Understanding Instagram

14 Nov

BoomerLakeStillwater

“Look at this vintage photo I took of the lake near my work!”

This slightly sarcastic exclamation illustrates the assumption many have of Instagram being nothing more than a place to post pictures of one’s breakfast or bicycle. Although it is true that Instagram is a place to do this, many businesses such as Nike, Starbucks and the NBA have recognized the massive power of Instagram as a communication tool.

I took the photo above at Boomer Lake in Stillwater, Okla. Using Instagram, I uploaded the photo, added a filter, wrote a description, and placed the hashtag symbol in front of words in my description related to the picture.

So why should your business care about Instagram and how can you use it to help your business? I’ll answer these questions in my next post, “Instagram your business.” Before we dive into the potential value of Instagram for business, let’s take a minute to establish a basic understanding of what Instagram is and how it works.

Six things to know about instagram:

1. Instagram is a free social media app for iPhone and Android that was launched in 2010 and sold to Facebook in 2012. A username and photo are all that is required to start an account.

2. Instagram allows users to share photos and 15 second videos. These photos and videos can be found by anyone with an account. A follower of an account will automatically see uploads from the followed account in their feed.

3. Users can take photos or videos using the app or choose to upload photos previously taken on their phones. All photos will be cropped into the signature Instagram square. A variety of filters can be applied to a photo or video for a desired effect. Before posting, a user can write a description of the photo or video.

4. Like other social media sites, Instagram lets users put the hashtag symbol, #, in front of words in a photo’s description. These hashtags makes photos more searchable by other users, extending the reach of a photo.

5. Those with an Instagram account can “like” a photo or video by double clicking on it. Users can also comment on their own or another’s photo. Unless a user sets their account to “private,” their photos can be found by anyone with an account.

6. Instagram allows users to select to post their photos or videos on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr by providing their login info for the various accounts.

Now that you have a basic overview of what it is, try it out. Then watch for our next blog on how to maximize it for your business. If you’re wondering what photos in general may do for your promotional and customer education efforts, also see Laurie’s previous blog on the power of photography.

3 tips for better blogging

9 Oct

As I sit to type a blog post about adding a blog into one’s social media mix, I am reminded of a skit on my favorite sketch comedy. In the two-minute skit, a man is in stuck in a technology loop. He moves from checking email to news to Netflix to text messages. The cycle continues in a comical fashion.

We live in an online world. We are expected to connect with our audiences through a plethora of mediums. We often start with a website. Then we create a Facebook page. Then we set up a Twitter account. Now throw a blog into the mix. Managing your social media mix might seem overwhelming, but there are ways to keep it simple and still be effective.

It may not appear to be at first, but a blog can be manageable. We often hear from clients the usual and understandable exclamations of “I don’t have time to blog!” and “I wouldn’t know what to write about it!”

Whether it’s for your business, nonprofit or yourself, here are three tips on blogging that will help you write stellar content for your blog.

1. Educate. Show your expertise in your field. Blog with the mindset that you want readers to be able to take away new knowledge and insight from your posts. When you sit down to write a new post, take some time to read the news in your industry. Doing this will help generate great ideas for a post that will be relevant and useful to your readers.

2. Connect. A blog post can be more informal and personal than a news article. Take advantage of the opportunity to be relatable and conversational. Write in such a way that your readers feel like you understand and care about them. Nobody wants to read a blog that is self-serving. Cross out the “I” and replace with the “you” and “us.”

3. Inspire. Not every blog post you write needs to motivate readers to go out and change the world, but readers should be able to read a post and feel like they have read something worthwhile to them. The more useful the information, habit challenge or task tip you can include, the more likely your readers are to read your future blogs and/or to post or share your blog with their network; which is where the magic of multiplication begins to take place. Good content leads to great followers. So, inspire them.

Blogging is a learned skill that, like other skills, can improve with time and practice. For a great example of a blog educating, inspiring and connecting to its readers, check out LeaderHuddle, a blog by Beacon Client Cathy McCullough.

The more you read other blogs and write your own posts, the more you will improve your posts and even enjoy blogging. As we at Beacon continue to dip our toes into the blogosphere, we hope you’ll stay with us. We would love for you to share your own blogs and blogging tips with us!

