More share buttons
Share on Pinterest
Arthur reading

Nuggets of Knowledge: October 2014

By | Nuggets of Knowledge | 2 Comments

nuggets-of-knowledge

In this antepenultimate 2014 edition of Nuggets of Knowledge, we have the usual fun mix of reflection, applicable tips, and the linguistics of food. (What, we like snacks, okay?) Also, some people decided to dress up for Halloween. (You’re welcome.)

So, read some good stuff from people we admire, point and laugh at the fools…uh, courageous and beautiful people…in costume, and then tell us what your favorite article was this month.

Also, go take advantage of all the candy that’s on sale right now. (‘Cuz we know that you love snacks, too. Why else would we be friends?)

Also, if you’ve missed it, check out our NOKlist archive.


Rebecca’s Pick

Deciphering the Menu: Decoding a Menu at Root & Bone

by Jennifer Schuessler

Rebecca

Rebecca

I must warn you: this article might give you the munchies.

Whether you’re a foodie or prefer eating peanut butter straight from the jar, Jennifer Schuessler’s article about Stanford linguistics professor Dan Jurafsky (and his recently published book) will change the way you see menus and food reviews – and writing – forever.

Schuessler describes how Jurafsky harnesses “data science” to identify patterns in how people talk about food. By turning to “the social side of computational linguistics,” he crunches huge data sets that deliver conclusions which only whet our appetites for more (and make wordsmiths drool), such as:

  • More-expensive menus tend to use longer words, with each additional letter of length correlating to an 18-cent-higher price a dish.
  • Four-star reviews tend to use a narrower range of vague positive words, while one-star reviews have a more varied vocabulary.
  • Reviews of expensive restaurants are more likely to use sexual metaphors, while the food at cheaper restaurants tends to be compared to drugs.

But it’s not just about the food. There’s an underlying challenge here for writers: What am I trying to communicate to my readers and are they getting what I’m dishing out?

Read the post


Olivia’s Pick

How We Got 2,000+ Customers by Doing Things That Didn’t Scale

by Alex Turnbull, Groove

Rebecca

Olivia

A few weeks ago, Mack gave the team a big-picture-talk about Mack Web, who we are, and what we’re trying to do. She put some gigantic Post-Its on the wall, which had one-sentence statements on them (all of which were written with brightly colored markers, natch). One of them was about how the stuff we do is not scalable. (I believe the phrase was, “This shit doesn’t scale.”)

I see this exact sentiment echoed in this Groove post. Alex Turnbull explains why a lot of the tactics Groove uses to get people to sign up are non-scalable, and why that’s completely ok.

There’s a lot out there about the importance of building relationships, doing influencer outreach, and learning what motivates your customers. What I love about this article is that here, Groove gives meaning to those ideas. They illustrate what those ideas actually look like: the one-to-one emails, the insightful responses to all blog post comments, the goal to have a conversation with every single customer, and the scrapping to get the ones that got away.

What I also like here is the transparency. This stuff isn’t easy. It’s time-consuming. And taking things one customer at a time may seem counterintuitive, depending on your point of view. But it’s personable and genuine above all else. And as Groove’s results clearly show, it can work incredibly well. (You’ll see woven throughout this article themes about the power of authenticity and of letting customers and non-customers alike know that their views are not just heard but valued.)

It can be tough to get in that slow-growth, in-it-for-the-long-game mentality. But this article is a great reminder of why it’s worth it.

Plus, there are 6 specific non-scaleable growth tactics for you to try out here.

Read the post


Nat’s Pick

3 Seriously Undervalued Email Marketing Strategies

Post by Jimmy Daly, Vero

Nat

Nat

I chose this article not because it contains shortcuts or a mind-blowing idea for your next email marketing strategy, but because it gets back to the basics (three of them, to be exact – but you’ll have to read it to find out what they are). These are the fundamental pieces of good email marketing. After all, you can’t build anything awesome unless you have a strong foundation in place (just ask any architect or LEGO fan).

If you’re fairly new to email marketing I recommend reading this article, because it’s going to help you set up best practices for your email marketing strategy. For email marketing veterans, this is going to be a re-hash of three basic email 101 concepts. But hey, It doesn’t hurt to confirm that you, in fact, do know some of the basics, right?

Each tip includes examples from companies like Help Scout, Groove and Moz, so you also have valuable reference material (you never know what ideas you may come up with by looking at other companies’ email marketing campaigns).

Take a few minutes out of your day to read through this article, and see how your current email marketing strategy measures up.

Read the post


Mack’s Pick

We’re all kinda broken

By Jennifer Dary

Mack

Mack

Growing a company is not for the faint at heart. It’s some of the most challenging work I’ve ever faced. Not just for the labor and all of the physical effort required to build something great, but more in managing my own emotions and mental game that comes along with leadership.

What I love about this post from Jennifer is that she explains how leaders don’t have to be perfect. They just need to be cautious that their own personal agenda or leadership style doesn’t get in the way of the success of the company.

“But nothing – and no one – is perfect. Each company is broken in its own way, but this is what makes companies (and humans) beautiful to me. Maybe the good ones are just willing to admit their brokenness and to do something about it.”

Mack Web is far from perfect. And I certainly have a lot to learn as a leader. But knowing that we’re facing our challenges, being transparent about them, and continuously working to be a better company gives me hope that we’re on the right track.

I’d highly recommend this post. It’s a quick and insightful read.

Read the post


Mike’s Pick

5 Ways the Ad World Has Changed in the Last 10 Years

By T.L Stanley

Mack

Mike

Everyone keeps saying that the way you market your brand or product is rapidly changing and I fully agree. The funny thing is that the tactics are going back to basics. Build a brand with a personality and create real content that speaks to real people…duh!

It’s interesting to watch so many companies try so hard to create a piece of content that they hope will go viral. The problem with that thought is what happens next. If you don’t have the brand built on a solid foundation, don’t expect to retain a customer for the long haul.

“Consumers now have a sense of ownership about the brand they choose to bring into their lives. It’s consumer centricity, not brand centricity.”

The thing that is changing is all the data marketers have access to. Leverage the data to create a personal relationship with your customers and understand what means of communication work best to connect with them.

Read the post


Courtney’s Pick

How ‘Noticing’ Can Help You Conquer Your Biggest Challenges

by Shane Snow, Contently

Courtney

Courtney

“You see but you do not observe.” It’s hardly a novel thing to be obsessed with Sherlock Holmes these days. Although, unlike many, it’s not strictly Benedict Cumberbatch that holds my interest. (That’s what Martin Freeman is for.) We watch him do his thing and we gawk and marvel and think, ‘I could never do that.’

And to some extent, that’s true. But we don’t have to have an encyclopedia of cigarette ash in our brains to make the things we notice matter. In this article, Shane Snow points out that, so often, it’s not that we don’t notice things. It’s that we’re accustomed to dismissing things that don’t fit the pattern or that make us uncomfortable rather than figuring out what they mean.

Though there is little in the way of actionable tips, Snow’s examples of how the art of paying attention to what you see can lead to both great revelations and steady habits of success is a challenge to approach the world – and your work – differently.

Read the post


Ayelet’s Pick

The next big thing will start out looking like a toy

by Chris Dixon

Ayelet

Ayelet

In this evergreen post (still true after 4+ years), Chris theorizes that the reason most big, established companies miss out on the next big thing is because they see the next big thing and assume that it will never be anything but a toy. Like how music companies took so long to jump on the online music sharing bandwagon. Or how people made fun of Twitter at the start for being all about what people had for breakfast. And speaking of which, have you seen a Blockbuster store recently? Probably not, but I’m sure you’ve seen a Redbox machine or heard someone talk about Netflix or Hulu in the last couple days.

In the same way, this idea extends beyond the big companies. It can affect us all by keeping us from exploring new possibilities and thinking beyond conventional uses for products and services. Dismissing the next big thing stops innovation in its tracks.

Read the post


Ann’s Pick

The most important thing

by Seth Godin

Ann

Ann

Seth’s post is only three sentences long. I won’t ruin it for you, but I will tell you that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since the middle of last week. No matter who you are or what your role is, read it. And figure it out.

Read the post


Nuggets of Knowledge April 2014

The Importance of Company Culture from the Inside Out

By | Building Community, Business Stuff, Web Marketing | 4 Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

– –

At the beginning of last summer I quit my job at Walther’s Golf & Fun to move to Fort Collins, CO. I’d been working there for almost ten years. I wasn’t even old enough to drive myself to my very first shift.

Walther’s was a big metal building on the north side of town with indoor and outdoor miniature golf courses, a Lazer Tag arena, a full cafe, and over 50 arcade games. What I liked most about that place wasn’t the unlimited free lazer tag or the or the discount on pizza and mozzarella sticks, but rather all of the fun times with my co-workers and the irreplaceable memories made.

Walthers

Mack has a saying (well, she has a lot of them, but one specifically that relates to this post): Culture is the heartbeat of a company. And I realize how true this is – the importance of genuine company culture – more and more everyday. The heartbeat keeps blood and oxygen circulating in the body. Culture drives everything a company does.

It’s both intensely personal and completely obvious. Your culture is unique to you and if it’s healthy, you thrive. And that vitality attracts people who align with the culture. It draws them in and keeps them coming back.

Any company that can earn a decade’s worth of loyalty has this kind of culture. Though we always called it Walther’s for short, Fun is in the name of the company, and there’s a reason why. It’s what keeps the company alive and drives everything they do. It’s their heartbeat.

At Walther’s, we had permission and encouragement from upper-management to have a lot of fun, all the time. If we were having fun, then that meant our customers could have fun. If we were bored, well, our customers probably wouldn’t enjoy their visit quite as much. Sometimes this looked like a quick demonstration at the prize counter of how a sticky hand or slap bracelet worked. Sometimes it meant letting the employees stay late after the building closed to play our favorite arcade games or a round of employee-only all-building lazer tag. Of course no job is perfect, but for the most part we all loved coming to work because we knew we were going to have a great time while we were there. And because of that, our customers had a great time too.

This culture-from-within concept worked really well at Walther’s. As employees, we were having such a fun time and believed so fully that Walther’s was a fun place to be that we ensured that our customers were having fun, too. When the core values of a company are sincerely embraced by everyone inside the company, it becomes much easier to reflect those values outward.

It’s a real world thing and it happens all the time

Two companies letting their heartbeats shine bright to their customers are WestJet and TD Bank. Both companies pull off pretty clever campaigns that seem to come from a place of genuine authenticity. A little research shows that their inspiration is rooted deep in their respective company cultures.

Let’s start with Canadian airline West Jet:

This Christmas Miracle makes two things very apparent:

First, their company culture goes beyond good service. WestJet might be a terrific, affordable, safe, and on-time airline, but they don’t think that’s enough. Richard Bartrem, VP of Communications for WestJet, in his explanation of why they put together this Christmas Miracle, says that their company culture is all about being fun, friendly, and caring. He says they’re always full of surprises, and that’s part of what makes them fun. They believe in magic. That’s what they wanted to share with their guests and YouTube visitors. This fun, friendly, and caring spirit is the heartbeat which drives everything they do.

