4 Ways to Stay Relevant In Today’s Marketing World

This article originally published for Front Office Sports

As we approach graduation season, a popular topic that’s appearing on my social feeds is advice for those about to graduate. While this post is being published around the same time, I try not to wait until just this time of year to help those who may need it. I strive to set meetings, write blogs and join discussions all year long, focusing on self improvement and career development.

As many of you know, today’s marketing and communications landscape is changing rapidly. So rapidly in fact, that seasoned professionals sometimes find it hard to stay sharp and keep their skills up-to-date with the latest trends.

As a way to help both young professionals and those with a little more “fungus on their shower shoes,” I would like to offer some tips on how to stay relevant in today’s ever changing marketing landscape.

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1. Get Certified — There are many FREE certifications available to marketers today designed to help keep your skills sharp. The one that I recommend to most is the Inbound Certification from HubSpot. HubSpot is the world’s largest and best Inbound Marketing software platform and the authority on educational inbound marketing resources. Many of these resources include training videos which are categorized into a series of Marketing Certification courses. Of the five total courses offered, the Inbound certification is far and away the most completed course and the most comprehensive. The Google AdWords Certification is another increasingly popular online certification. This particular certification allows individuals to demonstrate that Google will recognize them as an expert in online advertising. Additionally, Hootsuite offers a series of social media marketing courses that are also defined to drive real business results. I can’t stress this enough, retaining certifications by any of these outlets will ensure you’re keeping up with the latest marketing trends.

2. Learn To Code — There was a time when knowing how to code or program was only for IT professionals or those that “are good with computers.” As you well know, if you’re going to hold nearly any professional job these days, you better know more than just the basics of using a computer, tablet or smart phone. I may be dating myself, but I definitely remember the times when this wasn’t the case. Any entrepreneur, marketer or freelancer will tell you today that coding can help you succeed and separate you from your competitors. As with the certification tips above, there are many FREE resources available online that can teach you the basics of coding and programming. If you’d like a handy list of places that offer coding for free, I’ve got you covered.

3. Learn Video Basics — I should probably take my own advice here. I mean I just wrote a post about how video marketing is the hottest trend right now, yet I’m not much help with a camera or editing. If you want to add value and separate yourself from the employee in the next cubicle, learn to shoot and edit video. It’s that simple. I reached out to my good friend Chris Yandle to discuss this tip, as he is a recently self-taught videographer and photographer. His new role allows for great flexibility for career development and Chris immediately began to improve his value by learning these two skills. He says he watched a lot of YouTube tutorials and edited video while he watched them. To quote him “We live in an amazing time when information is everywhere and YouTube is a prime example. It is free and offers may hours of online learning.” Some employers and universities may also pay for certain photography and video courses, but start with YouTube videos and you can construct a realistic timeline to learn more about video production.

4. Never Stop Learning — This is a mantra that I try to live by. Don’t ever get set in your ways or think you have all the answers. Learning can apply to many things too, not just your professional career. Start a reading list and try to read as much as your free time allows. Make the list diverse and don’t just read about work or careers. I try to mix in books about marketing, sports, religion, fitness and mindfulness. But that is just me. Come up with the five or six things you like and pick out a book in each topic. Also, read blogs on these topics, follow folks on twitter discussing them or look at local seminars focusing on them. Also make sure to consistently network and connect with friends and colleagues. Come up with a list of your top 10–15 “core” connections and make sure to touch base with them regularly. Always look to nurture those relationships. Finally, join professional networks associated with your profession and attend meet-ups, mixers, etc. These are excellent ways to nurture and expand your network. Making these new connections allows you to learn new ideas and new ways of thinking. You’re never to old to stop learning new things and meeting new people.

It sometimes can feel daunting when a new app, new feature or new platform is seemingly announced weekly. It doesn’t mean that you have to learn a new skill or change your whole marketing campaign. But, it does remind us that innovation never stops and therefore we must keep learning and trying new things.

Following the tips above can help you remain agile and relevant. They will help you expand your skill set and learn new things to help you advance your career. But, this is just a simple list to get your mind going. I’m sure some of you could add to this list and think of even more ways to add value to your employer. We’d love to hear your comments and suggestions below. Drop us a line or tweet at us with your ideas.

