Friday, August 18, 2017

8 Writing Tips I Wish I Knew Before I Started Blogging

I wrote my first blog post two summers ago. And I wish I could erase it from the internet. Reading it is like looking at my middle school Facebook pictures -- it’s almost too cringe-inducing.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, though. I had just finished my freshman year of college, and the last paper I wrote was about the Odyssey. I didn’t know what I was doing.

But after completing several content marketing internships and taking classes like business writing, electronic journalism, and creative writing, I’ve learned how to write for an audience. Blogging is almost second nature to me now.

If you're just starting out with blogging and struggling to produce something you're truly proud of, don't get discouraged. You don’t need to enroll in a bunch of writing classes or join a content marketing team to become a good blogger (although it certainly doesn't hurt). You can hone your writing skills online -- and this blog post can be one of your bookmarkable resources.

Listed below are eight essential writing tips I’ve gleaned from all my classes and content marketing experience. Check them out to learn how to engage your audience with clear, concise, and compelling content -- and make me even more embarrassed about the first blog post I ever wrote.

8 Essential Writing Tips for Crafting Clear, Concise, and Compelling Content

1) Trim the fat.

The more unnecessary words your trim from your writing, the easier it is to understand. Concise writing is lean. And readers can zip through it with little effort. To sharpen your writing, follow the four pointers below:

  • Avoid linking verb phrases like “Sam was writing about his van.” “Sam wrote about his van.” sounds more forceful. Linking verbs have a passive effect, which is why they can’t pack much of a punch.
  • Change prepositional phrases like “The decision of the board was final.” to “The board’s decision was final.” Prepositional phrases make sentences longer and harder to follow.
  • When a noun ends in -tion, change the noun to a verb. For example, “They will collaborate to create a new style guide.” sounds cleaner than “They will collaborate in the creation of a new style guide.”
  • Reduce verb phrases like “The results are suggestive to the fact that on-page SEO still works.” to simple verb phrases like “The results suggest that on-page SEO still works.” The latter sounds much smoother.

2) One sentence should only cover one idea.

A clear sentence that’s easy to understand covers one main idea. But sometimes writers focus too much on sounding smart rather than conveying information in a simple way. This can lead to complex sentences that confuse readers.

You must remember your readers don’t care about your writing prowess. They want to quickly understand the solutions to their own problems, and simple sentences can fulfill that need.

Use the Hemingway App to gauge whether your sentences are bold and clear.

3) Sentences don’t live in isolation.

If you want to craft a compelling sentence, you need to account for its surrounding sentences first. Using the same word in consecutive sentences or covering similar ideas in two different sentences is redundant. To create a more stimulating experience for your readers, vary your language and cut repeat information.

Use Power Thesaurus to replace overused words with dynamic synonyms.

4) Vary sentence length and structure.

I saw a graphic called “How to Write” on Twitter about a year ago, and it took my writing skills to the next level. Take a look.

How to Write.jpg

Humans crave variety. And just like how short, medium, and long sentences complement each other, simple and compound sentences complement each other too.

Your writing becomes repetitive and boring when your sentences have the same structure or length. Diverse sentences make your writing pleasant to read.

5) Scrap the cliches.

Would it be cliche to begin this paragraph with a cliche? I thought so. That’s why I didn’t do it. Cliches sap your content’s originality.

People use these phrases so much that they lose their true meaning. Some studies even claim that figures of speech like “hungry as a horse” or buzzwords like “leverage” can’t activate the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for experiencing emotions. They’re too stale to impact you.

A good way to test cliches is by asking yourself if you’ve heard the term before. If so, aim to express your idea in a new, fresh way. You can also nix cliches by filtering your content through a cliche finder tool.

6) Appeal to the senses.

Good fiction writers can make their readers experience the stories they write. By using concrete details that appeal to their reader’s senses, they can paint vivid pictures with only words.

Skeptical? Well, in a 2012 study at Emory University, researchers monitored participants’ brain activity when they read metaphors involving texture. Metaphors like “He had leathery hands,” lit up their sensory cortex, which is responsible for perceiving texture through touch. When they read a similar phrase like “he had strong hands,” their sensory cortex didn’t activate.

“Leathery” is a concrete detail that appeals to touch. And it places readers into the exact scene the writer described. Metaphors and similes also help people visualize things by comparing a concrete picture with an abstract idea.

Business writing definitely differs from creative writing, but you can still harness the power of sensory language in your blog posts. If your readers can see, hear, touch, smell, or taste your ideas, then they’ll be hooked on your content.

Having trouble grasping this concept? Here are some examples:

  • Visual: “You immediately glue your eyes to the skip button's countdown clock and wait … until those lingering seconds finally slug by.” - Can you see how long this ad is?
  • Auditory: “But the 20 pen slips below were so hilarious and shocking that my laughter pierced through all my colleagues' noise-canceling headphones.” - Can you hear his obnoxious laugh?
  • Touch: “Let your well-formatted paragraphs put her attention in a guillotine hold.” - Can you feel how captivated she is?"
  • Smell and taste: “Turn bland writing into zesty sound bites.” - How strong was that quip’s flavor?

7) Let things go.

When you write an elegant paragraph or sentence, your inner author latches onto it. But even if it doesn’t fit within the scope of your content, you still might try to force it in there. You can get too attached to let it go.

Paragraphs or sentences that don’t deepen your readers’ understanding of the topic, provide new information, or spark interest in the next section are just fluff. And all fluff does is muddle your writing.

Instead of building around fluff, strip it away and start something new from scratch. Abandoning beautiful writing is always hard, but if it doesn’t provide value to your readers, let it go.

8) Take a break.

Have you ever reread your final draft so much that you can’t determine whether it’s Neil Patel good or high school essay bad? You can even convince yourself that a lousy draft looks great if you’ve worked on it for long enough.