Roald Dahl

WestJet showed their true dedication to their cause in the way they gave thought to each individual customer (or ‘guest’, as WestJet calls them). They could have chosen to give every guest Christmas cash or a free flight voucher, but instead they took the time to ask what it was that each individual guest really wanted. It was all about making people smile, all about that moment when the boy says, “NO WAY!” That’s their caring heartbeat shining through.

A culture this strong starts at home, with the very top-dogs of the company who fully believe in it. WestJet takes good care of their employees who all participate in profit sharing and are offered ownership in the company. It’s where they get their “owners care” slogan. (And if you needed another example of their culture, check out the material they’ve put together for shareholder meetings: such as this video showing what “owners carereally means.) And, being so well taken care of themselves, the WestJet employees take good care of their guests in their turn. The 150+ employees who helped put together the Christmas Miracle were all volunteers. This kind of campaign comes from within; it’s who they are and the proof is in the figgy pudding.

Speaking of surprising your customers with something extra special, have you seen TD Bank’s #TDThanksYou campaign?

Automatic Thanking Machines (ATMs), such a genius idea for a bank. And what an amazingly thoughtful and go-the-extra-mile type of thing to do.

No surprise, this is what TD Bank is all about: being considerate and caring, putting people at the forefront of everything they do. “Banking human” is what they like to call it. Their selfless gestures range from small to grand, from staying open late to thanking ATMs.

throw kindness around like confetti

Just like with WestJet, all of this started in-house. TD’s employees are at the very center and the culture they live day-in and day-out is what drove this campaign. How else do you think the thanking machine would have known that Michael was a huge Blue Jay’s fan or that Dorthy’s only daughter, who lives in Trinidad, just had surgery and could use a visit from her mom who’s never been able to make it out?

TD’s employees listen to their customers. They have really taken the time and made an effort to get to know their guests individually. It’s the human thing again, building relationships with other humans. It’s why people love to go there, to that specific bank, over all of the other banking options.

Remember: It starts on the inside, at the very core, then works its way outwards

You can have the most creative campaigns in the world, but if people realize it’s not who you really are, they won’t stick around. People crave authenticity, especially in this day and age when it’s so easy to hide behind the Internet like a mask. Your campaigns must be deeply rooted in every aspect of who you are.

All of this is kind of how my role at Mack Web came to be. Mack cares a great deal about our culture, and truly being who we say we are and who we want to be. Kid you not, it’s half of our performance review.

One of these things we very much care about is people: being humans among humans (human-centric, as we say), connecting and fostering relationships. It’s our whole approach to customer service and how we do marketing, and, well, pretty much everything we do.

My tenure at Mack Web started off by solely helping Mack as her assistant. Mack was losing her mind trying to juggle everything and the whole team was feeling it. Before they could even think of serving the clients they had, they needed to take care of the team first, and that started with Mack.

Maybe I wasn’t the most practical hire for a team that really needed a Director of Client Strategy (don’t worry, we later got that dude too). But they decided that looking after the people on our team was the utmost priority.

My job was to alleviate some of the day-to-day tasks of running a business, like managing her schedule and keeping the oh-so-treasured snack cabinet fully stocked. Taking weight off of her shoulders a few days each week would provide her some extra time in her schedule and the head space to stay focused on our company and clients.

Snack fairy

Once I was there to take the edge off Mack’s crazy, the team started to realize what a difference it made having me around (and not just because I introduced them to gummy bunnies, which are way better than gummy bears). Thus being Mack’s assistant and only taking care of her turned into full blown Team Support.

I still help keep the boss sane, but I also make sure the rest of the team is fully supported too, ricocheting back and forth from person to person and task to task depending on what the needs of that day or week or month may be. My job’s nickname is Rubber Cement, because I can bounce around easily, but I still help hold everything (read: everyone) together.

My role is important not only in the practical aspects but also in the way the Mack Web team reflects our brand: How could we claim to care about the real people on the other side of the screen if we didn’t take care of the real people on our side of the screen? Helping our clients build and foster relationships always starts by taking care of our own on the inside.

But PS: it’s also not always the happy stuff and it’s not always easy

As great as that sounds, there’s a hard truth we haven’t discussed yet which is this: creating and cultivating your company culture isn’t all about playing Santa and sending people to Trinidad and making sure the snack cabinet is correctly stocked.

Preserving company culture takes A LOT of hard work. It’s not easy. And it’s not always fun.

Sometimes this not-always-happy-side of culture involves letting people go because they’re not a culture fit. Because if they stick around and they don’t have the same heartbeat as you, it will destroy your company from the inside out.

Sometimes it means saying no to a potential client because you know that they don’t value the same stuff as you do. Sometimes it means waiting patiently for the best thing instead of what’s easiest, fastest, or cheapest.

One of the not-so-sunshiney sides of our culture at Mack Web is Conflict and Commit. Mack doesn’t let us back down from this difficult side of our culture. We have to be willing to have conflicts with each other. We bring it up with someone when something rubs us the wrong way or is making our job more difficult. Then we commit to finding a solution together. In the end our team is stronger and more unified, rather than a bundle of seething resentment and neuroses.

kitten hug

I’ve been on the flip side of this before, the lack of a steady heartbeat, and it’s not enjoyable. You can have the flexible work schedule, casual dress code, and coffee bar in your office building (which unfortunately is sometimes all that people count as “company culture”), but all of it amounts to nothing and it’s only a matter of time before it comes crashing down if the beat that drives your company isn’t strong and distinct enough to be felt by your people.

This is the ultimate way to check the authenticity of your brand: do your employees naturally adopt the characteristics you brag about on your website? Is your internal culture a healthy point of origin for the customer experience you want to provide?

Before coming to Mack Web, I’d seen both sides of it: excellent culture and terrible culture and I knew which one I wanted to find. It was important that I find a place with a company culture consistent with the core values they claimed. A place that would be around for a while and that I would want to stay in for as long as it was. Just like the employees of WestJet and TD Bank, I recognized the heart that beat in time with my own.

That’s why I tell Mack all the time how thankful I am to be a part of this place and especially how thankful I am that she fights really hard to keep it this way. She doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff and she works hard to preserve all of the good stuff. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere.

My Mack Web hoodie is just a bonus.

Officially a part of team awesome

Buckets Exercise: A Tool for Discussing Employee Burnout

By | Business Stuff, Miscellany | 2 Comments

Burnout Approacheth

SomeeCards

Once upon a time there was an employee who felt … burned out. She approached her boss, who valued the employee but didn’t quite know how to lighten her heavy workload.

To understand what was weighing her down, her kind boss requested a list of what was currently on her large, overflowing, no-way-she-can-finish-all-this-Thanksgiving-sized plate. But beware: by asking her employee to list all those things off the top of her pretty redhaired head, she risked receiving in return a list fueled by exhaustion instead of facts. If only they had a tool that would come to their aid.

As you may have guessed, the employee in this tale is me. Mack is the kind boss helping to address employee burnout. And what follows is how we came up with a tool we call the Buckets Exercise to begin an honest conversation together.

The Birth of a New Tool

Why is this exercise being brought to you by Mack Web?

Even though Mack Web specializes in digital marketing, we have experienced our fair share of ups and downs and learned how to handle those as a team. In addition, connecting with people on a human level is on our “we heart these things the mostest” list. So in Mack Web fashion, we like to share with you what we’re learning. Sometimes that means walking you through how to set the right goals for your digital marketing. Or in this case it means walking you through a tool we created to help take care of teammates who are struggling.

It’s rare for me to meet someone who hasn’t experienced employee burnout, and most of us would say that when it hits, it hits hard. Much like a fighter jet that’s running out of gas, eventually you’ll run on vapors, and when those run out, you’ll crash and burn. Not only is this devastating to the person who is on that downward trajectory, but it can be detrimental to your team. Our hope is that by sharing this exercise (even in its early stages), more teams will have a starting point from which to address potential burnout and prevent that proverbial “crash and burn.”

This exercise provides a framework from which to start. And sometimes finding a place to start is the hardest part.

Why “Buckets”?

Ideally, we should be able to place everything we do for our company under specific categories (or “buckets”) that align with the roles we were hired to fill.

Blue buckets

As it happens, Mack is a very visual person, so what she needed to see to help me talk through my Mack Web workload was a visual representation of all my tasks thrown into large “buckets.” Here are some examples to give you an idea of what this could look like:

BUCKETS

  • account coordination
  • project management
  • meetings
  • strategy development
  • content

TASKS

  • client communication
  • execution calendars
  • meeting agendas
  • new business reviews
  • writing this blog post

It’s a for-sure bet that Mack would have loved for me to bring in actual buckets filled with all my tasks written on individual slips of paper. However, it turns out that I don’t have a bucket fetish, so I couldn’t oblige. Instead I opted for something a little more practical: a Google spreadsheet.

Embracing the Digital Age

I know, I know – snoozarama. But hear me out. As it turns out, a shared Google doc fit the bill because it met my key criteria, meaning I could:

  • easily brainstorm with a single tool (without finding paper and plastic buckets)
  • effortlessly edit or make changes
  • collaborate with another person without physical barriers – anytime, anywhere
  • revisit the exercise should burnout approacheth again
  • share this exercise with others on our team for their own customized use

But Not Everyone Has a Boss Who Cares Enough

Before we get much further, I want to recognize the sad reality that not everyone has a boss who is willing to do what it takes to keep a valued employee happy.

As it pertains to your vocational happiness, this exercise yields the best results if you have a boss who really cares about you and is open to making some positive changes based on what your Buckets reveal. But if you don’t feel that this exercise is right for you to do together (due to personal baggage or professional limitations), that’s okay. You can still do this on your own so that you can benefit from any revelations. Only then can you start working toward bettering your situation.

The Buckets Exercise: Let’s Do This

LetsDoThis

Step 1: Set Up the Framework

The first thing you do is create the spreadsheet itself. The overall look and structure is totally up to you, but you’ll need these things at a minimum (don’t worry – I’ll explain items 2-5 in a bit):

  1. Name, Job Title, and Date (for review purposes)
  2. Position Goals
  3. Columns for each “Bucket” – don’t forget meetings and special projects!
  4. Columns for tasks to be reassigned and to whom
  5. Warning Signs

Screenshot 1.b

(Click image to see full size.)

A note about your Buckets columns: How you decide to split these up may depend on your company’s organizational structure. But don’t worry too much about getting the column headers right. As you progress with the exercise, you can add or revise columns as you see fit. This is the time to start, not perfect.

Step 2: Review Your Position Goals

What is your role? I don’t just mean your job title (what’s in a title really?); I mean what is it that you were initially hired to accomplish? If your memory needs to be jogged, review that posted job description from when you were interviewing and distill it down to its main purpose in your company. As with everything we do at Mack Web, we like to start with goals.

Start everything with goals.

Recently, we’ve started giving nicknames to each Mack Web position, so as the Accounts Coordinator, I’m “the Glue.” My main goals are to interface with our clients and also make sure our team is pulled together and not falling apart (and the irony that I’m the reason this exercise was created in the first place doesn’t escape me).

Screenshot 2.b

Understanding your Position Goals will give you some guidelines when you eventually review each task that ends up in this spreadsheet. You’ll be able to hold each of these responsibilities up and ask: Is this task helping me fulfill the goals of this position or is it outside of my “scope” and stealing time away?

