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Six Brands That Are Killing It on Instagram

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Having recently turned four years old, Instagram’s user base of just north of 200 million may pale in comparison to Facebook’s 1.35 billion, but the engagement rate for brands on this visually oriented app is hard to beat in the social media ecosystem.

In fact, pretty much anyone who uses Instagram knows just how superior the ratio of likes and comments to followers on it is compared to other comparable online communities. Instagram makes it easy for businesses and consumers alike to share high-quality photos and videos with one another whenever, wherever.
What’s not to like?

Maybe that’s why such a tech behemoth as Microsoft didn’t just dip a toe into the Instagram waters, but jumped in with both feet last month, announcing they’ve hired a photojournalist who “will travel to multiple contents to show how artists, inventors, scientists and entertainers are using Microsoft technology to do more and achieve more.”

Instagram. It’s not just for cute puppies and grumpy cats anymore.

So which brands have not only established a solid presence on Instagram, but are kind of a big deal there? That number is countless, of course – or at least subjective, as success on social media is often in the eye of the beholder). Some may be there for branding purposes, while others may be counting on actual leads. But focusing on engagement levels and the number of followers alone, here are six brands that, if you ask me, are killing it on Instagram…

Starbucks
With more than 21,000 stores all over the world, Starbucks clearly has a diverse range of material at its disposal to take pictures of and share. Which is just what you’ll see on their Instagram account – a celebration of an iconic brand’s products, not to mention a testimony to just how passionate customers are about this third place between work and home. From different stores tagged #WhereInTheWorld to people from all walks of life with their lattes, cappuccinos and smoothies in hand, everyone everywhere seems to be enjoying the Starbucks experience.

Let it merry! Let it merry! Let it merry!❤️ #fromwhereimerry #redcups

A photo posted by Starbucks Coffee ☕ (@starbucks) on

National Geographic
You might say there isn’t a better fit for Instagram than this legendary scientific and educational institution renowned for the spectacular photography in its magazine. The numbers would certainly support your argument. With over nine million followers, more than any other brand, and almost five thousand posts, National Geographic is all in on this channel. Their pictures are incomparable. Their captions are illuminating. Following them on Instagram is like going on a guided tour of the world.

GoPro
If you like the feeling of living on the edge, you’ll love this account. Seriously, you’ll get your fill of vicarious thrills here. Makers of those small HD cameras that are so wildly popular among extreme sports enthusiasts, GoPro does a nice job leveraging user generated content (UGC) on Instagram, featuring plenty of both pictures and videos submitted by their zealous fans. Skiing. Surfing. Sailing. Skydiving. If it’s an adventurous activity, there’s a good chance it’s captured here.

Photo of the Day! Another day in paradise. Photo by @BurakTuzer paragliding above Ölüdeniz Fethiye in Turkey.

Zdjęcie zamieszczone przez użytkownika gopro (@gopro)

Timberland
No one has to tell me about the popularity of their classic leather boots. I have two teenage sons, after all. Besides, Timberland’s been around for a long time. Who hasn’t heard of them? But I was pleasantly surprised to see just how well this brand works the scene on Instagram. We’re talking about some very cool pictures of not just boots made for walking, but of a large variety of shoes and outdoor wear being modeled amid some very picturesque settings.

Intel
Okay. So there appears to be far less B2B brands on Instagram than B2C. Such a shame. Instagram presents them with a perfect opportunity to let their hair down a little and show they’re human, not just corporate monoliths. That’s not to say that B2Bs are totally missing from this channel, however. One brand in this category that caught my eye is Intel, one of the world’s largest semiconductor chip makers. Not that they have a lot of posts. But with more than 25,000 followers, they’ve got a decent audience for their pictures of gadgets, doodads, electronics and various technological apparatuses.

What are you thankful for? #thanksgiving

A photo posted by @intel on

The Ellen DeGeneres Show
If you want a good laugh or just a reason to smile, you want to follow this account. Whether she’s posing for a selfie with one of the guests on her show, sharing an otherwise personal moment or cracking a silly joke on #ClassicJokeFriday, every post here will make you feel good all over. Taylor Swift. Bill Clinton. Sofia Vergara. Celebrity shots are common here. But so are some very random impromptu moments. Like the mega-talented superstar herself, this account is a lot of fun.

Note: This post, “Six Brands That Are Killing It on Instagram,” was originally published on ClickZ on December 2, 2014 here and on the Overdrive Interactive blog on December 9, 2014 here.


