You’ve all heard the song and it is true that the best things in life are FREE but now that old adage has been updated to include publicity. Yep, you heard me right, publicity. How much time do you spend each year trying to get exposure for your company or products using regular marketing channels just to get lost in the minutiae that is the internet? How would you like to get some of that much needed exposure, possibly even in national media like ABC and AP? Well…wait for it…NOW YOU CAN!

You may not be the inventor of the exciting new Miracle Wrench that tightens bolts, loosens bolts and even takes bolts all the way off. And in all likelihood you will not get your very own nuclear submarine absolutely FREE so that you can be the first person on your block to Level Cleveland. What you can do though is Help A Reporter Out and possibly help yourself out at the same time. So how can you make those kind of connections, you ask? Easy! All you need to do is become a  HARO Hero.

So what exactly is HARO and how do you become a hero? HARO stands for Help a Reporter Out and it is the easiest way to FREE publicity. HARO is a new type of social media service that helps pair reporters with sources for their stories and it is free for everyone involved. All you have to do is follow these three steps:

  1. Visit HARO’s site and register to become a source.
  2. Watch for emails for PR opportunities that are sent out three times a day.
  3. Respond to inquiries that you feel will benefit from your insights on the subject.

If your response fits the need you will be contacted by the reporter to follow up and you could find yourself with anything from some additional search engine links for contribution to a bloggers post all the way up to some national exposure for your expertise on a certain subject. You could be one of many sources on a subject or you could find yourself as the subject of the article altogether like our sister company Virtual Technique did when it responded to questions about hiring a bookkeeper.

You may have heard that “The Truth is Out There”, you just may not have realized that you could be the source. So put your knowledge to work to Help a Reporter Out and who knows you may find yourself with a whole new pool of potential clients.

You have your Facebook page setup just the way you want it and you are beginning to accumulate those ever elusive “likes”. Now the big question becomes how do you go about increasing the level of engagement you have with your new “fans”? You got them commit and say they like you as a friend but how do you get them to show you they “like you” like you? There are a great many ways to get your fans to show the love but here are three simple ones that you can start implementing right away:

  1. Pictures – Everyone has heard the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” but what it did not tell you is that it can be just as valuable when trying to interact with your new social media peeps. Facebook, like life, moves pretty fast and photos are much harder to miss whether you are looking around once in a while or not. People on Facebook do not always have time to read the latest and greatest bits brilliance you feel compelled to share with your ever-increasing audience but they will always scan their news feed for any interesting images even if those images showed up hours or days earlier. So if you are posting images to anchor the info it will be more likely to be seen by the masses.
  2. Captions –  Keeping with the pictures theme, the next best way to entice weary Facebook pilgrims into your web of marketing brilliance is to let them write the copy. Post an interesting photo and ask your social media minions to come up with a good caption for it. The photo can be of anything and it gives your fans an opportunity to be creative and gives you yet another opportunity for interaction that is separate from business that helps build a rapport with clients and potential clients.
  3. Questions – for those of you who just want to write and don’t want to be bothered with photos, another good engagement inroad is post questions for your Fans to answer. The questions can be about anything you like but usually the less formal the better because it opens up the field to more potential connections.

So what fits your personality best? Pictures, Captions, Questions or maybe a combination of the three? The ideas are simple but they all have the potential of new interactions at very least and the potential of going viral at most. So why are you still reading this, other than the fact that this entire blog is chock full of brilliance? Head on over to Facebook and start making some magic happen.

The latest social media craze sweeping the net is Pinterest but what everyone really wants to know is “Can I Use it for Business?” and the answer is, strangely enough,  yes.  For those that don’t know, Pinterest is a new social media platform where users create virtual bulletin boards of images that interest them. The images can either be uploaded or pulled in from other sites on the net. When a new image is added it is known as “Pinning” and boards can be shared so others can “Re-Pin” things of yours that they find interesting. Although it seems a bit unorthodox to many business models, just about any business can benefit from using Pinterest, they just have to be willing (as with most things) to conform their marketing to fit the medium. So how can you use Pinterest for your business? Here are three easy ways

