In Search of Voodoo: Optimizing the Customer Journey on the Search & Social Web

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optimize customer journeyI get to meet a lot of professionals in the marketing, advertising, communications and public relations industries where topics of conversation often revolve around content. Concerns about where to start, what tactics work best, how to plan, produce and promote all come into play right along with staffing, integration with other channels and measurement.

Of course, if you try hard enough you can worry yourself out of a job when it comes to developing a solid approach with content marketing.

On the one hand, there’s a temptation to spend a lot of time and resources developing “the perfect” strategy. On the other hand, you could also just start cranking out content and see what sticks.

Neither of those approaches really work well in a practical way. What does work? There’s one thing that can help answer many of the concerns marketers have about content and that also helps you cut to the chase for practical implementation: Understanding the customer journey.

Google Think Insights has a great post with tools to help marketers better understand how different content and channels affects customers during the buying cycle or customer journey to online purchase. Check it out and then come back.

Google Customer Journey

Welcome back. Google has some of the best content marketing, don’t they?

There’s a saying that goes something like, “Walk a mile in a man’s shoes to really understand where he’s been” that reflects what a lot of companies don’t consider when creating their digital marketing plans.

Understanding the customer experience from awareness to consideration to purchase folds well into the core principle of Optimize – to empathize with your customer and understand how they discover, consume and act on information. By doing so, you can create a practical digital marketing plan that optimizes for attraction, engagement and conversion.

To put that idea of customer empathy in action, I put myself in the position of a customer and documented my journey from curious social browser to a highly motivated searcher.

Portland, OR

I started on Facebook, asking my network (as many people do) for recommendations on things to do and see in Portland. Immediatley, Melodie Tao not only made several recommendations including Powell’s Bookstore, Voodoo Doughnuts and Portland City Grill, but she pointed me to a blog post where she had documented her visit to Portland.  Pretty awesome right? I received many more suggestions from other friends too.

But is that all I needed to take action? Maybe for some people. But I needed more information, especially about Voodoo Doughnuts. So what do you do when a friend recommends something and you need to get more details? Where do you go to get more facts and information as well as to validate their recommendation?

Yes, that’s right. You Google it.

Voodoo SERPs

Lucky for me the search results for “vodoo doughnuts” reveals a cornucopia of useful information including reviews, local information, coverage in local and national press, the business website, map, address and even photos of the product.

That was enough for me. I knew I needed to include Voodoo Doughnuts in my presentation. If for nothing else, to experience the freak of sugary gastronomy that is known as a “Bacon Maple Bar“.

 Voodoo Doughnut

Arriving at the store didn’t disappoint and of course I had to take photos. And what do you do with those photos?

Voodoo Doughnuts Foursquare

You use them when you check in on Foursquare.

Voodoo Doughnuts InstagramVoodoo Doughnuts Pinterest

Then share to Instagram and Pinterest of course.

The takeaway here is to think about the ways in which your target audience discovers, consumers and acts on information so you can give them what they want.  Optimizing for the customer journey means bringing in content, social media, search, advertising and even PR to help your brand become the best answer whether customers are asking their friends on Facebook or searching on Google.

It may not be practical to literally put yourself in your customers’ shoes, but maybe there’s an opportunity for a virtual “ride along” by talking to sales and business development staff or product marketing at your company. As much pressure as there is for ROI, don’t solely focus on optimizing for transactions, but optimize for experiences as well.

Is there a proactive effort at your company to map the customer journey? If you have multiple, distinct customer segments, do you identify the sales cycle for each group? What are some of your challenges and successes?

Photo: Shutterstock


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7 Steps to SEO at Scale: How to Ramp Up Your Search Engine Optimization Strategy

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Scalable SEO in brands and organizationscomScore reports that in April 2013 there were over 20 billion search queries and of the 13 billion+ handled by Google, 16% of daily searches have never been seen before.  Each of those attempts represents buyers looking for solutions at the moment of need. Online marketers that take advantage of modern, scalable search engine optimization best practices as part of their overall digital marketing mix can gain a significant advantage over competitors to become “the best answer” when it matters most.

Understanding the basics of search engine optimization can be challenging given how often major search engines update and change the rules. However, buyers’ overwhelming use of search to find solutions is too great to ignore it’s influence on the buying cycle and achieving sales growth goals.

Along with managing the implementation of current SEO best practices, marketers must also take advantage of SEO performance improvement opportunities. In competitive industries, these opportunities come up regularly and without warning. Organic search is very much a race to the top, in that one brand’s loss of positioning is another’s opportunity to move up the ranks.

Of course, ranking well for keywords that customers use when searching for solutions is useless to your business unless that positioning brings inquiries and conversions. The good news is, SEO best practices help achieve better positioning as well as the performance of those rankings. Business growth feeds the online marketing budget; brands dedicate more resources to online marketing tactics like SEO as they show growth in ROI. Marketers able to successfully manage SEO as part of the online marketing mix and demonstrate ROI can scale their SEO programs for even greater success.

But how do you do scale SEO? This post will outline 7 steps towards scaling up your search optimization strategy from benchmarks to conversions so you can create the framework for even more success with organic search.

Get Your Ducks in a Row

Planning for growth first requires an inventory of all existing assets, challenges, and opportunities. This insight helps drive a strategy based on a realistic understanding of where your business sits in the eyes of potential and existing customers –  and in comparison to competitors. Some assets can be retooled, while you will realize other areas where new assets would be beneficial.  Take stock of your situation and the variety of influencing factors, in order to begin planning from an informed and prepared place.

Make Your Business Case

Scalable SEO requires buy-in from company decision-makers, throughout planning and execution. You don’t need to know exactly what will happen and clearly, you don’t have a crystal ball. However, you should know enough of your business, industry, marketplace and opportunity to make educated projections based on a variety of scenarios and tactics you could employ.

A successful business case will clearly show decision-makers exactly how your proposed strategy and tactics will work and why they are necessary. Marketers need to take care to explain the opportunities (and detriment if action is not taken) in a way those outside of SEO will understand. Tie each facet of your SEO strategy to a business objective to win over those who will make or break your plans with their decisions. Most importantly, give them options. Don’t become married to one way of doing things, because there are always alternatives. Having more than one path in mind to your goal gives you the opportunity to refute rejections with alternate plans of action. It also helps decision-makers feel more involved and invested in the process when they are able to actually make decisions instead of being asked to sign off on the entire plan as a whole.

