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Reinforce your social media brand with visual elements

A guest blog with Cyndee Woolley, APR, an author and public relations consultant. Email questions to cydnee@c2-com.com or visit www.BuildingBrandYou.com.

The power of a strong visual element
Consumers are 80% more likely to interact with a Twitter post that has a photo attached than straight text. Often times, the social Facebook photo albums that I share for clients receive a much higher interaction rate than straight text posts. These visual elements are so appealing because they engage our brain and start to tell the story of your brand before you say a word.

Ideally, the elements of your visual storytelling should include five key messages:

1. Your Vision
Photos and videos should share the big picture of your ideal vision, not the tools that are going to get you there. Working with a client who wanted to appeal to families and children with fun activities, we did an inventory of their marketing photos. Most of the photos were of their activity stations – no kids, just the activity stations.

The average person likely didn’t understand what was in the photo and had no reason to engage. However, we switched the photos to happy children engaging with the activity stations and saw an immediate improvement in their engagement.

2. Establish Credibility
With the increased transparency and record keeping of the digital age, it is easier for watchdog groups to sort through your past and call you out for decisions that they disagree with like former Mozilla CEO, Brendan Eich’s, who was ousted in 2014 for a campaign contribution that he made in 2008.

While watchdog groups will take the time to sort through your past, the average consumer who is overwhelmed with content and short on time won’t. In seconds, your visual aids have to establish credibility in your brand.

For example, do you have a vision of health? Your photo stream should include plenty of healthy, active people making smart choice. If your photo albums have people smoking, drinking sodas, or sloppily sitting around desks, you are giving a contradictory message.

While your marketing materials must demonstrate your vision, the truest test of credibility is in the culture of your company – that is creating this brand message. We are seeing more and more companies take decisive action such as healthcare facilities going smoke-free; CVS is ceasing to sell tobacco products this year; and companies like David Lawrence Center are installing vending machines with healthy alternatives on their campuses.

3. Relevance and “What’s in it for me?” (Wiifm)
If you have ever taken a class in sales, you have likely heard the phrase “What’s in it for me?” The concept of Wiifm is that customers don’t buy features, they buy benefits because of how the benefits will make them feel.

In 2013, a study was released on millennials and their preference of microbreweries over larger brands like Budweiser. Initially, marketers thought that this generation was shunning the idea of being associated with brands. But, they were shocked to find that millennials were choosing specific microbrew beers because the brand label became a symbol of how they felt at that time.

As you are sharing videos and photos on your social media accounts, think about the unique emotional benefits that you bring to your customers. How might they wear your brand as a status symbol?

4. Brand Value
Before setting a price structure on any product or service, I encourage small business owners to look at the value of what they provide. Your business model can succeed as a low-price leader, best value, or as a luxury product.

However, the visual story that you present must match up to the brand value and expectations that you expect. If you chose to be a low-price leader, that isn’t an excuse to use sloppy, fuzzy photos. It just means that your photos and videos should incorporate models that are very approachable in generic clothing.

There was a copywriter who was selling a course on how to write sales letters at a very discounted rate. His initial advertisement incorporated beautifully scripted fonts and shades of green – which didn’t elicit any response. After reviewing the ad, he realized that it was a mixed message. He made the new advertisement look “cheap” in comparison by incorporating different fonts and a bright canary yellow color. The “cheap” advertisement sold thousands of copies of his course.

5. Close the Deal
Unless you are a sales person, “closing the deal” can be one of the hardest things about business. People have an inherent fear of rejection and often forget to end the conversations with something like “That is great, how many books would you like to buy?”

Even though websites and social media take some of the face-to-face rejection out of the equation, there is still a fear of being that jerk who is always selling. Ideally, you are creating a mix of content on your social media accounts, which means you are not the jerk.

There are several ways that you can help close the deal in your visual storytelling:
• Always include your website address your original artwork. You can’t claim other people’s photographs, but you can lead people back to your website by incorporating a simple watermark on your images. Similarly, every video should have a logo, website address and phone number included.
• Embed more emotional calls to action as watermarks. Instead of the generic “for more information…” you can include something more specific like “help us support young entrepreneurs in Junior Achievement of SWFL by…”
• Use hashtags (#) to spark conversation and virality. If you’ve watched Fox and Friends in the morning, the opening intro has a sign where the anchors display #BetterWithFriends. It is a visual cue for people to Tweet about their show.
• Visually show customers how they can engage with your brand by including pictures of customers using your mobile optimized website through a smart phone, logging onto a computer, or leaving feedback on Google+.

Important clarification… Just because we discussed five key messages, doesn’t mean that you should include all five in every visual element that you share. It is more important to get one message across correctly than to create confusion with multiple directions.

Remember, your customers have an overwhelming amount of data streaming at them from multiple sources. If you want to be successful in capturing their attention, you have to cut through the clutter faster than ever to show your relevance. With the ability to clearly demonstrate who you are, what you have to offer, and why people should care, you can build a life-long customer.

You can learn more about building your brand in Cyndee Woolley’s SoundviewPro course Building Brand [You].

Networking tips for Young Professionals

A guest blog with Cyndee Woolley, APR, a consultant in public relations and the author of Building Brand [You]. For more information, visit www.BuildingBrandYou.com.

In speaking with seasoned executives, one of the biggest lessons they learned through the course of their career is the value of building a network. Often young professionals are thrown into the waters and take years to hone their networking skills – losing valuable relationships along the way. Hopefully, these tips will help you stand out from the crowd and build your network.

