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The introduction of open source software platforms and bare-metal systems into the legacy enterprise network realm will eventually disrupt the status-quo for leading vendors that have previously benefited from the lack of unruly innovation. Meanwhile, established vendors can still take advantage of the apparent resistance to change within many traditional IT organizations that depend upon the conservative leadership of cautious CIOs.

The introduction of open source software platforms and bare-metal systems into the legacy enterprise network realm will eventually disrupt the status-quo for leading vendors that have previously benefited from the lack of unruly innovation. Meanwhile, established vendors can still take advantage of the apparent resistance to change within many traditional IT organizations that depend upon the conservative leadership of cautious CIOs.

Results from the latest market study by Technology Business Research (TBR) indicate growth in the enterprise networking market is accelerating, as demand for cloud, mobility and security solutions -- particularly in developed markets -- escalated and major suppliers leveraged their dominant market positions to capture customer spending.

Total enterprise networking revenue among the benchmarked companies grew 4.3 percent year-to-year in the first half of 2014, that's more than the 0.9 percent growth in second half of 2013. Vendors capitalized on improved discretionary IT spending in developed regions like Northern and Central Europe and the U.S. market, although demand slowed in emerging markets such as Russia and China.

Network Security’s leading growth of 13.5 percent year-to-year in the first half of 2014 underscores the importance enterprises place on maintaining a secure network amid the advent of mobile cloud computing.

"Protecting their IT infrastructure remains a top priority for enterprises, and vendors are reaping the benefits," said Scott Dennehy, senior analyst at TBR. TBR believes that in addition to solidifying mission-critical relationships with customers, expanding in the security space generates opportunities for high-margin add-on software and services sales.

With hardware commoditization driven by cloud and software-defined networking (SDN) threatening to upend the networking industry, leading vendors are transforming their business models to maintain relevancy and drive long-term growth. This includes realigning resources to capture growth opportunities in areas such as cloud, software and services. Many vendors will face challenges executing in these new areas, as the focus on applications and services does not play to their core strengths in hardware.

However, vendors such as Cisco increasingly will leverage strategic partnerships -- such as Red Hat for its open source enterprise software portfolio -- and apply supplementary acquisitions to remain key players in the changing enterprise IT and networking landscape.

The TBR "Enterprise Network Vendor Benchmark" identifies revenue and growth leaders in Network Infrastructure, Wireless Networks, Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C), Network Security and Services, and highlights vendor strategies and future moves as well as overall market trends in each segment and geography.

enterprise network / shutterstock

Google+ is the home to the largest engaging audience. According to a Forrester study,G+ posts generate as much engagement as Facebook and twice as much engagement than Twitter. It’s striking because the other two are much popular than G+. The equation is simple. Not everyone joins and continues with G+. And if anyone does, he does it for a purpose.
If you are asked to share your first thought that pops in your mind when you hear “Social media”, your answer would probably be Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, but not Google Plus for sure. Then why experts keep vouching for the network? Google Authorship was one of the reasons. But since it’s dead now, what are the driving forces to motivate Google Plus marketing?
 
First reason would be its high engaging audience. As it’s not crowded by anyone and everyone using internet, Google Plus is the home to the largest engaged audience. According to a Forrester study,G+ posts generate as much engagement as Facebook and twice as much engagement than Twitter. It’s striking because the other two are much popular than G+.
 
The explanation is simple. Not everyone joins and continues with G+. And if anyone does, he does it for a purpose. This works for G+’s engagement quotient. 
 
The secret also lies in these G+ stats: 
  • Google+ has 540 million monthly active users and 20 million unique mobile monthly users.
  • Engagement on a Facebook post per user is .073% while it’s .069% on a Google plus post.
  • Google+ mobile app user growth from December 13 to May 14 is 14%.
  • Percentage of G+ user interaction with positive brands is 53%, with negative brands is 18%.
  • G+'s percentage of total social logins on websites is 32.9%
  • Average duration of one G+ session is 3.46 minutes
If you are still not enticed to explore the vast possibilities, here are 5 areas where Google Plus can overshadow Facebook.
 
Better exposure in Google search results: It doesn’t take much to figure out that Google would give preference to Google Plus, when it comes to getting social signals. If you post regularly on the platform, chances are that the people, who follow you or have you in their circles will see your post when they search with a related keyword on Google. Here is an example:
 
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I typed “Sunday Flowers” and got a related Google Plus post of Matt Cutts, who I follow on the platform. 
 
Similarly, your followers too can get your G+ posts in their Google search results. The more you share on G+, the more your authority will be on Google. G+ Business page posts too appear on search results. Here is how I searched for a new Levi’s collection and got one result from the brand’s G+ page.
 
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No other social network gets such an upper-hand on Google search results. 
 
Double the reach with Google+ Communities: Google Communities work more like Facebook groups, but they can get you higher traffic. There are almost every kind of communities on G+. You can find them here. And if you want to create your own, you can do it too.
 
Choose the communities that create maximum stories and conversations. Not necessarily the most populated communities would be the most engaging ones. Select wisely. Don’t join for the sake of fetching traffic to your website. You need to be active in order to get attention from the fellow members. 
 
Comment, +1 and share others’ content. When you will leave a comment, make sure to add a little value. Avoid commenting generally like “Nice share” or “thanks for the post”. 
 
Always post in the right category for content segregation. It also helps your content to appear on the most relevant thread. The categories can be found on the left-hand side of the community page. Let’s see when you click on a category, how it segregates related content from other posts within a community. 
 
