Planning Social Media Content? Ask Yourself These 9 Questions

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It’s no mystery that social media is a crucial part of any marketing strategy — regardless of industry, company size, product, or service.

We’ve all been there. Back in the day, I had to make the case for some businesses to even have a social media presence in the first place. But finally — finally! — it seems like folks are catching on. After all, 69% of marketers are using social media to build a following.

Now that most marketers really do understand that social media is a strategic must-have, how can we make it more manageable? Like many other things in life and in business, planning ahead is the way to go. Manage and plan your social media content with the help of this free calendar template.

To avoid becoming one of those brands whose Facebook page hasn’t been updated in months — and we’ve all seen them — learning to plan and schedule your social media posts in advance is key. But how? We’ve outlined nine crucial questions to ask when you start this planning process, along with some helpful tools and resources to help along the way.

9 Questions About Planning and Scheduling Social Media

1) What are you promoting?

Part of planning your social media presence is knowing what you’re there to talk about. Maybe you have a looming product launch to promote, a holiday special, or a particular piece of content to get in front of the public eye.

In any case, knowing what you’re promoting should run in tandem with your social media schedule. Do you have multiple product or content launches taking place over the course of the year? That’s where a calendar is particularly useful — not only to announce the launches themselves, but to drop “teasers” leading up to them.

That’s also a good place to plan other pieces of your online presence, like your blog, around these launches — especially considering that 84% of marketers integrate social media with their overall marketing plans.

Let’s say you’re launching an annual report, and you want to use social media to push a high number of downloads. In the days leading up to it, your blog can feature smaller pieces of content pertaining to the different findings within that report. That creates a top-of-mind presence of your brand and your content, among your audience — just in time for the big launch.

2) What are your goals?

In 2015, Google did a study of Digital Leaders — the folks who have seen success with digital marketing — versus Digital Learners — those who have not. Out of the two, a whopping 92% of Leaders had clear digital marketing goals, compared to only 69% of Learners.

Those numbers illustrate the importance of outlining goals when planning social media posts and campaigns. That doesn’t mean they have to be dry or boring — it just means that even funny or out-of-the box posts still need to be aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish.

Just have a look at this collection of Twitter success stories, and the subhead introducing them: “Learn how businesses from around the world achieved their goals with Twitter.”

In the Greenhouse software case study, for example, there’s a very clear objective stated: “The marketing team at Greenhouse was focused on acquiring new subscribers for their weekly newsletter,” which was “focused on increasing brand awareness and purchase consideration.”

Notice how there are three pieces to the Greenhouse goal:

Increase awareness → newsletter subscription → purchase consideration

In addition to overall greater brand awareness, Greenhouse experienced 15% increase in newsletter subscribers within one short month. But remember — it was a two-pronged approach. In order to drive purchases, Greenhouse knew that its digital marketing would first have to aim for brand awareness, which would drive newsletter subscriptions.

Think about your ultimate goal — be it sales, downloads, or event attendance — and consider the smaller pieces that will lead to it. Then, shape and schedule your social media presence around those variables. Social Media Conten Template

3) Who is your target audience?

Here at HubSpot, we’re big on buyer personas — the semi-fictional “characters” that encompass the qualities of who you’re trying to reach.

Outlining your personas is a vital part of planning your social media presence. It’s one of the best ways to determine the needs, goals, and behavior of your potential customers, which can dictate how you digitally convey a product or service. In turn, that can help you understand the voice to use when trying to reach that audience. It works — 82% of companies with better value propositions also use buyer personas.

When you plan and schedule your social media, think about your personas. What are they looking for? What motivates them? What’s going to help them? How are they going to feel at a given time of year? Answering those questions can help determine what kind of media your personas are consuming. To get started, check out HubSpot’s MakeMyPersona tool.

4) What can your audience do with what you’re promoting?

Earlier, when asking about your personas, I posed the question: “What’s going to help them?”

That’s part of the reason why it’s so important to know who your personas are — to make sure that they can actually do something with the content you’re posting on social media. When you plan or schedule a social media post, ask yourself if it’s going to interest, benefit, or ultimately delight your target audience. If the answer is “no,” reconsider sharing it.

Also consider what’s wrong with it. Is there something specific that’s making your social media posts less sharable or engaging? Even the network you’re using can have an impact, since different types of content have varying results, depending on the platform.

Which brings us to our next question …

5) Are you planning accordingly for each network?

Not all social media is created equal. Different platforms attract different audiences. Plus, each one has its own “secret sauce” of when to post, and how often — check out the best times to post to each network.

Remember your buyer personas? As you figure out who they are, it’s also important to determine where they “live” online, and what kind of media they’re consuming — that will help you plan your social media presence for each individual network. It might be helpful to review the Pew Research Center’s Demographics of Social Media Users, which profiles the users of five major social media platforms — Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

While you’re at it, have a look at HubSpot’s Social Media Content Calendar. With a tab for each social network, it’s easy to plan posts by month, week, or even day. That’s an asset when it comes to the networks that require multiple posts per day, and can aid in planning for seasonality.

And speaking of seasonality …

6) Are you promoting seasonal content?

I don’t know about you, but I love the holidays. But I also like them with the right timing — in other words, I don’t get excited when I hear carols and bells in October. Too soon, right?

That said, it’s still a good idea to start planning your social media holiday presence early on. And, it’s important to understand how your personas behave during certain times of the year — there’s a big difference, for example, between B2B and B2C audience behavior during the holidays.

For B2C, it’s a bit more clear-cut. Brands see more first-time buyers during the holidays than they do during the rest of the year, when shoppers are “more influenced by brand allegiance,” writes SocialTimes’ Kimberlee Morrison.

For that reason, it’s important to use a calendar to schedule posts that will both engage potential first-time buyers, and keep them coming back after the holidays. That’s called reactivation — and according to Monetate, it’s imperative if you don’t want to your first-time customers to be part of the 86% of them who never come back.

In the B2B sector, it’s less about influencing purchases and more about increasing brand awareness. Around the holidays, for example, B2B companies are encouraged to promote sharable content that’s both seasonally-oriented and branded. That’s especially true on Facebook, which people browse 4.2X as much as they do search engines before shopping. So while you might not be offering a holiday promotion, you’re still aligning with the mood of your buyers — and keeping your brand at the top of their minds.

7) Are your posts agile enough to be replaced or rescheduled on short notice?

Despite our best planning efforts, unexpected things still come up. The world keeps turning, despite what our social media schedule dictates — which is why it’s important to keep it flexible.

When you plan your social media presence, it’s generally a best practice to leave open slots for things like breaking news or the content that you develop around unexpected current events.

My colleague, Susannah Morris, uses HubSpot’s Social Inbox app to flexibly plan social media this way. “I schedule out evergreen content and curate it as I go,” she says, “leaving slots to fill in with new content, newsjacking, or other interesting things closer to the time.”

In other words — things come up, so be sure to allow for them as you plan your posts ahead of time. But make sure you have a back-up plan, too, and a backlog of timely, sharable content to use as an alternative.

8) What’s performed well on your social networks in the past?

There’s a reason why 72% of marketers analyze their social media activity — they want to see what’s working.

But conversely, only 42% of marketers believe they can do such an analysis. Measuring the ROI of social media is known for being a bit tricky. Which network performs best? What kind of posts? What time of day? It’s answering all of the questions we’ve posed so far, and finding out if your answers to them are effective. And that data on what’s working — as well as what isn’t — will ultimately influence your future social media posts.

Digging into that data doesn’t have to be so complex, and there are quite a few resources that can help. Some social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, have their own analytic tools that provide some insights into post performance. And in your HubSpot software, you can use the Sources report to measure the ROI of your marketing campaigns, including details on how social media is driving traffic to your site — those are things like visits from links clicked on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more.

But in the case that you also have to illustrate the effectiveness of your social media — especially when using that data to plan and schedule future posts — it can be helpful to compile a monthly report that can shed detailed light on performance. Not sure what kind of data to include? Check out our ebook on how to present and prove your social media ROI — it comes with some templates to help you get started.

9) Have you identified influencers?

When it comes to genuinely reaching your audience, trust is huge. That’s why so many of us seek the advice of friends and family in choosing a product or service — 83% of people trust their recommendations more than anyone else’s.

But then, there are influencers — people considered to be leaders and trendsetters in their respective niches (think: bloggers). Many times, brands partner with influencers because the public listens to what they have to say. In fact, 49% of Twitter users say they count on recommendations from influencers first.

There’s a reason why it’s called social media. We’ve come to think of contacts on these networks as reliable acquaintances, even if we’ve never met them in real life. That’s why people like influencers have earned a so much consumer trust, and why marketers are partnering with them.

In fact, many businesses say that they earn $6.50 for every $1 they invest in partnerships with influencers. That’s because influencer campaigns are a bit like economical celebrity endorsements — people have come to recognize, follow, and trust what they have to say.

But many marketers say that finding the right influencers to work with can be challenge. For that, we recommend following a process similar to identifying your buyer personas, to make sure the influencers are aligned with what your brand represents, as well as your goals. And be sure that it’s a mutually beneficial partnership — much like a co-branding agreement, it’s important to determine what you can offer an influencer in return.

Ready to start planning?

With the right tools, managing social media isn’t so overwhelming. And planning ahead can help to create that peace of mind, especially when you allow for the flexibility we discussed earlier.

But make sure you’re not overdoing it. The amount of time spent on social media can vary from marketer to marketer, and can even depend on your industry. Answering these questions and following the right steps accordingly will help determine what works for you.

And as social media continues to evolve, we’ll be here to let you know about it, and what it means for you.

