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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.   1. Do You Like Like Something? Or Do You Want It? Facebook Actions were originally announced at Facebook’s f8 developer conference last year, but they’re finally coming to life. In San Francisco this week, Facebook announced that a number of partners are using Actions instead of the simple Like. E-Commerce sites can benefit from “Own” and “Want” buttons; blogs, books, and more will benefit from a “Read” button; and that’s just the start of Facebook’s growing vocabulary.      Bottom Line: More buttons means more opportunities for social media marketers to learn about customers. It’s important to note that these buttons won’t be replacing the Like, just supplementing it. Now your fans won't just be able to Like your Facebook Page, they’ll be able to clarify why .   2. A Wiki-Less Wednesday Means Broken Senate Websites Wikipedia and other sites attracted national attention by going dark this past Wednesday, in order to protest SOPA and PIPA legislation , bills being considered as an effort to combat online piracy. One of the main conflicts is the sweeping language of the bills, which opponents say will impede online innovation and creativity. Wikipedia invited users to find their local representative’s website to protest the bills; as a result, a number of contact links for Senators had “technical difficulties.”   Bottom Line: Thanks partly to the protests, SOPA and PIPA are now looking more and more unlikely to pass in their current forms — but online piracy isn't going away, either. The entertainment industry is understandably concerned about illegal streaming of music, TV shows, and movies, but until lawmakers find a way to tackle those issues without infringing on the internet’s freedom of expression, this debate will continue.   3. Time Spent Watching Online Videos Rises by 58.9%   Is the computer your new TV? If so, you’re not alone. In an ironically timed release, given the SOPA controversy, new findings from comScore Video Metrix showed that, among the 182 million U.S. internet users across the country, the average user watched 23.2 hours of online video in December, marking a 58.9% uptick from the same time last year. While TV shows and movies are prominent, so are music videos: Sony’s VEVO service, which hosts all the most popular music videos on YouTube, had 53.7 million viewers in December 2011.   Bottom Line: If you’re thinking about how to market your business or organization, the future —or more accurately, the present — is in video. So concentrate on making your own videos that show off your products and services, your team, or your customers, clients, and members and get them up on YouTube . If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a video is worth even more!   4. Hungry? Now You Can Browse 13 Million Different Dishes Anyone who has wandered from restaurant to restaurant in search of an enticing menu may be relieved to find that their aimless quests could be at an end. Foursquare has teamed up with start-up SinglePlatform on a feature that helps diners find the meal that’s just right for them. Explore will find the menus and prices of nearby restaurants that serve the food of your choice. That means if you type in “ice cream,” for example, you’ll get all the scoop shops located near you.   Bottom Line: With Yelp and Foursquare growing so popular , it’s becoming ever more important for restaurants and other businesses to establish themselves online. This new feature can be a valuable way to connect to diners, especially if your business is off the beaten path.   5. 56% of Employers Check Social Networks of Potential Employees Businesses are increasingly relying on social networks to find out a little bit more about any would-be employees. OPP, a U.K. business psychology firm, found that 56% of employers look at would-be worker profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to screen them before making hiring decisions.   Bottom Line: As the line between professional and personal life blurs thanks to everything from the Like button to the everyday tweet, privacy has become an even bigger issue — even as there’s less and less of it. This recent study highlights the need for everyone to remember that anything they post to a social site can (and often will) be seen.    What news topics caught your eyes this week? Share it with us below or on our Facebook Page .
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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.   1. Facebook Launches Contest for Small Business Owners Would you like to win up to $10,000 in Facebook advertising for your small business? Well, you’re in luck. If your small business’s Facebook Page has at least 50 Likes, you can apply to get $50 in free ads. Facebook will give you an additional $100 if you add 100 more Likes to your Page before April 1, 2012. If your business is one of the top 10 Pages to gain the most Likes, you could win $10,000 more in free ads. Sweet! Enter the Facebook Small Business Boost contest .   Bottom Line: If you’ve been wondering if Facebook ads could work for you, this is the perfect opportunity to find out for free. And you can bet we’ll be here to help you. Stay tuned for a brand new look to the blog and a bunch of tips to help you get more Likes, more shares, and more business with Facebook. How’s that for timing? Be sure to apply for the Facebook contest now .   2. Social Media Marketing: Measuring the Impact for Real Social media marketing experts are pushing for results beyond just Likes and followers in 2012. A recent survey of over 700 marketers noted the long-term benefits of engaging with customers on Facebook: new customer recruitment, higher conversion rates, and more frequent purchases.   Bottom Line: The key to moving beyond Likes is thinking long-term and using social media sites such as Facebook to help you achieve measurable business goals. When you start with these goals in mind, you’ll find your actions take on more meaning. Those actions will help you to reach those goals more easily.   3.   Study: 69 Percent Access the Mobile Internet Daily Google released a report indicating that 69% of U.S. mobile users access the internet on their phones daily. The report also shows that in every market studied, mobile phone penetration is higher than PC or laptop ownership. This confirms that mobile internet usage will one day trump PC usage. (Actually, that day may be today.)   Bottom Line: Mobile ownership and usage to access the internet is real. As you build your business, include plans that take advantage of this ever-growing use of mobile. How can customers use their phones to interact act with you? And if they do, will they be greeted by mobile friendly pages and applications? Let’s hope so.   4. Direct and Digital Outlook for 2012 Cautiously Optimistic Things looked pretty good in 2011 as analysts saw digital channels continue to increase their share of marketing spend. Direct mail also experienced a 2% growth in 2011 and is expected to grow by the same amount this year. Marketing spend on social, search, and mobile are also expected to increase significantly this year. In addition, 52% of companies in direct and digital marketing plan to add staff in the first quarter of 2012.   Bottom Line: The digital space continues to grow and create new jobs. We agree with Bruce Biegel, managing director at marketing consultancy Winterberry Group, when he says, “Marketing challenges remain in [delivering] the right message to the right people on the right device.” This is the same challenge for small businesses as they compete for attention via email and social channels. Be sure to listen carefully to the feedback you receive from customers so you can form messages that connect with and engage them.   5. Why Online Reputation Matters to Small Business A new report shows how important the online reputation of a company is to its bottom line. When consumers learn that a product they like is made by a company they have a negative relationship with, 96% of consumers took some type of action. These actions include:   40% stopped buying the product 18% told others not to buy the product 17% made negative comments about the product or company to others   Bottom Line: As more and more people voice their opinions online through social word of mouth, online reviews, and other content, it’s important that you encourage customers to share their positive experiences with your business. As people turn to online search to help them make a decision, the things they find often become a deciding factor. By also participating online, you give customers a glimpse at the people behind your business. This helps increase the odds of people finding these interactions when they search, which in turn, increases the odds of people liking, trusting and doing business with your company.   What are your thoughts on this week’s hot topics? Share them in the comments below. 