Have Resources at the Ready

If you’re handling your SEO strategy in-house, prepare training material and documentation to help new team members quickly get up to speed. Taking on new hires during growth can be challenging, as everyone involved is in learning mode.

If you are working with an agency, choose one from the start with the talent and resources to grow with your SEO needs. Remember that your SEO strategy is an investment; the cheapest option may not be the one that can scale with your growing company and its needs.

Plan a Multi-Faceted Approach

If you are responsible for the entire online marketing plan, SEO is just one of  your considerations as the company grows and online marketing needs increase. If you are responsible for SEO only, you had better have a good working relationship with those who handle online advertising, public relations, social media and content marketing.

Sustainable growth requires that each component of your online marketing strategy work together. Assets from content marketing are critical to your search strategy. Social media is needed to build community, drive traffic and amplify your messaging. Email marketing can help close the leads earned through search. Integrating all aspects of your online marketing strategy brings a better ROI for each individual component and delivers a better, more personalized experience for customers.

Get Back to Basics and Best Practices

SEO changes rapidly, yet there are underlying best practices and basics that ensure your site and online presence is a good foundation for the actions you will take as your business grows. One client we worked with recently was able to increase their pageviews and conversion simply by getting back to basics, putting their customer journey first, and making on-site changes to bring them in line with SEO best practices.

Plan to Succeed and Avoid Playing Catch-up

At TopRank Online Marketing, we recently worked with a B2B online services provider looking for greater exposure of their company website where interested prospects were looking. They were looking to attract a very targeted subset of professionals to use their service and did not feel their current SEO strategy had kept pace with the growth of their company. The TopRank team saw an opportunity to drive more traffic to the website – which we did, to the tune of an almost 400% YoY increase – but also to optimize the on-site experience for visitors and close the gaps in their journey to conversion.

Bringing on an agency to get their SEO strategy up to speed helped them reach their potential. However, customers were lost as the business grew without an SEO strategy to match their opportunity and growth in other areas.  By implementing a cohesive program based both on search engine visibility and unique content to answer prospect needs, we were able to improve the overall quality of traffic and ultimately increase  the amount of customers driven from search. Imagine the results if their search strategy had kept pace!

Understand Your Customer Journey and Invest in CRO

If you want to be top of mind in a competitive industry, make your customers and their journey top of mind as you plan and execute your SEO strategy. Search engine optimization has to factor in what people will do, what action they will take, once they actually get to your site. CRO is the logical next step in any SEO plan, but also an important consideration in scalable SEO. Getting the right eyes on your site and helping them fulfill the need that brought them there needs to happen in tandem.

Clearly, preparation is vital to the success of an SEO strategy that can grow with your company and customers’ needs. We need to be able to plan, yet stay agile and able to quickly react to – or even anticipate – changing needs and opportunities.

Have you experienced challenges or successes in scaling your SEO strategy to meet demand? Share your own experience in the comments.


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Top 5 Social Media Questions Marketers Want Answered

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2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report SME

What if you could tap into the minds of 3,000 marketers to find out where they stand when it comes to social media marketing? How valuable would it be to know how your peers are handing the time commitments, social media platforms and measurement?

Lucky you and lucky me, the answers to those questions are found in today’s 2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report from Michael Stelzner and Social Media Examiner.

A few of this year’s social media statistics:

  • 86% of marketers say social media is important for their business
  • 69% plan to increase their use of YouTube
  • 58% of marketers are blogging and 62% will increase blogging in 2013
  • 49% picked Facebook as the single most important social network
  • 89% of marketers state that increased exposure was the most important benefit of social media marketing

From the most popular forms of social media marketing to measurement, to integration with other digital marketing tactics, his year’s report offers answers as well asks more questions.

Those additional questions “Top 5 Social Media Questions Marketers Want Answered” are just one section of the report and also the topic of this post. Below you’ll find the percentage of responses for each pressing issue and  my thoughts on the answer plus resources for further exploration.

1. What social tactics are most effective? – 90%

Of all the questions answered by this report, identifying the most effective social media marketing tactics was the most important to respondents. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogging and YouTube were the top 5 platforms used by marketers in the survey.

When answering this very important and popular question, there are a few important considerations. Don’t fall for a simple list of the most popular social media platforms since what works for another company may not work for yours. At the same time, don’t think that you have to conduct an exhaustive research project into which social platforms your customers are on before making any kind of social media marketing commitment.

The practical approach is to make sure you’ve clearly identified business goals and outcomes you can measure as a result of a successful social media effort. At the same time, think about your customers’ goals and how a social presence for your brand will help make them happen. Then make sure you have a hub, whether it’s a blog or a social aggregator for your brand. Your actual tactical mix should be driven by what kind of social content and experiences will connect customers with your brand.

After a basic review of social media monitoring for brand mentions and a look at your web analytics for social referring sites, stake your claim with the top 4-5 social networks regardless if you’re B2B or B2C: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and either Pinterest or YouTube.  You can cross post content from your blog and curated news on the web at large to the first 5.

Once you have a rhythm for curating useful news and sharing your own content to these major networks, you can collect REAL data relevant to YOUR company and decide where to optimize your social media presence with tactics.

By starting with the networks that include a mass audience customized by your initial insights from social media monitoring, web analytics and competitive research, you can shorten the time it takes to capture interaction data that is relevant and meaningful vs. the sweeping generalizations most often made about social media marketing channels.

2. What are the best ways to engage my audience with social media? – 88%

The next most popular social question to be answered for marketers is at the core of what being social as a brand means. How to engage with your audience?

