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49 Free Photo Resources to Make Your Content Rock

photo resources-photographerPhotos and other visuals speak more than a thousand words these days. Therefore, companies are adding a graphic designer, a stock photo subscription or a photographer to their budgets. However, what if your business does not have the money in the budget but still needs professional looking visuals or simply needs something immediately? What do you do? You turn to the Internet for free photos and tools.

What is Creative Commons?

As you search the Internet for free images, you will notice most of the images are offered via one of six types of Creative Commons (CC) licenses. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that offers licenses to the public for free. Creators can choose which license reflects the rights they wish to retain and waive and then offer their works to the public. No need for individual negotiations! Just carefully check the rights and attribution requirements before using any image.

Free Photo Websites

Now that you understand the CC license, let’s start looking for some great free photos for commercial use. We have gathered a small collection of search engine sites and direct image gallery sites. Don’t be surprised if you lose track of time checking out all the great images; I do every time. Images are high resolution unless otherwise noted. Some sites offer only free images while others offer a mixture of free and paid.

  • bigfoto.com – Bigfoto.com offers a royalty-free photo gallery contributed primarily by amateur photographers and organized by geographic areas. A link to bigfoto.com on your website or a click on the Facebook Like button or Twitter follow button is required.
  • Can We Image – Can We Image allows you to search Wikimedia Commons, and results link directly to the photo’s source.
  • Compfight – Compfight is a Flickr search engine and can be filtered by license needs.
  • Creative Commons Search –  This site offers easy access to image search services offered by other organizations. Users are encouraged to check the licenses on search results.
  • Death to the Stock Photo – Death to the Stock Photo delivers photos in a zip file to you monthly via email.
  • Dreamstime – Dreamstime has a searchable free section for people who create a free account. Dreamstime offers these photos under its own license, not CC.
  • everystockphoto.com – Everystockphoto.com allows you to search for free photos from many sources, and the photos are license-specific. Membership is free.
  • Flickr – Flickr is a humongous repository of photos. Sign in with a Yahoo email account and filter by commercial use. Image resolution and license terms vary.
  • Flickr: The Commons – This site is a subsection of Flickr for public domain photos from libraries and academic institutions. Image resolution varies.
  • Foter – Foter is a search engine that pulls from multiple sources and requires a free account. It has over 190 million images and is also available as a WordPress plugin.
  • FreeDigitalPhotos.net – FreeDigitalPhotos.net has a large collection of free photos and illustrations with the option of purchasing smaller and larger sizes.
  • freeimages – Freeimages has over 400,000 free images to choose from in its gallery.
  • FreeMediaGoo.com – FreeMediaGoo.com offers a limited gallery of free photos, textures and backgrounds.
  • FreePhotosBank – FreePhotosBank is a large gallery of searchable photos and backgrounds. The thumbnail images make viewing photos hard so you have to click on more photos than normal to find the one you want.
  • Freerange Stock – With a free membership, you can download photos and textures directly or edit them in Pixlr prior to download. Photos are created by in-house photographers or contributed by community members.
  • Gratisography – Gratisography does not offer a search option for its photo gallery, but you can sign up to be notified by email when new photos are added.
  • IM Free – IM Free is a curated collection of photos you can search or view by category, and all images are available for commercial use.
  • Image Finder – Image Finder’s gallery is searchable by keywords and findings filtered by commercial use.
  • Little Visuals – Little Visuals primarily offers collections of landscape photos. You can get seven random images emailed to you every seven days.
  • lorempixel – Creating a website or print material and need a placeholder image? Lorempixel lets you choose different sizes, categories, color and black and white with its random generator.
  • morgueFile – morgueFile has a large collection of free images you can search for by keyword and then filter further. 
  • New Old Stock – New Old Stock has a wide variety of vintage photos from public archives. Unfortunately, it’s not searchable. (Image resolution varies.)
  • The Pattern Library – The Pattern Library has a limited number of wacky patterns. The site is not intuitive to use. Move the cursor around the screen and you’ll start to see how it’s set up.
  • Photo Pin – Photo Pin is an image search engine for Flickr. (Image resolution varies.)
  • Photober – Photober offers a limited image gallery you can view by category.
  • picjumbo – Picjumbo has a nice image collection organized by category.
  • Pickup Image – Pickup Image claims to be the “largest collection of free photographs. Freely download high quality premium free stock images,  public domain photos.” The images focus on landscapes and other outdoor scenes.
  • pixabay – Pixabay offers photos free of copyright restrictions under the Creative Commons Deed C0 license and pulls images from multiple sources.
  • The Public Domain Review – The Public Domain Review offers public domain images from the pre-16th century to the 20th century. You can search by time frame, medium or source. (Image resolution varies.)
  • Refe – Refe has a gallery of free mobile photos.
  • RGBStock – Free registration is required to download RGBStock’s large image gallery of photos and graphics.
  • SmartPhotoStock – SmartPhotoStock has a gallery of about 3,600 photos for bloggers – some free, some paid. A link back to the site is required.
  • Superfamous – Superfamous features the photographs of Dutch interactive design Folkert Gorter under the CC Attribution 3.0 license.
  • Unsplash – View the photos already collected, and sign up to receive 10 new photos each week by email.
  • Unprofound.com – Unprofound.com provides free photos sorted by color and a simple search function.
  • Wikimedia Commons – Wikimedia Commons offers over 21,000,000 free images in a highly categorized system. Creators use multiple license types so be sure to check.