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? More importantly, how do you keep track of everyone? Networking opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, from the workshop to the convention, but the most frustrating part can be remembering 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.”   Following Up Through Email   Once Jill started using Constant Contact (and getting permission to send messages to those people she had met), she suddenly found that she had one safe place to put all of the information she exchanged at networking events — and even better, a way to stay in touch with those people.   “Emails gave me a great way to highlight pieces from my portfolio. So now if someone asks to see a sample of my work at a seminar, I can just tell him that I’ll send him an email,” she explains. “Email marketing is an easy way to stay organized and stay in touch."    As a graphic designer, Jill found that she was most successful when she displayed the work she had done for previous clients. That means most of Jill's emails include testimonials and marketing materials she has designed, along with a great subject line.   For example, October’s subject line read: “Moved to Action by a Good Story.” The email explained how important it is for small businesses and organizations to tell the stories of their customers and members to spice up white papers, reports, and other documents to encourage people to read, then showcased an example of Jill’s work that touched on the same subject.                                                                                                 Jill's emails always have very economic copy and one central theme & image.      Jill gets a lot of return emails, too, whether people are complimenting the work or are interested in her services.   In fact, Jill says that she gets at least one new client per newsletter — a pretty remarkable return considering she has only been using email marketing for the past six months.   Getting the Word Out   To really promote her emails, Jill often uses Constant Contact's Simple Share feature, so she can share the advice with fans on Facebook, followers on Twitter, and contacts on LinkedIn. For example, “Ask for what you want!” email, which was sent in December, was shared through all three networks.   In this case, Jill’s email newsletters are creating an online network that can do something she had never been able to do in person: meet contacts one-on-one. “People get to see my work, which is great, and these are often people who I never get to meet with one-on-one. The timing of each newsletter is going to be right for somebody, and having the opportunity to show people what I’m doing has just been a great way to grow my business and my reach,” Jill says.   So, while Jill still looks forward to conferences, conventions, and workshops, she knows that meeting the people there is now just the beginning of her relationship with them. Because with Constant Contact, she can provide loyal clients and prospects with helpful marketing emails that hold both inspiration and opportunity.   How do you reach out to contacts beyond traditional networking events? Let us know here or on our Facebook Page . 
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.   The Right Frame of Mind   Martin explains that marketing his frames is a hands-on activity, because clients don't truly appreciate the frames unless they see them in person. Most clients are museums, exhibitions, galleries, and other businesses. One of the ways Martin promotes his business is by attending the annual West Coast Art and Frame Show , which is taking place next week at the Mirage Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.   “Manufacturers from all around the world set up booths to show their wares. I’ll have corner samples in my 20-foot-booth that are sold to frame shops from coast-to-coast,” Martin says. For example, a shop in New York City may purchase a sample and sell it from the store. “For the most part, that’s how we’ve been marketing Goldleaf Frameworkers.”   About  five years ago, the frame manufacturer tried something new in the form of virtual picture frames. That meant that the same store in New York City could submit a client’s painting to Goldleaf Framemakers Santa Fe, and Martin and his eight employees  could "virtually" frame it so the client can see the painting framed in the chosen frame. The example would be sent back, and the client could decide whether to purchase or not.   “This way, we’re able to showcase Goldleaf Framemakers’ work around the country,” Martin says.   A Better Way to Reach His Clients   Though he purchased another framing company last summer, Martin realized he needed a better way to reach new clients. That’s when he decided to give Constant Contact a try. Just days after becoming a customer, Martin sent out an email to more than 200 of his contacts.   “We emailed a small promotion that said we’ve reduced the cost of goldleaf picture frames, which will save people about 20%,” he says. The newsletter put the emphasis on the namesake of the store: goldleaf, and showed off the fine work of the framers.                                                            The results so far? Goldleaf Framemakers has already received plenty of calls about the offer.   Eager to Do More   Based on his initial success, Martin is already planning to send another newsletter when he comes back from the Las Vegas trade show. “I’m going to try and snap a few pictures while I’m there so I can include them,” he explains.   Since email marketing offers an easier way to show off the shop’s wares to clients, it’s like Martin is hosting his own virtual trade show. We’re eager to see what his next campaign looks like and we’re proud that Goldleaf Framemakers of Santa Fe chose Constant Contact to help grow the business!   As an award for being Constant Contact’s 500,000th customer, Goldleaf Framemakers of Santa Fe has received a free account for life that includes all of Constant Contact’s products. The business is also entitled to any free custom service and will be receiving a certificate for the milestone — that we're sure they will put in a beautiful frame.   What tips do you have that may help Goldleaf Framemakers succeed with its email marketing efforts? Share them here or on our Facebook Page .                    
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.     HootSuite was by far the no. 1 tool mentioned by our Facebook fan participants. If you haven’t heard of it, HootSuite is a free social media dashboard that you can use to manage and measure your social network activity. You can schedule Facebook messages and tweets, track brand mentions, and analyze your social media traffic. And for a more comprehensive, one-stop-view of your social media marketing results, you can easily add your email campaign results into your HootSuite dashboard with Constant Contact’s HootSuite app .   Some of the other social media marketing tools mentioned by our Facebook fans included Constant Contact’s NutshellMail and Simple Share tools,, and Mywebees.   Have you tried any of these? Is HootSuite your top tool? Share your top tool here or add it to the Facebook discussion .
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.   1. Host a free workshop to share your knowledge or teach a new skill. Whether the workshop is in person or conducted online, it will provide you with insight into your customers’ interests and keep you top of mind for them.   You can get additional marketing mileage from this effort by capturing the key points and the attendee questions and repurposing them on your website, blog, YouTube channel, Facebook page, Twitter, newsletter, and more.   Additionally, this forum presents another opportunity to share your expertise with a larger audience and demonstrate the value of your business to the community beyond your products.   2. Thank your VIP customers. If you have a steady stream of customers that you’ve been getting to know over the years, acknowledge how important their patronage is to you by sending a personalized thank you note. You may also consider a small token of appreciation, such as deeper discounts, private showings, and the like.   3. Evaluate the big season sellers and identify complementary products and/or services. For example, if gourmet knives were a big seller, consider a promotion on kitchen tools and gadgets. In your promotion, your content should tie these elements together such as insider chef’s tips and the best tools to use for the job at hand.   4. Reconnect with local business partners. Use the down time to meet with local, complementary businesses and brainstorm cross-promotional ideas.   To read my other tips, check out my latest column for American Express' OPEN Forum, " Turn the Post-Holiday Blues into the Black ."
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.   CardStar works with larger retailers, small businesses, and even local resources like libraries. I'm most excited about the potential it has for small businesses . CardStar and Constant Contact will do for loyalty systems what we have done for email marketing , social media marketing, and event marketing  — make it easy, effective, and affordable. And we will enable your customers to use the same mobile app where they store their national loyalty cards. Over time, our solution will allow you to tailor mobile deals and information to your customers, and to track engagement so you can reward those customers' loyalty.   Today’s consumers don’t just want, they expect access to information and the ability to make decisions on the go, and they want to be rewarded for their support and loyalty. The CardStar mobile app makes this possible, letting consumers engage with businesses like you when they're on the go, and providing you with expanded opportunities for the kind of customer engagement that drives real business results.   In our most recent Attitudes and Outlook Survey , 72% of small businesses told us they don't already incorporate mobile into their marketing campaigns . CardStar provides a great opportunity to start doing just that.   I encourage you to download the CardStar app today and check it out for yourself. Then enable your customers to take advantage of it, so you can see how it will help 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:   Facebook is for people I’ve met and have some sort of relationship with in real life. I share what’s going on in my life, and I’m interested in what’s going on in theirs. My Facebook policy isn’t much different from most people, according to a recent Nielsen study . They found that 82% of Facebook users add friends because they’re people they know in real life, and 41% of people unfriend people because they don’t know them very well.   LinkedIn is for people I’ve worked with and personal friends who I haven’t worked with. I admire their skills and accomplishments, and I can go to them to brainstorm or discover new marketing tools and tips.   Twitter is for anyone; my Twitter door is open to all who follow me. I use Twitter to discover what’s going on in social media marketing and I like to share the interesting things I find.   Another option is to clean up your social networks. It's OK to create a Facebook Page or a LinkedIn group and send a message to your clients on your personal page: Ask them to join you there. Take advantage of the tools available on Facebook — change your privacy settings to reflect how public or private you want to be. Create friend lists and choose which lists can see which posts. Look at your LinkedIn settings and choose who has access to your activity feed, who can send you messages, and who can send you invitations. Do you want a public or private Twitter account? You can change your settings to make your tweets private; Twitter calls these protected tweets.   Social media is as public or as private as you want it to be. You have control; find the privacy settings you’re comfortable with and surround yourself with friends and followers that you trust.   What's your private/public social media policy? Share your thoughts with us here.