How do you plan and schedule social media? Let us know in the comments.

free social media content calendar template

Introducing Instagram Reposting by Buffer: Never Run Out of Amazing Content

One of the best aspects of social media is being able to share something with your followers.

On Twitter, you can retweet. On Facebook, there’s the option to share a post. And on Instagram, you can repost, which is essentially a way to share a picture from another Instagram user with your followers.

Though reposting isn’t an official feature of Instagram’s apps or website, it’s something that many brands and users have been doing for a while now. And it’s a tactic that has delivered great success, too. Here at Buffer, reposting was a key factor in our growing our Instagram audience by over 60 percent.

Today, we’re excited to announce a new way to make Instagram reposting easy for you, with Buffer!

Learning how to repost on Instagram is the key to taking your marketing strategy on the photo-sharing platform to the next level. We’d love to help get you started! Keep reading for advice and tips on the best ways to add reposting to your social strategy and the ideal workflows for doing it quickly and efficiently.

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How to Repost on Instagram, using Buffer

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To repost on Instagram, find the picture you’d like to repost within the Instagram app, then tap on the three dots ‘…’ icon next to the image and then tap ‘Copy Share URL’. Now, open up Buffer for Android or iOS on your phone and tap the ‘Tap here to repost your image from Instagram’ notification.

Here’s that process broken out into 4 quick steps:

1. Find the photo you’d like to repost

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The first step is to open up Instagram and find the photo you’d like to repost. Once you’ve located the photo, on iOS tap on the ‘…’ icon and tap the ‘Share’ option and then tap ‘Copy Link’:

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On Android, tap ‘Copy Share URL’:

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2. Open Buffer’s iOS or Android app

Next, you’ll need to open up Buffer for iOS or Android on your phone. Once the app is open, it’ll recognize the Instagram link saved to your clipboard and ask if you’d like to repost that content to your own Instagram account:

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3. Edit the caption and schedule a reminder

Once you’ve tapped on the option to repost the Instagram post, Buffer will automatically pre-fill the caption field based on the caption from the original post and give credit to the image creator by adding their @username (you can add in your own comment just like with any other post.) Now, select which profiles you want it to go to and schedule your reminder.

4. Post the photo

When it’s time to post your image to Instagram, Buffer will send you a handy reminder and help you get the post published.

(Since Instagram’s API doesn’t yet allow full scheduling and auto-posting, Buffer for Instagram works using reminders and notifications on your phone. Set your desired time, and the Buffer app will send you a notification when it’s time to post.)

How to Repost on Instagram (manually)

Reposting has been around as a strategy on Instagram for quite some time, long before tools like Buffer for Instagram came around. Certain third-party apps allowed for particular repost functions, often including watermarks or @-mention credits on the reposted photo. The absolute simplest way, though, was with a screengrab — a process that can still be replicated today.

Here’s how to manually repost photos in 4 easy steps:

1. Screenshot a photo

Find the photo you’d like to repost with your audience and take a screenshot of it.

2. Select the camera button on Instagram and upload your screenshot

Once you have your image saved to your camera roll, tap on the camera icon within Instagram and select your screenshot as you would any other image you wanted to share on Instagram.

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3. Resize the image

Next, you’ll want to resize your post so that only the image remains. You can do this using the resize functionality within Instagram, or if you’d like to crop before you upload the photo, this can also be done using your phone’s camera roll editing functionality.

4. Add a caption

Be sure to credit the original sharer of the image within your caption and tag their account using their Instagram handle (@buffer, for example).

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Why reposting can be important for brands

Instagram is used by nearly half of all brands and generates engagement rates that are 10 times higher than Facebook. 

Instagram has become an incredibly important network for brands. In fact, 48.8% of brands are on Instagram. And by 2017, this figure is predicted to rise to 70.7%.

What’s more, those brands already using Instagram are seeing great engagement. A recent Forrester study showed that engagement with brands on Instagram is 10 times higher than Facebook, 54 times higher than Pinterest, and 84 times higher than Twitter.

But how does reposting come into play here?

According to research from marketing startup Crowdtap and the global research company Ipsos, millennials and other generations trust UGC 50% more than other types of media. Furthermore, 84% of millennials report that user-generated content on company websites has at least some influence on what they buy and where.

How we use reposting at Buffer
Here at Buffer, we’ve also made reposting a key part of our Instagram strategy and this tactic has helped us to significantly grow our account. In under 3 months after implementing a user generated content campaign on Instagram, our account grew by 60%  – 5,850 to 9,400 followers and counting.

How reposting can fit into your Instagram strategy

Here are 4 ways to make reposting a part of your strategy.

1. Share user generated content from events

Live events, meetups and talks are great times to create and curate content. If you’re running your own event, or maybe a member of your team is giving a talk at an event, this is a golden opportunity to repost some content on Instagram.

Eventbrite use a branded hashtag, #EBevents, to share and follow content from events that use Eventbrite to sell tickets and they also repost content from some Instagram users who attened Eventbrite events.

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2. Monitor brand mentions, tags, and hashtags

Your Instagram notifications can also be a great source of user generated content. Keep an eye out for any new mentions and tags as these can be great sources of content for your own Instagram feed.

At Buffer, we also use a few branded hashtags on Instagram. One of the hashtags we use is #bufferlove and we frequently reach out to others who use the hashtag and repost their content with our own feed.

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3. Acknowledge and share content from community members

People enjoy being acknowledged for their content and efforts on social media. And sometimes, reaching out and asking about sharing some of their content on your brand’s profile can be a great way to acknowledge their work and also discover new brand ambasasdors.

Destination British Columbia is the Official tourism organization for British Columbia, Canada, and they often feature guest Instagrammers within their feed.

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4. Celebrate milestones and events to inspire user generated content

Addressing big milestones or celebrating key events and moments, can be a great strategy to inspire your followers to share some user generated content.

A great example of this is the National Park Service, who recently celebrated their 100th birthday using the hashtag #nps100. On Instagram alone, this hashtag has been used in over 175,000 posts, giving theNational Park Service an amazing choice of beautiful, engaging photos to repost.

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Discover more about how we use reposting and UGC as part of our Instagram strategy here at Buffer: How We Grew Our Instagram Followers by 60% with User Generated Content

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How to decide what you should repost on Instagram

Cool, so you’re ready to repost some content on Instagram, but which photos should you share?

It’s important to ensure you have a strategy in place when it comes to reposting and also an idea on how the content you repost fits into your wider Instagram strategy. A few factors it’s important to think about include:

Composition

Composition refers to the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art, as distinct from the subject of a work.

When it comes to sharing images from other Instagram accounts, think about your brand’s style of composition and whether each image fits in here. For example, if all of your images feature a solid background, it might not fit in with your visual style to repost an image with a textured background.

Color palette 

Many brands use a set color palette on Instagram and moving away from your brand style may make your reposted content feel a little out of place. For example, Everlane tends to use soft palette and grey/black/white colors:

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If Everlane were to repost an image with a bright, vibrant color scheme it wouldn’t feel aligned with Everlane’s brand.

Content

This is probably the most important factor of any reposting strategy. Before sharing a photo, think about whether the content is aligned with your brand. For example, at Buffer our Instagram content focuses on three main themes:

  1. User generated content
  2. Digital nomad lifestyle
  3. Productivity and motivation

Before reposting anything, we’ll ensure that the photo aligns with one of these three themes and helps us to execute on our strategy.

3 reposting best practices

1. Ask for permission

Once you’ve discovered a photo you’d like to share, it’s a best practice to ask the original creator before you go ahead and publish. Usually, the easiest way to do this is through using Instagram’s messaging feature and sending the creator a DM. If this approach doesn’t work, some Instagram accounts will include an email address in their bio, too.

We’ve also found that it’s best to include a thoughtful message in your outreach about why you’d like to share the photo.

2. Avoid edits

If you’ve picked out a photo you’d love to repost, it’s best practice to share it untouched and unedited. 99% of the time you’ll be able to go ahead and publish without any changes, but for those rare occasions where a slight edit may be needed, be sure to reach out original creator and ask before publishing an edited image.

3. Credit your source

This one is super important. If you choose to repost someone’s photo, ensure you give credit in your post. The best way to credit someone is to include their username within your caption.

Instagram captions become truncated with an ellipsis after three lines of text so, where possible, try to include the credit within those first three lines so it’s visible.

Here are a few ways you can give credit within your photo caption:

  • Credit: @username
  • Photo credit: @username
  • Moment captured by @username
  • 📸 by @username
  • Thanks to @username for sharing this image with us

7 Inspiring examples of reposting done right

Which brands are utilizing user generated content?

1. GoPro

GoPro is a brand built on user generated content. Their Instagram feed regularly features content from members of their community and showcases the amazing images you can capture using a GoPro camera.

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2. Momondo

Travel search site, Momondo, use their bio to encourage users to tag them in photos and use hashtag  #staycurious for the chance to have your content featured on their profile:

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The brand regularly features vibrant, colorful images that share the adventure of travel. Here’s an example of a photo they reposted:

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3. Belkin

Belkin use reposting to showcase examples of their products out in the wild. For example, here’s a photo of their Clip-Fit band originally shared by one of their customers:

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4. Poler Outdoor Stuff

Poler Outdoor Stuff produce outdoor adventure and camping accessories and clothing. On Instagram, they use user generated content to showcase their products being used by customers.

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5. The Design Tip

The Design Tip is a must-follow account for anyone in the design space or anyone with a desire to learn a little about design. Every day the account features work submitted by its community of followers, such as this piece by Manuel Bortoletti:

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6. Mailchimp

Mailchimp’s brand is incredibly fun and their brand personality carries over into the content they repost on Instagram. The email company has produced a number of cute accessories for office pets and repost photos of the accessories in action:

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Side note: for more Mailchimp-inspired cuteness, check out #meowchimp on Instagram.