Professional Development Q&A With Mark Hodgkin

This post is the seventh 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  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6

Name: Mark Hodgkin (@Mark_Hodgkin)
Profession: Director of Product Development
Degree: BA in History, University of Texas at Austin; MBA, Bryant University

Mark and I connected via twitter (which isn’t that uncommon in this day and age). I would say it was in 2015 or so and again it was via my guy Chris Yandle. We traded some comments on Twitter for a while, and then in 2016 Mark reached out to me to discuss careers and other items.

At the time Mark was in career transition (or at least contemplating it) and he was picking my brain about my decision to leave college athletics and enter the private sector. He was genuinely interested in hearing about my story and also what I was up to in my career at that point. I never forgot the feelings I felt when he reached out and wanted to talk to me. I was humbled to think that I could help someone out and also excited to make a new connection.

Since that time, we stayed in touch and often discussed sports, brown drink and other common interests we shared. Mark was one of the first people I reached out to recently as I began looking for other career opportunities. He has been gracious in recent months to stay in touch to discuss careers, networking opportunities and of course bourbon. With that said, by the end of this blog I’m confident you will realize why Mark is such a great resource for me. I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Mark Hodgkin.

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?
It’s hard to point to any direct relationship between my degrees and my current role. Late in my undergrad career I realized I wanted to work in sports. That led me to a graduate assistant position at Bryant University doing marketing while getting my MBA. I had never considered an MBA until then, but believe it has been useful in my career. Even my BA in History, which doesn’t seem terribly practical, definitely helped my writing and reasoning skills. That was very helpful with my MBA and in a general sense after my career.

My shift to digital came after taking an internship at Boston College, which came just as schools were starting to hire digital-focused people. That was a bit of good luck and timing as it led to a seven year stint at the Big East/American Conference and my current role at NeuLion.

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 credit one of my mentors, Dennis Coleman, for suggesting that working in sports could be a viable career path around the time of my junior year in college. Until then, I was drifting along assuming I’d do something like teach, work at a bank or perhaps even go to law school. So I got a late start, but as Dennis told me, he “could open the door, but you have to prove you belong.” Ever since then I’ve been full into sports, but have been able to find my niche in it with digital media.

3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
It’s almost cliche at this point, but Network, Network and then NETWORK some more. Opportunities to advance will almost always correspond with relationships you’ve built. Relationships I’ve worked to cultivate have led to every job I’ve ever gotten. If you want to work in sports, it’s especially important as it is a very small, close-knit community.

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4) What do like the most about your profession?
The thing I like most about college sports are the passion of its followers and the community of people. I always try to take a moment to think about how many people pay to attend events that we call work. That’s not to say that it is easy or without serious challenges. But at the end of the day, most people have to work and I think what we do is special.

I also think people in college sports have been amazing to connect and learn from. I can’t speak for every other industry but am amazed at how many people take the time to talk shop and trade ideas in this space.

5) What is the biggest challenge you face in your profession?
Currently, it’s adjusting from a chair on a school or conference side to life at a tech company. While I interacted with digital partners in my last two jobs, the challenges on the inside are totally different. You’re trying to build a cutting edge platform that suits the needs of hundreds of partners, while living within the confines of a business. I’ve always worked with a broad array of people, but going more to the technical side has its challenges.

6) How has your industry changed during your time as a professional?
Thankfully for me, college sports has really gotten more focused on social and digital media. There are full-time positions everywhere and many now at a more senior level. What you’re seeing today from schools on the digital front is staggering. Take a look at the graphics today as opposed to just 3-4 years ago. It’s amazing and now something that almost all administrators and coaches see value in.

7) Why do people leave your field or company? Do you agree with why they leave?
Speaking from a college sports perspective, a lot of people leave because of the hours and often low pay. It can be hard to have that elusive “work/life balance” and I see people get burned out. The economics of the system obviously push the big bucks to head coaches in revenue sports and the long line of qualified applicants keep wages low for many others.

As far as why people leave, I can’t agree or disagree. We each have our own journey and I understand the desire to spend more time having “a life”. Though I do think it can be done, many struggle with the so-called balance.

