Instagram

Which Online Video App is Right for You?

Instagram introduces a new long-form video-sharing platform that underlines the importance of video content in marketing, public affairs and political campaigns.

Instagram introduces a new long-form video-sharing platform that underlines the importance of video content in marketing, public affairs and political campaigns.

Instagram, the popular photo sharing app, stepped up its game in a big way last week by launching IGTV, a mobile video app for iOS and Android. IGTV allows users to shoot vertical video on their smartphones, and upload an hour’s worth of video, up from its previous one-minute limit. IGTV is accessible from a button inside the Instagram home screen, as well as a standalone app. Users can create their own content, and access popular videos from Instagram celebrities.

By declaring “Game On!” to online video rival YouTube, IGTV could prove to be a worthy competitor in the video-sharing space. Some industry analysts are even predicting that Instagram, and parent company Facebook, are challenging the future of television with IGTV, pointing to the “TV” in the name of the app, and the “static snow” effect that appears in the app when users switch from one video to another.

Clearly, the impact of IGTV on the current state of television or online video remains to be seen. In the meantime, there are plenty of existing apps and platforms that B2B and B2C content marketers are using to create and post engaging video content. Here’s a sampling:

YouTube: This is the granddaddy of the free online video content-sharing sites. YouTube is owned by Google, so you can expect YouTube videos to show up well in SEO searches. On the other hand, the sheer popularity of YouTube videos can make it difficult for your specific video to gain traction with its intended audience. There are the annoying pop-up ads that appear on your video, and the so-called “related” videos that appear after your YouTube video ends. But if you want maximum SEO search capabilities, and don’t care about pop-up ads or other forms of brand clutter, YouTube’s your platform.

Vimeo: This video platform is preferred by filmmakers and producers of high-quality videos. Vimeo is a paid service for business, but the advantages include no ad overlays over videos and brighter video and cleaner audio. Unlike YouTube, you can make changes to a Vimeo video without creating a new URL link. This is a time and money saver, especially if you have a video you plan to update on a regular basis.

Facebook Live: This service allows users to broadcast live video from their mobile devices straight to their Facebook News Feed. Use this app to share up to 90 minutes of live events, interviews or other user-generated content. Users can access the Facebook Live option when they post an update to their Page. They’ll be able to see who’s watching their broadcast, as well as read and respond to any real-time comments. After the broadcast has ended, your Facebook Live video will remain visible on your Facebook stream.

Periscope: This is Twitter’s live streaming video app. You’ll need a Twitter account to shoot video with the app. When you download Periscope from the App Store, you can subscribe to the Periscope broadcasts of those you follow on Twitter. Periscope played a key role in American politics in June 2016 when Democratic members of the US House of Representatives staged a sit-in on the House floor to protest gun control. When the House session was halted, and the cameras shut off, Rep. Scott Peters (D-California) used his Periscope account to broadcast the sit-in and speeches, which was live streamed by C-SPAN.  

LinkedIn: In August 2017, the world’s largest online professional network jumped into the B2B video arena by launching LinkedIn video through its mobile app for iPhone or Android. Users can record their own video in the app or upload previously recorded content. In May 2018, LinkedIn introduced video ads for sponsored content. According to the company, the sponsored content video lives directly in the LinkedIn news feed. Similar to the Facebook Ad model, LinkedIn’s Sponsored Content video is a paid service, with pricing levels based on pay-per-click (CPC) or pay-per-1,000 impressions (CPM).

So, what does it all mean?

It means video is a huge part of the online experience, with as many different uses for video as there are apps and video platforms. It’s easier than ever to create and post your own videos, but the glut of online video content makes it hard to rise above the noise.

That’s why content marketers and professional communicators need to get crystal clear about the audiences they want to reach, and the messages they want their audiences to hear, so they can produce visual content that is engaging, memorable and meaningful.

Holly and Wayne Paige are video content marketing strategists and creators based in Portland, Oregon. They use the power of storytelling to produce videos for businesses and organizations that want to tell their stories – and tell them right. Visit: www.digitalwave.tv and www.waveonegroup.com.

 

Small Business Use of Social Media Continues to Grow

Small businesses follow trends of increased social media presence and promotion and use of visual content such as infographics, images and videos.

