Humans Crave Community and Technology Delivers

One thing confirmed in 2020 was that humans crave community and that they’ll adapt as necessary. The isolation that we all endured as the pandemic began to unfold was almost unbearable to some. Thankfully we live in a digital age and found new ways to connect.

Virtual relationships are becoming more common and they will be a big part of the future. Some call this a hybrid life. At SXSW we learned how companies such as Tinder, Twitch and Peloton have thrived off of virtual communities. 

 

 

Tinder

Gen Z constitutes over 50% of Tinder’s audience. They are leading the charge into virtual life and experiences, with the pandemic driving many of these new behaviors. Tinder offered a way for people to connect online when there was an overwhelming sense of loneliness in 2020, and even now trickling into 2021. Since businesses were closed and large groups were prohibited, people needed to do activities together outside. Instead of Tinder taking a downfall during the pandemic, they did quite the opposite. People used Tinder more than ever to meet at parks, go hiking, roller skating, sit at lakes, etc. This online dating app did not keep people inside, but due to Covid, actually encouraged people to go outside to spend time together. 

Tinder also created a passport feature where you can drop into any town and start to meet people in that area. 

Twitch

Twitch, the video game live-streaming app, is all about community, connecting to a creator and the community attached to that creator. Twitch’s marketing efforts are focused on community, and the human connection element. Everyone craves  a shared experience of some sort. That’s what builds these communities. Although the creators and followers in the community may have never met in real-life, they meet virtually through the app and all have something in common, which is their passion for whatever it is the creator is offering. This creates a sense of belonging amongst each other and is a huge driving force in keeping people coming back. Covid-19 elevated time spent on Twitch and acted as a sort of medicine or temporary solution to people’s heightened loneliness. 

 

Peloton

Peloton has been asking the question: How can their experiences keep the human element? They decided to make sure they were marketing how those interactions were happening on the platform. 

They have leaned into powerful ways that connect members such as encouraging high fives, and creating tags that allow you to create micro communities within the Peloton platform. When targeting consumers their goal is to showcase those features revolving around community. Storytelling is huge for Peloton. Capturing members’ stories of their experience building community has been their advantage. 

The Artist Series

They also started an “artist series” which is so much more than just a 30-40 min ride. Artists such as Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Pitbull, and Bad Bunny are collaborating with Peloton to release customized workouts paired with their soundtracks. It’s a celebration of music. People join Peloton for physical AND mental health. Peloton is putting out engaging AND motivating content. 

This artist series not only brings together people who have a shared love for a particular artist but it also  allows them to tap into culture. Dara Treseder, SVP Head of Global Marketing mentioned that the black community had some hesitation stepping into the world of Peloton asking the question “Is this a space where I belong? Do I fit in here?” The artist series, particularly showcasing strong black women is helping them feel like they belong. In other words, the artist series is giving more access to different audiences. Music goes beyond division, it unites people through their love of music.  Influencers have had a powerful impact in this  industry and play a vital role in creating micro communities, and bringing others together to engage in a shared experience. 

 

Conclusion

Humans crave a sense of belonging. They need to be connected to others and to interact with others. In recent years some technology has been criticized for potentially adversely affecting human interaction. However, 2020 introduced challenges that most of us had never experienced. The ability to bond virtually through the apps described above and others was instrumental in helping people make it through a long and lonely year.  Communities will continue to be critical for humans, and technology will continue to evolve and shift the way communities are formed.  Keep an open mind and explore your options!

 


Sources:

Photo by Afta Putta Gunawan from Pexels

Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

Photo by nappy from Pexels

Tips for Creating a Newsletter and Who to Follow 

 

At this year’s SXSW we got to hear from a few leaders within the newsletter market. They gave some quick tips for creating a worthwhile newsletter — and shared some of their favorites with us. 

If you are executing a newsletter every week or month you’re competing for people’s attention and need to provide quality content. 

 

“It’s so important to hold yourself accountable to creating great content that keeps people in the newsletter experience. Aim to make your newsletter the destination, not a content marketing tool.”

-Alex Lieberman, founder and CEO of Morning Brew (daily newsletter with more than a million subscribers)

 

Here are some tips when creating the newsletter component to your overall strategy. 

 

Generate your own ideas

Try to be original. Offer something that the others are not. Find ways to add in your brand personality, unique expressions of who you are that makes the reader perceive yours as different than other newsletters.

Solve a problem or serve a passion

This is hard to do with general service content but easier if serving a specific purpose or niche. Don’t try to cover all your bases…instead narrow in on something that will serve your loyal followers. If you’re solving their problem or serving a unique passion, odds are they will continue to come back and read. You are offering something very specific that the others don’t offer (at least not to your extent).

Make it a 5 min read (or less)

You want people to read through to the end. Many people read newsletters during spare moments in the day. So, the newsletters need to be a quick read. Long newsletters can feel overwhelming and not worth even starting. You can even communicate to the reader that your newsletter is approximately a 3 min read or a 5 min read before they get started. Stating this somewhere near the top can increase the number of readers.

Build a loyal audience that is loyal enough to pay

Finding that audience can take time, but those that enjoy and even share with others, will pay to subscribe to your newsletter. This not only benefits you, but it also gives the impression to the reader that they are in a “closed community” of sorts. They belong to something of value that they are invested in. 

Finding a Niche

So, how do you lock down a niche? Start by looking at the people opening your newsletter or paying for your newsletter and figure out what they do, who they are, and what they are interested in. Continue to cater your content for those people.  Pay attention to what is resonating and getting shared and read. This will take some time and research but you will have a better understanding of your audience and how they behave. With that information it’s much easier to hone in on a niche. 

