Professional Development Q&A with Kevin Adema

This post is the third in a series of Q&A sessions with friends, former colleagues, acquaintances and other contacts who I consider both influential and inspirational. Each of these individuals possesses a skillset that I believe you will find valuable. They have each made an impact throughout my career path and I wanted to feature them in this series.

Part 1   Part 2

Name: Kevin Adema (@KevinAdema)
Profession: Digital marketing consultant and educator
Degree: B.A. Business & Psychology, post-secondary CAAP designation from

I was introduced to Kevin at Second Wind’s Agency Account Manager College in Chicago last spring. I was lucky enough to attend last spring’s two-day certification, where Kevin was a featured presenter. As the only agency representative in attendance that worked for a digital-only agency, I was dubious Kevin would tell me something I didn’t think I already knew.

Thankfully, Kevin’s presentation offered a wealth of new ideas and perspective on the state of digital and how agencies are falling behind. Even though I was working for a digital first agency, there was still plenty I learned and I’ve remained in contact with Kevin ever since.

Please check out his website and look into his classes on digital strategy. You won’t regret it. I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Kevin Adema.

1) How does your current profession align with the degree you graduated
with? If you have held other jobs, how closely have they been aligned?
Education’s aim is always to empower and to train the student “how” to
think, “how” to learn and then, “how” to apply. My formal education paved
the path for me to have knowledge in both the business and personal realm
so in that regard, it is fully aligned with what I do currently. Are the
specifics from one course or another directly linked to my daily practice?
Not really as in my field of marketing, every day presents new issues.
Moreover, as marketing marries businesses with consumers, a marketer must
be a continual student, obsessed with learning and continually willing to

2) What did you ‘plan to do’ after college and how close is that to what
you’re doing at this point in your career? Were there any deviations
along the way and did they help/hurt your path to your current job?
I didn’t have an exact ideal job in mind. I love business and I love
working with people. I was blessed to start my career in an agency as
marketing fuses my two professional passions together.

Deviations: no, not really. I’d say there were delays: Agency life can be
grinding as we get wound up in the daily ebb and flow of turning work
over. These patterns of “busy” can keep a person stuck and not growing.


3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
Be obsessively humble. Marketing is NOT about you and moreover, it’s
definitely NOT about the brand. Marketing is about understanding human
behavior and real human needs and then, filling those needs. I’d humbly give free access to our Fundamentals course to any marketing professional.

4) What do like the most about your profession?
The exact moment when someone says: “now I get it” and they get fired up,
excited and passionate about doing digital the right way.

5) What is the biggest challenge you face in your profession?
I’m battling 100-year old legacy thinking. It’s deeply entrenched into our
academics and established business protocols. Although millions of dollars
have been spent proving the “old way” isn’t working, change is never easy
even if it’s desperately needed.

6) How has your industry changed during your time as a professional?
When I first started in an agency, we still had CMYK film and Quark was
the epitome of a designers toolbox. Those are long gone and digital
has completely changed how marketing works forever. We can’t use
traditional media approaches where we talk AT an audience. Digital has
given the consumer a voice and real power. It’s a dialogue, not a

7) Why do people leave your field or company? Do you agree with why they

Marketing is not 9-5. Burn out, stress, fatigue are all factors.
Marketing is also very people centric. Any time you put more than 1 person
in a room, there exists a good chance for drama and politics.
I’ve learned many hard lessons dealing with people. I’ve made many
mistakes but hopefully, I’ve also empowered and taught enough people to
make a difference.

8) Are you considering leaving your current field or company?

9) What is your favorite social media platform?
Any coffee shop where two people can put their mobile devices away and sit
face-to-face and talk. 🙂

If I had to choose, probably Linkedin as it attempts to stay professional
but as with most platforms, it’s loaded with content and not discussions.

10) What was the last book you read?  The last TED talk or othere-learning content you consumed?
I have a very large business library and use it frequently. The most
recent book I’ve spent the most dedicated time in was: “The Shift” by
Scott M. Davis. His philosophy of how marketers must change to become
leaders of tomorrow has inspired much of my work.

11) Where do you receive your news and information
A. Print Newspaper
B. Online Newspaper
C. Television
D. Twitter
E. Facebook
F. Other

Yes to all, but remember, reading or watching is not necessarily learning.
For example, if I read something in a certain publication that has an
inherent certain slant, have I learned the truth? NO. I’ve learned a
perspective on the truth. Read always to gain information from numerous
sources and then learn how to combine it for value. When numerous credible
sources all point to the same outcome, you have knowledge.

12) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a
I am married to a wonderful woman and we have three beautiful kids.
Spending time with them is my hobby and of course, I wish I could do it
more than I do.

Professional Development Q&A with Karen Freberg

This post is the second in a series of Q&A sessions with friends, former colleagues, acquaintances and other contacts who I consider both influential and inspirational. Each of these individuals possesses a skillset that I believe you will find valuable. They have each made an impact throughout my career path and I wanted to feature them in this series.

Name: Karen Freberg (@kfreberg)
Profession: Assistant Professor in Strategic Communications
Degree: Ph.D from the University of Tennessee (Communications), M.A from University of Southern California (Strategic Public Relations), and B.S from University of Florida (Public Relations).

If I remember correctly, I started following Karen on Twitter within the last year. In fact, I believe I discovered her via my first Q&A subject Chris Yandle. Social media is a funny thing, you can really feel like you get to know someone based on their Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat content. You can also get introduced some very cool people whom you might not have otherwise got to know.

Through Twitter I learned early that Karen is not only a passionate instructor of all things social media, she’s a practitioner as well. There are so many speakers, instructors and others out there who discuss social and its best practices and it becomes obvious they’re not practicing what they preach. Karen however is active on social, especially on Twitter and Snapchat and she was an obvious choice to feature on my blog. I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Karen Freberg.

1) How does your current profession align with the degree you graduated with? If you have held other jobs, how closely have they been aligned?
I’d have to say my current role is very closely aligned. I always knew I wanted to go into teaching, but I didn’t know in what until I discovered PR during my first year at the University of Florida. I was a pre-med major (didn’t last long) before switching to psychology. However, thanks to my athletic academic advisor at the time, she saw what I was doing in promoting myself as a student-athlete online (websites, newsletters, etc) and suggested PR. Took my first class and the rest is history!

2) What did you ‘plan to do’ after college and how close is that to what you’re doing at this point in your career? Were there any deviations along the way and did they help/hurt your path to your current job?
Pretty close! I have always been a fan of technology, so teaching courses in strategic communications and social media really make sense to me. It’s been a fun journey and one that makes me very happy. It’s a combination of research, teaching, mentorship, and practicing what I am preaching in class with consulting and speaking engagements.


3)What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
Learning does not end after school. You are going to have to work hard, continue educating yourself, and networking within and outside of your chosen field. This is a field that is constantly changing, so you need to work hard to keep up.

4) What do like the most about your profession?
The fact that it is constantly changing and evolving. I get bored REALLY easily and if I was doing the same thing every day – that wouldn’t work. I love learning and exploring new ways of solving problems, identifying opportunities, and helping others.

5) What is the biggest challenge you face in your profession?
I’d say time management. We all have time, but we decide to spend it on certain things. It’s our most precious currency and we have to make the most of it. Some people do, but a lot of people don’t.

6) Has your industry changed during your time as a professional?
YEP! I remember when I was working and doing my internships, MySpace was the place to be. However, I try to actively take on projects and consult so I am able to stay in touch with the profession still as an educator. Plus, my research is very much on the applied side, so that also helps.

7) Why do people leave your field or company? Do you agree with why they leave?
I have had a few friends leave academia to go into practice, and I think it all comes down to what their overall goals are personally. Each case was different – but life is a journey and I have always supported my friends in their decisions. Thanks to social media, we all are able to stay in touch!

8) Are you considering leaving your current field or company?
NOPE. Never has crossed my mind. Love what I do!

9) What is your favorite social media platform?
This is a hard one!! I’d have to say Twitter for networking and being able to connect my students with professionals. It’s been my go to platform for my classes for years. I’d have to say I am also a fan of Snapchat and Instagram (especially Instagram Stories) is slowly growing on me.

10) What was the last book you read? The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
I read Mark Schaefer’s latest book “Known” and it was pretty good. I am an avid reader of online content and the last piece I read was an article about why people were leaving Snapchat to go over to Instagram. Fascinating!

11) Where do you receive your news and information?
I’d have to say a variety of places. I spend about 15 minutes at the beginning of the day to catch up with what is happening in the field, society and world. I have a list of industry, local, national, and international resources I check on a regular basis. This is my morning routine always with a cup of coffee in hand.

12) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
Love working out and cooking. I am currently training for my second mini marathon (did my first one last year to celebrate my 10 year anniversary of my retirement from track and field!) I also love photography and traveling. I have a few trips planned out for this spring as well as summer (including going to the Cannes Lions Festival) for work, which I am excited about. Exploring new places, cultures, and environments helps spark my creativity and appreciation of the wonderful world we live in.

