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Building a Consistent Blog Readership

Many bloggers dream of writing that epic blog post. One that drives so much traffic, links and shares that the front page of Reddit is a foregone conclusion.

blog readers

photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

Common wisdom suggests that to write anything even kind of like that you must plan and toil and slave over the writing until you’ve packed so much in there people must flock to it.

Well, the reality is most people don’t need to blog to create uber-popular blog posts or become popular bloggers.

The utility in blogging for the majority of businesses is the eventual creation of a body of work that covers the chapters or keyword themes that attract readers, prospects and customers.

In that regard, consistency, usefulness, value, education and sturdiness all trump epic.

I recently revealed what I call a Total Content System that addresses a “themed” approach to mapping out monthly content, but today I want to talk about another element that can help establish a daily and weekly rhythm for your blogging.

One of the ways to develop a loyal following is a consistent pattern of content features that can help your readers know what to expect when they subscribe, share and look for your new posts.

An easy way to do this is to break your week down into standard features. You can go as far as describing or even naming your features or you can just use this idea as a loose framework for yourself.

Here’s an example of how I do this:

  • Monday – Usually reserved for something bigger picture, theme related post – usually something that people need to digest and adapt to use.
  • Tuesday – This is when I do my “5 Ways to Do X kind of post” or “How to use X kind of tool” – lots of links and teaching and usually pretty prescriptive. I publish an email newsletters on Wednesdays and I often use one of these first two posts as my featured article.
  • Wednesday – This is podcast day. I publish a new episode and write some commentary related to the subject.
  • Thursday – This is guest post day. I run a post written by someone I’ve invited to add a new perspective to the monthly theme
  • Friday – I usually do something on the lighter side or at least not straight up marketing
  • Saturday – I run a feature I call Weekend Favs. It’s just a quick highlight of three new tools I’ve discovered during the week. Funny, but I sometimes get more feedback on this than anything else I do
  • Sunday – No post on this day, but truth be known I often work on Monday and Tuesday’s posts

One of my readers shared a routine he is planning for new site recently and I think it helps shed some light on how flexible this approach is.

Here’s how Bruno Coelho plans to break his daily posts down.

  • A question worth answering
  • An action worth doing
  • A lesson worth learning
  • An Online Dreampreneur worth following
  • A week worth remembering

This aspect of a Total Content System further allows you to plan and build your content knowing that you need four lessons, questions, interviews, etc., each month.

But, perhaps the most important aspect is that it also allows your readers to get a feel for what to expect day in and day out.

Ask your readers or customers what they want, use tools like Survey Monkey, Wufoo or Qualaroo to gain insights into what people are looking for and then experiment until you get the mixture that feels right.

Motivate Your Prospects to Make Tiny Commitments

The ultimate dream of any marketer is to go from “Hi, how are you?” to “And what form of payment will you be using today?” in 60 seconds or less.

But of course some of us wanted a pony for our 10th birthday too.

The process, and yes it is a process, of gaining enough know, like and trust to make a sale is a thoughtful one. It certainly can happen by putting enough good stuff out into the world and having all of that come together in the happy accident that is a customer, but there’s a psychology that can be employed to make it happen in a more predictable manner as well.

The key is to engage your prospects in a series of small movements. You may not be able to go from awareness to purchase, but you may be able to move from to “okay, tell me more” and then to “hmm, this looks interesting” and then to the even more exciting, “I think you really get my problem.”

By creating a systematic path that asks your prospect to make tiny commitments you can involve them in a story of their own making and eventually earn the right to sell them your value laden products and services.

The following filters should be considered as you design your process to get little commitments.

Gain involvement

The first step is to engage them in process. One of the best ways to engage anyone is to ask a question with a personal interest. For example, which best describes you? Are you more of an X or more of a Y?

You can pose this question in a simple pop up form on your web site and just by doing so you create a tiny commitment in the prospects that provide this information.

Personalized branching

The second step in the process is to then tailor information based on responses. Something we all crave is information that we believe is specifically tailored to our situation or need. And the fact is, scientific research has shown we are much more likely to trust and therefor believe information that we perceive as personalized.

Creating branching paths of information that allow people to personalize what they receive from you is a very powerful way to build trust. Many form tools, such as Wufoo, allow you to ask question one and then determine question two based on the answer to question one. So if question one is: Are you interested in information about sailing or fishing? Question two will be very different for those that answer fishing than those that answer sailing.

Your survey tool can also then redirect your prospect to a specific sign-up page that delivers a specific autoresponder series, based solely on their responses.