 

Some of the hot topics that experts predict you will likely see in the near future being covered over a wide range of newsletters are:

  • Healthcare
  • Cannabis
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Real estate
  • HR

 


 

Some Newsletters to Follow: 

*as recommended by those on the panel at SXSW*

Ben Thompson

Matt Levine

Web Smith 2PM

Anne Helen Substack

Hunter Harris Substack

Haley Nahman

The Margins

Emily Atkin

Luke O’Neil

 


 

The Emotional Journey of Artificial Intelligence & Empathy

 

Artificial intelligence is doing what we all thought it couldn’t do, developing and engaging with human emotions. If you’re skeptical, just wait until you hear about the recent developments in AI technology. While some of this technology does give cause for concern, you may be surprised by the many ways this could be useful in society. The question is… do the benefits outweigh the costs? 

 


Emotion Economy

 

At SXSW, we learned about “Emotion Economy”.  The term refers to an economy that puts value on organizations that practice, implement and value empathy. This economy leverages technology that utilizes empathy. 

So, how can AI foster empathy? The discussion is starting surrounding how AI can contribute to such an economy that fosters empathy. In general, when people hear “Artificial Intelligence” they may picture stone-cold robots, void of the human element of relating and empathizing with others. There is a ton of mistrust in AI because of this absence of emotions. The name itself refers to something that is “artificial” which does not conjure images of emotion. 

But what if AI could understand human emotions and actually engage with them? Dr. Rana el Kaliouby went on a journey to find an answer to this question. Here are some interesting highlights on her findings:

 

  • When you dissect how humans communicate — only 10% is based on the choice of words we use. The remaining 90% is split between vocals, voice inflections, body language and facial expressions

 

  • Humans have the natural ability to read other people and adjust their communication based on the listeners nonverbal signals. 

 

These findings help explain why in virtual settings it can be much harder to adjust your communication and adapt to your audience. We can all relate to that given all the zoom calls we’ve participated in this past year, and the fatigue and disconnect that sometimes comes with them.

 

AI is now learning how to read people better based on things other than word choice. How does AI capture and read non-verbal communication? 

 

The answer is found through the study of “emotion science” and facial expressions. There are 45 facial muscles that create thousands of expressions and mental states. Facial coding refers to a system that was created to score facial expressions. Camera sensors are able to capture this data thus allowing a way to quantify an array of emotions. 


Tests and Uses

 

Children and adults with autism struggle to understand others’ facial expressions. Many of them tend to avoid the face because of this. Affectiva pitched the idea of AI google glasses that read the expressions of the person you’re interacting with in real-time. These glasses act almost like a real-time coach for those with autism. When testing them out they saw incredible results. Children wearing the glasses engaged with people more and made face-to-face contact.

Entering the Marketing Industry

 

Leveraging AI technology to better understand and engage your consumers is where the advertising industry is headed. 

Affectiva also tested their technology on advertising campaigns. When a user scrolled past an ad on their mobile device, they were asked for permission to turn their camera on. AI was able to capture the moment by moment responses and expressions of the user. Did they find the ad funny? Sentimental? Confusing? With the data being compiled from every viewer’s reactions, agencies were able to get a better understanding of how their ad was performing and what their viewers thought about it. 

Emotion AI has huge implications for tracking consumer behavior. It’s important to remember that emotions are tied to any piece of content. When sharing content, we are trying to evoke an emotion that will ultimately lead to decision making such as purchase intent. 

As marketers, it’s important to be empathetic in your message and find a way to tie it back to your brand. AI can help with this. 

Emotion AI can help capture moments of confusion, frustration, curiosity or interest as it monitors the reactions of a user navigating a website. This data can be incredibly valuable to agencies that specialize in UI design and web development. AI can essentially provide insight on any user experience. 

Other Applications

  • Call Centers

AI can capture voice inflections. This can be helpful for call centers and customer service departments. AI can read your tone and therefore determine which call center agent to transfer you to. For example, a frustrated caller may be sent to a top-performing agent or management based on their tone of voice.

  • Automotives

Applying empathy to technology via AI will change so many interfaces. Think about the automotive industry for starters. With AI built into the interface of our vehicles, it could detect the driver’s state. Is the driver tense, tired, drowsy? Are they distracted on their phone? Are they under the influence? With this information being fed into the vehicle’s system, many accidents could be prevented. 

Not only does this have safety implications but it also can provide customer value. The environment in the car can be personalized based on who is in the car. Imagine the personalization that can be done with the help of AI for a teenage driver vs an elderly driver. 

  • Home Robots

Home robots and Alexas can be taken to the next level where they are truly conversational and can persuade you to change your behavior. With the use of emotion AI, these devices have the potential to sway your decisions based on past behavior, conversations and body language. For example, let’s say you tell your device to play some sad music, and your facial expression can be read as distressed or grieving, AI could offer some encouragement, mimicking a true human conversation, or it could suggest some songs based on past data that cheered you up. Emotion AI can make these robots seem a bit more “human”. 

  • Healthcare

Emotion AI technology also has the ability to detect mental health and stress based on body language. This data could be a huge driving force in the healthcare industry. In the telehealth industry which is largely where healthcare is headed, soft skills are very important. This evaluative technology could apply not just to patients, but to providers as well. If the doctor is looking down at papers while on a virtual appointment with a patient, they may seem less empathetic according to AI which is reading the expressions of the patient. This could ultimately lead to the strict monitoring of doctors, even crossing into legal implications. 


Summary

 

Obviously, there is huge potential for this type of technology.  AI technology that understands emotion may be able to motivate us and persuade us to change our behavior.  People may be coaxed to be healthier, more active, and make safer choices. However, consideration will need to be given to unintended consequences. Affectiva and other companies must think about the ethical dilemmas. They have made an effort to prioritize thoughtful regulation but are not waiting for legislation but rather being a steward in designing the right way. 

Emotion AI is reimaging how human to human connection can be studied, replicated and applied. It’s not always comfortable to think about, but it’s likely something that is not going away. The possibilities that have already been demonstrated have some amazing benefits that can likely be built upon. One thing is certain, effective communication and consistently interpreting emotions correctly is something that not even humans have mastered. Perhaps Artificial Intelligence will help us understand ourselves better! 