Once you have found the photos you want, you may wish to edit them, create a collage or infogram, or otherwise alter them assuming the license permits it. Sometimes you are feeling extra creative and want to create original content.

Image Editing & Creation Tools

  • 0 to 255 – Finding the right color shade can be difficult. This site shows variation of different colors.
  • Canva – Canva is an online photo editor and image design tool with great tutorials on how to get the most out of this tool so you don’t have to be a design pro.
  • GIMP – GIMP is a free program for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It is expandable with plugins and extensions to increase the number of tasks it can do.
  • HTML Color Picker – Want to know the color code for a particular color in an image? Upload the image and choose the spot with the color to find the HTML code, HEX value, RGB value and HSV value.
  • Infogram – After a quick registration, you can start creating an infographic, and who doesn’t need an infographic these days?
  • Paint.NET – Paint.NET is a free image and photo editing software for computers that runs Windows. It includes many of the features of PhotoShop and an online community provides support, tutorials and plugins.
  • PicMonkey – PicMonkey runs in your browser so you can edit photos, create collages and designs. It is easy to understand and does not require an account.
  • Pixlr – Pixlr is a photo editor that runs in your browser and offers features similar to PhotoShop.
  • Recite – Recite is an easy tool to turn quotes into great graphics.
  • Skitch – Skitch is an Evernote product that lets you add annotations, shapes and sketches to images.
  • Social Image Resizer Tool – Quickly resize images to the right size for social media with this tool.
  • Web Photo Resizer – Resize your image files for faster loading and do some simple editing.
  • W3Schools – Along with loads of programming information, resources are available to help you find the perfect color.

These lists are far from complete, but I hope they provide you with a solid resource set for finding and creating the images and other images for your communication and marketing needs. I have used these sites for many of my own projects as well as client projects. Although these sites offer the photos for free, please carefully review the licenses to make sure you are complying with usage restrictions and attribution requirements. Enjoy exploring these resources, get creative and make your content rock.

Behind the High Bounce Rate Issue

“Oh, no! My site’s pages have high bounce rates. What do I do? The world is coming to an end!” Sound familiar? That’s the message being perpetuated about bounce rates when actually the issue is more nuanced.

What is bounce rate? Google says it is “…the percentage of visits that go to only one page before exiting a site.” The bounce rate is intended to help you determine the efficacy of your site.

High bounce rates

Five ways people could “bounce”:

  • Clicks on an external link
  • Presses the browser back button
  • Types another URL into the browser
  • Session timeout
  • Closes the browser window

Bounce rates vary greatly by industry, site type and page intent. Therefore, a magic bounce rate does not exist so don’t go chasing unicorns. Generally, people consider 50% or lower as being very good. However, you can have high converting pages with an 80% bounce rate.