8) Are you considering leaving your current field or company?
Absolutely not. A former colleague of mine always referred to what we do as the “toy section” of careers. It’s hard work and plenty challenging, but at the end of the day very rewarding.

9) What is your favorite social media platform?
From a usage perspective, it’s Twitter followed closely by Instagram. I love the connections with strangers who have often become real life friends. I love how we can talk about common interests as well as follow along with news and sports stories in real time. I do think there are some scary addictive symptoms of too much social media use so I try to keep that in check. A few months ago I got off social media completely for a full month and really enjoyed it. Now I try to be more mindful of the time I spend and how easily it can distract me from more important tasks.

From an observer of the space I have an amazing amount of respect for what Facebook (and its subsidiary Instagram) has built and run. When you stop to think how Mark Zuckerburg took a fairly run-of-the-mill idea and built it into a globally transformative company (as a 20-something with no business background) really is staggering. I tend to think what Facebook is today is just the start and can’t imagine what it will look like in five years.

10) What was the last book you read? The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
I read a ton. Typically a few books at a time. The best one I read recently was “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by a very interesting writer named Cal Newport. His book “Deep Work” was also very interesting to me even though he’s a strong critic of social media. I don’t agree 100% with everything he says but think his perspective is important – especially these days.

11) Where do you receive your news and information?
I don’t subscribe to a print paper or watch much TV. Most of my information comes from Internet sources be it social media or curated feeds via something like Pocket or Feedly. I also have a subscription to the Washington Post on my Kindle and find that useful.

12) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
For a time during my college career I seriously considered dropping out and pursuing a culinary degree so cooking is still a great hobby for me. I also read a ton and love playing golf when I have the time.

Professional Development Q&A With Troy Johnson

This post is the fifth 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  Part 3  Part 4

Name: Troy Johnson (@TroyJohnsonAU)
Profession: Director of Communications & Marketing, Auburn University Raymond J. Harbert College of Business
Degree: Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations/Journalism from Troy University; Master of Technical and Professional Communication from Auburn University

Troy and I first met in Auburn around 2015 when I was looking for new opportunities. Though he and I were both members of the local PRCA Chapter, we weren’t close friends at the time. However, I reached out to form a better relationship in hopes of picking his brain as I searched for new opportunities. We’ve remained close since then.

In 2016, Troy and I also formed an agency/client relationship. The Raymond J. Harbert College of Business is a client of Verge Pipe Media‘s and I was the main point of contact for the account. Troy and I worked closely on strategic digital marketing efforts and further strengthened our relationship.

Even though I am no longer with VPM, Troy and I remain close friends and he is still a sounding board for me when I need one. I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Troy Johnson.

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?
While I earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations, the profession has experienced dynamic changes since my initial graduation in 1992. Portable technology and social media were as fanciful as the flying DeLorean from “Back to the Future” at that point. The Internet wasn’t accessible to the masses yet. It was another three years before I worked in an office where we were able to receive e-mail, and that was to a departmental address rather than a personal inbox. While the foundational elements of public relations I learned as an undergraduate remain relevant, there is little resemblance between what we were being prepared for then and what I experience now. The media landscape is very different, for one. We still place value on earned media, but we’re frequently able to bypass the traditional messengers these days and share information directly with our publics through social media, e-mail, push notifications, and other means. The biggest change I’ve experienced is the ability to collect relevant data and to be nimble in making necessary changes. We now have the ability to monitor the success of a campaign in real time and move to Plan B with minimal discomfort. All of those wonderful algorithms in the social media and software as a service universe also enable us to be far more targeted in our communication. A process that may have once resembled a shotgun blast is now a laser pointer.

I recently completed a master’s degree (while working full-time) in technical and professional communication. I selected the program because of its emphasis on web usability and accessibility, as well as design and rhetoric. The latter component is surprisingly relevant to what I do now. Part of my function is helping the public understand the value of academic and industry-focused research. Often, you have to simplify complex information in a way that makes it easily understandable for the masses.

