinks been worked out in October or better yet, even earlier, through beta testing and mock election day run-throughs, this initiative might have instead been a success. It may have even changed the course of the election.

I’m sure the Republican party did some testing before the big day. I’m not suggesting they just threw this together and crossed their fingers that it would work. But they didn’t also allow their volunteers to be part of the testing. If you’re introducing a new technology to your audience, whether it’s a brand new ecommerce site, a new interface for a digital product, or something else entirely (like a new way of counting votes at polling locations), you have to give people a chance to test out the system before they need to use it.

Half-Truths and Problems Ahead

What I find most troubling about the reports I’ve been reading from Project ORCA volunteers is that they all seem to have been reassured that problems were localized. Even before election day, it sounds like frankenspeak talons were tightly grasping this entire project. Writes Ekdahl,

“From the very start there were warning signs. After signing up, you were invited to take part in nightly conference calls. The calls were more of the slick marketing speech type than helpful training sessions. There was a lot of “rah-rahs” and lofty talk about how this would change the ballgame.”

Never underestimate your audience like this. People don’t want to hear half-truths and false flattery. They want answers to their questions and help with their problems. Nothing will sink a business faster than their customer base feeling like they’re being fed lies.

No matter where your political loyalties lie, I think we can all agree that Republicans have some rough roads ahead. It’s arguable whether the success of Project ORCA could have changed the tide, but it’s inarguable that it’s failure is making many uneasy about party management. This is perhaps the most important lesson businesses need to learn from the Republican party and the downfall of Project ORCA: the seas won’t always be smooth sailing, but when problems arise, how you manage your audience, especially through online channels, will set the course for the future.

Where is your business headed?

Image credit: Gage Skidmore

How Home Depot Became a Pinterest Powerhouse [Case Study]

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One might not at first think that power tools and lumber have a place on the Internet’s current social media darling, Pinterest, but this visual platform is being dominated by none other than Home Depot. Currently, Home Depot has over 12,000 profile followers on Pinterest, and their individual boards all have over 8,500 followers. If Pinterest’s high revenue-per-click rates and the assertion that Pinterest users are heavily motivated to buy are to be believed, Home Depot has build quite the lucrative following on this social networking – and it’s a following that is growing daily.

Understanding What Users Want

While DIY home renovators might go to Home Depot for pipes and wood, the company understands that this kind of item isn’t likely to resonate with Pinterest users.  Based on their Q2 2012 reports, about 2% of their total sales come from their online channels, which doesn’t sound like much until you remember that total sales for the company were $20.57 billion that quarter. People aren’t likely to buy certain items online because they want to see them in person, but Home Depot sells lots of items that people are willing to purchase sight unseen, and these are the items the company highlights on Pinterest.

For example, here’s an item Home Depot pinned on its Outdoor Living board:

Pinterest users are a lot more likely to buy this item online than to purchase potting soil or plants online, despite these being popular outdoor items at physical Home Depot stores.

Home Depot also understands that people are looking for different things at different times of the year. For example, during the fall, the boards at the top of the Home Depot profile include Tailgating Ideas & DIY Football Party Ideas and Halloween Crafts & Ideas.

The company also has boards for other holidays and seasons, like Valentine’s Day Inspiration and Summer Celebrations, but these are found closer to the bottom of the Home Depot profile. These can easily be moved to a more highlight position when the time is right.

Give and Take

The best take-away from Home Depot’s Pinterest activities is perhaps the way this company combines promotion of their own products with promotion of other items. Like with all social networks, when you use the platform as a broadcasting tool alone, users typically don’t respond well. To have a more complete Pinterest presence, you need to not only promote what you’re selling, but also promote other cool and interesting products and projects you find.

A good example is the Home Depot Wreaths for Any Occasion board, which features some Home Depot products like an ornament wreath and bat wreath alongside wreath products and projects from others sites, like The Charm of Home, Make and Takes, and Once Wed.

Home Depot has Character

What I personally like most about Home Depot’s Pinterest presence is the personality. Home Depot could take the path many brands take on social media by being extremely “corporate,” but instead, the company’s pins have a little flavor. The descriptions make it sound like a real person, not a stuffy corporation, is behind each pin.