Email marketing is all about metrics. Whether you’re a restaurant, hair salon, consulting firm, or nonprofit whose mission is to save a blue-spotted toad only found in people’s sock drawers, these numbers are the foundation of any email campaign. How many people are opening the emails? How many are using the content and going deeper into the site? How many are sharing the news with their friends?   Constant Contact’s email marketing tool shows you all of these statistics, but it doesn’t tell you which one is most important. That’s for you to decide. That’s why we brought together our managing editor, Martin Lieberman, and our senior content developer, Dave Charest, to talk about which metric is the most important to track.   What is the most important metric of email marketing? Dave : I’m going to be a bit of a traditionalist and vote for clicks.   Martin : I used to say it was click-through rate, but these days, I think it's the number of shares. That's the metric that will tell you not just how interested your subscribers are in your content, but how "worthy" it is of being passed along to other people, and how widely it was spread. The goal of your email content now should be to make it both interesting and shareworthy.   What makes it more important than the other metrics? Martin : I’m not a click-through worshiper anymore because it's a different marketplace now than it was even a year or two ago. Your customers are doing the marketing for you. So you need to arm them with content they can easily pass along so others can discover all the great things you have to offer. Metrics like open rate and click-through rate — those just speak to the one customer who received the email. Sharing metrics speak to how wide your business or organization reaches beyond your mailing list.   Dave : I still believe clicks are most reliable metric. Here’s why: Opens tell a distorted story about your email. In order for an open to register in your stats it relies on a blank image file which triggers when a subscriber opens the email. But what happens when images don’t open because the reader is on a smart phone or is blocking images in Outlook? Nothing. You don’t get any credit for that open. On the other hand if a person opens your email many times that also becomes part of your stats. Not exactly the best indicator.   Shares may seem like a good metric, but again, they only tell part of the story. Readers can share your emails all they want, but you may never be able to tell if anybody else is acting on them. That’s why clicks come in as the most important metric. When a person clicks, you know you’ve spurred your reader to action.   How can email marketers use this metric – and adjust their strategies – to improve it? Martin : For one thing, they should make sure they are sending subscribers good, quality content that a reader is going to want to share. Helpful tips or advice, something fun, or something unique to the business or organization. Then, the message has to be shareable, so including a Share Bar is key.   Dave : You’re able to test whether or not you’re creating a compelling call to action based on clicks. You can create a control piece to test against and make adjustments to find the strongest words or phrases. You can see what happens if you add more or less copy. The click metric offers you many options to fine tune what works best for your audience.   Another benefit is that if you focus on getting people to click, they’re more likely to click through in the future, especially when your audience knows they’re going to get something of value. You’re also able to see what your subscribers are actually interested in.   Do you think email marketers pay as much attention to this metric as they should? Why or why not? Martin : Not yet. While many email marketers do create shareable emails, too many others aren't taking advantage of the potential to have their messages seen by more people than they even know. As soon as someone sees how often their messages are getting shared, they'll be encouraged to keep improving their content so it gets around to more people.   Dave : I would say the good email marketers do *laughs*. It’s important to note that marketing with clicks shouldn’t stop at the numbers. Once you’re getting the clicks you’ll want to focus on what’s happening in terms of conversion when they get to where you want them to go.   The bottom line? Martin : These days, sharing with social media is becoming increasingly important, but that doesn’t mean that email is falling to the wayside. Both are different flavors. If you mix them right, you’ll have the best possible recipe for an email marketing campaign, with the metrics to show for it.   Dave : Email is the original social media and you’re always going to want to know what people are clicking. So even if subscribers are sharing your emails with other inboxes or out in the social media universe or on a blog, you’re still going to be looking for the number of clicks to measure what happens.   Which metric do you think is most important? Share your thoughts here or on our Facebook Page .
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.   Making a List and Checking It Twice   The SBDC at UNF serves one of the larger regions in the state of Florida, covering 18 counties that range from rural areas to big cities like Jacksonville. Most businesses seeking the services of the organization have fewer than 100 employees and, according to Stephanie, “run the gamut of industries.” Last year alone, the SBDC at UNF consulted almost 1,900 businesses and conducted nearly 150 training events that attracted just under 3,000 attendees.   When it comes to marketing, Stephanie says she’s a “one-woman show.” Before turning to email marketing, the SBDC at UNF relied on word of mouth recommendations and community boards. When the organization did start marketing, there was a problem from the start: the SBDC’s diverse range of clients. The veteran business center wouldn’t necessarily want the same information as a county commissioner, and SBDC clients in Gainesville weren’t likely to be interested in events in Jacksonville.   Stephanie knew that she needed to segment subscribers into different groups, so they would only receive relevant information. Nowadays, the SBDC at UNF has 22 lists for more than 9,000 contacts. To refine the lists throughout the year, she uses Constant Contact’s Online Survey .   “We send out three or four surveys a year, because they’re really effective at pinpointing our different readers,” Stephanie explains.                                                                                                                                               The SBDC at UNF uses surveys to better segment its contact list.     Stephanie adds that her first newsletter through Constant Contact was a big hit. People enjoyed the professional appearance and that success eventually Stephanie to stop sending newsletters through snail mail completely. “More people started coming to events, too,” she reports. “I don’t think we would get nearly as many attendees if we relied on newspapers and fliers.”                                                                            The Content Conundrum   With the first hurdle of lists cleared, Stephanie started thinking about what to include in her emails. The first few only included information about different events, but, over time, more and more features were included. Inside each “Spotlight Newsletter,” for example, subscribers can find a calendar of workshops and training sessions, articles that discuss taxes, marketing, and business plans, and links to the SBDC at UNF’s social media channels.   The most noticeable feature, however, is the spotlight section itself, where, every month, a small business that benefited from the SBDC at UNF’s services is featured. These concise profiles help showcase the different marketing and business planning available through the organization, and put a face to the people who are directly benefiting from it.                                                                              In addition to the spotlight on small business, there's an in-depth article about an upcoming event.   Spotlight stories are inspirational and upbeat, which make them fun and interesting to read each month. While many other B2B emails may have marketing tips and news about workshops, the SBDC at UNF provides real stories about small businesses that are working hard to keep growing, a topic that’s dear to all of their subscribers’ hearts. The section adds a unique touch to each newsletter and, given that studies claim the average working professional receives 140 emails a day, that unique touch may be the difference between an open and an unsubscribe.                        What other things does your B2B do to engage email subscribers? Let us know here or on our Facebook Page . 