The latter component, the focus on rhetoric, was particularly interesting and applicable as well. We studied Aristotle, among others, and examined the rhetorical moves they executed in attempting to persuade others. That’s useful for any PR or marketing practitioner.

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?
It took me a while to settle on public relations as a career choice. That was my initial plan, to do PR in the non-profit, agency, or political realm. But, as a double major in college, I was offered a six-month journalism internship at the Birmingham News (now better known as AL.com). They treated me like a veteran reporter, even assigning me to interview Michael Jordan during the height of his athletic fame. I loved the adrenalin rush of competing against other media and digging for news. That led to a 16-year career in which I covered everything from Southeastern Conference sports to the Olympics for various newspapers in the Southeast. I left that industry in 2008 because I didn’t like the uncertainty plaguing it. I had worked as a columnist for the last half of my career, which probably connected to PR in more ways than I realized. You’re the face of your news organization, for better or worse, but have opportunities to engage the community in ways many reporters don’t. One day I’d speak at a Rotary Club, the next day I’d be a guest on a radio or TV show.

In making the transition to public relations while initially working for Auburn University’s College of Education, I’ll admit there was a learning curve. In journalism, deadlines are often managed in minutes or hours rather than days. The focus is on immediacy. But people interact differently with the academic side of a university than they do with its athletic teams. At the same time, journalists are conditioned to be observant, to be resourceful, and to be multi-taskers. Those qualities are important for public relations practitioners, too. Coming from journalism, you may be well prepared to handle the tactical materials — the deliverables — that your organization or client needs. But there is an adjustment in terms of understanding the value of primary and secondary research before a project and conducting research on the back end to evaluate. You have to ensure that what you do is purpose-driven.

3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
When you apply for a job, show that you have done your homework. Have you visited the organization’s website, looked through any of its print materials, taken inventory of its social media, experienced its product or service in some way? Having been on a number of search committees and making various hires, I can say my biggest pet peeve is when an applicant misses the mark in a cover letter. So many write about how being hired by the university fulfills their dream or objective. That’s nice, but I want to know how you are going to add value to my team. A lot of people view cover letters as a formality, but it’s a chance for you to tell your story. How does your skillset align with the job opening? That’s what I want to know — not that you’ve been an Auburn fan since you were 5 years old.

4) What do like the most about your profession?
I love the problem-solving component. You’re trying to drive action, change perception, build awareness, curate existing relationships and foster new ones. There’s no better feeling than seeing your work result in a national media placement, or being able to see that you have helped persuade previously disengaged individuals or groups to invest their time, talent or treasure in your organization.

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5) What is the biggest challenge you face in your profession?
Managing the flow of data. It’s referred to as Big Data for a reason. There’s more of it than there used to be, and it can be overwhelming. We’re fortunate in that we have a Data Scientist who is helping us build a better framework for managing the flow of information and helping to ensure the right people know the right things at the right time.

6) Why do people leave your field or company? Do you agree with why they leave?
In my professional circle, most fellow practitioners are long-timers or are just beginning their careers. If they’re not leaving because of retirement, you may have some who start their own firms or set up an LLC and do consulting work. They may leave an organization, but they tend to remain connected to PR and/or marketing. In the corporate sector, you see some departures due to downsizing or restructuring.

7) Are you considering leaving your current field or company?
Not at all. I wish I had made the transition to PR sooner. I also enjoy working in a higher education setting. You come to work feeling good about who and what you represent.

8) What is your favorite social media platform?
Probably Facebook, although I understand why it wears down so many people. It’s a versatile platform, and it’s more personal than, say, Twitter. In my personal use, I probably treat it the way I would a barstool at a local pub. It’s the place where I pontificate, try to make people laugh, occasionally argue, and share news I consider important. Because I work for a College of Business, I can say LinkedIn is an important platform in my professional role. You’re able to conduct research there on alumni or industry partners. I also value the ability to target specific companies or industry sectors. Some of the applied research conducted by our faculty offers relevance to executives in a variety of industry settings — banking, supply chain and logistics, management, accounting. We’re able to connect and share news with corporate leaders who may not be part of our alumni network.

Lately, I’m finding myself becoming more active with Instagram. It is becoming more vital for our organization since we serve individuals in their late teens and early to mid-20s.