Small businesses follow trends of increased social media presence and promotion and use of visual content such as infographics, images and videos.

Despite its problems with preserving user privacy, Facebook remains the dominant social media platform for small businesses, but Instagram, YouTube and Twitter are catching up. LinkedIn and Snapchat are in the race, too.

More than 70 percent of small businesses with fewer than 500 employees use social media promotion, according to a recent survey of more than 350 US small business owners conducted by Clutch, an independent research firm based in Washington, DC.

Small business presence on social media platforms has risen in step with increasing user engagement. Clutch says as many as 24 percent of small businesses now posting on social media started as recently as 2017. More than half of small businesses with an online presence post something daily.

Women-owned small businesses tend to rely on social media more than businesses owned by men. Millennial-owned small businesses are more likely to use social media than older business owners.

Fifty-four percent of small businesses post images or infographics on their social media sites, adhering to evidence that visual content draws greater attention than text.

Of the small businesses surveyed by Clutch, 16 percent said they planned to become active on social media, while only 13 percent indicated no interest.

Eighty-six percent of small businesses surveyed indicated they are on Facebook, which isn’t much of a surprise given its overall social media market dominance with 2.13 billion users across multi-generations and the ability to target audiences.

A little more surprising is that Instagram logged in as the second most used social media platform with 48 percent of small businesses. YouTube (46 percent), Twitter (44 percent), LinkedIn (31 percent) and Snapchat (25 percent) also attracted substantial small business usage. Only 12 percent of small business social media users rely only on Facebook.

A social media presence for women-owned small businesses is a virtual no-brainer because women outnumber men as social media users. The same holds true for small businesses owned by Millennials and targeting Millennial consumers, who grew up surrounded by digital media and can’t imagine life without the internet.

Generational preferences indicate Gen X and Baby Boomers are more likely to prefer Facebook and LinkedIn while Millennials gravitate more to Instagram and Snapchat, creating at least a crude form of social media segmentation.

The Clutch survey showed 52 percent of small businesses post something daily on social media, 70 percent post weekly and 94 percent monthly.  Images or infographics (54 percent) are the more popular type of content posted by small businesses, followed by offers or promotions (52 percent), reviews (49 percent), videos (44 percent), blog posts (40 percent) and research data (33 percent).

 

Internet Deserts Text in Favor of Video, Audio and Animation

The internet has swung from text-heavy to video, audio and animation. Have you kept pace or are you becoming a dinosaur when it comes to reaching your audience where they are watching?

The internet has swung from text-heavy to video, audio and animation. Have you kept pace or are you becoming a dinosaur when it comes to reaching your audience where they are watching?

Audio and video content are rapidly overtaking text as the internet converts into a dominantly visual media. Unless you aspire to become a modern dinosaur, take note.

Apps, podcasts and YouTube videos are supplanting web pages and blogs. Mobile devices have morphed into broadcast cameras and digital editing booths. Videos attract the most views on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Online gaming is ubiquitous.

But the trend runs far deeper. Realtors, among others, employ virtual reality to allow homebuyers to scout potential houses. Apple iPhone X recognize your face. Digital assistants obey verbal commands to surround us with our music playlists or uncover long lost recipes.

It shouldn’t be surprising because pictures have always spoken louder than words. Ex-presidential secretary Ron Porter’s record of spousal abuse was known when he was appointed, but didn’t become a disqualification for employment until pictures surfaced showing an ex-wife with a black eye.

A special edition in The New York Times recalled the internet began as a text-heavy communications channel. That was all the bandwidth of the time could handle. “Suddenly the script flipped,” wrote Farhad Manjoo, “Now it’s often easier to communicate through images and sounds than through text.”

Imagery pairs better with shorter attention spans – and with our intrinsic ability to see first. We remember more of what we see than what we hear or read. That’s just how our brains are wired.

Wider availability of audio and video editing tools means more people, especially more young people, are familiar with constructing visual and audio content. That influences and informs audiences to expect information packages with a higher degree of presentational values. Visual communications usually dress up better than text.

What you can’t photograph or capture on video, you can animate. Cartoon characters, special effects, visual origami and out-of-this-world imagery can captivate. Animation tools are increasingly available to ever younger designers. The art of animation also continues to arc closer to the science of computer technology.