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?”   Sharing What's Going On   The Facebook Page of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce has more than 500 fans.  President Christy Gillenwater says the organization’s number of Facebook fans rose by 300% in 2011 and the number of active fans quadrupled.   Each Facebook post is about Bloomington, local businesses, and the people who live there. The page is full of information about chamber events, contests, and job openings. It puts the spotlight on local businesses, and it offers plenty of photos — from snowy downtown Bloomington to recent conferences.   Remember: Your fans may be passionate about what your business or organization provides, but Facebook is first and foremost a social gathering place. The key to your fans’ hearts is sharing things that they're interested in. Focus on staring a conversation, not advertising your services.   Very few posts from the Greater Chamber of Bloomington are about marketing or policy debates. Instead, the organization focuses on sharing things about the current events happening in the city, whether they relate to the chamber’s business or not.                                          Giving the Business a Personality   Gourmet Coffee Service ’s Facebook Page has been around for less than six months, but it already has an active community of fans that numbers just under 400. Bob Tullio, the director of business development, explains that one thing that jumpstarted fan growth was encouraging drivers to mention the Page when they delivered equipment and coffee supplies to clients.   The drivers who were mentioned by fans of the Page most often were recently rewarded with $100 gift certificates. The clients, by "Liking" the Page, also had a chance to win a number of nifty prizes each month. This fun recommendation system not only got everyone excited about the Page, but displayed just how great a relationship many clients had with their drivers.   As the Page’s fan base has grown, Gourmet Coffee Service has also started to share a lot about the one thing all fans are sure to be passionate about: coffee. People can expect to see articles about the health benefits of coffee, the economic impact of it, and even news stories about everyone’s favorite morning brew.     Think about how fans will see your page. Often, they will see your posts in their Newsfeeds. Gourmet Coffee Service’s Facebook Page has become a go-to resource for coffee news and deals, and the fun, playful tone of the Page gives the business — and the people who work there — a personality, bringing customers and staff closer together.                                                     What Makes You Special?   To come up with creative Facebook posts, small businesses and organizations should think long and hard about what makes them special. Restaurants can share recipes and photos of new dishes, retail stores can show off new products or take pictures of fun ways to use them, and nonprofits can use photos and videos to document fundraisers. The bottom line is to bring the same offline experience to your Facebook Page.   Fans of the Brooklyn Waldorf School ’s Facebook Page, for example, can look at videos of the annual scooter race around Prospect Park (called the “Scootathon”) or the Winter Fair, which is a big hit among parents looking to catch a glimpse of their kids performing.   Ben Williams, the school’s publications and marketing associate, says that when the school was renovating its new building, his team posted a series of videos showing off the construction, and was surprised by how popular it proved to be. These kinds of videos give the school a unique identity and help form an online community of fans that are all passionate about the same thing: education and children.   Through video, the Brooklyn Waldorf School has been able to show off the experience of the students there, which interests both parents of students and those who are considering it for their children.                                                 While Facebook has made it easier to share the experiences that make a business or organization special, but it’s still up to you to think of what that experience is. Your enthusiasm for your business or organization should be fully displayed on your Facebook Page. The same drive that got you involved in the first place can provide you with plenty of passionate posts. And just by showing your own passion, you’re sure to get some in return.   How do you show your passion for your business or organization on Facebook? Let us know here or on our Facebook Page .
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:   1. Ask only what you need to know. No one wants to fill out a long form, so keep yours short. According to Worldata's Q4 2010 research , each additional required field will cause 11% of consumers to drop off during the sign-up process. When you're deciding what questions to include, ask yourself if that question is worth losing 11% of your visitors. There will always be another opportunity to learn more about your customers , but you have to get them to sign up first. Take time to decide what you really need to know versus what you want to know. For example, if you want to understand where your customers live, ask for their zip code. A zip code is quicker to type, and still breaks your contacts into geographic regions. Unless you're planning to send snail mail, a zip code tells you all you need to know.   Once you decide what you're going to ask, fill out your form yourself. It gives you a better understanding of what your customers' experience will be, and if it takes longer than 45 seconds, you know to go back to the cutting board. Forms that take longer than 45 seconds to complete have an average falloff of 48% , according to that Worldata study. Think about it: These are people who took the initiative to sign up to hear more from you. You don’t want your thirst for knowledge to cause almost 50% them to abandon the form. So remember, if you aren’t going to use the information, don’t ask for it.   2. Have people re-type their email address. It's very important to keep your sign-up form short and easy to complete, but you should require people to retype their email address, just to make sure they initially gave it to you correctly. If someone takes the time to complete your registration form and never hears from your business or organization, that’s a negative customer experience.   3. Set the proper expectations. If you have a customer that's super excited to sign up for your monthly newsletter about kayaking, that’s fantastic. Unless this person is actually signing up for a weekly newsletter about canoeing. Make sure you let your signups know what to expect, so they know what to look forward to and aren’t disappointed later. Setting proper expectations in the beginning will result in less opt outs and more engagement in the long run.   When it comes to your sign-up form, don’t ask what you wouldn’t want to answer as a customer. Remember, the sign-up form is the beginning of all your communications with your customers. Let it be a great first start to that business relationship, not a bad final impression.   What questions are you asking on your email signup form? Share your thoughts with us here.
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.   The doctor's wife, who was running the new venture, asked me if I would be willing to make an appointment to try the spa services and share some feedback. So I asked if there were any evening or Saturday hours available — even though I knew the answer would be no. And “no” was my response to her because I won't take time away from my business to go to the spa. (Plus, I’m not a big spa person to start with.)   The doctor worries about the viability of the medi-spa — particularly in this economy, when people are cutting back on such luxuries. The spa isn't generating the kind of revenue he anticipated. Doesn't surprise me. Over half of all women work today, and it's working women who have the disposable income to spend on spa services. He isn't meeting the needs of his customer base.   If you’re wondering why your revenues are dwindling or aren’t growing, take a look at your customer interface. Are you available when your customers want you to be?   No one likes working nights and weekends, but if the nature of your business demands it, then that's the way it is. Make it easy for customers to do business with you and you will be rewarded. It's a simple equation. Give customers what they want.   Have you ever changed your business' hours of operation because customers asked you to? Share your thoughts here or on Constant Contact's Facebook Page .
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.   Why would a business or organization use a QR code? Martin: A QR code can be great because it's a quick way to get someone to your website, or a specific landing page, without having to give that person a URL.   Dave : See, I think QR codes are just the latest fad. You see a lot of people using them just to use them. That’s not really ideal. What’s the sense in using a QR code to send people to your homepage when you could just give them the web address? Some crazy people think it’s a good idea to use them online. That’s just dumb. Give me a link instead. Don’t make me take out my phone, scan a code and then get to the destination. Like I said: dumb.   The only reason I see for businesses and organizations to use them would be to do something cool or unique. For example, I’ve seen a restaurant have a code at each table that would bring you to their specials menu in case you couldn’t see the board. That’s cool. Or maybe you can use them if you’re going to take people to a secret page with unique content that can’t be found otherwise. You have to make it worthwhile for the person to go through the cumbersome process. Otherwise, it’s best not to use them at all.   Are there potential disadvantages to using QR codes, such as time or budget constraints? Martin : There aren’t really time or budget constraints, since QR codes are free and take about two seconds to create. I'd say the disadvantages are that not everyone knows what a QR code is or what they're supposed to do when they see one. Any business or organization that chooses to include one in their marketing efforts should include instructions for scanning it (possibly including info about the mobile app needed) and what the person should expect to see when the code is scanned. People will be more apt to scan if they know how and why.   Dave: Like Martin said, I don’t really believe it’s an issue of time or budget. It’s simple to make a QR code and easy to have it printed. The real disadvantage is whether or not your audience is going to use them. But since they’re easy enough to create, if you have something worth sharing, it can be worth a try.   Should all businesses and organizations be using them? How can someone decide whether a QR code campaign is a smart marketing move? Martin: I don't think everyone needs to be using QR codes just yet. But if you have a hard-to-remember web address, then a QR code might serve you well. Another consideration is whether your website is mobile-friendly. You don't want to use a QR code and send someone to your website on a mobile device if the user experience will be less than optimal. And finally, will the people you want to scan your code have access to the internet? For example, I've seen QR codes included in inflight magazines, and I have no ability to get on a website when I'm thousands of feet in the air.   Dave: You probably can’t decide whether it’s a good marketing move until you use one. Once you experiment with them, you can look at your stats to see if something worth implementing again. I’m all for giving it a go, but I wouldn’t expect it to take you to new marketing heights.   And the bottom line: Are QR codes here to stay? Why or why not? Martin: I think the jury's still out. Right now, some people are resistant to QR codes for a number of reasons, including the fact that the codes aren’t visually appealing. Or, like Dave, they have super-memories and can remember every URL they come across. [laughs]   I think in the next year or two, as mobile marketing becomes more prevalent, we'll see different versions of QR codes, or technologies that act in similar ways, but are easier to use and more interesting to look at. Microsoft already has a version that's more colorful, and other startups have ones that incorporate a company logo . So I wouldn't close the book on QR codes, or technologies like them, just yet.   Dave: I would happily close the book on QR codes, at least from a consumer use standpoint. In that regard, I’m going to have to say they aren’t here to stay. Sure, there’s a curiosity about them right now, but I don’t see QR codes providing enough value to last. Where I see a lasting use is from a transactional stand-point. If a business is providing coupons to customers, a QR code make the redemption and tracking process pretty painless. That’s where a QR code has some legs, and may just get me to take my phone out.  Are QR codes here to stay or are they a passing fad? Let us know what you think here or on our Facebook Page . 