Professional Development Q&A with Chris Yandle

This post is the first in a series of Q&A sessions with friends, former colleagues, acquaintances and other contacts who I consider both influential and inspirational. Each of these individuals possesses a skillset that I believe you will find valuable. They have each made an impact throughout my career path and I wanted to feature them in this series.

Name: Chris Yandle (@ChrisYandle)
Profession: Communications Specialist, St. Tammany Parish Public School System (former college athletics administrator)
Degree: B.A., Public Relations (Louisiana-Lafayette, 2004); M.S., Athletic Administration (Marshall, 2007); current Higher Ed Leadership Ph.D. student, Mercer University (estimated completion: 2019)

I first met Chris during my time with Conference USA from 2006-2010. Chris was a graduate assistant SID at Marshall University and served as the media contact for various sports, which I also handled, for the conference office. We stayed in touch as he climbed the ranks in college athletics at various schools, while I began working in digital media on the corporate and agency side.

We’ve stayed in close contact as he and I have both been making career moves. Chris is one of the smartest and most driven people that I know. Despite what he may think, he was at the top of my list of people to profile for this series. I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Chris Yandle.

1) How does your current profession align with the degree you graduated with? If you have held other jobs, how closely have they been aligned?
My entire professional career has been in the public relations and communications field. Before my current role, I spent 15 years in communications for college athletics. That career allowed me to learn many skills and juggle many job demands which ultimately prepared me for the next step in my career in K-12 education. The beauty of having PR and communications skills are that you can work in any industry; you learn to become very versatile and multifaceted.

2) What did you ‘plan to do’ after college and how close is that to what you’re doing at this point in your career? Were there any deviations along the way and did they help/hurt your path to your current job?
That’s an interesting question. Before starting college, I didn’t know the athletics communications field existed. I thought I wanted to be a sportswriter, but I quickly fell in love with college athletics. But because I devoted my entire life to the field, it consumed me and I fell out of love with it. I learned that there was more to life than a career. Looking back on my career, I think I accomplished all that I could accomplish. I wish I would have enjoyed more of the journey than I did. I didn’t celebrate the small victories and the little things. I was so consumed with conquering the big events and big victories. I think not enjoying the journey ultimately led to me falling out of love with my career. On a positive note, that lesson has helped me in my new career. I’ve celebrated more small victories in eight weeks than in the previous 15 years.


3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
Make the big time where you are. Don’t continuously look for the next big thing. The big thing should always be where you are.

4) What do like the most about your profession?
Being the K-12 sector now, I get to visit our schools regularly and interact with the kids on a daily basis. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed being on campuses and telling the schools’ stories.

5) What is the biggest challenge you face in your profession?
The biggest challenge in college athletics was the constant rat race. It was never-ending and it was a constant fight for the next title and the next big thing. While college athletics offered upward mobility, K-12 doesn’t offer the same mobility. I think that’s the biggest challenge I would face, but I am not looking for the next big thing. I want to enjoy the journey.

6) How has your industry changed during your time as a professional?
Social media has changed everything in how we communicate and do our jobs. When I started in college athletics, website video wasn’t a thing yet. Now, it’s hype videos, live videos, graphic design, digital recruiting, and 90-hour work weeks. Because of the constant need for information and attention, the purpose of college athletics forced PR and communications offices to change their focuses.

7) Why do people leave your field or company? Do you agree with why they leave?
People in college athletics get burned out easily because of the long work hours and no time for decompression. You’re constantly on the go. I worked weekends constantly for 15 years. Now that I’m in K-12, I have my first M-F, 9-5 job in my life. I can totally relate to why people leave the field. It’s hard to have a family and work 70-90 hours per week. It’s demanding, it’s a grind. I don’t know how my wife put up with it for so long.

8) Are you considering leaving your current field or company?
I was contemplating leaving college athletics for a few years before I was let go from my last school. It was unplanned and certainly led to several months of struggles for me and my family, but it probably was a good thing it happened. For the first time in my career, I am happy with what I’m doing in K-12. I feel fulfilled.

9) What is your favorite social media platform?
My wife and kids will you tell – in unison: Twitter. I like the real-time and 1-to-1 interaction with people. You can instantaneously comment and respond. It’s where I get my news.

10) What was the last book you read? The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
I am currently reading ‘Do Over’ by Jon Acuff. It talks about making a career change and it’s helped spark my creativity for a book I’ve always wanted to write. The last TED talk for me was ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek. We watched it in one of my higher ed classes. I also read his book, too.