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You can see the results from “Nails” are different from that of “Skin”. This feature is effective because no matter how old is your post, it still stands a chance to appear on community front page, if someone searches with categories. 
 
Moreover, you would notice a significant growth in your social shares as well as follower count if you use Google+ Communities efficiently. However, follow the respective Community rules and watch out for the time slots, when the members get active. 
 
Google+ ads work differently: Google Plus post ads work in an entirely different way than that of Facebook. Unlike the latter, Google+ post ads don’t run on the network, but on the entire Google’s display network. This not only makes the reach of these ads higher, but also keeps the social network an ad-free zone. 
 
You can create these ads from any public Google Plus post with your AdWords account. But you need to have at least 1000 followers on the network to be eligible to run these ads. You can have the complete guide here
 
Here is a famous example of a G+ post ad, displayed on a third-party website.
 
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Facebook ads are limited to the network, while G+ ads’ reach is much greater. Moreover, as supported by Google AdWords, G+ post ads have more sophisticated targeting options. Moreover, you can comment, share and +1 on these ads real-time. 
 
Learn the best Google+ hashtags practices: Google+ hashtags too work differently than Twitter and Facebook. It’s more to explore content than to curate, like any other channel.
 
G+ suggests hastags with every post. However, you can add your your own hashtags as well. Let me share a trick to know which hashtags are suggested by Google and which are the user-created ones. 
 
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On the above post, you can see 2 labels of hashtags: Grey and blue. The grey labeled tags are added by the user while the blue ones are suggested by Google. 
 
Use maximum 3 hashtags with a single post. You can add many more than that, but Google+ gives utmost importance to the first three tags. If you click on the hashtag from the list, it will flip through related posts. You can hop from one post to another by clicking on the side-arrow buttons. 
 
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Go to https://plus.google.com/explore/ and explore suitable hashtags for your posts. Let’s search with #contentmarketing and see what results we have. 
 
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This way you can explore related hashtags for your posts. It’s an effective way to find out popular hashtags in the niche. 
 
On the other hand on Facebook, there is no integrated tool to find out popular hashtags, unless there are a few in the trending topics. 
 
Use Google+ to identify power-users:  Google Plus is populated with technology early adopters and industry influencers. There are plenty of them in your niche as well. Circle Ripples and G+ Circles are two tools, which you can use to identify people, who belong to your niche and have a significant influence. 
 
Let’s talk about Ripples, as Circles are well-known to all G+ users. Google+ Ripples is a tool that can show you who shares your post and the reach of their shared content. It’s a graphical presentation of your content reach. 
 
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In the Ripples graph, you can see the content is originally shared by Pierre Far, which was re-shared by Matt Cutts and other 472 people. Since Ripples show data about public posts, you can track only 375 shares. 
 
When we’re talking about power-users, the bigger the ripple, the bigger the influencer. This is quite evident from the circle that is formed around Matt Cutts. Similarly, if you zoom in to a specific ripple, it shows the re-shares from that particular person.
 
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So, if you want to identify the most powerful people in your G+ community, track Ripples for every post.  As you find out each one of your industry influencers and power-users, note down every user and make a list. You can create alliance with them for your future content marketing efforts.  Finding the power-users for your business on Facebook is a bit tricky as well as time-consuming, unlike G+, where you can find ripples for every public post, even if they are from your competitors. 
 
Over to you
 
It’s your choice if you will start taking G+ marketing more seriously. However, considering the fact that G+ is packed with amazing features and some of them are more efficient than Facebook, you can ignore it at your own risk. 
The market for smart city technology solutions is still very young and in formative stages, which means there's plenty of room for midsized companies to enter this solution space. Midsized technology vendors who fully understand the needs, desires and challenges that midsized cities have for smart city initiatives will find success in this market.

The term "smart city" is becoming familiar around the world as urban areas realize that a great deal of benefit can come from connecting physical and digital worlds to better serve the needs of citizens and the administration of the city. A smart city doesn't just result from changes in infrastructure and technologies – it must embody new ways of thinking and planning.

And smart cities aren't just limited to large metropolitan areas. Many midsized cities need smart city technologies to better manage growth and provide quality of life and work for their citizens. Just like large metros, many midsized cities want to ensure the sustainability of resources and services, by using technologies and digital systems to improve operations and efficiencies, and to innovate how cities and citizens interact.

At the core of smart cities is the Internet of Things (IoT) – where many systems and networks interact with each other and often run without human intervention. The Internet of Things for the smart city can include not only municipal systems, but machine-generated data created by citizen-owned items such as home environment management devices, smart appliances and vehicle sensors.

With midsized cities pursuing smart city strategies, opportunities are quite promising for midsized technology companies to help these cities realize their plans. Cutting edge and forward-looking initiatives – using the latest technologies – are often thought to be the domain of large vendors working with large cities. But many midsized and smaller cities need and want to take advantage of similar technologies and capabilities to operate more effectively. Often smaller technology vendors are the better choice as a strategic partner for midsized smart city projects that are frequently implemented incrementally and at lesser scale.

The market for smart city technology solutions is still very young and in formative stages, which means there's plenty of room for midsized companies to enter this solution space. Midsized technology vendors who fully understand the needs, desires and challenges that midsized cities have for smart city initiatives will find success in this market. Part of meeting midsized needs includes in-depth understanding of what will work for the people in these cities. So the right solutions aren't just about technologies but must have a strong focus on the sociology of living in a smart city today and into the future.