What is it that you were hired to accomplish?

Step 3: Do a Brain Dump

Think through all that you do on a daily basis and dump it into this spreadsheet. Notice that I didn’t say think through what your job was advertised to be when you were hired. Things tend to change once you’re actually fulfilling a role and as other strengths of yours are recognized by your team. This isn’t fundamentally a bad thing, but being able to see these deviations can help both you and your boss identify crucial patterns (more on this in step 7).

This step is where you jot down everything: big, small, in or out of scope, exciting or mundane. You can either start with your main Buckets columns and place tasks underneath those, or you can just start putting stuff in and organize them into Buckets later. Are you managing a team? Write it down. Are you the one that, for some unknown reason, waters the plants each week? Write that down, too. Don’t worry about repeating yourself – this is the brainstorming part where no idea is a bad idea.

Screenshot 3.b

(Click image to see full size.)

Step 4: Cover All Your Bases

Think your brain dump is complete? Don’t be so sure. Since workflow is dynamic and roles can blend together, don’t just trust your memory or this week’s to-do list. To feel confident that your list is more or less exhaustive, be sure to seek out these other resources:

  • job description (before hiring)
  • performance reviews
  • timesheets (to see how you’ve been spending your time)
  • emails (to refresh your memory on recent efforts)
  • Basecamp, Workamajig, or other team project management applications you may be using
  • work calendar (for recurring meetings)
  • company culture

A note about company culture: Don’t forget to include those activities that are highly valued by your company which translate into recurring tasks for everyone on your team. Most likely you were hired because you are a culture fit, which means you highly value these activities as well, so you may forget that, despite how fun they are, they take time to do during the week.

For example, at Mack Web we highly value learning and sharing that knowledge with others, so we all make time to read the latest industry articles and contribute to the Mack Web blog. We love that this is part of our jobs, but it does take time, so on the spreadsheet it must go.

Step 5: Take a Breather

You have now determined your Buckets and poured your tasks into them. Good work – you deserve a gold star. Now take that gold star and go away for a day or so. Use this time to let the dust settle so that you can return to your Buckets with a fresh, clear mind. During your break from this exercise, be mindful of how you’re spending your time – it may reveal a few more tasks to add to your spreadsheet.

Step 6: Review Your Buckets With a Fresh Mind

Now that you’re back from your break and your mind is fresh, go back into your Buckets and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do my Buckets accurately reflect my job?
  2. Do I need to rename a Bucket or add a few more?
  3. Which of the tasks listed are critical to achieving my Position Goals? (bold these)
  4. Are some of my tasks repeated? If so, do I need to delete the repeats or clarify them further?
  5. Are there tasks in my Buckets that don’t really belong to me? (highlight these)

A note about tasks that don’t belong to you: These are tasks that you feel don’t belong in your Buckets, either because of bandwidth or expertise. Perhaps you were helping out a co-worker one time by stepping out of your role, but then that task stuck. Or perhaps you’re currently in charge of purchasing office supplies, but that really belongs to your Office Manager. Whatever the case may be for why you feel a task doesn’t belong to you, be sure to note the task (and the reason).

Screenshot 4d

Is this task helping me fulfill the goals of my position or is it stealing time away?

Step 7: Identify Patterns

Now that you have everything you do listed right in front of you (don’t faint), it’s time to search for patterns. Remember: there’s a reason you decided to do this exercise – something is amiss with your role and you are feeling overwhelmed. Let’s see if this exercise has shed some light on what those patterns might be:

1. Review your bolded items (tasks critical to achieving your Position Goals). Do you get to spend enough time in your work day to focus on these priorities of your role? If not, what’s pulling you away from these things?

2. Review the highlighted items (those that don’t belong to you) and copy/paste them into the “Task to Reassign” column. Do these tasks have a common thread? If so, perhaps the common thread is that you’re fulfilling a role that needs to be staffed, or you’ve adopted tasks from someone else who is overloaded, or something else. If you aren’t able to identify a pattern, never fear. Your boss may be able to help you with that.

3. Another option that you may want to consider is to indicate those tasks that you absolutely love and those you despise (thanks to my officemate Ayelet for this tip). A potential benefit to this is you may be able to see a pattern that indicates you don’t have enough in your role that you enjoy doing (thus you may either be working out of your weaknesses instead of your strengths, or your interests have changed, etc.).

Step 8: Consider Possible Solutions

Before you send this over to your boss for review, go the extra mile and offer recommendations for reversing any patterns you may have identified. Don’t leave it up to her to fix this  – she’s not a mind reader or a magician. And if she’s willing to go through this exercise with you, she will also appreciate your initiative.

Prepare for your discussion time together by offering some solutions. For example, for those “not mine” items, provide suggestions in the “To Whom” column for who you feel would be better at owning those tasks.

Screenshot 5.b

Or perhaps you feel you aren’t able to focus on your priorities because you spend too much time participating in some of the company culture activities. If that’s a pattern you have identified, then provide your thoughts in this spreadsheet on how you may be able to continue participating in these activities but at a different level.

Whatever patterns come to light, be sure not to ignore them or brush them aside. Spend some time thinking about how those patterns may have developed, what your workload could look like if those patterns were broken, and then bring some ideas to the table for how to break them. This will provide a starting place for your conversation with your boss about how to address some of these issues.

Step 9: Recognize Your Warning Signs

Warning

The reason you’re doing this exercise in the first place is because you’re feeling the effects of employee burnout. But wouldn’t it be great if you could smell the smoke before you felt the flames? The best way to do that is to recognize your own warning signs.

Everyone experiences stress differently, and how we exhibit that stress can be just as unique. How do you feel when you’re under pressure? How do you self-medicate? Do you retreat or surround yourself with distractions? If you’re not sure, ask those closest to you – friends, family, spouse, partner, even a co-worker.

Know thyself. And once you do, place these warning signs into this section of the spreadsheet.

Screenshot 6.b

A note about warning signs: Sharing these warning signs with someone else is essential because you may be the last person to realize that you’re heading for burnout – you’re just too close to the situation. For example, if Mack starts to consistently receive emails from me at night, she can approach me and ask how I’m doing because I’ve identified this as one of my warning signs. I also recommend sharing these signs with another teammate because there’s no harm in having a secondary wake-up call.

You may be the last person to realize that you’re heading for burnout.

Step 10: It’s Boss Time

Once you’ve completed this exercise, schedule a time with your boss to go over your Buckets (you will need at least an hour). But be sure to share this spreadsheet with her a few days in advance so that she has time to digest.

Your boss should have a clear understanding of the role you were meant to play since she’s the one who probably hired you (or was involved in the process at some point). She will be able to look at your role from the top down (instead of in the weeds where you are), and her insights will be valuable at this stage.

Begin an honest conversation together.

Remember earlier when I said this exercise works best with a boss who cares? This is the spirit in which to approach this collaborative phase. This is the beginning of an honest conversation about your current role and the holes or problems you may have discovered, with the hope of finding solutions that will help you become a happier employee.

When I went through my Buckets with Mack, she was able to:

  1. Confirm that my Buckets were accurate.
  2. Review my Position Goals and make sure my priorities were aligned.
  3. Discuss any patterns I’d identified and affirm any tasks I’d labeled as “not mine.”
  4. Consider my recommendations for change and give me the power to make those changes.
  5. Become aware of my warning signs and be on the lookout.

Post-Buckets: Now What?

Now that you’ve completed the Buckets Exercise and discussed the crap out of it, now what do you do? You implement and test and see how things go. If one of your recommendations for change doesn’t yield the results you expect, re-evaluate and try something else. And keep the lines of communication open with your boss and your team.

Implement and test and see how things go.

Hang In There

This exercise isn’t a magic pill that will make everything all better. It’s simply a place to start a conversation. Positions evolve over time (as do people), so you may need to revisit this exercise if you sense burnout approaching again.

HangInThere

Since we developed the Buckets Exercise back in April, about half our team has gone through it, and it’s been an eye-opener. Each of us has customized it for our own unique roles and needs, and that’s the beauty of an exercise like this. It’s not a cookie cutter and it’s not rigid. But it does provide a framework from which to start. And sometimes finding a place to start is the hardest part.

What does your team use to address employee burnout? Or perhaps you have some recommendations for us to make this exercise even better? We’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you would like us to share this Google spreadsheet with you, we’d be happy to.

Something More to Achieve

By | Mack's Musings | 2 Comments

When I was 24 I found myself in grad school. My two-year stint as a junior high English teacher had run its course and I figured going back to school to find a new career would be a good next step.

To help pay my tuition, I took a Teaching Assistantship where I taught Freshman Composition. My Assistantship awarded me unlimited classes, so for some reason I felt inspired to sign up for a ballet class in the CSU Dance Department. I had danced recreationally when I was a kid, but I certainly wasn’t in any kind of shape to be standing at a barre, in a black leotard and pink tights, next to those 18-year-olds who’d been dancing their whole lives. I realized pretty quickly that I needed to level up if I had any chance of avoiding pure and total humiliation.

Picking up a ballet class turned into a full-blown obsession and within two years I had earned myself a spot on the local ballet company. For the next six years, I trained relentlessly. I took five to six classes a week. I rehearsed for and performed in three shows each season. All while freelancing as a web designer to pay the rent. I was newly married to Jon and I didn’t have Ryan, Easton, or Mack Web, so all I did was ballet.

mack-ballet

With ballet, there’s always something more to achieve. Your extension can always be higher. Your technique can always be cleaner. Your feet can always be faster. Your stage presence can always be more captivating. Your stamina can always be greater. Even the most talented ballerinas in the world never quite reach perfection. There will always be more to work on and improve. And that’s what keeps you coming back, even when you’re physically bruised and utterly exhausted.

I danced all through my pregnancies and went back to the company after Ry was born, but once I had Easton, I couldn’t justify the level of commitment to maintain my status in the company, so I decided to move on. Looking back on it now, I can see how seamlessly my passion and drive with ballet shifted right into growing Mack Web.


There’s eight of us now. And we move fast around here. Lately, every month seems like a new chapter. We continue to stumble, but at the same time, we’re winning. Every day I’m re-learning that people are what makes all of this so great and, at the same time, so incredibly challenging. I’m seeing the significance of culture in motion. And I’m getting better at making decisions apart from emotion.

In the last three months we’ve figured out a lot of shit about who we are and why we’re here. We continue to pull through the tough stuff and now I can see that we’ve passed through a gateway and into the next big phase of the company.

For more than two years, I’ve been assuming many more roles than I would like. In addition to my spirit breaking and my personal balance slipping, I wasn’t doing a whole lot of justice to all the stuff I was taking on. I knew that I was holding the company back.

I recruited over many, many months for someone who I could trust to scale the business with. Our new Director of Client Strategy has been a colleague and friend who I’ve respected for several years. He has strengths where I fall short. He’s been teaching me to listen and ask questions rather than react and be the one responsible for finding the solution. He has years of experience leading a team and he gets that managing people means empowering each of them to be leaders in their own way. He’s slowly working on earning the trust of the team and we’re strategically plotting world domination.