11) Where do you receive your news and information? 
A. Print Newspaper – New Orleans Advocate
B. Online Newspaper – New Orleans Advocate, USA TODAY
C. Television – NBC News, local New Orleans stations
D. Twitter – New Orleans media, national writers
E. Facebook – #FakeNews 🙂
F. Other – Nope

12) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
My hobby in the fall was coaching my son’s U6 soccer team. Now that I have more time on my hands, my hobbies are reading, playing with my kids and probably doing homework on the weekends 🙂

Did Higher Education Embrace Inbound Marketing in 2016?

Higher education institutions continue to lead many industries in the size of their social media audiences. This potential reach makes social media an easy and natural way to spread various messages to prospective students, current students, parents, and alumni.


Social media is also a key component to a solid Inbound Marketing strategy. So, you may think that higher education institutions are a leading the way when it comes to Inbound Marketing. But did higher education embrace inbound marketing in 2016? You may be surprised to learn they still have some work to do.

According to a recent Inbound Marketing study of 11 top industries, higher education institutions ranked 7th when it comes to using Inbound Marketing as their primary approach to marketing. It barely out-paces industries such as financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing.

Need more proof they could improve? In terms of marketing priorities for the next 12 months, below are where higher education ranks among the same 11 induries in various strategic categories:

10thGrowing website traffic
10th – Providing Return On Investment (ROI)
10th – Increased revenue from existing customers (alumni)
9th  – Reducing costs of contacts (in-person visits, etc.)

So What Does This Mean?
It means that even though higher education institutions are beginning to see the value in Inbound Marketing by even participating in a survey such as this, they still have work to do. Their top priority was converting leads into customers. In fact, they ranked that priority higher than any other industry surveyed.

But, these days it’s increasingly more difficult to convert leads into customers without growing website traffic and adopting simple Inbound principles. You really can’t afford to go part of the way when it comes to Inbound. You must take a hard look at what adopting Inbound will mean and craft a strategy to do so.

How To Make The Switch?
If higher education institutions think making the switch will be too hard, they can always look to seek help from an Inbound Agency. Or, they can follow these simple tips below to get started.

  • Start with Personas – Craft buyer personas that fit your ideal conversions/customers. Those “c words” usually scare higher education professionals, but they shouldn’t. For higher education, it could be prospective students you are recruiting or key industry leaders you want to speak at graduation. Regardless, figure out who you’re trying to reach and then construct your content around what they would want to read and on the proper platforms.
  • Align Platforms with Goals – Select the social media platforms that offer the most potential to meet your goals. They all don’t play the same role. Twitter is for conversation. Maybe start a regularly scheduled Twitter chat so prospects have a chance to talk with a live person from your school. LinkedIn is alumni-focused. Post relevant information about school rankings and the importance of a degree from your school.
  • Track Metrics That Matter – Not all metrics matter, so track the ones that help you define your ROI. If you’re looking to increase traffic, tracking URLs can tell you what piece of content brought a visitor to your site and the social media site where they found your link. In general, the most actionable social media metrics will be those that indicate engagement such as click throughs, shares, comments, and the percentage of community engaging with your content.

It’s apparent that higher education institutions are still hesitant to embrace Inbound Marketing. It is hard for us to figure out why when it’s been shown that following Inbound Marketing principles leads to 54% more leads and a huge savings over traditional marketing.

Inbound marketers can only continue to have conversations with the key stakeholders at schools and help dispel any myths that still exist about Inbound Marketing.

For more information about inbound marketing, subscribe to my blog here.

This blog was originally published for Verge Pipe Media.


Top 3 Ways an Inbound Agency Adds Value

Inbound Marketing and its core tenants are starting to become a mainstream way of thinking as more business decision makers realize its ROI power. We’ve said it before, but outbound marketing features company focused collateral that is un-trackable. Inbound marketing is completely customer focused and based around metrics that are easily trackable.

Therefore, Inbound Marketing agencies can help business generate more qualified leads by producing content that helps lead prospects to make informed decisions. Sounds awesome right? But, how do they do this and what exactly makes partnering with an Inbound agency valuable?

Keep reading below or watch my video HERE!

Turning Projects into Programs

Inbound agencies aren’t bogged down in the internal business struggles that may get in the way of you ultimately helping your company meet its growth goals. An Inbound agency can help you think about not just the list of projects that need completed, but how those ultimately can become long-term programs and campaigns. Inbound marketing at its core creates assets. CEO’s and decision makers love assets. They especially love the when those assets increase in value. Every blog post, ebook, infographic, video, slide share, landing page, CTA, email, lead nurturing series, workflow, process you document and system you help put in place is an asset. The best news is that these assets grow in value without needing to make any additional investments and can all be integral parts of ongoing and successful marketing programs.