Midsized Smart Cities Need Big Data Analytics

One important technology solution area for midsized smart cities: big data analytics for the volumes of data created every day by city systems. This data increases exponentially as more smart city technologies are implemented. Technologies for transportation, utilities, communications, and many other aspects of urban life are evolving faster than overall management strategies. All cities lag on fully gaining advantage and innovative benefit from this information.

Big data analytics technologies are continuously evolving to better collect, integrate, process, and analyze this highly disparate information to both improve the systems of the smart city and to apply results to other needs and opportunities. Midsized technology companies have new ways to deliver cost-effective services and solutions through cloud platforms, lower priced data analytics tools, and mobile applications.

As a solution example, midsized technology vendors could provide services for midsized cities for the continuous data analytics needed to govern and improve urban transportation:

  • Real-time operational responsiveness
  • Personalized interactions with citizens using transportation systems
  • Creating new services and changes to policy more quickly and accurately
  • Measuring the effectiveness of current decisions and actions

Such services and solutions should be tailored for midsized cities to keep costs down and provide exactly what these cities need for faster, more effective implementations. Understanding future direction will help midsized technology vendors build in the right scalability, usability and interoperability capabilities to keep smart cities continuously smart in real time.

Image source: archivenue.com

This post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit  IBM's Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

 

Here are some tips and tactics that any level of digital brand marketer can implement to see a sales increase directly from social media during the holiday shopping season. This article features trend report references that will help put into perspective the ROI potential of social media during the holidays if effective campaigns are implemented.

Social media continues to mature into an essential tool to influence customers' purchase decisions. During the holidays, brands that depend on sales to close out the year successfully turn to social media to impact e-commerce. With an estimated $650 billion coming out of consumer pockets in November and December, an 8% increase from last season, the real test is how marketers can harness the power of social media and use it as a key component of their sales strategy and customer engagement efforts.  

In order to capitalize during this crucial time, brands should implement social media campaigns that cross channels and follow consumers through the purchase process. After surveying more than 120 digital marketers on their holiday strategy, Offerpop found that 62% of them are focusing their holiday efforts solely on increasing e-commerce. Don’t know where to start? That’s OK! Here are a few tips and concepts you can implement:

  • Think mobile: Mobile commerce grew by a whopping 80% in 2013, and continues to be a key portal for purchases. Social media efforts can support website sales, so first off, make sure your website is responsive to mobile customers. Then deliver discounts, coupons, and host sweepstakes on channels that mobile users frequently visit like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 71% of social media users access social networks on mobile devices, therefore creating seamless campaigns that deliver special offers or connect to purchase sites quickly and effortlessly is essential.

  • Focus on UGC: Pair holiday campaigns with user-generated content campaigns that allow brand ambassadors to tell your story and share your products using their own content. The content is genuine and trusted by consumers, and let’s be honest…everyone wants what their friends have or want, too. Encourage fans to create, submit, and share content pieces that will engage their networks with your brand. Use fan photos with easy-click purchase buttons to allow customers to shop based on their friends looks and recommendations.

  • Strategize to capitalize on notoriously big shopping days: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the week leading up to Christmas are huge opportunities to encourage purchases from your social fans and followers. Offer Twitter followers a free shipping discount for Cyber Monday by Re-tweeting to unlock a special code, for instance. Make sure to build tools and content you can use as teasers leading up to campaign launch.

  • Bet on Facebook: Our survey found that 92% of digital marketers plan to spend the majority of their holiday marketing budget on Facebook. The network’s active user base encompasses 72% of U.S. adults, giving digital marketers an opportunity to influence a majority of holiday shoppers on a single platform. Allotting ad dollars and encouraging product purchase through Facebook could be one of the most impactful decisions to your bottom line.

  • Email still works: Don’t discount email just because every year someone steps out and say it’s “dead.” It isn’t. Email has the power to promote social campaigns and connect new audiences with your channels, and vice versa. Email can give mobile users quick and easy options to click through and buy. Its ability to cross channels for fans and increase engagement makes it a great compliment to social campaigns and e-commerce efforts.    

Social media’s power to increase profits during the holidays is growing as marketers and brands unlock more direct ways to influence sales through multiple networks. Effective social marketing is now a mandatory element of all successful holiday marketing plans. Retailers simply will not be as successful during this critical sales time if they do not invest in targeted and effective social media programs geared for commerce.

This is a growing problem in other areas of the online marketplace, as tech start-ups designed for the share economy are being encroached by commercial interests looking to increase their own profit margins

Time.com recently published an article lamenting that the share economy, otherwise known as the ‘peer-to peer-economy’ is being co-opted by the“interests of venture capital and its insatiable demands for rapid growth and high-value exit-strategies.” The share economy has given commercial credibility to the citizen over the corporation, as disruptive technologies “blows up the industrial model of companies owning and people consuming, and allows everyone to be both consumer and producer”. AirBnB, a platform that lets consumers rent from their peers, is now being used by landlords to buy up property for that very purpose, and consequently driving up land values and rents through gentrification.

This is a growing problem in other areas of the online marketplace, as tech start-ups designed for the share economy are being encroached by commercial interests looking to increase their own profit margins. According to Time.com, TaskRabbit, a platform designed to outsource skilled tasks to people in your local community, has become “a glorified temping agency leaving its participants in the same precarious boat as those on zero-hours contracts”.

This poses a great problem to freelancers or ‘digital nomads’, who depend on these tech platforms that enable remote working as their main source of income. Freelancers now have to compete with agencies and professional contract winners masquerading as freelancers, who often flip the job they’ve won by re-advertising the job at a lower price. As a result the job is done for a fraction of the price paid by the hirer, and businesses begin to lose faith in seeking online freelancers for quality work.