Before you submit your final draft, it’s crucial to walk away from it. Forgetting about your work will help you develop fresh editing eyes that can discover overlooked errors and new creative opportunities.

Eddie Shleyner, copywriter and content marketer at Workforce Software, follows "The Rule of 12" when he edits his blog posts. After writing his final draft, he walks away for 12 hours. Then he makes his final round of edits, where he always finds a mistake or a better way to polish his copy.

What writing tips do you find useful? Let us know on Twitter!

free guide to writing well

10 Ways to Distribute One Piece of Content (Besides Social Shares)

Long gone are the days of the old publish-and-pray method of content distribution. And even if it ever did work -- it was far from effective.

Today, planning the actual distribution of the content you've spent so many hours and resources expertly creating is just as critical to your marketing strategy as the quality of the content itself.

Unfortunately -- for audiences and marketers alike -- too many would-be content marketing rockstars give themselves a nice pat on the back for sharing content on Twitter and Facebook and calling it a day. So before you toast to your status as a progressive marketer who also publishes on LinkedIn and posts on Reddit, consider this: There are dozens, if not hundreds, of methods for content distribution beyond social that you might be overlooking.

But we’re not about to leave you empty-handed. Below you’ll find 10 creative ways to distribute your content -- with a little bit of background to set the stage.

The Content Distribution Strategy Experiment

A few months ago, my team -- the marketing department at Influence & Co. -- sat down for a meeting to accomplish one mission: to come up with more than 50 ways to distribute one piece of content, which was our latest industry research report, "The State of Digital Media."

We spent a lot of time surveying editors. We analyzed millions of pieces of published content and pored over the results, before we created, designed, and edited this report. We knew our findings were valuable to our audience, so the last thing we wanted to do was publish this report, share it on Twitter a few times, and let it collect dust.

So we gave ourselves one hour, four cups of coffee, and a huge whiteboard -- and got to work brainstorming creative ways to distribute this content.

First, we divided our distribution tactics into different categories, based on the departments they benefited, the goals they achieved, and the extra resources they required. For example, the tactics that leveraged our publication relationships would fall under marketing and sales enablement categories. Those with a more educational perspective, on the other hand, were a better fit for HR, because they complemented that department’s recruiting and training efforts.

With a whiteboard full of over 50 ideas, we began executing our new distribution strategy -- and just four months after the launch of the report, we already saw impressive results. When we compared that to the performance of a whitepaper we previously published, we found that this experiment resulted in a nearly 150% increase in page views, and a nearly 40% increase in submissions.

To help you get more creative — and effective — in your content distribution, here are 10 unique ways to distribute content, broken down by department.

10 Ways to Distribute Content Beyond Social Shares

Marketing

As marketers, many of us frequently think about content distribution tactics that fit within -- and give a boost to -- our marketing goals. Among them are the obvious and necessary tactics like social sharing, but there are others that can help you achieve greater brand awareness, influencer relationships, industry leadership, audience engagement, and more.

1) Personalized emails

Segment your email list down to the exact audience that would benefit most from your piece of content. Write a custom email to each of these audience members to add a level of personalization to your message. Explain what the content is, and why you think he or she will enjoy it. Personalized emails have shown a 6.2% higher open rate than those that aren’t.

2) Guest posting

Write an article that discusses -- in a non-promotional way -- the key findings or points within your content, and send it to the editor of an online publication that reaches your target audience. But be strategic about it. Make sure the publication not only helps you achieve your own reach goals, but also, has something to gain by sharing your insights, from your particular brand.

3) Influencer outreach

Reach out to relevant influencers in your industry for quotes to include in your content, and send them the piece once it's published for them to share with their networks. Remember, personalization plays a role here, too -- being able to personalize and segment emails is one of the most effective tactics for about 50% of marketing influencers.

Sales Enablement

The Influence & Co. sales team uses content just about as much as -- if not more than -- our marketing department. Our reps use it at every stage of the buyer’s journey to educate, nurture, and engage leads, and overcome objections with prospective clients. Use one of these distribution methods to do the same for your team.

4) Follow-up emails

Encourage your sales team to include a link to your content in their follow-up emails to prospective clients, to answer their questions and position your company as a resource they can trust. Note: This tactic works best when the content you create is educational and addresses specific questions or concerns your leads have -- and is actionable enough for them to immediately apply it to their own plans or strategies.

5) Lead interviews

Work with your sales reps to identify prospective clients you can interview for your content. Include a quote in your content, and share it with them once it's published. Not only can that keep your leads engaged over time, but they'll appreciate the opportunity to be featured -- and you benefit from the additional exposure to their networks when the content is shared with that audience.

6) Proposal references

The best proposals are often supported with relevant data that corroborates the solutions you’re suggesting to a prospect. And while we suggest citing a variety of authentic, reliable sources -- otherwise, you might look biased -- referencing your own research content can be effective. Not only is it another way to distribute your work, but also, it illustrates the time and thought your company has invested in this school of thought.

That said, some prospective clients like proposals to be brief. In these cases, if you preemptively anticipate additional questions, you can amend your proposal with a link to the content as a source of further reading and information.

Client Retention

Marketers who overlook their current customers in favor of prospective ones risk missing out on a major opportunity. Keeping in touch with your current clients and helping your customer service teams do the same can have a positive impact on both the customer lifetime and the potential for referrals -- so don't forget these internal distribution methods.

7) Client drip campaigns

If your content is related to your clients’ respective industries, or products and services, sharing it with them can enhance your collaborations and further nurture that relationship. Remember, it’s called client retention for a reason -- you want to continue being a valued resource and partner for your existing customers. Consider creating something like an email campaign that uses your content, to continually educate and engage your clients.

