November 27, 2013

The Make-Believe Newsletter

Fictional newsletter character, Karen

We all love a good story. The kinds of stories we use in newsletters tend to be real life experiences. It’s a good strategy to share experiences that illustrate a point and teach readers a lesson.

For some professions, real life success stories can present a challenge.
  • Confidentiality:  Not just names but also circumstances can be difficult to share without compromising a client’s privacy.
  • Professional liability:  Providing advice can be risky for some if it’s taken out of context.
Unfortunately, this limits some professionals in using these very effective content strategies. A new client of ours has found an alternative and, based on feedback, it’s working great.

Corinne is a lawyer so confidentiality and liability are valid concerns when it comes to her newsletter. When one of your goals is to build your reputation, sharing experience and advice are pretty important to achieving that. So, Corinne invented Karen, a fictional character who represents her ideal client. By telling Karen’s story, Corinne can teach us about many legal aspects of business ownership. Readers can learn from Karen’s experiences and share in her decision making.

Depending on what you do, a disclaimer may still be desirable. Keep it brief, very simple, and add some humour if it makes sense.

Confidentiality and liability issues are no longer reasons not to have a newsletter.

November 23, 2013

It's Raining Content!

I had planned on calling this article ‘Feeding the Content Monster’ but when I checked Google, there were already many articles titled that. Conveniently, that conundrum leads right to the topic I want to discuss.

There are a lot of us now - content marketers, that is. According to an article titled ‘Content marketing goes mainstream’ (link is broken, sorry!), a whole heck of a lot more now than at this time last year.

Where is all that content coming from? Well, many of the ideas come from reading others’ content. In fact, that’s one of the top tips you’ll find content marketers sharing: search the web and see what other people are writing about.

When you think about it that way, doesn't it start to seem like a big machine feeding on itself? Much of the content we create is being read by other content creators, especially in the B2B world, and used for inspiration to create more content.

Surely the frenzy has to end somewhere. I find it hard to look forward and imagine the future of this big new endeavour that so many of us have embraced. I can’t help but think that capacity will become an issue but what form will it take? Will we run out of internet space? Will we max out on our ability to take it all in? Will the web simply become so saturated with information that value is too hard to find?

Whatever it is, it will happen sooner or later. We don’t know how long this content machine will last so we need to make the most of the opportunity. As content creators, we want to provide the very best value we can. As readers, with increased volume, we’ll need processes to recognize credibility.

photo by .sanden.

November 19, 2013

Secret Sauce

As a teenager, I can remember resolving not to nag my kids like I felt my mother did to me. Now, I’m pretty sure my stepson would say I’m a master at it. Funny how that happens.

Recently, I was reminding a client to send me the article for her newsletter. A few minutes later, I received an article titled “Nagging, Tracking, Monitoring and Control”. Once I stopped laughing, it got me thinking about the conversations I've had with other clients. One had said that she likes that we never back off from a deadline. Others have said they appreciate the accountability that our reminder process provides. It seems that one of my professional success factors is, in fact, nagging.

Our website says nothing about nagging. I never mention it when I’m talking to potential new clients; I’m quick to dazzle them with our expertise and to reassure them about our quality assurance process. It turns out that nagging is really what many of our clients want and need. Mom will be proud to find out that I make a living from it.

I bet you also have factors like this that you don’t even realize are contributing to the success of your company. Recognize the trends in what people are telling you, ask a few clients why they like working with you, and you might discover you've got a ‘secret sauce’ that you didn't realize as well. (Now I have to figure out how to add nagging to the list of services on our website.)

photo by findingthenow
Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on November 19, 2013

November 15, 2013

Content to Wrap Up the Year

photo by Neil Kronberg

December and January are good months to publish articles that sum up the past year and preface the new one. If your newsletters (or blog posts) are informational, this can be a good strategy for several reasons:
  • Website traffic is increased by directing your readers to past newsletter issues or blog posts.
  • Readers are reminded of what they’ve learned which strengthens the learning process. It also reminds them of the value you’ve provided.
  • You are reminded of what you’ve already covered. A review of your past articles will always prompt more ideas for future articles - I guarantee it!
  • It also gives you the chance to critique your work. You’re more objective after time has passed.
  • You can use it as an opportunity to update recommendations or opinions based on new learning or changes to your strategy.
  • You get a sense of accomplishment!
Here are 5 ideas for ending the year:
  1. Top 5, Top 10, Best of... your own 'stuff': You can be the jury or report based on statistics.
  2. Top 5, Top 10, Best of... other people’s 'stuff': You be the judge and critic.
  3. Wrap-up: Group articles that are similar in topic. Write an article that summarizes and links to each past article.
  4. Recap: Use point form or a visual graphic to review what you've covered this past year, what has happened in your industry, the development of a new product, your business’ evolution... you get the idea.
  5. Feedback: You can encourage interaction by inviting readers to vote on your best.
And here are some ideas for starting the new year:
  1. Outline what you'll cover in the next year: This forces you to do some planning!
  2. Predictions: These can be serious or fun.
  3. Gather ideas: Ask readers for topic suggestions.