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Lessons Learned from 10 Terrific Tweets

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shutterstock_12954058 (2)There’s both an art and a science to writing for Twitter. To stand out from the crowd, you want to be creative and clever, but you also need to be smart and strategic in order to drive a high level of engagement.

It’s not easy for even the best copywriters to strike such middle ground in 140 characters or less.

But many brands today manage to capture the right voice on this online communication channel, in many cases enhancing the impact of their words with equally compelling visuals. They’re able to come across as entertaining as they are educational, as personable as they are promotional.

Culled from a custom timeline (which you can see here) I’ve been curating on Twitter, here are 10 terrific tweets that would appear to go more than a long way toward commanding the attention of followers amid even the most cluttered Twitter streams. Read them. Enjoy them. And learn from them.

1. Ask a question.

One of the best ways to capture the attention of your followers and increase the level of engagement with them is to ask a simple question. Tie it into the use and enjoyment of your products and services, though. That way, you’re also getting good feedback and potential glowing testimonials.

Example: Tim Hortons

2. Provide timely information.

Twitter is rife with commentary and opinion, especially during a breaking news cycle. So why not deviate from the norm and share some good, old-fashioned common sense? Educate your audience. Arm them with facts, figures and information they can put to immediate use.

Example: Unicef

3. Give people the stage.

Highlight content other than your own in your social streams. Recognize your constituents’ contributions. They’ll not only appreciate their work being placed in front of a larger audience, they’ll feel like rock stars.

Example: The Ritz Carlton

4. Include a Call to Action.

Don’t be shy. Make a bold statement. Be abundantly clear what action you want readers to take by using Twitter Lead Generation Cards <> to embed a Call-to-Action button. It’s a good way to separate the tire kickers from those who are seriously interested in what you have to offer.

Example: Holland America Line

5. Be conversational.

A bevy of brands are providing customer service on Twitter. But not all of them are reaching out to potential customers quite like Staples is in this tweet. Don’t hesitate to let your hair down. Be colloquial and catchy, if that’s what it takes to connect with your constituents.

Example: Staples US

6. Motivate your followers.

Almost anyone can do this on Twitter. Say things to lift people’s spirits and move them to act on their own behalf. Self-help affirmations play well in just a short sentence or two. If there’s an association with your brand, even better.

Example: Degree Women

7. Support a good cause.

Do good by doing well. Donate a portion of your proceeds to a well deserving nonprofit organization. You and your constituents get to feel like you’re making a difference, while the beneficiary of your largesse gets a nice financial boost. Everybody wins.

Example: Lucky Strike Boston

8. Offer a choice.

Don’t give people a chance to say no. Have them tell you which of two or more choices gets their vote. Don’t give them an easy way out. You may not be able to control the conversation on Twitter, but you can certainly steer it in the right direction.

Example: Hess Express

9. Celebrate the weekend.

What can you do to identify with the largest possible audience? What does almost everyone have in common? Anytime you can address something of near universal appeal, your content has a far better chance of falling on interested ears.

Example: Avis Car Rental

10. Illustrate your point.

Twitter, like most other social media channels, has become a much more visually oriented medium. You might say a picture is worth a thousand words there. Accompany your text with supporting imagery. Reinforce your messages with bold, colorful graphics that practically jump off the screen.

Example: USA Today

Note: This post, “Lessons Learned from 10 Terrific Tweets,” was originally published on ClickZ on November 4, 2014 here and on the Overdrive Interactive blog on November 11, 2014 here.


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How to Plan a Social Media Strategy in 12 Steps

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shutterstock_145891007Unless you’re a popular celebrity or a big, iconic brand, a lot has got to come together in order for you to succeed on social media. Not only do you need to have an engaged, loyal audience and something valuable to offer them, you need to be able to maintain a strong social presence by sharing timely, relevant content on a non-stop basis.

There’s no rest for the weary on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other such online communication channels.

If you make the development of a solid strategy a top priority, however, everything else should fall into place. A comprehensive strategic plan articulates the action you’re going to take during the course of your campaign. It explains the who, what, where, when, how and why of what you’re going to do on social media.

No one plan fits all, of course, but to not have one carved out from the outset is like attempting to walk across a high wire without a safety net below. Proceed at your own risk.

So to minimize the chance of falling short of your expectations, here are a number of steps you can take to put together your own social media strategy, one that you and your colleagues can follow with the utmost confidence.