Online advertisers are following the crowd, spending more resources on video, audio and visual content. Why not with stats like this: YouTube says viewers in 2017 watched 1 billion hours of videos, averaging two hours per day. About 70 million Americans listen to five hours of podcasts per week. More than 800 million people use Instagram for 30 minutes a day. Netflix plans to invest $8 billion and Apple $1 billion in original content.

The #MeToo movement has shown once again how powerful a social media hashtag campaign can become. President Trump parlayed his often audacious and politically incorrect Twitter feed into an election victory by rallying and activating a base of supporters. 

There are societal casualties. There are rising fears of online addiction. The line between fact and fiction, reality and alt-reality has been blurred, much like George Orwell predicted in his dystopian novel 1984. Images can easily be doctored, challenging viewers to detect whether what they see is real or fake. Virtual “reality” could take false imagery to a whole new level. But those challenges exist in text, too. Think Mein Kampf

All this should be enough to convince you to get busy about video and audio content. Right? Right.

Avoid Snap Judgments about Snapchat

Snapchat is no joke with more than 100 million user visits and 7 billion video views per day and a user base heavily weighted with Millennials.

Snapchat is no joke with more than 100 million user visits and 7 billion video views per day and a user base heavily weighted with Millennials.

If you want to direct a message to young adults, consider delivering it on either Instagram or Snapchat. Yes, that Snapchat. 

For many people, Snapchat, which launched in 2011 and was originally called Picaboo, is a quirky social media platform where you post something, then it goes poof. Well, that impression is so yesterday. Almost literally.

In the last two years, Snapchat has added new functionality that allows users to tell more complex stories that hang around longer, send direct messages and conduct video chats. Snapchat’s popularity has exploded, with 100 million user visits per day, a user base nearly the size of Twitter’s and 7 billion daily video views. That is close to Facebook’s 8 billion daily video views, but Facebook has an audience 15 times larger than Snapchat.

If you want to reach young people in the 18-24 age group, Snapchat is a good choice. It has more than three times the following in that cohort than Facebook or Twitter and more than twice Instagram.

If you want to reach young people in the 18-24 age group, Snapchat is a good choice. It has more than three times the following in that cohort than Facebook or Twitter and more than twice Instagram.

Snapchat appeals to young adults because it is relatively frictionless. Tap and shoot. Hold the button down for video. Snapchat is more personal than Instagram. You can share with a chosen group, not broadcast to the world. For the impulsive, Snapchat offers nearly guilt-free, real-time sharing, with the knowledge that the post will soon disappear. (After a run-in with the Federal Trade Commission, Snapchat settled and admitted that posts aren’t absolutely deleted and in some cases can be retrieved with the right forensic tools. For intentional users, this is a meh moment.)

Writing for socialmediaexaminer.com, Suzanne Delzio says Snapchat’s audience is growing and highly engaged – appetizing metrics for advertisers and anyone who needs to reach a young adult audience. For example, Snapchat could be a perfect crisis response vehicle to tell college students about an infectious disease outbreak and the steps to combat it. Snapchat might be the right vehicle for a continuing campaign to reduce the incidence of sexual abuse on dates.

Delzio says Snapchat endured early criticism for its vertical-only video format. However, data indicates mobile device users strongly prefer vertical versus horizontal video formats. Score this as a built-in advantage for Snapchat. The video completion rate, Delzio adds, on vertical formats is nine times higher, which is good news for marketers who often place their calls to action near the end of a video. Think of how this might work with a video about a car or car insurance aimed squarely at young adult consumers.

Instagram has staked out a strong position with Millennials, but Snapchat is catching up. Delzio reports that a study of Millennial smartphone users shows they spend 5.9 hours per month on Snapchat versus 7 hours on Instagram. Millennials spend almost 26 hours per month in Facebook, but it is a different experience. The key takeaway, Delzio writes, is that 76 percent of Millennials are already plugged into Snapchat.

The network that started in a Stanford classroom may be ready to dress up and go out on the town. Delzio says advertising rates have been lowered on Snapchat to sweeten its appeal for a broader group of advertisers.

In the world of social media, yesterday’s news is ancient history. Snapchat may have been a punch line, but it has quickly grown into a significant network for a key demographic group. Reconsider any snap judgments you may have made about Snapchat and consider how you can put it to work. 

