How We Grew Our Organic Traffic by 43% Without Publishing a Single New Blog Post

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Today I’m going to show you how we boosted our organic traffic by 43% over a 3 month period.

The best part is, we did it without publishing any new content, spending any more money on marketing or adding any additional resources to our team.

We call the strategy, The Mission Week, and I will tell you exactly how we do it.

But First, a Little Story …

I am the founder of small business-focused job board called Proven.

In October of 2015, we made the difficult decision to completely forgo building a sales team and focus all our efforts instead on acquiring customers via content marketing and SEO.

We knew that given the price point of our product, it was not economically viable for us to have people make sales calls. We needed a lower cost solution to bringing in new customers.

This led us to seeking a content marketing and SEO strategy.

Like many companies new to blogging, we rushed into it full steam, cranking out tons of new posts. We started to realize that this was a doomed strategy. We had hundreds of posts, but were barely moving the needle on our overall traffic. We figured we could only get a traffic boost as long as we were creating new content.

In early 2016, we started to learn a lot more about content promotion and link building. This led to a number of content successes, like ranking in the top 5 on Google for the search term“job board”, but after a while, this growth started to tail off.

Our content promotion was unfocused, lacked clear goals, and as a result, great pieces of content were not ranking well.

Finally, this all changed when our amazing Director of Marketing, Caileen Kehayas, invented The Mission Week.

What is a Mission Week?

Our Mission Weeks consist of choosing one piece of content that’s under performing and everyone on the team focuses their promotional efforts only on this piece of content.

 We gamify the process by assigning points to different types of promotional activities.

 For example, sending an outreach email might get you 1 point, you can earn 2 points for broken link building and 5 points for writing a guest blog that links to the article. Each person must accumulate 20 points to complete their mission for the week.

Regardless of your role in our company, you can participate. If you aren’t comfortable writing articles, you can earn points through outreach emails, discovering linking opportunities or responding to relevant questions on Quora.

As part of the promotion, we will do minor content updates and perhaps update the title and meta tags of the article.

The weekly point goal is small enough that it doesn’t take up so much time that it becomes overwhelming. Team members can easily earn enough points without compromising their regular workloads. 

Involving everyone at Proven — even those outside of the marketing team — helps create more dynamic and diverse supporting content. We all have different backgrounds and skill sets, and everyone is focused on promoting the same piece of content. With everyone participating, it’s a great opportunity for team building across different departments.

A Mission Week Case Study

In January 2016 we published an article called How to Interview: The Definitive Guide. After being live for 10 months on our blog, it never cracked the top 10 for Google search results for any high value set of keywords.

We chose this article back in late October as our first Mission Week.

This article now ranks 5th on Google for “how to interview”, and has 49 backlinks from 27 domains.

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So, how did we do it?

Resource Link Building

Each participant was awarded 1 point for an outreach email sent to a site that was linking to similar content. Primarily, we use a resource link building strategy that I wrote about previously.

During this week, each person on the team sent an average of 18.5 outreach emails to sites linking to similar content.

To research 15 to 20 different possible sites and send them an email doesn’t take up too much of a person’s week. However, if someone was left doing all this outreach on their own, it becomes a huge tedious job that eats up a large portion of their week.

Guest Blogging

Each participant was awarded 5 points for writing an article that contained a link to this blog post.

During this week, our team produced 7 related articles that our Director of Marketing helped publish to different sites.

Again, writing one support piece is not too bad, but writing 7 is completely unreasonable for our small team.

Content Updates

We updated the title of the article to How to Interview Job Candidates (The Definitive Guide), because adding brackets to your title can help increase CTR on Google. We also updated the introduction and gave the design of the page a bit of a face lift.

All of these things help to improve CTR, bounce rate and dwell time, which are all ranking factors for Google.

Social Promotion

As part of the mission, we schedule promotion of the article on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. We typically schedule up to 8 tweets for a single article, changing up the text and hashtags we use. If one tweet is performing really well, we will re-use it again and again on different days and different times.

Quora Answers

Each participant was awarded 2 points for finding and answering a relevant Quora question. Although these are no-follow links, it does help to create brand awareness, referral traffic, and authority in the industry.

During the week, we had one team member answer 5 questions on Quora.

Results

As mentioned, this article now ranks 5th on Google and went from delivering close to zero organic traffic to now being one of our top performing pieces.

We’ve seen consistent movement in our Google rankings for every subject of a Mission Week thus far. Following the same process outlined above, we did a Mission Week for this article about job ads.

We now rank 2nd on Google for ”job advertisements” ahead of industry giants like Indeed and CareerBuilder.

Organizing Our Missions

Each week, our marketing director chooses the article with the most SEO potential that is under performing.

She puts together a document outlining the following:

  • Article title
  • Article URL
  • The keywords we are targeting
  • Current rankings for those keywords
  • Suggestions for supporting article topics
  • Search suggestions for finding sites that may link to us

Separately, we track in a shared spreadsheet all the outreach emails we send so that we don’t accidentally email the same person. This is also good for historical reference because it’s sometimes worth revisiting and following up with any outreach emails that get sent.

Transforming The Way We Promote Content

Mission Weeks have completely transformed the way we actively promote our content. Prior to having the Mission Weeks, we used a lot of the same promotional strategies, but it was not focused and many team members didn’t have clearly defined weekly goals to work towards.

Now, every week, everyone knows exactly what they need to accomplish. Marketing, engineering, customer support and the executives of Proven all participate, driving towards the same goal of accumulating 20 points. We brag to one another over Slack when we complete our missions or land a new link, which is typically followed by a barrage of GIFs.

Not only has The Mission Week process grown our organic traffic, it’s increased our new customers significantly in a short period of time.

I strongly encourage you to give it a try. You can play with the point system and weekly goal based on the needs and resources of your company.

