Top 10 Hashtag Best Practices

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Remember when twitter meant a bird’s song and a “#” was better known as a pound symbol? Barely, right? Today, twitter conjures up a blue bird company logo and its social media platform which boasts 302 million active monthly users who send 500 million tweets a day that often include a hashtag topic!

Yes, it was just back in 2006 when Twitter arrived on the social media platform scene, and a year later when hashtags redefined how we sort, promote and organize topics, content, products, events, and companies.

Today, hashtags also exist on other social media sites like Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.  While many businesses were initially slow to embrace them, hashtags are now an integral part of nearly all business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing and communication vehicles.

Understandably, compliance concerns left advisors hesitant to embrace the activity at first, but now more firms are creating social media policies and using companies like Smarsh for archiving and supervising content.

Whether you are a seasoned social media user, a newbie, or someone in between, chances are you could use a rundown on the latest Top 10 Hashtag Best Practices:

  1. Use relevant hashtags. Just as we Google the web using keywords and phrases, social media users look up information by pairing a hashtag symbol and a topic (for example: #wealth or #financialliteracy). Don’t include hashtags just to draw attention to yourself; if your content is not applicable, you will alienate followers.
  2. Research hashtags before you include them. While some hashtags may seem straightforward and have a singular reference in your mind, a quick search my turn up some surprising results. For instance on Twitter, #myRA does indeed provide some posts on the new U.S. Treasury Roth program, but it also shows posts regarding people named Myra! While you may often see a content mix, you want the majority of the posts to cover the topic you are targeting.
  3. Create new hashtags with care. Using a unique-to-you hashtag for your advisory firm, product, or a special event is a great way to generate conversations with your followers. Just carefully consider all interpretations (with upper and lower cases, and a mix of both) to check for unintentional meanings or references. Also, don’t make it so unique or unusual that people cannot remember it.
  4. Use your unique-to-you hashtag on all social media sites when possible. Be consistent and gain traction with all your followers and clients.
  5. Monitor your hashtags. A hashtag on a public account is viewable by all users of that social media site, and you cannot control the use of the hashtag conversation.
  6. Not all hashtags are created equal. Not surprisingly, there is often a huge collection of hashtag posts for a given topic on Twitter, while you may only see a handful of hashtag posts for a topic on LinkedIn. Other social media sites tend to fall somewhere in between.
  7. Less is more. Don’t use more than two hashtags in your tweets; any more, and the tweets look like spam!
  8. Sometimes the best hashtag is no hashtag. In a call to action tweet, skip hashtags and use a URL link instead to avoid confusion and properly direct followers (usually to your website).
  9. Use hashtags to monitor topics, industries or groups. Most likely, you have a number of hashtag topics worth tracking. With Twitter, consider using Twilert to streamline and manage the flow of information. The paid service provides several tracking options (for both the number of topics and the alert frequency) starting at just $9 a month for five searches and hourly/daily alerts.
  10. Hashtags count. The 140-character limit for tweets includes hashtags, whether they are used in a sentence or as a separate topic identifier.

Hashtags are a convenient social media phenomenon. They help us converse, listen, promote, and research a myriad of subjects. Don’t be afraid to use them!

Develop, Define and Analyze Your Twitter Strategy

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For those of you who have heard me speak, you know I often counsel advisors in the financial services industry that the magic of digital marketing is content, contact and consistency. However, before you can go waving your wand and sprinkling magical marketing fairy dust everywhere in the wired world, you need an overarching plan and a strategy for each key component.

Take your Twitter activity for instance: does this marketing component have a stated purpose, a definition of success, and a way to measure your efforts?  Interestingly, Twitter recently launched an Audience Insights dashboard to help improve measurement. However, before we dive into the analysis phase, consider your strategic purpose, which may be multi-faceted and encompass the following:

  • Expanding your client base
  • Pointing more people to your website
  • Sharing your smarts to build customer trust and loyalty
  • Promoting a special event
  • Eliciting a call to action

Likewise, your may define you success on Twitter in multiple ways by considering increases in your number of:

  • Followers
  • People who read your tweets
  • People who re-tweet and/or carry on a conversation you initiate
  • Click through rates to your website or your call to action

To measure those success points, you can view your Followers dashboard (a feature Twitter added last year) for a quick breakdown, or use the new Twitter Audience Insights dashboard for a more in-depth analysis. The Followers dashboard includes your number of followers, along with a percentage breakdown on the following audience characteristics:

  • Interests (most and unique)
  • Location (country, state, city)
  • Gender
  • Who they follow

The new Audience Insights dashboard covers these same categories plus the percentage of your audience by:

  • Language
  • Lifestyle types
  • Buying style
  • Household Income
  • Net worth
  • Occupation
  • Wireless carrier
  • Education
  • Marital status

In addition, the dashboard lets you compare your audience insights with all Twitter users.