8) Email signatures

Encourage your customer service reps or account management teams to feature your content in their email signatures. That can help to keep those cornerstone pieces of content top of mind for both current and prospective clients each time they receive an email from someone on your team.

Recruitment

People want to work with trustworthy companies that are true leaders within their industries. Content can communicate expertise and build trust. In fact, we used content to hire more than 30 people in one year.

But for many teams, unfortunately, content is often most underutilized in the areas of employer branding and recruitment marketing. Take advantage of content in HR with these tactics.

9) Content-rich job listings

Include your content in job postings. HubSpot, for example, links to its Culture Code at the end of every job description. By providing educational content up front, applicants can gain a more comprehensive understanding of your industry and how your company approaches it -- directly from you.

10) Interview materials

When a job candidate progresses to the next step in the hiring process, share your content with her prior to the following interview, and ask her to come prepared to discuss it. That helps to get your content in front of qualified people in your industry -- plus, it gives you the chance to talk in-depth about the concepts and ideas behind your marketing strategy. Even better: It can help you weed out candidates who don't follow directions.

Whatever tactics your team uses, the most important thing to remember is that content distribution shouldn't be an afterthought. With the right distribution strategy in place from the beginning, your team can more effectively put your content to work for you, reach more of the right audiences, and drive results for your company.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Ten Commandments of Leveraging Social Media for Content Marketing

Most of us don’t leverage social media enough, or in the right way for content marketing, leaving money on the table. It’s time to fix that. Ineffective strategies, such as using social merely as a way to “spray and pray” your content on to new channels for communication, are a waste of time and yield little or nothing. With your competitors creating more and more content, it is imperative to leverage social media marketing for ultimate competitive advantage. The potent duo of an optimized content marketing strategy and a well-planned and implemented tactical social media approach will maximize your content marketing ROI.

Using this knowledge in your content marketing strategy enables you to be successful in your implementation, and to identify the tremendous opportunities social media marketing can provide your brand and business as a whole.

The big question is: How can you best leverage social media as part of your content marketing platform?
The answer revolves around one simple rule: Social media represents the convergence of information and communication. Social media users are therefore consuming more content and are hungry for your information. If you don’t provide it to them, they will consume your competitor’s content.

Based on my own experience with clients as well as for my personal brand, I have defined the following ten commandments. If you internalize and follow these you’ll get the best results from your social media marketing efforts.

The ten commandments of social media marketing

You don’t have to be a religious person. But try to remember to internalize these ten commandments as best as possible. Once you do, all of this will come naturally to you over time.

One: I Will Only Post to Relevant Social Networks

There are many benefits to every social media platform. It is in social media where you can find your target audience, and this is where your connections begin. Having said that, I do not advise spreading your resources on each of the available social media channels, especially when some are more relevant to your business than others.

Only post appropriate content to appropriate social networks. This sounds easy enough. But too many companies simply try to amplify all of their content on all of their social media platforms. It’s a waste of time. Get into the mindset of only posting relevant content on relevant social networks.

I do A/B testing to find the right social channels to invest time in with my clients. I advise you to do the same.

Two: I Will Optimize My Content for Each Social Network

When posting content, always optimize it for that social network. Consider it an exercise in repurposing your content for social.

When optimizing your content for each social network, remember that each site is like its own country. It has its own community, its own way of doing things, and its own way of communicating. Follow the famous directive “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and your social media marketing efforts will be all the more successful.

Three: I Will Always Use an Image When I Post to Social Media

Content posted on social media should always include an image. People are easily distracted whenever they’re on social media, so visual stimuli are crucial to catch your audience’s attention. Social media platforms are cluttered. Your content will go down the drain absent a high-quality image on your post to catch their eye in the newsfeed.

Numerous studies have confirmed that visuals get the most engagement in social media. Make sure to use eye-popping images in all of your posts—even if your brand is not visual.

 

Four: I Will Always Tag the Author When Posting

Always tag authors and contributors to your content in your social media marketing postings. This practice gives your post authority, especially if the author or contributor are well-known entities in the industry. It also notifies the author about your post, increasing the chances that they will share the content with their own network.

This is especially important when you curate others’ content, as I mention in the sixth commandment below.

Five: I Will Repeatedly Post Content

You should repeatedly post content in social media to maximize exposure, especially content that gets a lot of engagement. Identify which of your content gets a lot of traction with your audience. This is a strong indicator that you have valuable content. Then follow through—repurpose it for your other social media channels, and even for new and upcoming campaigns.

With a ‘post once and you’re done’ attitude, you miss out on the 99 percent of social media users who probably never see a given social media posting on a given day. However, it should go without saying: only repeatedly post content that is evergreen and still relevant.

Six: I Will Become Better at Content Curation

If you curate and share content representing similar topics, you expand the community around your own topic. This also increases the chances that social media users engage with your content. It works especially well if you curate influencers’ content. If they then share your content it can spark the beginning of a relationship that you can leverage in the tenth commandment below.

Sending out 100 percent self-promotional content as social media marketing today simply doesn’t work. Even consumer brands aren’t creating content for some social channels like Instagram. Instead they’re leveraging user-generated content. Content is a commodity. Once you learn to leverage others’ content for your own social media program, it will positively impact your own content marketing in social.
If you want to better understand content curation, check out Curata’s awesome Definitive Guide to Content Curation.

Seven: I Will Leverage Paid Social for Strategic Content to Meet Objectives

Unfortunately, high quality content is not enough to turn your social media audience into customers. Like it or not, organic reach continues to diminish. Someday it will be all but declared dead. Marketers who want to be successful should now look at wholeheartedly investing in paid social.

