Email Marketing

Our methods of communication have shifted drastically in the past 5 years. These days, most of us are emailing rather than picking up the phone and calling work contacts, friends and family. And thanks to smart phones, we are emailing or checking email dozens of times a day while on the go.

For organizations, this means email is the most consistent way to update supporters. Sending out updates on important legislation, upcoming events, and fundraising opportunities are just a few ways nonprofits are using email marketing. But first, an organization has to decide on a solution for sending email. How can organizations customize mass emails? Will the emails actually get delivered? What kinds of statistics are out there for monitoring email?

Luckily there are lots of tech solutions out there for organizations to quickly and easily send great-looking emails, manage the list of people these emails are sent to, and collect data on the people reading and clicking through to act. One option is a full Consumer Relationship Managers like Salsa, SalesForce, or Campaigner. These systems will allow your organization to manage email and fundraising all in one place, but with all of the features they offer, they can also be pricey.

The other option is a simple email marketing service. These services offer guaranteed email delivery, customized email templates, and list management for  a monthly or yearly price. There are usually more affordable for a small nonprofit  and some even offer a certain number of emails for free if your organization qualified. But there are so many of these services out there, where to start!?

Based on your organization’s needs, you’ll want to prioritize what features are most important. Is your budget dictating what options are available? A service that offers discounts for nonprofits might be your best bet. Need lots of tech support? 24/7 customer service might be crucial to your decision.

I’ve found a couple helpful websites for comparing email marking services. The first is on Top10Reviews.com and they have scored some of the most popular services based on a number of features:

em-rankings

The second is from WeRockYourWeb.com, and instead of a ranking, they have drawn up this handy chart so you can see if a service offers the features you are looking for:

em-comparison

Once you’ve made the big decision and picked your email marketing service, it’s time to get crackin’! This guide by the National Network for Arab American Communities provides a lot of helpful information on effective email marketing. Over at Salsa, their blog has specific information about the Salsa CRM, but also information on best practices in email marketing. The Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog is an amazing resource for all things tech in the nonprofit world. Finally, Nonprofit Quarterly is the be-all, end-all for nonprofit news and resources.

What email marketing services are you using? Are there other great resources for nonprofit email marketing I didn’t list?

Happy emailing!

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Battle of the Bookmarks

Pinterest vs. LoveIt

Battle of the Bookmarks

In the category of bookmark curation sites, Pinterest has established itself as   king in a relatively short amount of time.  But there is a new kid on the block, looking to get on the bandwagon of visual bookmark curation- LoveIt.com. I found out about LoveIt through Klout, where I was offered the opportunity to use LoveIt in beta. The similarities between LoveIt and Pinterest on the surface are uncanny. The two have incredibly similar layouts and color schemes and the same idea of collections or boards of content chosen by their owners.  But there are some specific differences between the two sites which may influence which one you decide to use for yourself.

LoveIt

As I mentioned, LoveIt is a new member of the online curation/bookmarking scene and is still in beta so you can only sign up with Facebook at this point. LoveIt took the Pinterest model and added a few features that may enhance users’ experiences.  First of all, there are more customization features available for users’ collections.  Like Pinterest, these collections can be managed alone or with other users, but LoveIt adds the opportunity to make collections private, so you can hide your secret dream wedding plans from friends or boyfriends.  LoveIt also has a really easy Edit more for collections, which allows users to drag and drop images between collections and re-order collections on their profiles.

LoveIt Profile

LoveIt has better tracking of original image links, available at the bottom of every image. When a user clicks on an image, they are directed to a new page with a larger version of the image and recommendations of similar content, similar collections, and users who have ‘loved’ the same content.

LoveIt Image Example

This makes it super easy to find new people and new content.  LoveIt will also recommend content on your feed by highlighting an image in yellow that based on your previous ‘loves’ they believe matches your interests.  Users can then ‘love’ these images or clear them from their feed by clicking an X on the image (or any image in their feed), helping LoveIt learn what they might like.

Pinterest

I wrote a whole post on Pinterest earlier this spring that you can check out here. In comparison to LoveIt, Pinterest is much more established, and thus has more users and more content.  For users whose priority is interacting with their friends and favorite brands, Pinterest is the obvious choice since there is a greater chance that people and organizations you know will have profiles. Also, Pinterest’s profiles (to me personally) are more visually pleasing and boards have cover photos that can be customized by users, so visitors have a better idea of what kind of content is included.

pinterest profile

 But many of LoveIt’s features are correcting shortcomings in the Pinterest experience.  A lot of times, it is difficult to find the original source of an image, and LoveIt does a better job of preserving this information.  Also there is no Pinterest equivalent of LoveIt’s recommendations, but there are more opportunities to share the content elsewhere when a user goes to ‘pin’ the image.