9) What was the last book you read? The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
Not counting what I read to my 5-year-old son at night … my recent reads have included “Edelman and the Rise of Public Relations,” a non-fiction account chronicling the life and career arc of the firm’s namesake, and “Headed for Home,” a fiction/humor book by a friend, former Auburn University professor Mary Helen Brown. In terms of web-based learning, it runs the gamut. The Public Relations Society of American offers an abundance of resources. Also, as someone who works within a College of Business, I find value in checking out occasional webinars offered by Harvard Business Review. That sometimes helps me in understanding the common language or our faculty and industry partners.

10) Where do you receive your news and information?
It’s a mix of print and online newspapers, TV, and Facebook. I tend to read the following newspapers online: The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Opelika-Auburn News (local). I also have access to print issues of the NYT and Wall Street Journal. I watch local TV stations, and will occasionally check out the weekend morning shows like “Meet the Press,” but rarely consume cable news. I tend to monitor on Twitter rather than engage on the platform. I find Facebook to be useful in finding useful stories that may surface throughout the day, but tend to be very selective about what I read or view from it.

11) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
I love spending time with my family. I have a 5-year-old son who is into a bit of a polymath. He’s taking lessons in everything from tennis to acting to ceramics to Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

I love to travel. My first time outside the U.S. was covering the 2000 Olympics on assignment in Sydney, Australia. I’ve been making up for lost time since then.

And, finally, having been an athlete in my fading youth (football and soccer), I love to exercise and play sports. Right now, because my creaky joints don’t hold up well running full-court in basketball, my primary diversion involves weight training and power lifting. I like pushing, pulling and moving heavy things. I refer to myself as an AFG — Athletic Fat Guy.

I’m trying to make time for other pursuits. I serve on the state board the Public Relations Council of Alabama and have just recently started as a board member for Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity.

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.

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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

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

Five Easy Ways To Maintain Accountability With Your Client

Leading clients is a contact sport. It’s one of the phrases that stuck with me after I first heard it while at Account Executive College. You must be in the trenches every day with your clients in order to properly lead them. Being in the trenches, for me at least, means being in front of clients consistently, while proactively offering them strategic counsel.
Doing these simple things will help maintain accountability in your agency/client relationships. What is accountability you ask? Let me get technical with you for a minute.

In leadership roles, accountability is defined as the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance, and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position.

Whew, that’s a mouthful.

I’m going to try and simplify that for you. Below are my five easy ways to maintain accountability with your client:

Make sure you can deliver: Quick wins are a good way to prove your value early on in the client relationship. But, as you are banging out quick wins, you have to be working on the long-term strategy and goals that ultimately won you the account. You have to properly strategize to ensure that you can deliver upon your promises. Then once you have delivered, further prove your worth by providing the client data and analytics.

Never wait: Clients look to you for guidance, for support and to be the idea person. So, don’t ever wait for the client to propose ideas, or say “I hope you can help us with this.” You must consistently push and motivate your clients. Sometimes motivation can come in the form of simply keeping them on task and holding them to deadlines. Hitting goals and deadlines together only increases your worth in their eyes.  

Take responsibility: A true leader of clients will always take responsibility during both good times and bad. You should always take responsibility for the final product and give credit to all involved who made it happen on your team. Accountability runs both ways and therefore if you make mistakes along the way, or a campaign fails to hit its goals, you must take responsibility in those cases as well. This openness will go a long way in solidifying your role as a trusted partner.

Refuse to do mediocre work: Don’t ever accept a client’s proposal or idea just because it “came from the client.” Never agree to do any project or campaign at the client’s whim if the concept or idea is mediocre. The quickest way to compromise your agency’s integrity is to do mediocre work, just because it is work you can bill to the client. The client will respect your honesty and integrity if you discuss with them why you only will do quality work and settle for nothing less.

Be transparent: Transparency is key in every aspect of the agency/client relationship. In fact, it is a major part in making the four previous elements of accountability listed happen successfully. Transparency leads to trust and trust leads to lasting partnerships that will lead to major wins for both the client and the agency.

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This blog was originally posted for Verge Pipe Media