Creativity and Expertise

Not every business is ahead of the game when it comes to social media marketing. They may excel on one platform, but struggle on others. Or they may try to be on all social platforms out there and therefore can’t produce compelling content on each one. An Inbound agency can provide the strategy and expertise needed to succeed with social content, while bringing a creative flair which will help your campaigns reach their goals. Agencies typically showcase creativity and a willingness to push the envelope that internal team members may not feel comfortable offering on their own. Trusting an Inbound agency to bring fresh, relevant ideas and knowing they can track and measure how the success was achieved will make you look good to your CEO.   

Goal Setting and Measurement 

As we mentioned above, being able to track and measure success is at the heart of Inbound Marketing. All the assets created above will be loaded with keywords and other elements to help your company’s content be indexed an easily searchable on Google. As your indexed content grows, you will no longer have to chase customers. Inbound marketing is founded on the idea that being an educational resource adds value and nurtures leads into customers, so you’ll stop wasting money on chasing people that don’t matter to your bottom line. Inbound agencies are so wrapped up in your bottom line that they’ll constantly measure what is working and what isn’t and adjust accordingly to keep you on track to meet your goals. It’s this data-driven, ROI first mentality that ultimately makes partnering with an Inbound agency valuable.

These are just a few of the reasons that working with an Inbound agency can help you look good to your bosses. 

If you’d like more tips on how Inbound Marketing can help you, subscribe to my blog here

RFID Applications in the Sporting World

RFID is a proven technology that’s been around since at least the 1970s. However, it’s been too expensive and too limited to be practical for many commercial applications until recent years. Now that the costs associated with making tags have decreased, RFID tags can solve many of the problems associated with manufacturing and the supply chain.

The tags can be embedded or encased in packaging for weather-proofing and greater durability. Tags also have microchips that can store a unique serial number for every product manufactured around the world.


With these new capabilities, areas outside of manufacturing are also seeing a rise in RFID tagging and technology. One of these areas is sports and sporting events.

Data analytics and advanced statistics are changing the way people watch and participate in sporting events. While RFID technology is allowing for new applications each year, we at VPM wanted to concentrate on the top three RFID applications in sports.


Dating back to the 2005, sporting venues have been using inlays embedded in tickets that are scanned using stationary readers at entry gates to grant spectators entrance. In 2006, the FIFA World Cup became the world’s largest user of RFID in sports ticketing and continues to use the technology today. One of the main reasons that FIFA, and several other organizations choose to employ RFID technology in ticketing, was to enhance security and prevent counterfeiting. This use of RFID continues today with many event organizers investing in automated RFID-enabled systems to replace antiquated manual and error prone processes.

Player Tracking

Companies such as PLUS Location Systems and Zebra Technologies are leading the way in player tracking technology in sports. These companies use RFID technology to capture the high-rate motion of athletes, referees, and game balls to deliver real-time data streams, reports, visual graphics, and more to enhance the game experience and provide a detailed record of performance for statistical analysis. RFID tracking technology can also be used in player training scenarios to analyze real-time performance which helps maximize their capabilities and minimize injuries and fatigue.


While RFID implementation across stadiums has been slow, it’s beginning to happen. Teams and stadiums that already using RFID are using it to trigger exclusive, stadium-only promotions and trivia to fans devices. Other applications include alerting fans on restrooms with the shortest wait times or concession stands with the shortest lines. Many teams are progressing to use RFID technology to track fan behaviors, movement, and spending inside stadiums.

RFID technolgy is going to greatly change the way many areas function for years to come. If you’d like to learn more about this technology, I suggest you reach out to the Auburn University RFID Lab. Justin Patton and the group there are doing revolutionary things and can help you decide if RFID is right for your brand.

For more Inbound Marketing knowledge and tips, subscribe to my blog

Three Steps For Effective Facebook Live Videos

Facebook Live made its debut in 2016 and continues to revolutionize how marketers use the platform to reach their target audiences. As Facebook’s algorithm continues to give more preference to video that is live over video that is not, marketers need to be smart when using the platform.


Brands and agencies hoping to catch people’s attention and with Facebook Live videos often make mistakes causing buyer personas to not watch them. So, Verge Pipe Media wanted to provide some tips to make sure your videos get viewed. Click below for our three steps for effective Facebook Live videos.