Reasons for a High Bounce Rate

Let’s take a look at why a bounce rate may be high for a page or website:

  • People founded what they needed and left
  • Wrong traffic targeted
  • Misleading PPC advertisements
  • Content isn’t engaging or outdated
  • Poor website design
  • Intrusive advertisements
  • Slow load time
  • External links
  • In-page actions, such as video plays
  • Tracking profiles for only some of your pages

Are All High Bounce Rates Bad?

Now, not every high bounce rate is cause for alarm. The goals of some pages aren’t to get a visitor to spend a lot of time on site but to take a specific action. For example, if you have a page with contact information, a person might leave after getting the phone number or address. That would count as a bounce but could result in an offline conversion. Also, a regular blog reader may visit a site to read the latest post and then leave. Knowing the purpose of each page and looking at returning versus first-time visitors can be beneficial.

What Can You Do to Lower Your Bounce Rate?

But what if the goal of your website pages is to keep people onsite? What steps can you take to lower the bounce rate?

  • Add links to related information on your site
  • Offer high quality, relevant content with clear calls-to-action
  • Enhance website usability – fonts, color contrast, organization, bulleted lists, large headlines
  • Use intuitive navigation
  • Design site specifically for target audience
  • Decrease page load time
  • Use mobile responsive site design
  • Reduce number of advertisements, especially above the fold
  • Open external links in new windows
  • Customize 404 page with search box and link back to home page
  • Turn off autoplay
  • Avoid pop-ups
  • Fix broken hyperlinks

Before making a bazillion tweaks and changes to your site, first review the individual pages and overall site to see what’s performing as expected and what’s not. Once you know where you problems are, you can start implementing specific tactics to lower the bounce rate, making your pages stickier. 

 

Facebook Enhances Video Metrics

Where did people stop watching the video? How long did they watch the video? How many unique video views did it get? Did they re-watch the section? Answers to these questions and others will soon be available to Page owners as part of Facebook’s new video metrics in the updated Page Insights and Ads Reporting.

Presently, Facebook only shows you how many people have started viewing a video – not very useful. According to Facebook, you will soon receive data on video views, unique views, audience retention and the average duration of the video view. The new metrics will provide much more detailed information for both organic and paid videos uploaded directly to pages. The one exception is the click-to-play metric that will show clicks for third-party videos, like YouTube, that play in-line on Facebook. This move requires Page owners to do more of their video work directly on the Facebook platform.

As part of the update, Facebook made two term changes. A “video view” is now a view of three seconds or more, including auto-play videos as users scroll through their News Feeds. The “video plays” metric has been renamed “clicks to play video.”

Here is a preview of what the video metrics will look like:

Facebook Video Metrics-Video Post Details

Although video metrics will be available for both organic and paid video posts, Ads Reporting will provide a more detailed breakdown and demographics:

Facebook Video Metrics-Ads Reporting Details

For complete views, Facebook will make “Video Views to 95%” as the default setting as many videos have blank screen endings. However, you can view 25%, 50%, 75%, 95% and 100% in Ads Reporting. If you are interested in targeting a particular demographic, Ads Reporting will show you how many of those people you reached so you can see if your campaign resonated with the right group.

One of the most interesting metrics is Audience Retention. Dips could show where people lost interest or were turned off by something and stopped watching. Spikes at specific points could indicate where people are re-watching a section either because they like the section or the content may need clarification. With this data, you can make changes to your videos to enhance viewing.

Facebook Video Metrics-Audience Retention

With the increasing demand for video content, these metrics will help you better understand what content resonates with your targeted audience and let you know what you need to improve. No more wondering if you are wasting time and money. For more details and best practices, Facebook created a pdf overview of the new video metrics. You may wish to print it out for quick reference as you explore these new video metrics.

Why You Should Use Secondary Calls-to-Action

Marketing experts advise companies to use prominent calls-to-action (CTAs) for their websites, social media, emails and any other communication. We are to tell people exactly what we want them to do – a single action. But what if they aren’t ready for it or interested? That’s where secondary calls-to-action come into play.