Take time to think through your brand
With limited professional experience, many young professionals haven’t taken the time to develop a brand for themselves. Instead, they have a haphazard, thrown-together image that may appear polished externally but slows them down professionally. Your brand is more than a sharp suit and fancy business card. It is about developing a clear vision of your ideal future and weaving in important elements like your values and priorities to reflect a solid brand that people can understand.

Target your networking
It is important to be open and receptive to new ideas and possible work relationships. After all, many opportunities come from unexpected sources. However, with a realistic understanding of your time limitations – both professionally and personally – it is perfectly reasonable to approach your networking efforts in the same way that you do a sales project. Focus your efforts on the people who can help advance your career skills and lead you to your ideal life. Beyond sales prospects, consider networking with these three types of individuals:
• Mentors – Keep your eye out for mentors. These individuals are living the life that you would like to enjoy, or perhaps have a skill that you would like to develop. Don’t ask them to be your mentor, but ask them for coffee or lunch to learn about what they do.
• Peers – It is important to have a network of peers that are in the same industry as you. They will be your resource for referrals to potential vendors and possibly clients that they can’t handle. By working together, you can both develop your professional skills and advance your career.
• Inspirational Relationships – In a competitive atmosphere, there can be great pressure to perform that can lead to burnout and frustration. Inspirational relationships can be as simple as belonging to church, Rotary, or Kiwanis. But, don’t overlook that best friend who always leaves you charged up and ready to take on the world or the child in your life who helps you see things from another perspective. Keep these relationships strong during the good times so that you can pick each other up during the really hard times.

Learn about professional etiquette
I had dinner with a young professional that worked in a very casual industry. It wasn’t surprising to see him in khakis shorts and a t-shirt instead of a suit and tie. But, when we ate dinner, he slurped his coffee and spoke with his mouth full – complete with little hunks of food flying out at me. This doesn’t just happen with young professionals, I’ve known a few adults that I refuse to have a meal without protective eyewear!
Take the time to learn about the nuances of professional networking. Small details like carrying your cold, wet drink in your left hand to keep your right (handshaking) hand clean and dry can make a big difference in how you are remembered.

Plan out some common conversation points
Networking can be intimidating, especially in that awkward silence when you don’t know what to say next. Remember, that other person is probably feeling the same way. Take the time to plan out a few questions or conversation points that will help you connect personally and kill the silence. These conversation points could be simple questions like:
• Tell me about the most exciting thing that happened to you this week. Be prepared to share one of your accomplishments too.
• What projects are you working on right now? This will give you more insight into their professional experience than just their job title.
• If you weren’t here right now, what would you be doing? Hopefully this opens up some personal hobbies to share interest in.
• Did you hear about….? Watch the news and keep abreast of what is going on in your industry for these types of questions.

Listen and observe before you speak
This tip has been shared frequently as it relates to social media, but it still applies in your professional networking. As a young professional, you might be eager to share your advice, projects, or experiences with perfect strangers in a networking setting. While you think you are being fun and friendly, other people might consider you abrasive and rude. Take the time to listen and observe the culture of the group that you are in before you rattle on and on. It will help you gauge what is socially acceptable in the group and gain the respect of the other members.

Learn more about building your brand at Cyndee Woolley’s course Building Brand [You].

Is your brand engaging online?

This guest blog features Cyndee Woolley, APR, an author and public relations consultant. You can email questions to cydnee@c2-com.com or visit www.BuildingBrandYou.com.

There are three certainties in life… death, taxes, and your Facebook newsfeed will continue to change!

I’ve spoken to many small business owners who obsess with jumping onto the next social media trend to stay visible and gain awareness. But, when you look at their existing social media accounts, there are less than 500 fans or followers who are not engaging with any of their posts.

Lack of engagement often comes back to three core questions:
• Do you have a brand that your fans understand?
• Do you have specific key messages that your customers or donors need to know?
• And, do you know how to share those key messages in an emotionally charged way to build relationships?

You do have a brand – in person and online
We all have a brand. Unfortunately, many businesses create confusing brand identities by trying to be everything to everyone. If your customers don’t understand you and what benefit you bring them, they will never engage with you.

Your brand is a reflection of every experience a person expects of you, and his or her emotional reaction to that experience. This experience transcends your logo and includes first impressions – even when they find you online.

Over 80% of US consumers have made a purchase online and according to Hubspot, 71% are more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals. With a mini-computer in their back pocket, you customers can engage immediately or write you off in a split second.

Your brand is expressed through many elements that demonstrate exactly who you are and how people can relate to you. Are you formal or casual? Do you serve young individuals or retired couples? Are you cutting -edge and creative, or solid and steady?

Take time to assess the brand you hope to project, then take a look at your digital assets to see if they really project that image.

• First and most important in this evaluation is simply opening your website up on a smart phone or tablet. The most impressive site could be losing customers if it takes more than a few seconds to load on your customer’s smart phone.
• Do you have links to your social media accounts, customer reviews and any tutorial reviews? Studies are confirming that the millennial generation is more engaged with “how-to” videos and dynamic content. They also want to see that their friends like your brand, so the social integration is a key element for success.
• Do the visual elements of your social media accounts compliment your brand or cut your head off? As technology improves and digital load times reduce, the visual element of the story has become more and more important.

Learn more about building your brand at Cyndee Woolley’s SoundviewPro course: Building Brand [You] .