Lack of Focus

Despite what you may think, Live videos need to have the same proper planning as scripted videos. You don’t want to “go live” and have no clear topic or direction for your content. A video like that will get boring pretty quickly. We’re not saying to script your live video, but you should settle on a specific topic to keep your audience engaged. 

Performances, speeches, and tutorials are good examples of structured content that perform well on Facebook Live. From the live map, which shows Live users around the world, there are usually a few of the previous examples listed.

Having a clear topic and streaming content regularly will help create consistency and prompt viewers to come back for repeat Live broadcasts.

Poor Connectivity

Most viewers have become accustomed to a high standard of video quality. Degrading video quality and video loss are the worst-case scenarios for live-streaming. Viewers will get frustrated if the stream goes out at an important moment or ends up not working at all.

Marketers need to do advanced planning to ensure that the Live stream will have a strong and secure connection to either a wired or wireless network. Those who properly plan in advance to minimize the risks with the stream will ensure a high-quality video. This will increase the chances for gaining viewership and followers.

No Interactions

The early returns show the most successful Facebook Live videos are ones encouraging interaction with the viewers. These personal elements of interaction give the viewer an obvious benefit in watching the live stream. There’s a reason that live-streaming websites like Twitch have live chats. Events need to be a two-way street, so make sure interaction is encouraged.

This interactivity makes users and viewers feel a sense of community and shared interest. Social media at its core is about meaningful communication. Users who understand the importance of engaging with viewers are much more likely to gain followers and customers.

Facebook Live is still in its early stages and still growing in popularity. As we’ve written about before here and here, there are many ways marketers can leverage the platform. It’s an exciting time for video marketing as streaming live content has never been easier.

The basic keys to success are:

  • planning quality content,
  • securing a strong connection and
  • interacting meaningfully with viewers

In the long run, Facebook Live will be judged on its users’ abilities to create original and meaningful content on a regular basis.

To learn more video marketing tips and how they can be used in your Inbound Marketing strategy, click here


A Giving Tuesday Success Story

Entering its fifth year, #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.), #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

Since its inaugural year in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources.

As #GivingTuesday approaches for 2016, I wanted to highlight a shining example of a well-executed giving day. My alma mater, Illinois State University, has broken annual fundraising records for two consecutive years thanks to its efforts on #GivingTuesday.

Recently I spoke with Lora Wey, Executive Director of Annual Giving at ISU, to pick her brain about what tactics ISU has used to break these records. Click below to read the full  transcript of our question and answer session.

Tod: How did you and your team decide to capitalize on #GivingTuesday?

LW: On Giving Tuesday, annual giving drives the bus for this project. We had to get other units on campus like marketing and communications, web services, donor information services, etc. to buy in to the day. Those units are needed to create your core committee. Next were meetings with the President and Provost, the Deans at each college, and the various department chairs. Gaining buy in top-down is simply a function of how Illinois State is set up. In addition, each college and department manage their own social media so having them on board enhanced a coordinated effort.

Tod: How far in advance did you begin these talks? 

LW: In our first year, we began planning in August (for an event in December). Even at a large institution, we were able to get everyone on the same page and pull off a successful event with only three months planning.

Tod: How did you decide what areas to fund?

LW: At Illinois State, there are over 1,000 funds! Listing that many choices on a dropdown menu loses your audience. We decided to start with the largest priority fund per college and department. After the first year, we increased the number of funds to just over 50. People really enjoyed having more options because that is our culture at Illinois State. We’ve found that sticking to around 50 choices is the sweet spot.

Tod: How do you keep momentum going?

LW: We started with the major gift officers. Donors making gifts or pledges payable within the current fiscal were asked if we could use their gift as a challenge on Giving Tuesday. On Giving Tuesday, we opted to use six to eight challenges; these drive the momentum. Throughout the course of the day, larger gifts and challenges will happen organically as donors see the momentum and the excitement of the day. But, having those challenges ready and adding new ones excites and motivates the external audience.

Tod: How many triggers do you suggest throughout the day?

LW: We have always had between five and seven trigger events throughout the day. However, they aren’t always about dollars or specific donor connections. A big part of the efforts is social media participation, so we incorporated re-tweet challenges. That engaged a segment by spreading the word and helping raise awareness.

Tod: Which trigger event was the most successful?

LW: The re-tweet challenge was our most successful and we reached our target very quickly. I would suggest incorporating an engagement challenge in any crowdfunding plan. Re-tweet challenges really engage an observer to get involved in the day.

Tod: What advice do you have as far as timing for content?