In the above pin on the company’s DIY Wedding Inspiration & Gift Ideas board, for example, you can see Home Depot asking “How cool would it be to have a wedding cermony [sic] inside of a greenhouse?” and several people answered. This type of engagement with a brand is worth more than passive repins, especially for a product not originally from the Home Depot site.

Where Home Depot Could Improve

Although Home Depot does Pinterest better than most brands, I still see room for improvement. Here are a few ways Home Depot could have an even strong Pinterest presence:

  • More Boards: Currently, Home Depot only has 32 boards, which means there’s a lot of room for improvement. With a topic like home improvement, there’s no limit to the individual boards that could be created.
  • More Interaction with Followers: Home Depot’s conversational style with pin descriptions is just a start. The company could take things a step farther and interact with their followers through comments.
  • Following More People: Home Depot currently only followers about 280 people, which is a very small percentage compared to followers. By following more boards relating to home improvement, the company would have more ideas to repin.

It will be interesting to watch how Home Depot continues to grow on Pinterest, as well as see other brands follow suit and start to build a presence on Pinterest.

How to Work with Brand Bloggers

Author:

This post will help businesses, both large and small, understand brand blogs–sites written by consumers that exist for the sole purpose of talking about a company and/or its products. Do you know how to engage with brand bloggers and the opportunities that exist? Read on to learn more!

 

A topic near and dear to my heart is blogs that are created by customers which are all about well-known brands.  This is a phenomenon that is now down-right common.  It’s amazing how many customers have created blogs about well-known brands!

First, a few examples of the kinds of blogs that I’m talking about:

I’m sure there are many more brand fan blogs out there.  Those were just a few that were very easy to find with a few Google searches. The list of customer-created fan blogs is stunningly long.

For the large brand (or even a smaller brand), all of this can equal surprise and uncertainty. If you’re Lululemon, or any other brand where a customer has created a fan blog, you don’t know what they’re going to say next. You don’t know which products they’ll love. And, you never know if the fan blog will turn on the brand. There is a complete loss of control. Even worse, the brand may worry that the fan site will become so large that it will be confused with a corporate-created website. The brand’s voice then competes with the fan’s voice.

Since September 2009, I have been writing about Starbucks. There’s no doubt, they know I exist. I’m in the unusual position that I’m blogging about a brand close to home. I live not too far from the Starbucks headquarters and the first Starbucks in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I am so close, I can actually easily go to Starbucks events that would only happen in Seattle. Because of this, I’ve met a number of corporate headquarters Starbucks employees.

My blog, as I write this, receives over 30,000 absolute unique visitors each month. It’s slowly grown over time. A year from now, I might be saying it has 35,000 or 40,000 uniques. It certainly didn’t start out at that level of readership – and that’s still fairly small. And obviously, I am not CNN or a major news source. However, it is possible that at an ordinary customer can have a real voice about a brand. For example, if you look at the Trader Joe’s blog mentioned above, you’ll see that its hit-counter lists well over 2 million hits so far! That’s one very popular blog!

There is no doubt that through Facebook and Twitter, it’s possible that a customer with a big brand fan blog might be able to have direct contact with other fans, possibly brand detractors, company employees, and even possibly corporate executives. All of this comes down to one thing: Each individual customer now has the possibility to have a much larger voice than ever before. Anyone can start a blog. The choice of the brand is to either engage or ignore. That’s it: either engage or ignore. My position is that engagement is the best option.

It’s been cited that a brand advocate is worth much more than an average customer.  Zuberance, a California-based company designed to energize brand advocates, writes “Brand Advocates are worth at least 5x more than average customers. This is because they spend more and their recommendations drive sales.”

The customer-created brand blog is not a mysterious unicorn. It’s real. Any brand could end up with customers writing about them. And honest reviews, unfiltered, and unsolicited, are the most genuine.

4 Tips for Working with Brand Bloggers: 

Recognize that a brand fan blog is fueled by passion for the brand

There is no doubt, for a customer to write for years consistently about a brand, he or she has to be filled with passion for the brand. Probably there are no “wet noodle” personalities with big successful brand fan blogs. Susan Martin’s IKEA fan blog is still going strong seven years into blogging. She started blogging in 2005 about IKEA. One doesn’t blog for seven years about IKEA without really having some passion for the brand.

Your customers who create long-term fan blogs love you. They passionately love you. And expect them to truly characterize the kind of personality that gets very passionate about a topic.