Does the thought of blogging still leave you feeling uneasy? No matter your level of experience with writing or blogging, Beacon can help light your way. Give us a buzz and we can take a look at your goals.

Connecting with audiences through Pinterest

16 Sep

Pinterest has come a long way since its beginning in 2010. In 2011, I began hearing statements like, “I just pinned the cutest idea for mason jar candles to my wedding board.” I didn’t initially understand what all the hype was about, but I started my own account and began creating my own cleverly-named craft, recipe and lifestyle boards.

There are about 70 million Pinterest users today. You ask what this statistic means for your organization’s communication goals? It means Pinterest is another medium your organization can use to connect with its audience. Pinterest has become more than a place to post recipes and craft projects. Many organizations from Southwest Airlines to the U.S. Army are leveraging Pinterest to reach an even broader audience.

Here at Beacon, we are in the process of creating our own Pinterest account. Below are three tips we’ve learned along the way that will help your organization as it considers creating an account.

1)  Show your organization’s personality through boards and pins:

Do you own a coffee shop? Consider pinning pictures of latte art, reading lists and pastry recipes. Think about what your brand offers beyond traditional products or services. What are the current trends in your industry? Identify these trends and use them to fuel ideas for your account.

Pinterest encourages businesses to “be authentic” and “show what inspires you.” So pin your organization’s passion. Through doing so, you invite others to share in your passion.

2) Create meaningful content for your followers:

Pins are essentially links to outside websites. Look at the online content your organization already has available and pin this content to your boards. These pins take pinners back to your website or blog.

Explore ways to create new content to share through your account. Don’t rely solely on the pins of others!

3) Interact with other pinners through likes, repins and comments:

Pinterest allows users to pin, like and comment on content.  Pinners can see when other users interact with their pins. Through participating in all these activities, you expand your presence on the site, which will hopefully result in pinners interacting with your pins in return.

Have any tips about using Pinterest for business? We want to hear!

Photography Power

13 Sep

A picture speaks a thousand words. And cliches are turn-offs. So let’s begin again.

How much power is in your photography? Can someone glance at your marketing materials and get the gist of who you are and what you do? Or are they at least curious to focus on you another moment or two and make that determination?If they look at your website, photography, videography, print materials, building and then they look at a competitor’s site, materials, building – is there a difference that testifies to the brand you hope to represent?

Are you using stock photos? Most of the time, that’s not so great. For example, the photo you have placed in your beautiful investment may also be used in the nearby pharmacy or card store making a completely different point. You inadvertently compromise your quality or, worse, associate yourself with another brand unintentionally. No matter what great design you do with the photo, it is always less effective than a true-to-you, one-of-a-kind original. That’s tough, sometimes costly and feels like a burden I bet. Making a commitment to original photography is worth it. Stock photos have their place, but shouldn’t be your leading piece. If you’re really looking at unleashing some photography power on your PR, originals matter. When you think photography, think ORIGINAL. Beyond that, think creative. Think people. Think expectations. Think function. I’ll explain.

1. Creative.

Photography and other visual creations can stir more buzz than most headlines, speakers and events. Remember the movie Patch Adams when they put giant bent legs up on either side of the lecture hall’s door for the gynecology convention?

Photography and creative visuals make a point. Good or bad - they can make a big point!

Photography and creative visuals make a point. Good or bad – they can make a big point!

Horribly hilarious, right?

I’m not saying that was a good idea. And that wasn’t a photo, exactly, but I encourage you to get creative with your visuals so you’ll make the lasting impact you need. Here’s a link with funny photo and guerilla marketing/visual interest examples: http://www.creativeguerrillamarketing.com/guerrilla-marketing/the-80-best-guerilla-marketing-ideas-ive-ever-seen/.

Take the time to unleash real creative energy instead of sticking to the standard template or photo genre your organization always puts out year after year. It’s true that this has to be done well. You don’t want to deviate so far from the beaten path of your brand that it’s disconnected from your strategy. You must connect the dots between the creative goal and your overriding marketing need.