 


Sources:

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Dr. Rana el Kaliouby Co-Founder & Chief Science Officer Affectiva

Why we Choose WP Engine as Our Hosting Partner

 

There are many reasons why we choose to partner with WP Engine as our hosting partner. Here are the top 5: 

 

1. Award-winning support has us covered 24/7/365. Sometimes things happen at all hours of the day or night. We have peace of mind to know that we can contact a live support agent at any time.

 

2. Account features are unmatched when it comes to managing your specific site. Everything from daily backups and quick restores to Global Edge Security (GES). They have the features in place to protect and keep your site running smoothly.

 

3. Easy set up for sites and development sites. Once your site is set up, we can set up staging and development sites with one click migrations. This means we can quickly create an exact copy of your site and either of us can make changes in that environment without affecting your live site.

 

4. Site migrations are quick and painless using WP Engines migration tools. This saves you time and money.

 

5. Troubleshooting tools for when the unexpected happens. We can address common WordPress issues quickly and efficiently. Everything from 500 server errors, security, white screens, and accessing logs all from one place.

 

Gray Digital specializes in creating advanced WordPress websites. We’re also happy to help with custom designs and advanced functionality. You don’t have to figure it out alone — let us know how we can help!

Connect With Us Today

 


Source: https://wpengine.com/support/

Image Source: https://www.dreamhost.com/blog/wordpress-crash-course/

Motion Data: the Latest Technology That Could Change Everyday Lives

The Motion Data Lab x SXSW

At this year’s SXSW, we got to hear about a project prototype in the works by a Japanese creative technology initiative that could change our future as we know it.

Dentsu Creative X Inc. worked with partner companies to develop a new concept called “Code Humanity”. This concept focuses on the human element in technology. This is often forgotten, or intentionally replaced, as technology becomes more advanced. But Code Humanity is purposefully zeroing in on the human elements such as motion, wellbeing, food cycle, and weather.

Motion Data Lab honed in on the human element of motion. The Motion Data Lab invented a way to measure human movement and behavior patterns. With this new technology we can compile data from every human movement. The data can then be used in technology and integrated into our daily life in many different ways. Read on for a few highlighted examples!

 

 

Providing solutions for health:

Motion Data can be used for preventive medicine. The data can help prevent and detect risk of injury or even onset diseases. For example, the data can detect if you have fallen or if you may be experiencing a seizure. It will also detect if your physical therapy efforts are working thus reducing the risk of injury. Chiropractors can measure if your posture is improving. These scenarios are just the beginning of how Motion Data could be useful for healthcare.

Providing solutions for training:

Motion Data Models can be used for skill acquisition and movement correction. This use could prove incredibly valuable for athletes, personal trainers, and physical therapists. Imagine how a pole vaulter could use motion data to reveal what part of their vaulting form is out of line. Or a ballet dancer could use the captured data to improve their pirouettes. This use is also applicable to creative projects. For movies and videos, Motion Data Models could help actors and actresses perfect a certain movement for fight scenes, action scenes and more. The possibilities are endless.

Preserving Culture:

One of the most interesting uses talked about for Motion Data is to capture the movements of traditional folk dances. With this technology, we can better preserve and accurately pass on the traditions and customs of cultures that are disappearing.

 

The Motion Data Lab x Xenoma

The Motion Data lab has collaborated with Xenoma on an e-skin product which is smart apparel that tracks and captures data from the person’s movements. Its material is machine washable and thin making it a product consumers could easily implement into their everyday lives. This e-skin can be used in filming studios and animation studios to enhance their CGI, animated characters and more. Who knows, you may be able to see yourself as a 3D avatar in the near future! Imagine how this will affect virtual meetups, online dating, the gaming industry and the social media industry.

This technology also has implications for the fitness industry. A new mirror has been made in collaboration with the Motion Data Lab to provide virtual instructors that help you correct your movement and form as the mirror detects your every move. This could up the game for at-home workouts, or perhaps for universities seeking to spend more of their tuition dollars on athletes.

Imagine all the things we do that require movement. Among many other innovative technologies being prototyped and implemented, the work the Motion Data Lab is doing could soon affect many aspects of the human experience. Aside from the use for recreational activities, there are promising ways it can be used to increase wellness, skills, and help prevent disease or injury.

We will be looking out for ways this technology will be implemented into society and can’t wait to see how this will affect the advertising and marketing industry.

Share with your “tech-y” friends — they are going to love this!

 

Sources:

https://www.dentsu.co.jp/en/news/release/2021/0315-010351.html

http://dentsusxsw.com/en/index.html

https://motiondatalab.com/

Creating a Social Media Strategy – 7 Easy Steps

With more people than every following brands on social media, every business should have a social media strategy. This essential strategy should be thoughtful and specific to the business. When building a social media strategy it is important to understand the difference between strategy and tactics. 

  • A social media strategy is your long term plan for how you are going to achieve your social media goals. 
  • Tactics are the specific ways in which you will carry out that plan. 

We’ll use an example of a small new bakery to help demonstrate the difference. 

Their strategy is a 12 month plan that includes using social media to help build brand awareness in their community, securing 2 million in sales, and becoming a 5 star rated bakery. 

Their tactics for carrying out this strategy include several specific methods. They will be forming a brand identity and curating social media posts that reflect their identity. They are also coming up with creative ways to engage with their online community. The bakery will be capturing local events on social media via tools such as live feed, reels, and stories. They are also setting up a Google my Business account, Yelp account, and optimizing their social media channels for ecommerce and ordering online. 

As in the example, remember that strategy is the bigger picture, tactics are the detailed how-tos.

 


 

There are 7 basic steps to take when defining your social media strategy. 

 

Define your goals.

Clearly define your business goals. Once that is done, you can create your marketing goals to support your overall business goals. These marketing goals should take into account the ways in which you want to communicate your offering to your audience. 