Help them trust their decisions

The final piece of this puzzle is the delivery of information tailored to the stated needs of the individual. Now, you can take this as far as you want or as false as you want. Studies have shown that people are much more likely to trust information that they perceive is tailored to their specific answers even if it’s actually generic. There’s something in us that wants to believe the information is true because we participated in its creation. (Think horoscopes)

I’m not suggesting that you lead people down a path that promises a custom solution and then deliver the same information to everyone, but I am stating this to demonstrate the power of tiny commitments. If someone has participated in a series of tiny commitments they are much more likely to want to believe they are now getting the perfect information for their unique situation, so help them trust this decision by giving it to them.

The way to get the most from this idea is to truly develop personalized sets of questions and complimentary sets of tailored information to move people to the point where their next commitment involves their wallet.

5 Ways to Get Your Customers to Create Content For You

You’ve heard enough about the need to produce content that I’m guessing you’re probably blogging away and curating, aggregating and filtering all manner of content. But there’s one type of content that you may not be focused on and I happen to think it’s some of the most potent to be had – and that’s customer generated content.

Your customers, the ones that already know, like and trust you, are more equipped to tell the real story of your business than an army of writers in any marketing department, so why not engage them to do just that.

Imagine taking your best, most loyal, most vocal, customer with you on your next sales call and asking them to simply explain the real benefits they’ve realized because of the work you’ve done for them. That’s the power of customer generated content when done right and that’s why you need to routinely find ways to acquire it.

Below are five ideas to help you get your customers telling their stories.

One question testimonial

Create a survey that asks every customer one question. On a scale of 1-10 how likely is it that you would refer us. Now, set the survey up so that if the answer is 1-4 the survey taker is redirected to a page that apologizes and sets the expectation that they will hear from someone immediately to find out what went wrong.

If it’s a 5-7, send the customer to a page that says, you’re not happy until they are happier than that and ask them to suggest how you could have done better.

For the 8-10 answers, redirect them to a form that allows them to submit a testimonial and ask them to check a box if they would agree to be interviewed for a case study.

This is a great way to automate testimonial generation and keep a real time pulse on how you’re doing. I use Wufoo forms to run this process, but I’ve heard good things about Formstack as well.

Video appreciation party

I’ve written about this before, but it’s such a great way to get lots of great video content that I thought I would share it again.

Once a year or so hold a client appreciation event to say thanks and create a networking event for your clients and prospects. Hire a video crew for the event and, after a few bottles of wine have been emptied, ask some of your clients to talk about their experience with your firm on camera. Then also let them record a five minute commercial for their own use too.

This is a great way to get lots of testimonials and case studies in one day and your clients will get very engaged in swapping stories and selling each other on the benefits of working with you.

Tell us your story

Getting your customers to share their experience is a very powerful form of content. You can sit across the desk and interview your customers in order to extract this kind of content or you can employ a handful of tools that make it very easy to capture these stories.

For audio only content a testimonial recording line from AudioAcrobat is a great way to go. You simply provide your customer with a phone number that they can call and record their story. The service then produces an mp3 and code to embed on your site for people to play the recordings.

You can also use a tool like MailVu that allows you send a link with a video capture tool so your client’s with a web cam can record a video testimonial or story and submit it with little work on your part.

Community knowledge base

What if you could find a way to get your best customers to willingly shoulder creating answers to questions and best practices? Tools like ZenDesk and GetSatisfaction make it easy for you to enable community members to provide help and archived advice to other customers and prospects.

Robin Robins, founder of Marketing Technology Toolkit in Nashville, TN involves her customer community in an incredible way. She has created a membership program that allows her mostly IT business customers to receive ongoing business building support through coaching, training and tools she provides.

She has created what she calls “accountability groups” in the membership program and customers head up these groups and do a great deal of work keeping participants engaged and on track. Heading up these groups is not a paid position; loyal and committed customers that want to play a bigger role in the community do it.

Help your peers

Using a tool like Google+ Hangouts, Skype Video Conference or GoToMeeting Video Conference you can easily host and facilitate a group video conference where your customers and their peers can discuss important industry and business challenges and trends. You can record and archive the event and create some very useful and engaging content.

This is not a sales event, but by virtue of the fact that you have included customers in the conversation, there will be the inevitable discussions about what you’ve done to help them address a challenge.

Creating opportunities to capture the stories your clients have to tell is an important piece in any fully developed content strategy.

So, what have you done to get your customers talking?

Using Surveys to Automatically Create Reviews and Referrals

A couple of days ago a reader asked me if I was aware of any online survey tools that would redirect a survey taker to a a series of web pages based on their response to a chosen question.