Companies that are new to the social web or that are at early stages in their level of social media maturity often know the answer to this question but simply don’t have the confidence to make commitments. Some of the most practical things companies can do to learn the best ways to engage with their community in order to achieve mutual goals for customers and the brand include:

  • Profile your customers with analytics data, social media monitoring and direct surveys. Use that insight to find out the networks they spend time on and the topics that interest them.
  • Review competitors social media activities to discover anything they’re doing that appears to be working as well as things that are not.
  • Research and network with influencers in your industry. And not in a desperate “please can you share my tweet or blog post?” way, but in a meaningful way that adds value, “I noticed your question about XYZ, here’s a post on XYZ best practices you might find useful”.
  • Monitor your community for advocates and recognize them! Nurture and support them, but don’t try to “buy them” with freebies etc.
  • Seek out questions being asked on the social web that can be answered by your company’s unique expertise. Become a known resource for those topics by answering questions without being salesy. Curate those Q&As into a FAQ in your blog or website.
  • The most successful formula for successful social engagement is also the simplest:  Ask your network to do things that are easy and meaningful. Then recognize them for their contributions in a meaningful way. Repeat.

3. How do I measure the return on my social media investment? – 87%

Interestingly, more marketers are interested in executing tactics than measuring what works. This disconnect speaks to the difficulty in measuring social media ROI for many companies.

The most important thing a company can do to understand their social media ROI is to clearly identify goals, understand your customers goals and how your social media strategy will connect you.  Here are a few considerations:

  • What is your hypothesis about the contribution social media involvement will make in providing value to customers and improving your business?
  • What problems will you solve for your customers through social media?
  • What is your customer’s journey in the sales cycle and where does social media fit in that experience?
  • Which social media tactics will help you best attract, engage and persuade your community to become customers?
Answer those question and you’ll be able to map goals and outcomes to the social media tactics to be measured. You’ll also be able to make correlations between key performance indicator trends in social media with business outcomes. Check out “10 Questions for Social Media Measurement for Success” to dive deeper into how you can better measure your social media ROI.

4. What are the best social management tools? – 84%

One of the most popular blog posts on this site over the past 3 years is this list of 22 Social Media Marketing Management tools. Cindy King from SME has also published a great list of 24 social media marketing tools too. There are so many tools available that it’s a bit like the wild west. Big promises of automagically monitoring, managing, publishing and measuring all your social media activities sounds too good to be true because it often is.

In order for companies to scale their social media efforts, it’s essential to find the right tools to help perform social media monitoring, social content management, social engagement, social publishing/promotion and performance measurement. Tools that really do all those things can cost as much as a full time employee or more, depending on how many “seats” or use.

Deciding which social management tool is best for you requires you to do some homework. There’s no getting around it. You can start with something basic like HootSuite or Sprout Social and move up to Salesforce Social Cloud, but ultimately you’ll need to do an inventory of your needs and reconcile that list with the features of credible tools.

To shortlist potential tools, I’d recommend talking to industry peers and asking them what tools they use. This is something I plan on doing through a formal survey later in the summer.

Once you’ve identified a tool, test it and evaluate. Also understand that you’ll need to consider what the upgrade path is as your needs evolve.

5. How do I create a social strategy? – 83%

It’s not too surprising that marketers consider social media strategy long after tactics. Many companies simply don’t know the answer to “Why”, let alone “How” a social media presence will advance customer and business goals.

But knowing the “Why” is essential for guiding approach, tactics and all the mechanical blocking and tackling of daily social media engagement. This is especially true in the gray areas where guidelines are not specific. The social web is so dynamic, you couldn’t possibly account for every contingency in your social media policy. That’s why a clear strategy with brand goals and an understanding of customer goals is essential.

I’ve covered social media strategy many times here through “What is Your Social Media Marketing Strategy“, “Social Media Strategy – A Definitive Guide“, and “Social Media Marketing: Strategy to Commerce“.  I also cover specifics of developing a framework and strategy in Optimize.

Essentially, a social media strategy starts with a hypothesis about how your brand’s social media participation will connect with social networks and customers in a way that achieves mutual goals for the brand and community. What information, interaction and experience needs can you satisfy for communities that are relevant to your areas of expertise?  Answer those key questions and you’ll be on your way to mapping out a solid social media strategy.

Along with sharing the 2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, Mike was able to do a quick interview:

[Lee] Why do you think tactics is so much higher in priority than strategies?

[Mike] Because there has been so much change in all the major social networks in the last 12 months, it really makes sense that marketers want to learn how to leverage the latest capabilities of these networks.

[Lee] The report states that 83% of marketers are struggling with most aspects of social media. Does that indicate companies are really nowhere near maturity with social media?

[Mike] As in any emerging industry, these responses clearly show that the social media marketing industry is in constant flux. Anyone who claims to have ‘figured out’ social media marketing will quickly be outdated in a matter of months.

[Lee] How do you think marketers interest in these questions about social media will shift over the next year or two?

[Mike] Funny thing is that fundamentally marketers have been asking the same questions for the last five years based on our research. I see no reason to believe that marketers won’t continue to struggle with these questions for years to come.

Thanks Mike!

When it comes to asking questions, you know the old Chinese Proverb:  ”He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” So, what are your most pressing questions about social media marketing?


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Integrating Digital Marketing & PR – Breaking Down Silos Through Content

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digital marketing PRFor a recent presentation at a corporate communications and PR conference, I polled my network of digital marketing and PR pros about the most pressing questions they’re dealing with when it comes to integrating Marketing and Public Relations.

Since we’ve been working in the digital marketing and PR space at TopRank Marketing for well over 10 years, it was interesting to see  the diverse feedback from companies of various sizes and industries. But several themes revealed themselves that I think our readers will relate to.

Thanks to feedback from Digital and Integrated Marketing Communications professionals like Corinne Kovalsky of Ratheon, Susan Beatty of Bremer Financial Corporation, Frank Strong of LexisNexis and Pam Didner of Intel, it became clear that one of the key questions organizations are facing is the need to break down silos between marketing and PR.

break down silos marketing public relations

To help answer that question, I think one of the most fundamental things to realize is that we’re all in the content business.

PR and Communications drive a substantial amount of content creation from developing messaging strategy to content for newsrooms. PR content that can be optimized, socialized and publicized include: blog posts, press releases, case studies, social media content, newsletters, contributed articles, white papers, events (online and off).  Whether it’s text, image, audio or video, most PR pros are involved in content creation on a regular basis.

Content is the currency for building social relationships that can boost earned media.