Would you consider running a Mission Week at your company? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Intro to Lead Gen

7 Steps to Documenting a Content Marketing Strategy That Works

I already know what you’re thinking. You saw the words content marketing and strategy together in the headline and thought, “Oh, cool, another article telling me how important it is to have and actually write down my strategy — just what I need.”

Don’t worry, that’s not what this is.

You already know that having and documenting your strategy is important because you’ve probably read the same reports and case studies that my team and I have read. But there’s a pretty big difference between knowing you should do something and knowing how to do it — which might explain why 89 percent of B2B marketers use content, yet only 37 percent have documented strategies.

The marketing team at Influence & Co. spent the last couple months of 2016 carefully researching, planning, and creating a content marketing strategy for this year. What follows is an exploration of exactly which elements our team determined a successful plan must include to drive results, empowering you to create your own documented content strategy.

How to Document Your Content Marketing Strategy

Part of what makes a documented strategy so powerful is that every person on your team — from your content creators to your senior-level directors and everyone in between — can see what, why, and how your company is communicating.

This alignment makes it easier to get buy-in, crowdsource content, and pull employees into the distribution process, and it makes your efforts stronger because it extends your reach beyond the marketing team.

For your strategy to be helpful to your whole company and not just your immediate marketing team members, it has to address a few major questions, like:

  • Why are we utilizing content marketing as a strategy?
  • Who are we trying to reach with our content?
  • What are we hoping to accomplish?
  • How does this fit into our overall marketing strategy?
  • How will we measure success?

If you start with these questions in mind, the actual pieces of your strategy should come easily. In fact, each of the following components of your strategy should help you clearly answer those questions, align your team, and hold you accountable. Here are seven key elements your content marketing strategy must include:

1) Overall Mission

Before you get too far into the weeds, ask yourself, “What’s the real reason we’re investing in content?” And if the answer is anything close to “Well, we just know we should be doing content,” stop immediately and spend more time thinking about why you’re making this critical, valuable, and time-consuming investment in the first place.

If you do have a well-thought-out answer, write it down. Are you preparing to use content so your marketing team can generate leads and attract new customers? Are you trying to build brand awareness and credibility?

No matter your reason for investing in content marketing, it needs to take a prominent place at the beginning of your strategy; that overall mission will guide the rest of your document and keep your team on track when it’s time to execute.

2) Target Audience Personas

You may have included some general ideas about your audience members when you outlined your mission, and while that’s a helpful place to start, it’s not nearly detailed enough to start creating content for them.

Before you craft any content or develop any distribution plan, you have to know who you’re trying to reach. You aren’t creating content for the general public, you’re creating it to attract specific individuals who can contribute to your company’s goals.

You need to research and create detailed audience personas. If your personas inform the content you create, your content will do a much better job of speaking to the exact audience you’re targeting.

3) Content Mix Plan

Once you know why you’re creating content and for whom, you can determine what type to create. Depending on what your marketing funnel looks like, you’ll need a couple different types: content that educates and engages prospects at the top of the funnel and encourages them to learn more, as well as content for the bottom of the funnel that answers very specific questions and addresses objections to working with you.

That content can take any number of forms, from guest-contributed articles on online publications to blog posts, white papers, email campaigns, sales enablement materials, and more. What’s especially important here is thinking through the variety of earned, owned, and paid media you’ll need to keep prospects moving through this funnel.

4) Content Creation Process

You could follow each of the above steps exactly and still fall flat on your face when it’s time to actually put pen to paper. Creating content of your own and turning your company leaders into content creators takes time and effort.

So before you dig into executing your content plan, determine which processes, workflows, and resources make the most sense for your team. Perhaps taking advantage of content creation tools will make your job easier, or partnering with an agency to help may be a better solution.

5) Editorial Calendar

Consistency is key in content marketing. It’s your opportunity to build trust with your audience members, nurture them, and become a resource for them. Once you know what kinds of content you need to create, it’s time to develop a calendar or schedule to make sure you deliver.

Your editorial calendar should detail how often you need to publish to keep your audience engaged and when you’ll distribute your published pieces. Mapping out your target deadlines for different pieces will keep your process on track.

6) Distribution Plan

Distribution is all about getting your content to the right people at the right time. That can mean publishing articles in publications your target audience members are already reading, using a paid distribution plan on social to attract readers to your white paper, or simply including your content in your email newsletters.

Your distribution plan should be part of your documented strategy because knowing where and how you plan to distribute your content informs the type of content you create, how often you do it, and which processes you utilize. It’s a key part of your content marketing strategy, so don’t start executing the strategy until you’ve thought it through.

7) ROI Calculator

Remember when you identified your overall mission at the beginning of this document? You need to identify from the beginning how you’re going to measure success with this campaign, and now’s your chance to match metrics to your goals to gauge how well your content is helping to achieve that mission.

Set some benchmarks you want to hit concerning traffic to your website, leads generated, or opportunities created through content, and set up a plan for tracking this using anything from your own modest spreadsheets to a robust software package.

If this documented strategy seems like a lot, that’s because it is. Nobody said that content marketing was simple, but it’s well worth the investment, especially when you set yourself up for success. And with these seven must-have elements detailed in your documented content strategy, your team will be off to a fantastic start.

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Understanding the Instagram Algorithm: 7 Key Factors and Why the Algorithm is Great for Marketers

The Instagram algorithm, just like the Facebook News Feed algorithm, is so mysterious yet ingenious and brilliant in showing the best content to the most people.

If you are creating great content, more followers — and non-followers — are going to see it.

But how does the Instagram algorithm work?

In this post, we’ll break it all down for you. We’ll go through the factors that could influence the ranking of your content on your followers’ feed and explain why the Instagram algorithm is actually great for marketers.