Visit your Tweet activity page (also launched last year) to see a breakdown on your tweets, tweets and replies, and promotions by:

  • Impressions (number of times users saw the tweet)
  • Engagements (includes clicks on the tweets, retweets, replies, follows, and favorites)
  • Engagement rate (engagements divided by the number of impressions)

Twitter is a valuable marketing tool. Make sure you develop, define and analyze your Twitter strategy within the context of your digital marketing ecosystem. No sense having that magical marketing dust going to waste!

Mobile-Friendly Websites Now a Must!

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There’s nothing quite like a swift kick in the pants to get motivated! Just in case you were still on the fence about making website adjustments to better accommodate mobile technology, Google just made it pretty much a necessity.

Yep, it was just back in February when I wrote about the impact of mobile technology with Do You Have a Mobile Mindset? Now, the growing role of smartphones and tablets on the business environment is making yet another leap forward.

As of April 21, Google is penalizing websites that are not mobile-friendly. “We’re boosting the ranking of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results,” Google explains on its Webmaster blog site. The search engine giant wants mobile users to “find high-quality and relevant results where text is readable without tapping or zooming, tap targets are spaced appropriately, and the page avoids unplayable content or horizontal scrolling.”

Conveniently, Google offers a Mobile-Friendly Test. Just plug in your company URL and click on Analyze to see how you rank and hope the “Awesome! This page is mobile-friendly” message pops up! The test also provides the following additional analysis, tips and suggestions:

  • How Googlebot sees this page
  • Learn more about mobile-friendly pages
  • Do you use Google Webmaster Tools?

You should also see a screen shot of how your website looks on a mobile device. If the image does not look correct, Google suggests you check out Learn how to let Googlebot view the page correctly.

To obtain an “Awesome” rating, make sure your website is working smart with these key tips from Google:

  1. Use a Responsive Web Design with HTML and CSS coding so your website works with all forms of mobile technology.
  2. Avoid using videos requiring Flash since this format will not work on most mobile devices.
  3. Make sure any links are also mobile-friendly.
  4. Use PageSpeed Insights so you can avoid lags in your website upload time. You don’t want clients giving up on your website because it takes too long to load!

Now, many of us are not webpage developers so this may seem a bit over the top. While you certainly don’t have to be the one to program or reprogram your website, you most definitely should take the time to check out your rating.

Like it or not, Google runs the search engine show. Don’t let an unfriendly mobile site kick you down too far in a search. And, remember Google is trying to make life easier for mobile users; let’s face the facts, many, many people now work off their smartphones. So don’t alienate your clients and potential clients with a hard-to-load website: Get mobile-friendly!

 

LinkedIn Homepage Now more Reactive and Personal

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Apparently LinkedIn has heard the saying “no time to rest on your laurels”. The number one social media site for business professionals is now in the midst of rolling out an entirely new homepage design that is more reactive to your personal activity.

Launched in March, the updated interface makes “it easier to discover and interact with what matters most to you,” according to LinkedIn. Don’t worry if you don’t have the new design yet, LinkedIn is providing the new interface to its 347 million plus members in phases (and won’t grant requests for early access).

Website redesigns are pretty common these days as sites try to stay fresh and adapt to new technology changes and preferences (yes, I even redid my ShoeFitts Marketing website a few months ago).

The new LI website also reflects a more digestible magazine format with chunks of information in boxes, sidebars, and icon tabs. Since the site tracks your activity and adjusts accordingly, some of the information will change daily.