1. Establish a team.

Such a broad range of skills are required to succeed in social media that it only makes sense, budget permitting, to have a handful of collaborative, cross-functional stakeholders on the case. Marketing. Sales. Creative. Analytics. The more representation you have from all corners of the company, the better.

2. Agree on your objectives.

Are you using social media for thought leadership? Branding? PR? SEO? Or do you intend to increase sales? Develop a list of goals you want to achieve and an accompanying timeline. Make sure every member of your team is on the same page from the get-go, including how you’re going to define success down the road.

3. Understand your audience.

In direct marketing, it’s understood that a bad offer to a good list works better than a good offer to bad list. Same in social media. If you’re not connecting with your constituency, you’re wasting your time. Know what makes your customers and prospects tick. The last thing you want is to have your tweets, updates and messages falling on apathetic ears.

4. Research the influencers.

It’s one thing to have a large quantity of fans, followers and friends. It’s quite another to have a quality audience, a select number of people who have the clout to help spread the word on your behalf to their own respective networks. Identify those who wield the greatest influence in your space and forge mutually beneficial relationships with them.

5. Study the competition.

Something too few brands take advantage of is the opportunity to monitor what others are doing on social media, especially those in similar circles. Don’t hesitate to examine the behavior of those who are trying to attract the same customers. What are they doing better than you? What can you learn from their strategies and tactics?

6. Develop your content.

Tap into a library of continuously refreshed content to flaunt not just your knowledge, expertise and unique sales proposition, but your personality as well. Work off a creative brief. Leverage all pertinent assets. Show off your brand in words and pictures. Today, every company is a publishing company.

7. Consider paid activity.

If you’re lucky, it may happen, but you can’t bank on even your best content to go viral. There’s just too much competition for eyeballs, not to mention the fact that social media algorithms aren’t working in your favor. Sometimes you have to put your money where your posts are and turn your owned media into paid.

8. Identify your channels.

Don’t think you have to be on every single channel to be successful. Don’t fall prey to the fear of missing out (FOMO) and spread yourself too thin. Establish a presence where your content has the best chance of being seen. If that’s on half a dozen properties or more, fine. But if your audience is only found on Facebook and Twitter, don’t lollygag elsewhere.

9. Choose your tools.

While there’s a seemingly infinite array of tools at your disposal that will not only support, but amplify your social media efforts, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between them. There are tools for everything from curation, publishing and editing to listening, monitoring and measurement. There are tools to help you attract more followers and tools to help you create compelling graphics. Deciding which ones to use is an ongoing chore in and of itself.

10. Deploy your tactics.

Planning is one thing. Execution is another. This is where the rubber meets the road. Don’t take your foot off the pedal. Share a strategically sound mix of quality, relevant content – some of it promotional, much more of it conversational. Take advantage of real-time engagement opportunities and respond to others promptly, all the while keeping the human side of your brand front and center.

11. Monitor your activity.

If you expect to succeed in social media, you can’t just set it and forget it. You need to immerse yourself in the scene as often as possible. Pay close attention to your audience’s reactions. Are they commenting on your content? Do they like it? Do they share it? Thank loyal constituents for their interest and time.

12. Measure the results.

When all is said and done, the bottom line is what counts. Are you realizing your goals? Is the ROI acceptable? Have you seen an uptick in connections, engagement, chatter, traffic, leads and sales? If not, make adjustments. Test and learn well. Fine-tune your strategy until the results not just meet, but exceed expectations.

Note: This post, “How to Plan a Social Media Strategy in 12 Steps,” was originally published on ClickZ on October 7, 2014 here and on the Overdrive Interactive blog on October 15, 2014 here.


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10 Ways for Health Clubs to Flex Their Social Media Muscles

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More than 50 million people belong to over 30,000 health clubs in the United States. They join these clubs to get in shape and stay healthy, to play sports and socialize, to pass the time and relax. When they’re working out, they’re essentially a captive audience to club owners and staff, there primarily for the exercise, of course, but in the right place and mood for chitchat and conversation.

What about all the time when they’re not at the gym? How do health clubs stay in touch with their customers when they’re not on the premises? How do they keep them coming back for more action and fun? How do they ensure that they’re not both out of sight and out of mind?

Enter social media. Just as they’re willing to make a commitment to a membership, many people are glad to cozy up to the clubs they belong to on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like. After all, as fans and followers, they feel a special bond to their third place, their destination of choice if they’re not at home or the office.

