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Constant Commentary


If you're looking for the Constant Commentary blog, we invite you to check out our new and improved home over at


You'll find the same great advice about email marketing, social media marketing, event marketing, survey and feedback, and general business trends — and so much more!


We hope to see you there!


Ever wonder if you should try Facebook ads? Looks like now would be a great time.


Experts agree that it’s time to start thinking long-term and move beyond just "Likes" and followers.


Could your online reputation hurt your business? A new report says yes!


All this and more in this week’s hot topics. 


Goldleaf Framemakers of Santa Fe has been around for 24 years, but President Martin Horowitz explains that the process his business uses to hand-craft each frame dates back to the Renaissance.


“We start everything from scratch here,” he says. That means carving basswood to make a frame that’s just the right fit, to carefully mixing gesso from rabbit-skin glue, calcium carbonate, and warm water, before sanding it and applying it to clay coats that are generally yellow, but have highlights ranging from red to blue to black.


The process is known as water gilding. “We basically do it the same way they did it in the 15th century, except we use spray guns,” Martin says. The frames themselves are crafted to resemble a different period, from 16th-century Italian frames to 19th-century impressionist frames, all the way to the modernist frames of the 1930s and 1940s, and the contemporary ones showed today.


Goldleaf Framemakers of Santa Fe may be incorporating centuries-worth of styles in each frame, but that doesn’t mean that the manufacturer has stood still, either. After hearing from his friend Noberto Zamudio of Peyton-Wright Gallery that Constant Contact set the “gold” standard for email marketing,  Martin decided to try it to better reach his growing client base - and in the process, became Constant Contact’s 500,000th customer.



When you’re trying to promote your own business, people often say that it’s all about connections.


Unfortunately, the advice tends to stop there. How do you meet people? Networking opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, from the workshop to the convention, but the most frustrating part can be keeping track of who you talk to and what those people do.


This is precisely the problem with which Jill Singer, founder of Jill Singer Graphics, recently wrestled.


“I’m involved with so much networking, and many people I meet are also networking all the time,” she explains. “It’s a continuous challenge to stay on top of it all. Meeting and staying connected with people can be tough, too.”


Her graphic design firm, based out of White Plains, N.Y., has been helping clients to create professional-looking promotional materials for almost 30 years. And, as a one-woman show, she has had to mostly rely on networking and self-promotion to get the word out about her services.


At the end of a hard day of networking, Jill would always have business cards scattered in the bureau, a few in her wallet, and some contact information in her iPhone. It was overwhelming to remember who was interested in her business. This past August, that all changed when a client asked her to help with his Constant Contact Email Marketing campaign.


“He was really tricking me,” she laughs, “because he knew that it would be a great tool for me to use, too. And he was right.”



New tools to help with social media marketing are popping up everywhere. But many small businesses and nonprofits just don’t have the time to keep up and research all the options. Don’t you wish you had someone to tell you about the tools that are proven to be really easy and useful? We get it! That's why last week we asked our Facebook fans, “What tool(s) do you use to help with your social media marketing on Facebook, Twitter, etc.?” Now, the results are in.


Ever get tired of just "Liking" something on Facebook? You may be in luck — the social network is developing “Actions,” buttons that let users do all sorts of things other than Like, from clicking “Own” on a product page to “Read” on a book’s Facebook Page.


As Facebook unrolled these new features, anyone looking to brush up on an obscure fact, learn a history lesson, or read a biography on Wednesday suddenly found that Wikipedia greeted them with a foreboding black screen. Fortunately, food was unaffected. Foursquare users who wanted to know the location and cost of all nearby tacos — or any other kind of food — discovered they could now use the “Explore” feature of the popular mobile service. 


Read on to find out more about these topics and more in this week’s news roundup.


For many small businesses, there’s a post-holiday-season lull when shoppers tighten their belts and the flow of in-store and online traffic slows to a halt. These dark days of winter don’t have to be that dark. In fact, using this time wisely may yield far greater returns despite the sales slowdowns.


Here are seven ways to make the most of the post-holiday shopping rush and still drive customers to your business.


A few weeks ago, I got a friend request on Facebook. I recognized the name and clicked on the person’s profile to check out his information. He was pretty well-connected in his career and we had a few friends in common. I had a problem though: I had spoken with him only once on the phone — for a project I was putting together at a place I haven’t worked at for three years. I’ve never met him in real life and really know nothing about him.