Here are the key modifications you can expect to see with the new homepage design:

Abbreviated profile – The top of the homepage now features a boxed area with your photo and the first few words of your headline. Make sure both your headline and summary statement are current, personal, and compelling. You can also vary what you see by adjusting the “This is what your profile looks like to” either yourself or the public.

Activity options – Just below the profile box are graphics and links to “Share an update”, “Upload a photo”, or “Publish a post”. You may also see “Your recent activity”, the (number) of “people who have viewed your profile in the past 90 days”, suggested (number) for “Grow your network” connections, “Your recent activity”, and/or your (number) “profile rank in the past 30 days”. “Your recently visited” information is now gone from the homepage.

Keep in touch – To the right of the profile box are suggested ways to maintain contact with current connections based on their recent activity and history. This section might show someone has a new job, work anniversary, or a new profile photo, and you have the option to “like”, “comment” or “skip” the suggestion. Once you act on, or skip all your connection suggestions, this area reverts to a “people you may know” box.

Notify your network? – This option is now on your homepage rather than buried in your settings so it’s easy to turn on or off. If you are making changes over several days or even a few hours, consider placing this in the “No” position until you are done so your connections don’t see every little nuance you change in your profile.

Reconnect with your colleagues – Here you’ll see some of your current contacts along with a “continue” button that looks for new connection possibilities by searching your email databases. Be careful with this feature as you want to carefully consider your connection requests and manage them one at a time rather than sending out a blanket broadcast.

Ads and Posts – Suggested ads are still off to the right and posts by your connections follow all the new profile suggestions and activity. However, posts are now in two columns, with a photo or logo on the left and the text on the right. This serves as yet another reminder to make sure your profile is professional as it now stands out more than ever when you create a post.

 

The LinkedIn changes are welcome and not surprising. More and more websites react to your activity and interests. Once you have the new homepage, see what you think of the changes, and then let me know your thoughts!

7 Digital Marketing Tips for Navigating Compliance

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Today’s connected world requires businesses to include an active digital presence as part of their B2B or B2C marketing plan. Yet, unlike many professionals, advisors in the financial services industry must incorporate one little extra step with that activity: Compliance. Okay, little may be an understatement!

Not to worry. I feel your pain. I get the need for qualifiers, and I know sometimes source material needs a footnote and other times it requires a full compliance review.

However, the process isn’t scary. It just takes some basic know-how and advance planning. To move from a state of paralysis to active digital marketing engagement, just keep these seven tips in mind to navigate compliance:

  1.  Public and Accessible – Internet communication is typically open and easily searchable. As such, compliance considers all web content and social media posts to be the same as in-person or written communication. Be mindful and discerning with your communication content and tone.
  2. Fixed or Evolving – Digital content is considered either static or interactive. Static content requires pre-approval for fixed content such as your website copy, blogs, newsletters and LinkedIn profiles. Interactive content typically does not require compliance approval and includes evolving commentary and conversations in social media posts, tweets, and updates.
  3. Just Like Scrapbooking – Compliance regulations require all social media activity and contact be supervised and archived by your firm or a third party for three years. Archiving requirements are dictated by your broker-dealer or firm’s compliance department and can also include stipulations set forth by the SEC, FINRA, FFIEC and/or CFTC.
  4. Best Advice is NO Advice – Avoid giving advice or making investment recommendations on any of your digital content, be it social media or website copy. The best advice is personal and personalized; neither is possible with online content.
  5. Not a Popularity Contest – Although likes, recommendations, and endorsements may seem nice and make you feel popular, they are considered client testimonials and are prohibited by the SEC. Fortunately with LinkedIn, you can hide “endorsements” and “recommendations” with the click of a button. Keep in mind, advisors can include third-party review sites, but it’s best to make these hyperlinks so the information is current (which means it can include negative commentary).
  6. Mind Your Links – Curating and sharing third party content on your social media sites and in your blogs or newsletters has many perks. You don’t have to create everything and you can pass along newsy or noteworthy information within a personalized context. However, you must know your source, and realize you can be liable for the content if it is false or misleading. Because of this liability, some compliance departments may need to review any linked content.
  7. Create a Policy – Every company, be it in financial services or not, should have a digital communication or social media policy. This can be done as a stand-alone policy or as part of your general HR documentation. In either case, the policy should define all aspects of your online presence by covering website content (and blogs) plus all social media interactions. You can have your employees help draft one if your company doesn’t yet have a policy. Or, if you do, make sure your employees are comfortable and engaged with the policy. A digital communication policy-literate workforce, is a compliant one.

