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Using User-Generated Content

You’ve created it. Your friends have created, and you’ve seen it all over social media whether you know it or not. We’re talking User-Generated Content (UGC). User-generated content is an affordable and inexpensive means of building credibility for your business. It’s about showing your customers that you care about their needs and it helps foster a human connection. UGC can prove very beneficial for your business. Why? Because your offerings are being praised by your audience’s peers. It can take the form of a nice comment on Facebook, a curated photo of one of your meals posted to Instagram or a rave review on Yelp. Think of it as word of mouth but digital.

Now that we know what UGC is and how beneficial it can be, the next step is to determine the type of UGC you want and strategize towards it for the best results. Here are some tips to help you devise a UGC plan for your business:

Engage Your Audience:

In order to engage your audience, have them interact with your brand and provide you with UGC, you need to put a focus on engaging content. A simple way to do this is by asking questions in your social media posts. For example, if you’re a restaurant, you can ask what everyone’s favorite dish is. You can also encourage people to leave reviews on Google, Yelp or Facebook. If you want to amp things up a notch, you can partner with micro-influencers or you can host giveaways where an entry requirement is to leave a review, comment about what they love about your business, etc.

Selecting the Best UGC:

Not all UGC is created equal. When selecting which content to share or repost, first look at things like grammar, quality of any visuals and overall shareability. Then, once you’ve compiled some options, strategize on how to get the most mileage out of these posts. To put this in context, pretend you’re the owner of a clothing store and you have a pair of jeans that are about to go on sale. Say you also have a great review of these jeans. Instead of just randomly selecting content, use the review of the jeans to also highlight that they’ll be going on sale.

Post Branded Hashtags:

Hashtags are a secret weapon for optimizing user-generated content. Consumers can easily look up content through branded hashtags. Try to keep your hashtags short, simple and unique to your business. Look at your competitors’ hashtags and think strategically about phrases and words that best describe your offerings. 

Sponsored and paid advertisements on social and digital have become redundant, and consumers may have a tendency to scroll past them. The right UGC strategy can be just what your business needs to create a connection that’s meaningful, engaging and profitable. 

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How to Craft Long-Form Written Content

Blogs are a major player in helping elevate your brand to thought leader status. They engage your audience and offer up an easy way to get across expert information. After reading your posts, your audience should leave knowing how to do something new or with valuable knowledge they can apply to their life, business etc. Here’s how to get started.

The Topic
The entire idea behind thought leadership is that you are publishing content that places your brand as an expert, so that’s a great place to start when brainstorming content ideas. You want to be very intentional with what type of information you’re providing your readers. For example, one subject has many different angles. You could write a How-To Guide on making cupcakes, but you could also write a piece on Top Cupcake Trends. Both posts are placing you as an expert on cupcakes, but take very different approaches. The key here is whether you’re offering a How-To Guide, the Do’s and Don’ts or even Three to Five Things You Should Know about a certain subject post, you need to provide insider information that you (someone who is an expert in the industry) would know and your audience wouldn’t.

The Structure
Due to the flexible nature of blogs, there isn’t a hard and fast rule on the best way to structure them, although you should also be aiming to make your blogs as digestible as possible. You should also ensure that each of your blogs have an introduction and conclusion.

See your introduction as an appetizer. You want to get your audience hungry, you want to hook them in. Introductions should be brief but also inform your readers in an interesting way what the next course is going to be. Your conclusion should wrap up the ideas you introduced in the blog. View this section as your dessert. Your readers are mostly likely pretty full on information, but they’re looking for a little something sweet to end the meal. Now we get to the entree, whatever happens in between the intro and conclusion is up to you. You can structure your blogs with bulleted lists, paragraphs and even graphs and charts, the only thing to keep in mind is that you don’t over serve. Make sure your main ideas are clear, easy to read and don’t present an overwhelming amount of information.

Making a Content Series
One great way to increase your thought leadership credibility is by implementing a content series. A content series is basically just a series of blogs. For example, you would have a mother blog on a certain topic, such as thought leadership. Then you would have 2-3 subtopics of that main topic outlined in that mother blog – like long-form written content, visual content and media. Having deja vu? That’s right, you’re currently in a content series. The beauty of a content series is that you have the ability to take a deeper dive into a specific subject in a cohesive way.

By integrating a robust, knowledgeable blog presence on your website, you’ll not only reinforce your authority to website visitors, but you’ll also increase searchability and have the functionality to share across digital channels such as social media and newsletters.