It’s a wonderful feeling that I’m not the only one responsible for the direction of our clients or this company. I now have someone who can help me carry the load. I’m slowly starting to feel the weight lifting and I’m ecstatic about the promise that I will very soon return to things in the company that I really love to do and that drive my passion. This also means big things for Mack Web as this can only help our growth.


We’ve been quietly observing the rapid change in this industry over the last few years and slowly working our way onto the scene. It took a little while for the pieces to fall into place, but now I can see our opening and that this is our time to move. I don’t know how else to explain it other than we’ve become more brave. Really, we’ve had this courage all along, but finally I feel like we’re saying, Fuck it. Let’s go!

So we’re not going to do marketing like everyone else is doing it. We’re going to change the way it’s measured. And we’re going to change the way companies build their brands. We’re going to prove that the stuff that really works is the shit that doesn’t scale and isn’t easy to measure, and we’re going to make that accessible so that companies can build better businesses.

Every few months I gather the team in our tiny little excuse for a conference room and I give them little pep talks. I hang a bunch of colorful, oversized post-its on the wall with motivational sayings.

contrast-breeds-clarity-mack-web

And even though they’ve heard me say it before, I tell them again how contrast breeds clarity. That in order to win we need to get comfortable walking through adversity and conflict. Not that I always want things to be hard, but when we find ourselves up against contrast over and over (especially in our individual relationships on the team), it sheds light on what’s important for us to change and motivates us to handle it quickly so that we can move ahead. Doing what we’re doing isn’t easy. But this shit should be hard; we’re paving a path and the first guy through the wall always gets bloody.

never-get-it-wrong-mack-web

I continue to tell the team that we will never get it wrong and we will never get it done. None of us will ever have the answers, so we need to continually embrace a culture of experimentation. We’ve got to fail to find the path. And once we get there, there will be somewhere else to go. There will always be more work to do, so we’ve got to work on what’s important and find the meaning and purpose in everything we do.

And after I’ve told them all of that, I tell them how we’re actually going to do all of these things to change the face of marketing. I tell them that we’re already doing it and that we’ve already come so far. I get all excited and energetic and worked up. I say the F word a lot. When I finish my talk they look up at me from their chairs like I’m crazy (even though they always clap at the end). But then they show up the next day. And so far, every day after that. Because they believe it, too.

I remember when we would rehearse for a corps piece like Snow during Nutcracker season. That’s basically the equivalent of running a sprint, as hard as you can go, for eight minutes straight. During one rehearsal we may run that same piece four times. I wasn’t the most talented dancer on the company, but I had the drive, strength, and endurance to outlast the 14-year-olds. I always knew I could make it just a little farther. Just 30 seconds more. And then I’d get up the next day and push that hard again.

I’ve got that in me. And the team has it, too. And that’s why we’re here now. We’re not there yet, but we’re well on our way. We’ve got something more to achieve.

Arthur reading

Nuggets of Knowledge: September 2014

By | Nuggets of Knowledge | No Comments

nuggets-of-knowledge

Welcome to a Very Special Edition of Mack Web’s monthly Nuggets of Knowledge. This month (September, in case you missed it), we asked everyone to contribute their Nugget in video form.

That’s right, folks, for one month only you get to see Mack Web’s most valued videos.

Oddly enough, despite the differences in how or why the information is presented – a TEDtalk, a music video, a McSweeney’s/Dissolve special – most of the team have chosen to focus on this undeniable truth: in building a community, in building a business, in building a brand, in doing anything that relies on people, the key is authenticity.

And also, the lesser known undeniable truth: typography is awesome.

So, wise, amusing, brief, or musical: enjoy the Mack Web NOKList Video Special.

(And hey, if video’s not your thing, check out our archive of regular programming.)


Rebecca’s Pick

Mission Statement

by Al Yankovic

Rebecca

Rebecca

Client-centric solutions. Brand trajectory. Cross-platform innovation.

These industry phrases (and many others like them) have populated the lingo of our professional lives, supposedly full of promise and intent. But due to overuse, have they lost their meaning and power?

Al Yankovic (a.k.a. “Weird Al” Yankovic, the artist who gave us timeless classics such as “Eat it” and “Another One Rides the Bus”) wages war against this corporate-speak in his recent video “Mission Statement” and challenges us to think about what we’re truly communicating – to the outside world and to each other as industry insiders. Set to the tune of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills & Nash (which, according to Yankovic, is the “antithesis of corporate America”), we are not only treated to sharply clever wordplay, but also to visually stunning, sped-up illustration for the entirely of this must-see video.

And for those with a life-long search for ironic expression, you’re in luck: these snarky sketches are done on a whiteboard with dry erase markers. Natch.


Olivia’s Pick

This Is a Generic Brand Video

Video by Dissolve, inspired by McSweeney’s, written by Kendra Eash

Rebecca

Olivia

Leave it to the quick-witted McSweeney’s to perfectly (and hilariously) capture the nature of many brand videos: predictable, vapid, and filled with vague, unsubstantial buzzwords. Kendra Eash published a satirical and on-point piece entitled “This Is a Generic Brand Video,” which pokes fun at those videos we’ve all seen (and probably tuned out). The ones where brands attempt to depict their innovation and originality but succeed only in representing themselves as stereotypical and wholly unoriginal.

Now, here’s where things get fun: Dissolve, a stock footage company, took this piece and turned it into…you guessed it…a generic video. Using the McSweeney’s piece as a voiceover, Dissolve matched those words with their own stock footage. The result is gold.

Not only is this video comical, but it’s also an example of brilliant advertising. And as someone who puts a lot of pressure on herself to be creative and come up with fantastic brand-building ideas, I found it pretty amusing that in this case, something clever and unique originated from something generic. Quite the ironic twist, right?

Whether you’re seeking some creative inspiration or simply a good laugh, this is worth a watch.


Nat’s Pick

The History of Typography

By Ben Barrett-Forrest

Nat

Nat

Prepare to be entertained (and educated) as playful and colorful paper cut outs walk you through the history of typography. Created from 291 paper letters, 2,454 photographs and a multitude of man-hours, Ben Barrett-Forrest’s stop motion video is a great example of evergreen content that’s creative, valuable, and possible to produce for those with a limited budget. And yes, there’s even a cut-out of Johannes Gutenberg.

If you’re a designer this video will make you feel nostalgic, likely bringing back memories from your first design class (sniff). For those who are not designers, this video is a great way to familiarize yourself with the world of typography and learn about the origins of typefaces like Roman, Caslon, Baskerville, and sans serif. The bonus? You can impress the graphic designer on your next project when you ask them to include a few slab-serif typefaces in their mock-up.


Mack’s Pick

Like a Girl

By Always, #likeagirl

Mack

Mack

Even though there are many conveniences that come with living in this digital age, being a company in this era brings many challenges. Making an authentic connection with the people who come in contact with your brand is one of them.  People want real. They want real companies who stand for something rather than simply promoting their products. They want to be truly valued by the companies they support. They want companies who inspire them to be part of something meaningful.

Always does an incredible job of all of that in this Like a Girl video. It’s really difficult to scale authenticity, but Always really hits it home. They looked beyond their products to who they were selling them too and then talked about something that mattered to those people.

Their audience is 100% female and they tapped into that, into genuine concerns and social issues that face women. It’s real and it’s memorable and it’s entirely relevant to their brand and their audiences. As a mom who’s raising a girl, this campaign is certainly something that feels very genuine to me, something that I feel strongly about supporting, and that I’d like to be a part of.


Courtney’s Pick

How giant websites design for you (and a billion others, too)

by Margaret Gould Stewart, TED Talks

Courtney

Courtney

Though Margaret Gould Stewart speaks for some pretty ginormous brands and talks about design – or, really, more specifically, user experience – on a pretty ginormous scale, the home truths she delivers are applicable even for much smaller brands on much smaller scales.

While there may not be global outcry when we or one of our clients changes the design or process for our sites, we still always need to be informed by data and driven by human empathy and intuition. We may not need to spend 280 hours redesigning a single button, but we need to be aware of how changes impact our audience.

We may not need to consult with conflict resolution experts or the universal principles of polite language (which is, apparently, a thing), but we should always be thinking about how real live people interact with what we’ve given them.

This talk isn’t revolutionary but a solid reminder that even giants like Google, Facebook, and Youtube not only can’t afford to ignore the people that they serve but that they shouldn’t ignore them. That losing sight of the real people behind the screens doesn’t only mean failing in your user experience, but failing in your mission.

Also…some great tips on how to get those really embarrassing karaoke photos taken down. So…bonus.


Ayelet’s Pick

Building a Community by Letting Go

by Tina Roth Eisenberg

Ayelet

Ayelet

I went to CMX Summit in June 2014 and was treated to a wonderful keynote presentation on the first day by Tina Roth Eisenberg, who I had never heard of before this conference. Tina is a serial entrepreneur in New York City and many of her businesses are directly related to a natural community growth. She talks through her experiences in building Creative Mornings, a breakfast lecture series for the creative community, into a large organization with hosts spread throughout the world, as well as starting a co-working space in Brooklyn.

The main message of this session was that a community grows best when you let go and stop trying to control it. Let it grow organically from what the community members want and grow it will! Whether you’re looking for validation of your efforts in working on an established community or are just beginning to build your community, this session is well worth a watch.

Watch the video


Ann’s Pick

The Tribes We Lead

by Seth Godin

Ann

Ann

I often struggle to explain what I do to at work to those around me outside of work. Words like search engine optimization, social media, and branding are great, but we really do so much more than that. And “marketing agency” definitely doesn’t do it justice.

Two months ago I shared Derek Sivers’ TED talk about leadership and how to start a movement. I’m circling back to another TED talk, this time around by Seth Godin, titled The Tribes We Lead.

Godin labels this point in time in which we’re living, thanks to the Internet, as the age of tribes. Obviously tribes existed way before the days of the world wide web, but today, you can connect with anyone for the simple reason that you want to be connected to them (regardless of location). Godin says tribe leaders are those who lead and connect ideas and people. They’re the ones who say that something is important and that we need to organize around it. Then the tribe leaders (and their first followers of course) start sharing this idea and getting people connected to it. Those people in turn share the idea and get even more people connected. Tribes are all about connection.

Which I guess is one way to look at the work we do: connection. It’s more than advertising. It’s more than marketing. We work with companies who are committed to a cause. And we help those leaders build their tribe.


Deleted Scenes

Because what self-respecting movie-lover and TV aficionado doesn’t understand the inherent attraction of a little something extra, adding a little more insight into what the creators were thinking or who they are?

What follows are other videos that made the shortlist but not the finals, for various reasons. (They’re still pretty excellent, though.) You get bonus points for guessing who suggested what.

American Empire
A brief, accurate, and snickering explanation of the US, its various territories, and how they all function.

If Google Was a Guy
A…slightly inappropriate and yet awesome dramatization of the search habits of the masses. Don’t forget to check out Part 2 and Part 3.

YouTube Complaints 2014!
An affectionate mockery of both user and platform behavior. No, seriously. Also, Elsa from Frozen shows up.

The Scared is scared
Storytelling done by a master. A six-year-old genius, clearly.