Digital Marketing is tasked with demand creation and developing leads, and content plays an instrumental role in those and many other marketing objectives. From content marketing strategy to websites and microsites, content is the basis for effective digital marketing. We’ve covered content marketing tactics here before, but they can include blogs, landing pages, social media content, advertising, webinars, email and all media formats from images to video to audio.

Understanding the role that content plays in reaching both brand awareness and customer acquisition goals, the opportunities for integration between digital marketing and PR become clear pretty fast.

Align Goals

When you look at common Public Relations focused goals, they often include: Boosting Awareness & Exposure, Influence & Positioning, Increase Mindshare, Educate Audiences, Thought Leadership, Reputation, Growing Networks & Engagement and even Increasing Sales.

Often these goals are achieved through a variety of efforts that leverage or result in content. Digital PR tactics can range from media relations to gain editorial coverage in publications to events to working with influencers and social networks. Announcements, publicity, promotions and buzz are all the domain for PR and communications professionals.

Some of the metrics digital marketers are held accountable to include increasing website traffic, leads and sales. Content Marketing goals also include revenue related objectives like order volume, frequency and profitability. Efficiency is also aligned with content marketing performance as measured by shortened sales cycles, referrals bottom line ROI on marketing investment.

Since both marketing and PR both speak “increase sales”, it make sense that PR should be involved with content marketing in its planning stages to identify what’s “really” promotable from a media relations perspective.  Building publicity and media relations activities into the content marketing planning process will help marketing extend the reach of it’s message and improve marketing performance.

At the same time PR will have early exposure to promotable brand content to successfully achieve media coverage and network growth vs. trying to make magic happen with last minute requests: “Can you send out a press release and talk to some bloggers about our new product future? It was released this morning”. For both marketing and PR, there can be a measurable effect on sales and we all know revenue is the language everyone understands.

Common Ground:

An extension of aligning goals between marketing and PR is to find the win for those that you would partner with in your organization. Find out how can marketing assets be used to improve the ability for PR to gain media coverage. At the same time, dig into how PR can play a role in content marketing amplification to improve the reach and performance. Recruit volunteers to test cooperative efforts between digital marketing and PR.

Some of the common ground opportunities for digital marketing and public relations include:

  • Messaging & Story
  • Content Planning
  • Coordinated Social and Media Relations with Amplification
  • Social Listening for Buying Signals
  • Content Placement
  • Optimizing Messaging Based on Marketing Performance Data

Coordinating marketing and PR in content marketing efforts can find the common ground needed to execute on shared goals. That alignment of objectives can lead to the development of new ways of working together that create a win for everyone involved.

Build a Business Case

Goal alignment and common ground serve as a framework for building a business case. Find a low hanging fruit opportunity with motivated collaborators to show how digital marketing and PR integration can improve achievement of business goals. Then sell the results with performance metrics that execs can appreciate.

One of the most basic examples of this kind of collaboration is a co-created thought leader ebook. We’ve created quite a few of these and they represent the integration of key maketing and PR in a way that is pretty easy to demonstrate value for both awareness and network growth as well as traffic and sales.

Co-created content builds an incentive for participants to promote the content object. Publicity, content repurposing, targeted ads, email promotions, social promotion and optimization combine with thoughtful messaging to create an integrated marketing and PR asset that provides a tremendous amount of value for PR and marketing goals.

In the digital marketing world, skills acquisition is as competitive as it has ever been with PR high on the list.  With more brands publishing content and even competing with publications in their industry, the need for integrated marketing and PR functions within companies is a necessity. The question is, what is your company, large or small, doing about it?

If you would like to learn more about integrating marketing and PR, be sure sign up for the PRSA Digital Impact conference in June where I’ll be presenting ”Attract, Engage and Convert: How PR Can Get Ahead With Content Marketing“.  This topic is also covered at both a strategic and tactical level in Optimize as well.

Image: Shutterstock


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Online Marketing News: Video Trends Map, Content Recommendation Engine & New Google+ Layout

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New Google+ Stream, Hangouts, and Photos

New Google+ Layout: Hangouts, Photos and Stream Reminiscent of Pinterest

Google announced a major update to their social network this week that changes the way Hangouts, photos and the Google+ stream are viewed by users. The decidedly Pinterest-esque layout was just one of many announcements this week out of Google I/O, the totality of which Jeremiah Owyang and Chris Silva dubbed a “wreck.”

“The end result, we hope, is an app that looks and feels great across a family of devices,” Senior VP Vic Gundotra wrote of the Google+ changes. This is in line with Google’s mantra of late: Technology works best when it gets out of the way, and lets people do what makes them happiest: living, learning and loving.

With the announcements of more interconnection of services, Google Maps as a virtual world, Google All Access music streaming and more, Owyang and Silva remind consumers to expect the tools and products to get better, but to know you’re the product. If brands want to play in Google’s sandbox, they’ll ultimately need to pay, they said in summary.

Visit Web-Strategist.com to see the rest of Owyang and Silva’s commentary on what they called a “patchwork set of announcements from a fragmented company,” live from Google I/O.

Online Marketing News Briefs

It’s no surprise much of this week’s news pertains to Google and their products, given their I/O event and a myriad of changes announced this week. However, Facebook also made headlines through their retail social/mobile partnership with Target, as did insightful reports for online marketers from Google and GlobalWebIndex.

Content Recommendation Engine for Mobile Sites Launched by Google

Google has rolled out a content recommendation engine, which makes content recommendations for users at the bottom of the screen on news sites with the service enabled. Sites need just one snippet of code to add this functionality to their site. See more at TechCrunch.

Over Half of Global Internet Users Signed In to Facebook in Q1 2013

Facebook continues to dominate as the most popular social network on the planet, with just over half the world’s online population logging in on the site in the first quarter of 2013. Google+ came in a distant second, with 26% of global internet users, followed by YouTube, Twitter and Sina Weibo. See further analysis of GlobalWebIndex’s report at eMarketer.com.

Target and Facebook Join Forces in Cartwheel Mobile/Social/Retail Partnership

Target and Facebook Cartwheel program combines mobile, social, retail

Cartwheel, a new site from a Target/Facebook partnership, has launched in beta and will begin rolling out their mobile/social program for retailers to a select group of participants shortly. The program allows users to browse exclusive deals and sales, with additional savings for social sharing. Learn more about Cartwheel at MediaPost.