7. WeWork

WeWork use Instagram to showcase their co-working spaces and the amazing people and companies who are part of their community. WeWork often shares photos of their spaces that are shared by community members. For example, this post was originally shared by one of their members from a WeWork spot in Los Angles:

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Over to You

Is reposting a part of your Instagram strategy?

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear whether you’ve had any success with reposting and user generated content on Instagram. If so, I’d love to learn from you!

What do you look for in a photo to repost? How do you reach out to the creator of the photo? What’s your engagement been like for repost? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

We recently launched Buffer for Instagram, to help you repost, plan, track and amplify your Instagram marketing. Get started now for free!

The Ultimate List of 250+ Marketing Statistics [New Data]

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We’ve all been there … the wild goose chase of finding the perfect statistic.

You’re writing a blog post on the importance of using video in your social media strategy, for instance. As you crank through your outline, suddenly you pause. If only I had a stat to insert here.

First you come across a research report, but it requires a hefty membership fee. For your next data point, you follow the trail of links from one article to the next, only to find that the original source is 404-ed. When you finally think you’ve found the perfect social video statistic, you realize it was published during the days “poking” someone on Facebook was still socially acceptable. 

Let’s stop chasing after stats. For your researching ease, we’ve gathered all the top marketing and sales data in one place. So when you need a stat on the rise of video, we’ve got you covered. In fact, did you know 43% of consumers want to see more video content from marketers in the future? 

In our Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics, you’ll find over 250 data points on search engine optimization, content marketing, email optimization, sales and marketing alignment, and more. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Content consumption on Facebook has increased 57% in the past two years.
  • 65% of marketers say generating traffic and leads is their top challenge.
  • 82% of marketers with a service-level agreement think their marketing strategy is effective.

Bookmark our Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics today to spend less time scouring the internet for numbers and more time creating great content.

get the free 2016 state of inbound report

How Outsourcing Creativity Can Save Your Agency From Burnout

“Creativity is an advertising agency’s most valuable asset, because it is the rarest.” – Jef I. Richards

Whether you are in advertising, content marketing, or any other marketing service, one of the greatest values you can bring your clients is creativity.

Compared with 2016, 70% of B2B organizations say they will produce more content in 2017. That means more and more businesses will be looking to agencies and freelancers to create an increasingly diverse spectrum of quality content.

When clients enlist your agency to develop fresh content, it usually means their own team is running out of new ways to engage their audience. At the outset of your agency’s relationship with a client, the new content ideas will likely flow easily. To learn how to develop your agency's org structure, download our free guide here.

But as clients continually demand new ideas to meet their content goals, your team might need to introduce some fresh minds to the account. If you see your internal team as the only source creative ideas, you could be setting your agency up for creative burnout and stagnant growth.

If you work with freelance writers, you already have a team itching to provide you with creative assistance. The use of freelancers offers you a community of writers and with key experience in your clients’ industries, providing your team with a steady supply of creativity.

Far too often, freelancers are primarily used when your agency’s “to-do” list is overflowing. They are seen as a tactical resource, when they should instead be viewed as a creative and strategic resource.

So why don’t agencies see freelancers as capable of contributing to the creative talent pool? The big problem is that agencies are generally not great at enabling freelancers to do their best work.

Here we’ll explore some tips to get freelancers more effectively involved in the creative process at your agency — and why their participation is necessary for business growth, client satisfaction, and preventing burnout in your creative department.

How to Outsource Creativity at Your Agency

Give Freelancers the Tools They Need

The most obvious objection to using freelancers to come up with creative ideas for your clients is that they just don’t know your clients well enough. To effectively create a content calendar for your clients, your team likely spends a lot of time carefully researching past content, discussing goals over the phone and in-person, and eventually agreeing on a tone and strategy that suit the client’s unique needs and goals.

The question is, after your team has gone through all of this work, why aren’t you sharing it with your freelancers?

Your freelancers need the necessary tools to make informed decisions about the content they’re creating. Like your own team, freelancers are concerned with developing a better understanding of their audience, and learning what types of content this audience likes to consume. Make sure you answer these questions in advance by providing your freelance writers with:

  • Your client’s buyer personas: This will help your freelancers better understand your client’s audience. If your client doesn’t have buyer personas, consider helping them set some up.
  • The stage of the buyer’s journey they’ll be creating content for: Content needs to be optimized for the stage of the buyer’s journey your client wants to target.
  • Relevant keyword research: Use a keyword research tool to inform the specific keywords ideas should be optimized for.
  • Content analytics on how past content has performed: A record of your past successes and failures will inform your freelancers what ideas perform best.

Make your Content Calendar Accessible

By opening up the floodgates to allow freelancers to send you content ideas, you’re going to end up with plenty of high quality content pitches that fit your client’s audience. But how can you be sure they’ll fit the content strategy you’ve laid out?

Whether you employ freelancers or not, using a content calendar to manage your client’s content creation is the best way to organize the delivery and publishing schedules of everything you’re producing. While you don’t need to fill this content calendar out 100% for the next year, it absolutely pays to plan ahead. Click here to download a free editorial calendar template for Google Calendar.

By sketching out at least a rough outline of your content strategy for the next 6-12 months, you’ll be much better equipped to request and accept content pitches from your freelance community. Organize your calendar around larger content pieces such as whitepapers and webinars in addition to any events your client will participate in or products they’ll be launching.

When you inform your freelancers of your long-term goals, they can pitch you content ideas that fit your current goals. Plus, if they send an idea that won’t fit for another 2 months, you’re able to save it instead of rejecting it outright.

Provide Clear Feedback

As a chance to earn more work, your freelancers will jump at the chance to pitch you their own content ideas. However, if the response is poor or if there is little feedback, they could easily get discouraged.

Just as it took time for your agency to figure out the right content to send your clients, it will take your freelancers time to get the hang of pitching you valuable content ideas. This process can be sped up considerably if you are open and clear about what pitches are worthwhile and why.

While there are always more freelance writers who are willing to pitch your business, the real value is in building a content community of writers whose ideas will continue to get better as the relationship matures. View this small group of freelancers as internal employees, nurture their creativity, and you will end up with a much larger pool of creative ideas to provide your clients with.

Don’t Underestimate the Value of Good Freelance Talent

Companies that foster creativity are three times more likely to see 10% growth in revenue year to year compared to companies that do not.

If your agency is valued for its creativity, it’s your job to put processes in place to ensure creativity can be sustained. Don’t disregard your greatest source of potential content ideas: freelancers. Instead, give your freelance writers the tools, information and feedback they need to provide a much larger contribution to your business. Your clients, your freelancers, and your agency will thank you for it.

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Instagram vs. Snapchat, Facebook Notes, Buffer Hacks & Personal Emojis – Bonus Episode [002]

We are super excited to share our second, very special bonus podcast episode with you!

Our bonus episodes offer a fun change of pace from our traditional “interview-style” episodes on The Science of Social Media. Get to know the hosts Hailley, Kevan, & Brian a bit better as they share some of the things they’re working on this week in social media – complete with actionable takeaways and useful insights.

This week we’re chatting all about Snapchat vs. Instagram Stories and how brands and people are using the platforms in very unique ways. We also discuss our Facebook Notes experiment, if it’s possible to brand your own emoji, and how to build your own content hub within Buffer!

A huge thank you to all of you for joining us every week for brand new episodes of The Science of Social Media. We appreciate you taking the time to listen and for your amazing support over the last few weeks. We’d love to hear from you on iTunes or using the hashtag #bufferpodcast on Twitter.

How to listen: iTunes | Google Play | SoundCloud | Stitcher | RSS

This episode is available on:

Here’s what we chat about in this episode:

  • Snapchat vs. Instagram Stories and how brands and individuals are using the platform in very different ways
  • Our recent experiment with Facebook Notes and how they performed in comparison to normal links
  • If it’s possible to brand your own emoji and what effect that may have on your social media
  • We play a fun game called “Top 10” – We’d love for you to tune in to play along with us!

4 Key Takeaways from the Show from Hailley, Brian, and Kevan

Quotes pulled from the show!

1. Facebook Notes experiment & learnings

Within the Facebook composer there’s a great feature called Facebook Notes which essentially looks like a Medium post directly within Facebook. There’s a cover photo, you can format the post, and it posts natively within Facebook. The hypothesis going in was that Facebook would reward a native blog post with more reach and engagement. To our surprise, it did not perform as well as we thought it would.

Although the post didn’t work, it sparked people’s curiosity. I’d highly recommend that you all give Facebook Notes a try and see how it works for you. I would love to hear how it goes in the comments below!

2. How brands and people are using Snapchat vs. Instagram Stories

“The biggest thing for me, and I’ve been experimenting with this a lot, is testing and learning about Snapchat Stories vs. Instagram Stories. I’m coming at this from a personal user perspective and what I’ve been doing is using Snapchat as a 1-to-1 communication tool. Then I take the content that I used to put on Snapchat and post that to Instagram Stories because I have a much bigger audience there. Instagram is more of that one-to-many strategy. But for many marketers and brands it is quite the opposite. It’s interesting to see how it is playing out in the social media world.”

3. Creating a hub of great content in Buffer and “can I brand an emoji?”

“I love to have some go-to Tweets and go-to Facebook posts when I’m out of content. So I’ve built myself a content repository within Buffer. What I’ve done is created a fake Twitter account for myself and connected it to Buffer. Every so often I will run through the Tweets from my main Twitter account, find the ones that are best performing, and then drag them over into the fake account. I also have a IFTTT recipe that connects my favorite Pocket reads into my fake Twitter account. From there, I can drag them from the fake account into my real account whenever I’m dry on content.”