Pinterest Pin

The Verdict

Both LoveIt and Pinterest are great sites for finding new content and interacting with  bloggers,brands, and friends.  For organizations and brands, both offer an easy way of searching for new fans and customers in specific niches.  Pinterest is the clear choice in the latter, but if LoveIt continues growing, brands will be forced with a difficult choice.  I would liken the two sites as the difference between Tumblr and Blogspot.  There are different features on each site, but the general idea is the same so it is up to a user’s personal preference for which site they use.

Personally, I’ll keep my LoveIt account around because I have found some interesting content, which I have also ‘pinned’ on my Pinterest account because that is where I usually go to find content.  It will be interesting to see if LoveIt really takes off in the next year or finds a new niche that Pinterest hasn’t captured- male users perhaps?

We shall see…

Social Media- Deprofessionalization of Communication

Communications and media used to be the realm of professionals.  Men and women in suits communicated on our behalf to corporations and the same suits communicated back to us through the media.  The internet began to break down these suits by involving people in their news through comment sections and email listservs.  Social media and blogging has all but destroyed the wall of professionalism that used to define communications.  Everyday people are becoming producers of content and using social media as their outlet to disseminate the information they’ve found.  These citizen journalists are reinventing how the media and communications operate.

Since everyday people now acting as the voice of the news or an organization, it is becoming more important that we all learn about best practices for social media, in case we are ever put in the position of being a professional communicator on an issue.  Part of this is learning how to be authentic while retaining professionalism.  Entrepreneur posted an article on creating authenticity for a company’s online voice.  They suggest that language is very important.  For example, small companies can get away with abbreviations such as “gr8” but large companies should shy away from this practice.  And despite the informality of social media, correct grammar is still important.

Then there are best practices for content depending on the social media site.  Pinterest has been getting a lot of attention lately on Twitter.  This article gives some dos and don’ts for businesses creating a Pinterest account.  Brands are encouraged to have a presence on Pinterest and to post content that shows the brand’s inspiration, interests, and products. But like any social platform, followers will not tolerate over-posting and cross-posting the same content.

Social media practices also depend on who is using it.  A company’s strategy and practices will be much different from a nonprofit’s.  There are a lot of resources becoming available for nonprofit social media usage.  This presentation on SlideShare is part of a series called 50 Social Media Tactics and gives platform-specific tips and practices just for nonprofits.  Mashable also did an infographic displaying statistics on how nonprofits are using social media.

There is a wealth of knowledge on the internet about using social media no matter the platform or organization using them.  It is up to us as users and future professional communicators to be well-informed about these practices and strategies when our citizen journalism moment comes.

What are Social Media sites FOR?

Chances are, if you are an avid enough internet user, you have seen this photo of a speaker’s explanation of social media:

As silly as this picture is, it is a really concise explanation of what each social network is used for.  And as much as we all hate to admit it, most people do not know what to do with social media beyond personal use.  I realized this in a couple recent interviews talking about why social media strategy differs for different platforms.

It takes a lot of research, skill, and most of all trial and error to learn what works for brands, companies, and bloggers to market their content and products on social media sites.  And the reason is, each of them is unique in how users use the site.  Sure, we all know what YouTube or Facebook is for but have you stopped and really thought about how you use it?  Now, I am still learning, but luckily so is everyone else in the field of technology and online content . What most people have realized is that users want different kinds of content based on the social media site they are using. Here’s my brief breakdown:

  • Facebook users want to interact or connect with their friends as well as the companies, causes, and interests they  follow. But with Facebook constantly changing so the challenge lies in how to stay ahead of the game, and use new tools like the timeline.
  • Twitter users on the other hand, are more keen to find out what’s going on.  Like this Huffington Post article explains, they want information about news, gossip, the latest memes and coolest articles from their friends as well as the businesses and personalities they follow.
  • Other sites such as Pinterest or even Digg and Reddit have found niche communities that want to control the content that appears on a website either through their own posting (Pinterest) or some kind of voting system (Digg/Reddit).
  • Youtube, Vimeo, Flikr, and Instagram are all examples of media-specific sites that specialize in sharing either video or photo content.  Here, like the example above, content rules the day and people interact in discussion about the content itself.

There are so many resources on the web to learn more about social media and creating a strategy for any business or organization.  Here are a few I follow regularly:

  • Likeable– Likeable is actually a strategy firm but has one of the best social media blogs around and has weekly web chats about social media.  Definitely the thought leader.
  • Mashable– One-stop look for all things social media and tech news. Mashable has it all and does it all well.
  • Social Media Today– I really like how this site categorizes all their articles so you can find exactly what you’re looking for.
  • Social Media Examiner– this is a blog-style site with lots of helpful articles
  • SocialMedia.biz– The analysts on this site are much more business focused and have in-depth reports for the professional view on social media.
  • Most news outlets on Twitter have handles specifically dedicated to tech and social media news, like @HuffPostTech.

This by no means is an exhaustive guide.  I think of it as an intro to things to think about when starting social media for a brand or organization.  What are some other useful resources for social media strategy?  What about workflow and analytics, any great tools out there we should all be using?