  1. Add a Catalog/portfolioAs always it is best to begin with the most obvious. If you already have images that represent your products or services, you are half way there. All you need to do is create a board (or boards if you have many categories of things) and start pinning. You can either upload images from your offline archives or pin directly from images you already have online. Then you just add a description to each image.
  2. Create Special Offers 

    A step up from a simple catalog but an infinitely more interactive option is to use Pinterest to showcase special offers. Good deals will always get re-pinned and it is a great way to spread the word and drive traffic. You can make the offers exclusive to Pinterest so that it is easy to calculate the ROI. Then you can post new offers on a regular basis to keep them coming back for more. People will make your boards a favorite and they will tel their friends to follow you as well.

  3. Have some FunIt is said that a picture is worth a thousand words and a great way for customers and potential customers to get to know your company is by showing them more of who you are. Pin images that describe your corporate culture. You can use original images as well as found art to give your customers and potential customers more of an idea of who you are. Make them part of the team by allowing them to feel they know what you are all about. It is also a great way to bring in potential customers that have shared interests because they will your re-pin your images based on that interest and then they might dig a little deeper to see what else you might have and discover what your company has to offer. You can also re-pin from other people’s boards to build this up as another way to get their attention.

These are but a few of  the many ways to dip your toes into the deep waters of Pinterest. As with any social media venture it will take regular updates to make the most of it but as you devote a little time to it, you will find more and more ways to connect with those potential customers and have a little fun while you are at it.

 

Ok, Recently I posted on the virtues of enhancing the user experience with media like Animation, Audio and Video and it occurs to me that I may need to qualify that a bit. As my title suggests, the first tenet of any webocratic oath should be First, Do NOT Annoy! So even though I am a proponent of adding media to your site and even though I DID specify judicious use, I just wanted to follow-up with a few “Best Practices” where these and other things are involved.

Animation/Flash
Lets start with the biggest offender. And although I am a believer in Flash (Sorry, Steve) there is a place for everything (you may start to see a pattern as you read these). The non-gratuitous use of Flash is obviously the preferred implementation. Sites that hit you in the face with annoying animation over and over and over are just that…annoying. If you are going to use it, like everything else you do on your site, you should think it through. Adding some movement to capture attention is great but as with most things in my opinion less is more. Just because a little does a little good, does not mean that a lot will have the same effect..if fact it, like say opiates for instance, can have the opposite effect in high doses. Just let it do its work and then fade into the background. Make them try to find it again if it was so cool they need to watch it again, don’t assume that it is so awesome that your intrepid site goers need to see it over and over and over again.

Audio/video
Although not nearly as bad as flash, there are some practices with audio and video that can can drive traffic away rather than helping draw it in further. The worst of the worst in my opinion is Auto Play! There is nothing more annoying than being in a quiet house after everyone has gone to bed, quietly researching your latest obsession when suddenly, without warning, the loudest most irritating techno-trash music starts echoing off of every hard surface in your house accompanied by Robyn Leach talking about the Champaign Wishes and Caviar Dreams of this fantastic product. The initial reaction (assuming that you are not now incontinent) is to get away from the sound as quickly as possible and the easiest way to do that (even if there is a “sound off” switch) is to leave the site and I can’t tell you how many times I have done just that. It is so disturbing that it totally puts you off the company or product they are offering. Even if it is the best, most perfect version of what you are looking for and the price would make you cry with joy, you wont be there long enough to find out and you will consciously choose not to return to the scene of the crime. I am all for the audio or video, but make it your customer’s choice to view to content. You can make it compelling simply by placement and they will watch or listen to the wonders that is your product simply for that reason. Assault (even on your senses) is a crime and smash and grab tactics do not work out well for anyone.

Navigation
The most subtle of the annoyances can be found (or not in some cases) in a sites navigation. In the case of navigation issues it is not so much seeing too much (although too much of anything can be harmful, I am sure vegetables in sufficient quantities will give you cancer..but I digress ), but seeing too little or not seeing it at all. The key here is to think logically about it. Having your navigation at the bottom of the screen below the fold may be awesome for the design but it is ridiculous for a website. People expect to find menu items in a few main places. First and foremost, the top of the screen (I know..the hell you say, right), followed closely by the top left side and then the right.