4. Branding your own emoji

“I would like to brand my own emoji – the French Fry emoji 🍟. My plan to do this is three-fold. First, I’ve added it to my Twitter bio. So I tell people who I am… french fry emoji. Then the second way is that I will add it, when in doubt, to most replies on Twitter. And the third was is that I’m using it as a star rating system for a piece of content that I’ve read and like a lot. Five fries out of five!”

Show Notes and Other Memorable Moments

Thanks a million for checking out this episode! Below are the websites and other tidbits that were mentioned in today’s podcast about personal branding on social media. If you have any questions for us, feel free to drop us a line in the comments and we’ll respond right away!

Awesome Mentions in the Show

Great Quotes

 The Science of Social Media Buffer Podcast Quote, social media podcast, marketing, buffer podcast

  • “There is nothing more interesting than taking the public transportation system and watching people use social media in the wild. It’s a great learning experience.”
  • “The reason that Facebook Notes is an interesting feature and why we tried it is because it’s a hidden feature. But most of all, Mark Zuckerberg still uses this feature to this day to write posts. I think secretly they want it to do well.”
  • “There is still this pressure on Instagram of having the ‘perfect’ Instagram photo and the perfect Instagram grid. And that pressure has seeped into Instagram Stories. A lot of brands and celebrities’ Instagram Stories are very well put together.”
  • Adding emojis to your profile name is now possible within Twitter. This is a feature that was just released from them.”

How to Say Hello to Us

We would all love to say hello to you on social media – especially Twitter!

Thanks for listening! We’d love to connect with you at @buffer on Twitter or with the hashtag #bufferpodcast.

Enjoy the show? It’d mean the world to us if you’d be up for giving us a rating and review on iTunes!

About the Show

The Science of Social Media is a podcast for marketers and social media managers looking for inspiration, ideas, and results for their social media strategies. Each week, we interview one of the very best in social media marketing from brands in every industry. You will learn the latest tactics on social media, the best tools to use, the smartest workflows, and the best goal-setting advice. It is our hope that each episode you’ll find one or two gems to use with your social media marketing!

The Science of Social Media is proudly made by the Buffer team. Feel free to get in touch with us for any thoughts, ideas, or feedback.

Ask the Experts: Content Marketing Examples That Rock

Humans are pretty basic creatures; from an early age we learn by mimicking. And this doesn’t change too much even when we become adults: typically we first absorb high level principlessuch as say, the importance of having a documented content marketing strategy. But if we are then introduced to concrete examples, it makes things much easier to grasp conceptually, and to mimic (and build upon) what we’ve seen, enabling us to wield our knowledge with dexterity. Whether you’re at a small, medium, or enterprise level organization, content marketing is no exception to this rule, so Curata has assembled a selection of marketing experts to tell us what their favorite content marketing examples are.

Covering a wide span of industries—both B2B and B2C, there are websites, individual blog posts, posters, magazines, photo essays, a tool to find anyone’s corporate email address, a book, holiday guides, a tool to measure the strength of your brand, and an eBook. Read on to find out what these experts consider to be excellent content marketing examples.

DOUG KESSLER
Creative Director, Co-Founder, Velocity Partners @dougkessler
One of my favorite B2B content marketing examples is CMO.com by Adobe. It’s a great example of serving your audience first and worrying about turning it into revenue later. By doing that, they’ve created a valuable media property that would take millions to buy. Tim Moran, the editor-in-chief, has done an amazing job with the site (I interviewed him in a post called How Branded Content Is Done)—it just keeps getting better.

 

DAVID MEERMAN SCOTT
Marketing & Sales Strategist, Keynote Speaker, bestselling author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR and Newsjacking @dmscott
I love how Quark Expeditions uses content: they understand how important it is in today’s environment to educate and inform, instead of interrupting and selling. Here’s a video of mine that talks more about it.

 

ANN HANDLEY
Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs, Author of Everybody Writes and Content Rules @MarketingProfs
One of my favorite content marketing examples of all time is from the Humane Society Silicon Valley, and its “marketing” of a little jerk of a dog named Eddie the Terrible. So much of their content marketing is great. But this one is truly spectacular (and low-budget): http://www.annhandley.com/2014/12/16/eddie-the-terrible-ridiculously-good-writing/

 

JOE PULIZZI
Founder & CEO, Content Marketing Institute, Author of Content Inc., Speaker & Entrepreneur @JoePulizzi
John Deere’s The Furrow magazine. Created in 1895 to help farmers be more productive, The Furrow is the largest media property in the agricultural industry, with 1.5 million subscribers in 40 countries and 14 different languages.

 

RAND FISHKIN
Founder and former CEO of Moz, Author, and Co-Founder of Inbound.org @randfish
10X Content refers to content that is ten times better than the best result that can currently be found in the search results for a given keyword phrase or topic.Some combination of the following criteria is necessary to qualify as 10X: provide a uniquely positive user experience; deliver content that is some substantive combination of high-quality, trustworthy, useful, interesting, and remarkable; be considerably different in scope and detail from other works on similar topics; load quickly and be usable on any device or browser; create an emotional response of awe, surprise, joy, anticipation, and/or admiration; achieve an impressive quantity of amplification; solve a problem or answer a question by providing comprehensive, accurate, exceptional information or resources.Here’s my favorite most recent content marketing examples that qualify as 10X:

http://blog.froont.com/9-basic-principles-of-responsive-web-design/ 
https://maptia.com/davidheath/stories/burma-an-enchanted-spirit
https://www.voilanorbert.com/

 

Michael BrennerMICHAEL BRENNER
CEO, Marketing Insider Group, Author of The Content Formula  @BrennerMichael
Here is one of my favorite recent content marketing examples. In full disclosure I’m on the board but wasn’t paid for the consulting I did:

This is a non-profit with very little marketing budget and almost no resources. But by tapping into the power of the impact they are having on the world, and the emotional stories of their target audience, they achieved massive content marketing success, including a 10X increase in new “customers” with no investment of budget and a tiny portion of their staff’s time.

How they did it:
At Healthy Kids, they super-charged their blogging efforts with employee perspectives, “profiles” of successful community coordinators, they partnered with organizations who were sharing healthy smoothie recipes for kids from popular sites such as Mom Junction, and they curated content from the CDC on how to maintain kid’s health through running.

 

HEIDI COHEN
Chief Content Officer, Actionable Marketing Guide @heidicohen
Hands down, my favorite piece of quality content is The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn. Kudos to LinkedIn’s Jason Miller (with help from Lee Odden and his Top Rank team).Miller believes as a marketer you should create big rock content around the conversation you want to own. He built The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide brand (within a brand) beyond its original LinkedIn focus. Other guide iterations concentrate on other marketing conversations including thought leadership and content marketing.Miller spins McDonald’s “value meal” into the “quality content full meal.” The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide delivers on its promise. It’s easy-to-read, consistently branded, and taps into high profile influencers. He carves each piece of big rock content into serving after serving of high value, contextually relevant information. (Hat tip: Rebecca Lieb for the Thanksgiving content analogy.)The Sophisticated Marketers Guide to LinkedIn

Why The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide To LinkedIn is quality content:

  • Continues to be relevant. First created in 2014, this big rock content was updated in 2015 and 2016. Why create new content when you can update and improve existing content? (Ask your team this question. This is why I believe content marketing planning starts with an audit!)
  • Is the cornerstone for additional portions of content. The guide provides multiple servings of useful content (100+ pieces according to Miller). Further, Miller expanded the Sophisticated Marketer’s Guides to related marketing topics. Talk about long term planning! (Key point: This isn’t set your content strategy and leave it alone.)

Qualifies prospects. The guide not only owns the LinkedIn conversation, but also gets potential prospects into the sales pipeline. The main piece of big rock content is gated. Even better, the same landing page and URL remain constant. Prospects are further pushed down the funnel with the download.

 

BARRY FELDMAN
Owner, Feldman Creative, Content Marketing Consultant, Speaker, Author @FeldmanCreative
The Road to Recognition is a soon-to-be released book by myself and Seth Price. It’s an exciting example of so many things you can accomplish with content marketing.

You see, it began as an infographic that went viral and evolved into guest posts, SlideShares, interviews, and speaking opportunities. Its popularity suggested we’re onto something big. Its topic—personal branding—begged for more, something epic. And that something is the book.

The book is mega-collaborative affair too, featuring many guests. As the story of the book unfolds you’re going to see every conceivable kind of social media and content come from it. So this is the story of market research, repurposing, collaboration, influencer marketing, social media marketing, and much more all rolled into one.

 

ARNIE KUENN
CEO at Vertical Measures, International Speaker, Author of Content Marketing Works: 8 Steps to Transform Your Business @ArnieK
I really like the direction Home Depot is going with their content (disclosure: The Home Depot is an SEO client of ours). The Home Depot was fortunate enough to get a large budget to build out their content over the last few years, and I am happy to see they have not wasted it away. They continue to improve all of their product pages, but I especially like their various resource sections on the site. For example, the holiday season is upon us and they have produced some very helpful content like their Holiday Guides. Within their holiday guides they have many specific guides, like how to choose the best artificial Christmas tree for your home. I like solid, practical content, and this fits the bill.