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The Basics on Thought Leadership

The Basics on Thought Leadership

There are always buzzwords floating around the business world: productivity, transparency, ROI (just to name a few). And while thought leadership might be a topic you’ve seen, it’s so much more than just a buzzword. It’s essential for the growth of your business. So let’s dive into the basics. Thought leadership is being an expert on a specific topic or in a specific industry that people and publications can rely on to learn the newest trends. It’s a simple way for your business to reinforce your expertise on a given topic or industry.

So what’s the big deal? Well, other than the obvious fact that every business wants to be an expert in their field, it’s crucial to position yourself as an expert in front of your target audience.

How does one become a thought leader? By creating timely, knowledgeable and expert insight on a subject through branded content. Here’s how:

Long-Form Written Content

Blogs are a major player in helping your brand become a thought leader. They engage your audience and they offer up an easy way to get across expert information. After reading your posts, your audience should leave knowing how to do something new or with valuable knowledge they can apply to their life, business etc. By integrating a robust, knowledgeable blog presence on your website, you’ll not only reinforce your authority to website visitors, but you’ll also increase searchability and have the functionality to share across digital channels such as social media and newsletters.

Visual Content

As we mentioned above, relevant content is key to a successful thought leadership campaign, but it isn’t just enough to write blogs. You need visual elements to capture your audience’s attention and relay key points of information. Not everyone has the time or attention span to read blogs, so utilizing visual content like infographics makes your expert information easily consumed by social media scrollers. According to Facebook, on average, most audiences spend about 1.7 seconds on a piece of content. In order to get the most out of this very short amount of time and hopefully capture someone’s attention, a strong visual presence is key.

 Publicity

Another great way to increase brand authority is through publicity. Once your business has scored a media hit due to your excellent thought leadership content, you can not only expect a wider reach to your target audience via the media publication you’ve landed, but also increased credibility. When the media is relying on you as a source of expert information, this will solidify your status as a thought leader among your target audiences as well.

Stay tuned to receive additional blog posts as we take a deeper dive into the elements that lead to a successful thought leadership campaign. 

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Your Marketing Materials Should Reflect Your Current Brand

Consistency in your brand messaging is key in communicating your core offerings. Even if you’ve defined your unique value proposition, this won’t be clear to your target audiences if your marketing materials don’t reflect it. As you’re evaluating your need for a rebrand, gather every piece of marketing you use or have used, and prepare to take a close look at each item.

Start with Your Logo

A business’s logo is the cornerstone of the brand, the starting point in creating that instant recognition among your target audience. However, the design process can cost quite a bit of time and money — two things budding entrepreneurs find are in short supply. Think about how you would do your logo today, knowing what you do now about branding. Now think about how you could put those ideas in place to give it an updated look. Remember, a rebrand doesn’t mean trashing your logo. Simple font and color hue adjustments can make a big impact.

Move on to the Marketing Collateral

Up-to-date marketing materials are important for every business, regardless of whether or not sales are involved in the day-to-day success of the venture. Gather up all of your collateral – brochures, pitch decks, direct mail – and review the messaging and overall design. Are they communicating the brand effectively? Is the message the same across each marketing piece? Does it have the correct address and contact information? It helps to sit down with all materials at once to get a top-level view of your marketing program.

Finish with a Complete Audit of All the Rest

A marketing collateral audit doesn’t only refer to sales materials; take a look at every item that contains your company name or logo. This includes items like business cards, pens, signage, stationary and envelopes. You might be surprised with just how many outlets your brand touches! Not only should you look over everything for accuracy, but also think about necessity. For example, branded USB drives were all the rage 10 years ago, but today this will make you look outdated.

After conducting your audit of all marketing materials, you’ll probably be surprised at just how much your business has evolved since its startup days. Still don’t know whether or not you need a rebrand? Take our quiz!

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Pay Attention to Your Employer Brand

Just when you think you have a good handle on how your brand is perceived by your target audience, we’re here to throw you a curveball: how does your brand look to potential recruits? If you find yourself just trying to fill open positions instead of recruiting top talent to help grow your company, it’s time to take a close look at your employer brand.

Recruiting is Marketing

Ten years ago, most of the workforce was simply happy to have a steady paycheck. Companies didn’t have to offer fancy amenities and perks, because they had the upper hand. Fortunately, the economy has recovered quite well, and unemployment has dropped to its lowest rate since 2000 (as of June 1, 2018). This means employers need to put forth effort to actually attract the type of employees they want.