Twitter is in Trouble

Twitter isn’t growing its user base, is losing money and has seen its stock price stumble, but the social network is still a direct, powerful, real-time way to share the news.

Twitter isn’t growing its user base, is losing money and has seen its stock price stumble, but the social network is still a direct, powerful, real-time way to share the news.

Is Twitter a digital 140-character dead letter? Maybe not yet, but it faces a major challenge from Instagram, Snapchat and a new digital platform called Peach for the right to be called the news bureau of social media.

Writing for The New Yorker, Joshua Topolsky says Twitter, which once seemed unassailable, now seems confused and vulnerable. Twitter's original appeal as a forum for “raw, streamlined” citizen journalism has turned into a company without a compass.

"Changes to the product made it hard to follow conversations or narratives,” wrote Topolsky, co-founder of Vox Media. "A lack of rigor in verifying reliable sources made information suspect or confusing. More troubling was the growing wave of harassment and abuse that users of the service were dealing with – a quagmire epitomized by the roving flocks of hateful, misogynistic, and well-organized “Gamergate” communities that flooded people’s feeds with hate speech and threats. The company seemed to be wholly unprepared to handle mob violence, with few tools at its disposal to moderate or quell uprisings.”

Perhaps most troubling are reports that Twitter will lift its 140-character limit and allow tweets with as many as 10,000 characters. Topolsky mockingly called that change an attempt to compete for the “short- and long-winded alike.”

There is objective evidence Twitter has hit a digital wall. Its user base is stagnant. It is hemorrhaging money and has watched its stock value tumble by 50 percent. The company has also lost a bevy of top executives, some of whom have gone to work for Twitter competitors.

Worse yet, Topolsky says, Twitter could be on the verge of irrelevance. Millennials employ Instagram and Snapchat for quick, real-time news-sharing. Instagram, WhatsApp and WeChat now have as many individual users as Twitter, and Snapchat is gaining ground fast.

Many young social users also have abandoned Facebook, Topolsky notes, but Facebook has adapted and kept growing. He says Facebook has “come to dominate and define the concept of social conversation” by dealing aggressively with online campaigns of “noise and intrusion.” Requiring people to use their real names, according to Topolsky, "has certainly made Facebook a much safer space in which to engage.”

Topolsky, who counts himself as a committed Twitter user, hasn’t given up hope. "The core ideals that made the product great are not lost, yet, even if they’ve been obscured," he says. "The directness and power at the heart of Twitter – short bursts of information that can make you feel that you’re plugged into a hulking hive mind – are still its greatest asset.”

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey has returned to lead Twitter through its difficult patch, much like Steve Jobs was summoned to revive Apple. Meanwhile, Twitter users will keep their fingers crossed for the social media platform that is a perfect for newsjacking, crisis response and story-sharing. For busy people interested in what’s going on, it is an invaluable tool. The question is whether it will remain relevant.

Design Online Content for Skimmers

People do more skimming online than reading, so you need to design and package your content to convert skimmers into readers.

People do more skimming online than reading, so you need to design and package your content to convert skimmers into readers.

Content providers beware. The explosion of online content has turned readers into skimmers. We still read what interests us, but we typically skim over most everything else.

Say what you want about shrinking attention spans or rising visual IQs, the evolving patterns of viewership have less to do with verbal and visual intelligence and more to do with survival. There is simply no other way to cope with masses of online material than to skim.

Developing content creation strategies that recognize our reading/skimming habits is essential if you want to be noticed. Here are some suggestions:

1  Create online content that people can skim. Design content with concise verbiage, good imagery and clear packaging that makes it easy to get the point even when skimming.

2  Include more visual content. Not pictures for picture’s sake, but quality visual content that tells your story better and more quickly than words. It can be photography, video, a chart, an infographic or a doodle that grabs the eye of a skimmer. Take consolation in data suggesting people remember more of what they see than what they read.

3  Place content where skimmers congregate. User data shows social media sites such as Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram are growing rapidly because they cater to cursory readers.

4  Leverage the online capability of layering content. As people skim, they look for what interests them, which they read more intently. Online architecture and links let people drill down on what interests them, even as they skim. Embedding links needs to be an integral part of content creation.