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.       The no. 1 metric that is most important to our Facebook fan participants is open rate (57%), followed by click-through rate (28%). It was surprising to see list size only coming in at 2%, but then again, what’s the point of a big list if no one is opening your messages?   Another interesting result came in from Facebook fan Albert Kaufman, who said feedback/responses was his most important metric: “Responses are probably most important to me. I get a lot of feedback after each of my monthly email newsletters goes out. That is the most important feedback for me as it is often full of reaction, introductions to new people, reminders of things already in motion that I'm writing about, and surprises.”   For a different opinion, Martin Lieberman and Dave Charest, Constant Contact’s managing editor and senior content developer, recently weighed in about what they think are the most important email metrics for small businesses and nonprofits. Click here to read their thoughts.   Do you agree with our Facebook fans that open rate is the most important email metric? What email metric(s) are most important for you? Share your thoughts with us here, or on our Facebook Page .
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:   "When I don’t see any interaction or conversations — just constant posting of articles, links, and other content. That stuff is definitely valuable, but one of the reasons social media is such a great tool for businesses is that it allows for a two-way conversation that lets people build a relationship with the brand." — Dave Gerhardt   " Twitter handles that are too long. I’m all for being descriptive and having a great Twitter handle, but I’m also trying to send you a message in one tweet, and your handle is eating up precious character space." — Jarrad Mack   " Don't ever tweet that you forgot to floss today. I don't need to know that. " — Aaron Severs   "Businesses that use social media for selling and not engagement." — Michael Pace   " Businesses and organizations that don't respond to comments or tweets. Social media is a two-way conversation, which means you need to both listen and respond to comments directed at you. If someone walks into your store or calls you on the phone with a question or comment, you wouldn't ignore them, you would respond. You should do the same with social media. This is actually an area where small businesses have a significant advantage over larger companies because small businesses are more customer-centric and know how to build quality relationships. " — Mark Schmulen   "I hate receiving a generic direct-message (DM) auto-reply when I follow someone on Twitter." — Rosalind Morville   "When people start tweets with a Twitter handle when the sender intends the tweet to be public. Doing that limits who will see the tweet." — Erica Ayotte   "Auto DMs on Twitter. That usually results in an automatic unfollow." — Dave Charest   "When I get a default message invitation on LinkedIn by someone I don’t know or an automatic response message on Twitter when I start to follow someone, it feels as though those people are not trying to connect with me personally. They just want to collect another fan, follower, or friend. " — Corissa St. Laurent   "When people or businesses automatically cross-post content between Facebook and Twitter. If businesses encourage you to connect in different channels, then they should treat each one differently and have a communication plan for each. Or at least pay attention enough so that 'giveaways' like having hashtags in Facebook posts aren’t obvious. Because what you are telling me as a fan or follower is that there is no reason to connect with you in both places." — Josh Mendelsohn   "People who post personal troubles looking for sympathy, or who post what they are cooking for dinner or that they just ran 10 miles, because they're looking for a pat on the back." — Patrick McAdams   "Auto DM responses on Twitter. I know it's efficient, but it's so un-engaging." — Elyse Tager   " LinkedIn requests from strangers that don't say how they may know you." — Anissa Freeman Starnes   "When businesses don’t integrate their social media marketing efforts. If you have a Facebook Page, make sure you link to it on your website, your blog, your other social media profiles, and in your email newsletter. It’s really important to let people know about your other communication channels when they’re visiting any of your communication channels because every profile, update, tweet, email, post, and visitor is a chance to reach a new follower." — Azure Collier   "When people on Facebook send out spam with links to free things without doing any research to find out if it’s a valid promotion. Then everyone else does it because they all follow the trend." — Marissa Wilson   "Getting a spammy auto-DM on Twitter after I follow someone." — Danielle Cormier   What are your biggest social media pet peeves? Is there anything you wish your friends, or the people you follow, would stop doing? Share your thoughts with us here or on our Facebook Page .
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.     1. My first job doing social media marketing was working at a professional services firm that sold to big companies. I’ll admit that I started our Facebook Page as a bit of an experiment, but what we got was the answer to a problem we had been struggling to solve — getting customer testimonials. The first posts on our wall were from some of our key clients who were happy to share how great we were to work with. Instant social media success and a reason to start planning our real marketing programs using our Facebook Page!   2. I recently became a Facebook fan of a ski resort in the Northeast based on a sweepstakes campaign on their Facebook Page that was aimed at getting new fans and adding people to their email list. And I wasn’t alone. In just one week, the campaign generated over 200 new fans and 200 new email subscribers.    3. Another great success story is of a pet store near my home that ran their first marketing campaign on Facebook recently and connected with a handful of new fans by offering a $5 discount for everyone who "Liked" the Page. The best part was that all of their new fans came in into the store within a week to redeem the coupon.   My point is that measuring success with social media marketing is a question of setting, and achieving realistic goals. And success comes in all shapes and sizes.   How do you define success on social media? Share your thoughts with us here or on our Facebook Page .
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.   1. Can't Google and Twitter get along? When Google announced it was integrating Google+ into its search engine this week, Twitter threw a bit of a hissy fit , saying it was "bad for people" and "a bad day for the Internet." Then Google fired back at Twitter , saying if Twitter is unhappy, it's their own fault because Twitter chose not to continue its relationship with Google last summer. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what it looks like when a real-life catfight plays out on (and about) social media.   Bottom Line: As Lisa Barone of Outspoken Media said, this drama is "driving us all crazy and ruining search and social for everyone ." (Case in point: these real-life examples of how the Google+ integration actually works.) Maybe that's an exaggeration, but it raises the question of why these social sites and networks can't just play nicely with each other. One day, maybe they'll all be integrated, but until then, all we can do is hope that when we go to Google, that we'll still be able to find what we need — and that customers, clients, and prospects will be able to find us too.   2. Consumers suffering from feedback fatigue It's a best practice to get feedback from your customers. But what happens when everybody is asking for feedback? Consumers get tired of answering those questions and stop giving feedback, that's what.   Bottom Line: Feedback is a gift, but asking for it too often can result in negative customer feedback. Be smart about when you send an online survey , and more importantly, make sure you do something with the results . Part of the reason why people are unwilling to take surveys is because they feel it'll be a waste of their time. If you share the results and what you're going to do with the information you learn, that will go a long way toward encouraging more survey participation.   3. More people are "Liking" on Facebook from mobile devices The number of “Likes” on Facebook being generated from mobile devices has increased by almost 55% since September, according to social media marketing firm Vitrue. Additionally, the use of mobile devices to "Like" Pages increased 18% during the week between Christmas and New Year's. Bottom Line: The accessing of social media sites through mobile devices shows no signs of slowing down. As the Vitrue study indicated, when people are out shopping or running errands, they often get out their smartphones to check the most recent status updates and tweets. Marketers need to capitalize on this by encouraging mobile engagement. Ask customers to take and share photos/videos. Encourage people to Like and comment on things. Direct them to mobile-friendly websites.   4. Brands not dominating consumers' social conversations Social media users are a chatty bunch, but one thing it appears they're not talking about as often is brands. According to AYTM Market Research, 57.8% of U.S. Facebook users had not mentioned a brand in their status updates, as of October 2011. Twitter use was similar: 61.3% of users had not tweeted about a brand. Offline channels, such as TV, radio, and print media were the ways consumers most frequently discovered new brands, products, and services. Offline word-of-mouth and physical stores also played a role.   Bottom Line: Do you want your customers talking about you? Are you giving them something to talk about ? Tell your customers, clients, and members that you'd love to hear from them. Give them a strong call to action that they should share their feedback on Facebook and Twitter. Or better yet, provide a strong (and positive) enough customer experience that a customer won't be able to stop talking about. The more people use social media, the more likely they'll be to talk about the brands they love.   5. Return Path acquires OtherInbox  Email deliverability firm Return Path announced this week that it had acquired OtherInbox, a startup that helps consumers manage the email marketing messages they get. OtherInbox's product works with Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and AOL mail, organizes email messages from commercial senders (shipping information, payment reminders, and information about upcoming sales, etc.) and places them on users’ calendars or puts them in dedicated folders.   Bottom Line: While this deal will likely not affect small businesses directly, it's still one they should applaud. OtherInbox gathers information that helps marketers craft more relevant, targeted messages. Return Path is the industry's leading arbiter of sender reputation, helping those messages to reach recipients' inboxes. This union will help Return Path to be even better at what it does, and to improve its Sender Score reputation scoring system.   What news stories caught your eye this week? Share your thoughts with us here or on our Facebook Page .