Some marketing goals could include:

  • Brand Awareness
  • New Business
  • Attracting Potential Employees
  • Building a reputation as a thought leader in the industry

 

Define your target audience

There are many ways to sub-categorize your audience. Try creating brand personas. It is likely that you will have a few different target audiences. For example, non-profits usually have a donor audience, volunteer audience, and beneficiary audience. 

The bakery we used as an example before may have the following audiences:

  • Small ? mid sized companies that need vendors for events
  • Professionals needing a quick bite before work or on a lunch break
  • Families with small children 
  • Those living in or around their zip code 

 

Decide which metrics to use based on your marketing goals

Every goal can be tracked using different metrics. Some may overlap, but it’s important that you track what you’re doing so you can evaluate later what works and what doesn’t. 

Here are a few examples of metrics that give meaningful insight to your specific goals:

  • Goal: Brand Awareness
    • Reach
    • Impressions
    • Share of Voice
    • Engagement
    • Brand Mentions
    • Website Traffic
  • Goal: New Business
    • Customer Reviews
    • # of new leads (people that reach out via website form, DM, directly to employees)
  • Goal: Attract Potential Employees
    • Click-through-rate
    • Post Reach
    • Average Engagement Rate

 

Decide which social media platforms to use and what the target audience will be.

It’s not necessary to use all of them. Select the ones that you think are most relevant to your audience and focus on those. Make sure you set up business accounts in order to get access to analytics.

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat
  • Pinterest
  • Vimeo
  • Youtube
  • TikTok

Determine content categories

Once you have your content categories, you’ll begin content creation. Content creation is when you start getting into the nit and gritty. 

It’s helpful to start with your goals and create content categories around those. 

Most relevant content categories include:

  • Brand Awareness. Content that communicates who you are as an organization and why you do what you do. This regular content from this category will help users gain a clear picture of your brand identity. Pro tip: make sure your brand voice is consistent throughout your content, especially posts within this category. 

 

  • Entertainment. People like content that is intriguing and fun. Incorporate posts that are entertaining and maybe more casual. Content within this category will most likely overlap with brand awareness.  
    • Memes
    • Team Lifestyle
    • Dogs/Pets
    • Office outings
    • “Behind the scenes”

 

  • Product/Service Offering. This is pretty straightforward. Tell your audience what you offer and provide a clear and easy path for them to secure that product or service. Pro tip: utilize ecommerce tools on instagram, facebook etc, and create CTAs that link directly to products or a schedule-an-appointment button. Linktree is a great way to have multiple links available for your followers.

 

  • Tangential Content. Tangential content is content that does not directly relate to your organization but is still relevant to your audience. This content not only may reach others beyond your usual viewers, but it is helpful for SEO purposes and can provide variety to your posts. 
    • For example: A personal trainer may post something about “The best places in town to grab a healthy breakfast” or “My favorite parks to visit and unwind on my lunch breaks”. 

 

  • Educational/Informational. Depending on your audience, these posts can be really crucial to your social media plan. Content that makes users feel as though they learned something, or are reaching self actualizing truths are usually a win. Be sure to make this content very simple and easy to understand.

 

  • Seasonal. Determine which special days are relevant to your organization and audience. 
    • Major holidays
    • Organization anniversary
    • Employee anniversaries, new hires
    • National days (National Bosses Day, National Coffee Day)
    • Timely events like Election Day, the 1-year anniversary of COVID-19 shutting down businesses

 

Create a content calendar with a tool such as Airtable

    • The next step is keeping track of your social media plan. Use a content calendar tool to schedule everything out, make sure you are posting on a consistent basis, and prepare ahead of time. Calendars are also helpful if you are coordinating with multiple people on your team to push out content. When scheduling posts, take into consideration the highest traffic times on social platforms. 
    • Pro tip: Use this social media guide for best image sizes

 

 

Schedule posts in a tool such as Sked or Hootsuite (or manually post on planned dates)

Once you have your calendar built, you can start creating content and scheduling posts ahead of time. It’s better to get in front of things before it all sneaks up on you. Some platforms allow you to schedule stories and some do not — so assess your social media needs before you choose a scheduling platform. 

  • Utilize Canva or Spark Post to create posts with graphic elements
  • Follow social media guidelines
  • Utilize Hashtags
  • Utilize Location Tagging
  • Utilize the different tools that each social channel has to offer, for example, Instagram Guides, document posting on LinkedIn, etc.

 


 

Gray Digital Group is here to support your social media marketing needs. From developing a customized strategy, to writing engaging content, to executing the plan — as experienced industry experts, we’re here to help. 

Contact Us Today!

Another Zoom Meeting? Tips to Ensure Your Virtual Events are Successful.

Whether it’s an internal meeting or a planned organizational event, most of us have had our fair share of participating in virtual events—and this trend will continue in 2021.

Here a few ways to ensure your virtual events are successful:

  1. Send a reminder—and more than one!  Don’t forget to include the link to the call or livestream event and take advantage of multiple channels to remind participants including email, push notifications and/or text messaging.
  2. Incentivize your participants to show up to the live version of your event. Making the event interactive between host and speakers or offering raffle-type prizes encourages participants to join you live vs. waiting on a recording or reading a written recap of the event after the fact.
  3. Involve the audience! Your event moderator is key to keeping the event flowing and your audience engaged. Acknowledging participants by name, keeping the chat open and a dedicated Q&A time allow participants to engage with both the host and each other.
  4. Consider online tools you can integrate into your website to optimize your virtual events, such as The Events Calendar, which allows your event to be highlighted on your website calendar, provides powerful integration with Zoom, protects for your event livestream link and more.

 

UI/UX Do’s and Don’ts

It’s more important than ever for businesses to spend time working on their digital presence. Your digital presence allows potential customers to find you and learn about you 24 * 7 — from anywhere! 

This digital presence most often starts with your website. It’s not enough to just have a website and expect success. You want your website to set the right tone from the moment someone finds it.  Studies have shown you have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression. 