One advantage of using paid social is the accompanying privilege of micro-targeting. This ensures you only pay for the most potentially lucrative audience seeing your content. Paid social ensures that your brand—and content—are seen by your target audience.

I don’t recommend boosting every social media post. But the most strategic posts, that have a direct ROI KPI attached to them—these are both the easiest to boost and worth the expense.

Eight: I Will Religiously Analyze and Optimize

Always look at your social analytics in addition to your content marketing metrics for hints of how to gain more traction for your social content. What to post more; what to post less, and where. This can save you a lot of resources and help increase clicks and reach.

Make sure you have the right social media tools in place to measure and provide insight into the suggested timing, frequency, and content for each social network.

Nine: I Will Create Content Based on Social Media Audience Needs

Use social media marketing as a way to create content. Always analyze which content is popular in your industry or subject category, and make sure you have content that speaks to that subject. Start by finding topics that are practically useful to your audience and to the industry as a whole. These topics are also typically most discussed in and around the industry on various social media channels.

Check how others approached such topics and the kind of content they produce. Using the information you obtained, create something unique that speaks to your audience’s specific needs.

Ten: I Will Create New Content FROM Social Media

Generate new content from your social media marketing by engaging with influencers, followers, and fans. Ask for their input on a subject you’re writing about. People in social media consume information that is relevant to them. So ask your audience about the topics for your next piece of strategic content. It’s a win-win!

Influencers are called influencers for a reason. They know what makes an audience tick. Identify the influencers in your industry, follow them, and start communicating with them. Influencers can provide you with secrets of the trade that can help you create your content.

Conclusion

The success of your content marketing will be in some way proportional to the effort you invest in social media marketing. It is true that every great social strategy starts with great content. But today, learning how to use social media is equally important. Especially if you are investing a lot of your time, money, and effort into creating content for marketing objectives.

The social media landscape is full of opportunities as long as you understand how to harness them. Use these Ten Commandments to help you make the most of your content’s potential in social media marketing. And given how integral curation is to your social media efforts, make sure to download the Curata eBook, Curate Content Like a Boss: The Hands on Guide to help smash your social goals out of the park.

The post The Ten Commandments of Leveraging Social Media for Content Marketing appeared first on Curata Blog.

9 Testimonial Page Examples You'll Want to Copy in 2017

When potential customers are researching you online, they're getting to know you by way of the content of your website. Understandably, many of them might be skeptical or hesitant to trust you right away.

To prove the value of what you have to offer, why not let your happy customers do the talking?

Your testimonial page serves as a platform to show off how others have benefited from your product or service, making it a powerful tool for establishing trust and encouraging potential buyers to take action. Plus, having a testimonial page serves as yet another indexed page on your website containing content covering product features, pain points, and keywords you're trying to rank for.

Read on for a closer look at what makes a great testimonial.

What Is a Testimonial?

First, let's have a little vocabulary lesson. Google's dictionary definition of testimonial is "a formal statement testifying to someone's character and qualifications." In the realm of marketing, that usually comes from clients, colleagues, or peers who have benefitted from or experienced success as a result of the work you did for them.

But effective testimonials go beyond a simple quote that proclaims your greatness. They need to resonate with your targeted audience, and the people who could also potentially benefit from the work you do in the future. That's why great testimonials also tell a story -- one that inspires and motivates the people reading it.

What does that look like in practice? Check out the examples below to find your own inspiration, to help you start building a great testimonial page today.

9 Examples of Awesome Testimonial Pages

1) Codecademy

Codecademy has nailed down the testimonials section of their website, which they call "Codecademy Stories." They've even included a few customer quotes (along with pictures, names, and locations) right on their homepage above a link to the testimonial page.

We love the approachable format and the fact that they chose to feature customers that users can really relate to. When you click into any story, you can read the whole case study in a Q&A format. 


2) BlueBeam

Many companies struggle to grab people's attention using their testimonial pages, but BlueBeam does a great job of catching your eye as soon as you arrive on the page. While it's technically called a Case Studies page, the first thing you see is a set of project examples in the form of large, bold images that rotate on a carousel. Scroll down and you can also click on video case studies, as well as view customer panels.

3) ChowNow

ChowNow does a lot right on its testimonial page, but the bread and butter is its collection of production-quality "client stories" videos. There's a handful of these awesome, 2–3-minute videos that cover everything from the clients' life before and after ChowNow, to how easy the platform is to use. The videos feature some great footage of the clients, their offices, and their food.

4) Decadent Cakes

There are times when you're leaving an online review and, for whatever reason, just don't want to include photos with it -- like when it's for something kind of personal, like your son's birthday party.

Decadent Cakes knew that and wanted to respect its customers' privacy, while also highlighting their positive feedback. To solve for that, the bakery showcases its customer testimonials on a whimsically designed webpage along with names, locations, and sometimes pictures of the cakes made for those people. We love that that customers are referred to as "friends," too.

decadent-cakes-testimonials-page.png

5) mHelpDesk

Visit mHelpDesk's testimonial page, and the first thing you'll see is powerful header text set over a large, faded graphic showing where in the world its customers are located -- a great way to show it's a global brand. Below the header text and call-to-action for a trial, they offer videos and text testimonials equipped with pictures.

The testimonial videos aren't production quality, but they get the message across and cover useful and relevant information -- which goes to show you don't need to invest thousands in production to get some testimonial videos up. Finally, in the theme of earning trust, we love that mHelpDesk closes out its testimonial page with awards and badges of recognition.

6) Clear Slide

One of the first things we noticed about Clear Slide's testimonial page is how creatively it's named -- "What They're Saying." It includes a smattering of quotes from customers, topped with client logos from big names like The Economist and Starwood. If you have users that are celebrities or influencers within their community, be sure to include and even highlight their testimonials on your page.