I declined the request. But that’s just me. Someone else might have accepted it. Our interpretations of what’s personal, what’s professional, what we share, and who we let into our worlds have gotten fuzzy because of social media. Millennial Branding found that Generation Y is happy to blur those lines — they use Facebook as an extension of their professional life. For some people, that can cause problems when you’re sharing information about your personal life and forget that the colleague in the next cubicle is watching every social move you make.


I present Constant Contact’s social media webinars and frequently get questions from attendees on how to separate the personal from the professional in this public space. One solution is to create a personal social media policy for each of your profiles. Look at your social networks and decide: What do you use this space for? Who do you want to let in? Think about the things you talk about on each social network — do you really want your potential new friends or followers to know those details? Do you want to know theirs? Here’s my personal social media policy.


Small businesses are challenged by two things: Getting new customers, and making the most of the relationships they have with existing customers.


With social media and word of mouth marketing on the rise, it's become clear that the greatest source of new customers is your current customers. The more you treat your loyal, current customers like VIPs, the more they will come back. And, those customers will interact with you and about talk about you on their social networks, opening up the door to new customers. Your current customers are your most important marketing asset.


Now combine that with mobile. If 2011 was the year small businesses began to take advantage of social media, then 2012 will almost certainly be the year of mobile. Consumers will soon be able to do everything right from the palm of their hand, and many of them already are:

  • According to Nielsen, 43% of all mobile users own a smartphone. Among those under 45, the number is more than 50%.
  • A related Pew Internet study found that 87% of smartphone users access the internet or email on their device, including two-thirds who do it daily to look for deals and information.


The point is, consumers these days are "always on," and are connecting with businesses and each other wherever they are. Making the most of mobile technologies to engage those customers and encourage their loyalty and advocacy is the natural next step.


With this in mind, I'm so happy to announce that Constant Contact has acquired CardStar, which helps shoppers stay connected with their favorite merchants through a mobile app. This free mobile loyalty app consolidates membership and rewards cards on smartphones, letting consumers use a single application rather than a series of physical cards. The app currently has more than 2 million active users and is available on major mobile platforms such as iPhone, Android, and Blackberry.



It breaks my heart every time I see a question posted to a business or organization’s Facebook Page that goes unanswered, with that lonely question mark dangling, doomed to be ignored. Around 95% of Facebook posts on brand pages suffer a similar fate. Some businesses and organizations may be unsure of what to post, some may not know how to post, and the vast majority certainly don’t have the time to reply to every comment that comes their way.


A Facebook Page that's been abandoned by its creator isn’t a pretty thing, and it certainly won’t attract any new fans. In fact, it can give people the impression that the entire organization is lagging behind the times. So, what do you do? What’s the key to consistently posting good, engaging content?


The truth is that any small business or organization can be successful at Facebook marketing. You just have to ask yourself one question: “What are my fans and I both passionate about?”


Hooray! Someone wants to join your email list. Having someone sign up for your email list is a fantastic first step in engaging your customers and building a relationship with them. And that's a very important step because it's your chance to set expectations for why this person should want to be on your list — and stay there. Accordingly, you want to make a good first impression.


With that in mind, here are three best practices to remember when you're deciding what to put on your registration form.



Businesses that are marketing to other businesses can have a difficult time coming up with the right content for their email newsletters. It’s a little harder to think of articles for email marketing when clients rely on you as a resource for professional advice and services, rather than a source of coupons and giveaways. Offering a discount on your services can be impractical for every email, and “10 Ways to Market Your...” articles only go so far.


Without great content, people won’t feel inclined to open an email, much less follow up on a B2B’s services. That can make sending out an engaging newsletter a challenge each time, particularly because people often react quite differently to an email advertising a free sandwich than they do an email advertising your expertise.


Quality newsletter content is something that Stephanie Royal, the marketing director for the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the University of North Florida (UNF), has been determined to provide her clients. Without a lot of budget to spend and a lot of different interests to highlight, she had to get creative when connecting with subscribers and ended up discovering two key steps to keep people reading: segmenting her contact list and showcasing client businesses. 



It seems to me to be plain old common sense: In order to sell your products to your customers, you have to be open for business when they are available to buy. So why, then, are so many businesses closed when they should be open?


A case in point: There’s the cutest clothing boutique in my neighborhood. I love the trendy styles, and have purchased a number of items there since the store opened a few years ago. However, recently, it seems as though the store is never open. I used to be able to pop in whenever I had an extra few minutes, but now the sign on the door says they are open only on certain days for a specific number of hours. Unfortunately, they are losing my business and I imagine a lot of other customers as well.