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.   Why is Google doing this?   The answer comes down to this equation: Relevance + Engagement + Loyalty = Revenue. Simply put, Google wants you to stay on their website longer. Like all other websites, including those that serve ads, increasing the "stickiness" by engaging people with content, tools, or technology increases repeat visits and eventually translates into revenue.   Peeling back the onion a bit, a number of factors drove this initiative. One, however, is rooted in the evolution of consumer purchase behavior that's influenced by the wide adoption of social media . Before social media, search engines enjoyed a more direct digital pathway from search to purchase, with a few external sources, such as word-of-mouth or online reviews, influencing a purchase.   Fast forward to today and the path includes stops on social media sites to gain peer reviews and insights. Last year, a GroupM study called The Virtuous Circle: The Role of Search and Social Media in the Purchase Pathway found that almost 60% of consumers began their path to a purchase with a search. Of those, 40% then went to Facebook or another social site for information related to their purchase decision. In addition, while on a social site, consumers may have clicked on a paid advertisement for a product, thus closing the deal. In those cases, the sale would be credited to that social network, which reduced the perceived value of the search engine.   Suffice it to say, Google took notice of this and decided to make a change.   Although it took years of development and failed attempts, imagine if you could perform a search, receive regular and personal results, and have it backed by social influence — all in one place. Welcome to the new Google Search+ .   Why should you care?   More of your customers, clients, members, or prospects have and will be exposed to Google Search+ by virtue of their existing search habits. (Not to mention the on- and offline media, advertising, and general social buzz.) Chances are good that many more people will eventually join Google+ (some predictions are in the hundreds of millions by the end of 2012). However, it's still to be determined to what degree those people will actively engage in Google+ when they’re already using other social media sites . Either way, search results will soon be influenced by Google+ activity, so you’ll want to pay some attention.   As a small business, what should you do?   Get in the game. Google is now a search engine with a self-fulfilling engagement platform. Those who actively participate on Google+ have a better chance of getting in front of their target audience via search results. As consumers begin to adopt and favor personalized search results via Google+, those brands and businesses that engage on Google+ will have an advantage over those who don't.   Ask and listen to your customers or prospects (on- and offline) about whether they're using Google+. If they are, then you should be too. Even if they’re not currently active, get ahead of the curve and set up a Google+ business page . (You’ll need to have a personal account first). Build out your profile, add the +1 button to your website, and share the page with your contacts. As with anything, the more you put into it more you’ll get in return.   Full disclosure: As a digital marketer who recently launched a small family-run business, Google+ was not a top priority for me. However, during the development of this post it became clear to me that it should become one of my many priorities. Google+ is another means to get in front of and engage with customers and prospects in a familiar environment, using tools they’re already accustomed to. Earlier today, I set up a Google+ business page and am in the process of adding the +1 button to our website, alongside the Like and Follow Us badges.   What do you think? Are you using Google+? Does this change to Google Search make you more likely to sign up and use the social network? Share your thoughts here or on our Facebook Page .
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:   Peers – This list would contain people within your industry that are at about the same level as you. These could be people you already have strategic partnerships with, or people you'd like to partner with. These relationships can prove extremely valuable as you move up in the ranks with your business.   Pros – This list is for the experts or thought leaders in your industry, or the people with businesses at a level you’d like to reach. Use this list to monitor how they’re using social media or what they're talking about. What can you apply to your business?   Patrons – This list would contain the people who are already customers or clients, or people you've deemed likely to buy, donate, or volunteer. Watch this list to identify their interests, keep an eye out for any questions being asked that you could answer, and monitor for customer feedback (positive or negative) that you can respond to. Expand on your answers with your own content to drive potential customers to your website.   Once you have these lists in place you can start identifying the people you should add to them. To start this is as simple as adding the people you’ve indentified as fitting into one of these categories. As you monitor Twitter and follow the discussions, you’ll organically find new people to add to these Lists.   So how do you create a list? Let me show you step-by-step. Step 1 : Make sure you’re logged into your Twitter account. Once you’re logged-in, click on your username above “View my profile page” in the top left corner.     Step 2 : Click on “Lists” in the left-hand column below your profile information.     Step 3 : Click the “Create list” button at the top of the right-hand column.     Step 4 : In the “Create a new list” window, enter the name of your list, a description if you want, set the list to private (this way only you see the list and others won’t be able to subscribe to it), and then click the “Save list” button.     Step 5 : Add Twitter people to your list. You’ll be brought to the page for your new list. In the right-hand column you can search for users you’d like to add. Enter the person’s name or Twitter username if you know it, then click “Search.” I’m going to search for our managing editor, Martin Lieberman.     Locate the correct account from the search results, then click on the little person silhouette to bring up a menu of options. Click “Add or remove from lists.”     In the “Your lists” window, check the lists you’d like to add the person to.       Once the list is checked that person is added and you can click anywhere off the pop-up window to close it.   Repeat these steps to create new Lists.   To view your list, follow steps 1 and 2. You’ll then see only the tweets from those people you’ve put on the list.     Success!   What about when you find new people to add to the list? Just click on their names to bring up a pop-up window with their information. Click the silhouette and then “Add or remove from lists” to add them as you did in Step 5.       How to easily monitor your new lists Now you can log-in to Twitter and bypass all the noise by going directly to your lists. Or, if you want to take this a step further, you can sign-up for NutshellMail and customize your list settings to receive an email digest of these tweets on a schedule that you set up. Awesome.   How are you using lists? Tell us in the comments below or on our Facebook Page .