LW: Consider memes, short impact videos etc., after lunch and in the afternoon lull. We did the re-tweet challenge at 12:30 p.m. and had other things cued up until 2 p.m. to help fight that afternoon lull. We also sent an email during that period to help counter the quiet period.

Tod: Is it counterintuitive to start with a low giving threshold?

LW: A lot of people in fundraising may think so, but Illinois State is growing a culture of philanthropy, so we had to illustrate that every gift matters. There was concern that the average gift would be $10. We actually found after removing the really large gifts, that the actual average gift for us was $49. So our donors were rising to the challenge and not backing down, even though our first ask was $10.

Tod: What are your goals for year three? 

LW: We’ve had success each year, but it hasn’t been around total dollar amounts or average gift. We still want to emphasize donor participation in order to grow the pipeline. This year we may increase our first donor goal challenge to 600 or 650.

Tod: What would you say are key components to a successful day?

LW: Recruit your social media ambassadors! Our social media ambassadors consisted of on-campus ambassadors such as faculty and staff that took an interest, and then alumni “social media ambassadors” that follow us on Facebook and Twitter and engage regularly. We had alumni that are regularly follow our flagship accounts and we reached out to them with information on what we were doing and asked them to share information. We probably had 15-200 social media ambassadors sharing the information via their social media throughout the day. It takes little time and doesn’t cost anything.

Tod: Did you leverage any LIVE components?

LW: LIVE video on social media has really come about in the last year, so we haven’t done anything like that yet. We had all the content and memes prepared beforehand though and rolled those out during the day. This year we plan to have more video components and feature the football and basketball coaches, because we know we should leverage more video content.

Tod: Did you utilize traditional media? 

LW: We utilized local and regional media outlets, both print and television. We weren’t the only local not for profits participating in Giving Tuesday but we were the most visible. I would suggest utilizing all forms of media to get your messaging out.

Tod: How was your “War Room” set up?

LW: The room consisted of our core committee. The IT person who designed our giving site, marketing who designed memes and posted on the university Facebook page, and gift processing. There were also other members helping to “like” and “share” as specific units and we also had a dedicated person for questions and support. In total, 8-10 of us coordinating messaging and answering questions. The School of Communications’ SMACC Lab which tracks trends, social sentiment, etc. gave us access into who and what was trending, what ambassadors had the most influence, etc. This also helped us to diffuse anything that was said negatively.

Tod: What are your major “Dos and Don’ts” for hosting a successful Giving Day?

LW: 1) Get the buy-in early with your core team of people. 

2) You need someone who understands the web. We “home built” our platform, for lack of a better term, instead of contracting with an outside vendor, so you need someone from IT on board. Even if you use an outside vendor, the IT person needs to be familiar with the platform and how to troubleshoot and prepare for any problems.

3) You need the appropriate marketing and communications people on board to help you promote the messaging and to generate the right chatter on the day of the event. The hope is that the online giving site blows up with activity, so it’s key to make sure your online site can accommodate the rush of visitors. 

4) Make sure your email provider/server can accommodate sending mass email sends. Email is a big component, not just social media. You have to make sure your system can send 20,000-50,000 emails in one drop. We asked after year one “how did you hear about this” and the answer was emails.

5) Six emails were lined up to go during the day. The content was written ahead of time and included broad messaging so that we could add additional text right before we sent it. We sent an email once we hit the initial goal and encouraged people to learn more and to keep giving. A lull between 12:30-3:30 was sent to keep momentum going. 

6) Involve campus “faces” like the President, coach, or the mascot creatively.  

7) Plan to steward Giving Tuesday donors throughout the year to keep them engaged with your university.

With the right buy-in, a well thought out strategic plan and clever content, Illinois State University has been able to crush their annual giving goals. What’s in store for them in 2016? Well, you should keep on the lookout for announcements from them.

In the meantime, I can tell you that you can’t just “wing it” on #GivingTuesday or whatever time of the year you decide to execute your Giving Day. You must have proper planning to ensure solid execution. 

For more tips and tricks on how to use Inbound Marketing for fundraising, click here

The Importance of Social Media Customer Service

Customer service needs are evolving to match the rapid growth and development of today’s digital media. Customers today continue to face various challenges when trying to seek customer service help or a representative. That’s why many consumers are turning to social media to seek help, leave comments and look for advice.

I know the importance of being easily found on social media, but being easily found on social media also means opening yourself up to customer service issues. Instead of being scared off by this byproduct, we help our clients embrace the exposure. By realizing the importance of this customer service outlet and developing strategies to be responsive on social, our clients are prepared to deliver excellent customer service.