There is nothing wrong with businesses looking to tap into the online marketplace to remain sustainable and competitive, however it should not be done in a way that will disenfranchise citizens looking to participate in the share economy. For example, several car manufacturers have responded to the threat posed by car sharing start-ups by launching their own car sharing services. Ford recently launched its FORD2GO service in Germany, and BMW entered the market with a premium car sharing service called ‘DrivenNow’ in Germany and San Francisco.

The growing risk of online marketplaces being flooded with commercial interests and vested interests masquerading as skilled workers will only seek to create further inequality between the citizen and the corporation. Corporations can opt to participate in the share economy in a positive way, and smart businesses will inevitably find innovative and more sustainable ways of connecting with consumers.

You may or may not have heard the term social TV, but it’s not only changing the world we live in but how marketing is done. Defined as the act of social networking while watching television, this new practice is not just a trend but becoming the norm in many households. So what does this all mean for marketers?

You may or may not have heard the term social TV, but it’s not only changing the world we live in but how marketing is done. Defined as the act of social networking while watching television, this new practice is not just a trend but becoming the norm in many households.

In fact according to a 2013 study by Social Guide and Nielson, more than 80 percent of American TV viewers now access a second screen for content during a program. They though aren’t just engaged in conversations about what they are watching. They are also shopping, writing emails and reading news content.

People are watching on average of 35 hours a TV a week according to Neilson. That shows it’s still a very popular medium. People are also watching TV live. That is very important to note! In fact, 87% of all broadcast TV is watched live. That number rises to 93% on cable.

Social media is also affecting TV ratings, especially with younger demographics. In fact, when Twitter chatter increases about a TV show ratings also increases.

So you may ask what does this all mean for marketers. Well social media, especially Twitter is all about real time information and by merging live television with people looking at a second screen (tablet or smartphone) during a television show can only mean a huge opportunity for businesses and marketing.

Through Promoted Tweets and highly optimized social media content, brands not associated with broadcasted shows, especially big event shows like the Super Bowl and MTV Video Music Awards, can add their two cents to Twitter and Facebook chatter, and seize attention from online consumers. We know they are on the social networks looking for content. Why not give it to them!

By adding a brand-appropriate comment during a hit show or popular TV event in a funny or witty Tweet or Facebook post can create a relatively easy and inexpensive surge of new attention for any brand.

Obviously you don’t want to spam the network and turn people off. But, by being creative and adding a relevant branded tweet or post during a major TV event can be a great way for a business to get in front of a big audience.

Marketing automation is a fantastic way to make marketing efforts more efficient, and automated email workflows are no exception. By creating good workflows business can not only boost sales, but also increase the amount of time they have to spend on other tasks. This post explains how to create and use automated workflows, and gives a few examples of workflows that can be applied.

You’ve built up your email list, you know how to compose emails that convert, now it’s time to make it all more efficient with email marketing automation!

Think about it, you could sit at your computer all day composing countless emails attempting to bring your potential customers along through your conversion funnel in a seemingly never ending process, OR you could map out a structure that you follow each time and simply create an automated email flow that will do the work for you!

There are all kinds of things you can automate, from your welcome flow to your shopping cart abandonment flow.

In this post we will explore how to actually create an automated email workflow, and we’ll take a look at a few sample workflows to get you going.

Why Email Marketing Automation is Important

Before we get into how to build a workflow, first we need to establish why it’s so important to use email automation (aside, obviously, for the ease).

According to a study by Silverpop, automated email campaigns have a 15% higher open rate than regular emails and 79% higher click through rates!

Additionally, by creating workflows, A/B testing them, and always improving them you can create a highly optimized machine that will work for you to continually boost your sales and build your business.

How to Build an Email Marketing Workflow

Now that you understand the importance and significance of email marketing automation, let’s discuss how to go about creating an automated workflow.

Step 1: Set Your Goals

The first thing you should do when planning out a workflow is determine your goals. What do you want this series of emails to accomplish for you? There is no purpose in creating a workflow if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve.

There are any number of goals you could be shooting for – sales, returning customers, building trust, generating excitement, and more.

Step 2: Plan Out How You Will Reach Your Goal

Once you have your goal set, the next thing to do is to figure out how you will get to that goal. Within this step there are a few things you will need to actually do:

First, you should think about each email workflow like a mini sales funnel. You want to bring your users from awareness to interest to desire to action.

Obviously there will be some differences in each workflow depending on your goal, but this is the general formula you should follow.

To accomplish this you can use a mixture of useful information, reviews, blog posts, coupons, and whatever else you have at your disposal.

Next, keep in mind that you will not have 100% success in guiding your users through the funnel, so you should have a plan in place for every possible scenario that your users could present to you.

For example, if you send out an email as part of a welcome series inviting your readers to sign up for your blog, some will sign up and some will not. Obviously you’re not going to send the same email to the people who do sign up as you would to the people who don’t.

You can set different emails as responses, resend emails, or even transfer people into different workflows. No matter what you do, make sure that while mapping out your workflows you take into account all possible contingencies.

Finally, determine the amount of time that will pass between each email that is sent out. The best way of doing this is by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and thinking about how you would react when receiving the email.

This is a tough balance to find, because on the one hand you don’t want to bombard your customers, but on the other hand you don’t want to lose the flow of your correspondence.

Step 3: Write Your Emails

Now that your flow is planned out and all possible contingencies are accounted for you should write up your emails according to our Ten Email Marketing Tips and follow our Tips to Boost your Open Rates.