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.                                                            When Professional Means Eye-Catching   David started using Constant Contact in November 2007.  Before that, the store had been using Microsoft Outlook to send emails. However, David decided that he wanted a more professional look for Strange Imports’ messages. Nowadays, if you open a newsletter from the store, it’s bound to be full of pictures of garden statues, hand-woven baskets, and more. Just scrolling through an email feels like taking a quick look through the store itself, whether you’re scanning a collection of Buddha statues for the garden or polished wooden benches for the living room.   That’s one of the most distinctive features of the emails: how beautiful they are. Photography has taken a central role in each newsletter. While many photos showcase individual items, others just show off the store itself, or new merchandise being taken off the truck. On the Strange Imports Facebook Page , customers have the option to show off how they’re using the furniture by posting photos to the store’s Facebook Page. The emphasis on visuals means that there are often just as many pictures as there are words in each email, unless David is sharing tidbits about one of his journeys to regions in China, Nepal, and Tibet.                                                                                                                                                                   Most emails from Strange Imports make a point to showcase the store's unique pieces   When David does include stories from his travels, he makes sure to share a little bit about the country, too. “Occasionally, I include a ‘Strange News’ feature, where I share some things I experienced, or about social issues affecting the area,” he says. Some of these reflections are quite detailed, describing both the people and culture of the country. That means they can run a few pages long, so David includes a preview of the article in the newsletter and links to a different page outside of the email.   In addition to “Strange News,” David helps keep customers up-to-date by sending newsletters about trade shows he’ll be attending. Sometimes, he’ll bring as many as 500 pieces to display in venues like Kentia Hall in Los Angeles. In this case, emailing wholesale customers and designers can be crucial to making sure that they stop by.   “Our biggest challenge is keeping in touch with our customers, especially because they’re all over the country,” David says. Strange Imports has four very different kinds of customers: direct retail, online, design, and wholesale. By segmenting his email contacts into lists, David guarantees that he can stay in touch with all of them, but only send them things that they want to read.    Coupons help add another incentive for subscribers to open. Sometimes, there are discounts of up to 50% for people who open an email, which could in part explain the impressive sales that come from Strange Imports’ email marketing. “That’s usually how we get new subscribers,” David explains. “We tell customers that if we have their email, we’ll be able to email them offers and sales, and we include a lot of coupons for shipping for people who order online.”   Whatever the reason a subscriber opens a newsletter, it’s clear that you can expect each email from Strange Imports to be just as unique and interesting as the items in the store itself.   How do you use email to share how unique your business or organization is? Let us know here or on our Facebook Page . 
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.   1. Holiday Season Email Marketing Highlights So how did email marketing fare this past holiday season? Here are some interesting stats to ponder as you reflect on the future of email marketing:   Email volume grew 20% during November and December, compared to the same time period in 2010 75% of major retailers sent at least one promotional email to their subscribers on Thanksgiving Day resulting in a rise of online sales, up 39.3% compared to Thanksgiving Day 2010 55% of major online retailers offered free shipping, signaling the new norm for the holiday season   Bottom Line : With increases like this we can only infer that *begin sarcasm* email marketing is dead and online shopping is just a passing phase. *end sarcasm* In all seriousness, we sincerely hope that email marketing and online deals are part of your strategy for 2012.   2. Lawsuit May Determine Who Owns a Twitter Account Who owns an employee’s social media accounts when they leave a company? And how much are those social media followers worth? A new case, in which one company is suing a former employee over his Twitter account and the 17,000 followers associated with it, will set a precedent in the online world as it relates to ownership of social media accounts. The company is seeking damages to the tune of $340,000. Wowza!   Bottom Line : The solution may seem as simple as asking, “Why was the account created? For personal or professional use?”But as the lines blur more and more between our personal and professional lives, that distinction gets more difficult. It may be a good idea to have guidelines in place for situations like this before they come up. You can most certainly expect to see similar cases more frequently.   3. Google+ May Reach 400 Million Users by the End of 2012 All sources point to the fact that Google’s latest social network is growing. Or is it? The projection is measuring total users, not active users. How will it all play out for the search giant? Only time will tell. Although some people think it’s going to mess up the internet .   Bottom Line : Although total users for Google+ may be increasing, the term “user” is a bit deceptive. “Sign-ups” may be a better term to use when compiling these figures. An active user is what we should really be concerned with. Although we have no official number on the active user statistic, we believe it’s still not a major focus for small businesses yet, unless perhaps you’re in the technology or marketing field.   4. Consumers Choose Email to Communicate with Favorite Brands A new survey conducted by the Chief Marketing Officer Council and Lithium found the preferred method consumers use when they want to communicate with a brand. The top three answers to the questions “When I want to communicate with a brand, I…” are:   65% send an email 50% fill out a form on the company website 44% call a customer service line   Bottom Line : It may come as a surprise that social media sites don’t make the top three. But not really, when you take into account the fact that if you’re contacting a brand it’s probably of a more personal or detailed nature. When someone contacts your business, it’s important to respond as soon as possible and use the opportunity to Wow! them by offering some type of value-added service, such as a special discount code to say, “Thanks for contacting us.”   5. Social Campaigns Give Long-Term Boost to Brand Metrics You may think running a social campaign is a good way to acquire new customers, and while that may be true, the real benefit may come from your brand advocates in the long-term. A study by BzzAgent reveals some interesting statistics regarding brand advocates:   A brand advocate’s likelihood to recommend a product after being exposed to a campaign rises from 39% before exposure to a campaign to 61% directly after. 55% of brand advocates studied were significantly more likely to recommend a product one year after initial exposure. 38% of brand advocates said they would purchase and recommend a brand before exposure to a campaign. That number jumped up to 69% after being exposed to the campaign.   Bottom Line : Studies like this show how keeping your brand top of mind with customers is of the utmost importance. It also indicates how advocates of your brand can supercharge word of mouth for you in the long-term, making social campaigns a worthy proposition.   What are top stories that caught your eye this week? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook Page .
Facebook gets most of the attention when talking about social media, but LinkedIn , with its network of more than 135 million users , can also be a treasure trove of useful information about your current and future customers and clients.   LinkedIn’s value is the people in the network. More than 70% of them are between the ages 25 and 54 , and over half of these people are male. An "active" 1% on LinkedIn only accounts for 34% of the traffic . Most of the information sharing and online networking is done by individuals via Groups and Profile status updates. Individuals are looking to exchange ideas and ask questions with other individuals they can learn from right now or expect to be of value in the future.   As a small business, why should you care if LinkedIn users engage with you online? Well, because 45% of visitors from LinkedIn to your other digital content (website, blog, whitepapers, video, etc.) will likely be new to your organization . That's a lot of prospective clients, customers, and supporters. These leads are highly motivated about seeking useful content, and are more likely to fill out a form. That means they're likely to sign up for your mailing list , which will give you permission to continue the conversation.   If giving you information was not enough, these visitors stay an average of more than 10 minutes on your website . What are you going to do with a group of people who want to have a conversation with you and are willing to spend the time do so? That's right: Give them the kind of content they want.                                       Product brochures are three times more likely to be downloaded and printed than case studies or whitepapers, which have seen a 22% decrease . On the other hand, videos and podcasts have increased in usage, and almost 40% of people have consumed information in a mobile format. While it's not everyone, this is something to keep in mind.   If you use a webinar format to nurture new customers, know that people from LinkedIn are more likely to register and attend these live educational sessions. What you want to understand is there is still is a time and place for traditional content styles, but broaden what and how you offer to capture all of the relevant attention.   With LinkedIn, be a regular contributor and watch new customers inspired by your knowledge continue to connect and help you grow your business.   Are you using LinkedIn? Share your experience with us here or on our Facebook Page . Or, to get started building a LinkedIn profile, visit the Social Media Quickstarter .
                                            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:   1. Hit on all cylinders . It's important to incorporate a variety of marketing methods to get in front of anyone, anytime, anywhere — including traditional marketing, social media , email marketing , and mobile. Liz Holste, a Constant Contact Facebook fan, brings home the point that, “Your company name has to be out there for people to know who you are and what you are selling.”   2. Keep it real . Talk to customers, clients, members, and supporters as you talk to your friends. They are real people who want to be treated with compassion, respect, and good service, not just listen to slick advertising and marketing messages. Jennifer Brooks, a Constant Contact Facebook fan gets it: “With a family business, we have always made it known that we treat all our customers like friends and family.”   Hopefully, these lessons learned will help add some focus to all the possibilities that the new year’s optimism brings.   Do you agree with the big takeaways, or is your most important marketing lesson from 2011 different? Share your thoughts with us here, or on our Facebook Page .  