Google+ Launches Auto-Hashtagging

As part of the Google+ design makeover, a new feature enables automatic hashtagging in posts. Google will use data from their social graph and analysis to identify hashtagging opportunities and add them to content. Users can remove hashtags they feel are inappropriate. Read more about this new feature at Fast Company.

Mobile Search an Influencing Factor for 84% of In-Store Shoppers with Smartphones

The majority of consumers shopping in-store are using smartphones to help them make purchasing decisions, according to new research from Google. Of those, the vast majority – 82% – are using mobile search, rather than apps or direct navigation to company websites – to access shopping information. Search Engine Watch has additional insights from Google’s Mobile In-Store Research: How in-store shoppers are using mobile devices report.

New YouTube Trends Map Shows Viral Videos Across the US

People in search of a visual way to see which videos are trending across the United States have a new tool, courtesy of YouTube. The YouTube Trends map displays the most popular videos across the country, with the option to drill down by gender, age, location and type of activity on the video.

This Week in the @TopRank Community

Our community – whether at Online Marketing Blog, on Twitter or elsewhere on the web – is a group of insightful, generous marketers always willing to share their experience with other members!

Check out these great tips, comments and quirky news from the @TopRank community this week:

It is very true that we need to be SHOWN how things work. It always makes me laugh when people tell me “I’m a visual person”, as if having a drawing in front of them is the only way they would see it. What they don’t realise is that EVERYONE is a visual person. On the other hand, if you were truly ‘visual’ you wouldn’t need it shown to you – you could see it in your head anyway. That’s what visual creatives do.”

~ from Suffolk Graphic Designer in response to The Power of Visual Content Marketing and Brand Visuals in Action on how your audience learns through content.

Optimize book by Lee Odden Facebook comment

Want to Improve Your Online Marketing? Master These Search & Social Media Tactics

Stay tuned to the @TopRank Twitter channel this week for the latest online marketing, social and content headlines!


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11 Examples of Killer B2B Content Marketing Campaigns Including ROI

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b2b content marketingAccording to a CMI and MarketingProfs study, 91% of B2B Marketers are using content marketing and that means a few things:

First, it means content marketing has gained critical mass within the popular marketing mix and any company in a competitive industry would be hard pressed to attract business without it.

Second, it means competition to stand out with your brand’s content is only going to get harder as more companies adopt content marketing best practices and mature in their skills.

As companies evolve from simply recognizing the important role of content and experimenting with it, to achieving content creation competency and quality, the need to optimize content marketing skills becomes increasingly important. But where can B2B marketers find new ideas and expand their opportunities to grow content marketing capabilities?

The good news is that B2B Marketing innovation is alive and well and can be found in many places. One place I like to look is case studies and awards for successful B2B marketing work.

A few weeks ago I presented at DemandGen Report’s B2B Content2Conversion conference along with tier one B2B marketers like Michael Brenner from SAP, Jill Rowley from Oracle / Eloqua, Ann Handley of MarketingProfs, Joe Pulizzi from Content Marketing Institute and many others.

On top of hearing strategy and practical tactics from speakers, there was a Killer Content Marketing Awards presentation that highlighted some incredible creative, execution and most of all, performance of B2B content marketing programs.

Highlights included:

SunGard – Created awareness amongst IT professionals for SunGard Cloud offerings with a zombie themed campaign. The zombie themed effort resulted in exceeding download rates by 300%, a 5.7% email open rate and 20+ leads.

Limelight Networks – Implemented a “For Dummies” themed education campaign drawing attention to success and failures for companies and their digital presence.  The campaign gained exposure through nearly 10,000 social media and news release views and $200k+ worth of sales opportunities.

Logicalis – Using content assets such as emails, microsite and ebook, Logicalis developed a thought leadership effort that supported sales teams by enabling custom messaging based on the prospects interaction with the campaign. With a target audience of about 2,000, nearly $8 million in new pipeline business was closed.

Sales Benchmark Index – Targeting prospects that were newly hired VPs of Sales, this campaign focused on providing corporate pains with VPs of Sales fail as well as case studies of successes. The promoted ebook was downloaded by target VPs 5,781 times.

Lattice Engines – Partnered with a research firm to create a study showing the impact big data has on sales. A robust mix of content marketing tactics were used to promote the report including: ebook, blog posts, guest articles, video interviews, Slideshare and an infographic. The report was downloaded 500 times, covered by 15 blogs and industry media sites and 1,500 views of the ebook.

Optum – Created an integrated marketing campaign to support the launch of a new solution, support sales and build thought leadership. The content marketing mix included: advertorials, display ads, email, direct mail and a campaign website. The successful campaign earned a 23.5 lead to conversion rate, 475% increase in website traffic, 2,500+ resource downloads, 28% increase in YoY blog followers and $52 million in contract value of new business with less than $ 1million invested.

ADP – Developed a content marketing campaign to connect and engage with their target audience on a ADP solution using white papers and a diagnostic assessment tool. The campaign generated over $1 million in new sales opportunities with several deals closed within the first 3 months of launch.

Demandbase – This education campaign was designed to help B2B marketers make the right content technology investment by using a white paper, infographic, webinar, Slideshare and a live presentation to spotlight tools that can maximize the power of content. The results of the campaign included 1,700 leads, 125 webinar participants, 5,000 views on Slideshare and $1 million in new business.

Xerox – Created a targeted “Get Optimistic” campaign to connect with 30 top accounts and partnered with Forbes to create a magazine that offered relevant business tips. 70% of targeted companies interacted with the microsite, readership increased 300-400% over previous email campaigns, added 20,000 new contacts, generated 1,000+ scheduled appointments, and get this: yielded $1.3 BILLION in pipeline revenue.  Yes, BILLION.

OpenText – Created a personalized new customer onboarding site offering a variety of assets (white papers, checklists, product pages, ebooks, case studies) and content to welcome new clients and provide upsell, cross-sell opportunities. The campaign also included a two phase nurturing program. 1,700 new contacts were identified along with 31 new opportunities worth $1.8 million.