What is a Secondary CTA?

A secondary CTA is a call-to-action that provides an alternative action to the primary action you want people to take whether they are website visitors, prospects or leads so you don’t lose them altogether. They let you further engage and potentially capture people who are not interested in your primary CTA or may need additional information before taking the desired action. Your secondary CTA is typically less prominent than your primary CTA and requires less commitment. For example, your primary call-to-action may be to start a free trial period for new software with a secondary CTA to take a tour of the software’s features.

This example is from Moz, where it is promoting its new marketing analytics software, Moz Pro. If you are like me, you want to get more information to maximize your 30-day free trial experience, or you may prefer to just jump in. Moz kindly provides you with both options.

Secondary Call-to-Action - Moz Pro Software

Benefits of Secondary Calls-to-Action

Using a secondary call-to-action has many benefits than using a primary CTA alone:

Increased Time on Website
People today are spending more and more time checking out your business and researching the solutions to their needs. This is especially true in the complex B2B environment where the conversion process can be quite long or any large personal purchase like a car. Sending people to an online demo, related articles, etc. will keep them exploring your website instead of jumping to your competitor’s.

Incremental Conversions
Ideally, primary CTAs match where a person is in the conversion process.  However, a lead may have already downloaded multiple e-books or articles but still may not be ready to move ahead. If you are using tools like progressive profiling, then you can gather more information on a leads as they continue to convert on the secondary CTAs to create better personalized lead nurturing campaigns.

Move Leads to Next Stage
Despite sophisticated technology, we can never truly know when someone is ready to move forward in the sales process. Secondary CTAs at least keep people moving incrementally along, which is better than not at all. You may also have people who have only converted on a couple offers so you don’t feel comfortable for the big score just yet. However, what if you provided a lesser option as a primary CTA and the big one as your secondary? Some people may be ready to make the big commitment. They don’t need any more nurturing. This way you’ll get both groups.

Support Other Company Goals
Not every call-to-action has to be focused on the “ideal” sales action. Other actions may be just as important to your company. These actions can be used as either primary or secondary calls-to-action based on your current goals. You can have the CTA involve social sharing and connection, email newsletter subscriptions, promoting a company-sponsored event, fundraising or any number of other business goals.

So don’t just create primary CTAs and walk away. Instead, make sure you are capturing and converting as many people as possible with the addition of quality secondary CTAs. You may be surprised how many people will take the ultimate action with just a bit more nurturing.

 

Google Trends Debuts Email Subscriptions

Google recently announced a new feature of Google Trends – email subscriptions. People can now follow trending topics around the world or a specific country and receive notification via email. Subscriptions can be for specific search terms, hot searches and top charts.

Want to know what people are searching for on the Internet? Google Trends is a great tool to find out real-time information or historical information back to 2004. This data can be used by business owners monitoring their brand name or industry along with many other uses by all different kinds of people. However, getting the data isn’t always easy, especially since you have to specifically sign in.

The subscription button can be found in multiple locations, like on Top Charts:

Google Trends Email Subscriptions

Here is an example of doing a specific search:

Google Trends Search Term Subscription

You can specify “worldwide” or a specific country and have notifications delivered about once a week or about once a month.

The choices for Hot Searches include hot, hotter and hottest with deliveries of as-it-happens, once a day and once a week. For Top Charts in the United States, you are notified when there is a new release. You can easily manage your subscriptions, including edit and unsubscribe.

Now, you may be thinking that this feature sounds a lot like Google Alerts, and you’d be right. Some people speculate that the 2007 product will be closed down, especially after Google ended their alerts via RSS service. However, other people point to the January overhaul of Alerts as a reason it will stay around. Presently, with the greatest frequency of specific search terms only being about once a week, its benefits will not be as great at Google Alerts. Only time will tell how Google will further develop Google Trends.

Landing Pages: A Marketing Must Have

Landing Pages-parachutist

photo credit: pmarkham via photopin cc

You spend tremendous amounts of time, money and effort getting prospective customers to your website but then nothing. Crickets. What’s the missing piece here in your online marketing efforts? Landing pages!