5  Offer content that answers questions or solves problems. Readability assessments reveal people will read content that answers their questions or offers problem-solving assistance. This requires sharp targeting, drawing on credible research, to find who is asking the questions you answer and problems you solve – and where they go to find reliable information and advice. People are more apt to read your content if they trust it.

6  Provide content that is pleasurable to read. Evidence indicates people take more time reading – or actually reading – material they enjoy. You may have to tell the boss to deep-six his merchandising message and substitute other content, perhaps content generated by other consumers or site users. Instead of describing the features of your product, show how a consumer can enjoy it.

7  Think about riding a bus. This is a useful metaphor for designing content aimed at increasing numbers of mobile users. If you can find ways to stick out as someone thumbs through sites amid jostling and looking for your exit, then you are probably creating content that is tailored to skimmers.

8  Make your content appealing to share. Sharing is a trait of skimmers. They assume other skimmers may miss something they should see. Don't get your heart broken if sharers haven't read your entire content. Getting into circulation is a form of validation of your content that will impress some skimmers to treat it as trusted content – and actually read it.

If this seems a little discouraging, don't let it get you down. You have to walk before you can run, and you may have to abide skimming to convert scanners into readers.

Include Online Influencers in Your Media Relations Strategy

Growing an army of online influencers is an important part of your media relations strategy. 

Growing an army of online influencers is an important part of your media relations strategy. 

You’ve built your media list, filling it with great contacts from local and national media. You’ve included television, radio, newspapers and magazines. Is something missing? Yes. You’ve forgotten online influencers. 

Online influencers are an essential part of any robust media relations strategy. Online influencers include bloggers. Some may not have an official blog, but they have significant followings on social media. 

Online influencers are often more topic-specific than traditional media. In these days of shrinking newsrooms, most reporters cover a wide range of issues. Most bloggers and online influencers tend to focus on specific interests. They have followers, often in large numbers, interested in the same topics. If your business is related to these interests, partnering with an online influencer can create a direct line to your target audience. 

After you’ve decided to connect with online influencers, the question becomes how. Here are a few suggestions for how to connect with online influencers. 

1. Check your media database. Most media databases include prominent bloggers with significant followings. This is a great way to identify some of the most famous bloggers who write about businesses similar to yours. However, if you want to partner with one of these bloggers, be prepared to pay. Most popular bloggers are willing to partner with businesses, but they expect to be paid for the privilege. Their blog is a business. Don't rule this out. A great sponsored post by a top blogger may be more valuable than an advertisement. 

2. Check your social media followings. If you’re active on Twitter and Facebook, take a look at your followers who you interact with the most. Twitter is usually a better platform for this than Facebook, given its one-on-one nature. It’s also very easy to look at Twitter follower profiles to check out their number and quality of followers. If they are blogging, most will link to their blogs on their profiles. 

Instagram is another great platform for finding online influencers. If one of your followers has a large following on Instagram that could be enough to consider them an online influencer. Note that Instagram followings may be smaller than other social media, but the level of engagement on this platform is often higher. If your business has a physical location, be sure to look to see if anyone has checked in to your business. Many people might have checked into your business without finding your account so be sure to follow them. 

3. Hold a social media contest. Having a Instagram contest is a great way to grow your social media following and find great online influencers. Ask people to use a particular hashtag to tag their Instagram photos. Have a physical location? You have even more options. Consider setting up a selfie station. Make sure to follow and engage with everyone who participates in the contest. 

After you’ve grown your list of online influencers you can start offering special promotions and opportunities to keep them engaged. These influencers can be powerful brand ambassadors.

Matching Visuals to Your Message

Viewers expect higher quality visual images. You should demand matching your visual assets to your brand message.

Viewers expect higher quality visual images. You should demand matching your visual assets to your brand message.

Most people by now have gotten the picture that visual communications are effective. But adding visual pop to actual communications still for many remains a mystery.

Anna Guerrero, in a blog posted by ragan.com, offers some practical tips on how to lure viewers. Guerrero's core point is that just adding visual content doesn't do the trick. You need quality visual assets that tell your story better than any words can.

Her tips include using high-quality photography, website screenshots, infographics, candid images, original designs and a striking color palette – stuff that stands out and grabs the eye.