 

SHERRY LAMOREAUX
Senior Editor, Act-On Software @SherryLamoreaux
One of my favorite content marketing examples is the famous oyster ad that reputedly was David Ogilvy’s first after launching his own little agency. You know the one… the 1950 Guinness Guide to Oysters. Reading it, I am informed and amused, and I am pleased that Guinness thinks enough of me (and my kind) to write such an ad so well. Well, Guinness, perhaps I’ll try one of your stouts the next time I’m in an oyster bar. I want to like you back. And in retrospect, I see how many “rules” Ogilvy broke. He had to be going on intuition. What a brilliant guy.oystersguide_davidogilvy

I love Brian Clark’s commentary on the oyster ad too (published on Say Daily on February 27, 2014). I especially like his authenticity discussion, because it touches on continuity: Online conversion optimization studies repeatedly show that people expect continuity in the information trails they travel. And for some reason, continuity fascinates me.

 

ROBIN GOOD
Keynote Speaker, Startup Adviser, Publisher – MasterNewMedia  @RobinGood
One great example of content marketing is OnBrandGrader.com. Why? This 100% free tool scores the effectiveness of any website across Consistency, Message, Usability, and Accessibility, while providing a valuable report with specific advice and tips. It is a content marketing tool devised by Bynder, a company specializing in branding and corporate identity.

The art of curating a company’s best advice and wisdom into an automated tool which provides immediate insight and advice to potential customers is, in my opinion, the best way to get lots of visibility, while increasing authority and credibility in any market niche.

Content marketing doesn’t have to be an article at all costs. Content can be repurposed in a million different ways. Thus, directories, catalogs, and instant feedback tools are some of the most effective ways to provide high value and immediate usefulness while being original and providing something altogether unique.

 

Whether you’re a seasoned content marketing professional or only new to the field, we hope this collection of content marketing examples helps you improve your content! If you’re interested in furthering your content marketing career, download Curata and LinkedIn’s new joint eBook: The Ultimate Guide to a Content Marketing Career. Packed full of original research, data, and analysis, it outlines the state of the content marketing sector today, the qualifications and capabilities required by the sector, and best practices for great content marketing.

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The post Ask the Experts: Content Marketing Examples That Rock appeared first on Content Marketing Forum.

26 Last-Minute DIY Halloween Costume Ideas for Tech Geeks & Marketers

office halloween-1.jpg

Halloween is a fun holiday, and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Halloween doesn’t have recognizable songs or vacation days associated with it, and it falls on a busy time of year for most people in the workforce. (For example, here at HubSpot, we’re currently gearing up for INBOUND 2016.)

But that doesn’t mean you should skip the festivities at your office Halloween celebration. How many days of the year are you encouraged to dress up and goof around at work? Probably zero. Download free Halloween-themed stock photos here to dress up your content.

We want you to have fun this Halloween, so we’re taking the work out if it for you. We’ve compiled a list of DIY Halloween costume ideas that are easy to put together, inexpensive, and work appropriate. As a bonus, many are marketing and technology-themed, so even if your family and friends don’t get your costume, your colleagues definitely will.

26 Last-Minute Office Halloween Costumes for Marketers & Tech Geeks

Evergreen Office Costumes

1) Alt Text

This was our Director of Content Corey Wainwright‘s office Halloween costume a couple of years ago. It’s great because you don’t even look dressed up if you have a casual office dress code, so you can just blend in.

All you need is to dress in 90s alternative garb — she went with black jeans, combat boots, and a flannel — and tape a piece of paper to yourself that says something like img2017.jpg. Or if you want to follow best practice for good alt text, you can put something more descriptive, like “alt_text.” Your choice, you SEO rebel you.

2) SEO Ninja

Speaking of dorking out on SEO, you could be everyone’s favorite LinkedIn title — the SEO ninja. Dress in all black, put on a black ski mask (kinda creepy if you already have one, but we don’t judge here), and tape keywords all over yourself.  

3) Mobile App

Wander around holding an appetizer — candy, cheese and crackers, chips and dip … whatever you have on hand. Boom. You’re a mobile “app.”

This costume also doubles as a great way to introduce yourself and make friends at a party.

mobile-app-costume.png

Source: Opportunity Max

4) Instagram

Another way to turn handing out food into a costume: Dress up like a hipster and hand out graham crackers.

5) Ghostwriter

Grab a white sheet and cut a hole for your head and arms. Dob some black ink spots on the sheet, get a book and one of those feather quills (or just get a feather, I suppose), and you’re a ghostwriter.

6) White Space

Dress in all white — add white face paint and a white wig if you’re ultra-committed. Then add a hint of color somewhere on the outfit, like a colored tie or scarf, or even a paint splotch. That color splotch will make the white space more prominent, transforming you into “white space.”

7) Error 404 Page

You’ve most likely encountered a funny error 404 page before, and you can make it a funny costume, too. Grab a sheet of paper, write “Error 404: Costume Not Found,” and tape it to your outfit.

 

A photo posted by RachAel Klopfenstein (@theklopf) on Sep 5, 2015 at 12:33pm PDT

8) (Monty) Python

If you’re into programming code, British comedy, and low-effort costumes, being (Monty) Python is perfect. Dress up in anything remotely snakelike in your closet: olive green clothing, snakeskin accessories, and fake vampire teeth that can serve as your fangs.

Then, to amp up the dork factor on this costume, add two coconuts or a gold chalice to embody Monty Python on his quest for the Holy Grail. 

9) Facebook

Grab face paint or eyeliner and write “book” across your cheeks. Just like that, you’re the world’s biggest social network for Halloween.

And for your sake, we hope your colleagues actually get it:

10) Unicorn

Here’s another tech-friendly, double-entendre costume: Be your own version of a tech unicorn. Here at HubSpot, we love this tech icon, and you can easily make your own version of a unicorn horn with help from this article.

 

A photo posted by Claudia Valles (@clapvalley) on Feb 12, 2016 at 6:05am PST

11) Phishing Emails

Phishing emails are nothing to joke about — they can seriously threaten your technology and data security. But on Halloween, you can dress up as a play on phishing emails for an easy DIY costume. All you need are a stick, a piece of string, and an envelope. Bonus points if you own a bucket hat and vest to complete the ensemble.

12) Copycat

Here’s a technology spin on a classic Halloween costume. All you’ll need are cat ears, eyeliner-drawn whiskers, and a sheet of paper. Write “Control + C” on the paper, tape it to your outfit, and you’re a copycat.

sub-buzz-22134-1476718504-4.jpg

Source: BuzzFeed 

13) Fully Vested

If you work in a company where people would get the joke, put on a bunch of vests (at least three, but even more is encouraged) and that’s about it. You’re fully vested.

14) Nerd

What I love about the nerd costume is that it’s effortless and always unique — there are many ways to be a nerd in this day and age. Are you a tech nerd, a video game nerd, or a book nerd? The sky is the limit with this costume. Show up wearing glasses with your favorite accessory, such as a magic wand, book, or lightsaber, to complete the effect.

Topical Office Costumes

15) Pokémon GO Trainer

Pokémon GO had roughly 45 million people walking around in cities glued to their phones in summer 2016 (and I was among them). To pay homage to the explosion of this tech trend, you’ll need a t-shirt that’s red, yellow, or blue. Using fabric paint or permanent marker, write Valor (for red), Instinct (for yellow), or Mystic (for blue) on your shirt. Spend Halloween walking around pointing your phone at objects, and you’re the spitting image of a Pokémon GO trainer. Gotta catch em all, right? 

 

A photo posted by Odinia (@marshmallowsie) on Aug 9, 2016 at 4:44pm PDT

16) Beyoncé Singing “Hold Up”

If you work in content or social media marketing, you’ve probably read by now that video is growing in popularity among your audience. Beyoncé knows it too — she released her second visual album, Lemonade, earlier this year. Channel Queen Bey in her video featuring the song “Hold Up” by wearing an all-yellow outfit and carrying a toy baseball bat around.

Beyonce-Lemonade-Halloween-Costume.jpg

Source: SheFinds

17) Peach

Peach was introduced in early 2016 and never really took off. Pay tribute to the social networking app that experienced the circle of life more quickly than some others by dressing up as a peach. If you don’t have an all-orange outfit on hand, print out this picture of a peach emoji that served as their logo, and you’re done.

Peach.jpg

Source: The Next Web

18) Barb from Stranger Things

Here’s another Netflix costume idea. Barb from Netflix’s hit new series Stranger Things is universally beloved, and it’s a bonus that her signature look is a comfortable and easy-to-assemble costume. Rock your best Barb with your finest plaid tucked into high-waisted jeans, glasses, pinned-up hair, and a notebook.

barb.jpg

Source: Bustle 

Group Office Costumes

19) Google Algorithm Update

Find a couple of office buddies for this one — one panda, one penguin, and one pigeon. You might be thinking, “what the heck is the pigeon algorithm update?” 1) It’s a thing, and 2) we checked Amazon for hummingbird costumes and there aren’t any cheap ones available. 

google-algorithm-update-halloween-costumes.jpg

Source: Opportunity Max

20) Black and White Hat SEO (aka Westworld‘s Man in Black and William)

This is another SEO-related costume, and I think you can figure this one out on your own. I recommend an all black outfit for one, and all white for the other — but the hat’s the most important part.

If you’re a TV nerd like me and want to make this costume work on two levels, make sure your black and white hats are western hats to pay tribute to two big characters on HBO’s popular new sci-fi show, Westworld.

21) Dancing Girls Emoji

If you’re the owner of one of the nearly 600 million Apple iPhones sold worldwide, you’re probably familiar with the girls emoji:

Screen Shot 2016-10-25 at 2.13.14 PM.png

Source: Brit + Co

The easiest version of this costume is to find a buddy and dress all in black together. If you’re committed to emoji authenticity, buy black bunny ears to complete the look.

22) Series A Round of Funding

Get a bunch of people together, write the letter “A” on your shirt, and line up. (You could do subsequent funding rounds using the same principle, too.) 