What is a Landing Page?

A landing page is a singly highly focused website page that an advertisement or other hyperlink direct people to “land” on to take a specific action. Some potential actions include downloading a white paper, completing a demonstration request or signing up for a newsletter.

Some Reasons to Use Landing Pages

  1. Lead Capture – So many campaigns simply send people to the home page. Instead, send them to a page that details the benefits of taking a specific action and include a lead capture. These leads can then be segmented, nurtured or distributed to the sales team.
  2. Advertising Conversion Effectiveness – All advertising is more effective if it sends prospects to a targeted page that does nothing but support your advertising message.
  3. Promote Multiple Products – Instead of having a general product or service page, create pages that are focused on individual products or services and are tailored to specific audiences.
  4. Keep Visitors Focused – The typical home page allow visitors’ attention to wander. Properly executed landing pages help focus them more effectively on your offer and nothing else.
  5. Increase Conversion Rates – Because you are giving visitors exactly what they want, your conversion rates increase.
  6. Better Qualified Leads – Unlike general visitors to your website, people who arrive on a landing page do so because they clicked on a specific ad or link. They are already interested in what is being offered. With the landing page, you can provide more information on the benefits of taking a specific action.
  7. Better Metrics – Each time a prospect completes a lead capture form or takes other specific actions, you can collect more demographics about them and understand which ones are more engaged. You also gain better insight into your marketing efforts, such as how well your offers compare and how prospects are converting on your landing pages.
  8. Increase Appearance in Search Results – By having multiple focused pages, your website has a better chance of showing up in search results.

Instead of losing prospects, capture them by using landing pages and convert them to sales. Numerous resources exist to help you create and test landing pages. Take advantage of them. Your bottom line will thank you.

Another Advantage of Using Google+ Hashtags

Hashtags have become commonplace in social media conversations.They seem to be used everywhere. People can now search Google using hashtags to find Google+ content – another benefit of posting on Google+. In other words, not only are Google+posts indexable but so are Google+ hashtags.

If you were not using Google+before, you have one more incentive to do so. Google continues integrating its products and services. A recent integration includes adding Google+ hashtags into their search results, which is a step beyond what other social media platforms have done.

Doing a Google search for #marchmadness returned these results:

Google Plus Hashtags Search-March Madness

Google+ content that used the #marchmadness hashtag is displayed on the right side, prime real estate, whereas regular search results are listed on the left. Interestingly, at the Google+ results is the option to search Twitter and Facebook.

The Google+ results are presented in a scrolling fashion but can also be viewed using the arrows. The number of +1’s and other post activity can be seen. Clicking on a result will send a person to a Google+ page with current results of posts using the #marchmadness hashtag (image 1). Clicking the link to the person or brand that posted the link will take a searcher to the respective Google+ profile (image 2). Only posts that have been publicly shared or shared with the person searching will appear so privacy controls remain intact.

Google Plus Hashtags Search-Related Postsimage 1

Google Plus Hashtags Search-Profileimage 2

So what does this mean for brands?

Brands should post content on Google+ and use relevant hashtags in their posts. With this recent integration, relevant hashtags amplify a brand’s content beyond its followers and becomes another way to have its social media content discovered  by people via Google search results. Who doesn’t want to be discovered?

Hashtags can be used in a variety of ways: campaign, brand, trending, niche trending, content, event and location. A brand’s goals and content will dictate which ones to use. But do not go overboard with tags or the post will look spammy.

Hashtags are now included in an expandable list of three items in the upper right corner of the post. Hashtags in gray are manually created whereas the ones in blue are auto generated by Google based on the post’s content. While a hashtag is being manually created, Google will autosuggest other tags. For example, typing “#socialmedia” may generate the suggestion “#socialmediatips,” which could be a more relevant choice than the generic tag. Only using generic tags will cause a brand’s message to be lost in the noise and target too general an audience. Any unwanted tags in the list can be removed. If more than three hashtags are used, use the most important ones first. Clicking on a hashtag takes a person to related posts that used the particular hashtag and even related hashtags for more in-depth exploration.