Maybe Guerrero's most profound point is the need to match your visuals with your message. To convey that your organization is full of "fun people," show a behind-the-scenes picture of your team working while doing something funny. To reduce a complex topic into something simple, create an infographic that walks the viewer through the issue in digestible chunks. To establish credibility, post a screenshot showing the original source of information that you are citing.

Visual symbols play a large part in brand recognition – and loyalty. They can be leveraged by associating them with strong, compatible visual assets that express a more specific message. The example Guerrero pointed to was the Kaleidoscope Blog on Pinterest and its distinctive, easily recognizable design.

Striking photography pulls people in, as she showed with an eye-popping picture of a woman applying bright red lipstick with a man caressing her cheek with his lips. The picture was visibly relevant to the Facebook post headline and the content: "8 Reason to Fall in Love with the Girl Who Rocks Red Lipstick." The image, Guerrero notes, wasn't the result of an expensive photo shoot; it was a piece of stock photography.

Successful visual communications usually flow from information design processes that give equal weight at the start to all assets. Information designers don't make words look pretty or discard words in favor of snazzy pictures. They choose the best combination that tells the story in a way the intended audience will notice.

It is true that effective communications in the digital age almost always include visual assets. Viewers have come to expect it. With so many people sending pictures from smartphones and designing personalized greeting cards on their tablets, their expectations have risen for more presentational value. And they just don't want pictures; they want good pictures.

Good pictures don't always mean the same thing across communication channels. Quirky works on Instagram and elegance pays dividends on Pinterest. That is a direct reflection of the dominant demographics that use each platform. What you post on Facebook is different than what you post on your website or as a blog illustration.

Visual imagery should be part of your communications toolkit. More important, it must be part of your brand narrative.

Tips for Using Social Media to Pitch Media

These guidelines will help you successfully connect your pitch with reporters using social media.

These guidelines will help you successfully connect your pitch with reporters using social media.

With the current realities of newsrooms, it’s smart to look for alternative ways to pitch story ideas using social media. Before you send that pitch, make sure to follow a few guidelines. 

Nicole Fallon, writing for Ragan.com, says there is an art to pitching journalists on social media. An inappropriate pitch or using the wrong social network can do more harm than good. 
“Every social media site is different and has its own set of unspoken rules and guidelines for using it,” says Fallon.

LinkedIn is almost always a safe bet for any sort of professional outreach, but not everyone checks the site regularly. Most reporters use Twitter professionally, so take a look at the type of content they post to get a sense of if this is an appropriate place to pitch. Use of Facebook can vary from person to person. Some have a large number of friends and contacts, while others see Facebook as a more private space. If you’re friends, review the reporter’s posts to determine how a particular reporter is using the site. Instagram can be more personal as well, so use it as a way to build a relationship with a reporter, but not to pitch them directly.

Always try to start by building a relationship with a reporter. A pitch is not a good way to say hello. A good relationship with a reporter is almost always going to make your media pitches more successful. Social media can be a great way to build a relationship with a reporter. 

“A great way to start is by sharing or commenting on journalists' articles that are relevant to your clients' expertise,” says Fallon. “If you tag them, they'll most likely see it, and if you haven't worked together before, this will put you on their radar.” 

Rather than an outright pitch, Fallon recommends using social media to gauge interest. Keep your messages short and direct. You can always send more details later. 

If the reporter is interested, Fallon recommends moving the pitch to email. It’s really the best way to send more detailed information. If the reporter is expecting your email, he or she will be more likely to respond. 

Be careful about sending attachments immediately. These can often get caught in spam filters or the large file size can cause emails to bounce. Let the reporter know what types of materials you have to send to them and ask about the best way to send them. Sometimes it’s downloadable files online, while others prefer services such as Dropbox. Sometimes email is fine depending on their system. Delaying attachments can make sure your message gets to its intended target. 

Pitching via social media is not always the best – or even a good – idea. Make sure you’ve done your homework before hitting the send button.
 

Letting Your Weird, Creative Side Shine

Many young people have deserted Facebook for photo-sharing on Instagram. For brands trying to appeal to a younger demographic, Instagram is the place to be.

In the land of selfies, it takes clever marketing to score on this photo-centered social media platform. Instagram also involves more than simple sharing or "likes." It appeals to people who like to engage and be part of something.