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.   For example, we saw huge adoption of social media integrations last year. In 2010, 27,000 customers used social integration products. A year later, that number shot up to 72,000. That’s an increase of over 160%. Our Facebook Join My Mailing List application alone has generated millions of new email subscribers for small businesses, and there are many other social media applications that are seeing growth and adoption.   Nonprofits saw growth too in terms of app adoption. Donor management software products are now easier to get access to and use, and we’ve seen Constant Contact customers leading the charge to modernize their organizations. In 2011, more 1,600 nonprofits started to use a new integration with a donor or faith management system. That represents an increase of 113% over last year. We continue to see nonprofits become early adopters of technology and lead the way for small businesses.   Over the past year, mobile apps quietly showed big growth as well. While most people focus on the changes that Facebook and Twitter are having on how small businesses can do business, mobile has completely changed the way small businesses are connected to both the world and their customers. Two years ago, 31,000 Constant Contact customers were using a mobile app that was integrated with Constant Contact. This year, that number is up to 64,000 users. That’s a not-so-modest 109% increase in users, despite the fact that most experts are saying we’re still 1–2 years away from mobile being mainstream for small businesses.   It’s clear that 2011 was a year of change and growth for Constant Contact customers. The way they do business has changed radically with all of the new technologies and products available. It’s truly inspiring to see that our customers are instead embracing these changes to help grow their business.   Are you using apps that integrate with Constant Contact? What app integrations would you like to see in 2012? Share your thoughts with us here or on our Facebook Page .
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:   1. Be an information source: During Hurricane Irene in August and the October snowstorm, Dining Out in Central Mass, an organization that promotes local restaurants in Central Massachusetts, did an amazing job of letting people know what restaurants and other local businesses were open as power was being restored to the towns. As people recovered from the snowstorm, DOCM posted on its Facebook Page frequently, passed along information from local police departments, and encouraged other restaurants and fans to provide their own updates.   2. Use the weather to get people in the door: Belleville Farmers Market in Belleville, Ill., loves to create promotions based on what’s happening outside and share them through Facebook and email. A balmy winter day recently was a good time to promote their Christmas tree selection. And it's not just wintertime that works for weather-based marketing; when there’s a summer heat wave, the Farmers Market promoted its air conditioned store and fresh corn .   3. Create a contest: During one of New England’s recent epic snowstorms, Boloco came up with a snowball challenge and promoted it on Facebook and Twitter. Customers who brought in a snowball of significant size earned themselves a buy-one-get-one-free menu item.   4. Give an incentive during the weather event: One snowy day last winter, Finale Desserterie & Bakery invited customers to relax from snow shoveling with free hot chocolate when they bought a dessert. On another day, it offered a free dessert when you bought one . Both offers were only good for one day, so they gave chilly customers an incentive to bundle up and grab a treat.   Your customers love talking about the weather, and as winter settles in across the country, chances are good they'll have plenty more to talk about. So talk about it in your promotions too — and provide customers with the perfect excuse to get out and visit you.   Do you take advantage of the weather in your marketing efforts? I'd love to see an example. Share your thoughts (or campaigns) here or on our Facebook Page .
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:   1. Articulate your value. Continue to focus on and communicate the value you provide to your customers. What do you offer that your customers can’t get anywhere else ? That value will be key in helping you ward off increased competition. One value enhancer many small businesses can provide is greater flexibility and responsiveness. Customers of larger businesses often get lost in a maze of automated tele-attendants and myriad departments. Emphasize your ability to personalize and customize your service and product offering.   2. Add to your product offering. Larger businesses typically have more products or services to offer a customer, which makes them a more attractive choice. One-stop shopping. Without increasing your business risk or overhead, you can add to your package of services/products simply by partnering with synergistic companies . Make sure you only work with companies that share your business values, and by all means, get your agreement in writing.   3. Nurture the relationships you have with your existing clients. Business clients and consumers don't just want to feel as though their business is important to you — they want to feel like VIPs. For example, before the holidays, the owner of one of my favorite restaurants in New York hosted a party for all of us who are regulars. It was a festive evening with plenty of food and drink, and it was a great way to say thank you for our business throughout the year. Now, get this: A new restaurant just opened across the street. How many of us do you think will be switching our loyalties? (Not me.) Make sure your customers know you appreciate their business. Strong relationships are difficult for a competitor to sever.   4. Ask for referrals. Don’t be afraid to leverage the relationships you have with your existing clients. Ask for referrals. Remember, most people like helping others, and in most cases a loyal customer is more than happy to help you build your business. In a competitive environment, it’s tough to get in the door. A referral not only opens the door for you, but also brings instant credibility to your business.   What are you doing to increase your sales in 2012? Share your thoughts here or on Constant Contact's Facebook Page .
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.   1. Start with a plan. Set specific goals . Set one big marketing objective for the year, one for each quarter, and maybe one for each month. Keep them simple, and make sure they're reachable; it’s no fun working toward a goal that you know is not attainable. Don’t waste time on things that won’t help you reach your goals.   2. Measure success with your own benchmarks. As you set your goals, be sure to focus on what’s important to your business or organization — whether that's donations per month, gross margins, number of fans/followers on social media, or some other metric. Measure against last year’s monthly numbers. This is easy and it helps to accommodate for naturally slow times of the year. It also gives you a clearer picture of what to expect.   3. Experiment. Remember that most people are still relatively new to social media. It’s okay not to be perfect. Try new things and evaluate the results. Measuring what happens is the key — and even if you don’t get the results you want, there is value in the attempt because you can see what didn’t work. Keep what works and throw away what doesn’t. Most importantly: Don’t be afraid to fail. You just might surprise yourself.   4. Be mobile friendly. People are relying more and more on their mobile devices to consume and find information. It’s time to give serious consideration to making your digital communications mobile friendly : Make sure your website and your emails are optimized to work with mobile devices. Use mobile tools to grow your email list. Take advantage of location-based services .   5. Be yourself. Use your own voice. Social media allows for genuine, authentic connections. These tools make it easy and inexpensive to manage many relationships, and to give your audience a real sense of who you are . To do this effectively, write in a conversational tone, the same way you speak, not the way you would write a brochure. Also, use photos and videos of people — yourself, your staff, or your customers/clients/supporters (with their permission). And every once in a while, include clues about who you really are, away from work. Maybe you're in a band, or you volunteer for an organization whose mission is important to you. Whatever you’re comfortable with. The point is to pull back the curtains a little bit — these are the messages and posts that your audience will respond to the most.   6. Take it offline. As much as we focus on the importance of the online world, nothing holds the same power as getting together in person. Whenever possible, leverage those online acquaintances with offline events that bring people together. You’ll strengthen the relationships that can lead to long-term growth. You can use email and social media to invite people to a special event at your place of business. By phone or in person — in whatever capacity you can manage — these connections will grow to be your strongest and quickest outlet for growth.   What are you focusing on this year? Share your thoughts with us here or on our Facebook Page .
As 2011 comes to a close, we just wanted to take a quick moment to say "Thank you" to our customers, and especially, to small businesses everywhere.   We at Constant Contact love small businesses because they're inspiring, because they have a passion for what they do, because they're part of the community, because they know us as well as we know them, and, well, because small businesses just rock! Actually, there are more reasons than we could fit into a blog post, so we put together a video to explain just how much we love small businesses.   Thank you for a great 2011. We truly appreciate your business, and we’re looking forwarding to wowing you at every turn in 2012 and beyond.