Crowe Horwath – Using 48 pieces of content in 4 different topic areas, this campaign targeted C-level prospects in financial institutions with $1 billion or more in assets across the buying cycle. Content tactics included: executive briefs, case studies, infographics, checklists, Q and A, and Brainshark video. 778 contacts were engaged with a 70% open rate (vs. 10%), 2 engagement worth $250k in revenue.

Here’s the full deck for details on each Killer Content Marketing campaign plus performance data. Enjoy!

What are some of your favorite killer B2B content marketing campaigns? Which B2B brands are doing it right?

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The Power of Visual Content Marketing and Brand Visuals in Action

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Visual content marketingVisual content is certainly trendy – see the meteoric rise in infographics and social engagement with images as proof. Yet the need for content that appeals on a visual level and presents information in a more engaging format than text goes far beyond what is cool or fun to create.

In creating curriculum and learning materials for students (child to adult) and their teachers, I learned just how important visuals are in meeting the needs of different types of learners. This is too often a missing piece in the marketing mindset; we focus on what we want people to do, the action we want them to take. We think of learning styles in terms of learning disabilities, yet the ways in which every person on the planet takes in information should be a major concern for marketers, whose express purpose is to get people to take in information.

Through your content, you may be inspiring, engaging, entertaining. What you are doing though, at the basic level, is teaching. You want your audience to understand the information you are sharing. You want to influence their decisions. Empowered consumers seek out information to help them make the best decision, often considering multiple sources.

Now pair this customer insight with what we know about how people learn: the majority of people are visual learners, either primarily or in combination with other styles. You’ll see a range of stats on the percentage of learners in each group, though 30% visual, 25% auditory, 15% kinesthetic and 30% mixed learning styles is a commonly accepted figure. These are the three major learning styles and though one person may use a combination of styles to take in information, we all lean towards one primary preference.

Kinesthetic learners best retain information they discover through touching, feeling and experiencing material. You might think there is no real “touch” in digital information, yet this is where interactive games and touchscreens are an important tool.

Auditory learners consume and retain information best by listening, often through repetitive information. Podcasting is a good way to connect with auditory learners.

Visual learners, the largest portion, want you to “Show me so I can understand.” You might accomplish this through charts, infographics, video demonstrations, comics, visual e-books, photos, or even animation… the point is, you are acknowledging this unique learning style and tailoring information for best consumption and comprehension.

Visual notes from Lee Odden presentation

We saw a fantastic example of a visual learning style recently at Social Media Marketing World, when an attendee shared her visual notes from Lee Odden’s presentation on blogging for business. Taking in auditory and visual information, this person sketched notes rather than writing them, in order to more easily recall the information she wanted to retain later on. It resonated with the social community because others learn this way, as well.

This understanding of how people learn, consume information and are influenced by it lies at the heart of everything we do as online marketers: user experience, content creation, web design, social media marketing and even search engine optimization. We know visuals are important for engagement and social sharing, but understanding the “why” will help you create and optimize content that is truly in tune with your audience preferences.

Now that we know the “why,” check out these examples of companies getting it right with visual content that inspires, engages and most importantly, presents information in a way prospects can understand and retain.

General Electric – Show Me How It Works

General Electric's visual content on Instagram

General Electric houses their images on Instagram (above) and Pinterest, though they use these same images in blog posts and across their social channels. Their Instagram images, in particular, focus heavily on showing their B2B audience how their products work in real life. Who wants to see a piece of a machine? Show me how it works! They do, and the result is that prospects can picture GE products in action for their own company.

Kellogg’s Pop Tarts – Show Me a Story

Pop Tarts Facebook Page photos

The Pop Tarts Facebook Page showcases their masterful visual storytelling skills. Their brand marketers use comics, cartoon characters, and simple images to present information in a fun and engaging way. Their strategy is to entertain, to keep their audience engaged and their brand top of mind. These quirky images are perfect for social sharing and tell stories through single images, or image series released over a period of hours or days. They even have recurring characters who pop up now and again, breeding familiarity and creating anticipation. It’s a winning visual content formula for a B2C brand in a competitive market, where every touchpoint counts.

Rubbermaid – Show Me Why I Need It

Rubbermaid's visual content on Pinterest

Look in your own closet. Now look at Rubbermaid’s closet organization images on Pinterest. Back to your own messy closet. Now back to Pinterest. Rubbermaid shows consumers precisely why they need their product with attractive, high quality photos shares to the social networks their audience members frequent. My closet looks nothing like this. I need Rubbermaid.

Callaway Golf – Show Me How to Use It

Callaway Golf video content on YouTube

Golf brand Callaway has their YouTube channel organized into different types of videos, including instructional clips for golfers. They create videos in series, such as Office Golf Tips and Bones at Work, to create consistency and build anticipation for coming videos. Celebrities like Phil Mickelson appear in their instructional videos to show golfers how to improve their game… using Callaway clubs, of course. Teaching a golf swing absolutely requires video; you would have a hard time learning from written instructions. Callaway just does theirs better than most and have become a reliable resource and authority for golfers, as a result.

Show Me

As you plan your visual content, think hard on the “why.” It’s not about what you want to tell people. What do they want you to show them, to help them make an informed decision and stay connected with your brand? You absolutely must understand what your audience needs you to show them in order to engage and convert, especially when they are bombarded with imagery on a daily basis. This insight and customer-centric perspective will help drive your visual content strategy and you will never run out of creative stories to tell with compelling content.

What factors do you consider when planning and creating visual content in your organization? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Image at top from Shutterstock.


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Content Marketing Tactics: Business Blogging Pros, Cons, Best Practices & Brands Doing It Right

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Blogging for content marketersAs part of our continuing series on content marketing tactics, I’ll be covering a topic that is absolutely near and dear to every content marketer’s heart: business blogging.

According to a recent NM Incite report, there are over 181 million blogs around the world. The way many companies treat blogs in their content marketing mix is to incorporate blogs into their website as a section or subdomain, or host them on their own domain name as we do.

With that kind of popularity, you would think everyone in business would know what a blog is and would be using them to their maximum advantage. Trust me, I’m in the content business and they don’t.  In fact, brands split just 11% of their total social media budget between blogging and influencer outreach. So just to clear up any ambiguity and to follow the format for this series, here goes:

Definition of Blogging:  Blogging is a form of content publishing leveraging a content management system such as Blogger, Typepad or WordPress that often publishes articles, video, images or audio in reverse chronological form. Business or corporate blogs are social media and content marketing tools used by companies to provide valuable, interesting content for customers, employees, industry media and other target audiences. Ideally, blog content fulfills a potential or existing customer’s need for information at some point in the purchasing cycle, in order to assist them in making a buying decision.