As this feature is still fairly new, its potential success is unknown. The number of people who search by hashtag will determine the impact it has on brands. Even if it does not fully live up to expectations, the indexability of Google+ posts provides numerous benefits to justify a Google+ presence. Meanwhile, tag it!

Google Loves April Fools Day: Celebrates with Multiple Pranks

Geeks love practical jokes, and the geeks at Google are masters at it. For years Google has enjoyed playing multiple pranks on April Fools’ Day.

Google started publishing gags in 2000, and except for 2001 and 2003, it has created an ever larger number of pranks each year. Announcements and videos are published; the home page is changed; and outsiders are even used to pull off the pranks.

List of a small sample of Google April Fools’ Day pranks:

2000 – MentalPlex

2000 Google April Fools Prank-MentalPlex

MentalPlex search anticipated your search request by evaluating 1.3 billion variables, including recently visited websites, weather, astrological configuration, mouse movement and personal aura and brain activity.

2002 – PigeonRank

2002 Google April Fools Prank-PigeonRank

PigeonRank used clusters of domestic pigeons to find relevant search results. These pigeons were able to detect the minutest differences between similar pages. Each time a pigeon found a relevant result, the result receives a peck. The more pecks a result had the higher it showed up in the pecking order of your results.

2004 – Google Lunar Jobs

2004 Google Aprils Fools Day Prank-Lunar Jobs

In 2004 human resources got in on the act by advertising Google Lunar Jobs at the Google Copernicus Hosting Environment and Experiment in Search Engineering (G.C.H.E.E.S.E). This center was supposed to help Google “leapfrog” current plant-based jobs and increase information access.

2005 – Google Gulp

2005 Google April Fools Day Prank-Google Gulp

Google Gulp [Beta] with Auto-Drink (LIMITED RELEASE) was introduced to improve the cognitive abilities of the person drinking it. The bottle lip included a DNA scanner while the low carb beverage included stimulants to maximize optimization of a person’s cerebral cortex so “…you’ll never run of ways to quench your thirst for knowledge.”

2006 – Google Romance

2006 Google April Fools Day Prank-Google Romance

Google Romance was launched in response to Match.com and eHarmony. After uploading a profile, a user could perform a SoulMate Search and go on Contextual Dates.

2007 – Google TiSP System

2007 Google April Fools Day Prank-TiSP

Ready to dump your broadband ISP? TiSP, the Toilet Internet Service Provider, was a free in-home wireless broadband service. It was fast, reliable and water-resistant. TiSP connected a toilet-based router to one of thousands of access nodes using fiber-optic cable  strung through local municipal sewage lines.

2008 – AdSense for Conversations

2008 Google Aprils Fools Day Prank-AdSense for Conversations

This year brought AdSense for Conversations. This feature allowed a person to place relevant ads above one’s head. A listener could could hit the ad with their hand to immediately take advantage of the product or service. New Teleportation Technology transported the person directly to the site where the service was offered or delivered the product directly into his or her hands.

2009 – CADIE and Chrome 3D

2009 Google April Fools Prank-Google Chrome 3D

CADIE (Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity) was an artificial intelligence created with a teenager’s personality. While analyzing human behavior, CADIE noted the difference between the two-dimensional world of search and the three-dimensional world of real life. Therefore, Chrome 3D was created so search would match real life. All a person had to do was download and print a pair of 3D glasses and download Google Chrome with 3D.

2010 – Topeka Name Change

2010 Google April Fools Day Prank-Topeka Name Change

Google changed its name to Topeka in response to Topeka, KS temporarily changing its name to Google to grab a place in Google’s new broadband/fiber-optics project. Its home page logo was replace with Topeka. A photo was published of an updated sign outside Google’s headquarters. Last, a placard was even created to guide people in the proper conversational usage of Topeka.

2011 – Chromercise

Chromercise, an exercise program, was created to help people’s fingers keep up with the Chrome browser’s speed. A website was set up where exercises could be found and products ordered, including finger sweatbands. Richard Simmons would have been proud.