In order to make the impression you want, and to be effective it’s critical to have a well-thought-out user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) plan. Here are some quick UI/UX design dos and don’ts that will improve the quality and effectiveness of your website.

 


 DO

  • Identify goals — Identify the overall goals of your website. Think about the exact purpose you want it to serve. Whether you are just providing a way for people to learn about your business, or selling products and services, it’s important to establish those targets and use them as a blueprint.

 

  • Be consistent in your designs The overall look and feel should be consistent throughout the site. Maintain the same navigation placement, color schemes, and fonts for each page. This will avoid confusion or frustration as people search for information.

 

  • Create balance — You want the best-looking site possible, and often less is more. Avoid using lots of textures, too many colors, and too many fonts. Select decorative elements that make sense and are consistent with your brand. And keep them to a minimum. Use white space; it can be a great tool in getting your users to focus on specific content.

  • Make your website responsive — People now access the internet more from their smartphones than desktop computers. 85% of adults think that a company’s website should be as good or better when viewed on a mobile device than its desktop website.

  • Invest in good photography and graphics — Good quality photos go a long way. Try to avoid using generic clip art and stock photography. Be specific and purposeful with your photos and graphics. In general, photography depicting people gets more traction than those without. Keep graphics clean and easy to understand.

 

  • Optimize your site — The amount of time it takes for your site to load has a huge impact on not only user experience but SEO and conversion rates as well. Resize and compress images and other large files. Only load scripts that are necessary. Limit your fonts.


DON’T 

  • Overload your navigation — Don’t overwhelm your users with too many choices. Your navigation is going to be your main source of interaction on your site. It can make or break your site usability. Make it easy for people to use. Stick to standard sections that someone would expect to find on your website. For example, About Us, Contact, Products/Services, etc.

  • Sacrifice usability for design — It’s important to remember that design takes a back seat to functionality. Choose easy-to-read fonts. Avoid overcomplicating your site with decorative elements that can distract your visitors. Use calls-to-action to get your users to do exactly what you want and make all interactive elements easy to find, easy to understand, and easy to use.

 

  • Overwhelm the page — Don’t overload your page with large blocks of text. Break up your content into easy-to-read chunks or bullet lists. Create a hierarchy using subheadings and make it easy to scan the pages for content. People read left to right, top to bottom.  Layout the content to follow that natural pattern. 

  • Forget that content is king — Your site copy is just as important as design. Be sure to have effective writing on your website. Take the time to make sure your content is clear and easy to understand. Ensure your copy is free of spelling or grammatical errors.

 

  • Aggressively over-promote — “Calls to action” are great tools — but don’t add so many that they overshadow the main content of your site. This can make it harder for users to accomplish tasks. Sensory overload will ultimately affect your bounce rates.

Brands Are Getting Creative with Experiential Marketing

 

Before the pandemic, brands were dabbling in experiential marketing coming up with creative, innovative ways to interact with their consumers. The pandemic has presented the challenge to offer virtual experiences and socially distanced experiences.

What is experiential marketing? Some refer to it as “live marketing” or “event marketing”. It is creating a live experience for consumers that will leave a memorable impression. 

Some notable examples of experiential marketing:

  • Gilmore Girls’ created 200 popup diners to mimic Luke’s diner from the show.
  • Lush tested their products on consumers right in their store at their testing stations. Equipped with a bowl of hot water, towels, and a customer service rep to give nice hand massages.
  • Best Buy and similar stores let customers test out VR technology that was set up on one of their TVs.
  • Milka created a campaign that involved producing 10 million bars of chocolate with a single piece missing. Confused customers were then directed to a dedicated microsite and offered a choice: they could either have the piece of chocolate sent back to them or sent to a loved one instead. (Source)
  • Non-profits have used experiential marketing to help gain donations. For example, Hope International, a microfinancing organization that works in many impoverished communities has created an exhibit that walks you through what life is like for people in poverty. They also created a Poverty Simulation which is a 2.5-hour immersive experience hosted by a local church. 

 

In 2020, experiential marketing had to be re-invented. Virtual events replaced in-person gatherings which means marketers had to find creative ways to attract attention, put on a show, and distinguish it from all the Zoom meetings people attended at work or school. 

For example, some artists started to hold drive-up concerts. Similar to a drive-in movie theater, people and families could drive up, roll down their windows and enjoy the concert from their covid protected vehicles. 

Now in 2021, companies are coming up with hybrid experiences. Some involve being in person, with the use of QR codes and augmented reality, to allow for socially distanced interactive experiences. Some involve offering an in-person experience with limitations due to the ongoing pandemic, as well as providing a virtual experience for those that can’t come in person. 

Precedents are being set. This past year will be a catalyst for new inventive ways to provide customer experiences. It will be no surprise when existing (and new) social media platforms include advanced VR and AR tools as well as capabilities to host virtual events. 

Even when gatherings are once again safe, these virtual experiences will remain. Brands are becoming more adept at experimenting and adapting. This is here to stay. How is your brand embracing new technologies and innovating your marketing techniques?

 

Source: https://www.marketingdive.com/news/brands-get-back-together-with-experiential-marketing-in-time-for-valentine/594850/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Issue:%202021-02-11%20Marketing%20Dive%20Newsletter%20%5Bissue:32395%5D&utm_term=Marketing%20Dive

 

Creating a Podcast: A Quick Guide From Planning to Promoting

Podcasting is super hot right now — and listenership is strong and growing. Many people find it easier to consume information by listening to a podcast rather than reading or watching a video containing the same information.

With an affluent and educated listener base, this medium could be a great way for you to highlight your experience and position yourself or organization as experts in your industry. This is especially true if you enjoy and find it easy to have conversations with new people. 

The most successful podcasts that we’ve been a part of are ones where the hosts have fun with the process. This shines through in the final product, making it a rewarding experience and effective marketing tool. 

Read on for actionable tips if you’re considering creating a podcast for your business. 