The key here is to pick one (and I am talking main navigation, I am not saying not to have links throughout and an interesting magazine like layout (especially on the home page) and stick with it. Don’t have some items on the top and them some on the left or the right or any mix in-between. The goal is for people to find what they are looking for so how about helping them out. Here is a thought, wherever your main navigation is, keep it consistent throughout the site, try not to go too deep (you get much beyond 2 levels and people are going to feel like they are in a hedge maze). Drop-down/Flyout menus are great for consistency but not always necessary. Just think it through logically and consider for a moment WWJD – What Would Joe-Customer Do? If you put yourself in a lowest common denominator mindset when building out the navigation you will be sure to have something everyone can follow.

Just remember, you learned everything you need to now about your website in Kindergarten. Whether it was K.I.S.S. ( Keep It Simple Stupid) or Chris’ Razor (The simplest idea is usually the Best), the less annoying your site is, the more effective it will be in getting your message across. Put yourself in your visitors place. Assume you are in a quiet room full of sleeping babies, your headphones are in the next room, you have had only 3 hours of sleep and you have a huge headache (but somehow surfing the web still seems like a good idea..work with me here…). You don’t want to experience the cacophony of crying babies caused by the music/video that played automatically or your own expletive deleted screaming from the Flash that would not go away or the navigation you could not wade through. Making a conscious effort not to annoy your site visitors by allowing them a say in their own web experience will only serve to better your relationship with current and potential customers.

There are many ways to enhance your user’s experience when they visit your website from simple graphics to full multimedia immersion. Most sites depend on graphics (at least to a degree) to help sell the content. And while as a designer I am all over this because it helps feed my Starbucks addiction, there are sometimes simpler ways to enhance an otherwise decent design that may be in need of a little freshening up. One of the best ways to breath new life into your site is with the discreet use of multimedia.

Animation
Although it can be pretty old school in its execution, a little movement goes a long way.

Flash – No matter what Steve Jobs says (and I generally listen) Flash is the best and most accessible way to implement animation on your website. It is fast, it is clean and iPad’s and iPhone’s not withstanding (I know mine aren’t) it is accessible to most people on the net. The only real drawback is the need for an experienced designer to help you out with it (again, happy to feed my coffee addiction with your animation needs) but it allows for you to please most of the senses (sorry no smellivision available, but I am sure someone is working on it) with sight and sound.

GIF – A little more old school but no less effective is the tried and true GIF animation. Although only the flip book of online animation offering no sound to accompany the visual goodness, judicious use of this type of animation can draw attention and revitalize an otherwise flat site.

Audio
Although not as compelling as animation, adding sound to your site can enhance the experience for your users as well with the added benefit of you being able to record the audio yourself. Most newer computers (or even older ones for that matter) have some rudimentary capacity to record and play audio. A simple message from you can be enough help draw users in and help engage them with the content of your site.

Video
Given the ubiquity of video enabled cellphones and digital cameras (including the simplicity of the flip video camera) the ability to add video to your marketing endeavors has grown exponentially in recent years. Now, without need for professional assistance (although in some cases it is still needed…seriously…but I digress) anyone can add exactly what they need to show potential customers exactly why what they have to offer is second to none. And to make it even easier, enter YouTube and Vimeo as free resources for hosting your video content while allowing you to stream it directly to your website so it appears to be embedded. Giving you a professional sales tool without the expense.

And while these things have sometimes been considered gratuitous in the past (and still can be depending on your implementation), the media that you are looking to add to your site today ain’t your Mama’s video.  It is no longer just about dazzling them with shiny objects. Those shiny objects now serve a purpose beyond drawing your visitors ever closer to the poisoned donut. Recent changes to Google’s search ranking algorithms  are giving more prominence to what it considers to be high quality sites which are defined as sites with more original content. And what is more original than the audio and video you are producing for your potential clients?

So what are you waiting for? Get out there – be little Murray Sparkles (and if you get that reference you definitely have kids) and start enhancing both your user’s experience and your site ranking AT THE SAME TIME!