2. People.

Study after study site the powerful phenomenon that people love to see, look at and study other people. People also don’t have a realistic perception of who they are or how they appear. So, when you are marketing with photos of people, you’re getting into an entire realm of psychological factors in terms of your effort to trigger a positive, memorable, meaningful response. People do in fact relate most to photos of other people and are more likely to literally picture themselves in your product, service or the lifestyle associated with it when they see someone they relate to in your graphics. However, people photos can be overdone and may not be your best hook or lead piece. The book “Three and a Tree” makes many great marketing points, one of which suggests that many campus directories and promotional items feature three students wearing backpacks on a campus with a tree and a red brick building. Can’t you picture it now? The photos may be relatable in that case, but they’re not SPEAKING to the audience in a way that differentiates from anything else they’re studying. So, while photography of people can be super compelling and we’d encourage you to use them, it doesn’t trump advice to know your audience and create those meaningful distinctives early in your interactions.

Most marketers get a speech about diversity of photo subjects early on in their education; meaning a successful marketing doesn’t have all Caucasian, blond people on the cover of their products, so they broaden their appeal to everyone. Get some diversity worked in, considering race, age and other demographic factors that can be assumed or deduced from a visual. We love teasing Jordan Ihrig, our talented colleague, for being the perfect photo candidate because she’s not only beautiful, but somewhat mysterious. She could be perceived to be a broad range of ages and even races.

Beautiful, for sure!

Beautiful, for sure!

Ok, maybe we want to use her in photo/video shoots mostly because she’s just stunning. But you get the point. Diversity matters. You want to be this happy mom on the beach with a happy energetic kiddo whether you’re 22 or 36, indian, oriental, black or white; rich or poor – or a variety of other demographic factors. So, while demographic diversity matters, it only matters to the degree that’s realistic for what your organization is really like. For example, if you have a campus with lots of white people and a ton of people from Korea and a small scattering of other backgrounds, your materials for recruiting new students need to paint an accurate expectation. That leads me into our next point.

3. Expectations. Marketing is persuasive education. I know – you’ve heard me say that over & over. Really great marketing is most persuasive and effective because it carefully manages the expectation of your target audience. If your website is sleek and beautiful but someone shows up at your place of business and it’s run down and dirty, there’s a mixed message and an unhappy patron. If your leaders are displayed on the website and social media galleries wearing suits & carefully photo shopped for less wrinkles & flaws, but then they show up at an event or in business casual and tired – again, there’s a mixed message and an unhappy patron. You need to manage the expectation that is realistic to what you will consistently deliver.

Not only do you need to manage an expectation that’s realistic, but you also need to manage an expectation that’s idealistic. You need to think about not only the kind of customer and team member you have (realistic), but the kind of customer and team member you WANT (idealistic). This goes back to overall operational goals and system analyses your Beacon team is proud to offer, unlike many other creative firms. If you’re not represented by the best of your workforce, your marketing is ultimately less effective. Let’s work on attracting and representing your group with a better set of employees – whether that’s training for current colleagues or some transitions. If you’re not being honored by the customers you have – they’re unkind, slow to pay, confused, disrespectful, in-compliant – let’s develop a clear picture of your ideal customer and how to target them. THEN, you’ll have photos that not only set a clear expectation for what IS but position you to effectively transform into what you want TO BE!

4. Think function. No matter how neat the photo is, if it’s not clearly visible, it doesn’t work. Consider the medium the photo will be used with, what distance it needs to be legible, who will be attempting to dicipher its meaning, how long it will be on display and what aging protections need to be considered, the life cycle of your piece and other factors. Make sure your photo is used in a functional way, or its worth is lost. Test it in a variety of networks in case it has a connotation of which you’re not aware. Don’t get so creative that you forget the basic function of the end project.

 

I bet I’ll think of more photography advice, but it’s Friday night and we all gotta go be with our loved ones. Right? Right! Thanks for reading. Pass it on & share your thoughts or favorite photos with us somehow. We’d love to see.

Oh & here’s a super quick video summary from Beacon Marketing Strategist Lane Bruder on photography: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI6qlz4zSOU

If you’re looking for a professional photographer in the Stillwater, Oklahoma area, we’ve had great success with Brent Niles lately of BBJN Designs. We have others we’ve worked with well and there are a few members of our team with high tech cameras and professional training. We’ll be glad to connect you and/or help oversee the creative process, including photography efforts.