Step 4: Test Out and Tweak Your Emails

As with any other marketing scheme that you implement you should always test out the success of your email workflows. See what is working and what isn’t. Test out different designs, copy, or subject lines. By doing this you will be able to find the formula that works best for your business.

The other thing you should keep your eye on is if there are people that get lost in your workflows. It’s possible that your email copy is perfect, but you’re sending the wrong email at the wrong time. So keep an eye on which flows work best as a whole and try to optimize that as well.

Examples of Email Workflows for eCommerce

In order to help you to truly understand how a workflow works and how it can benefit your business, we wanted to give you a few examples of workflows that you can implement in your business today!

Welcome Workflow – A Detailed Example

The most classic email workflow is the welcome workflow. You can use this type of flow any time someone creates an account at your website – whether they made a purchase or not.

Let’s build this workflow together by following the steps mentioned above. As we go through the steps we will analyze the equivalent emails from HootSuite’s welcome flow:

Step 1: The goal of a welcome workflow generally speaking is to take someone who expressed interest in your products and gets them to make a purchase, with the idea that they will become a returning shopper.

Step 2: In order to get this person to move along the sales funnel you could create a flow like this:

Welcome email: This email should welcome the new member. Make it nice and friendly. You should include a bit of information about your company culture as well.

  • Goal of the email: Educating your potential customers about your business by creating a sense of familiarity.
  • Call to action of the email: Should be something simple like a link to your homepage, or to a page about your business (testimonials, press releases, etc.)
  • Timing: Immediately after registration.

(HootSuite performed this email and the next one at the same time, so the example will be in the next section)

Assistance Email: In this email you can ask if your reader needs more information or assistance. This could be either related to your products or related to the broader culture of your business.

For example, if you sell cameras, this email could say something like “Do you need help choosing your next camera?” or, “Could you use some photo taking tips?”

You should also prominently display your customer support information.

  • Goal of the email: Raising the level of familiarity between your customers and your business, while also educating them about the products in order to create trust.
  • Call to action of the email: This should link to something educational like your blog or one or two introductory level articles.
  • Timing: 3-7 days after the initial email.

 Hootsuite welcome workflow

Products Email: Now it’s time to start sending some information about your actual products. In this email you can say something like, “Check out our newest collection of ______.”

  • Goal of the email: Moving your customers along the funnel from awareness to interest in your products.
  • Call to action of the email: You should send your readers to an optimized landing page with some of your highest selling products in order to draw in your potential customers.
  • Timing: Give your users some time. This should be sent about two weeks to a month after the last email.

 Hootsuite welcome email product

Product Booster: In this next email you are going to want to make your products sound very appealing. You can use some great reviews, press mentions, case studies, free trials, or whatever else you can think of to make your products look great!

  • Goal of the email: Moving your customers from interest to desire by showing how good your products are.
  • Call to action of the email: You can send your users to any number of places. One option is to keep things on your site by sending them to an optimized landing page dedicated to a specific product or line of products that displays benefits and shows real testimonials. Another option would be to go off-site and send your readers to a recent article or review about your products.
  • Timing: 3-6 weeks after the previous email.

 Hootsuite welcome flow product booster

Coupon Offer: Finally, you are trying to really push the sale by sending a coupon. In this email you can send a “limited time offer” to your readers.

  • Goal of the email: Get your readers to make a purchase
  • Call to action of the email: Keep it simple – “Get this coupon now!” “Offer ends today.” Anything that creates a sense of urgency and encourages immediate action.
  • Timing: A few weeks after the last email.

 Hootsuite welcome email special deal

At this point, the idea is that you will have given your potential customer all the reasons in the world to make a purchase, and to make it specifically from you.

As mentioned earlier though, it is very likely that your readers won’t follow the flow exactly as you expect them to. In order to best display this concept, we’re going to need to really map out the options.

Here is a sample map of the above flow including potential consumer actions and responses to the different actions:

Automated welcome email workflow

Notice how built into the welcome flow map are any number of new flows that customers can be transferred to depending on how they interact with the emails. You can also resend the same email if it received no interaction, but you might want to change the subject line so it isn’t an exact duplicate.

These maps (as you can see) can become quite complicated, but they are very important! Only by mapping out all possibilities will your automation become truly effective and personalized.

Now that you have a more detailed understanding of how to put together a workflow we’re going to give you a few more (less detailed) examples of common workflows that you can use to boost your sales.

Cart Abandonment Workflow

Cart abandonment is a problem that plagues all eCommerce stores, so why not be ready with a workflow just for it?

The goal of this flow is to make a sale

1. Awareness: Send an email as a reminder prompting the customer to complete the purchase. For example, I received this email from Amazon:

 Amazon shopping cart abandonment email

2. Awareness II/Interest: If that prompt wasn’t enough you can send another email with similar items as a secondary prompt. You can add in something like, check out our top selling _____ (relevant to the department your customer was interested in).

 Amazon shopping cart abandonment follow up

3. Desire: Send an email with some product reviews or testimonials – “Look at what the New York Times has to say about our _____.”

4. Action: Send a coupon.

Purchase Workflow

Obviously you should engage with your customers after they complete a purchase. Creating a workflow can take this process from simply being a thank you letter, to creating an upsell opportunity.

The goal of this flow is an upsell

1. Awareness: Start by thanking your customer for their purchase. Then you can include related products by saying something like “Congratulations on your new ________, you should consider our _______ to enhance the experience.”