November 9, 2013

Guest Post: 7 Steps to Integrating eNewsletters with Social Media

Anita's newsletter
Anita Hovey, Head Twirp at Twirp Communications, was kind enough to do a lunch and learn workshop with me to show people how social media and enewsletters work so well together. Here's the article she wrote to sum it up.
Does your newsletter help your social media? Or is social media helping your newsletter? Whether you’re sharing, connecting or promoting, the two go together like milk and cookies. Integrating enewsletters with social media is really quite simple and there are many ways to do it. 
How does your newsletter help your social media? 
According to a recent study published by eMarketer, 48% of marketers include “forward to a friend” features in their e-mails, but only 13% include features that make it easy to share content on social networks. If you’re still sending out your email newsletter as a PDF attachment, or heaven forbid, a picture within the body of the email, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities for social media posts. 
A good enewsletter will
  • Give links to all your social profiles;
  • Drive traffic to your website through republished blog posts;
  • Give readers easy ways to share your articles/newsletter to their own social profiles;
  • Help you identify key influencers (those who like and share your content).

How does social media help your newsletter? 
According to Social Media Examiner, 63% of businesses say social media has a positive impact on growing their opt-in lists. Are you using your social network to encourage sign-ups? Talking about your enewsletter on social media can
  • Drive awareness / extend the reach of your emails;
  • Garner signups;
  • Through reader sharing, drive even more awareness and sign ups;
  • Elicit testimonials, i.e. “Great info here this week”;
  • Provide content for the newsletter, i.e. through advanced search on Twitter, or simply articles you see in your own newsfeeds as you’re reading.

Seven Steps to Integrating eNewsletters with Social Media
  1. Include links to all your social profiles in your template.
  2. Include sharing buttons and forward to a friend buttons in your template.
  3. Republish content from your blog in your newsletter (just some, not all of it, don’t be lazy).
  4. Tweet out/post a signup reminder the week before or days before your newsletter is due.
  5. Tweet out a link to the online version of your newsletter a couple of times after it is published. Try to vary the headlines or content you feature to attract different people.
  6. Include a signup form in the app boxes on Facebook (and any other network you are able to). While researching this topic I came across the idea of including a link to my signup form in the links listed in my LinkedIn profile, and I made that addition instantly.
  7. Include “click to tweet this” snippets in emails. This is something I see very rarely from small businesses and something I need to integrate into my own marketing.

Anita Hovey is a social media consultant for small and medium-sized businesses who need help understanding, using and managing their social media profiles. As your trusted advisors, Twirp Communications' consultants live on social media so you don't have to. Originally published:

November 5, 2013

Picking and Choosing

Picking and Choosing
I am often talking about the value of networking and the importance of online strategy and social media engagement. The most common problem people express to me in these conversations is... "How do I engage without being a bother?"

This question used to confuse me. I would talk a LOT about value in what you offer, when I answered. In other words, if you are offering value, how could you be a bother?

What I have come to realize is that this questions is not always driven by the content or volume of an individual poster. It is often about the volume of content online in general. People are feeling overwhelmed. The solution?

Approach online the same way you do any other network development. Find the posters that are putting out consistent value. The ones that are wrapping up the best of the week, vetting content and connecting with their readers. If they are answering, participating and putting out real value, you have found a literal goldmine.

Choose who you follow as if you were adding them to your network. Would you recommend this person to a valued client? Do you find yourself repeating their ideas and adding their solutions to your list of things to try? Have you had success when following their recommendations? Do you agree with their philosophy? Do you have target market overlap?

As the volume of online content grows, the need to develop an infrastructure to identify real value and true experts also grows. You want to be following world leaders in your field but pick and choose carefully. If you follow and they offer no value, unfollow and move on. Spend the bulk of your time developing an online network in your local market and the clutter is instantly reduced while business continues to grow!

November 3, 2013

Gift Certificates, Holiday Specials, and Stocking Stuffers

If your business sells to consumers, you definitely should consider doing some extra promotional emails leading up to the holidays. This is something you need to plan now and start executing soon.

You could simply add more targeted promotional messages to your regular newsletter. BUT you've worked hard all year to build your reputation and gain the attention of your readers. Now is the time to capitalize on that a bit. I'm not suggesting that you start blasting your readers with advertising. I am suggesting that a well-planned campaign can be very effective at this time of year.

Here are some ideas to consider:
  • If you sell gift certificates, you'll definitely want to promote them. Recommend who they will be suitable for. Insert Buy Now buttons directly into your newsletter with an immediate call to action.
  • Do a holiday countdown with number of shopping days left.
  • Create special offers or promotions only for your email subscribers. This can also help to get you new subscribers!
  • Make limited-time offers on, for example, a different product or service each week. 
  • Provide unique gift ideas. This might be an opportunity to bundle products and services.
  • Create urgency around ordering deadlines. Include a link to Canada Post mailing deadlines if it makes sense.
  • Close to Christmas, promote stocking stuffer ideas and gift suggestions. Become the best friend of the last minute shopper!
Along with your holiday calls to action, you might also consider sharing your own holiday preparations. Behind the scene photos are great of, for example, decorating your store/office or packaging up products with holiday wrapping.

photo by Steve Rhodes