Let’s go 📷

Understanding the Instagram Algorithm to Boost Your Organic Reach

How does the Instagram algorithm work?

The short answer is… it’s complicated. 🙈

While we might not know exactly how the Instagram algorithm works, I’d love to help you decipher the mysterious Instagram algorithm (as much as I can). I dug into several sources and distilled my findings into the following seven key factors.

Here’s a quick overview of the seven key factors we’ll go through below:

  1. Engagement: How popular the post is
  2. Relevancy: The genres of content you are interested in and have interacted with
  3. Relationships: The accounts you regularly interact with
  4. Timeliness: How recent the posts are
  5. Profile Searches: The accounts you check out often
  6. Direct Shares: Whose posts you are sharing
  7. Time Spent: The duration spent viewing a post

Instagram Algorithm Factors

Let’s dive in!

1. Engagement: How popular the post is

According to Michael Stelzner, CEO and Founder of Social Media Examiner, when a person or brand publishes a post, social media algorithms would typically show the post to a sample audience and see how the audience react to it. If the audience reacts positively to the post right away, the algorithm would show the post to more people.

This implies that a post with more engagement is likely going to rank higher on your Instagram feed. The types of engagement that the Instagram algorithm considers can include likes, comments, video views, shares (via direct message), saves, story views, and live video views.

If someone you follow has engaged with a post, too, Instagram might also assume that you could be interested in that post and included it within your feed.

Here’s the great news: An Instagram spokesperson told Business Insider that ranking of Instagram posts will not be a popularity contest. Posts with less engagement but which are more relevant to you can still appear right at the top of your feed.

2. Relevancy: The genres of content you are interested in and have interacted with

When the algorithmic timeline was annouced, Instagram mentioned that it would show you content that you’ll likely be interested in first:

The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.

This implies that content that is relevant to your interests will likely rank higher on your feed. But how does Instagram know your interests? One way could be to look at the genres of content (e.g. travel, food, fashion, sports, etc.) you have interacted with in the past.

With the level of photo recognition technologies available now, I believe it’s possible for the algorithm to categorize posts into simple genres such as travel, food, fashion, and more — and possibly even more sophisticated genres. The algorithm could also look at the hashtags used.

If there’s a certain genre of content that you engage with more frequently (e.g. food), Instagram might rank content of that genre (e.g. food, restaurants, etc.) higher on your feed.

3. Relationships: The accounts you regularly interact with

In its second announcement about the new feed, Instagram stated the following:

And no matter how many accounts you follow, you should see your best friend’s latest posts.

Just like Facebook, Instagram doesn’t want you to miss important posts from your friends and family, such as a post about your friend’s engagement. This implies that content from your “best friends” likely ranks higher on your feed.

Since Instagram is owned by Facebook, Instagram could use data from Facebook to determine your relationships — family, friends, schoolmates, colleagues, etc.

I also believe that the Instagram algorithm studies your past interactions to determine your “best friends”. In a talk about designing and implementing the Instagram algorithm, Thomas Dimson, a software engineer at Instagram, shared how they could have determined the people you care about:

  • People whose content you like (possibly including stories and live videos)
  • People you direct message
  • People you search for
  • People you know in real life

While these might not be the exact criteria used in the Instagram algorithm, they give us a hint that Instagram probably considers the accounts you frequently interact with as “people you care about”. And it would rank their content higher on your feed.

4. Timeliness: How recent the posts are

The next key ingredient in the Instagram algorithm, as suggested by Instagram, is timeliness.

The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.

Instagram wants to show you posts that are recent and, consequently, more relevant.

Something from last week might not interest you as much as something from an hour ago, so Instagram will likely show you more recent posts rather than posts from a few days or weeks ago — even if the older post had received a lot of engagement.

This implies that recent posts likely rank higher in your feed and that the timing of your post is still relevant.

According to Thomas’s talk and my personal experience (admittedly, a sample size of only one), it seems that the Instagram algorithm re-orders only the new posts between your current visit and your last visit.

For example, I visited Instagram at 11 PM last night and again at 9 AM this morning, and there were 50 posts created in between. The algorithm would sort only those 50 posts created and not include posts from before 11 PM last night. Based on my personal experience, if I were to scroll past all those 50 posts, I’d see the same posts in the same order as when I last visited (11 PM last night).

(If your personal experience is different from this, it’d be great to hear from you!)

If this is true, it could mean that the best time to post is when your followers are most active as there would be less competition (e.g. between 9 to 10 AM in the image below).

Feed sorted only within vists

(Image from Thomas’s slide deck)

5. Profile Searches: The accounts you check out often

An Instagram spokesperson said to Business Insider that profile searches are a signal Instagram looks at when ranking posts in your feed. When you search (regularly) for certain profiles, it likely indicates that you are interested in the account’s posts and might not have seen them on your feed.

Instagram might then rank their posts higher on your feed so that you don’t have to search for their profiles to see their posts, improving your Instagram experience.

Thomas from Instagram also mentioned in his talk that when they experimented with the new algorithm, the number of searches went down. They took it as a good sign as it meant that people are seeing the posts they are interested in without having to search for their favorite profiles.

6. Direct Shares: Whose posts you are sharing

Instagram has made it really easy for users to share a post they see on their feed with their friends. According to the Business Insider article, direct shares through Instagram is also another signal Instagram looks at to understand your interests.

There are two parts to this. One, sharing a post shows that you are probably interested in the posts by that account. The Instagram algorithm would then consider this when ranking posts on your feed.

Two, it sounds like Instagram would also consider the people you have shared the post with. Going back to factor two, relationships, the act of sharing a post with another person informs Instagram that you care about the person so Instagram might rank her posts higher on your feed.

7. Time Spent: The duration spent viewing a post

It’s possible that the Instagram feed algorithm shares some similarities with the Facebook News Feed algorithm since the aim of both algorithms is to show you the posts that you care about the most.