You can expect that one with a big, vocal passionate personality might have fixed convictions that he or she won’t budge on, or may come on strongly when engaged. Despite all this, passions fuels this.

Reach out to dedicated fan bloggers; do not ignore them

It takes a tremendous amount of work to keep a fan blog going. There isn’t a monetary incentive for the overwhelming majority of brand fan blogs. (I couldn’t find any evidence of any monetary compensation in any of the listed fan blogs above.)

A little reaching out goes a long way to keep inspiration alive.

And for many people, the more emotionally invested he or she feels in a brand, the less likely he or she is going to write negative commentary about it. Reaching out to brand bloggers can help lock in that emotional attachment to a brand. A brand can never control everything that is going to be said about it. And often times, honest feedback couched in a true vision of making the brand better is nothing to be scoffed at. Customers have great insights.

And so once again, since the fan brand blogger is not motivated by a paycheck, a little reaching out to the brand goes a long way.

For example, in 2010, IKEA reached out to their fans, hosting a IKEA brand evangelists event in New York City, and giving those fans a bag of gifts, and the latest IKEA catalogue two weeks early. Not every brand is going to host trips to New York City for their biggest fans, but it is definitely an example of a large brand truly recognizing and responding to brand evangelists.

In January 2012, I went to a nicely organized coffee tasting at the Olive Way Starbucks as part of the Starbucks PR department’s blogger outreach. I wrote about it here.  I love events that have a true element of exclusivity to them.  I enjoyed being able to see the Starbucks concept store, Roy Street, shortly before it opened to the public and being able to write about that before the store’s grand opening.

As yet another example of incredible blogger outreach, Anthropologie sent a number of bloggers on a trip to Philadelphia for the opening of a wedding-themed Anthropologie store. I have heard that Anthropologie did reach out to at least one blogger who writes specifically an Anthroplogie brand blog. The trip to Philadelphia is mentioned in an article by a wedding blogger.

Consider the bloggers who are dedicated to your brand. If the brand passes over a very passionate blogger, it may truly come off as if the blog is not appreciated.

I think even small gestures mean a lot. I was reading through Nathan Aaron’s “Method Lust” blog and noticed that now and then he mentions that Method will send him sneak previews of new products. It could be as simple as sending the brand advocate a bottle of Fig Aroma Spray.

Read the comments

The value of a brand blog doesn’t end at the author’s article. Read the comments. That’s so important, I feel like I should say it twice. Read the comments.

A blog that is getting even a dozen comments per article provides a lot of insight about customer response to a specific product or concept.

Remember the authenticity of the voice is priceless. As a great example of this, earlier this year I wrote an article about the Pink Lime Frozt and the Coconut Lime Frozt at Starbucks. You might be thinking that you’ve never heard of these beverages. In the spring of this year, Starbucks did a large test of these beverages, mostly in Southern states, though to date, there has never been a nationwide launch. But my article on the Pink Lime Frozt has over 50 comments. That’s a tremendous amount of feedback on a test product. The same thing happened when I wrote about the test product, the “Apple Crumble Frappuccino.” Don’t miss the chance to get valuable feedback.

On top of it all, the blog comments may have replies by the blog owner – one more chance to get to know the personality of the brand’s customer with a fan blog.

Be transparent at all times

There is nothing worse than having a brand-blogger customer reaching out to a corporate headquarters, and having him or her sent in circles, and/or being told that someone will get back to them, and no one does. Even worse, completely ignored emails.  It can equally leave a bad taste in one’s mouth if a brand PR person says (hypothetically), “We’d like you to try a new product  …” and then there is no follow up to arrange a trial of the new product.

If someone is passionate enough to dedicate years to blogging about your specific brand, he or she should not be left hanging in conversations with the corporation, whether in person or in an electronic form.

Good business manners are good business manners, whether dealing with people internally or externally.

At the end of the day, some of this is common sense. Develop a positive relationship with bloggers. They’re valuable for the brand due to their reach. A blogger who is reaching even 1,000 unique visitors a day, in some ways, has a megaphone in his or her hands. That person is akin to media in some ways. The positive relationship with the blogger can help ignite a positive outlook about the brand on that blog.

It’s likely that no brand is immune to the possibility of having a customer start an entire blog just to talk about that brand. Be ready and willing to reach and be transparent with that blogger.

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