2012 – Google Racing

2012 Google April Fools Day Prank-Google RacingGoogle Racing was introduced, which brought Google’s self-driving cars to NASCAR race tracks. A fake news video was released starring Jeff Gordon and other NASCAR drivers along with Sergey Brin pretending to be the first Google “driver.” On Google’s home page, “I’m Feeling Lucky” was renamed “I’m Steering Lucky” with a link to the Google Racing microsite.

2013 – Gmail Blue

Gmail Blue was created to be a major innovation to the email service. Everything would be some shade of blue by default. This technology took six years to develop. The color blue was chosen because brown was a “disaster.” The blue had to be like that in nature but better. The video used to introduce the change included a cameo by The Blue Men, and the Google project employees spoke in a serious tone worthy of a groundbreaking announcement.

2014 – Pokemon Challenge

Google created a new job position called Pokemon Master. To find the absolute best Pokemon Masters, Google created a Pokemon Challenge. According to the YouTube description:

Dozens of wild Pokémon have taken up residence on streets, amidst forests and atop mountains throughout Google Maps.
To catch ’em all, grab your Poké Ball and the newest version of Google Maps for iPhone or Android. Then tap the search bar, “press start,” and begin your quest.
And, follow Google Maps on Google+, Facebook or Twitter for hints and tips for the most dedicated trainers.

Have you been punked by any of these or other Google April Fools’ Day pranks? For me, most of Google’s pranks were obvious, but a few left me wondering whether technology had advanced to that level.

5 Lessons Crutches Can Teach Online Marketers

crutches-lessons for online marketersIf you have ever used crutches for a while, you know it isn’t easy. Neither is online marketing. While recently forced to use crutches, I realize that several lessons I learned were applicable to online marketing.

First Lesson: Patience

Learning to use crutches took me a couple days. I had to learn the basic movements, how to transition from different floor surfaces and how to keep bobbles from turning into falls.

In a world where we expect immediate results, we need to understand that quality online marketing results do not happen overnight. Sure you could buy an email list or Twitter followers, but that won’t benefit you in the long run. Some results come faster than others, but with strategy development , buyer persona creation, A/B testing and other activities, most results take some time. For many of my clients, I advise them to give strategies enough time to work. Of course, there are always exceptions and some tweaks as the business environment changes.

Second Lesson: Persistence

Some of my crutch use efforts were not immediately successful. I knew I was close. For example, getting up from a low couch was especially difficult. I had to determine the right timing and the correct sequence of muscles that needed to activate to get up.

With online marketing, we may have everything lined up, but our activities are not providing the expected results. What’s going wrong? Keep trying. Keep testing your assumptions and tracking your metrics. You’ll likely find the the right combination of elements that will get you the results you need.

Third Lesson: Balance

Obviously, having good balance is vital to using crutches. I credit my Iyengar yoga training for keeping me upright through proper alignment and proprioception along with a few new tricks of my own.

Sometimes if you have expertise or success in one area of online marketing, you tend to focus all of your efforts on one tactic or strategy instead of creating a balanced plan. However, not every customer or situation calls for the same type of PPC ad, social media message, blog post or other communication. Or maybe you want to try something new, like several clients of mine who simply want to jump headlong into social media at the expense of everything else. Like me, you have to adapt what you know and add other tactics or strategies. Spread out your efforts an appropriate amount like a tripod, not a stilt or an octopus.

Fourth Lesson: A Strong Core

Using crutches uses a lot of upper body strength but also a lot of core strength. Your core is vital to your overall balance. Now, a human’s core is made of different tissues and bones working together.

Your marketing campaign also needs a strong core with all the elements necessary to implement your plan, and these elements must be integrated. If a part is missing or not properly integrated, the core strength of your online marketing plan is compromised. You have enough working against you for your customers’ attention; don’t sabotage your own efforts.

Fifth Lesson: Know When to Change

After eight days of crutches, I was too worn out to safely use them. Therefore, I made the decision to rent a knee walker, which is more stable, and supplement with crutches.