Facebook discovered that if “people spend significantly more time on a particular story in News Feed than the majority of other stories they look at, this is a good sign that content was relevant to them”, even if they didn’t like or comment on it. More specifically, Facebook said the following:

Based on the fact that you didn’t scroll straight past this post and it was on the screen for more time than other posts that were in your News Feed, we infer that it was something you found interesting and we may start to surface more posts like that higher up in your News Feed in the future.

If this factor is included in the Instagram algorithm, when you spend more time on an Instagram post than other posts, Instagram will surface posts similar to that Instagram post higher up on your feed.

While there isn’t confirmation about this factor, it wouldn’t be surprising if Instagram included this factor in its algorithm.

8. Others

There are probably a whole bunch of other signals that the Instagram algorithm considers, and the algorithm changes constantly to give its users the best experience possible. (For context, Facebook’s algorithm takes into account hundreds of factors.)

Stef Lewandowski of Makelight put together a list of other signals that the algorithm might consider:

  • How regularly you open the app
  • How regularly you post
  • How many likes an image has in total
  • What an image’s recent like-rate is
  • How old the image is
  • Whether the post is a video
  • Whether an image is from a “business” account versus a personal one
  • How active the image poster has been today – how many comments and likes have they made?
  • How many of an image poster’s images you’ve commented on or liked recently
  • How many hashtags the image has

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Why is the new algorithm great for marketers?

As the number of users on Instagram increases, the number of posts will likely increase, too.

When users follow more people, the number of posts in their feed will increase. The natural result of this is that the impressions (or organic reach) of each post will fall — unless every user spends more time on Instagram looking at all the additional posts.

The reality is that people usually don’t see all the new posts when they visit Instagram. A study by Instagram themselves found that, on average, users miss 70 percent of the posts on their feeds when the posts were arranged in a reverse-chronological order.

But as long as you are creating engaging, relevant, and timely content, the algorithm is actually an advantage to you. It will help to surface your great content to more of your followers than when posts were arranged reverse-chronologically.

Instagram Algorithm - Feed Before and After

(Graphic inspired by Thomas’s slide)

Here’s another way to look at it: Without this algorithm, one quick way to get your Instagram followers’ attention would be to post many times a day. If most brands follow this strategy, the number of Instagram posts would increase dramatically, and the organic reach of each post would fall proportionally — even if it’s a quality post.

With this algorithm, brands are encouraged to post only their best content, and the quality of their content will determine their reach. Brands with the best content overall will stand out more easily now than without the algorithm.

Here’s a bonus: The Explore tab also uses an algorithm to surface content based on the user’s interests and past behaviors. It is another brilliant way for your great content to reach more people!

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10 ways to increase your Instagram organic reach

While the Instagram algorithm might be rather mysterious and complicated, it is a brilliant way to help brands with great content reach more of their followers than before.

Once you have learned about the Instagram algorithm, we thought you might be interested in getting some actionable tips to increase your organic reach through the algorithm. If you want the tips, simply hit the button below:

Get the tips now

It’d also be great to learn from your experience as I’m sure I’m missing many other key factors of the Instagram algorithm. What other factors do you think the Instagram algorithm considers when ranking posts?

Image credit: Unsplash

Optimal Timing, Videos, and More: 10 Easy Ways to Boost Your Instagram Reach

Since Instagram started sorting posts on users’ feed with an algorithm, many marketers have noticed a decline in their organic reach and engagement.

But that doesn’t have to be the case for you. In fact, it could be possible for you to reach more of your followers now than without the new Instagram algorithm.

In this post, we’ll share 10 straightforward ways you can use to increase your organic reach on Instagram today.

10 Ways to Increase Your Organic Reach with the Instagram Algorithm Today

Understanding the Instagram Algorithm

Here’s a quick side-note: Understanding how the Instagram algorithm works can be helpful in figuring out how to increase your organic reach in the algorithmic-feed world.

We’ve dug into the Instagram algorithm and broken down the seven key factors of the Instagram algorithm. If you’d like to learn about the algorithm and how it ranks content on users’ feed, feel free to hit the button below to read the post first.

Learn about the Instagram algorithm

10 Ways to Boost Your Instagram Reach Today

So how can you increase your organic reach on Instagram? Here are the 10 powerful ways you can do that:

  1. Find your optimal posting times
  2. Experiment with videos
  3. Host contests or ask questions to encourage engagement
  4. Curate user-generated content
  5. Tell Instagram Stories
  6. Go live on Instagram
  7. Use Instagram ads
  8. Post less
  9. Create specifically for Instagram
  10. Be a great Instagram user

Let’s dive in!

1. Find your optimal posting times

Even though Instagram uses an algorithmic timeline now, optimal posting times are still relevant as timing is a factor in the algorithm.

Posting at the right times can help generate an initial round of engagement on your posts which can, in turn, prompt the Instagram algorithm to push your posts higher on your followers’ feed.

Instagram Expert, Sue B. Zimmerman, suggests posting when the majority of your audience is online:

It may take time to get a long-term understanding of your followers’ activity, but it’s important to make sure you’re posting when the majority of your audience is online.

If you are using an Instagram Business Profile, you can check your Instagram Insights to find out when your followers are most active by the day of the week and the time of the day.

To access your Instagram Insights (link to Instagram analytics post), tap on the profile tab in the Instagram app and then the bar chart icon (Insights icon) on the upper-right corner. There will be a section for your followers’ activity information, and you can tap on “See More” to see more detailed insights. Here’s an example of what you’ll see:

Instagram Insights - Followers

2. Experiment with videos

Several studies have found that photos tend to get more overall engagement (i.e. likes and comments) than videos on Instagram. On first look, it might seem that photos are better than videos for engagement — and it could well be!

On closer examination, we might draw a different conclusion. News Whip studied the Instagram accounts of 31 news publishers and made an interesting discovery. While photos, on average, get more likes (and overall engagement) than videos, videos generate more comments than photos. In fact, videos, on average, received more than twice the amount of comments than photos!

Instagram Engagement Study

It is not certain if the Instagram algorithm values likes and comments equally or one more than another. But since commenting requires more effort from a user than liking, it’s possible that the algorithm values comments more than likes and would rank posts with more comments higher than posts with more likes.

Last year, Instagram found that the video watch time on Instagram increased by more than 40 percent over a six-month period. At this growth rate, it could be great to experiment with videos to see if it increases your engagement and organic reach on Instagram.

3. Host contests or ask questions to encourage engagement

Asking questions or calling for an action is one of the fun ways to encourage your followers to interact with your Instagram posts. We found that hosting a giveaway contest is an effective way to engage our followers.

Buffer Instagram giveaway contest

Some of the call-to-actions we have tried are:

  • Enter to win by sharing your favorite emoji party combo in the comments below 👇
  • To enter, simply tag a friend below who you would “Vote” for as your favorite marketer and you’ll both be entered to win!
  • To enter tag a friend below who you know is rocking it on social media! 👊
  • What’s on your reading list this week? 📚 Drop your book suggestions below for a chance to win a free book of your choice from the Buffer team! 😄

While giveaway contests usually generate more comments than usual posts, we try to give it a few months in between each contest to keep things fun and exciting.

Something that we do more often is asking a question in our Instagram posts. Several of our most-commented posts (excluding contest posts) are posts with a question such as this, this, and this.

4. Curate user-generated content

Brian Peters, our digital marketing strategist, grew our Instagram account following by about 500% (4,250 to 21,000) in under six months. His secret? User-generated content.

Curating user-generated content can encourage those users to engage with and share those content. Since the Instagram algorithm considers users’ relationships when ranking content on their feed, building relationships with your users through Instagram might also help your content rank higher on their feeds.

Apart from organic reach, Crowdtap found that user-generated content is 35 percent more memorable and 50 percent more trusted than traditional media and other non-user-generated content. This makes user-generated content a valuable strategy to try.

User-generated content infographic

5. Tell Instagram Stories

In our State of Social Media 2016 report, we found that while 63 percent of marketers surveyed use Instagram, only 16 percent have created Instagram Stories. There’s a great opportunity to stand out before it gets too crowded!

Instagram Stories take a prominent position on the Instagram app — above the feed. This allows you to stay on top of your followers’ feed and grab more of their attention. If your followers view your Stories regularly, it could possibly even help your Instagram posts rank higher on their feeds.

Instagram Stories on feed

It’s worth noting that the Stories are also ranked by an algorithm; possibly one very similar to the feed algorithm. Spend the time to craft great Stories to help them rank better.

6. Go live on Instagram

A similar “trick” is to go live on Instagram. When you use live video, you will appear right at the front of the Stories feed, assuming no one else is live at the same time. The “LIVE” logo also makes your profile photo more prominent in the Instagram app.

Instagram Live

Social Media Examiner found that the more they went live on Facebook, the more their non-live content received exposure. Michael Stelzner said that one reason might be their brand is in front of their fans more often so the fans might go to their Page to see their content more — even if the fans don’t watch the live video.

This effect could play out on Instagram, too. Seeing your logo at the top of their feed might encourage your followers to check out your Instagram profile.

From our State of Social Media 2016 report, we concluded that live video has yet to hit mass adoption as only 27 percent of marketers surveyed had created live video content. While the percentage might be higher today, I believe live videos aren’t mainstream yet. So it’s another perfect way to stand out and deliver great content!

7. Use Instagram ads

This might sound a little counter-intuitive but Instagram ads can be an effective way to grow your organic reach.

If you have an Instagram Business Profile, you can promote your existing posts from within the Instagram app. (Here’s how!) By boosting an existing post and selecting the appropriate target audience, you can drive more engagement to the post and help it rank better on your followers’ feed. The paid reach can eventually help to drive organic reach!

Instagram ads - Promote existing post

So which post should you promote?

Here’s a quick way to pick a good post to promote:

  1. Go to your Instagram Insights on the mobile app (tap on the profile tab and then the bar chart icon).
  2. Tap “See More” under the “Top Posts” section.
  3. Tap on “Impressions” at the top (a pop-up should apply to let you adjust your stats filters).
  4. For the first filter, you can choose “All”, “Photos”, or “Videos” according to your preference.
  5. For the second filter, select “Engagement”.
  6. For the third filter, select “7 days”.
  7. You will see your top posts by engagement for the last seven days. From there, you can pick a post to promote.

Picking a top post from Instagram Insights

As these posts have received the most engagement from your followers, they would likely also resonate with the people you promote to (assuming you have targeted people like your followers).

8. Post less

When explaining social media algorithms, Michael Stelzner encouraged marketers to re-think your posting strategy.

Rethink is the keyword here. Rethink your posting strategy on social media – Less is actually more!

Sue B. Zimmerman also gave a similar advice for marketers who want to overcome the Instagram algorithm.

If you truly want to connect with your audience, it’s better to share one fabulous photo instead of 20 mediocre images. So next time, before you hit post, take a moment and consider how this content contributes to your brand, and does it effectively encourage engagement from your followers.

I believe this is about the allocation of your resources and time. Instead of publishing 20 posts a week, use the same resources and time for just one or two posts and make them great.

Quality content that is relevant to your followers has a higher chance of eliciting a positive response from your followers. In turn, this can help your posts rank higher on your followers’ feed.

9. Create specifically for Instagram

One way to create quality content is to create content specifically for Instagram. Instagram, being a very visual platform, has a greater focus on the photo or video itself than the text. So a post that would do well on Instagram is probably different from one that would do well on Twitter or Facebook.

For smaller social media teams or solo social media manager, it can be challenging to always create unique content for each platform. Crossposting and repurposing content from other platforms can be great, too. If you are doing that, it’d be best to craft specific caption for each social media platform as your followers likely follow you for a different reason for each of the platforms.

We are in the process of rolling out our new Multiple Composer which will allow you to write customized captions for each social network. We’re hoping that this feature would encourage you to be (even) more creative with your social media posts and would help you drive more engagement.

Buffer Multiple Composer

10. Be a great Instagram user

This last point might be a little vague but it nicely wraps up many of the points above.

Social media algorithms are built to encourage genuine, positive behaviors on the platforms such as sharing, showing appreciation, quick replies, and more. Often, they would also try to discourage abuse or hacks.

My gut feeling here is that being a great Instagram user will help you grow your organic reach over time. That includes:

  • Posting quality content that is relevant to your followers (be it informative, inspiring, or entertaining)
  • Answering questions on your posts quickly
  • Thanking people for commenting on your posts
  • Exploring other people’s profiles, engaging with their posts, and building a relationship with them

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What’s your Instagram strategy?

The main objective of Instagram (and most social media platforms) is to make users happy and let them enjoy the experience. As brands on Instagram (and social media), I think we can do a lot to create great experiences for our followers — which will, in turn, benefit ourselves.

I’d love to learn from you, too! What’s your strategy on Instagram? Is anything in particular that is working well for you on Instagram? Thanks.

Image credit: Unsplash

User Generated Content – Great for Content Marketing

In 2011, Coca-Cola launched its Share-a-Coke campaign. It allows people to customize Coke cans and bottles with names, nicknames, and personalized messages. The Share-a-Coke campaign remains a brilliant example of a highly successful user generated content (UGC) campaign.

Share a Coke is a successful user generated content campaign

Content marketers are increasingly incorporating UGC campaigns as part of their content marketing strategy due to the benefits UGC provides. These include:

  • increasing sales
  • building customer trust
  • strengthening brand/customer relationships
  • increasing social followers
  • expanding social reach
  • boosting authenticity/credibility
  • building SEO value

This post provides a brief overview of what user generated content is, and explores some of its primary advantages and challenges. It considers crucial points to keep in mind when designing a UGC campaign. Additionally, it looks at some campaigns that have been particularly successful in generating unique, traffic-driving content.

What is User Generated Content?

User generated content is essentially any content created by unpaid contributors. It can include anything from pictures, videos, and blog posts to testimonials and discussion boards. User generated content is typically created or uploaded online, where it is easily shared.

Source: Brian Solis and JESS3, Wikimedia Commons

The annual Lay’s “Do Us A Flavor” competition asks users to submit their idea for the next potato chip flavor. (If you are familiar with it, please don’t pretend you haven’t spent at least five minutes brainstorming this…)


Lay’s Do Us a Flavor finalists
Source: theimpulsivebuy via Flickr

Or recall Hootsuite’s #IWorkFromHere campaign where followers upload photos of unique places they work from.


Source: Hootsuite #IWorkFromHere Instagram

These are only two examples of user generated content campaigns. Both have enjoyed huge results.

Why is User Generated Content Effective?

One of the unique elements of UGC is that it taps into consumer trust and relationship building. Yes, that’s right—the days of trust falls with prospective and existing customers are over!


According to a study conducted by Reevoo, “61 percent of people would be more likely to engage with an advertisement if it contained user generated content.” While a study from Bazaar found that “51 percent of Americans trust UGC more than other information on a company website.”


Source: Reevoo

Authenticity and Credibility

So, does this mean that a lo-fi, flip-phone photo uploaded by Frank Meyers of Wickliffe, KY will be more convincing than an HD shot coming straight from Toyota’s website?

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Well, kind of—yes.

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The above scenario may be an exaggeration. (Although, who’s to say, Frank Meyers might have an exceptional eye for auto photography.) But research consistently shows consumers are more likely to trust a peer review or word-of-mouth account over content created by a brand or organization.


Source: Nielsen

As consumers, we’re jaded about traditional marketing content and messaging. We like hearing what people like ourselves have to say.

Real accounts, and real experiences = more authenticity, and more credibility.


Source: Crowdtap

Think about it this way. An organization gives up an element of control when handing over the reigns to consumers to provide content. But consumers’ voices are perceived as more objectivethere’s no foolproof predictability in terms of what the consumer will say or create.

Keep this in mind as we’ll make our way back to this point. But first, let’s expand on some of the advantages of UGC.

Key Advantages of User Generated Content

Cost/resource savings

According to Curata research, content marketers consistently cite insufficient resources as their greatest content marketing challenge. UGC can save your organization time and financial resources by outsourcing content creation to users.


Content Curation

Good news: UGC falls within the content curation family. Content curation involves sourcing, annotating, and sharing the best and most relevant third-party content with your audience.

If you’re not already familiar with some of the benefits of content curation, here’s a few to get you up to speed:

  • build brand awareness
  • establish credibility as a thought leader
  • streamline lead nurturing
  • boost social media metrics
  • improve SEO
  • support lead generation

If you want to learn more about content curation, or want to devise a content curation strategy, download Curata’s Ultimate Guide to Content Curation eBook.

Social Media Reach and Growth

Social media platforms work great for UGC campaigns, given both are typically based on dialogue. So executing a UGC campaign on social channels such as Facebook and Twitter is an excellent strategy to strengthen brand/customer relationships.

It’s crucial for an organization to respond to user content. This facilitates more meaningful interaction and encourages other users to submit content.

These interactions are mutually beneficial for both organization and customer. Sprout Social reports that, “75 percent of people are likely to share a good experience on their own profile.”

Source: Sprout Social

Additionally, designing a social media-based UGC campaign increases social traffic, which results in:

  • increased follower base
  • extended reach
  • increased brand awareness
  • boosted social metrics such as likes, shares, comments, retweets
  • increased web traffic/page views

SEO Perks

UGC campaigns can boost SEO value. According to Kissmetrics, “25 percent of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user generated content.” Positive customer reviews can raise your SEO ranking. And analyzing the most frequently used words and phrases your audience uses can improve your keyword optimization research.

Audience Insights

This advantage of UGC is often overlooked. You can gain key insights by analyzing the content your audience shares. This helps you better understand your audience and what they find engaging. And when applying the principles of a data-driven content marketing strategy, these insights help generate leads and increase sales.

The first step is to conduct an audit of the content your audience generates. If it’s reviews, notice what customers are complaining about—and improve on it. Is there a discernible theme in the photos Twitter followers are uploading? Do they align with how your organization or brand wants to be perceived? User generated content is a gold mine filled with nuggets of content data.

Unique Content

Your audience will produce (often markedly) different content from your marketing team. This is a significant advantage. It offers audience members a fresh perspective and a varying point of view. It keeps content interesting and encourages users to stay engaged.

Personalization

Personalization can be another key advantage of UGC. Michael Brenner of Marketing Insider Group argues that the only way to get your target audience to notice and engage with content is to understand what resonates with them. Then you can align a UGC campaign strategy accordingly.

Personalization shouldn’t be limited to what your content is about. Consider the nuances of different channels and formats of a UGC campaign to ensure your audience is motivated to contribute. For example, an Instagram photo competition might not work as well for a B2B SaaS company as say, hosting a Twitter chat.

Dell’s IdeaStorm is an awesome example of targeting a UGC campaign to the audience. Launched in 2007, Forbes equated the original IdeaStorm to an online suggestion box.

Source: Dell IdeaStorm

IdeaStorm allows users to submit suggestions on how to improve existing Dell products, as well as ideas for new ones. Within its first five years, Dell received nearly 15,000 suggestions, and applied 500 of them in the form of various refinements.

IdeaStorm offers Dell’s audience a platform for providing feedback on each other’s ideas. Users can submit votes, comments, and participate in what’s called “Storm sessions.” Crucially, the company shows its audience that it’s listening by including a tally of how many ideas have been implemented. The ideas clearly aren’t just floating into the dark abyss of an automated system.

Challenges of UGC

Be conscious of these challenges when designing a UGC campaign.

Policing Content

Allowing users to submit original content almost inevitably brings an undesirable side effect: unsavory content. It is crucial to carefully monitor content and comment sections, and to deal with inappropriate content in a timely manner.

//giphy.com/embed/3oz8xN9W4dKay3xf1u

However, note that allowing and encouraging healthy discussion and debate makes for valuable, interesting content. Organizations can ensure that discussions remain productive by steering and moderating conversations.

Deleting all negative comments made about your organization will make your brand seem inauthentic. A better approach? Ensure that negative comments are responded to. Take appropriate action to remedy a situation whenever possible.

Legal Considerations

Ensure that your content marketing team has clearly communicated ownership and usage rights to users to avoid sticky legal situations. Given the relative newness of UGC, navigating copyright laws can take a bit of extra research and work. This can be time consuming, but it’s worth it if your users create awesome content.

Credibility of Sources

Remember that you don’t actually know who the contributor behind the screen is. In the case of forums or advice discussion boards, there’s no guarantee submitted information is factual or well informed. Perhaps this is more of a challenge for users and something they must keep in mind. However, if you’re running a forum plagued with false information and Internet trolling, it could reflect poorly on your brand.

Top UGC Campaign

So, who makes the cut for top UGC campaign? There are thousands to choose from. But OfficeMax’s “Elf Yourself” campaign has made it onto countless “Top UGC Campaign” lists.

The campaign has been running since 2006. Users submit photos of themselves and their friends. They’re then superimposed onto a virtual dancing elf and shared as a holiday eCard.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that an office supply company managed to engage up to half a billion people as of 2011 (and by “engage” I mean convert them into elves).

Start a User Generated Content Strategy

Think of “Elf Yourself” as a textbook example of the point of difference and creative advantage a UGC campaign can bring to a content strategy.

Discover what makes your audience excited to create content and engage with your company. It’ll help you develop an online community that strengthens the customer/brand relationship.

When planning a user generated content campaign, check out Curata’s Content Marketing Pyramid: A Framework to Develop & Execute Your Content Marketing Strategy eBook. It will allow you to seamlessly align it with your overall content marketing strategy.

The post User Generated Content – Great for Content Marketing appeared first on Curata Blog.

8 How-To Videos We Love (and Why)

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Have you ever learned how to do something with the help of an internet search?

The answer is most likely a resounding “yes.” Most recently, I taught myself how to fold a fitted sheet with a helpful video from homemaker extraordinaire and friend of Snoop Dogg Martha Stewart.

Videos are an especially compelling way to learn how to do something online because, well, the video shows you exactly how to do it. I’m not alone here, either — 4X as many customers would prefer to watch a video about a product, rather than read about it. So if you’re among the many marketers producing more video content this year, there could be a lot of value in making videos specifically for those in your audience who are trying to learn how to do something, too.

In this post, we’ll explore just how popular these searches are on YouTube and what you can learn from eight how-to videos about how to make great teaching videos of your own.

How-To Video Searches Are Popular

How-to searches are incredibly popular. Think about just in your own life for a moment, and reconsider my question at the beginning of this blog post.

As it turns out, 91% of smartphone users consult their various devices seeking help completing a task. But these searches aren’t all happening on Google. People are searching for videos to learn how to do things on YouTube.