 

:: Have a great weekend. Our best to you always. Enjoy that photography. TELL A STORY WORTH TELLING! ::

 

Being Beacon

6 Sep

The transition from summer to the start of the school year has been a time of change here at Beacon. We’ve had one member of our team (Laurie) make an exciting move to Kentucky. She’s still involved and connected to your cause, even though she’s on a new adventure. We also welcomed a talented graphic designer to the team, Kala McDonald. All along the way, we join together to cheer you and our clients toward new goals.

Yes, even with all these changes, we’re still Beacon at our core. What does it mean to “be Beacon?” Well, we are committed to helping light your way to relationships and results. At Beacon, we believe in good thinking and the balance of both efficiency and effectiveness.

Think of this blog as our continued effort to share these qualities through the categories of marketing, life reflections and even some midwest-specific PR. One of our talented researchers, writers & marketing strategists, Sarah Andrews, will help update this blog throughout the fall with news, musings and other bits of information relevant to the world of PR and marketing. May good thinking and the E:E ratio inspire your communication.

Our best to you,

The Beacon Team

Open the Door

3 Sep

Open the door. Seems easy enough. But, hey, we’ve had many a sales guy tell us there are times when they’d rather just drive on by than stop, open the car door, open a potential customer’s door and present options before calling on a decision to be made. Whether you’re in sales or not, your professional paths are sure to come across some moments when the best thing you do is open that door and make the introduction or present the deal. So, could you agree that sometimes opening the door is the toughest part of making a sale?

Opening the door can also carry significant figurative weight. “God never closes one door without opening another” has been featured on countless trinkets, encouraging people to keep their heads up and press ahead through tough times.

You can imagine the panic of someone locked in or locked out who is demanding “OPEN THE DOOR!” I was recently shut out of my own nine-year-old daughter’s room. I said “open the door” quite clearly and I was not thinking of the phrase’s sales or life perspectives. I had an immediate need to reach her and I was emphatic that the door open right away.

Have you ever had stage fright? The door might be a curtain or it might be just a fear to take that first step and open the door of your public criticism (or praise). Yikes – open the door and step out in front of others. Leadership is tough and performing is tough, but we’re sometimes called to take that step, aren’t we?

Many of us church-raised people have been singing songs about Jesus knocking at the door our entire lives. Yes, he’s knocking and all we have to do is…there it is again…open the door. That signifies an opening of our hearts, minds and will to that of the supreme Savior who can and will transform our lives and who will declare our eternities.

So, those three words “Open the Door” could mean something different to all of us.

When the blog schedule (which I’ve clearly not held to well at all) was first drafted, I was supposed to write a blog for each letter of the alphabet. They’re all marketing-related, tip-oriented topics and so, at the time of that calendar commitment, this blog was intended to motivate you as marketing and sales people – as communicators – to open the door and get the job done. See the task ahead and start taking steps to get there. Work through the tough moments and keep opening doors, cutting red tape, communicating your way through objections and getting closer to the solution and/or goal. I still feel a sincere calling to urge you to be tenacious in the task you have and work diligently toward the end goal. That starts with a goal, with a clear desire to reach the cause. GIVE A CARE. Want it. Get to it. Open that door and make it happen. I am great at this in some aspects of my life (like PR plans for clients) and horrible about this in other aspects of my life (like exercise plans). So, I know it’s tough and I hope this catches you at a time when you can claim a new mantra. Just open the door. One more step. Put yourself in the position to get it done and get it done well. Be there. Open. The. Door.

So, that’s the point I wanted to make and that I’m glad to make on Beacon’s behalf. We have had that conversation with numerous clients who just needed to get the foot out there, put it down in a forward motion and take the next step. We’re glad to come alongside them and help them be more confident and prepared and focused as they do so. If you’ll humor me, though, I’d like to take this topic in a completely new direction that’s a little more about my personal life than my Beacon advice. That ok?

Ok.