Understand Your Brand

Just as you would conduct an external brand audit, you need to take a hard look at your employer brand. As you evaluate your recruiting assets, make sure your brand voice and feel is weaved through every piece of collateral. The same is true for the onboarding process, a new employee’s first true interaction with your company. Every member of your team – from customer-facing positions to the person processing payroll – should be able to explain your company’s culture. Word-of-mouth endorsement from your employees is just as good as any lead generation initiative.

Look from the Outside In

Once you’ve examined your company culture, take a look at how (or if) you’re promoting yourself as an employer. It might seem self-serving to talk about all of the wonderful benefits you offer your employees, but that is going to be one of your best assets when it comes to recruiting the most qualified talent to join your team. Applicants want to know these things, and not sharing what sets you apart is actually going to hurt your chances at recruiting.

Recruiting top talent to work for you is a plight understood by every company, but the ones who get it are the brands that treat their recruiting process the same as their sale process. Click here to read more about how to improve your internal and external brands for overall success.

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Your Brand Has Changed, Whether You Know it or Not

Are you the same person you were 10 years ago? Neither is your business. Chances are, if you’ve been around for more than a few years, something about your company has changed. This might be a slight tweaking to make your business more competitive or a complete shift as a result of industry changes. No matter what has changed or why, your brand should reflect that.

Core Offerings Are Huge

It’s easy to disregard slight changes to your products or services because they might not seem like that big of a deal from the inside. (Especially if this was a gradual shift.) However, from a potential customer, that small amendment could be just what they’re looking for. Take a step back, and look at your core offerings with a fresh eye. If someone you did business with on the first day you opened your doors approached you now, would you offer them the same service?

Company Culture is Key

Too often, company culture is overlooked when it comes to selling a brand. However, your culture and your brand cannot be separate. You’ve probably worked hard building a strong internal system of communications, employee engagement, general workforce bonding, etc. Sharing that with your target audience adds to your overall brand equity. Additionally, promoting your strong culture will help attract top talent that will drive your business forward.

Brand Equity Needs Attention

Speaking of brand equity, have you measured yours? Establish how much value your brand has within your target audience, and how recognizable it is among those in your network. Your customer might have a general idea about what you bring to the table, but the strong key points may have become muddied as your business has changed. A rebrand can be a fantastic way to reestablish your messaging and give your hard-earned brand equity a boost.

As you’re taking a look at how your brand has changed for your target audience, remember that it’s important to actually define those target audiences. If you’re still not sure whether or not you need a rebrand, take our quiz!  

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Consistency in Brand Messaging is Key

If you want to find out how consistent your brand messaging is, ask three people to describe your business: a customer, an employee and yourself. If your company has been around for while, you’ll most likely get three very different messages. No matter who the public face is for your brand, it’s important that everyone involved be able to distinguish the key points that set your offerings apart from the rest.

External Branding

Once you’ve identified your target audiences, think about how you want people to interact with your business. Whether a potential client is holding your business card, using your website or reviewing a sell sheet, the essence of your company should be there and be familiar. If you want them to walk away feeling confident, work backwards and decide what your business can do to instill that emotion.

How did a boring yellow ‘M’ become one of those most recognized logos in the world? Consistent branding. You might not be as big as McDonald’s (yet!), but presenting a unified look and feel across every single marketing channel is crucial in communicating your value to your target audience. Part of your rebrand should be to decide how this will spread across every platform.

Internal Branding

Depending on what type of business you’ve built, there could be multiple internal audiences – from support staff who keep the company running to client-facing employees who interact with your target audience on a regular basis. However, when it comes to brand messaging, everyone needs to be on board.

A good analogy is how restaurants work with their serving staff. When a new menu item is released, a good restaurant will have everyone taste the item while they explain the flavors behind it. That way, the servers can make recommendations to the customer and be able to describe the dishes before placing their order. Now, ask yourself how your employees would be able to explain your offerings to your target audience. Can they describe your services? Do they know the key differentiators of your brand? Would they recommend working with your company to their own networks?

Strive to have every single person who interacts with your brand come away with the feeling and knowledge you want to communicate. You may never reach McDonald’s status, but that doesn’t mean you can’t strive to instill that same recognition among your target audience.

Still not sure about a rebrand? Take our quiz!

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Redefining Your Target Audience

The very first step in a company rebrand should always be to re-evaluate the target audience. Depending on how long you’ve been in business, what was true of your ideal customer back then is most likely not true today. (Those young Millennials fresh out of college aren’t so young anymore!) Don’t worry about starting from scratch because you probably have the information right at your fingertips. It’s all just a matter of taking another look at the facts.