83 Old Slang Phrases We Should Bring Back
Expand your vocabulary. Or, y’know, sound like your Great Aunt Matilda.

First Moon Party
Just…yeah. Excellent audience awareness and appeal. Simultaneously cringeworthy and hilarious.


Nuggets of Knowledge April 2014

Better than Hawaii: Mack Web’s Best Summer Blog Posts

By | Creativity, Miscellany, Social Media, The Quest for Quanlitative Measurement, Web Marketing | No Comments

Because why gloat over your vacation pictures when you could be catching up on the genius you missed?

Summer is a time for many wondrous things: swimming lessons and blockbuster movies, amazing thunderstorms and vacations to exotic locations, backyard barbeques and entirely more ice cream than can possibly be healthy.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 5.23.07 PM

You know what summer is not a great time for? Reading anything other than ridiculously fluffy beach-worthy books, with titles like Cream Puffs by Starlight or The Undead Llamas Ride at Dawn.

Which is why, with the crisp hints of fall just around the corner and the kids shuffled back to school, we decided to make your lives a little easier. You don’t have to go back and catch up on everything the Mack Web team wrote this summer (though we wouldn’t blame you if you did; we are just that amazing).

Instead, we’ve put together the list of Mack Web best summer blog posts, the ones you absolutely shouldn’t miss.

You’re welcome.

We’ve also provided a quick word on why we think each of these posts is emblematic of what Mack Web stands for, why they’re important in the general scheme of things.

And hey, if you think we missed a crucial read, let us know. We’ll add it to the list.


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.16.01 PMHow To Design A Stellar Slide Deck (the Mack Web Way)

Our favorite post of the summer was this contribution from our designer extraordinaire. Natalie Touchberry is brilliant with all things design and this post gives you some amazing insight into her tricks of the trade.

We think this is an important one to share not only because it’s a wonderful, practical creative process from a master of her art but also for of its place in the broader spectrum of the Mack Web belief system. (Yep. Slide decks are part of our corporate religion, along with heart, passion, desire, excellence, and llamas.)

Our devotion to slide decks is twofold. First, we are firm believers in using different formats to convey our messages. And here’s the thing about slide decks: a slide deck devoid of meaning stands out a lot more than a fluffy blog post. In other words, to do the slide deck format well, you really have to know what you want to say and why you want to say it. We are all about the intentional content.

The second reason we love slide decks is because they are symbolic of a key part of digital marketing that is often overlooked: offline efforts. Frequently used as a visual aid for public speaking, slide decks are a great reminder that building relationships and reputation in the real world is a huge part of an integrated marketing strategy.


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.15.48 PM Hashtag Series: Ally or Enemy? (Pt. 1) & A How-To for Success (Pt. 2)

We were really pleased with this collaboration by our Social & Community Management Strategist Ayelet Golz and our Account Coordinator Rebecca Gilmore. It’s not only a fantastic walk through of how, when, and why you should use hashtags in your social media marketing but also a practical guide to creating meaningful hashtags, based on what you’re trying to accomplish.

We’re featuring these posts because, while not overt, they so deeply express one of Mack Web’s most fundamental principles of digital marketing: everything starts from goals.

So we say ‘Don’t use a hashtag unless it serves your purpose in creating the social media campaign in the first place.’ And then Ayelet tells you when that might be. ‘Choose or create a hashtag that actually achieves what you want to achieve.’ And then Rebecca gives you a process for doing just that.

That’s Mack Web to the core.

Also, there are frolicking hashbrowns and Gandalf jokes. So, you won’t want to miss that.


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.15.55 PMHow to Dominate Google+ Hangouts on Air

Our shining star of the summer, our Team Member of the Season was, apparently, Ayelet.  This post of hers was a big favorite for its sheer practicality as she tells you everything – and we do mean everything – about Google+ Hangouts.

Google+ Hangouts are a fantastic way to convey valuable information, host a gathering of experts, and build relationships with your peers and audience alike. (Mack Web is big on the personal touch.)

We’re also big on sharing what we know. Sometimes that’s theory: the why behind the methods we use. But sometimes that’s application: the methods themselves.

Because, hey, you’re going to have plenty of work to do figuring out the topic, the guest list, the promotion, the follow-up of your Hangout. We can make the actual, manual steps a little easier. Why would we make you suffer?


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.15.41 PMConversion Rate Isn’t Everything in Digital Marketing

Yep, that’s right, our final Not-To-Be-Missed post of the summer is another Ayelet classic. This one uses our Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities as a mini case study for the varying definitions of content success in digital marketing.

We chose this one for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s a part of our Quest for Quanlitative Measurement: our ongoing journey to fully exploring, understanding, and optimizing the various ways to measure integrated marketing efforts. The Quest weighed heavy on our minds this summer and we didn’t want the season to pass without a mention of it.

Second, well, we love that guide. Arthur, as we call him. So figuring out how other people felt about him was important to us.

Third, we work hard to prove the value of our efforts to our clients. We know you do, too. Our experience with Arthur just proved to us that the narrow focus on conversion rate discounts so much great stuff that goes on in the background. So, in true Mack Web spirit, we provide you with some practical alternatives.

And finally…well…we had to include this post. Otherwise Disappointed Turtle might have scowled at us. And that’s not a fate lightly to be borne.


Alright, so it’s not quite Hawaii…

So we may not have been strictly factual when we said Mack Web’s Best Summer Blog Posts were better than Hawaii. But we figure you would only know that if you actually went to Hawaii. In which case, you got both, so why are you complaining?

If you, like us, didn’t spend the summer sipping Mai Tais and enjoying the crystal blue waters, we want to know: what did you learn this summer? What made your Best Reads of the Summer List?

Quest-Post

Conversion Rate Isn’t Everything in Digital Marketing

By | Building Community, Data and Analytics, The Quest for Quanlitative Measurement, Web Marketing | 5 Comments

I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat in where it’s immediately obvious that the only thing the client cares about is leads, conversions, or sales. Hey, I get that. They want to improve their business. We want to help them build a better business. We’re on the same page there.

But focusing on conversions – and conversions alone – isn’t helping a business get any better for a few reasons. First, focusing on the number of conversions ignores a lot of the work that goes into setting the stage for those conversions, drawing people to the brand. Like integrated marketing. Using all the channels together to keep your strategy in sync and make sure the right people are becoming aware of you. These efforts aren’t as easy to express as conversions, but they are worthwhile. Without these efforts, conversion rate suffers… a lot.

diasppointed turtle

Second, the conversion-only focus means you (or more likely your staff, under pressure to perform for conversions alone) neglect your higher level goals (you know, the ones that move you toward a better business and not just a better income). Again, those higher level goals might not come wrapped up in one simple number, which can be presented to superiors. However, they are just as important to moving your business forward.

If we had only focused on how many conversions (in this case, how many clients we signed) we received from our Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities and neglected to look at our integrated marketing efforts and all they accomplished along the way, we would have felt like we failed.

If we only looked at new client conversions alone, we would be missing the more important, bigger picture of everything we achieved. When we took the time to analyze our efforts, we realized we accomplished so much more than signing on new clients. And we saw our success in a whole lot of different places. Read on for our very own study on measuring integrated marketing efforts.

The What, Why, & How of Our Community Building Guide

The What

Over 10 months ago, we released our Community Building Guide. We affectionately nicknamed this 147-page guide Arthur. The guide itself is an ode to why and how to build communities online.

The Why

Arthur sprang up out of our need to talk about the benefits of online community building to anyone who would listen. No, really, we are passionate about building communities (it worked so well for us) and we wanted to share this love with the world (it can work well for others, too).

In addition to our desire to share our community-building knowledge with the world, we had goals for the company. As a brand, we wanted to continue to earn and enhance our reputation for thought leadership in our community and the industry it serves. As a benchmark for that, we set the goal of 8,000 downloads of the guide by the end of 2014. We also set a business goal of increasing leads. We had no idea that launching this guide would do so much more than that.

The How

Here’s the first twist in measuring the results of a single piece of content when you’re Mack Web. We’re strong proponents of integrated marketing so nothing exists in a vacuum. We know our goals are better met if we put all available outreach channels to their best use.

Now to go back to Arthur specifically: take a look at all of our community building guide efforts in visual form first so you can be truly and properly overwhelmed. Then, we’ll get into the bits & pieces.

all the things for the guide

Pre-Guide Release

Here’s everything we did before the guide was even released:

  • We created a signup page for people if they wanted to get the guide right when it came out.  We used Launchrock to collect the email addresses and we highly recommend it.
  • We organized a Google+ Hangout with some excellent community building panelists in our industry two weeks prior to the guide’s launch.
  • We made five videos to promote the guide before it came out and to build some momentum. The videos provided lots of good tidbits about building community. We structured them as bite-sized teasers to the guide to inform and inspire people thinking about building online communities.
  • We sent out six pre-launch emails that shared value with our community and were related to our other efforts.
  • We wrote seven blog posts related to the guide and efforts surrounding it.
  • On social media, we made sure everyone and their brother knew that we had a guide coming out. And then we told everyone again.
During Release

And here’s what we did (mostly on the day of the release):

  • We released news about the guide on the blog, on our site, and via email to those who had signed up ahead of time and those already on our email list.
  • We contacted friends and peers in the industry to help spread the word about the release.
  • We promoted the guide on social media and to our community.
  • We celebrated and worked together that morning (our war room was filled to the brim with fruit, breakfast burritos, other delights, and snacks). This was a very important part of our launch.
Post-Guide Release

We didn’t leave it at that – here’s what we’ve done since the guide was released:

  • We asked for feedback about the guide via email and on social media.
  • Mack did a webinar based on the guide .
  • Mack spoke at WistiaFest and State of Search about the video series we did for Arthur.
  • Mack also wrote on Moz about 5 strategic steps to big content, stemming from our experience with the community building guide.
  • We promoted these spawn of Arthur via email, on the blog, and on social media.
  • And we’ve got a secret project in the works related to Arthur. No, you can’t bribe us for more information with gummy bears. We’ve got morals, people.

Now that you’ve got a bit of background about the tactics we used, you’ve probably reached two conclusions. First, we must have gotten a million new customers. Second, figuring out how many of those millions was a direct result of the guide would be pretty much impossible. Well, you’re right about the second one (coming up soon). As for the first conclusion… yeah, not so much.

The Results of Arthur Alone

Conversions

We can count the number of conversions of new clients we received off of our guide on one finger. Approximately 3 months after Arthur launched, we signed a client because they had read our guide.

You read that right. One. Single. Client. Un cliente. Ein Client. Great result for all that work, right?

But here’s where I’m going to blow your mind. That’s only an embarrassing result if all we cared about was the conversion rate of clients. Lucky for us (and our egos), we had a ton of other results from this guide that we’re proud of.

Inbound Links

The guide received 373 total inbound links since it launched in October 2013. Influential sites like Moz, Inbound, Conductor, and Wistia all linked to the guide, substantially increasing its reach. Most of those links were thanks to friendships we had made in the industry waaaaaayyyyyyy before the guide was even a twinkle in the Mack Web team’s collective eye. That’s the kind of groundwork that’s hard to measure and hard to do, but gives indisputable value.

And then, because the guide was full of so much good stuff, it earned even more links all by itself. That’s value we can’t even begin to attach a number to.