Today, health clubs, fitness centers and gyms are using social media in a variety of ways to not only attract the attention of prospective members, but to remain engaged with their existing customers. Here are 10 different ways they’re flexing their muscles on these online communication channels – and how your facility can, too.

1. Contests. Almost everyone is up for a challenge or competition, especially those who are already motivated enough to work out on a regular basis. Put a prize up for grabs and watch your engagement rates soar. Encourage participation. Ask for fan input. Show people how much you appreciate hearing from them by rewarding them for their feedback.

Example: Wellbridge Athletic Club – Harvard Square on Facebook

2. Inspirational Images. The goal of any post on social media should be to appeal to the audience’s interests. If you can strike common ground with your customers and prospects, you can earn their trust. After all, like minds stick together. Memes. Graphics. Visuals. Add a few words of inspiration to a strong image of any kind and you’re in your audience’s wheelhouse. You have a chance of going viral.

Example: The Bar Method Miami on Instagram

3. Tips. A hard sell doesn’t work on social media. People don’t want to be promoted to by your account. They want to be informed, entertained and educated. They want your knowledge, expertise and advice. Share everything you know about injury prevention, weight lifting, cardio exercises, running, stretching, nutrition and more. Treat your fans and followers to a ton of terrific tips.

Follow Fitness Formula Clubs’s board Fitness Tips on Pinterest.

Example: Fitness Formula Clubs on Pinterest

4. Recipes. Food plays well on social media for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it’s such a universal pleasure. Who doesn’t like to eat? Pictures of food can be particularly colorful as well, so they stand out in a cluttered news feed. Healthy eating? Now that’s the perfect combo for this particular audience, people who can certainly appreciate good food, but who know that food that’s good for you…well, that’s even better.

Example: CRUNCH on Facebook

5. Profiles. With so many clubs competing for attention, sometimes the best differentiator are the employees behind the scenes. Showcase the human side of your brand. Put those who work for you front and center. Introduce them. Interview them. Include them prominently in your social media stream. Remember that people do business with people, not brand names and corporate logos.

Example: Youfit Health Clubs on Instagram

6. Polls. Do you ask your social media audience for feedback? When’s the last time you asked them a question of any kind? If you show an interest in what those on the receiving end of your communications have to say, not only will you boost the level of engagement you have with them, but you may even receive feedback that you can actually use to make your business better.

Example: Balance Health Clubs on Facebook

7. Promotional Offers. While there should be far less promotional content in your social media stream than informational, educational and other types, that doesn’t mean you can’t tout your products and services on a regular basis. At least 10% of your content should be driving traffic to your business, maybe more, depending on your audience’s receptivity to such offers. Test for yourself. Incorporate discounts and deals into your messaging and see what sticks best.

Example: Commonwealth Sports Club on Twitter

8. Customer Service. Using social media to answer customers’ questions and keep one step ahead of their requests for support is a great use of these channels. As opposed to a phone call or live chat, it’s often a quicker and easier way to put out a fire. Prepopulate your streams with answers to FAQs. Enlist a variety of listening tools – such as Radian6 <> – to identify brand mentions and respond in a prompt, friendly fashion. In this day and age, real-time, social customer service is what’s expected of brands.

Example: Waverly Oaks Athletic Club on Facebook

9. News and Information. Think of yourself as a publisher or broadcaster with each social media channel representing a near instantaneous way for you to get the word out about what’s going at your club. Hosting a road race on the weekend? Talk about it. Changing your hours of operation for the big holiday break? Announce them. Hiring a new fitness instructor? Introduce her. Don’t be shy with your updates. Stay top-of-mind with your constituents.

Example: NY Health & Racquet Club on Facebook

10. Philanthropy. Your facility may be involved in a number of different fundraising campaigns already, but you may not be publicizing such benevolence. Are you connecting with those local nonprofits that have a social media presence themselves? Are you leveraging online fundraising sites such as Firstgiving, Crowdrise and Fundly to raise money among your network? Don’t hesitate to announce your cause marketing efforts to your social media connections. Doing well by doing good is the best of two worlds.

Example: The Atlantic Club on Twitter

Note: This post, “10 Ways for Health Clubs to Flex Their Social Media Muscles,” was originally published on ClickZ on September 9, 2014 here and on the Overdrive Interactive blog on September 16, 2014 here.


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10 Questions to Ask Your Social Media Audience

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Engagement rate. It’s one of the most important metrics in social media. After all, you could have a boatload of fans and followers, but if only a few of them are engaging with your content, they’re worth next to nothing to your brand.