23) Snapchat Filters

Here’s another group costume idea that pays tribute to Snapchat’s filters feature. 

There are numerous options that you and your team can choose from to embody this costume. You could dress up as vomiting rainbows, cat and dog ears, a flower crown, or a face swap, and this could be as DIY or store-bought as you’re interested in pursuing. For example, here’s some inspiration for a couple of the dog filters:

snapchatfilter.jpg
Source: PopSugar

24) BuzzFeed Reactions

Here’s an easy group costume for a big crew. Everyone dresses in yellow and writes one of the following in big black letters on their shirt. 

Just be sure to sign up for a reaction fast, or you’ll be dressing up as “fail” this year.

BuzzFeed Reactions.png

25) Snapchat Ghosts

Snapchat has exploded in popularity this year, so put a marketing spin on a classic Halloween costume by arriving as a Snapchat ghost. You’ll all need a white sheet and to pick which ghost you like the most. 

maxresdefault-24.jpg

Source: YouTube

26) Instagram Filters

For this group costume, you’ll need white t-shirts and fabric markers. Draw an Instagram photo frame on the front of your shirts, and each teach member can write a different Instagram filter‘s name inside the photo frame. Or, create frame props with different filters on them like the group did below:

M-nahalloween-1.jpg

Source: Nails Magazine

Is your office dressing up this year? What costume will you be sporting? Share with us in the comments section below.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and has been updated for freshness and comprehensiveness.

get free halloween stock photos

A Brief History of Search & SEO

history of seo.png

Tracing the history of SEO is kind of like trying to trace the history of the handshake. We all know it exists, and we know it’s an important part of business. But we don’t spend a ton of time thinking about its origins — we’re mostly concerned with how we use it day-to-day.

But unlike the handshake, SEO is fairly young, and changes frequently. Quite appropriately, it appears to be a millennial — its birth is predicted to fall somewhere around 1991.

And in its relatively short life, it’s matured and evolved rather quickly — just look at how many changes Google’s algorithm alone has gone through. Download our free planner to learn how to step up your SEO traffic in just 30 days.

So where did SEO begin, and how did it become so darn important? Join us, as we step back in time and try to figure this out — as it turns out, it’s quite a story.

But First, a Look Back at Search Engines

Google Beta

Source: Wayback Machine

The first idea for creating a common archive for all the world’s data came to fruition in 1945. That July, Dr. Vannevar Bush — then director of the now-defunct Office of Scientific Research and Development — published a piece in The Atlantic proposing a “collection of data and observations, the extraction of parallel material from the existing record, and the final insertion of new material into the general body of the common record.” In other words, we believe, today’s Google.

Several decades later, in 1990, McGill University student Alan Emtage created Archie, which some say was the very first search engine — though that remains up for debate, according to research from Bill Slawski, president and founder of SEO by the Sea. However, Archie was what Slawski called the “best way to find information from other servers around the internet at the time,” and is actually still (very primitive) operation.

The next decade saw several pivotal developments, with the more commercial versions of search engines we might recognize today taking shape.

  • February 1993: Six Stanford students create Architext, which would later become the search engine Excite. Some, like Search Engine Land (SEL), say that Excite “revolutionized how information was cataloged,” making it easier to find information “by sorting results based on keywords found within content and backend optimization.”
  • June 1993: Matthew Gray debuts World Wide Web Wanderer, which later became known as Wandex.
  • October 1993: Martijn Koster introduces ALIWEB, which allows site owners to submit their own pages (unbeknownst, sadly, to many site owners).
  • December 1993: At least three “bot-fed” search engines exist — JumpStation, RBSE spider and World Wide Web Worm — which likely means they were powered by web robots to crawl both servers and site content to produce results.
  • 1994: Alta Vista, Infoseek, Lycos, and Yahoo search engines all come to fruition.
  • 1996: Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin begin building a search engine that they initially call BackRub.
  • April 1997: AskJeeves is introduced, later becoming Ask.com.
  • September 1997: Google.com is registered as a domain name.

It’s worth noting that nearly twelve years later, in June 2009, Microsoft released Bing — its previous editions were also known as Live Search, Windows Live Search, and MSN Search.

But here’s where SEO itself comes in. As search engines became more mainstream and widely used, site owners started to get wise. As SEO community Moz puts it, “It was discovered that by taking some rather simple actions, search engine results could be manipulated and money could be made from the internet.”

Those results, though, weren’t exactly quality ones. And that, dear readers, is where the SEO story begins.

A Brief History of Search & SEO

The ‘90s

90s Internet

Source: The Daily Dot

With search engines becoming household names and more families becoming connected to the Internet, finding information came with greater ease. The problem, as noted above, was the quality of that information.

While search engine results matched words from user queries, it was usually limited to just that, as an overwhelming amount of site owners took to keyword stuffing — repeating keywords over and over again in the text — to improve rankings (for which there was no criteria), drive traffic to their pages and produce attractive numbers for potential advertisers.

There was also a bit of collusion going on. In addition to the keyword stuffing, people were using excessive and “spammy backlinks,” according to SEL, to improve their authorities. Not only were there no ranking criteria at the time — but by the time search engines fixed algorithms accordingly, there were already new black hat SEO practices taking place that the fixes didn’t address.

But then, two kids at Stanford got an idea.

Google_Founders.png

Source: Stanford InfoLab

When Page and Brin set out to create Google, that was one of the problems they wanted to solve. In 1998, the pair published a paper at Stanford titled “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine,” where they wrote:

…the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users.”

It was in that same paper that Page and Brin first mentioned PageRank, the technology that Google uses to help rank search results based on quality, and not keywords alone. Some might say that thesis cleared the path for SEO as we know it today.

The Early 2000s

Early 2000s

Source: Wayback Machine

The early 2000s saw the beginning of the Google takeover. In the process of making search engine technology less advertising-centric, Google began to provide guidelines for white hat SEO — the kind that the “good guys” stick to — to help webmasters rank without any of the common fishy behavior from the 90s.

2000-2002

But according to Moz, the guidelines didn’t yet have an actual impact on ranking, so people didn’t bother following them. That’s partially because PageRank was based on the number of inbound links to a given page — the more of those, the higher the ranking. But there wasn’t yet a way to measure the authenticity of those links — for the early part of the 2000s, Marketing Technology Blog says it was still possible to use these backlinking techniques to rank pages that weren’t even related to search criteria.

But in 2001, Brin and Page appeared on “Charlie Rose,” when the host asked them, “Why does it work so well?” As part of his answer, Brin emphasized that — at the time — Google was a search engine and nothing else, and was looking at “the web as a whole, and not just which words occur on each page.” It set the tone for some of the initial major algorithm updates that would begin to more closely examine those words. Have a look at the full interview:

 

 

Source: Charlie Rose

2003-2004

This approach to the web being about more than just words really began taking shape in November 2003, with the “Florida” update to Google’s algorithm. Enough sites lost their ranking for Search Engine Watch to call the response to Florida a massive “outcry,” but careful to note that many sites benefitted from the change, too. It was the first major instance of sites receiving penalties for things like keyword stuffing, signaling Google’s emphasis on solving for the user first — mainly with quality content.

In 2004, one of the more primitive versions of Google’s voice search existed, in what the New York Times called a half-finished experiment. And while the technology was somewhat infantile at the time — just check out what the instructions looked like at first — it was also a signal to the future importance of mobile in SEO. (Stay tuned — more on that later.)

Google Voice primitive

Source: Wayback Machine

 

2005: A big year for SEO

One of the biggest years in the search engine world was 2005. That January, Google united with Yahoo and MSN for the Nofollow Attribute, which was created in part to decrease the amount of spammy links and comments on websites, especially blogs. Then, in June, Google debuted personalized search, which used someone’s search and browsing history to make results more relevant.

That November, Google Analytics launched, which is still used today to measure traffic and campaign ROI. Check out its baby photo:

Screen Shot 2016-10-25 at 11.35.29 AM.png

Source: Wayback Machine

2009: SEO shakeups

In 2009, the search engine world saw a bit of a shakeup. Bing premiered that June, with Microsoft aggressively marketing it as the search engine that would produce noticeably better results than Google. But as SEL predicted, it was no “Google-killer,” nor did its advice for optimizing content significantly contrast Google’s. In fact, according to Search Engine Journal, the only noticeable difference was Bing’s tendency to give priority to keywords in URLs, as well as favoring capitalized words and “pages from large sites.”

That same year, in August, Google provided a preview of the Caffeine algorithm change, requesting the public’s help to test the “next-generation infrastructure” that Moz says was “designed to speed crawling, expand the index, and integrate indexation and ranking in nearly real-time.”

Caffeine wasn’t fully introduced until nearly a year later — when it also improved the search engine’s speed — but in December of 2009, a tangible real-time search was released, with Google search results including things like tweets and breaking news. It was a move that confirmed SEO wasn’t just for webmasters anymore — from that moment forward, journalists, web copywriters and even social community managers would have to optimize content for search engines.

Here’s Matt Cutts, Google’s head of webspam, discussing Caffeine in August 2009:

 

 

Source: Wayback Machine // WebProNews

2010-Present

Google_Logo_History.png

Source:Wayback Machine // Google

When you’re typing in a search query into Google, it’s kind of fun to see what its suggestions are. That’s thanks to the Google Instant technology, which rolled out in September 2010. At first, Moz says, it made SEOs “combust,” until they realized that it didn’t really have any result on ranking.

But Google Instant, along with the evolution of SEO from 2010 on, was just another phase of the search engine’s mission to solve for the user — despite some controversy along the way around pages whose rankings were actually improved by negative online reviews. The algorithm, Google said, was eventually adjusted to penalize sites using such tactics.

More on Google Instant, circa 2010:

 

 

That year also saw a growing importance of social media content in SEO. In December 2010, both Google and Bing added “social signals,” which first displayed any written Facebook posts, for example, from your own network that matched your query. But it also began to give PageRank to Twitter profiles that were linked to with some frequency. The importance of Twitter in SEO didn’t end there — stay tuned.

2011: The year of the panda

The trend of punishing sites for unfairly gaming Google’s algorithm would continue. Some of these incidents were more public than others, including one with Overstock.com in 2011. At the time, according to Wall Street Journal, domains ending with .edu generally had a higher authority in Google’s eyes. Overstock used that to its advantage by asking educational institutions to link to its site — and use keywords like “vacuum cleaners” and “bunk beds” — offering discounts for students and faculty in return. Those inbound links would improve Overstock’s rankings for queries with such keywords, until Overstock discontinued the practice in 2011 and Google penalizing them soon after.

It was also the year of Panda, which first rolled out that February — the algorithm update that cracked down on content farms. Those were sites with huge quantities of frequently updated, low-quality content that was written with the sole purpose of driving search engine results. They also tend to have a high ad-to-content ratios, which Panda was trained to sniff out.

Panda itself has undergone several updates — so many that in its timeline of changes to Google’s algorithm, Moz declined to list any that weren’t major after 2011. Even with that exclusion, the timeline still lists twenty-eight panda updates — for most of which the impact was difficult to measure — through July of 2015.

2012: Along came a penguin

In April 2012, Google took what it called “another step to reward high-quality sites” with the first of many Penguin updates — and, in the process of announcing it, acknowledged Bing’s month-earlier blog post on the changing face of SEO. Penguin targeted sites that more subtly used non-white hat SEO tactics; for example, those with content that might be mostly informative, but was also sprinkled with spammy hyperlinks that had nothing to do with the page’s H1, like in this example:

Google_Logo_History.png

Source: Google

It’s worth noting that 2012 also saw a throwback to Google’s original anti-ad-heavy thesis with the “Above The Fold” update, which began to lower the rankings of sites with heavy ad-space above the “fold,” or the top half of the page.

Eventually, Google would go beyond targeting spammy content itself. The Payday Loan algorithm update — which was hinted at in June 2013 and officially rolled out the following May — actually focused more on queries that were more likely to produce spammy results. Those were typically searches for things like, well, payday loans, and other things that might make your mother blush. Google adjusted its ranking system to help keep spam out of those results, and while it didn’t necessarily impact the SEO efforts of legitimate sites, it displayed efforts to keep search results authentic.

Google goes local

Keeping with the tradition of animal-named algorithm updates, Google released “Pigeon” (dubbed so by SEL) in 2014, which carried quite an impact on local search results. At the time, it seems to have been designed to improve Maps queries, which began to be treated with some of the same technology that was applied to its other search functions, like “Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms“. Local searches were going to become a big deal — and it will only continue to do so, as you’ll see in a bit.

Then, in 2015…

The biggest post-2010 SEO announcement might have been Google’s mobile update of April 2015, when non-mobile-friendly websites would start getting lower rankings. That meant SEO was no longer about keywords and content — responsive design mattered, too.

Google announced that change in advance, in February 2015, with a mobile-friendly test that allowed webmasters to view potential issues and make changes before the rollout. It wasn’t the last of Google’s mobile updates — in August 2016, it announced a crackdown on mobile pop-ups.

What’s Next?

It might be hard to believe, but it looks like even more change is on the horizon.

To mobile and beyond

As mobile usage is on the rise — 51% percent of digital media is consumed that way, versus 42% on desktop — it makes sense that SEO will continue leaning in that direction.

That’s already apparent with Google’s favorability toward a mobile-friendly user experience. We predict that a future wave of SEO will largely pertain to voice search. That has its own complex history and is on the rise — 20% of Google searches are currently done by voice, as are 25% of Bing’s. And it’s compounded by the rise of such voice-powered digital personal assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa.

While there might not be a clear-cut way to optimize for voice search yet — largely due to a lack of analytics in that area — we anticipate that those resources will become available, creating yet another critical pillar of SEO.

Going local

But that brings up the issue of localization in SEO, and optimizing results to be regionally relevant. That’s especially true in the realm of voice search — Yelp and other business aggregators are used to answer voice queries about what’s nearby, for example. That’s an SEO opportunity for local businesses, by making sure their listings are “comprehensive, accurate and optimized to be referenced” on a third party site.

Getting Social

While the 2009 introduction of Google’s real-time search had some social ramifications, social media is becoming a more pivotal piece of SEO strategy. When the search engine began indexing tweets in 2011, for example, it hinted toward a future in which users seek information on social media in the same way that they do via search. In fact, this indexing might be Google’s version of future-proofing — if you can imagine it — for a time when people no longer use search engines the way we do now.

For example, type in the name of any celebrity — say, Charlie Rose, whose video we shared earlier. The first page of search results for his name includes his Facebook and Twitter profiles. Plus, check out the biographical sidebar to the right — there are social icons with links to his various networks there, too. When users search for a person, that’s one of the first things they want to see.

Charlie Rose google search

Source: Google

In any case, it’s clear why SEO has become a full-time job. Its history will only continue evolving. Executing it well requires a high level of skill, ethics, and upkeep on technology.

But we know that, sometimes, it’s not possible to have a single person dedicated to it, which is why we continue to create the best SEO learning resources we can. Check out some of our favorites:

What are your favorite pieces of SEO history? Let us know in the comments.

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5 Legal Mistakes Your Agency is Making in the Pursuit of New Business (And How to Fix Them)

New business is simultaneously exciting and stressful for agencies.

While your team is focused on the thrill of a profitable win, they’re also stressed about meeting deadlines, impressing the prospect, and maintaining current client relationships. It can all be a lot to handle — and there’s no room for legal mistakes.

You didn’t go into marketing to deal with legal issues. But while you’re navigating agency new business at warp speed, it’s easy to make an oversight or misstep that could cause negative legal consequences or financial loss for the agency. Subscribe to HubSpot's Agency newsletter today.

To reduce your risk of running into legal trouble, it’s important to be aware of the most common legal mistakes agencies make during their new business efforts, and how to fix (or avoid) them.

5 Common Legal Mistakes Agencies Make

1) You don’t protect your agency’s intellectual property during a pitch or discovery session, or in your proposal.

How to fix it: Sometimes it’s a valid business decision to allow the client to own IP in pitch materials, spec creative or proposals — either because the agency negotiated payment for it, or because it’s a required “ticket” to participate in the opportunity. But make it an intentional decision.

Unless you’ve agreed with a prospective client that it will own the agency’s pre-engagement IP, consider a Nondisclosure Agreement that protects the agency’s ownership position. Absent that, at a minimum include IP ownership clauses in your proposal and pitch assets, and use copyright ownership notices on these materials and any spec creative produced.

2) You accept the client’s services contract without a legal review, or without pushing back on terms that are unattractive for the agency.

How to fix it: A proposed contract form is a suggestion, not a requirement. First, make sure you fully review the client’s contract (and related documents, like a Nondisclosure Agreement) and, if needed, have it vetted by legal counsel.

Second, be aware of the legally “unattractive” provisions that are most likely to be in the client’s form and — of course — drafted in favor of the client, such as: immediate IP ownership, restrictive covenants on the agency, extended work acceptance processes, or unreasonable invoicing timelines.

You can — and should — push back on the provisions that are unfair or don’t work for your Agency; You’ll never have better leverage than at the beginning of the engagement. You can also learn a lot about the client by the way they respond to your concerns.

3) Your agency recreates the legal paper trail every time it engages a new client.

How to fix it: The main reason many agencies create a “fire drill-style” experience every time they sign a new client and need to legally document the relationship is a lack of process — either having no consistent forms or language to use, or the absence of a lead person or department to handle the contract issues.

Avoid having inconsistent client service contracts, legal terms and conditions, nondisclosure agreements, IP ownership legends, and the like, by having a standard set of agency-approved contract documents and, where possible, a central person, department or procedure dedicated to the process. Then use those documents, and follow that process consistently.

4) Your agency transfers its intellectual property rights in the work to the client too soon, or gives away too much of its intellectual property to the client.

How to fix it: In many situations, everyone agrees that the client will own intellectual property in the agency’s work at some point — the question is when.

The common point of difference is that the client will want to own it immediately upon creation, while it’s in the agency’s best interest not to transfer those rights until it has been paid

Additionally, the agency may have pre-existing assets (creative, technology, process) that end up incorporated into the client’s work, but to which the Agency intends to retain ownership and only license to the client. The place to resolve these issues is in the Client’s Agency Services Contract or Legal Terms and Conditions (see Mistake #3).

5) You’re insufficiently protected from contingencies like late payments, non-payment, or legal liability for claims such as false advertising, IP infringement, or ad regulation compliance.

How to fix it: If the Agency is operating without Errors & Omissions insurance coverage, reconsider. The enhanced liability protection is easy to underrate until you have an issue or claim.

Additionally, give careful thought to the liability and indemnification language in your contracts to make sure that the agency’s liability is limited to the things actually within its control (for example, not for a product feature or claim provided by the Client).

Finally, review the payment terms in your contracts, making sure they properly incentivize the client to pay in a reasonable amount of time. Remedies like late fees, interest, and attorney fee or collection cost recovery will not be available to you unless they are in a written agreement signed by both parties.

New business is challenging enough for agencies without having to worry about the potential legal pitfalls that it creates. Sharon Toerek will be speaking on this topic at INBOUND 2016. Learn more about INBOUND.