Guide Downloads & Pre-Guide Signups

Before the guide was launched, we had 350 signups from people who wanted to receive word when the guide launched. Within 30 days of launch, we had 1,250 downloads. As of July 2014, we’d reached  more than 5,500 guide downloads (just 9 months). We’re well on our way to reach 8,000 downloads by December 31st (I wouldn’t bet against us if I were you).

The number of downloads is a valuable metric for us. Each time a person downloads our guide and reads it, that’s one chance for us to convince someone of the value in building an online community. And once they’re convinced of that value, they often share the guide with their friends,  which expands the reach of our brand. As a bonus, the social proof offered by their willingness to share the guide builds trust in our brand as people come to know us as the folks who know what they’re talking about in terms of building communities.

The Results of Arthur as an Integrated Marketing Campaign

Those results above are just the ones directly related to the guide. We look at the community building guide as just one part of our march towards inevitable integrated and digital marketing greatness. And in the time since launching Arthur, we’ve made great strides forward.

The Full Story on Conversions

Let me go back real quick to the conversion. The best part about signing on a client because of the guide was that the client fully understood who we were and the value we bring to the table. Our guide did all of the work and we are now basking in the glory of a client who is in sync with our community building passion.

Leads

In March 2013, right around when we started the earliest pre-launch promotion efforts for Arthur, we were averaging 3-5 leads/month. Arthur was launched in October 2013. As of July 2014, we’re averaging approximately 20-25 leads/month. Conservatively speaking, that’s a 300% increase in leads.

arthur leads pre and post guide

Email Marketing

Our email list increased by 50% year over year (2012 vs. 2013). Once the community building guide was released, we started to see all kinds of organic email subscriptions.

Social Media & Community Building

Conversation, Amplification, & Applause

We’ve made solid growth on social media in our amplification, conversation, and follower count.

total applause amplification conversation fans_pre and post guide

Sessions & Pageviews from Social Media Referral Traffic

I like looking at how Arthur affected social media referral traffic. We saw awesome growth in our referral traffic sessions (what Google Analytics now calls visits) and pageviews from Twitter.

pageview referrals from Twitter

session referrals twitter

The other social channels also performed really well.

linkedin slideshare youtube referral sessions

Speaking & Blogging Gigs

In the 3 months after the launch of the guide, Mack was invited to speak at SearchFest and Conductor’s C3 conference. The guide helped give Mack a little bit of extra awesomeness (like she needs it).

mack

Site Traffic

New vs. Returning Visits

These metrics show us that not only are more people who’ve never heard of us coming to our site, but also that people who have heard about us are coming back for more.

new and returning visitors

Organic Search Traffic

We saw a 145% increase in organic search traffic in the 3 months after the guide launch (compared to the 3 months before the launch). And at the time of the launch, that meant more people were coming to our site than ever before. Woo hoo!

organic search traffic change 3 months pre and post arthur

Session (or Visit) Duration & Total Sessions

Session duration increased 8% (comparing 9 months pre- and post-Arthur) and we had 55% more sessions after the guide was launched (same time period). So not only are we getting more traffic to our site, but now they’re staying longer, too.

total sessions pre and post arthur updated

The Mitigating Factors

Are you thoroughly and undeniably impressed? All of that was a huge boost to our presence on the web, the awareness of our brand, and the respect in which our knowledge is held. We also want to acknowledge that a) just because we only signed one client directly from Arthur doesn’t mean we didn’t sign other clients in the intervening months and b) we are insanely selective about our clients, which is why more of those leads haven’t turned into clients.

And yet, Arthur was not the impetus for all those results. Because as the guide launched and lived on, we did not sit idle.

We launched a new website that more effectively communicated what we actually did. We started to get more qualified leads for our business. We became more strategic about our blog posts.

And as is fitting in a company that believes in building communities, we made more connections on social media and offline. We experimented with our email marketing and email subscription efforts. Mack keeps getting more speaking and blogging opportunities. Our processes are becoming tighter and even more integrated. We’ve found more llama images than when we wrote the guide. Sure, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but our team is in better shape than ever.

All of which is to say that, though Arthur undoubtedly played a huge role in the results of the year here at Mack Web, we don’t actually know how huge that role was (because of all the things). Which leads to one natural conclusion.

My Conclusion: Measuring the Effects of Truly Integrated Marketing is Hard

When you do a lot of things, it isn’t always clear what results can be attributed to what action. Arthur achieved a lot, but so did all our other integrated marketing efforts in the year. Because all these efforts played off each other as well, the data becomes even more entangled, harder to attribute, and skewed.

The important thing is that we’re reaching our goals, and not just with Arthur. With everything we do now, have done in the past, and will do in the future.

The Solution

If I told you I had the solution right now on how to best measure integrated marketing efforts, you’d probably give me a million bucks. Sorry, I have no such thing.

However, here are a few things that I advise you to remember and remind your clients or superiors along the way:

1. Assign specific KPIS to your goals, meaning all goals, not just business goals.

Conversion rate will only get you so far (and mainly it just works to make marketing look like a total loser. Which it isn’t. Anyone tells you otherwise, you send them to us. We’ll straighten them out.)

Think through key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics thoroughly, and take baseline measurements before you start your efforts. It’ll make your life infinitely easier in the long run, but it still won’t make it a cakewalk (mmm, cake).

2. Look at the long-term data.

So what if your campaign only lasted 3 months? You should still look at year over year data because it gives you an excellent baseline to show how much progress you’re making. Sure, it’s difficult to directly attribute specific successes to specific campaigns, but long-term data makes the results of all your efforts wonderfully obvious.

3. Educate your clients/higher ups on the the importance of meaningful goals (beyond conversion rate).

Remind them you can’t increase conversions without increasing brand awareness, establishing an online and social media presence, and building community.  Integrated marketing efforts are more than just stepping stones to more sales or leads. The broad-reaching and foundational goals they achieve – such as brand awareness and online community – are both vital to higher conversion rates for your digital marketing and valuable in their own right.

Questions, comments, suggestions, congratulations? We’ll accept all of those things (but especially the latter) in the comments below.

Arthur reading

Nuggets of Knowledge: August 2014

By | Nuggets of Knowledge | No Comments

nuggets-of-knowledge

This month’s #NOKlist brings you more of the Mack Web team’s ruminations on other people’s hard work (‘cuz that’s how we learn: standing on the shoulders of giants, etc.). The August Edition of the Nuggets of Knowledge includes actionable tips on email marketing and SEO, some of the Science! behind viral content, a new approach to managing your existing content, and a caution on the negative effects of too much measurement.

Also, Axl Rose. Yeah.

Check it out for yourself and, hey, for kicks, check out our past editions, too. You won’t be sorry.


Rebecca’s Pick

How Axl Rose Ended Up Commenting On Our Creative Piece

by Harriet Cummings

Rebecca

Rebecca

As an avid fan of Guns N’ Roses, I’m not ashamed to admit that when I saw this article title, I dropped everything to read the article in full. And both the 80s girl and the marketer sides of me are so glad that I did.

The creative piece in question is a data-curated interactive infographic – a music lover’s mini-playground, rife with the potential for who’s-the-greatest debates and design discussions. But that’s for another NOKlist. (And to the whole Mack Web team, I call dibs.)

The reason I selected Harriet Cumming’s article is for the transparent glimpse she provides into the creative process that birthed this infographic in the first place. In a relatively short post, she takes us through brainstorming > commitment to an idea > design and UX > finally getting the piece out there for the world to see. And then we get to see how the world responded.

This article is much like a new album that, once you get into it, you excitedly realize has a hidden track at the end. Packed with oodles of articles and resources, and even the mentioned-in-the-title comment by Axl Rose, the musically- and marketing-inclined will find themselves in Paradise City.

Read the post


Nat’s Pick

4 Predictions for the Future of Email Marketing

Post by Jimmy Daly, Vero

Nat

Nat

Often times I find that I have so many ideas I want to try out for our email marketing that I’m not sure where to begin or how to prioritize them. That’s why I found the blog post Vero put together on predictions for email marketing so very helpful. With these 4 predictions, I feel like I have a road map to help prioritize what I should look at, test, and optimize first for email marketing (then I can prioritize all my other email marketing ideas below these ones). What really makes this blog post “NOKlist worthy” is that Vero provides action steps for each prediction that I can put in place now (making everything that much easier for me to implement).

The blog post touches on the following:
1. Data will reign supreme.
2. Personalization will take on a meaning.
3. A/B testing will fade away.
4. Email volume will decline.

Give the predictions a look, try out the recommended action steps, and see what results develop for you. I’m excited to see what develops for us.

Read the post


Mack’s Pick

Number Crunching is Turning Marketers into Tactical Bullies

By Richard Becker

Mack

Mack

When you’re helping companies build their brands, there’s typically some pretty hefty expectations to overcome regarding results. Building a brand takes years, is ongoing, and although clients understand the long-term investment, they still need indicators in the short-term that validate their investment. Marketers have been working to deliver quantitative data that will communicate the value of all the time, effort, and budget spent, but as Rich Becker explains, their metrics may not be revealing the true picture.

“The sheer volume of data being lobbed at modern marketers is commoditizing the entire field while it distracts marketing from where its focus really ought to be, which is delivering a distinct brand promise to people who might care.”

It’s not that we’re communicating (all of) the wrong numbers (using metrics like qualified leads traffic to the website, click-throughs, conversions, and the like) it’s just that “numbers alone don’t tell the story.”

We work very hard to communicate the value of our efforts (and are continually investigating which metrics assist us in doing just that). This post is an important reminder that we need to continue seeking qualitative data that defends the value of marketing efforts. For us, it’s a matter of making sure we’re in a relationship with the right clients and that we’re continually exploring and experimenting which metrics (quantitative and qualitative) that prove our hard work is in fact making a difference.

Read the post


Courtney’s Pick

6 Big Takeaways from ‘The Science of Viral Content’

by Jillian Richardson, Contently

Courtney

Courtney

The blissfully oblivious put a lot of pressure on anyone who works with content or is considered creative or works with content and is considered creative to deliver something ‘viral.’ As if we’re all mad scientists following a closely-guarded recipe to cook up something brilliant and heart-stopping in our top secret labs.

And wouldn’t that be cool.

But of course, content virality depends on that most unpredictable of forces: mankind. Content goes viral because it tickles the fancy of the millions and billions of weirdly similar and diverse people in the world and they make it so. The reception a piece of content receives is just as difficult to predict as the general seethe of humanity.

Which is to say, difficult to gauge in the precursor but possible to understand in the aftermath.

And so, in the way of all mad scientists, Fractl did a study on what makes a marketing campaign go viral. And, in their usual way, Contently digested the study, providing key takeaways and showcasing some of the most compelling examples.

Surprise, surprise: the emotional experience is what causes content to explode. Different emotions inspire different responses in different demographics, but the most vivid similarity in the examples Contently embeds is that they all tell a story. (Except for the Harlem Shake phenomenon, which remains something of a mystery.)

The points are compelling, the videos are excellent. Worth a read and some contemplation before you plan out your next campaign/retreat to your mad scientist lair to brew up something particularly potent.