Sometimes no matter how solid your plan, testing and all might be you have to scratch most, if not all, of your online marketing plans and start over. Thoroughly evaluate what went wrong, get some advice and start over. If you learn from your efforts and don’t give up, then you haven’t failed; you’re just one step closer to success.

Take a moment to learn, discover and explore lessons that can be found in everyday experiences and applied to online marketing. Yeah, stop right now and think of one or two. The experience of using crutches is only one possible source. You might be surprised at what’s out there.

Social Media Customer Service Done Well

Great-Social-Media-Customer-ServicePeople spend a great deal of time venting about poor customer service, and they have taken their issues online, including social media. Is your company meeting its customers there or ignoring them?

If your company is not actively responding to customer service issues online, here are a few interesting statistics:

  • 80% of companies believe they provide “superior” customer service, but only 8% of their customers think the same. — Help Scout
  • 71% of customers who experience positive social care are likely to recommend that brand to others compared to only 19% of customers who do not receive any response. — NM Incite
  • 86% of social media customers want to hear from companies about their complaints. — Maritz Research
  • A social customer who has a positive experience will tell an average of 42 people whereas bad experiences will be told to 53 people. — American Express Global Customer Service Barometer
  • Social customers who have positive service issue resolutions will spend up to 40% more with the company. — Bain & Company

Now that I hopefully have your attention, how can you improve your social media customer service or even start such a program?

Listening
Find out what people are saying about your company and its products and services. If you are just starting out in social care, listening will help you know what information you will most likely need to have available to deal with issues and to set up customer social care. If you have a customer social care program, then listening will help you proactively remove customer pain points so fewer complaints arise and to identity trends.

Team integration
Customer do not care about your silos and internal battles. They want answers and resolutions. Having a cross-functional team of sales, marketing and subject matter experts enables you to respond quickly and effectively.

Develop policies and procedures
Your social media customer care representatives need a framework to rely on when responding to questions and issues, especially the proper tone to use. They need to respond quickly, respectfully and specifically with a clearly sincere desire to help.

The temptation is to require canned responses for everything. However that is not what customers want. They can get that from your website’s FAQ page. For common, simple questions, you can provide that. For everything else, a personalized response is necessary.

Monitoring
I separate monitoring from listening because it has more reactive than proactive qualities to it in my opinion. Set up a system to monitor your social media accounts (especially any customer-service specific ones) along with keywords, phrases, product names, campaigns, promotions and the like across social media. Be sure to include common misspellings. Many services exist to make monitoring more manageable.

Respond quickly
Customers used to be completely surprised if a company responded on social media, but now they are expecting a response. Per Social Habit, 32% of customers who complain on social media expect a response within 30 minutes and 42% expect a response within 60 minutes. Now, that does not mean you have to solve the problem or answer the question that fast. However, you need to acknowledge the customer and start the process.

Take complex issues or those requiring release of sensitive information offline. Gather contact information via private message or dedicated email address, look further into the problem and fully resolve the problem as soon as possible.

Know when to respond
Not all negative comments require a response. The most notable is when dealing with a troll, a person who simply wants to stir up controversy or negativity. The basic rule of thumb is not to feed the trolls by engaging in debate. Also, responding to a general or vague negative comment is not always necessary. Certain companies and industries have a general level of customer dissatisfaction, such as cable companies. So take the context of the comment into consideration.

Be the first to mention known issues
If you have a network outage or product/service issues, let the public know as soon as possible and provide updates or other information about resolution. Do not leave your customers guessing why the cannot access your website, how to respond to a product recall or other such matter.

Develop brand advocates
Brand advocates are your brands most loyal fans. Cultivating them will assist you in dealing with negative online comments. Brand advocates rally on your behalf, often making it unnecessary for you to respond. They are good at putting a troll in his or her place, which is good since it is not wise to feed the trolls.

High quality customer service, online or off, is essential on so many levels from brand reputation to customer retention and acquisition to workforce development to competitive advantage. As more and more people turn to social media for customer service issues, companies must start meeting their customers there. Because it is such a public forum, poor customer service practices are amplified. Show customers that you care about providing the best service possible, and they will reward you with their loyalty. If you do not, your competitors will take advantage. 


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