I dealt with a similar situation with a professional services business. A doctor friend of mine decided to open a medi-spa. The spa's hours corresponded with his regular medical office hours, Monday–Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and a half day on Friday. In order to make an appointment for one of the spa services, you have go during the day — which means most likely you’ll have to take off from work.



We all know that measuring our email marketing efforts is important. Of course it is; measurement supports our use of resources, and helps us make changes so we get better results in the future.


But there are a lot of things you could be measuring, including open rate, click-through rate, bounce rate, list size, unsubscribes, and shares. What metric should your business or organization focus on? We asked that question recently on our Facebook Page, and here's what you told us are the most important email metrics.


What a week. Just as everyone was finally settled back from their holiday time off, Google went and woke people up when it announced it'd be integrating its struggling social network, Google+, more actively into its search engine. Not surprisingly, this sent a ripple through the social media world. Suffice it to say, some folks (particularly those at Twitter) were less than pleased, and a war of words began.


But not everyone was fighting. (Phew!) Love was in the air elsewhere as more proof was revealed that social media and mobile go together, and two big players in the email space came together.


Read on to learn about these stories and more in our weekly news roundup.



Guest blog post by Steve Abramowitz, senior digital marketing manager


If you haven’t already heard, this week, Google announced plans to incorporate results from its upstart social network, Google+, into search results. Why is Google making this move, and what impact will it have on users — and most importantly, why should small businesses and organizations take notice?


How does it work?


In Google’s ongoing quest to personalize search results for higher relevancy, it will soon be folding in personal social content into your search results. In addition, Google’s algorithm will now rely more on social signals (specifically, +1's) to influence how and where websites, blogs, photos, videos, and other digital assets rank in search results. For example, check out this screen shot:



When you perform a search on Google, such as the one above, if you're signed into a Google+ account, then you'll see the standard universal search results you're accustomed to and ones from your Google+ account (such as photos and videos). The personal results will be identified by an icon resembling a person's head. Only you will see your own personalized search results, but content you've shared within your Google Circles could populate in other people's results. You can also opt out of having your shared content included in search results.



QR codes have proven to be a perpetual experiment for most small businesses and organizations. A recent study by Chadwick Martin Bailey found that, while 81% of consumers have seen the codes, 79% aren’t actually familiar with the term ‘QR code.’


Restaurants may include them on menus, some stores may offer check-outs or scans of specials by slapping a code on a package or billboard, but overall, the effectiveness of QR codes is still something that people debate.


So are these computerized ink blots an underground fad, a growing trend, or a flash in the smart-pan? We took the debate to our managing editor, Martin Lieberman, and our senior content developer, Dave Charest.


Whenever I talk to small businesses and organizations about getting started with social media marketing, one of the first questions they ask is almost always "What should we expect for results?"


Well, that's a really tough one to answer. For one thing, marketing a business or organization on social media is a great case for what your mother probably said to you as a kid: "You'll only get out of it what you put in." Or in business terms, there's no ROI if there is no investment, whether it's an investment of time, thought, or energy.


For those who do invest in the process, success comes in all shapes in sized and is different for every business. Here are three examples of social media marketing success, without using any fancy monitoring tools or even spending hours and hours with Facebook Insights.  



If you drive just a little ways off Interstate 70 into Glenwood Springs, Colo., you’ll find yourself traveling through a beautiful valley that runs between rugged mountainscapes dotted by hearty trees. This is where the showroom of Strange Imports is nestled, open to any customers who are curious about the store’s rich collection of Eastern Asian furniture, artifacts, and countless other valuables — from antique Turkish olive jars to wheelbarrows and urns.


Owner David Dixon started the business nearly 20 years ago, after he took a trip to Asia following high school graduation and developed a passion for Asian antiques and cultures. While Strange Imports (also known as Strange Imports / Eastern Elements) began as a wholesale business, it has slowly grown to accommodate walk-in customers, online retail, and trade shows.


The scenic location of the store — and a recently opened branch in Aspen — provides a place for new customers to browse goods, but only if they can find it. To that end, David says that the store has been working on ways to reach out, both online and off.


“We’ve been trying Google Adwords, and we upgraded our website so it has a shopping cart feature. We’ve published glossy magazines related to design, and done ads in newspaper and through public radio,” he explains. “But what’s really been great for us is Constant Contact Email Marketing. It’s probably some of the best marketing dollars that we spend.”


David estimates that about 20% of Strange Imports’ sales are from its marketing through Constant Contact. And its warehouse-worth of exotic items lend themselves to two keys in Strange Import’s emails: beauty and adventure.