Planning your podcast

 

Think about the Who and What

  1. Identify your target audience. Think about who you are marketing to — who you hope will enjoy your podcast.
  2. Determine the overall subject of your podcast. Keep your target audience in mind, and decide what you will focus on for the podcast series. 
  3. Think about how broad or narrow your niche will be. You may choose a very specific niche within your industry — or you can go very broad and have a slightly different sub-focus during each episode. Make sure that you pick something that you will find interesting to talk about in various ways throughout your podcast. 
  4. Decide whether or not you want to have guests on your podcast. Some podcast hosts choose to talk to their audience solo. Other podcasts invite guests who are also experts in the industry to be interviewed or even co-host.

Determine the show format and style

  • Length of episode – There’s no golden rule on show length. Generally speaking episodes of 30 minutes or less tend to perform better than longer episodes, but the “right” length should be dictated by the availability of quality material. If visitors get bored or don’t hear the value they’ll drop off much sooner. Listeners will continue to listen to longer shows if they find it entertaining or valuable.
  • Frequency of new episodes – The key is to stay consistent so that your audience knows when to expect new material and sees you as a professional. 
    • Create a production calendar.  
    • Mark down the release dates sixty days in advance.  
    • Keep the calendar up-to-date.  
  • Scripting of discussion  Some podcasts are more scripted than others, but do what feels most natural and effective to you. You will definitely want some sort of plan going into recording so that you avoid awkward silences. 
  • Plan the ideal flow of your episodes – This includes things like how you will introduce guests, the body of the show, what type of summary and call to action will you include at the end.

Once you settle on a format, make a note of it so you can refer back to it as you record episodes. It may look something like this:

Sample Podcast Show Format

  • Introduction – host welcomes the audience and introduces today’s guest and tells a little bit about what to expect in today’s episode
  • Body – actual interview with the guest (questions planned before-hand and submitted to the guest in advance)
  • Outro – host gives a quick recap of the interview, adds final thoughts and possibly promotes the next episode

 

Pick out the show name and create the show art

  • Podcast Name
    • Search for duplicates to ensure you pick a unique name
    • Be clear and concise 
    • Practice saying it out loud 
  • Podcast Cover Art
    • Create something simple and eye catching
    • Be on point with your brand

Launching your podcast

 

 

Equipment and Tools

Unless the format or style of your show is formal, you can keep equipment and production resources to a minimum. Podcasts, for the most part, are casual affairs. Think of it as a simple interview or relaxed conversation. The goal is to capture a clear recording but not necessarily sound-studio quality audio files. You can be successful with basic equipment.  

    • For in-person interviews and solo host recordings, all you need is a decent microphone and a laptop, tablet or smartphone for recording.  We recommend sticking with wired microphones.  Bluetooth microphones are sometimes unreliable.
    • For interviews where the host and guest will be in different locations, try online recording platforms like Squadcast, Zencastr or Cast.  These apps make it easy to connect with your guest and to record quality audio.  They are as easy to use as a Zoom call.  The host and guest should each have their own wired microphone and headset.  Simple wired earbuds on a phone work well and are enough for most podcasts.

 

 

Recording the Show

  1. Find a quiet place free of distractions. An ideal spot doesn’t echo and has minimal ambient noise such as air flowing through AC vents or other subtle noises. Keep in mind that jewelry, and flipping through papers may be noticeable in the recording, so keep those at a minimum. 
  2. Try a test recording to confirm the quality of your location and equipment.  Keep in mind that you are not trying to achieve sound studio quality results, just clear enough to easily follow conversations.  
  3. Start off by interviewing a friend or family member for practice.  
  4. Test out and get used to the equipment and software.  Get comfortable with hearing your own voice.  Don’t be too critical.  Podcasting is not a place for perfectionism. This will help you move quickly into recording “real” episodes.  
  5. Treat “real” episodes the same as you would any other in-person conversation. If you make a mistake, say the wrong thing, or forget to mention something important, just say so and correct the information as soon as you realize the issue. Don’t count on complicated edits after the fact to make it work.  

 

Producing the show

Turning your raw recording into a finished podcast episode can range from simple to a complex affair.  If you are fairly tech savvy, have time to spare and have reasonable expectations for the finished product, you can probably edit and produce your own episodes.  There are many software apps and tools out there to help.

For most of us it’s a better use of our time to bring in some help. 

A professional podcast producer can quickly turn your raw files into something that sounds amazing.  A producer can help you record an intro and outro and select royalty free music to use as a soundbed. A professional producer can also help clean up the occasional hiccup in an interview or technical glitch.  Once the intro, outro and similar pieces are set up, producing subsequent episodes is relatively quick and easy.

Hosting the audio files  (the server type, not a person)

Once your episode is produced you will need a place to host the finished audio file.  Podcast hosting services do just that.  They store the actual finished podcast episode audio files and make them available to the various distribution channels such as iTunes, Google Play and Spotify.  

We suggest using Megaphone and Podbean to host your podcast.

Making your show available to listeners

The next step is to make your podcast available on the common podcast distribution networks.  

These are the platforms that listeners use to find, subscribe, and listen to shows.  A couple of the big ones are iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify.  Each of these platforms have built in audiences who are potential listeners to your show.   

You will need to set up accounts on these networks and link them to your podcast host (Megaphone, Podbean, etc.).  Once connected, your podcast host will automatically push episodes to the distribution networks once a new episode is added.

 

 

Promote your podcast

Congratulations! At this point you’re ready to start promoting your awesome new podcast.

Use your existing marketing channels to promote your new podcast.  Incorporate the podcast and episode releases into your overall marketing plan and efforts.  

Definitely use your social media accounts to promote it.  

  • Tease a future show via social.  
  • Then post again when it has been released.  
  • If you have guests on your show, ask them to promote it on their social media channels.  
  • Your guests social media contacts are a built in audience for that particular episode and very well may become subscribers to your show and followers of your social media channels.  
  • Depending on the topic of your show and desired audience, paid advertising may be an effective way to build listenership.  For example, LinkedIn advertising can be a great way to economically reach targeted business audiences. 