7) FreeAgent

The folks at FreeAgent did a great job formatting its testimonial page with emphasized text quotations along with pictures, names, and companies to add credibility. But what we really love about it is the "Twitter love" banner on the right-hand side of the page.

Social media is a great source of real-time proof of customer satisfaction -- after all, that's why it's called "social proof" -- and many customers turn to places like Twitter and Facebook to informally review businesses they buy from. Be sure to monitor your social media presence regularly to find tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram posts, and so on that positively reflect your brand, and see where you can embed them on your website.

8) Focus Lab

Focus Lab took a unique and very cool-looking design approach to its testimonial page -- which is fitting, seeing as its trade is in creating visual branding systems. Again, it's technically a visual catalog of both previous projects and works-in-progress, but instead of just listing out client quotes, the page opts for a card-like design with interactive, rectangular elements you can click on to see the full case study -- with quotes occasionally appearing in-between.

What's even cooler is what's included in each individual case study. Not only does FocusLab cover the challenges faced by clients and how FocusLab helped solve them, but the case studies also include some of the steps in the design process between conception and final product. In some instances, they included the evolution of the logo during the design process.

Finally, we love the aforementioned view of works in progress section below the case studies. These cards aren't clickable, but they give viewers a glimpse into the firm's current projects.

9) 99designs

99designs takes a bit of an unconventional approach to its testimonial page. Using a star-rating system not usually seen in the B2B sector (read: Yelp and TripAdvisor), the page is headlined with an eye-catching video, with customer reviews below it. Plus, it gives users the ability to sort through customer reviews by category so they can read the ones most relevant to them.

Spread the Love

Once you've created a testimonial page, don't forget to promote it. Send it to the customer(s) you featured, your sales staff, and even to your other customers if you think they'd be interested. And don't forget to add a link to your testimonial page on your homepage, in your "About Us" page, or as part of your overall navigation.

How to Automate Your Client KPI Reporting Process: The 11 Step Guide

Picture this: it’s the end of the month, and some poor soul at your agency needs to put together the monthly marketing report for each client.

He or she embarks on this mind-numbing journey by logging into every digital marketing service you use, copying the key data points, and entering them into your clunky marketing KPI spreadsheet.

For other metrics that are too complicated to duplicate in a spreadsheet, they cut and paste graphs from different software into powerpoint, and try to craft a cohesive story even though each graph's format is different. Finally, it gets pdf’d and sent over to the account manager who forwards it along to the client or presents it live.

What a pain in the keister.

But your client needs to know what you're doing with their money. All those grueling hours are necessary ... right?

Most agencies see this type of manual reporting as a necessity, but, unforunately, the process is usually a negative experience for everyone involved:

  • The account manager probably spent 4-5 hours creating the client's presentation.
  • As a result, your agency wasted hundreds of dollars making a report that's hard to analyze.
  • The client has a hard time understanding how your services contributed to their business.

As you can see, a monthly metrics spreadsheet and powerpoint presentation is more hassle than it’s worth. It's not a viable solution.

You need to stop the madness!

If you’re still cutting and pasting data and graphs into spreadsheets and presentation decks, there's a better way. It's called client KPI reporting automation.

To step up your analytics and reporting game, you need to automate the busy work. Leveraging a process that can gather data for you will allow more time for analysis and less time on data collection.

Fortunately, there are now a number of automated reporting tools in the market. And regardless of the one you choose and the digital services you provide, your rollout strategy will still be similar.

Read on to learn the 11 steps for automating your client's KPI reporting.

Step 1) Identify your clients' most important marketing tools.

Make a list of digital marketing services across all client accounts. Then, decide which services and software hold the most crucial data for your agency’s and clients’ success.

For example, if you offer inbound marketing services, you'll probably need to track data from HubSpot Marketing, HubSpot CRM, Google Analytics, Facebook Ads, and Adwords.

Since most agencies use a wide variety of tools, you probably won't find an automated reporting software that pulls data from all your services in every single clients’ marketing stack. But you should be able to find one that covers about 80% of their tools.

Marketing Stack.png

Step 2) Choose a client reporting tool that integrates deeply with your key services.

After talking to hundreds of digital agencies about reporting tools, we’ve found there’s no perfect solution. The biggest issues? Being able to report the key metrics your clients need.

With the boom in marketing and sales software, no single dashboard can pull all the data from every known system. But you should look for a tool that allows you to pull a variety of metrics from the services you use.

For example, if you use HubSpot, there’s a big difference between a reporting tool that pulls 145+ metrics from HubSpot versus one that pulls just 11.

You need to be really careful here.

If a business intelligence software vendor doesn't offer a full-feature trial that showcases its reporting capabilities, stay away.

A free trial can also help you gauge the software's user experience. Some of these tools can be really hard to setup and use.

There are even tools that require developers, data analysts, and marketing wizards for it to work. That'd be a tall order for anyone to fill, especially if you work at a small agency.

Here’s a list of important criteria to look for in a reporting automation tool:

  • Do they automatically import data from your marketing software or do you have to figure out how to upload your data?
  • Do they offer standard reporting templates for the tools you use?
  • How easily can you build custom reports?
  • How often do they refresh the data? Hourly? Daily?
  • Do they offer special pricing for agencies?
  • Can you brand the reports with your or your clients’ colors and logos? Can you change the domain name where your reports will be hosted?
  • Do you need the tool to spit out a monthly report or offer real-time reporting, or both?
  • Can you add your interpretations and recommendations next to the data?
  • Do you want to view the data on your desktop, a TV in your offices, and your mobile phone? How will your clients prefer to view the data?
  • Can you create separate accounts for each client?
  • How long does it take to fully set up a new client account?

I also recommend using B2B software review sites like AlternativeTo, Capterra, and G2 Crowd to add on to your list of criteria.