Make a List of Your Favorite Past Clients or Customers

Think back over your years in business, and write down your best customer-centered experiences. This could be a short transaction that went better than expected or even a long-term partnership that helped define who you are as a company. Are there any similarities in the clients that were involved in these situations? This may just be the type of client you want to target in the long term.

Decide Who Your Product or Service Helps Today

Even if your core offering hasn’t changed, your target audience definitely has. A 10-year-old office furniture company may still provide chairs and desks, but the needs of today’s working spaces are vastly different. As you begin the rebrand process, you’ll need a realistic picture of who has the potential to purchase your product or service. If that same office furniture company opened its doors marketing to cubicle-ridden office spaces in the Loop, it’s time to adjust their focus.

Create a Complete Audience Profile

As you’re imagining your new target audience, really get into who they are and what makes them tick. What’s their story? How old are they? Are they tech-savvy? Where do they get their news? What makes them happy? Answering these questions now will shape your entire marketing plan later. You’ll be able to speak to your target audience in their language and through their preferred medium.

Don’t be afraid that pinpointing your audience will pigeonhole you into marketing ONLY to that group. Just because you choose an ideal client doesn’t mean you can’t work with anyone else. This is merely a jumping off point to help give direction to your rebrand.

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A Business Owner’s Guide to Instagramming Events

Instagram is the place to be for business owners, but it can be hard to find your niche among the pics of avocado toast and expertly-posed babies. The easiest thing way to get started is to be your own paparazzi at community and networking events. Don’t worry, you don’t have to invest in a selfie stick. Just snap a few photos, and follow these steps for optimizing your post.

Tag the Event Host
If you’re at an event to connect with others in your community or field, chances are the event host is trying to do the same. Find out if they’re on Instagram, and be sure to tag them in your post. Extra points if you pay them a compliment in your caption. This will not only show them you’re active on Instagram, it will put the ball in their court to either comment on your post or repost to their followers. Either way, you’ve already drawn eyes to your Insta presence.

Know Your Hashtags
Ever wonder how someone with 100 followers can get 200 likes on Instagram? It’s all because of hashtags. They act as the ultimate search function, connecting users to what they want to see on the platform. For example, if you are located in Humboldt Park, using #HumboldtPark lets others who are connected to the area find your content. When you’re at an event, find out if the host has created a specific hashtag for the occasion, (e.g. #gala2018), and use it in your posts from the event. Not only will your photos appear when other attendees search the hashtag, you’ll also be able to find and connect with your fellow event goers.

Geotag Yourself
When you create an Instagram post, you have the option to add your location. The main reason to use this feature is to connect with others who are at the event. Instagram offers a search feature to see who else has checked in at the venue. Simply click on the location, and you’ll have a list of attendees who have also used the function. You can also look at their event photos to see if there are other hashtags you should use.

Businesses continue to find great success in locating and connecting with their audiences on Instagram. As you’re optimizing your IG presence, be sure to utilize Instagram for Business to track your results.

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What Small Businesses Should Know About the Facebook Algorithm Changes

Facebook announced last week a plan to overhaul users’ newsfeeds to weed out business and celebrity posts in favor of more meaningful engagements from friends and family. This has caused some serious waves in the social media world, as Facebook has been making it increasingly difficult for businesses to reach their audiences organically. Since the big brands have large budgets for highly-targeted, paid social media ad campaigns, this means it’s the small businesses that will suffer.

We’re still waiting on more details, but here’s what small businesses need to know right now:

Get Reacquainted with Your Followers

Think quality over quantity, because this new change means fans who don’t regularly engage with your content will probably never see it. Facebook’s news feed algorithm is designed to show you what it thinks you want to see. If someone is visiting your page (by actively navigating to the page), as well as sharing and liking posts, that will earn you a space in their newsfeed. If a fan liked your page awhile ago, and doesn’t appear to be that interested, the algorithm will note this and show little to none of your content.

Focus on Engagement

One of the first things a business can do is encourage fans and followers to add their pages to Facebook’s see first feature. After that, it’s time to really focus on engagement. Videos and Facebook Live continues to yield great results, as does colorful imagery that inspires comments and shares. Think of Facebook as more of a way to have a conversation with your target audience instead of just talking at them.

Commit to an Ad Spend

After this change, reaching your target audience organically is going to become virtually impossible. Decide what your goals are for Facebook – website clicks, lead form completions, etc. – and put together an advertising plan. Start by creating a schedule of boosted posts and keeping a close watch on the results. Is one type of content seeing more shares than another? Create more of those types of posts and go from there.

If you’re interested in more information about Facebook advertisements, check out our blog on how to get started.