2. Interest/Desire: Send your customer useful information that will help them with their initial purchase – relevant blog posts, articles, and videos. In this content you should display how a related product could enhance the product which was purchased.

3. Action: Ask your customer to fill out a survey of some sort – how the purchasing process was for them, if they are satisfied with their purchase, etc. – and include a coupon for the products you are trying to upsell as an incentive to complete the survey.

VIP Customer Flow

Every store has its most active customers – those that purchase the most, leave the most reviews, or share the most content. You can create a workflow to target your most engaged customers!

The goal of this flow is to convert returning customers into super customers/brand advocates

1. Awareness: Thank your most highly engaged customers, and tell them that they have been selected to be part of a VIP list that will include all sorts of “exclusive information” and private deals.

2. Interest: Mention that you would like to put together an even more exclusive list of people who will get to try and review new products before they are released. Add an opt-in form for this in order to get the most engaged readers to join this list.

3. Desire: Send an email to those who opted-in welcoming them to the elite club, and then get them started by asking them to review an idea that you have for a new product, or to review an old product which they already purchased. You can include a coupon as an incentive as well.

4. Action: Thank your customers for their review, and explain that they will be receiving more new products at discounted rates to review, or coupons to review older products. You should then add in that they can receive further discounts by sharing their reviews on social media or elsewhere on the internet.

Just like that you can take a customer and turn them into a brand advocate.

Moving Forward

There are all kinds of email workflows that you can set in place for your business – re-engagement flows, event flows (birthdays etc.), blog engagement flows, and more!

If you don’t yet use workflows in your business you should definitely start slow. Begin by creating one or two flows, optimizing them, and getting them rolling before you start to create more flows. Otherwise you might not be able to track your flows as well as you should which will lead to inefficient email flows.

Once you have a few work flows down pat and you know what works for you, then it’s time to start expanding and creating more workflows.

That being said, I would still suggest mapping out all of the possibilities of flows and changes of direction in advance, and then filling them in with actual content as you move along.

That wraps up our series on email marketing. If you haven’t already, I suggest checking out our previous posts on building your mailing listgetting your emails opened, and writing emails that convert!

You’ve seen them, I’ve seen them, and we’ve all seen them. From corporate blogs, to personal blogs to blogs on ecommerce sites, it’s the dreaded content drought. Blogs that start off with a bang, fall off a cliff when suddenly no content gets published anymore. Here is a great technique to get over your writers block and ensure your content is engaging and shareable.

One of the hardest things about blogging is coming up with ideas for content.

You’ve seen them, I’ve seen them, and we’ve all seen them. Whether from corporate blogs, to personal blogs to blogs on ecommerce sites, it’s the dreaded content drought. Blogs that start off with a bang, fall off a cliff when suddenly no content gets published anymore.

More often than not, this happens before the blog even gets its readership off the ground. You’ll see post after post of content with no shares and no comments. As a writer I’ve been there, and I can sympathize with how frustrating that can be.

But as an ecommerce business owner, you should not give up. In fact you can not give up, since blogging and content creation are so vital in any good online marketing strategy.

I’m going to share with you a great technique to not only never run out of content ideas but also ensure that your content will be high quality, and highly shareable. It’s become known in online circles are the “skyscraper technique”.

It’s a pretty simple strategy actually, and like many effective strategies, it’s made up of 3 steps.

1.     Find something that works

2.     Make it better

3.     Promote it

So what exactly does that mean? Stay tuned.

Step 1: Find something that works

The first step in the skyscraper technique is to find something that works. What does that mean exactly? It means your first step is a bit of research. You want to do some research to find articles in your domain that have previously gotten a high level of engagement and a high level of social shares or comments. While you could try to pinpoint these posts via Google or just by manually browsing through blogs you may read yourself, there is an easier way. There are in fact a number of tools that can help you do so.

One that I like is called BuzzSumo.

 

It’s a great tool that allows you to search for content by topic. Even better it shows you the social engagement numbers of the content it finds. Here’s an example.

 

 

Now with those results I can see the type “ecommerce marketing” content that has performed well in the past.

 

 

Let’s take a closer look at result #3 “7 Tips for Improving Your Ecommerce Strategy”

This article looks like a prime candidate for skyscrapering. SO now let’s go to Step 2.

Step 2: Make it better

The thing that was appealing about the article we selected was the format. Research will show that list based articles not are not only high performing, but as a writer they are often easier to create. Instead of having to write one long form piece, list break up your posts into smaller digestible chunks. In this case 7 of them.

The outline of the post is as follows:

1.     Create a user oriented experience

2.     Design services you’d want to use yourself

3.     Customer feedback is crucial

4.     Utilize social media

5.     Invest in mobile

6.     Incentivize customers

7.     Be ever evolving

So now with that what you want to do is try to improve on the original following a similar format. There are a number of ways that you can improve on each tip. First and foremost, if your writing style is different and you can add whatever personal slant you can onto a piece that in itself can drastically refresh a piece of content. By the same token if the piece is not brand new, you there is also an opportunity for impro9vement by simply updating any statistics or findings in the post.

Finally adding additional multimedia or case study type examples is another simple way to upgrade a post and put your own spin on things.

Now finally the last step.

Step 3: Promotion

There are a number of ways to promote your blog content. Simply put you need to be putting as much, if not more effort into promoting your content as you do creating it. While there really are no silver bullets to guarantee “going viral” there are a number of best practices to keep in mind when you’re promoting blog content.

First, get your timing right. The obvious place for promoting your content is in social media. But if you have a number of social media profiles it’s important to keep in mind the different behavior and timing that works best in each channel.