Open the door. Sigh. Where do I begin? Years ago Natalie Grant came out with a CD (remember the shiny, flat, round things we used to put in hardware audio devices before we all played music on our handhelds?). Her CD had themes of surrender that struck me in a meaningful way. Coupled with prayer and journaling moments – intimate moments with my amazing friend Jesus (I just can’t make that sound cool to some of you, I know. I’m a dork. Read on.) – I discovered areas of my life that I was refusing to surrender. Over a period of months, I began to sing that CD to the skies all times of the day and at all volumes from silent prayers to tearful cries. I was ready for God to awaken me and use me, no matter what. I was prepared for him to hold me, even if it doesn’t work out like I’d hope. The wreckage that unfolded soon after has been devastating. Everything crumbled slowly and painfully, yet I felt God’s unwavering sustenance and guidance. Years later, it all still hurts but I know I there was a nearly miraculous transformation that freed some souls when I opened the door; when I raised my hands and told God to clean our lives and use us best. I’m still not sure what His purpose was in some of that situations. Both the process and end result have not been beautiful and easy. Yet I trust. I have an open hymnal on my piano turned to “Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go,” and that is just where I camped my heart. I learned that being RIGHT can feel better than being HAPPY in some strange way. Peace and joy would seep out of our lives and our testimonies, even though we were amidst painful situations and being persecuted with lies. I know God’s growing me and my girls, and even some friendships through this but shew – it bites.

Another chapter of that strange whirlwind-like experience has come more recently as I became convicted about some other issues, like financial responsibility. I felt I needed to rediscover some better ways of managing our budget. More pressing, I was coping with constant reminders that my kids were in chaotic, stressful situations. While I had believed, for several years, that we would always be in that yucky circumstance and we must just endure, it’s clear to me now that He orchestrated a variety of conversations and situations together for my clarity. Could He care so much for little ol’ me; for just our little bunch? It’s overwhelming! It creates a sense of awe and fear at the same time. I again (but still reluctantly) began to OPEN THE DOORs of my life; doors I didn’t realize I had closed. I addressed responsibilities I had already given over to the providence of God, yet somehow taken back over into my corners of worry and fruitless work. I opened the door and surrendered all the way again. That led me to make a decision with full confidence and zero doubt. We moved a few states away. Quickly. Nuts? Maybe a little. Right? Absolutely. Stressed? Umm, yes! At peace? In all the ways that count, yep! So, here we are.

My prayer is that I never get stuck in the daily grind again in such a way that the doors close. I think any fruit my life did bear quickly rotted by the rest of my stinky attitude and ignorance. I was definitely cramping things and flailing around frustrated. So, my goal is to stop that and open the door to new. I pray we stay focused on Him on a daily – no momentary – basis so that a surrender to Him isn’t such a life-shaking event, but rather a lifestyle. It is through Him and only through Him that we’ll be ok. Right? I mean we can’t try any harder, do any better, endure any longer, cope any stronger. It’s not even about us and our state of comfort. That’s the entirely wrong gauge on the entirely wrong instrument for getting through life. Reminds me of Ephesians, among other books. Chapter 2 verses 9 & 10 NLT say “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Love that! It’s about his plan – not us at all. So read the whole thing…it’s all so good. I love when you work on into Ephesians 3:16-19, again NLT, where it says “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Let’s all pray that together and be made complete for his purpose. Let’s open our doors and refocus our lives on what really matters because, whether you’re an Oklahoman or a Kentuckian, you know the point here is that it ain’t about us! Only he can make the way.

Ok, enough personal gushing.

::Open the door! Love ya’ll!::

Never Say Never?

9 Jul

Never say never. Well, sometimes say never. Strong COEs make decisions. They don’t get stuck in an almost decision or suffer from that ongoing task force to address every possible issue pertaining to the decision that should’ve already been made. Sometimes you have to make a firm decision. Draw a line in the sand. Sometimes you have to forget the popular choice, do what’s right and press ahead with clear focus. As a strong communicator, you must listen carefully to make educated decisions and then – scary as it may be – you must make that decision and stick with it. Do what’s ultimately good for the end goal. Making the decision is only part of the success story. Communication (both listening and presenting) will get the ball the rest of the way to the goal. You’ll be a better decision maker when you’re listening well and you’ll be a better communicator when you are passionate about the decision and resulting outcomes. Be confident in your daily marketing and overall operations decisions – even the far-reaching, occasional claims for “never” and “always”. Knowing when to say never is a skill, so study other decision makers, leaders and wildly successful individuals, teams and organizations. Learn from others’ strengths and mistakes. Let that inspiration feed you as you snowball it all up – your own powerful instincts, the leading of your creator, all the input you can gather about the decision before you and the provided circumstances – snowball it all up into one big, giant, good mix of nevers, sometimeses, maybes and alwayses you believe in and communicate well. People will join you.