Step 3) Make sure you and your client agree upon the most important KPIs.

If you haven't had an in-depth conversation with your clients on the KPIs that drive their business, now is the time. You do not want to build out a series of reports that get ignored.

We recommend starting with their revenue goals and working backwards.

This conversation should be an interview with the client. Start it by saying, “We’re revamping our reporting processes to be more focused on what’s really important.” This is a good time to show that you’re putting in the extra effort to drive their business forward.

And by pursuing top-line revenue goals first, your clients will always look forward to seeing your reporting results.

Step 4) Make sure your reporting tool pulls the metrics you need.

This can’t be stressed enough.

Imagine you want to increase your client's leads from organic traffic. Think about all the metrics you need to track to support this goal. That list might include metrics from a Google Analytics segment for organic traffic, combined with contacts generated from search, which is measured by a smart list or a lifecycle stage from HubSpot.

To really show your client progress, you should also report search data from MOZ, SEMRush, or Google Search Console.

Now, think about if your chosen reporting tool can pull all these metrics?

Your client may not be an expert in digital marketing terminology, so it depends on you to determine the metrics you pull.

You should list out all the client’s KPIs, and form a hypothesis around the specific metrics you need from each service. This does not need to be presented to the client, but it will help you create a set of reporting templates that you can reuse with different clients.

AutomateClientReportingIntegrations.png

Step 5) Create standardized reports you can use for multiple clients.

Be careful of creating customized reports for each of your clients. Creating templates that are reusable across a group of clients is a lot more efficient. You only have to build one and then you can reuse it as many times as you want.

Every time you create a new template, ask yourself, “What other clients could benefit from looking at their data this way?”

You can keep this process simple by grouping your clients based on their reporting needs and serving a customized template to each group.

Usually, agencies show their clients top-of-the-funnel results first, then drill down further. If your client just needs reporting, though, stick to a high-level overview. If they need a deeper dive, go more in-depth.

AutomateClientReportingGroups.png

Step 6) Design metric-specific visualizations for each dashboard.

Most reporting tools offer a selection of data visualizations like a number block, a line chart, a gauge chart, or a table. It's crucial to choose the best way to visualize your data.

For example, marketers should use a funnel or pipeline visualization to analyze a marketing and sales funnel.

You should also think about how to categorize specific data. For example, you might want to group a line chart of keywords Google's Top 3 from SEMrush, organic search traffic from Google Analytics, and leads from search from HubSpot onto one dashboard.

Or you could display follower and comment counts from different social services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Youtube in another dashboard.

This is the beauty of reporting tools: you can batch data from multiple services and compare them to each other. However, as an agency it's your job, to formulate your reports in a clear way. Be careful not to overload your client with complex metrics.

With automated reporting, weekly, monthly, and annual numbers are always available and you’ll be able to introduce all kinds of metrics that might confuse your clients.

Remember, if the client can’t understand your data, you must present it in a simpler way.

Step 7) Roll out your reports internally.

Before you roll out your marketing reports to clients, show them to your account managers and service team. Some agencies make their account managers build reports. However, we’ve found agencies are much more successful when one of their team members builds out reports and then sends them to the account managers for review.

Even though you should standardize your reports as much as possible, each client report requires some customization. Your account managers will most likely know what your client wants to see, so letting them approve the reports is crucial.

Step 8) Position automated reporting as a benefit for your clients.

Automated reporting saves you time, which might be the primary reason why you're implementing it. Your clients also benefit from your ability to reallocate saved time towards analyzing and improving their numbers.

You shouldn't position its value proposition this way, though. Position it in a way that will help them understand how automate reporting directly benefits their business, rather than describing how benefiting yourself will benefit them too.

A way you can do this is by positioning to clients as “real time reporting. Why is this effective? Being able to instantly access their campaign's performance data is a benefit to them. And by transitioning to real-time reporting, they can:

  • Monitor their results more closely.
  • Ensure you’re achieving daily progress towards goals.
  • Adapt your plan more frequently based on what’s working.
  • Catch any issues (like getting zero clicks from a PPC campaign you just set up) before they affect the sales funnel.

For more advanced clients who have larger traffic and lead volume, you can also position your new reporting process as a launching pad for more in-depth analysis of their marketing and sales funnels.

Since you can analyze new data more consistently, you can teach all your employees (and clients) how to identify new opportunities for improvement from the data you already have or by using new tools.

If you’re going to position it this way, make sure you can follow through on your promise. Consider proactively rolling out a new report to every client each month -- like a “report of the month” update.

Lastly, you can position your new reporting system as a better way to visualize data. Often times, agencies use a mix of KPI spreadsheets and cut-and-paste graphs from multiple tools, so each graph has its own color scheme, x and y-axis, terminology, and formatting.

Scanning a deck with 30 unique graphs is cognitively draining for your client. Consistent visualization makes it easy for your clients to understand and draw conclusions from your reports.

By using a centralized tool to view all your data, you can also synchronize data from different services to different time periods, as you can see below.

Dashboard-2.png

Step 9) Determine a plan to regularly share results.

Your reporting strategy should aim to update your clients, not overwhelm them with every little thing that happens over the month.

If your client is pretty new to online marketing and doesn't have a lot of marketing assets, anything more than a monthly review would inundate them. But if your clients have a large amount of traffic, leads, or ad budget, a daily review might be the right call.

Most tools allow you to set up different reporting timeframes:

  • Real-time or Daily: In addition to reviewing your data on your desktop or wall-mounted TVs, if your reporting tool has a mobile app, email or Slack notifications, you can send automated updates more frequently to internal team members and/or clients.
  • Weekly: Weekly updates can also be mobile or email-based. Use this to make sure you’re not falling too far behind any monthly goals you’ve set.
  • Monthly: This is your full monthly report. Use it for analysis, making recommendations, and interpreting your data.
  • Quarterly: Use this report to propose new, big initiatives. Recap the progress from the last 3 months (or longer) and show your client how you can deliver even more value if they invest more in your agency.

Step 10) Figure out which devices each client uses to view their reports.

Some of your clients will be more excited about automated reporting than others. If they’re very data-driven, you can display their reports on an office TV. Or, you can allow clients to view reports on their smartphones. This allows them to constantly monitor their data wherever they go.

We actually know of one agency who purchases a TV for their clients and actually hangs it up on their CEO's wall.

Other clients might want you to do all the analysis and prefer only monthly updates. In that case, just send them a URL to their report, tell them to bookmark it, and continue your monthly meeting cadence.

Step 11) Set concrete goals with your clients.

We’ve spoken with many agencies that set goals in the sales process but don't revisit them with the client until contract renewal time.

As a result, month six rolls around and neither the client nor the agency remembers what goal they set or why they set it. Don't risk losing a client because you either found out you never actually hit the goal or the original goal became unimportant to them.

Set goals inside your visualization tool, so that it plots your current performance against your goals.

By entering your goals into your reporting software, it becomes significantly easier to review your progress during monthly meetings and adapt the goal or monthly plan with clear agreement between you and your client.

Goals superimposed over performance data provides a monthly reference point. If you’re consistently hitting goals, you’re much more likely to upsell clients on new services or more of your current work. But, if your outstanding overachievement isn’t clear and obvious, it’s a lot harder to retain business.

You can also use goals to hold your client's sales team accountable too. You could be generating a ton of demand for your client, but without concrete goals, a dip in sales will likely get you the axe first and not their sales team.

Closing Thoughts

With the crap-work eliminated, your agency can spend more time combing through your client’s data for growth opportunities, impress them with careful analysis and data-driven recommendations, and become the trusted partners you aim to be.

Ultimately, automated reporting will help your agency retain clients, upsell them, and boost employee satisfaction.

30+ Free Instagram Tools to Help You Grow Your Following

More than 700 million people use Instagram and 400 million of those users check the app daily.

With such a large audience, and some incredibly business friendly updates such as Instagram Ads, Stories, and Business Tools, Instagram is becoming a must-have channel in many social media marketing strategies.

So how can you stand out from the crowd and grow your Instagram following?

We’ve previously shared proven tactics for growing your following and easy ways to increase your organic reach. And this time, we would love to share a big list of free Instagram tools that’ll help you to grow your following.

Going beyond the usual photo editing tools, we’ll also be sharing tools for finding the best hashtags to use, running Instagram contests, displaying your Instagram posts on your website, and more.

Let’s dive right in.

30+ Free Instagram Tools to Help You Grow Your Following

30+ free Instagram tools to help you grow your following

It’s wonderful to think that there are so many free tools available to help you grow your Instagram following.

Here’s a round up of over 30 free Instagram tools that can help you with your Instagram marketing, everything from creating amazing Instagram posts and stories to finding the best hashtags, to planning your Instagram schedule, to analyzing your Instagram performance.

Note: Some of the tools mentioned below have limited features on their free plan and offer more features in their paid plans.

1. Photo Editor by Aviary

Photo Editor by Aviary is one of the most comprehensive and highly recommended photo editing apps. With the app, you can enhance a photo with a single tap, add effects and stickers, draw, add text, and more.

There are over one-thousand free photo effects, stickers, and frames in the app but more are available for purchase if you’d like to expand your library.

Photo Editor by Aviary is available on Android, iOS, and Windows, which means you can most likely use it regardless of which smartphone you’re using.

2. PicFlow

PicFlow

With PicFlow, you can easily create 15-second video slideshows for Instagram in three quick steps:

  1. Select your photos
  2. Select a music
  3. Set the timing of each photo by tapping

If you would like to make longer videos, remove the (tiny) watermark, or unlock more transitions between photos, you can purchase them from within the app for less than $3.

Pic Flow is available on Android and iOS.

3. Canva

Canva

Canva is one of our favorite free design tools for creating images for social media, blog posts, and more.

The team at Canva has created many amazing Instagram stories templates that you can customize. The templates come in the ideal dimensions so you can focus on the design and not worry about getting the aspect ratio and size right.

Just pick a template and change the text, images, and background to your liking.

(Canva has an iOS app for those who like to design on the go. Or you can use it to download your designs to your mobile phone directly.)

4. Adobe Spark

Adobe Spark

Adobe Spark is another free design tool that we love at Buffer.

Here’s a unique feature of Adobe Spark that I like: just by turning a dial in the editor, I can get different design recommendations for my caption.

You can learn more about how to create Instagram stories with Adobe Spark and get 10 free Instagram stories templates here.

5. StoriesAds

StoriesAds

StoriesAds is an online tool for creating Instagram Stories ads (and good-looking vertical videos).

It provides several templates you can work with so that you don’t have to create a video from scratch. The intuitive video editor also prompts you about the things you have to change to customize the video.

As it is stated on the site that it is “Free for a limited time”, you might have to pay to use the tool in the future.

6 – 9. Other content creation tools

  1. InstaSize (Android, iOS, and Windows)
  2. PicPlayPost (AndroidiOS, and Windows)
  3. Quick (Android and iOS)
  4. Studio Design (Android and iOS)

If you are interested in knowing more mobile apps for creating content, you might like our roundup of 26 apps to help you create epic content on your smartphone.

10. Buffer

Buffer for Instagram

Planning your Instagram posts in advance can help you save time and ensure that your profile is well-curated and consistent.