Whenever I get asked how to make the most of Twitter, I start by saying, “The first thing you need to do is cut down on the noise so you can focus on making connections that will move you toward your goals.”


How do you do that? You do it by creating lists.


Lists allow you to organize Twitter users into groups so you see only the tweets of the people you put on the List.


I go on to suggest creating three lists to start, naming them: Peers, Pros and Patrons. (Hooray alliteration!)


Here’s why each of these lists are important for moving you toward your goals:
























It’s easy for small businesses and nonprofits to get wrapped up in the idea of a new year and all of the ideas that a fresh start can bring. But then reality sets in that you don’t have more time than last year, just more ideas. That's why January, when things have slowed down a bit after the holiday rush, is a perfect time to look back on the year that's just ended and review what worked and what didn't, and apply those lessons to your new-year's plans.


We were curious what the biggest lessons you learned last year were, so last week we posted on Constant Contact’s Facebook Page the question, "What’s the most important marketing lesson your business or nonprofit learned in 2011?" Above, you'll see the words that were most commonly used in your answers (the bigger the word, the more it was used). Here are the top two takeaways. 


A varied list of stories this week offered stats on big increases in the use of email marketing this past holiday season, new “users” added to Google+, and the long-term boost to the metrics of social campaigns.


Oh, and someone is getting sued over his 17,000 Twitter followers. Just another week in social media!


Check out our picks for the week’s top stories.


Another year has come and gone, and like many people, I find myself looking back at some of the highlights of 2011. It was a busy year that saw lots of changes in how small businesses work and market themselves. Social media became one of the primary tools used by small businesses, and mobile tools were starting to show up more and more. In addition, the ease of access and low cost of new business applications allowed small businesses to operate in a way that used to be reserved only for the largest companies in the world.


With this in mind, it's no wonder that when we asked recently, 69% of respondents said they consider app integrations with Constant Contact to be important to their businesses. And in fact, 76% of respondents said that they use integrations at least monthly; 47% use them at least weekly. As a result, it's safe to say that small businesses are becoming increasingly reliant on additional technology and software tools to develop and promote themselves.


There's a lot of debate these days about what it means to be a "good" social media marketer. Every expert seems to have his or her own opinion. Does it mean tweeting or posting to Facebook a certain number of times each day? Does it mean posting a certain type of content? Does it mean you can't pre-schedule your posts and tweets? Or does it mean having a certain number of fans or followers, or a high Klout score? The definition of what makes a good social media marketer seems to be different for everyone. And in fact, there's a lot of "best practice" advice available — you can find it here on this blog, in our Learning Center, and on our Social Media Quickstarter, for example.


An easier (and more amusing) question to answer may be what not to do on social media. Perhaps that's why when I asked a few of Constant Contact's own social media experts to name their biggest social media pet peeve, they jumped at the chance. Are you looking to be a better social media marketer? Our advice is to stay away from the following "worst" practices.



This past October, a rare snowstorm clobbered the east coast, and my husband and I were without power for six days. To say it was an inconvenience is an understatement. During this time, we relied on our iPhones to figure out where to get heat, power, and food, and we sent messages out on Facebook and Twitter to let friends and family know we were alright.


Facebook and Twitter also became our lifelines to the small businesses in our area that shared information on who was open and where we could go in the aftermath. It was how we found out that one of our gym’s two locations had power — we could sweat out our stress and use their showers — and that some local businesses were letting people come in just to use their outlets to charge their phones and laptops.


As a small business, you can benefit from weather events by using social media and email marketing to communicate with your customers. When bad weather hits, and people in your local area are affected, what can you do? Here are 4 tips from Constant Contact customers who've successfully taken advantage of the weather in their marketing efforts.



Cautiously optimistic is how I’d describe the sentiment among small business owners as we enter the new year. Although most of us recognize that there will continue to be economic challenges ahead, we are ready to push forward to build our businesses.


However, here’s something you need to be aware of as you plan your strategies for the coming year: According to the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute’s 2012 Small Business Trends Report, many small businesses will find increased competition for their customer base. The report notes that larger companies will aggressively market to prospects they once considered to be “too small.” More competition means you’ll need to make sure your house is in order. That means staying focused on smart sales strategies to maintain your market share.


Here are four things to keep in mind.



With 2011 now in the rear-view mirror, it’s important to think about what’s going to drive your business or organization's growth in 2012. With the pace of marketing speeding up thanks to social media and other tools, knowing what's in store — and how you can respond — will better equip you for success moving forward.


Here are six things to focus on as you settle in to the new year.