Compliance and regulatory rules and stipulations should not keep you from participating in online engagement. You just need to keep in mind the rules of the game, and when necessary, allow time for compliance to review content. We are well into the digital age of marketing and communication; make sure you’re a savvy participant!

Advisors: Time to Optimize Your Website for Mobile

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If you’re a financial advisor, be aware that starting April 21, your website will need to be optimized for mobile devices to rank high in Google search results.

That’s because Google’s new algorithm will have a preference for mobile-friendly websites, which will help Google filter through an enormous amount of content on the web every day. The change will impact mobile searches worldwide, and will affect how easily customers can find and view your website on a tablet, mobile phone or other mobile device.

Get Ready to Update Your Web Presence

Many advisory and lending firms haven’t kept up with recent mobile technologies and have websites that were designed for desktop computers.

However, you likely have many customers (and prospects!) who access websites from their mobile devices. It’s time for your business to accommodate for that, so people can easily find your business in search results, and have a frustration-free experience navigating your site from their tablet or phone.

There’s no need to worry too much about the Google search change. Since you’re probably already updating your website every few years (or even more often), you can incorporate the move to a mobile-friendly format in your next refresh.

Here are three key steps you can take to ensure your website is mobile-friendly:

  1. Figure out what your customers want from your website. Do your customers want to gain insight and ideas from your blog posts, quickly find your telephone number or address, or set up an online consultation with you? Help your customers accomplish their objectives by first and foremost designing your website to help them complete tasks.
  2. Outline the specific stages in your customers’ journey to make sure the precise steps to accomplish a task on your website are simple to follow on a mobile device. How quickly can mobile customers accomplish their goals? Focus on ease of use and consistency on your website interface here. Having website content that is easy to find on search engines is also a major plus.
  3. Use responsive web design. This means that your website pages use the same URL and code, whether a customer is using a desktop computer, tablet, or mobile phone. The display and text adjust according to the screen size. A big benefit to responsive web design is that you only need to perform upkeep for one version of your site rather than two (you can do away with having one for mobile, and one for desktop).

If you want to test a few pages of your current site to see how it performs on a mobile device, try out Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

If the results show your website has a lot of room for improvement, it may be time to move to a site that will lend itself to more interaction with your customers.

You can make the move to a mobile-friendly site now by contacting Smarsh Sites, which provides website and digital marketing solutions for financial advisors, lenders and insurance firms.

 

Do Your Clients Feel Warm and Fuzzy?

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On a recent road trip, I spoke with a business analyst for Target Stores who repeatedly used the term “guest” when referring to the retailer’s customers. I had never considered myself a guest at my local Target, but admittedly, I like the term and it makes me feel a little more warm and fuzzy about the chain.

This made me think about the relationship we have with customers in the financial services industry. Do you call your clients and prospects guests? More importantly, do you treat them as guests, and make them feel wanted and appreciated (or, warm and fuzzy)?

A friendly customer-oriented approach is not new (think Walmart greeters), however, the concept is being elevated to a higher level as businesses in all industries scrutinize the entire Customer Journey beyond the front door.

What exactly is a Customer Journey? Also referred to as Customer Lifecycle or Customer Relationship Management, the Customer Journey is the entire experience your clients encounter with you and your firm. As customers dictate more and more of the sales process, it’s not surprising to learn the bulk of your future sales revenue rests in the hands of your current customers and so their experience has a huge ripple effect.

Some 80 percent of future profits come from 20 percent of existing customers, according to Aria. Moreover, the decision to do business with you and your firm is becoming less about price and more about customer service.

So, it’s important to consider your Customer Journey by creating a map or outline that takes into account all the various points in the process. Interestingly, a recent report by Gleanster Research notes these steps are often divided between marketing, sales, and service, which can lead to a “hand-off” approach rather than a holistic focus. You’re much better off when you have all departments working to map and strategize the following:

Awareness – How your prospects find out about you, your services and products. This step is multifaceted and includes:

  • Referrals from existing clients, industry contacts, and centers of influence
  • Event participation and sponsorship
  • Searchable content on your website, blogs, social media sites and profiles
  • Marketing collateral

Triggers – The reasons behind your prospects’ desire to seek out your firm, such as portfolio reviews, benchmarking, and dissatisfaction with a current financial services firm.