As you might know, Instagram doesn’t allow third-party tools to post directly to Instagram, unlike most other social media platforms. While Buffer can’t help you post on your behalf, we would love to help you plan and schedule posting reminders.

On the free plan, you can plan your Instagram marketing for one account. If you would like to connect multiple Instagram accounts or get the analytics, you could give Buffer for Business a go.

GET STARTED WITH BUFFER FOR INSTAGRAM >>>

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Buffer for Instagram is Here: 8 Ways to Get Your Best Instagram Marketing Results with Buffer

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11. Display Purposes

Display Purposes

Display Purposes is a great tool for finding the best hashtags to use for your Instagram posts.

Simply type in a few hashtags related to your Instagram post and Display Purposes will generate a list of hashtags that are relevant and popular. It also filters out banned and spammy hashtags.

You can then manually select the hashtags you want to use or let Display Purposes pick what it thinks might be the best combination of hashtags.

12. Focalmark

Focalmark

Focalmark is very similar to Display Purposes, except that the suggested hashtags are generated from a list of handpicked hashtags (and it’s a mobile app).

Focalmark is available on Android and iOS.

13. AutoHash

AutoHash

AutoHash uses its computer vision algorithms to recommend the best hashtags to use.

Select a photo in the app and AutoHash will analyze the objects in your photo and suggest relevant hashtags. If you have your GPS turned on, it will also suggest location-based hashtags.

AutoHash is currently available on Android only.

14. UNUM

UNUM wants to help you design your perfect Instagram gallery.

The visual planner in the app allows you to see how your gallery would look like after you post your next few photos. You can also edit your photos and videos, draft your caption and hashtags, and schedule your posts with the app.

In its free plan, you get 18 grids to plan your posts and 500 photo and video uploads per month, which I believe are sufficient for small-to-medium businesses. If you would like to have more planning grids and a higher upload limit, UNUM offers two paid subscription plans at $2.99 and $6.99 per month.

UNUM is available on iOS and Android (in beta currently).

15. Later

Later

Later is a popular marketing platform for Instagram, which allows you to visually plan and schedule your Instagram posts.

Just like Buffer, at your scheduled times, Later will send you a notification via its mobile app, prompting you to post on Instagram.

On the free plan, you can schedule up to 30 photos per month, search and repost user-generated content (UGC), and get basic analytics.

16 – 17. Other planning tools

  1. Hootsuite
  2. Sprout Social

18. Repost for Instagram

Repost for Instagram

Repost for Instagram lets you repost an Instagram post on your Instagram account with just a few taps while also giving credit to the post owner. It is available on Android and iOS.

Before you repost any photos or videos, remember to get permission from the post owner and give her or him credit in your caption. This is required by Instagram’s Term of Use and is doing right by the amazing creators and businesses on Instagram.

To get permission for reposting the post, you can use any one of the following ways:

  • Send the post owner a direct message
  • Comment on the post
  • Connect via email

Some people do ask for a fee for using their photos since it’s part of their livelihood. Be sure to iron out such details before reposting any Instagram post.

If you are using the Buffer mobile app — Android or iOS, you can also easily add a repost into your Buffer queue after you have gotten the permission to repost it.

19. ShortStack

ShortStack

We have found that hosting giveaway contests on Instagram is a great way to drive engagement and reach on Instagram.

ShortStack has a tool for organizing user-generated content (UGC) contests, where participants enter by posting a photo with your hashtag on Instagram. ShortStack will then collect and display the UGC, which can help you increase your brand.

On the free plan, you can host an unlimited number of contests and collect up to 100 entries. ShortStack also has paid plans if you want to collect more entries and get more advanced features.

20. Gleam

Gleam

Gleam takes a slightly different approach to social media contests. It has an Instagram widget which you can add to your website and drive visitors to your Instagram account.

For example, you could require people to follow you on Instagram or view a particular Instagram post to participate in your contest.

On the free plan, you can host an unlimited number of contests, accept an unlimited number of entries, and select up to 10 winners. If you would like to get more features such as adding a feature image and customizing your widget, Gleam has two paid plans: Pro ($39 per month) and Business ($149 per month).

21. Feed Them Social

Feed Them Social

Feed Them Social is a WordPress plugin for displaying your social media feeds on your website. By having your Instagram feed on your website, you could encourage your visitors to check out and follow your Instagram account.

According to reviews of the plugin, it takes only a few clicks to set up the feed and the team provides excellent, timely support.

You can see a demo of our Instagram feed here.

22 – 24. Other WordPress plugins

  1. Instagram Feed
  2. AccessPress Instagram Feed
  3. Instagram Feed WD

25. Instagram Insights

Instagram Insights

Instagram Insights is the Instagram analytics for users with a business profile.

In there, you can see the performance of your Instagram posts and stories and get insights about your followers such as when they are active on Instagram.

If you would like to learn more about Instagram Insights, we went more in-depth into the metrics you can get and the things you could do with your Instagram analytics in our Instagram analytics guide.

26. Squarelovin

Squarelovin

If you don’t have a business profile on Instagram, you could use an Instagram analytics tool like Squarelovin.

Squarelovin has a free Instagram insights tool that provides you with your engagement and growth metrics, shows your posting history, and suggests the best times to post.

27 – 30+. Other analytics tools

  1. Keyhole
  2. Union Metrics Instagram account checkup

For more Instagram analytics tools, check out our Instagram analytics guide where we share seven more free Instagram analytics tools.

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What’s your favorite free Instagram tool?

Growing an Instagram following is challenging. But with the right tools, it can become much easier to create quality content, engage your followers, and analyze your performance — which will help you grow your following.

What’s your favorite free Instagram tool that I’ve missed in this post? It’ll be great if you want to give it a shout out below and share what you like about it!

Thanks!

Image credit: Unsplash and the respective tools