Read the post


Ayelet’s Pick

Why We Are Hiring for a New Content Role (and You Should Too)

by Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute

Ayelet

Ayelet

When I saw the title of this article, I thought for sure it was just another article about curating external content for social media channels. But Joe Pulizzi talks about content curation in a very different way. He goes into how internal content curation (including categorizing content already created, organizing it into some sort of data management system, developing a clear marketing plan for that content, and executing that plan) can be most effectively used. In the example he used, the company had hired a content curator to handle their own content better, repurposing and getting the best use out of existing content. As Mack Web is starting to develop more and more content on the blog and on our site, this article hit home to me as we will need to have a better system in place for managing it.

By making internal content curation more of a priority, you are better able to spot themes and test your theories. Although we don’t have one specific content curator at Mack Web (and you may not either), the ideas in this article can be implemented by your current team and over the course of time. Extra plus: this article is a short, but inspiring read.

Read the post


Ann’s Pick

10 Questions to Supercharge a New SEO Process

by Aleyda Solis

Ann

Ann

Two days from today I will be marrying that guy in the photo next to me. As you can imagine, my to-do list is quite long and has been for the past few months. The thing about planning a wedding is that slowly but surely as the months of your engagement pass, you eventually get to the big day.

The lesson that I’ve learned through this whole process is this: Whether a wedding planning list or a list of work tasks, if you’re faithful to your to-do list and take the tasks one at a time you’ll end up closer to your end goal…so long as you have the right things on your list.

When I read Aleyda Solis’s list of 10 Questions to Supercharger a New SEO Process, I instantly added 10 things to my to-do list – 10 new things to dig into and explore what possibilities might exist. What I like most about this article is how she pairs questions with tools, helping you put your SEO practices on steroids. Focus on finding answers to her questions, and you’ll find new places to add value and make a big difference in your business. Take each item one at a time (just like the tasks for planning a wedding) and by the time you get to the end of the list you’ll be able to enjoy all of the new opportunities you’ve discovered to improve your SEO efforts.

Read the post


Nuggets of Knowledge April 2014

Hashtags: A How-To for Success

By | Social Media | 7 Comments

Part II

As a group, we marketers love us a good “how-to” guide. It’s not that we necessarily want to be told what to do or become automatons (although Ayelet does have her social media minions, but that’s not really the same thing).

how-to-survive-a-robot-uprising

A good how-to process can provide a basic framework from which to work, freeing us up to be creative, which is why most of us are in this industry in the first place.

A Brief Recap

Last week Ayelet and I shared Mack Web’s first-ever co-authored blog post: Hashtags in Social Media Marketing: Ally or Enemy? It’s not so much that we’re both equally awesome (that goes without saying); it’s that we have entered into a fellowship and are in search of the best process for developing successful hashtags for our marketing efforts.

Gandalf_2fly2die

In our last post we discussed how our fellowship came to be, a brief history of the # symbol, and how hashtags can be a friend or foe. That’s all well and good (if we do say so ourselves), but wouldn’t it be even better if we also shared with you our checklist and process for ensuring that our little hashtags are on the straight and narrow instead of on the path to Mordor?

Let the How-To fun begin

And all you list-crossers exclaimed, “Huzzah!” Over the course of developing hashtags, we’ve settled into a fine rhythm that takes us from high-level thinking to the hashtag we want to be with forever (or at least as long as the campaign). We haven’t come up with a fun acronym yet (we’re open to suggestions), but we’ve narrowed it down to these five simple steps:

  1. Determine: Goals, KPIs & Longevity
  2. Identify: Keywords & Branding
  3. Brainstorm: Unleash Creativity
  4. Filter: Length, Look & Search
  5. Review: Buddy & Team

So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Step 1 – Determine: Goals, KPIs & Longevity

Start with goals

It’s like a mantra around here. Seriously. Ayelet already talked about it in our post last week. And I don’t think a single one of us will ever be able to delete the sound bite file in our brains of Mack repeating “everything starts with goals.” (We suspect this was implanted without our knowledge during the hiring process, but we lack any evidence to prove it.)

Before you even think about developing a hashtag for you or your client, you must determine why you want a hashtag in the first place and what you hope to accomplish with it. Revisit those high-level business and brand goals you developed for your own business or with your client and make sure your hashtag goals align. If this is still a little fuzzy, we’ll use our own #MackWebLife to, well, unfuzzy things.

mackweblife

The idea behind #MackWebLife was to find a way to share the, well, “life” side of working at Mack Web. But it wasn’t an idea that came out of the blue. Long before we came up with this hashtag, we sat down and decided what we as a company (and a brand) cared about. And as it turns out, the desire to show the human side of our brand is part of our DNA – so much so that we made it one of our brand goals (anything is official once it’s been written with fruit-flavored markers on large post-its).

Driver - human-centric

Before the genesis of #MackWebLife, we’d already been working hard to keep our tone and content as humane (er, human) as possible, but now it was time to take the plunge and show a more day-to-day perspective of what it’s really like at Mack Web.

Group MackWebLife shot

We then discussed what the main vehicle would be for sharing all this Mack Webbiness, and we decided that social would be our platform. Choosing a hashtag to be our sidekick was only natural after that.

As part of this “start with goals” discussion, we considered including “Fort Collins” in the hashtag to have a better chance of getting picked up locally (thinking of more local engagement). But on the other hand, it would exclude our Chicago office or any photos we would take while at conferences. This helped us define our goals even more specifically, realizing we wanted to have a much larger reach and inclusion than just our little city.

Identify KPIs

We know – it may seem like overkill to develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for such a small thing as a hashtag, but how else will you measure the success? We decided that our main social thrust would be on Twitter, so here are the two KPIs we developed for our little hashtag:

1. Increase in conversation and applause on Twitter (replies, favorites)
2. Increase in social media referral traffic to our site from Twitter

MackWebLife on Twitter

Determine longevity

Now that you have your hashtag goals and KPIs established, this part should be relatively easy. Based on your goals, what is the expected lifespan of your little hashtag-that-could?

Round calendar

Since we knew we wanted to cover multiple aspects of working at Mack Web, our various office locations, group activities and more, we understood that this was to be a long-term relationship, meaning we weren’t going to limit the usage of this hashtag to a specific (relatively short) period of time. We wanted to be able to use this hashtag starting today and long into the future. We didn’t want the year, season, or anything else to limit how long we could use it. So we signed our marriage license and headed straight for the altar.

But sometimes we’re not looking for something that serious. We want to have some short-term, campaign-only fun and then part amicably. For example, Stephen Colbert implemented the hashtag #CutDownTheAmazon for his tirade against Amazon.com.

Stephen Colbert

Or if you search #WorldCup2014, know what you’ll get? That’s right – only soccer news and commentary from this year’s (not last year’s nor the year before that) World Cup. That’s it. Fini. These are short-term, campaign-specific hashtags, and their days are numbered.

WorldCup2014

Both long- and short-term hashtags have their purpose in this life – you just need to determine your commitment level.

Step 2 – Identify: Keywords & Branding

Review keywords

Keywords are, well, key to a brand’s SEO health, so it makes sense to go back and review them before deciding on a hashtag. It may not be vital to include a keyword, but your hashtag goals will help you figure that out. (See what we did there? We brought it back to goals. We’re so sneaky.) Either way, we should strive to keep SEO considerations at the forefront of our creative minds.

Here’s what you do: make a short list of keywords you might consider for your hashtag. This exercise will generate some seeds for brainstorming, providing that proverbial first brush stroke on that empty canvas. For our line of work, we might consider:

  • content
  • marketing
  • digital
  • social media
  • SEO
  • optimization
  • search

But for #MackWebLife, we opted out of industry keywords since we wanted a focus that was broader than just our industry. Instead we chose a word that encompasses all those things: life. Again, our goals educated our decision.

TIP: Just like Han, go Solo. Don’t lessen the effectiveness and impact of your finely crafted hashtag (and by extension, your campaign) by combining it with a ton of others. #Multiple #hashtags can be a #turnoff and an #annoyance to #fans. (See what we mean?) Unless you’re on Instagram, that is. Yeah, we don’t get it either.

To brand or not to brand

That is indeed the question. Hashtags need to be short and sweet (more on that in a minute), so deciding to place your brand within the # confines is an important step prior to brainstorming. Some considerations on branding are:

  • name of business
  • product name
  • product type
  • brand tone

There are others, but these are the main ones we consider regularly at this stage. Going back to #MackWebLife, we decided to include our full biz name: Mack Web. We nixed “MW” (we didn’t want to be confused with a kind of German vehicle) and decided against just “Mack,” although our fearless leader probably would have loved the extra attention.

Since we don’t really have a product name we’re trying to reference here, we skipped over to product type: our life (it’s quite the intangible product type, but so be it). We wanted to share our collective Mack Web life with our online community, so that was our desired product.

For brand tone, we regularly strive to be concise and clean and snarky, but we only have so much room. Our brainstorming would help us decide which way to go.

Step 3 – Brainstorm: Unleash Creativity

Go to town

Once you’ve reviewed your keywords and brand parameters, get to it. Brainstorm your little heart out. If you need a little something to get the juices flowing, peruse this colorful and innocent-looking brainstormed list of words related to arachnids:

Spider brainstorming

Or to play off our #MackWebLife example, these are some of the options we came up with:

#ScenicMackWeb
#MackWebSightings
#MackWebSights
#ScenesfromMackWeb
#MackWebScenes
#MackWebLife
#MackWebLives
#LifeWithMackWeb

Step 4 – Filter: Length, Look & Search

When you have a long, long list of possibilities, let the culling begin. We know, you love them all. But to quote Joe Fox in You’ve Got Mail (and technically The Godfather): “It’s not personal, it’s business.” And we’ll provide a few ways to make the culling go a lot more smoothly.

Check your length

We all do it: we’ll place at the end of a particularly witty tweet a hashtag that goes against everything we’ve written here, such as #mackwebissoawesome.

Even though this may be 100% true, we would never suggest using that on a day-to-day basis. First, no one likes a braggart. Second, this length is ridiculous. If you are using or even considering using a hashtag this long, stop. You’re taking up a lot of valuable real estate to accommodate this craziness, so the content you actually want to share has to play second fiddle. A hashtag that is too long compromises your tweet content and meta descriptions, challenges the patience of your community, and also provides additional opportunities to misspell something.

How does it look?

Don’t forget that we’re dealing with a lot more than just letters here – we’re making word pictures (so to speak). As you narrow down your options, be sure to type them out in a variety of ways to reveal any unwanted visuals:

  • all lowercase (#mackweblife)
  • all uppercase (#MACKWEBLIFE)
  • main words capitalized but the rest lowercase (#MackWebLife)

Ask yourself: Does it look weird? Is it confusing? Does it spell something you’ll regret later?

TIP: Embrace consistency. Use your hashtag the same way each time – uppercase, lowercase, with campaign-specific content, etc. If you need to spend 15 minutes training your team on the parameters you’ve established, then for the love of all that is good and holy, just do it.

Search, baby, search

Make sure your hashtag is pure. What we mean is that in this wide world of evolved humans, it’s entirely possible that someone out there is using your hashtag (sick, we know). And they may not be using it in a way that benefits your brand.