How Are Blogs Used for Business? Applications:

Internationally, countless companies are using blogs to attract, engage and convert their target audience, though a select few stand out as masters in the corporate blogging trade. Whole Foods Market, for example, has an exceptional corporate blog called Whole Story, through which the grocery brand shares healthy eating tips, recipes, and more. Their focus on providing helpful, non-sales driven information to readers keeps them top of mind as a resource, rather than an advertiser, in the eyes of their fans.

Whole Foods corporate blog shares interesting, original content to attract, engage and convert customers.

comScore’s blog is an excellent example of a B2B blog that has catapulted them into a mainstream news source, helping to build brand awareness and authority. Their top quality research and information has also helped their authors, like Eli Goodman and Andrew Lipsman, build their own personal brands, as well.

comScore corporate blog

Business blogs are a form of social media in their own right, though they work best as part of an online marketing strategy that uses other social channels for amplification and community building. Blog content should also be optimized for maximum visibility in search.

Business Blogging Pros & Cons:

As with any content marketing tactic, there are advantages and challenges to blogging:

Pros – 

  • Excellent tool for brand awareness, authority building, storytelling and passive sales messaging.
  • Low barrier to entry with no technical or IT skills required to contribute content.
  • Ability to measure and track performance.
  • Flexible platforms with multimedia capabilities to distribute information in a variety of formats.
  • SEO benefits; enhanced visibility in front of people seeking a specific type of information.
  • Attract new customers, engage existing ones and convert both to buy – more and more often.

Cons – 

  • Can be time consuming to create content.
  • Requires a publisher mindset from brands possibly not used to this model.
  • Requires planning, organization and editorial control, particularly with multiple authors.
  • Creative, unique content can be a challenge.

Expert Opinions on Business Blogging:

Blogging as part of an integrated online marketing and content marketing strategy is practiced and endorsed by top marketers from agencies and brands alike.

“A blog is only as interesting as the interest shown in others.” ~ @LeeOdden, CEO, TopRank Online Marketing (blog)

“Be helpful, give away everything you can, and make sure you put posts together that people feel they can relate to and that have something to add to.”  ~ @ChrisBrogan, President, Human Business Works (blog)

“Traditional marketing talks at people. Content marketing talks with them.” – @DougKessler, Velocity Partners (blog)

“Even when you are marketing to your entire audience or customer base, you are still simply speaking to a single human at any given time. Worry less about sounding professional and worry more about creating remarkable content that other humans can relate to.”  ~ Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at @MarketingProfs (blog)

Related Blogging Software and Resources:

Recently, I shared 11 of my favorite blog and social content creation tools, including an editorial calendar, Twitter lists and Ubersuggest. Lee Odden has written extensively on blogging for business, including optimizing and socializing blog content, marketing your blog, integrating blogs with content marketing to inspire action and much, much more.

Download a sample editorial plan and keyword glossary to help you organize your blogging efforts and align them with your business goals. These are available free at OptimizeBook.com.

Check out the content marketing courses at MarketingProfs University to help you improve your blogging, presentation and social skills. Be sure to check out Marketing Writing Bootcamp and Content Marketing Crash Course, in particular.

Since we’ve been practicing what we preach about bloggin for over 9 years, there are numerous articles on blogging here at Online Marketing Blog. The content marketing and blogging landscape has certainly changed over the past decade, yet best practices and the importance of blogging in alignment with business goals have remained largely the same. Smart businesses are getting social and using blogs as one of the powerful weapons in their online marketing arsenal to attract, engage and convert their target audience to loyal customers.

What are some of your pressing blogging questions or best practices tips?

Image from Shutterstock.com.


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Want to Improve Your Online Marketing? Master These Search & Social Media Tactics

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Digital Marketing BasicsFast changing trends and serious competition has digital marketers chasing the latest and greatest tactics like hamsters on exercise wheels.

Good advice is both hard and too easy to come by. Search “social media marketing” on Google and there are over 1 billion results.

All the scrambling often means core skills are overlooked. In fact, one of the easiest things a company can do to improve online marketing performance is to stop sucking at the basics.

When it comes to optimizing for search and social media, well implemented basics are as good for search engines and social networks as they are for your customer’s user experience.

Here are a 8 fundamentals worth applying to your organization’s daily content creation, amplification and optimization process.

1. Be the Best Answer: Start by answering a few questions of your own:

  • What does your brand want to be known for?
  • Is that thing what your customers really care about?
  • Do you deserve to be known for that thing?

Look at leaders and authorities for the topics that matter most to your business and observe the deep and meaningful resources they provide. Tap into what makes others so authoritative and incorporate those characteristics in your own marketing. Start the journey to become the first choice amongst your customers for those topics that matter most.

2. Win Friends & Influence People: People are social and so too, should your online and search marketing. Some social networks are better than others as stand alone communities for brands, but make no mistake, social signals matter for people and search engines. That means creating, engaging and promoting brand content on social networks to inspire shares and links from people with authority on topics you want to be known for.

Use social search and influence scoring tools like Traackr, Kred, Klout, Little Bird and FollowerWonk to triangulate where the influencers are, topics that matter and incorporate that insight into your content, PR, social and optimization.

3. It’s Not About You, Or Me Or Us. And Definitely Not Them:  With content for the web or social, avoid overuse of personal pronouns like “I,” “you,” “she,” “he,” “it,” “we,” “you,” “they” and objective pronouns “me,” “you,” “her,” “him,” “it,” “us,” “you,” and “them”. Instead, use more descriptive keyword phrases where social sharing widgets will copy your message and where Google is looking in page titles, file names, text links between pages, image alt text and in body copy.

Keyword use is also a fundamental that should not be overlooked. But remember, the priority is on optimizing for people and the experience they have with your content. Copy should flow smoothly and not read like it’s unnaturally using keywords. Find out what phrases your competitors are using to attract search traffic by using SEMRush, SpyFu or Keyword Spy.