I was aware of at least one (I’m sure many can do this) because I use it myself in several campaigns aimed at measuring satisfaction and then generating reviews and testimonials.

The survey and form building tool I use is called Wufoo and it allows you to assign rules to questions and answers that help control what happens when the survey taker chooses a certain answer. So if they say yes to a certain question they can be directed to the page created for yes answer or if they say no, they go to the no page or get the no email. Because Wufoo integrates with a number of the more popular email service providers, this can be a great way to certain responders into a drip campaign or niche newsletter based on their specific response.

Measuring results and getting feedback from customers offers one of the surest ways to get better. Any organization that gets great reviews and tons of referrals makes the collection of data from customers a high priority.

Simply asking your customers how likely it is that they would refer your business to friends and colleagues, ala Fred Reichheld’s The Ultimate Question, is a great, simple way to gauge how you are doing and open doors for reviews and referrals.

With that thought in mind here’s a very practical way to integrate data collection with the generation of referrals or proactive stimulation of reviews on sites like Google Places and Yelp.

  • Create a survey using a tool with rule setting like Wufoo
  • Use a simple question like – Would you refer us on a scale of 1-10
  • Set up rules for the 1-6 folks that sends them to a form to try to figure out what went wrong or create a process to call them and see what you can fix
  • Set up rules for 7-8 folks that sends them to a form that tries to get them to tell you one thing you could improve upon
  • Set up rules for the 9-10 folks that sends them to a page that features your Yelp or Google Place page reviews and outlines the process for how they might add a review (if you really want to push it tell them about a special offer you have for Yelpers only) or create a process to call them and ask if you could talk about reviews, case studies, referrals or testimonials

The process described above can be a great addition to the referral and review generation routines, but even if what you really find out is that you are getting mostly 2-3 scores, you’ll be on the path to fixing what needs to be fixed in order to turn your business into a referral engine.

Wasted Real Estate and Other Web Site Challenges

I wrote a few weeks ago about the effective use of those pesky 404 error pages because, while broken links aren’t any fun, they happen and there’s a better way to handle them when they do.

Today I want to talk about another often forgotten, and therefor underutilized, set of pages – the successful action page. A successful action page is one that a visitor is directed to after they’ve done something like subscribe to a newsletter, sign-up to get a free report or fill out a contact form.

In many cases this page offers a moment when a visitor is highly engaged and yet most settle for a “Thanks for filling out our contact us form” kind of default. I think this is a waste of some prime real estate. You don’t have to overdo it, but you should use these pages to offer something more.

Thanks for Subscribing Page

For example:

  • After someone fills out my contact form they are redirected to a page that offers my newsletter and a list of other places, like Facebook or YouTube, where they might want to connect or follow. (28% subscribe or follow)
  • After someone requests my newsletter, I redirect them to a page that offers them bonus content if they purchase one of my books. (4% make a purchase)
  • I use a form tool called Wufoo that also offers branching rules based on responses – so I could redirect a subscriber to a page that asks them to identify specific information they would like to know more about and based on their response could redirect them to a page filled with that information.

I believe that while this may seem like a trivial thing, it’s this kind of attention to detail and personalized experience that allows you to build trust much quicker from what may have been a one time visit.

The New About Us Page Is a Social Beast

Since the dawn of the web there has been the trusty old About Us page. It seems a tad cliche, but what the heck, why fight it, visitors to your site have come to expect to find an About Us or Contact Us page, so why not make the most of it.

The traditional About Us page is typically filled with information about the owner, the history of the firm and an overview of what the company does.

Today’s About Us page has the ability to be a tool for real engagement. In addition to providing some information about the firm, it must also be a place where they can find out where to find out much more About Us, a place where they can discover our social graph and who they know that already knows About Us, a place where they can find a myriad of ways to connect with us, a place where they can get specific information, request even more specific information and start to build a relationship that may involve immediate interaction.

Below are some of the tools and tactics that may make it much easier for you to turn you boring static About Us page into a social hub. (This is a perfect place for me to further suggest that using a tool like WordPress to run you entire site makes what I share below much, much easier.)

Meebo

Add Chat – Using text chat services like Meebo or Bleetbox or video chat like Oovoo you can make it very easy for visitors to your site to ask questions and chat directly with your staff right from your About Us page.

Social graph – A new service called SocialBios – allows visitors to your page to see who they might know in your Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, GMail or Twitter worlds. This can be a great way to facilitate referrals and make connections easier. Try it out with me here – SocialBio for John Jantsch

Add Your Social Profiles – By using a Social Media Page Plugin – you can add all the other places you hang out to any page or blog post you like. It might look something like this.