Without giving away all of the trade secrets, I wanted to provide you with some reasons that highlight the importance of social media customer service. Below, find our top five reasons why we consider social media customer service important.

Communication is nearly immediateNearly 40% of customers who comment or complain online expect a response within an hour. Being present and managing your page consistently will allow for your team to respond in a manner that will satisfy commenters. Many people online just want to be heard. Even if you can’t immediately solve their problem, knowing quickly that you are there to help will go a long way.

A personal experience – People calling out to your brand will respect the quick response and personal tone. There won’t be any automatically generated emails or tone-based phone menus. It’s just a question, followed by an answer. Social media also allows you to think carefully about your response and present it in a more casual, conversational tone, thus humanizing your brand.

Transparency – Transparency is all about vindication. As we stated earlier, when customers are upset, they want to be heard. Posting on social media is the perfect way to be heard. By allowing your customers to make their complaints or questions public in this way, you’re giving them an immediate outlet. For companies, transparency means that other potential customers get to see how well you handle the situation. If you can answer a customer’s concerns quickly, nicely, and effectively, you’ll instantly leave all of your followers with a good feeling and showcase that your customer service is top-notch.

Brand mentions – More interactions on social media means you have more opportunities to point back to your own brand. Your customers will mention your brand in their posts, making you visible to all their contacts. Even if they come to you with a concern or an issue, you’ll get brand visibility and an opportunity to show off your ability to quickly and effectively correct the problem. This activity will help your social proof.

Easy follow-up – Depending on how long it takes for the problem to be resolved, following up with your customer is fast and easy. If you manage to resolve the problem with a quick answer, you can immediately ask whether or not the interaction was helpful. If it wasn’t, you have an opportunity to take further action. If it was helpful, you have a publicly visible follow-up interaction that ends on a positive note. It’s important to remember that Facebook now visibly posts on your page your response time (see photo below). Customers will already have an expectation set for them about when they hear back from you. You can’t even earn Facebook’s customer service badge until you respond to 90% of your inquiries withing 15 minutes!

Companies can’t hide anymore. They must be on social and they must quickly and confidently respond to comments and complaints that appear on their social media channels. If they consider the reasons above, they should see that a brand can separate itself on social by the way it handles customer service issues online.

For more social media customer service tips and Inbound Marketing knowledge, subscribe to my blog

Thig blog was originally published for Verge Pipe Media. 

How Marketing Automation Helps Improve Your Alumni Relations

Football season is back! That means tailgates and re-connecting with alumni when they return to campus. Most alumni associations spend considerable amounts of time during the offseason planning tailgate events.

Marketing automation is a great way to nurture these relationships with highly personalized, useful content that helps convert prospects to strong leads and turn those leads into delighted customers. This type of marketing automation normally generates new revenue for your alumni accociation and provides an excellent ROI.

I know that higher education professionals cringe at the words prospects, leads, and sell. But, bear with us here. Though we’re using some marketing lingo, the techniques we discuss are the same whether we’re talking about customers buying a product, or alumni donating to your campaign.

Let me tell you how marketing automation helps improve your alumni relations.

Improved Insights into Donor Behavior

Marketing automation software works to gather information from prospects on a consistent basis. Many have the ability to track actions such as page visits, email opens, downloads, form signups, donations, and much more. All of this data is stored into a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and helps build customer profiles. These profiles help you:

  • Deeply understand your donor profiles by knowing their interests and actions
  • Measure engagement from most-engaged to least-engaged
  • Analyze effectiveness of campaigns and outreach efforts  

Improved Fundraising, Member Retention and Nurturing

Marketing automation also allows for better communication with your entire prospect base. This communication can be personalized to each individual in various ways such as.

  • Campaigns targeted to current members that automatically send 30-60 days before renewal dates and/or important giving initiatives. These messages can be tailored to each member based on activity level, or donation level.
  • Messages triggered to individual donors based on webpage visits, page clicks or form signups to help solicit additional gifts.
  • Newsletter delivery, instant communications based on certain web actions, other membership offers and survey data capturing for potential members or very new leads to help gauge interest in certain initiatives and allow for up-to-date and immediate contacting.

Marketing automation allows for messages to be sent at the right time, in the right way, to the right person without delay. When you automate parts of your higher education marketing strategy, you gain great insight into how your alumni and possible donors think and act.

This competitive advantage allows you to predict behavior and respond to their inquiries more effectively. This technology isn’t just for increasing giving potential. You can also use it to maintain long-term relationships with alumni and donors.

For more information on marketing automation and inbound marketing, subscribe to my blog

This post was originally published by Verge Pipe Media