4. Facts Tell, Stories Sell: Figure out why customers buy and create keyword optimized content that tells stories about how and why your products solve customer problems.

Talk to sales staff and ask them about how they are so successful and about the discussions they have with customers. Those stories are a goldmine of ideas for great content that matters to people who want to buy your products and services.  Content sourcing and ideation can be challenging, but tapping into the Q and A around topics that matter during the sales cycle reveal a never ending source of meaningful ideas.

5. Optimize for Search & Share: While a lot of optimization emphasis is placed on creating web pages and media (images, video, audio) around topics and even specific keywords that customers are actually searching for, it’s also important to make social sharing compelling and easy.

To do that, start mastering the art of title writing to catch people’s attention but also include search phrases. Example, “10 Essential [keyword phrase] Tips & How to Boost [keyword phrase] Performance.

Also be sure to include social sharing widgets in your content and experiment with the best formats and networks for your audience. Most of optimization is simply about making it easy for people to do what you want them to do. Finding and sharing your content is certainly near the top of the list.

6. Links Are Like Electricity: Light up useful content on your website by sharing with topically relevant social networks, through blogging and byline articles in industry publications. Find out where your competitors are getting their links by using tools like Majestic SEO, AHerfs or Open Site Explorer.

Do not underestimate the power of media relations and PR for getting into industry publications that also result in links. Whether through feature articles or guest blog posts, contributing content or insight to respected publications that also include a link to your brand’s social or web assets helps brand credibility, sends traffic and influences search visibility.

7. Tune Up Your Engine for Search Engines: Have your website audited by a SEO professional to ensure keyword targeting in content, technical friendliness to Google and Bing, inbound links and social shares. Pages that load fast for people and search engines is good user experience and good SEO.Web Developers and content management systems can be your worst enemy if left unoptimized for search.

8. Live the ABO: Always be Optimizing: Optimization is a continuous process of creating and promoting keyword optimized content on social networks, through industry media and online communities, then monitoring performance through analytics and making refinements.

Be sure to allocate resources for monitoring social networks, tracking and evaluating web analytics and applying conversion rate optimization best practices to ensure your findable and sharable content is influencing action.

The blocking and tackling of online marketing may not be the most glamorous, by why leave so much marketing opportunity on the table with skills and tactics we all claim to be so good at?  Optimized marketing requires a solid foundation and if your organization is having difficulty scaling performance, then maybe it’s time to take a look at the fundamentals.

I think Optimize is a book that covers these fundamentals pretty well, so be sure to check it out.

What are some of the online marketing basics that you see often overlooked?


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Online Marketing News: RipOff Report Expands, Paid YouTube Channels Launch & Mobile Local on the Rise

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Mass Marketing Versus Personalization - Monetate

Your customers want more personalized messaging and content. In fact, 64% believe it’s more important that companies represent them with relevant offers, compared to 36% who don’t want their activity tracked. Given the tools available to block ads, tactics to stop tracking, opt-in nature of communications and social participation, it’s clear that customers who do choose to interact with brands expect a more personalized experience as a result.

The Mass Marketing vs. Personalization infographic from Monetate shares a number of other interesting recommendations and finds, including:

  • 94% of companies agree that online personalization is critical to business performance.
  • Two of every three companies believe personalizing their website will improve the customer experience and overall success of their business.
  • 64% of companies will – or plan to within the year – deliver a more personalized experience to visitors on mobile devices.

See the infographic for tips on better personalization.

Online Marketing News Briefs

Mobile Increasingly Used for Local Search

More people are using mobile for search, especially for local information, according to a new Local Mobile Search Report based on comScore data from Q4 2012. PC traffic has remained static, researchers said, while mobile continues to grow as a percentage of overall traffic to websites. See more at SearchEngineLand.

Klout Aims to Let Consumer Be More Influential with “Experts”

Klout previewed their new “Experts” feature Wednesday. AllThingsD.com explains how it works: “If you’ve garnered sufficient credibility on a certain topic based on your Klout score — say, gardening or hair styling or whatever — you should be qualified to answer questions on the area. Moreover, you’re likely more credible than some result in a Q&A thread on a site like Yahoo Answers or perhaps a Quora.” Klout shared questions to some of its users, whose answers will show up in Bing search results (Klout’s official search partner) and possibly Google.

Mobile Shoppers Spend More in Store: Google

Seventy-nine percent of smartphone owners are also smartphone shoppers and 84% of them use their devices in-store to help them make buying decisions, according to Google’s Mobile In-Store Research report. On average, smartphone shoppers spend 15 minutes on their device while shopping in-store.

Google in-store shopping research

Affluent Consumers are Active in Social Media: LinkedIn

Of the 90% of consumers with investable assets between $100,000 and $1 million active in social media, 44% engage with financial institutions via social. According to LinkedIn, 36% of this group use social for discovery and consideration. See more at SearchEngineWatch.

RipOff Report Expanding: Businesses Can Opt In to Pay $90/Month Fee to Review Complaints

Not that companies should be pleased, but Ed Magedson of RipOff Report has devised another way to help companies on the receiving end of customer complaints (real, imagined or invented) part with their money. His new RipOff Report Verified program will give businesses 14 days to resolve complaints before a critical review is posted. See more at Forbes.

Sesame Street and Young Turks Among First Paid YouTube Channels

The first paid YouTube channels launched yesterday, with 30 YouTube partners making the move to a revenue model alternative to advertising. The initiative will become self-serve for YouTube’s 1 million+ content partners, who will be able to charge a fee starting at 99 cents a month for access, according to AdAge.

This Week in the @TopRank Community

Digital Convergence- Integrated Marketing & Public Relations Keynote

This week, TopRank CEO Lee Odden gave the keynote presentation at #PDXCC13 just a day after sharing An Integrated Approach to Digital Marketing & PR with Public Relations Society of America members and webinar guests. Check out our favorite tweets and interactions from members of the @toprank community:

Lee Odden Keynote

TopRank PRSA webinar

Lee Odden Keynote

Lee Odden keynote

Lee Odden tweet

Stay tuned to the @TopRank Twitter channel and #trnews feed this week for the latest online marketing, social and content headlines!


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