What you want from your social media audience is a lot of positive chatter and buzz. You want likes, shares, comments, mentions, retweets and replies. The more interaction between you and your constituents, the greater the chances are of them doing business with you in the long run.

Of course, there are many different communications strategies and tactics for capturing people’s attention and triggering a response of some kind. You can make a lot of noise and be interruptive. You can get creative and stand out among the clutter. You can pay to play and put yourself in front of more eyeballs. But as any sales and marketing pro would tell you, probably one of the easiest and most obvious methods of engaging others is to show an interest in what they have to say by asking them to share their opinions with you.

Here are 10 good questions you can ask your connections in the world of social media, each of which promises to go a long way toward increasing your engagement rates across the board.

1. How was our performance?
It’s one of the best questions any brand can ask its customers, clients or guests. It shows you value their patronage and welcome their feedback. Thank them for their support. Ask if you’ve met their expectations. If they have anything negative to say, you’ll have the chance to turn things around. Any praise you receive is akin to a testimonial that could help you bring in more business.

Example: The Harp Boston

2. How can we help?
Wondering what to say in that next tweet? Ask your audience how you can be of service to them. They’ll appreciate the random words of kindness. Pay close attention to any legitimate criticism, though. After all, according to a recent Lithium Technologies study which you can read about here, over 70% of consumers expect brands to respond to their complaints on Twitter within an hour. So don’t hesitate to be proactive on social media. Make yourself available – even on short notice – to your customers and prospects. Respect the immediacy of these channels.

Example: 101.9 AMP Radio

3. Who wants to win a prize?
Contests. Sweepstakes. Giveaways. Provide people with a chance to win something and you’ll get their attention. It doesn’t have to be an expensive prize, either. You’d be surprised how much demand there is for even the simplest swag, trinkets and tchotchkes. A free t-shirt is like a carrot on the end of a stick. It’s incentive to take action.

Example: ESPN

4. What do you think?
Many people relish the opportunity to express themselves in public. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. It’s human nature. Take advantage of this urge to rant, rave, gloat and glorify by taking a poll of your audience. Ask them anything. They’ll appreciate the fact that you care more about their thoughts and interests than your own self-gain. They’ll be glad to have the forum.

Example: Mohegan Sun

5. Did you know?
Another way to elicit a response from someone is to pique their curiosity. Challenge them with a question they’ll feel compelled to answer. Tease them with a piece of trivia that’ll make them think twice. Tie the content back to your brand and even better. Any new knowledge you can impart to your audience is bound to be appreciated.

Example: Hewlett-Packard

6. Have you seen this yet?
A question such as this is best accompanied by a photo. You’re giving readers a peak behind the scenes, suggesting that they really don’t know what they’re missing until they’ve not only seen, but actually tried what you have to offer.

Example: Eagle Mountain House

7. How do you use us?
Crowdsourcing is a way to not only get some constructive feedback on your products and services, but a mass of nice content as well. Consumers are flattered when brands repurpose their pictures and messages. It’s a mutually beneficial scenario.

Follow L.L.Bean’s board Your L.L.Bean Selfies on Pinterest.

Example: L.L. Bean

8. Are you watching?
More and more people aren’t content to merely watch a TV program or live streaming event. They’re compelled to use a second screen – their tablet, smartphone or computer – to simultaneously take in the social media chatter about what they’re watching. This is a chance for you to engage with some of your most passionate fans while they’re especially excited about your programming. Don’t miss the opportunity.

Example: Big Brother on CBS!

9. What’s your favorite book?
Pick a universally popular topic and pop the question. It’s that easy. USA TODAY’s example below is just one idea. Ideally, your question will be associated with your brand attributes. But if your goal is to simply engage with your connections, any topic will do. Books. Movies. Music. Sports. You name it, they’ll respond to it – hopefully.

Example: USA TODAY

10. What motivates you?
Getting personal with your audience – especially if you’re talking about their interests, not yours – can lead them to open themselves up to you. Think like a good psychologist. Your job is to learn more about those on the receiving end without appearing cheesy or contrived. Asking them what motivates them is one way to increase engagement.

Example: Jazzercise Inc

Note: This post, “10 Questions to Ask Your Social Media Audience,” was originally published on ClickZ on August 12, 2014 here and on the Overdrive Interactive blog on August 19, 2014 here.


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