So save yourself some heartache and search hashtags using a search engine as well as your main social channels (namely Twitter). Start by asking these questions:

  • Is anyone else using it? If so, who are they?
  • Is it too common to be useful to your brand?
  • How is it being used? Has it been used in a negative way already?
  • How recently has it been used in another way?
  • Could the hashtag be misleading or misunderstood?
  • Is it too vague or open-ended that it could easily be hijacked?

SERPs

Now that you’ve put your precious metals through the crucible and only the purest remain, you’re ready for the final step.

Step 5 – Review: Buddy & Team

Find a buddy

Select a team member close to the project or campaign and do an initial review with her of all your brainstormed hashtags. Don’t work in a silo – she may see things you don’t or offer other options to consider.

Let your team chime in

When you and your buddy get down to your favorites, let the rest of your team provide feedback. But don’t just choose your favorite hashtag and only show them that one, nor should you overload them with your entire brain dump. Select the top 5 (at most 10) that made the cut and present those for final consideration.

TIP: Ditch the dead weight. If you’re currently using a hashtag that isn’t delivering (based on your goals and KPIs), you might as well not even use it. Much like the slowest runner in the group during a zombie apocalypse, just abandon that hashtag and let it succumb to the (undead) order of things.

You want more?!

You sick-o. We thought you might. And we admit that we do not know everything (shocking, we know), so here are a few recommended resources we ran across in our travels:

We’d love to hear your thoughts, so share with us your favorite hashtag tips & tricks and even stories – success or otherwise!

Hashtags in Social Media Marketing: Ally or Enemy?

By | Social Media | No Comments

Part I

A Fellowship is Formed

“Umph.”

This sound, the vocal equivalent of eye rolling, is uttered every now and then by Ayelet, our Community and Social Media Strategist. And it can only mean one thing.

It’s hashtag time.

Youre it_hashtag

Hashtags in social media marketing cause certain grief for Ayelet and others who manage online communities (more on that in a bit). And as the one with the pleasure of being her officemate, I have long played the role of counselor during these trying times.

Until the day when everything changed. Rather than offering commiseration and gummy bunnies (oh yes, they’re real), I engaged in a spontaneous mini-brainstorming session in which we worked through the pain together. What we discovered was that I actually enjoy the process and associated wordplay, and Ayelet prefers the metrics and measurement side of things. And so a partnership was formed. (Although I prefer to call it a fellowship, but alas no ring of power is involved. Yet.)

Gandalf_2fly2die

And as is the Mack Web fashion, we developed a process for approaching this elusive campaign asset, harnessing its power and using it for good instead of evil. We’re still testing and measuring and all that jazz, but as is our calling, we aspire to share with you some tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way. And since this is a true partnership, we even joined forces to bring you this post.

The Hashtag: A History (sorta)

The # has an involved and, at times, a somewhat unverifiable history. Much like Lord of the Ring’s Gandalf, this symbol goes by many names: pound, sharp, space (for you copy editors) and even the etymologically-challenged octothorpe.

Symbol

Today social media has adopted this multi-purpose symbol and its use has exploded. Now most commonly referred to as a “hashtag,” the # is used before words or groups of words on a variety of social platforms (such as Twitter, Instagram, and Google+). What makes hashtags really special? They are searchable, clickable, and measurable.

As this triple threat has grown in popularity, so have the numerous ways social sharers choose to utilize the hashtag in their tweets, pins and posts. Some are clever and strategic and worthy of our praise, while others make community managers want to rip those four little lines apart limb from limb, or slash from slash, or whatever.

On that note, let me turn things over to my “umph”-grunting Fellowshipper Ayelet, who is well-known in these parts as our social media & community savant. And I do believe she has something to say on this subject. But never fear – I’ll be back next week with our follow-up post Hashtags: A How-To for Success. Take it away, Ayelet.

Hashtags as Your Ally

Hi everyone! So, #YOLO and #SorryNotSorry aside, hashtags honestly can be a valuable tool in your social media campaigns. Hashtags can do a lot to further your strategies and help you connect with the people you want to build relationships with. In fact, there are a number of benefits to using hashtags.

They Boost Searches on Social Media & Help with Brand Recognition

The number one reason to use hashtags is because they can be used to file and find specific topics that otherwise would be hard to group together on social media. This works in two ways. First, when someone searches for a specific hashtag, all of the conversations and updates that contain that hashtag will show up in the search results. Second, when someone clicks on the hashtag within her news feed, it shows all the conversations that are using that hashtag. Both ways of searching make it easy to group discussions that relate to that hashtag for the person who is interested in it.

Using a hashtag allows you to reach people beyond your current followers but who still share in your interests, which increases your brand’s recognition and awareness among a new, awesome audience.

They Unify an Event or Campaign

Conferences use hashtags to keep track of what’s being said during the conference (often in live tweeting form) and to unify the messages that they’re sending out. When you see a conference hashtag that you know about or are interested in and you see that hashtag used either by the organizer or an excited attendee, you immediately identify with that hashtag and pay closer attention to see what’s new.

For example, MozCon happened recently so my news feed was bombarded with all the great information people were learning at the conference. Because I know it’s an awesome conference, I paid closer attention to the hashtag #mozcon on Twitter and kept up with all the good learning to be had from the conference.

#mozcon posts

Hashtags also make contests possible on social networks where contests are hard to run otherwise. For example, Facebook allows handy third-party apps to manage contests on its network. However, Twitter and Instagram don’t have that capability. So people use hashtags on those platforms to group contest entries together (and to make life as an online contest manager that much easier).

Also, Twitter chats (where people get together to discuss topics through a Q&A-style format on Twitter) would be impossible to do without them – people wouldn’t be able to understand the purpose of the Twitter chat, find the conversation, follow along, or participate in it without hashtags.

hashtag of #cmgrchat Twitter chat

Hashtags also can be used across social networks (with varying degrees of success), which can unify a campaign that runs on different social networks and encourage more interaction. A fan might use the hashtag not just on one network, but maybe two or three of her favorite social networks (especially if she has a strong motivation to do so, like a contest). This would spread your campaign beyond just one platform and let people take the campaign to the social networks where they already interact.

They Help Build a Sense of Community

As I mentioned with the conference example above, when you see news about a conference you’re going to, you pay closer attention. That’s because you’re part of the conference community. Hashtags help bring that community closer on certain social networks by identifying potential friends you haven’t yet met.

Similarly, as we’ve seen with news events around the world, hashtags support activism and knowledge about current events. When you see a hashtag related to a world event popping up more and more in your news feed, you start to wonder what’s going on and seek out additional information about the situation. That is likely to lead to expanding your community to include new people who are equally concerned about the issue. You may even take action on what you learn from each other to help make the situation better.

They Increase Engagement on Social Media

Research shows that hashtags improve engagement on social media (well, only on certain social networks that is). Buffer wrote the book on the science of hashtags, but we can give you a summary of their findings:

  • Tweets with hashtags are more likely to be retweeted.
  • Posts on Instagram with 11+ hashtags (seriously?! I don’t think I even know 11 hashtags) get more interactions.
  • Posts on Facebook that didn’t have a hashtag did better than posts that did (this is not unusual because Facebook predates the use of hashtags and users have been unwilling to adopt them).

Facebook

They Can Be Used as a Trending Tool

You know in high school, when all the cool kids showed up to school wearing striped shirts and pretty soon everyone was wearing striped shirts? If a high school equivalent of Twitter were around, you could monitor the hashtag #stripedshirtsrock (or some such hashtag) and be in the know before the mainstream. Similarly, using a real-time, trending hashtag that’s relevant to your brand could earn you some major wins on social media.

You also can look at trending hashtags as a pattern to help influence and boost future campaigns of yours. For example, if you’re a marketer for a football jersey company, you would want to monitor the hashtags being used around certain teams and then incorporate those hashtags into your social media updates for more exposure.

The screenshot below shows what trending hashtags look like on Twitter (you can find them to the left-hand side of your news feed). The trends change based on what your peers are saying or what you’re interested in (not everyone cares about Denver or Colorado as much as we do since we live here). There are lots of hashtag trending tools  if you’re interested in looking beyond your own trends.

trending twitter hashtags

Hashtags as Your Enemy

But as beneficial as hashtags can be, there also is a sinister side to them. It’s the side that can derail your campaign or strategy the moment you let that hashtag loose. Check yourself to make sure that you’re not falling into any of these hashtag traps.

Are you focusing too much on the wit of your hashtag rather than what it’s supposed to accomplish?

You’re going to run into serious issues if you focus way too much on the hashtag and way too little on your actual strategy. Goals should always come first, always. Remember why you’re using a hashtag  and what that hashtag is doing for your campaign. Make sure that the hashtag complements and furthers your goals. An awesome hashtag is gold, but a solid strategy is priceless. (This point is so vital that we’re going to repeat it again very soon.)

TIP: Beware of premature brainstorming. Don’t start the brainstorming process too soon. Make sure your critical campaign assets (landing page copy, product name or title, etc.) have been developed before you start the wordplay.

Are you hijacking the traffic of a trending hashtag?

Many companies get excited about the conversations that happen on social media when breaking news hits. As it unfolds on social media, the surge in activity and promise of impressions can easily lure companies into jumping on the bandwagon, leaving all of their common sense behind. If you see a trending hashtag and want the extra boost it may give you, think very carefully about it. It’ll work for some situations, but not for all.

klm world cup tweet

For example, during the World Cup, the #NEDMEX was trending and KLM Airlines tweeted the above after the Netherlands beat Mexico. Needless to say, Mexico’s fans did not take kindly to it and there was a huge uproar. The tweet was deleted and you can bet someone got a reprimand… or is looking for a new job.

It’s also common that companies try to ride on the coattails of weather-related and/or sports hashtags and this has backfired dramatically on many brands. Let’s say you’re a sock company and the trending hashtag is about a hurricane. Whatever you do, do not hijack a hurricane hashtag and tweet about how now is a great time to buy new socks because the ones you used to have are being washed away. By doing so, you would be taking advantage of a tragedy to peddle your wares and it will not reflect well on your taste, class, or heart. Go ahead and press that delete key, and then face palm yourself a few times.

Are you using a hashtag that doesn’t convey anything?

Listen, there is an art to hashtag creation. I know because I don’t have it. At Mack Web, we call Rebecca the Hashtag Queen and rightly so. She would never craft and approve a hashtag that was overly vague or too cryptic for anyone to figure out.

You may think your hashtag is creative and expresses your brand perfectly, but your followers may not get it (and that’ll make them feel stupid, which goes against basic social media etiquette). So what’s the test to make sure a hashtag is appropriate for a campaign? Run it by a few people who aren’t overly familiar with the campaign (but are active on social media) and listen to their feedback. Don’t say to yourself, “Oh, they don’t get it, but our followers will.” If they don’t get it, your followers won’t. Get thyself back to the drawing board.

TIP: Don’t be a snob. Let’s be creative, but keep control of those wordsmithing reins. Don’t sacrifice brand recognition or basic understandability for a chance to pat yourself on the back for your amazingly clever wit. If fans don’t get the inside joke, then there’s a disconnect with your community, and that’s no good.

Want more tips like this with a how-to process for your team? Then tune in next week for Part II: A How-To for Hashtag Success.