Some info from HubSpot shows the following

Twitter:

Time: Later in the day, between 2p.m. and 4p.m. EST

Day: Monday thru Thursday

Frequency: 3-4x/day

Facebook:

Time: Between 10a.m. and 4p.m.

Day: Monday thru Thursday

Frequency: Once/day

LinkedIn:

Time/day: before and after business hours. Not on weekends

Frequency: Once/day

Second, spend some time trying to get a killer headline. Believe it or not there is a bit of a science behind headlines and that science is why we all at one time or another find ourselves clicking on the content we see from the likes of Buzzfeed and Upworthy. While much of this takes some getting used to a simple formula you can follow is

number + keyword + adjective + promise

For example: 7 Super Duper Ways to Spice Up a Turkey

Lastly, when it comes to Twitter in particular. Pay attention to the hashtags that are trending and may be relevant to your content. Hashtags are an often overlooked (and simple) way to help ensure your posts are getting in front of the right audience.

And there you have it, a simple 3 steps process to help you create great content that will be shared!

Learn how a B2B service company generated 276 unique leads using a Facebook Competition.

You don’t have to scroll far down your Facebook newsfeed to see a business giving away an iPad, free movie tickets or a holiday. But why? Surely all these companies aren’t that generous, there has to be something in it for them. You’re right, there is. A well planned and executed Facebook competition can be marketing gold. It can be a powerful vehicle to:

  • Build your email list and generate leads

  • Increase brand awareness

  • Increase Facebook page engagement

  • Conduct market research

  • Improve SEO

Facebook competition

I’m sure these benefits alone have got you thinking about pencilling a Facebook competition into your marketing calendar, but If you’re anything like me you want to see some tangible business results, so I decided to put my money where my mouth is and orchestrate a Facebook competition for my digital marketing agency (Pink Panda Digital Solutions). The goal of the competition was to generate 200 plus qualified email subscribers. We invested $600 into the set up and promotion of the competition and as a prize we decided to give away our premium web design package. The results speak for themselves:

  • We generated 276 new email subscribers – all of whom are SME business owners or decision makers in the market for web design services
  • As a direct result from the competition we generated 9 hard leads (quote requests for web design work)
  • Out of the 9 quotes we closed 5 sales
  • As a bi product we also generated 200 new Facebook likes

Sound easy? Well not quite, a successful Facebook competition takes meticulous planning, precise execution and constant tweaking. So before you go running to your next marketing meeting with a grand Facebook competition idea it’s important to understand why our contest was a success. Here are the top five reasons:

1. Clear Facebook competition goals

Clearly defining what you are trying to achieve from the competition is arguably the most important step. Are you trying to build your email list? Increase Facebook likes? Increase Facebook engagement? Improve your SEO? The goal you choose will determine how the Facebook competition should be structured and what tactics you need to implement in order to be successful.

Before we started we clearly documented our competition goal- to increase our email database by 200 plus qualified subscribers. This gave us a measuring stick to determine the success of the campaign. It also helped us determine the competition entry method, making email opt in a mandatory entry step. If you are stuck on establishing a competition goal, my recommendation would be to focus on something tangible like increasing email subscribers over shooting for Facebook likes. You own your email database but you do not own your Facebook likes. You can have the biggest Facebook following in the world but you are always at the mercy of any changes the social media giant may make.

Facebook competition

2. Enticing and relevant prize

The relevance of your prize in relation to your core product or service will determine the quality of the competition entrants. If you operate in a mass market or your goal is for pure brand awareness this won’t matter as much but it is still important to pick a prize that resonates with your target audience.

Picking a relevant prize (our Premium web design package) was a key component in the success of our campaign. It ensured the majority of our entrants were in the market for our services (qualified leads) putting them straight into our sales funnel. If on the other hand we chose to give away an ipad or movie tickets we would have generated more email subscribers, but they would have been unqualified and unlikely to convert into sales.

Facebook competition

3. Easy entry steps & countdown clock

Our entry method was SIMPLE- we didn’t ask prospects to submit a video of them playing one legged football in the office. All they needed to do was complete four easy steps, which were clearly stated on the online competition entry form. As a general rule, the less complex and time consuming the entry process, the more entrants you will receive. However, it is important to note that entrants will be prepared to spend more time entering as the value of the competition prize increases.

Creating a sense of urgency will also increase entry numbers. We established a clear competition timeline and used a countdown clock to entice prospects to take action before the competition ended. As to what timeframe works best will depend on your prize and entry method. From experience five to ten days is optimal. If you run the competition for too long consumers will put off entering and in most cases forget to enter all together. To confirming this assumption we found 30% of our entries came in the last 24 hours of our competition.

 

Facebook competition

 

4. Effective promotions strategy

It is important to have a documented promotions strategy in place prior to the competition. This will give you a roadmap to generate maximum buzz during the four key competition phases:

  1. Pre-launch
  2. Launch
  3. Last day
  4. Completion

In light of Facebook’s recent algorithm changes it has never been so important to kick your competition off with a bang. If you get off to a slow start you risk your competition post(s) getting buried deep in the Facebook newsfeed and it’s hard to come back from there. Our promotions strategy was our competitions special sauce, here is what we did:

Website and Facebook banner:

According to a recent Hubspot report visual Facebook posts receive 60% more engagement, making the creation of compelling graphics an important competition step. A month before launch we had our graphic designer produce a Facebook competition banner, Facebook advertising images (less than 20% text), website banner and Twitter banner. I would recommend creating graphics for any other social media networks you have a strong following on. If you can’t afford a graphic designer, try Canva , it is a great tool for cost effective graphic design.