Acquisition – Both new and existing clients typically require numerous steps during the selling phase. Be sure to consider all points of contact, and remember to do this from a client perspective.

Retention – One of the most often overlooked steps in the journey, particularly beyond the first point of service or training. Client retention steps can include:

  • Training and education
  • First use or implementation
  • Ongoing use and support
  • Value-adds or sharing of your smarts
  • Thank yous

Satisfaction – Marketing objectives and promises are often long forgotten when it comes to customer satisfaction. Worse yet, many firms lack satisfaction measurement tools and methods.

Renewal – Just as with initial acquisition, this process requires you to put yourself in the clients’ shoes and demonstrate how your products and services help address their worries and concerns.

Whether you call them guests, friends, clients or another name, your customers require care and nurturing. In today’s noisy digital world, your firm can easily be ignored if you don’t recognize the value of the entire Customer Journey and work hard to maximize every step along the path.

Do You Have a Mobile Mindset?

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Remember the days of cellular flip phones and how happy you were to have access to your email? Granted, getting to your mail was often cumbersome and the small screen only let you see a sentence or two at a time. Yet, the capability was cool and helpful.

Fast-forward to 2015 and now you can do nearly everything with your smartphone that you can manage on a laptop. You can easily read your emails, open attachments, surf the web, and watch videos.

Whew! The technology advancements are truly amazing! While you may be enjoying the latest smartphone capabilities, are your clients? What do they see when they access your website, apps, attachments, and email?

According to a recent report by Salesforce, businesses must plan “with a mobile-first mindset” this year.

Yep, just when you thought you had everything figured out for digital communication, now you need to adjust your thinking toward an increasing necessity for mobile responsive designs! Just what does that mean?

Well, with mobile responsive design, a website easily adjusts or scales for viewing on a phone or tablet. If your website doesn’t have this capability then mobile viewers have a difficult time navigating and pages can take a long time to load. (On the techy side, there are a couple ways a website can adjust—responsive or adaptive—but don’t worry about the difference; just make sure your website creator understands the best option for you.)

Beyond your webpage, you need to think about the emails (which might include your newsletters) that you send clients and prospects since some 75 percent of adults now read and send email via their smartphones. For instance, consider the following:

  • Subject line. Make them short and to the point so a mobile viewer can quickly determine if they want to open your emails. Listen in to my recent podcast with Susan Weiner for more tips about email subject lines and structure.
  • Content. Engaging and worthwhile content is imperative regardless of the vehicle, but is especially important with mobile devices.
  • Design 1. Keep the file size relatively small for your headers, photos and other graphics so they don’t bog down the time it takes to load your email.
  • Design 2. For newsletters in an HTML format, consider multiple columns rather than one, so when viewers zoom in they don’t have to scroll left and right to see the content. Also make sure they are coded to adjust for screen size with media queries.
  • Links. Your phone number, social media sites, website, and calls to action should be hotlinks or buttons that are easy to use and launch with a thumb.

Thankfully, some mobile marketing features are more B2C oriented, so you don’t have to worry too much about SMS (Short Message Service—those promo text messages/reminders we agree to receive from companies), website personalization, or location-based mobile tracking.

The technical capabilities of smartphones and tablets are only bound to keep improving. Make sure you don’t get left behind; remember, the days of the flip phone are long gone!

Understand the Power of Influence on Decision-Making

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Did you stop at Starbucks, Caribou, or Dunkin this morning for your caffeine fix? More importantly, do you know why those coffee purveyors and other companies like Disney, Apple, and Nike are so successful at establishing and keeping customer loyalty?

In today’s world of constant visual imagery and digital dominance we are bombarded by an onslaught of websites, emails, texts, photos, videos, infographics, billboards, ads and more. While this overload may seem too much to handle, our brains are wired to sort through the chaos and create order or at least a hierarchy of information.

Our brains sift through this data and make decisions based on several factors with one of the most important being influence, according to Robert Cialdini, professor at Arizona State University and author of numerous books including Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Cialdini says understanding influence and the power of persuasion is critically important in competitive markets (and we all know that’s the case in the financial services arena).

Cialdini breaks down what he calls the “weapons of influence” into several categories: consistency, reciprocity, liking, authority, social proof, and scarcity. I find many of these useful in our business, but I’ll just cover the first two in this blog.

Consistency could very well be what drove you to your favorite coffee spot today. I know it works for me! When I head to Starbucks I rest assured that my coffee will be hot and not burnt, and my dog, aBoo, will receive her consistently delicious puppaccino (check out this short video to see her enjoying one).

Clients and customers love consistency. They enjoy knowing what to expect, plus it means their brains can run a little bit on auto-pilot. The big mega companies understand consistency and apply it at every customer touchpoint. Their brand and why is clear, and permeates everything they do.

While your may not have the power of these conglomerates, that doesn’t mean you cannot provide your clients with a well defined mission and value statement that is consistently implemented throughout your firm.

Take a look at your touchpoints—everything from your business cards, to the chairs in your office, to your website content, to your social media posts—and evaluate your consistency. If you find a lapse, fix it.

Consider extending consistency to the scheduling of your events, newsletters, blogs, and other communication vehicles. An editorial and marketing calendar can simplify the process, make your life easier, and help your readers know when to expect something from you as well.

In fact, your value-adds, like informative articles and industry news also establishes a reciprocity cycle of giving. While reciprocal obligations may not be immediately realized, Cialdini says the reach is powerful and can extend well into the future. The key is to be genuine and considerate.

Beyond the value-adds you provide clients, think about extending the reciprocity cycle to your centers of influence by giving them a piece of business. An industry CPA or attorney will be much more likely to provide you with a referral if you are the first to give and bring them a client.

Building up others, whether they are centers of influence or just general contacts, builds you up in the eyes of others. Just make sure your referrals are well considered and include personal introductions, phone calls, or email.

Don’t forget to keep the reciprocity cycle in play when others extend you a referral or piece of business. Thank you gestures should be meaningful, and consider what’s important to the recipient.

Influence factors such as reciprocity and consistency are often at the heart of both B2B and B2C decision-making. As financial services entrepreneurs, be sure to understand and harness them to help market your products and build business.

5 Steps to Creating Your 2015 Digital Marketing Plan

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The New Year is fast approaching, and as you make that last big push to book business, make sure you also finalize your 2015 digital marketing plan. The growing role of connective technology and marketing is not slowing down. If anything, the pace will only pick up in 2015.

While you might have been able to get away with a little digital marketing this year, you need to be ready with a rich offering and well-planned strategy going forward. So, just where do you start, and how? Take a few minutes to review these crucial steps to create your 2015 digital marketing plan:

  1. Goals—As mentioned in What are Your Social Media Goals?, clearly define your digital marketing goals within the context of your overall marketing plan. Be sure to also include an outline of your resource allocations, execution methods and evaluation guidelines.
  2. Map—A digital marketing plan is great, but it may fall flat unless you commit by mapping out a schedule. Force yourself to pick days or weeks when you will write blogs, send newsletters, post social media updates, and so forth. Include a reminder (or several), and work ahead when possible so you’re not always scrambling to meet deadlines.
  3. Delivery—Digital noise is deafening and the proper delivery is now incredibly important with marketing. The days of outbound marketing dumps are nearly a thing of the past. Today, you must think inbound. How do your customers want to receive information from you and how often? A traditional email, infographic, twitter post, or in person meeting?
  4. Engagement—Unlike many other marketing methods, digital marketing lets you carry on conversations with your customers. Your 2015 plan should include engagement activities to get people talking and sharing. If you read an interesting article try this method of engagement:
  • Share the news on your social media sites
  • Add your thoughts or insight
  • Ask others what they think
  • Ask your followers to comment, continue the conversation and pay attention to the responses (look for cues that might point to useful in-person follow-up opportunities)
  1. Action Items—While much of your digital marketing focus should center on giving rather than getting, be sure to include some action items that create leads and help you book business.

Don’t start the New Year with tired, old school thinking. Today’s connected world requires a strong digital marketing plan to be heard above the noise and meet the needs of your clients and prospects.

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