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15 Easy Ways to Make Your Commute More Productive

commute

It’s easy to think of commuting as a total waste of time. When you’re standing on the train platform or waiting at a traffic light, every minute that ticks by can seem like a minute lost from an already jam-packed day at work. But there’s good news for those of you who wish you could spend that time more productively.

There are a lot of fun, creative apps out there that help you make use of that time — whether it’s a 10-minute walk or a 60-minute bus ride. (Drivers: We don’t advocate the use of any of the apps on this list that involve reading or typing.) Download our complete guide here for more tips on improving your productivity.

Check out this roundup of 15 easy ways to make your commute more productive, and the apps that will help you make it happen. Try them out, and hey — you might even start looking forward to your trips to and from the office.

15 Ideas for Increasing Productivity on Your Commute

1) Create your to-do list for the day.

Apps: Wunderlist, Evernote, Dragon Dictation

If you’re the kind of person who likes to get organized first thing in the morning, spend some time listing the things you need to accomplish that day. Taking that extra time to think about each task can help you prioritize and set realistic expectations.

There are a number of to-do list apps out there, but Wunderlist and Evernote are among the best. They sync between your mobile devices and your personal computers and allow you to drag and drop tasks between days and categories, as well as set alerts and due dates. You can even share lists and notes with others. Here’s a look at the Wunderlist app:

IMG_0897.png

For you drivers out there, you can use the free app Dragon Dictation to get your to-do list (and any other thoughts) down on your phone. Simply speak while the app is recording, and your text content will appear. If you’re an avid Evernote user, note that Evernote also has a voice recording function, too.

dragon-dictation-screenshot

Source: OT’s with Apps & Technology

2) Clear your inbox.

Apps: Gmail, ASAM

There’s something so satisfying about arriving at the office with a clean inbox. That’s why I like to go through emails and delete anything extraneous before I even get in to work. It saves me at least a half hour and a loss of momentum during my most productive time of day.

If you’re driving, you can use ASAM — a free app from AgileSpeech — to “read” your emails. The app will read your emails out loud and word-for-word. (And when I say word-for-word, I mean it reads everything — disclaimers, signatures, and other information you might’ve skipped otherwise.) When the message is finished, the app will “ding” and you have the option to dictate a reply.

ASAM screenshot

Source: Google Play

3) Set and check in on your goals.

App: Coach.me

Believe it or not, there’s a new year right around the corner. And if you’re into resolutions, checking your progress regularly and finding ways to stay motivated is key to maintaining them. The free version of the Coach.me app lets you set personal and professional targets, get reminders, and choose whether to make your achievements visible to a community of active users so you can give and receive support. And starting at $15 per week, you can hire a coach to actually help you achieve them.

coach-me-appcoach-me-app

Source: iTunes

4) Learn a language.

App: Duolingo

Once upon a time, maybe after college, you were almost fluent in Spanish. Or French. Or something else you learned in school. But then, you stopped practicing.

Want to get your language skills back on track? Duolingo is a fantastic (and free) app that makes (re)learning languages fun. Each lesson is short, painless, and super visual. Slate called it “the most productive means of procrastination I’ve ever discovered.” Be warned, though — it can get addictive.

duolingo-screenshotduolingo-screenshot

Source: iTunes

5) Listen to a podcast or audiobook.

Apps: Stitcher, Podcasts, This American Life, Audible

If you’d rather not spend any more time staring at a screen during your commute, then listening to a podcast or audiobook can be a really pleasant way to spend any length of time. Plus, you’ll learn a lot of really cool information you can impress your friends with later.

The free app Stitcher lets you make playlists of all your favorite podcasts.

Stitcher-1.png

As for which podcasts to listen to, our favorites include:

Looking for something else? Take a look at Stitcher’s list of Top 100 Podcasts.

6) Read an actual book.

Apps: iBooks, Kindle, Zinio, Apple News

I don’t know about you, but I constantly lament how little time I spend reading. You know, actual books, newspapers, or print magazines. And while I also enjoy turning a physical page, I always forget to pack my print materials before I leave for work.

Luckily, there are numerous apps that address that issue, and let you read any book, newspaper, or magazine you choose from a mobile device.

For news and magazines, we like Apple’s News app, which lets you choose from a vast catalogue of publications that you can read right from your phone. You can store your favorites and choose from them with a simple tap.

Apple News.png

But for actual books, there are the Kindle and iBooks apps, which let you download full reading materials and enjoy them from your phone or tablet. Kindle transfers any ebook purchases you’ve made on Amazon right to your device, so you can take in whatever great literature you please, right from the bus or subway.

Kindle1 Kindle2.png

7) Read the articles you’ve bookmarked.

App: Pocket

Using the Pocket app, you can save articles (and videos, and pretty much any type of content) in one place for easy reading on your commute. You can save content directly from your browser, emails, or from over 500 apps like Twitter, Flipboard, Pulse, and Zite. So while Evernote is a great app for long-term content storage, Pocket is perfect for bookmarking stuff to read later.

Pocket app.jpegpocket-app-screenshot

Source: iTunes // Just the Best Apps

8) Read the newest posts from your favorite online sources.

Apps: Feedly

We’ve covered how to catch up on the latest content from your favorite publications. But what about your favorite blogs or other online news sources? Feedly is an RSS reader that lets you subscribe to the publishers whose posts you never want to miss. You can separate them into different lists, mark articles as “read,” share your favorite pieces, and even browse for new content.

Feedly1Feedly2

Source: Google Play

9) Get your social media fix out of the way.

Apps: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and more …

Not all of us are lucky enough to include browsing and posting on personal social media accounts in our job descriptions. Help resist the urge to check your news feeds and notifications at work by doing it to your heart’s content during your commute.

Instagram fix

10) Brush up on your marketing & sales progress.

App: HubSpot Mobile

Remember those days when you absolutely had to be at your desk to get your work done? Those days are close to being gone, thanks in part to the new HubSpot Mobile app. 

With this app, you can take advantage of your HubSpot software, even if you’re on the go. It starts with a customizable dashboard that gives you an at-a-glance breakdown of the most important metrics to you — landing page, blog, and email performance, as well as deals and sales tasks.

You can also easily access your contacts database, marketing insights (like email analytics) and your sales pipeline. For that last part, you can use the app to add notes, activities, or tasks, and keep track of deal stages.

HubSpot Mobile contacts  HubSpot Mobile Email

11) Clean your house.

App: iRobot HOME

Weekends: The perfect time to catch up with friends, family, the TV you missed last week and house-cleaning. Okay, how many of us really get around to that last one? (Hint: I don’t.)

But my colleague, Eric Peters, let me in on a little secret about the internet of things. Thanks to its HOME app, if you own a iRobot device like Roomba, you can remotely clean your house from your mobile device.

“My new favorite productivity app is from iRobot,” he told me. “I can turn on my Roomba and clean my floor, and not have to vacuum later.”

What’s more? You can even set a cleaning schedule for the week, in case you forget to spontaneously turn on your devices.

iRobot2 iRobot1 iRobot3

Source: iTunes

12) Clean up your Twitter feed.

App: Twindr

Ever scrolled through your Twitter feed and realized you’ve been just a bit too generous in how many people you follow? Twindr is a free app that works kind of like Tinder, but for unfollowing people on Twitter. All it takes is a few quick swipes to clean up your follower count.

twindr-screenshot

Source: Gizmodo

13) Get zen.

Apps: Insight Timer, Personal Zen, Headspace

Mondays, amirite? Suddenly, in the midst of pre-workday standing nap among the subway masses, you find your mind flooding with a mental to-do list of all the stuff you didn’t get done when you left the office early last Friday.

If this scenario sounds familiar, you’ve got to breathe — which can be tough to do on a Monday morning. But there are apps out there that can help you get zen during your commute, no matter how long it is.

We especially like Insight Timer, since — as its name suggests — you can actually set a timer for the window you have to meditate and select a combination of ambient sounds to use in the background. Or, you can select from any number of the app’s guided meditations. Om…

Insight Timer Custom Insight Timer Guided

14) Set a step goal for the day.

Apps: Fitbit, Withings, Jawbone UP, Apple Health

A great way to get more exercise and burn more calories throughout the day is by building incremental physical activities into your daily routine. If that sounds like your style, use an app like Fitbit or Withings to set step goal for each of your commutes. (While these companies sell expensive devices that sync with their apps, they have the ability to measure your steps for free.) And if you have an iPhone, the Health app will track any steps you take when you have your device with you.

Each morning and afternoon, try to hit your goal. If you drive, park your car some distance away from the office and walk the rest of the way. If you take the train or a bus, get off a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way. If your mode of transportation gets delayed, get your steps in by walking back and forth on the platform.

UP24goals.png

Source: Jawbone

15) Plan your meals.

Apps: Eat This Much, Pepperplate, BigOven

You work hard. Your days are long. That’s why it’s so easy to resort to something that’s quick and already prepared for dinner. But you don’t have to fall victim to the easy way out — if you plan ahead. There are apps out there that can help you do that, by making it simple to plan your meals for the week in advance.

We get especially geeked-out over the Eat This Much app, in part because it’s linked to grocery-delivery apps, if they’re available in your area. Plus, it lets you set nutrition goals and set parameters for any dietary restrictions you might have, like vegan, gluten-free, or specific food allergies.

EatThisMuch2 EatThisMuch1

Source: iTunes

Get Appy

See? Your commute doesn’t have to be so bad, after all. 

And even if you’re lucky enough to love your work, it never hurts to have that time to yourself to take care of the things that these apps are made to do. So get happy, get healthy and get “appy” — it’s one of the best ways to make the most of your precious time.

What do you do to make your commute more productive? Share with us in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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