Reach out to friends, brand advocates and social influencers:

To ensure our competition started with a bang we reached out to friends, brand advocates and social influencers asking them to share the competition artwork on the day of the launch. In total we reached out to 80 people and 43 of these people agreed to help. With each having an average of 500 Facebook friends this meant we were in front of over 20,000 people on the day of the competition launch. Here is a copy of the email template we used to reach out:

Facebook competition

Facebook advertising campaign:

Facebook advertising is a great tool to reach consumers outside of your core followers and re-engage prospects that have dropped off your online conversion process. As a part of our promotions strategy we ran two Facebook advertising campaigns- one targeting our competitor’s followers and another targeting our web visitors who visited our web design page but did not complete a desired action (fill out a contact form or sign up to our blog). Only spending $5 per day we managed to generate 32 entrants from our “competitors” campaign and 11 entrants from our retargeting campaign, making it a huge success. In light of Facebook’s recent changes running a Facebook advertising campaign is crucial to guaranteeing newsfeed visibility. For further insight into effective Facebook advertising strategies check out my earlier post.

Viral sharing:

Use the power of the social graph and get entrants to promote the competition on your behalf. To increase the competitions reach we offered entrants 10 bonus entries for every time they shared the competition on a social network or blog, allowing participants to do this a maximum once per day. We kept track of the shares using the raffle copter Facebook competition app. The campaign was shared 324 times allowing us to put our feet up (I wish) whilst the entrants did some of the heavy lifting.

Social media and email marketing

This goes without saying you want to promote your competition on social networks you have a strong following on. It is important to plan posts around the four competition phases pre-launch; launch; last day and completion (each phase will require different communications). In conjunction with this I would recommend creating an email marketing campaign for each of the phases sending communications to both existing email subscribers and new competition subscribers (if you are collecting email addresses). We found our competition lulled at about the halfway point so we created an email campaign reminding entrants they can share the competition for bonus entries, here is the template (feel free to copy):

Facebook competition

Bonus step: List your competition on popular contest websites:

This is a step that can be great for improving your SEO and generating awareness outside of social media. Here are the top 19 websites to list your contests on according to Wishpond. If SEO is your goal it is important to do your due diligences and verify the authority of the links before choosing which websites to reach out too. If SEO is not your goal be careful what sites you post your competition on as a lot are full of bargain hunters who would not be in the market for your services- being a b2b service company we failed to find a contest website our target market frequented so we skipped this step.

5. Convert competition leads into sales

So by now you will have a massive list of email subscribers, but what to do with them? Here is where you put the wheels in motion to convert them into sales. I would recommend deciding on a special offer for competition entrants for the services in which you have qualified them for, in our case this was web design. Our goal here is to turn the soft leads into hard leads and a special offer with a limited timeframe will be the catalyst for action we are looking for. This step is what helped us close five web development sales after the competition period- here is the email template we used:

 

Facebook competition

 

Have your say!

Have you run a Facebook Competition and how did it go? Do you have any other ideas for promoting a Facebook competition that I havn't mentioned?

Welcome to another Social Media Today webinar as part of the Best Thinker webinar series, this time on the topic of What Does Customer Experience Mean for Your Social Business?

This week I moderated another Social Media Today webinar as part of their Best Thinker webinar series, this time on the topic of What Does Customer Experience Mean for Your Social Business? We assembled a really fantastic panel to give us their perspective on this topic: Jeofrey Bean, a noted author on “The Customer Experience Revolution” and Principle at Del Mar Research; Shep Hyken, the Chief Amazement Officer and Customer Experience expert at Shepard Presentations; and Dave Haucke, a Senior Strategist for IBM’s Smarter Commerce. This webinar was also sponsored by IBM.

Jeofrey started us off with a discussion on "Why customer experience?" and more importantly, "Why now?" After defining the difference between Customer Experience and User Experience, he dove into some research his firm had produced around what percentage of companies are focusing on customer experience. The data reminded me a bit of Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm – where 5% of the market were leaders in customer experience (early adopters), 25% were focused on either the user experience or the customer experience (fast followers) and 75% were leading with their product or service (late adopters).

Shep took over after Jeofrey and talked about the journey from "reacting to engaging." He cited some research that mentioned the average response time on social media was 9 hours when the customer expectation of a response time was closer to 1 hour. He also talked about keeping your response in the “channel” and not answering a tweet with a snail mail response (true example).

Dave then finished off the presentations with a deep dive on how to move from the current state to your desired state. He cited some IBM research that show there were three key behaviors common to success and they are: First, break the typical silos and barriers to that get in the way of being customer focused and treating customers more holistically. Second create a system of engagement that enables listening and interacting with customers much more effectively. Third, foster a customer-centric culture that focuses on establishing a win-win with the customer.

Now, if you have ever been on a Social Media Today webinar before, you know they are very “participant-driven” and we love to ask your questions of our panelists. Some of the questions we covered in this webinar were: What is the difference between service design and customer experience? Should everyone have a branded Twitter handle, Is social media becoming the dominant channel for interacting with customers?

If that piqued your interest, you will want to hear the replay of this webinar or review the slides from this webinar. Otherwise we hope you will join us on another Social Media Today webinar! The next one is on What Does Customer Experience Mean for Your Social Business; sign up for it or view the schedule of upcoming webinars here.

Also to follow the play-by-play Twitter action, just read the following Storify: