Building & Managing Your Community in the Digital Age

No one ever said building your brand is an easy process, and if someone did say that, they were dead wrong.

In fact, building and managing a successful community takes countless hours of dedication, hard work, and most importantly – the knowledge and experience to overcome the many obstacles one comes across during this process.

Let’s face it. Not everyone is cut out for the marketing world, but for those who are – here’s what you need to know about the keys to building and managing your online community in the digital age.

1. Establish goals
Establishing goals is sort of a given. Whenever you begin any sort of project, goals are essential.

After all, if you don’t have goals, how do you know what you’re working towards?

Goals should be established with a holistic approach, looking at the business, campaign or brand as a whole.

Now, don’t go ahead and shoot yourself in the foot by choosing a set of goals that are unattainable.

Of course, we want to reach for the stars and set expectations high, but don’t set them too high where they’re almost impossible to accomplish.

After your goals are set, make sure you explain yourself and what each goal means to the brand. Remember the why’s and what’s in this process, so clients have a better understanding of where you’re coming from.

2. Define KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators)
What’s the million dollar question here? For most – it’s how will you measure your performance to show clients that their dollars are being put to good use.

With so many analytical tools and systems that are available at little to no cost, it’s easy to have your statistics automatically generated in the traditional format that thousands of other businesses do as well.

Sounds lame, right?

Be creative when proving your value! Develop your own unique document for proving your KPIs and give your clients something to talk about.

3. Develop a creative strategy
While this is a creative process, the strategy really needs to be the most creative of all.

Start by having a brain storming session with your team where you all can openly discuss your ideas. Weed out the good from the bad and put together an extensive list.

After you’ve got a strategic list of ideas, the next step is to put together an outline.

I know, I know. Outlines are boring and a pain to create.

But guess what? They work.

Have a vision for a 12 month strategy with broad ideas for all 12 months, but focus primarily on one quarter (3 months) at a time.

This way, you can hold brain storming sessions every 3 months. This way you and your team will be able to develop some fresh and exciting ideas each quarter!

Thinking strategically, you also want to make sure that the tools you’re using match your goals. Whether this means your tools will be social media, content, email marketing or even media outreach, make sure these match up with whatever your goals are.

4. Do work
After all this planning, it’s finally time to actually do the work.

  • Set up your analytics
  • Follow your strategy and execute with confidence
  • Be consistent with the quality of your work
  • Stay focused on the big picture – your goals

5. Evaluate progress
After all the analysis that goes into building a strategy and executing it, the last step is to evaluate the entire process.

Once you’ve reached the end of your first or second quarter, look at what you’ve accomplished thus far. How many goals have you reached? What’s working and what isn’t?

Chances are, you’ve found out what techniques work best for this client and which ones aren’t as effective. It’s okay if not everything worked out as anticipated. This is all part of the process.

Keep in mind that every client is different, and every industry draws in people in different ways. Each strategy is a learning experience, so never allow a small hiccup to interfere with the future of your clients growth.

What has your experience been like when building or managing a community in the new digital world?

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What NOT to do When Writing a Press Release

The quickest way to kill a relationship with the news media is by sending a bad press release. In addition to good grammar, a press release should be newsworthy and pique a reporter’s interest. Keep in mind, that a reporter’s mailbox is flooded with press releases from other companies and non-profits on a daily basis. Therefore, you want your release to stand out from the bunch.

Here are five things NOT to do when writing a press release:

Write a boring headline

It’s true, first impressions really do last a lifetime. Because the headline is the first thing reporters will read, it’s the most important. If you do not start out with a strong, attention-grabbing headline, your release will mostly get thrown into the recycle bin.

Drag out the story

Like most of us, reporters are busy people. The last thing they want to do is read the entire release to get to the story. Reporters should be able to read the first sentence of the release and know exactly what it is about. Get to the point!

Lack of structure

A press release that lacks structure will not be taken seriously. Here’s a little bit of housekeeping: a press release should be no longer than a page. If you have babbled into the second page, start over. The words “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” should be at the top of every page. And while some like to write the headline in bold or capital letters, I try to stick to the AP Style guide. I capitalize the first word and nouns, but no bold. Underneath the headline you should include a catchy subhead. This is often italicized.

No coherent message

One of the most common press release writing mistakes is not including a message. Before you even begin typing, ask yourself what are you trying to get across. It can be hard for a PR professional to put their ego aside and write something the news media will actually care about. For example, your company is launching a new product, who cares? Explain how this new product is going to benefit the consumer. Think like a journalist.

Make grammatical errors

This, I cannot emphasize enough. Proofread your release a couple times and let a co-worker look it over too. One single mistake can deter a reporter from publishing your release. More important, a grammatically correct press release will make a good impression of you and your company (recall what I said about impressions).

The purpose of a press release is to inform the news media and the industry-at-large of your company’s latest developments. This includes product launches, new hires, announcements, you name it. The press release has many benefits. But, remember, what may be newsworthy to you may not be newsworthy to the reporter. Always avoid wordy sentences and corporate jargon. Be succinct, and get to the point!

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6 Things Sports Have Taught Me About Life in the Professional World

As some, not many, of Mountain Media’s clients know, I’m a former high school and college athlete, a swimmer, working my way through the professional world after having survived four of the most physically strenuous years of my life known as my collegiate career. While my former athletic glory ended several years ago, there are still plenty of times throughout a normal work day when I actually stop and think about something and realize, “Hey, I learned this from swimming all of those years!”

Unfortunately, there are some things I never learned, and will never learn, about the real world from my sport – like the fact that I cannot, actually, eat whatever I please and drink whatever I please and never gain a pound, that working out isn’t as easy to fit into your daily routine as it once was and that not every man I meet will look as good as a Division 1 swimmer in a Speedo (bummer). But there are some truly amazing life lessons that I’ve learned from sports that I will never forget, and that have helped to shape me into the young professional that I am today. I figured my company’s lovely blog would be as good a place as any to share these lessons with all of our loyal followers, and all of you athletes with bright professional futures out there!

Problem Solving is Like A Competition

You know that feeling that you get when you’re in a game or competition (or, in my case, a meet), and you glance over at one of your competitors and just stare them down because you want to beat them so badly? That competitive drive isn’t a bad thing – it’s something that good athletes are born and bred with, and it’s something that I’ve found really helps me in my problem solving skills, believe it or not.

When I’m faced with a problem or situation that I don’t know how to solve, I feel that same competitive drive within me to challenge myself to be better than I think I am and solve whatever problem it is I’m facing. I dig deep, I mentally pep-talk myself into believing that I know the solution, and I do things that I sometimes never thought I was capable of doing. That’s the competitor in me – no problem is too big to beat, even at my job.

Nerves Are Good

When you’re preparing for a big competition, the butterflies and knots in your stomach are natural, because you know how badly you want to win and you know the work that you’ll have to put in to accomplish your goals. When you finally get to game day, the nerves get even crazier, then turn into great energy that propels you to win.

The same is true in the professional world. When I have a big presentation or meeting that I’m preparing for, I feel nervous. I want to sign new clients and impress existing ones, and I can relate that feeling back to the way I felt when I would step up on the blocks to race. I turn my nervous butterflies into internal energy that drives me to put in my best efforts to prepare the right way for whatever it is I have coming up. Then I use the nerves to my advantage – they give me more external energy during presentations and meetings that show an excitement for what I do, and that excitement shines through to current and potential clients.

Teamwork is Awesome

Probably one of the most rewarding aspects of being involved in a sport is that sense of family that you get from your teammates. My teammates were my family – we lived together in college, we trained together, we ate together, we partied together. They were my life. And when I would be in a race, I would see and hear their cheers the whole way through, knowing that they were there supporting me while I struggled to beat the girl in the lane next to me.

Even though swimming was an individual sport, I learned so much about teamwork because I could never have swam the races that I did without the encouragement of my teammates. The same is true here at Mountain Media – I couldn’t do what I do without my team. Everyone contributes, everyone’s ideas count and everyone is there to support each other when one of us is struggling. That’s the only way that we succeed, that we win, as a marketing department – when all of us work together. Thanks, swimming, for teaching me how to be a part of a team!

I’m Really Good at Math

To be honest, I was a broadcast journalism major in college. I studied writing and interviewing and I learned how to speak well in front of a camera. I always thought I was terrible at math, but I’ve been wrong all along, and it took working here at Mountain Media for me to realize that.

As a swimmer, we train on interval times, and our workouts consist of “sets” of repetitions of specific distances. Long story short – there’s a ton of math involved in a swimming workout. I never realized this until suddenly I started breaking down numbers at my job like it was nothing – things like hours on a project, hourly rates, the amount of work that should be done under a given client budget, analytical numbers, ROI statistics, etc.

My point here is that my sport taught me about something that I never considered myself to be good at, and it took me until my fourth year in the real world to realize all of the skills that I possess that I’ve never really put to use. Don’t sell yourself short in any aspect of your professional life. Your sport might have taught you something you never knew until you try it at your job!

It’s OK to Have Good Days and Bad Days

Every athlete has good days and bad days, both in practice and in competition. And it’s hard not to walk away from a bad practice feeling frustrated and disappointed in yourself for not performing to your usual standards. But despite that feeling, you go back the next day for more, without missing a beat.

Even in the professional world, it’s perfectly fine to have good days and bad days, and everyone has them. What sports taught me was how to move past the bad days and keep on the track towards totally rocking at my job. Nothing can bring me down for more than a day at a time.

Early is On Time!

Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I learned from my swimming career came from one coach that I had from the time that I was about 11 years old all the way through my college career – “Early is on time.” As terrible as it was to drag my tired self out of bed at 5am for morning swim practice, I knew that I couldn’t be late, because if I was, there would be a treacherous punishment just waiting for me when I finally arrived at the pool (have any of you ever done 1,000 straight yards of butterfly in a pool? A recommendation – if you don’t know what it’s like, don’t find out!).

As a result, I was never late. Ever. Not for practice, not for classes in college, and now not for work or meetings or presentations or anything else. In fact, I’m usually 10 or 15 minutes early to the things that are most important to me (social events aside, since we all know that being fashionably late is way cooler than being the first one at a party – duh). It’s this engrained little seed in the back of my mind as a result of that one coach – being 15 minutes early to everything means that you’ll always be on time.

While I may not be quite as ripped as I used to be in college, and I can’t eat my way through rough days without facing the consequences, I can still relate a lot of what I do in my professional life back to my sport. I’ve grown up since my major swimming days (I do still train and compete, but it’s for me now, not anyone else) and I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I know that the majority of elite athletes out there have futures in something other than their sports. So take what you can from your sport and learn from it. It’ll make you a better person, and a better professional, in the long run.

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Blogging in A PCI Compliant Ecommerce World: Tips and Tricks

It came up in an office discussion the other day here at Mountain Media what would be within best practice and of maximum benefit when it comes to blogging for ecommerce sites. Sure, you can write your topics surrounding your products and give customers more insight into what it is your site sells, or you can give anecdotal stories about your company and who you are or even post photos of your staff with a story from the day. But what we were discussing in our offices went much further than just topic selection.

I thought it would be best, then, to attempt to clear up some of the questions that many marketers and business owners have when it comes to blogging for an ecommerce site. With some help from our Project Manager here at Mountain Media, Matt Sawyer, we were able to come up with some tips and tricks for implementing, designing and populating an ecommerce blog.

Start with the Hosting

When we design and implement a blog for an ecommerce client, we typically use a third-party blog host (WordPress is obviously our go-to) and, working with the DNS provider (which is us in many cases), deploy the blog located at a subdomain of the clients’ websites. For example, if we’re working on a site with the domain name www.awesomepartyhats.com (this isn’t actually one of our sites, just using an example!), we will deploy the blog at blog.awesomepartyhats.com.

The other option in terms of hosting and deployment would be to place the blog in a location that is an extension of the client’s existing domain name – so rather than blog.awesomepartyhats.com, we might set it up at www.awesomepartyhats.com/blog. Both have their positives and negatives.

Obviously, an extension of an existing domain will help you build links to the overall domain itself should people begin to share and/or link to your original posts. This is a major SEO win for the domain as a whole and can help big time when it comes to improving your overall search engine visibility for your website and your business. However, with ecommerce sites, it’s not always this easy.

Here at Mountain Media, this is much easier said than done. Because we are a Level 1 PCI Compliant payment solutions provider with our Web Payment Software application and we handle cardholder information on a regular basis, it would be against our high-set standards to incorporate a third-party blog host provider into one of our securely hosted domains. This is something you should always think about if you have an ecommerce website that you’re interested in blogging for – check with your DNS provider to make sure that whatever blog you’re hosting and deploying will fall under that same umbrella of PCI Compliance where the rest of your website already is. If you can’t host a third-party blog, you’ll have to have one custom designed, coded and implemented as an additional page of your website, which could run up your marketing and programming costs with your site’s host provider.

PCI Compliance is big with ecommerce sites because they handle so much cardholder information – and you don’t want your customers to trust you any less because you’ve implemented a blog that is no longer in compliance. And while hosting a blog at blog.awesomepartyhats.com won’t be as big of an SEO win for that business as www.awesomepartyhats.com/blog would be, your main concern should be compliance and trust. Stay within your limits and implement a blog that works for your whole website, not just your SEO efforts.

Move on to the Design

Since it’s not as easy to gain SEO benefit with a PCI compliant ecommerce blog, you’ll have to find another way to leverage this blog space to work for the rest of your website overall. Start with the design of the blog. Even if you’re using a third-party blog host such as WordPress, you can still have a custom theme designed that matches the design and branding of the rest of your website. Work with your site’s host provider and graphic designer to have the design code properly copied over from your website to your blog.

This can help in your branding efforts, as visitors to the blog will recognize the color scheme, logos and font choices from your website, as well as have this third-party blog appear as if it’s been a part of your website all along. It’s consistent, and people (especially customers) love consistency.

Populating Your Blog

I’d like to get to a few things under this section for populating your blog once you have it designed and implemented in a way that’s compliant with your PCI level and that works for your SEO efforts. This is where the content that you post to your ecommerce blog will really come into play, as that is ultimately the determining factor in your blog’s success for your marketing and SEO strategies.

  • Posts About Products: If you’re going to post about the products that you sell, don’t just give an overview of the product itself – that’s boring, to be honest, and nobody will want to link to you or share your post. Instead, find a way to make the product interesting. Does it have a particularly awesome history or background to it? Did you get an interesting story from a customer who recently bought the product? Are there similar products you can compare and contrast this one to? Can you offer a giveaway of this product?
  • Answers to Questions: These kinds of posts can be absolute gems for your blog. Pick a question that you are frequently asked about what you sell, and don’t be afraid to tackle topics that your competitors are afraid to answer. Marcus Sheridan knows a thing or two about that, and he can track over $1 million in sales back to one blog post that answers a very broad question that his competitors have always been afraid to address. Find something that your customers are actively looking for more information on, and give them exactly what they want to know.
  • Thought Leader Posts: Another great way to attract attention to your ecommerce blog is to put yourself in a position as a thought leader in your industry. Give advice on how to set up or use certain products that you sell, recommend one product over another and explain your reasoning, give a description of what a particular product can do for you that people might not have though of before – get creative. Establish yourself as a leader and people will naturally follow you.

Use caution when inserting links into your blog posts – don’t over-stuff the links back to your own site, but place them strategically throughout sporadic posts instead. This is far more natural than linking to your website several times in each blog post, but it’s important to remember to incorporate self-serving links at the same time. It’s a constant struggle between too much and not enough, but as long as you remember to keep the linking natural, you’ll be fine. If it doesn’t fit in a particular post, then don’t add it.

With that said, remember, too, that linking to your own website, especially if your blog is located on a subdomain, can be excellent self-serving backlinks. And while people linking to and sharing your posts won’t necessarily help your website in the same way a blog located at an extension of your domain would, search engines will still manage to associate share links with your site itself, in turn boosting your SEO signals.

And linking out to other sites isn’t bad – in fact, it’s a great idea! Many ecommerce business owners don’t feel comfortable linking to other resources with similar information to their own sites because they’re hoping to promote their own business with their blog. Don’t be afraid, though – linking to resources that are similar to your business and your industry only helps search engines associate your article and your entire blog with a particular topic. It’s the power of co-citation, and search engines love it, so make sure you’re linking out to resourceful, trustworthy sites and other blogs that are similar to your own in order to establish that recognition.

Blogging for ecommerce websites can be different for a number of different reasons, but as long as you implement your blog in a way that works for you and the security of your website, keep a consistent design with that of your site and know the types of posts and links that will work, you’ll be just fine, and your blog can end up being a top source of traffic for your website regardless of where it’s located on the Web.

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