For example, a music group called The Vaccines asked its Instagram users to take photos at shows and festivals to crowd source a music video. Others have employed Instagram for online fundraising, using fetching photos to tell the story about the fundraising recipient.

Instagram isn't for everybody. If you and your customers like to produce and read lengthy white papers, choose another channel. But it you can let creative side loose, Instagram can be a fun and informative avenue to activate your audience.

Inviting Your Consumers Backstage

One sure-fire way to connect with your consumer is to invite them backstage to get a preview, insider view or special insight that builds trust and loyalty.One good way to entice customers to your website or blog is to send them an invitation to meet you backstage.

Pulling back the curtain and sharing insider knowledge or perspective makes people feel special, especially if the tour is authentic, not just a come-on. 

As a kid, I enjoyed when my dad took me on an early morning visit to the railroad station to watch the circus unload. Seeing how animals and huge tents were transported was more fascinating to me than the actual circus.

If the key to marketing today is to establish relationships, then making customers feel like trusted friends is a good start toward making them feel trust toward you. Of course, that requires more than a good backstage tour.

Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff doesn't just rely on the traditional Fashion Week runway to get buzz for her handbags. She employs a full arsenal of social media. She placed a Vine video on Twitter showing snippets of what goes on before a handbag makes its way to the runway. She debuted her new line on Snapchat before it appeared on the catwalk.

Minkoff teamed with Tumblr and Nordstrom on a T-shirt design contest, with the promise, which was kept, that the winning design would be strutted down the runway. The T-shirt also was sold at Nordstrom. She lined up an exclusive interview during the show to share her insights.

During Fashion Week, Minkoff posted pictures on Instagram and tweeted, including a backstage camera angle that literally made viewers feel as if they were backstage.

Not surprisingly, Minkoff has a large, loyal following. She has transformed her consumers into friends, confidantes and partners.

Relationship-based marketing demands more than coupons and sales pitches. Consumers need a point of connection. Allowing them to peek backstage of your operation is a pretty reliable, sure-fire way to create that connection.

Locking in on LinkedIn

The time and energy you invest in LinkedIn can be rewarded with job opportunities and client referrals, as well as heightened respect from colleagues and competitors.LinkedIn is much more than a professional networking site. However, you need to dedicate time and energy to optimize its value.

If, for example, you ignore your LinkedIn account, you will miss daily alerts about your colleagues who have new jobs or job anniversaries. In addition to the cue, LinkedIn makes it easy to congratulate your colleague, creating an opportunity to renew or refresh your contact. 

Even if you have an extensive set of connections on LinkedIn, you can get lost on the social media site by failing to post anything. LinkedIn provides an excellent opportunity to post thought leadership pieces or share content you find valuable.

Responding to Negative Online Reviews

Negative reviews are a fact of life for many businesses, so it's time to bone up on how to respond effectively and report the ones that are fake.Online reviews have emerged as an important decision-making tool for consumers, especially for restaurants and service providers. Now they also have to dodge the impact of fake negative reviews.

A recent study reports that 16 percent of restaurant reviews on Yelp are fraudulent and often are extremely negative.

With the stakes high in the court of public opinion, here are some steps to take to fight back:

Using Instagram to Make Events Interactive

Recently, I received note from an organizer for Provender Alliance’s annual conference. He was looking for a way to make the conference more visual using Instagram. The photo-sharing site is a natural fit for getting people to share photos. Below are my top three tips for making any event more interactive using Instagram.

Create an official event hashtag

Create an official hashtag for the conference and encourage people to use it when posting photos on Instagram. When people post photos, they will include the hashtag. This will create a feed of all the photos that use the same hashtag. People can follow the feed to see what other people at the conference are posting.

Display the Instagram feed

Tools such as Eventstagram allow you to display a live feed of all photos that include your event hashtag using a television screen or projector. The projector of photos could be setup during any downtime at the conference, such as meals. The appeal is the same as getting on the Jumbotron at a sporting event. The person posting gets a few moments of conference-wide fame.

Growth of Social Media Advertising

Social media advertising is growing rapidly, but the key to success remains in having vital social media sites featuring compelling original content.Social media ads are becoming a staple of integrated marketing campaigns as marketers look for ways to surround their target audiences. And people are taking notice of more ad traffic on their social media streams.