 

Gray Digital Group can help!

We’ve produced dozens of podcasts and hundreds of episodes.   We’re here to help.  Connect with us to discuss podcasting and how it may fit into your broader digital marketing strategy.

 

Shifting Marketing Strategies During and After the Pandemic

Studies show that the pandemic has directly impacted the way companies advertise their offering. With face-to-face interactions cut off, everyone relied on technology to get the information they needed. This led marketers to increase their social media spend by 74% over a 5 month period. 

In 2021 marketing departments need to utilize social media for experimental purposes. HBR points out that “statistics indicate that marketers are implementing new, improvised strategies frequently, but without fully understanding their effects.” Instead, marketers should take advantage of the opportunities available on social media platforms to test and receive direct measurable feedback. Understand what your target audience is responding to before moving ahead with a completely different strategy or implementing the latest tool. 

Speaking of new tools, when you are ready to try something new, there are many options. Social media platforms have launched new features such as Instagram Reels, Guides, LinkedIn Stories, and TikTok for Business. These were released in perfect time with the knowledge that people are interacting online more than ever (especially since the start of the pandemic) and people love to watch videos. 

With social media becoming a huge part of most organizations’ overall marketing strategies, it should be integrated into the strategy, align with your business goals, and be given the appropriate amount of advertising dollars. 

As you consider how to develop your marketing strategy during and post-pandemic, it’s important to strike a balance. You should be posting content that reflects our current reality but not boring viewers with another virus post. For example photos or videos with large gatherings of people could be seen as outdated or insensitive, but posting more information about the virus may fatigue some audience members. 

There are so many ways the pandemic is shifting the way organizations communicate with their audience, but the key points are:

  • Experiment with Social Media
  • Measure results with new strategies
  • Keep up with new tools and features
  • Integrate your social media strategy into your overall marketing strategy and allocate resources accordingly
  • Content creation should be timely, and reflect our current reality

Gray Digital Group is here to help you with your digital strategy development. Let us know if you’d like to learn more about how we use data and research to build comprehensive strategic plans. 

Source: https://hbr.org/2021/01/cmos-adapt-your-social-media-strategy-for-a-post-pandemic-world

WordPress Tops The Charts Again!

It comes as no surprise that once again, WordPress is the top content management system (CMS) for 2021. WordPress is used by 39.5% of all websites on the web, up from 35% of all sites in 2020.

The beauty of WordPress is that it is not just a blogging platform. It offers an array of plugins meeting almost any need. This makes it particularly appealing to business owners. It’s an easy to use CMS, loved by developers and clients alike.

This data was provided by W3Techs, who seeks to offer the “most reliable and most extensive source of information on web technology usage.” They conduct web usage surveys on content management systems, operating systems, web hosting providers, top-level domains, and more.

Gray Digital specializes in creating advanced WordPress websites. Let us know if you’d like help taking your WordPress site and your business to the next level!

 

https://www.searchenginejournal.com/wordpress-powers-39-5-of-all-websites/

The Best Times to Post on Social Media 2021

Do you question how to maximize your social media strategy? Do you notice that some days you post pure gold but only hear crickets? We can help. Oberlo has done the research and shared when the best times are to post in 2021. We are passing the knowledge along to you! 

With the advanced analytical technologies we now have, it is easier to track when people are on social platforms throughout the week. Because of the competitive algorithms that these platforms use, your posts don’t always get seen by your audience. By posting at the identified high traffic times, you have the best chance to reach more of your followers at one time. 

Interestingly, different social media platforms have different optimal times. Try scheduling your posts on days and times that align with the following information.

Read more here: https://www.oberlo.com/blog/best-time-post-social-media

 

Best time to post on Facebook

Best time to post on Instagram

Best time to post on Linkedin

Best time to post on Twitter

Best time to post on Youtube

 

The Gray Digital Group specializes in using data and research to create goal-driven marketing plans for social media. Let us know if you’d like to talk more about yours!

Contact Us Today

What is “Gray Matter”?

Medically speaking, grey matter serves to process information in the brain, and helps to process signals created by other sensory organs. Grey matter is also generally associated with intelligence and cognitive ability.

To break it down simply: Grey Matter = Your “Smarts”

So we decided to put our own little spin on the term grey matter hence the birth of our Gray Matter Newsletter.

We avoid cluttering your inbox, but instead provide you will useful, relevant information that we have gathered from our own expertise or from other experts in the industry. We share “our smarts” with you in our simple, no-nonsense newsletter.

Subscribe to tap into Gray Digital Group’s “Gray Matter”

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Yes, You Can Afford to Advertise on “TV”

More and more households are cutting the cord. We no longer rely on traditional cable companies and television networks to deliver movies, shows, and other content to us.  Streaming media services have taken over. eMarketer (www.emarketer.com) estimates that more than half the US population views streaming type media content.  Streaming media includes both live streaming (watching programs real-time online) and subscription type on-demand services (where you choose from a library of shows and movies). Examples include Hulu, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Google Chromecast — among others. These services and devices are referred to as Over-the-Top video services (OTT). They bypass the traditional media or cable networks in their delivery.

This means two things for business marketers. First, TV type advertising can now be highly targeted to select audiences. Second, the cost of TV advertising has dramatically decreased. Advertisers can pick and choose who sees their ads. Marketers can select the geography and granular demographics of viewers. They can even target prior online behavior of potential viewers. Targeted ads reach the right audience while minimizing ad spend going to the wrong market.  Targeted ads, by definition, are going to a select part of a broader pool of viewers. So, advertising to that smaller group is less expensive than purchasing a “prime-time” spot on a traditional network that blankets all viewers.

Bottom line is that — yes you can afford to advertise on “TV”. Campaigns with budgets of a couple of thousand dollars a month can yield results with OTT advertising. This is especially true when built into a broader digital campaign.

Let us know if we can help you work OTT advertising into your digital strategy.

The Importance of Annual Digital Planning

2021 is moving fast, so before we get too far into the year we want to share why annual planning is so important. Annual Digital Planning will allow you to set the roadmap for digital success. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but does need to be precise.

Here are three easy ways to get started with your annual planning:

          

 

1. Set Goals

Goals vary from increasing leads, brand awareness, search engine visibility, and traffic. Setting annual goals will allow you to measure the success of your annual digital plan and help guide your strategy and budget.

2. Secure a Strategy

Create an annual strategy and determine digital tactics based on your strategy. It’s important to remember that with digital tactics like PPC or SEO, you will not yield results immediately. It takes time for Google to acknowledge your digital efforts. Consistency is key.

3. Determine your Budget

Set your digital marketing budget on an annual basis instead of a monthly one. This will allow you to determine the amount you are able to invest in your strategy. Depending on peak season, your budget may vary from month to month. It’s important to monitor your budget and adjust based on ongoing analysis and consumer needs.

Knowing where you’re going and how you’re going to get there is a huge determiner for success. If these steps overwhelm you, give us a call and we will help you create an annual digital plan that will yield results!

Contact Us Today

Does Your Business Need to Pay-to-Play on Facebook?

The short answer is yes. Long gone are the days when most of your followers would actually see each of your posts in their Facebook feed.  Today, it appears that only 5-10% of your page followers actually see any one of your posts.  This percentage is called “organic reach”.  Organizations like Social Media Examiner and Hootsuite monitor organic reach and report it to have been in steady decline over recent years.

So what does this mean? In short, fewer people are seeing the posts that you are making on your business Facebook page. That in turn means fewer people have the opportunity to like and share those posts. This makes it harder to grow a Facebook audience and to leverage that audience for marketing purposes.

What’s the solution? Unfortunately, buying ads and paying to boost posts is what it takes. Pay-to-play is now the name of the Facebook game, but it’s not all bad. Facebook advertising tools have greatly improved and identifying and marketing to highly qualified customers can be accomplished relatively easily and doesn’t require a large investment.

Does this mean I should give up on posting to my business Facebook page? NO! You still want and need engaging content on your Facebook business page.  Existing customers, page fans, followers and prospective customers will visit and interact with the page. A business’s social media presence is becoming more and more important to customers and prospects as they make buying decisions. This is especially true when running Facebook ads since the first impression you make on a prospective customer could be through that ad.

Questions? We’re happy to help with your social media advertising and broader digital strategy needs and planning. 

Connect With Us Today

Improve Your Keyword Research for SEO

[Power user content… this article assumes the reader has had at least some prior experience with the topic]

Descriptive, keyword-rich copy is critical to ranking well in search engines.  Web copy should speak to your target audience using the same terms and language style that they use when searching for your products and/or services. 

In order to do this, it’s important to understand what the intent is behind the user’s search query.  Search queries primarily correspond to one of four categories of search intent: informational, transactional, comparison or navigational.  

If a company sells small business accounting software, some of those queries might be:

  1. Informational accounting for small businesses 
  2. Transactionalpurchase accounting software online
  3. Comparisonbest bookkeeping software for a small business
  4. Navigationaldownload XYZ software for free

How to Find Keywords

To begin: brainstorm.  You can probably think of dozens of phrases off the top of your head.  Jot them down and assign a search intent category to each phrase that you come up with.  If you have a sales or customer service team, they can be a great asset during this keyword discovery stage.  People who interact directly with clients and prospects likely get asked many of the same questions over and over.  What are those questions, and what is their intent?  If your website has a search function, you may also want to look at those logs to see how users are searching once they do find your site. 

Keyword Tools

There are also several free keyword tools that can help you find additional search phrases relevant to your business. A quick search at Wordtracker.com (https://www.wordtracker.com) will reveal several additional phrases along with monthly search volume metrics:

 

Another great strategy is to find semantically related phrases to use throughout your page copy. Finding and using related phrases may help you rank for both primary phrases and keyword variations related to your page topic. An easy way to find phrases that Google might consider “related” is to inspect the keyword suggestions that are provided when you begin to type in a phrase:

Keyword Usage

Now that you have a list of relevant and closely related phrases to use throughout your site copy, sculpt your pages to speak to each category of search intent, followed up with a strong, impactful call-to-action. 

By following this strategy you’ll help Google understand your products and services.  And, most importantly, you’ll be connecting with your customers and prospects using language that they understand.

 

Learn More About SEO or Contact Us to Get Started

We’re all doing something wrong… How does a 9 year old make $29 MILLION on YouTube?

Once again, Forbes predicted that nine year old, Ryan Kaji, would be one of the top earning YouTubers of 2020.  His channel, Ryan’s World, is still unbelievably popular.  His videos routinely get millions of views.  You can take a look at his channel here and see a sample video below.  Most of his videos are short, light hearted kid centric stories, or show him unboxing and reviewing new toys.  

This little guy’s success has caused many people to contemplate their career path decisions. It couldn’t be that hard to do this? Could it? Before you go and recruit your children, nieces, nephews or other youngsters to host your new YouTube channel, it needs to be pointed out that Ryan’s World is now a serious business operation.  What probably started out as a whimsical video or two shot on a smartphone is now supported by professional videographers, animators and digital strategists.  The result is nothing less than impressive. With tens of millions in income, advertisers are clearly willing to pay for the resulting video views and the parent’s wallets that they are attached to.  

Ryan’s World and similar channels show the value and power of targeted audiences.  It’s the value of the right message, in the right place at the right time.  

While we can’t guarantee YouTube stardom, we can help you identify digital opportunities and find targeted audiences to better position your brand, products and services. 

Contact Us to Start a Conversation

You can see the Forbes Highest-Paid YouTube Stars of 2020 list here.