All the Buzz About Pinterest

I first heard about Pinterest over a year ago from a friend who offered me an invite.  It was deep in Beta and I believe in those days you could only log on with a Facebook account.  The new social media site appealed to me as a bookmarking site where I could keep ideas for my first apartment, recipes and the like.  For those of you who are not familiar, users curate bulletin boards of their favorite images from around the web, which link to the original page the image was found on.  Users follow others’ boards and can browse the entirety of content being pinned at that moment.  I barely followed anyone because only a few of my friends were on Pinterest and I had no idea that there would be big businesses and brands with accounts and boards to follow.

These days I follow dozens of friends, bloggers, and brands and my Twitter feed is all a buzz about the potential this social media service offers.  Every day it seems there is a new article popping up about how to use Pinterest.

One of the first reads I would recommend to new pinners is this article from Mashable on the top 10 brands on Pinterest and this article on the most-followed users (not just brands) also from Mashable.  Both provide some great examples of brands to follow and will help users get inspired for boards of their own.

Another find from Mashable is this article on cool hacks, or tricks, for boards, like how to turn the thumbnail of a board into a mini-mosaic.  These neat tricks will help new users master their boards and turn their account into more of a showpiece.  Many people, including me, have started creating boards as part of their online resume.  I have pinned articles I wrote for my school newspaper, other online work I’ve done, and ideas and articles about topics in the field I’d like to work in.  It’s a great way to show social media-minded employers what you’ve done and what ideas you can bring to a position.

One of the latest trends is for businesses and nonprofits to curate their own profiles on Pinterest.  Individual products lend themselves well to marketing on Pinterest, and an article from LinchPin SEO gives some ideas of how this can be accomplished.  For more general marketing ideas, SproutSocial has an article of their own.  Nonprofits can have their own marketing challenges and their own approaches to social media marketing, but still have found ideas for using Pinterest for their causes.

But like any new platform, there are always risks.  An article on TechFlash highlights some of the precautions that businesses should take when starting their account on.  When used prudently and creatively, Pinterest can be a great tool in any person, business, or nonprofit’s toolbelt.

Viral Marketing

Last night I went to my first Meetup event EVER! I was really nervous, not knowing who would be there and if they would appreciate a grad student showing up.  Plus my car was low on gas, I couldn’t find the right building and it was raining.  Full-on freak out mode, achieved.  Luckily the experience was so great and I can’t wait for next time!

NC Tech4Good hosted Arik Abel from French, West, and Vaughan, a marketing/branding company that has offices all over the US.  He talked about viral marketing, what a viral video is, what it takes for something to go viral, and examples of viral marketing.  In the world of online popularity, there is a distinction between something going viral, a meme, and evergreen content, which I didn’t really grasp before.  Evergreen content is content that has a LOT of views because people are always searching for it, for example, this tutorial on how to fishtail braid has 2.3 million views.  But clearly it isn’t viral since we all aren’t going about our lives talking about “that girl who can fishtail braid really well on Youtube.”   On the other hand are memes, which are viral, but in a different way than traditional viral content because they are shared by many people to many people.  For a great meme that has been spreading across internet-land since April, go here.  One of my classmates, Chris Kirkham, gave a great pecha kucha presentation on memes:

(it starts in the middle, sorry!)

So now that brings us to the definition of “going viral.” This content is shared from one person to many people; like the domino effect of the internet world.  To be viral, content does not actually have to be shared by people all over the world.  Rather it is shared within a specific community such as a leaked trailer going viral for the sci-fi community, a campaign against a specific company going around the animal rights community, and so forth.  According to Abel, there are 5 things that help something go viral: Topic, Technique, Talent, Timing, and Tension.

  • Topic refers to what is relevant now to the audience you are trying to reach.  Hot topics now are Occupy Wall Street, Gaddafi’s death, and if you are in to Latin American events the TIPNIS protest (this is all according to my Twitter feed).
  • Technique is how the viral content is actually delivered: a mash-up, a parody, a cool string of events that is recorded in one take, etc.
  • Talent is who is in the content: a cultural icon, a famous actor, or just a really emotional guy freaking out at a rainbow (see here).
  • Timing is the ‘right place right time’ effect.  Going viral capitalizes on adding to an event going on in the world.  This is measured somewhat by the 3x a Day rule- if you hear about something three times in three separate places in one day, it’s probably going viral.
  • Tension is the polarization effect viral content has.  Good examples would be advocacy campaigns on topics like abortion, partisan politics, human rights, etc.
The other main contributing factor to the viral-ness of content is what Abel calls the Law of Distributed Influence.  According to this theory, going viral means a lot of people are partaking in a shared experience.  To me, this sounds a lot like ARGs, the popularity of which depends on popularity within a large group of people working together.  McGonagal we meet again!  Gamification is a great way to get something to go viral since it is a clearly defined, LARGE community of people and has the great element of wanting to win or complete the game (tension).
I hope this has been a useful introduction to the idea of going viral.  I really learned a lot from Abel’s talk and can’t wait for the  next NC Tech4Good meetup!