A survey by Vizu confirms advertisers are embracing social media ads as a way to drive traffic to their websites. A report by BIA/Kelsey predicts native social media ads will grow from $1.5 billion this year to $3.9 billion in 2016.

But marketers aren't abandoning other tactics, such as online display, TV and print ads. Instead, social media ads seem to be the latest great idea to take their place as just another outreach tool to audiences, much like mobile apps.

Social media ads are proliferating, explains Ryan Holmes, CEO at HootSuite, because they produce results — at least better results as measured by numbers of clicks than stale ideas such as online banner ads. 

Content Confectioner

Does the chocolate image wake up your sweet tooth? I could tell you that the candies are locally made in Portland with melt-in-your-mouth sea salt and quality chocolate, how they have perfect flavor profiles and are the ideal size for a guilt-free treat. But the image probably inspires you faster.

If you saw this photo on a chocolate company’s blog, you might pin the image to Pinterest or share it with you friends on Facebook. If I’m the chocolate company owner, I’ve just used shareable content to empower you to help me market my brand through the most powerful form of marketing, your word-of-mouth recommendations.

This is the potency of visual communication. Adam Vincenzini describes the image-powered web as “the notion that Internet users prefer the most efficient and engaging methods of communication.” Images equal efficiency. Fast Company calls visual marketing “the breakout trend for 2012,” noting a 2012 ROI Research study that found “forty-four percent of respondents are more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures than any other media.” Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are leading channels for visual storytelling.

Here are my 13 tips to help you become a Content Confectioner — a creator of crave-able, sharable brand assets.

1.  Start with Your Goals

What are your marketing and brand goals, values and key messages? Think about what those things look like. How you can show and share them with your stakeholders?

2. Be a Reporter

Reporters seek and share stories. Do this for your brand. Shift your perspective to look for the significance of the everyday – teams, routines, the work and production environment. How does the everyday drive toward your brand promise? If you make this perspective shift, you’ll always have a story to share.

3. Get the Tools

You’re not obligated to add a $2,000 DSLR line item to your budget. I swear by my iPhone camera. It’s portable and takes high-quality images with flash and focus options. You can send images easily to Facebook, Instagram or email. The right tool is one you can obtain and use often. Do your homework. Test the options. And go for it.

4. Eyes Wide Open, Camera Ready

The aforementioned iPhone has more than 4,000 photos on it (yes, they’re backed up). Keep a camera with you and err on the side of taking more images than you’ll use to create an image bank for your brand. This practice supports quicker content creation. It also increases your odds of capturing million-dollar moments and images. Think of it as gathering lots of ingredients for limitless recipes.

How to Start Using Instagram

Instagram is the cool new kid on the social media block.

Since its initial launch in October 2010, the app has acquired more than 80 million registered users. These users are active, too. Everyday more than 5 million photos are uploaded to Instagram.

According to its website, “Instagram is a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures.”

The app can be likened to photo albums of the past &,dash; complete with the 70s-era camera filters.

Interested in joining the ever-growing Instagram party, but not sure how to get started? We’ve created the following tutorial to guide you through the process.

Putting the Zip in Your Communications

A media audit is an excellent way to see whether your media coverage conveys your key messages — and whether your communications match up to your strategic objectives.

This simple form of research can yield invaluable insight into the effectiveness of your communications and how they can be improved.

It is common nowadays for organizations to conduct social media audits. Nothing wrong with that, but too often a social media audit misses surveying the broader impact of all communications, ensuring they reinforce, not confuse, your messaging.

A comprehensive media audit will examine both internal and external communications, talking to employees, customers, stakeholders and the media. What you learn from these focused conversations can be lined up against objectives such as key messages, target audiences and successful calls to action. Did you actually send the messages you intended? Did those messages reach your target audience via the tactics and channels you chose? Did employees, customers and stakeholders respond? Did the media find you believable?

Even highly successful communications programs can benefit from a media audit, which can illuminate ideas to freshen your message and leverage new channels. For example, an award-winning communications program designed as recently as three years may not have integrated Pinterest, Instagram or Cinemagram into its arsenal.

A practical value of media audits, which senior managers appreciate, is information that can be used to allocate always-scarce communications resources. You may discover it pays richer dividends to strengthen the content on your website and spend less time on Twitter. Or maybe your networking on LinkedIn can be expanded through more intensive blogging.