Connect With Us –

Contact Us – You do want to make it easy to contact you for the next step and that may indeed include listing email addresses and phone numbers on your pages, but contact forms are the best bet. You can make them fun and interactive but the best part is that they can be safe and secure and allow you to route email to multiple places based on the request. There are lots of contact plugins out there but I love Wufoo.

This tool allows you to build elegant and feature rich forms and embed them anywhere you like. The form data can be forwarded or stored for multiple folks to view. You could build forms like this yourself, but nothing is as easy to build or update as Wufoo forms.

Tech Support – Using a tool like Zendesk you can turn your About Us or Contact Us page into a customer support center as well. Adding help desk functionality allows you to easily assign multiple people to some of the same tasks so you could provide round the clock engagement if you like. Zendesk also has some social and community features that make it nice for sharing.

File sharing – I use a service called Dropbox as my file storage and backup in the cloud. You can also use an addon to Dropbox that would make it easy for visitors or customers to upload files for you to view. This could be a great way to offer free evaluations or simply to receive large files that you may need to engage a client. (You can also make this option available on a Wufoo form)

There, that should keep you busy creating the monster About Us page!

How to Automate a Lead Engagement System

landing pageTechnology has allowed us to move past the days when we simply drove a prospect to our website, captured their name and email address, and started them in a drip system in hopes that at some point they would click on a link in one of our emails and buy something.

Today’s lead generation system is a fully automated lead engagement system aimed at delivering the right information to the right person at the right time – and helping the sales team spot the perfect prospects ready for further engagement. By chaining together a series of web based applications you can create a system that engages, analyzes, and even gets pretty close to thinking about how to create better leads.

Below is an example of how a system like this might flow

  • Run a series of ads using Adwords and Facebook promoting a free downloadable eBook
  • Create seriously interactive and user friendly landing page forms with wufoo
  • Automatically test two versions of landing pages using a landing page tool like Unbounce or Google website Optimizer
  • Landing page success page includes Audio Acrobat audio recorded instructions on what to expect next
  • When prospect requests copy of free eBook Solve 360 CRM creates a record and sends email to Flowtown
  • Flowtown analyzes the social media activity associated with email and appends CRM record with social media data
  • Based on social media activity criteria Flowtown creates influencer alerts and tags records for segmentation
  • Segmentation information is sent to Constant Contact to enroll prospect in one of a series of email follow-up campaigns based on social media participation
  • Email series invites prospects back to a series of video landing pages using personalized URL technology from SendPepper that also creates a post card mailing with personalized data from the campaign
  • When a SendPepper pURL landing page is visited the Solve 360 CRM creates a task and the appropriate sales person receives a mobile alert to call the prospect

A system like this can be created by any size small business and gives you the kind of fire power that would make a salesperson at a Fortune 100 company giddy – as long as you also monitor every aspect using a tool like Google Analytics to help improve conversion at every step.

The entire process can be designed, monitored and tuned in such a way that it feels appropriate and elegant for each prospect that experiences it. While few things will ever replace person to person contact in the world of engagement a well designed lead engagement system is the front line tool that can help you create the know, like, and trust required to get that all important first meeting.

Turning an Email Address Into a Social Profile

Marketing podcast with Ethan Bloch (Click to play or right click and “Save As” to download – Subscribe now via iTunes

Imagine this scenario. You run an ad that directs someone to your landing page for a free report. They fill out the form, providing only their email address, and fifteen seconds later you receive an alert that tells you this person is a very high profile blogger, connector and influencer in your industry – just the kind of person you are looking for to pilot your new white labeled service.

flowtownThe process described above is no longer fiction due to an innovative new service called Flowtown. In this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast I visited with Flowtown cofounder and CEO Ethan Bloch. Flowtown’s mission, according to Bloch, is to help businesses paint a really rich story about their customers by appending each customer’s social media activity to their record. Or, as they put it on their website – turn an email into a social profile. I equate this to the high tech version of the salesperson of past days that knew how to quickly establish some sort of common ground with a prospect or customer.

The use of social data in the business world has become so essential and so expected that I believe the day is coming when customer and prospects will assume you know a great deal about them and expect that they can discover a great deal about the people and companies that they are considering working with through their own social networks.

Bloch shares a quote from his cofounder Dan Martell that I think is so true these days – “you already know everyone you need to know, you just don’t know who they are”

The power of Flowtown is simplicity and the growing number of integrations with service providers such as MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, Wufoo, and Unbounce.

In case you hadn’t gathered, I think Flowtown is a tool that every marketer needs in the toolbox.

The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Fairfield Inn & Suites Small Business Road-to-Success Challenge