According to Think With Google, how-to searches are increasing 70% year-over-year on YouTube, and more than 100 million hours of how-to videos were watched in North America alone in recent years.

8 How-To Videos on YouTube to Learn From

1) How to Fold a Fitted Sheet

You may recognize the title of this how-to video — it’s the one I mentioned earlier in this very blog post. Are you always gets stymied when putting away fitted sheets on laundry day like me?

What I love about this video is how it showcases personality. It’s a simple how-to video of humans demonstrating how to do something, without any animations or high tech features, but it’s still extremely effective at teaching the viewer. Stewart and her guests make jokes about how hard it is to fold the sheet — Stewart even joking that her inability to do so led to her divorce — and they show the viewer how easy it is to get tripped up in the process. Stewart and her guests also have empathy for the viewer and show exactly how to avoid pitfalls along the way.

Takeaway for marketers: If you want to create a how-to video “hosted” by a real, live human, make sure they act like a human. Videos are an easy way for brands to showcase personality, so put yourself in the shoes of your viewer, and infuse humor, sincerity, and empathy into your instructions. If the concept you’re explaining is complicated, tell the viewer that. If you had no idea how to use your product at first, share that. Speaking like a human — instead of reading off a script like a robot — will make your video memorable, effective, and enjoyable, too.

2) How to Cook Perfect Pasta

Tasty on BuzzFeed shares cooking and recipe videos that frequently go viral on YouTube and other social media and reach millions of people every month. But this video isn’t one of Tasty’s trademark recipe videos — it’s one of several how-to videos that break down common or difficult cooking skills step-by-step. 

In this video, Tasty uses hyperlapse to speed up the cooking demonstration and get the viewer the information they need as quickly as possible. This fast-paced filming style is eye-catching if it starts auto-playing in a social media feed, too. Tasty chose a smart how-to search term, too — there’s a ton of search volume around the phrase “how to cook pasta.”

Takeaway for marketers: Viewers prefer YouTube videos on the shorter side, so sped-up hyperlapse filming helps conserve time and creates a neat visual effect. Work backward and conduct keyword research to learn what terms your audience is searching for to find a topic to make your video about.

3) How to Escape Quicksand

Evidently, Princess Buttercup’s tragic fall into quicksand in The Princess Bride wouldn’t have been quite as terrifying in real life.

In this how-to video, Tech Insider uses captions and animations to break down a complicated concept. I wasn’t exactly searching for information on how to escape quicksand when I found this video, but the unique subject matter made me instantly click, intrigued. What’s more, the sound isn’t required — although it does add dramatic effect — which might make people more likely to click and watch all the way through, since many social media videos are watched on mute.

Takeaway for marketers: Your how-to videos don’t necessarily need to be about a dry topic related to your industry. If you create a fascinating piece of content that goes viral, you’ll generate interest in your brand that way. Animations and captions help to show — rather than explain — trickier concepts like quicksand, so consider these visual elements for high-level explanations. And if there’s a way to make your videos volume-agnostic, do so. Some videos will require narration or other sounds, but the visual elements mentioned previously could do the talking for you.

4) How to Blow Out Curly Hair

Anyone who’s ever gotten a blowout knows that it can be expensive and time-consuming to have it professionally done.

So Bustle cleverly made a how-to video that teaches viewers how to DIY and save money — a motivating factor behind many how-to online searches, I suspect. This video is also short, which MiniMatters suggests for enticing viewers to watch videos all the way through. YouTube counts a view as once a video has been watched for approximately 30 seconds, so viewers with short attention spans might be more likely to stick around for that long if they see a video is shorter, like this one.

Takeaway for marketers: Almost everybody wants to save money where they can, so think about ways your how-to video could help viewers do that when brainstorming topics. When filming, try to keep videos as short as possible to attract viewers and keep them watching all the way through to steadily increase your number of YouTube views.

5) How to Add a Friend to a Group

In this short and sweet how-to demonstration video, Facebook infuses humor to provide context for the topic it unpacks. It gives the viewer a chuckle, and research shows that content that elicits strong positive feelings makes the material more memorable and sticky.

Takeaway for marketers: Don’t be afraid to be humorous and silly in your videos — even if it’s a little dorky, like in this example. It helps place the lesson your video teaches in context for your viewer and shows off the more personable side of your brand.

6) How to Asana: Planning with Asana calendar

Asana cleverly brands its how-to video series as “How to Asana,” and all of the videos in the series feature a consistent theme. All of the videos in this series are under two minutes in length, are hosted by the same person, and feature an eye-popping yellow background. The meat of the video consists of a screencast of someone using the Asana calendar tool, but these branding details bring life to what would otherwise be a rather boring video.

Takeaway for marketers: If you’re thinking about creating a how-to video series, take the extra time to make it memorable and recognizable. These efforts will make videos look more professional and will make viewers want to keep tuning in for more helpful videos if they know they can expect more.

7) How to Create an Animated GIF in Photoshop

Who else here loves GIFs? That’s right — everyone loves GIFs.

But before I watched the video above, I had no idea how easy it was to make my own. That’s the ideal reaction to a how-to video, by the way — “that was so easy.”

Adobe’s how-to video is a great example of a software demonstration video because it zooms in on only the necessary information. Instead of confusing the viewer by showing the entire Photoshop interface, the video features magnified animations of only the buttons and tools they need to accomplish the task at hand.

Takeaway for marketers: If you’re making a technology demonstration how-to video, consider how it will appear to any first-time product users watching. Try to minimize any confusion by only filming elements of the technology needed for your video so viewers can follow along on their devices.

8) How to Increase Your Facebook Reach and Outsmart the Algorithm

You might be hesitant to create videos to explain a complicated subject matter, but that could actually be the most effective medium to help your audience understand something.

In this video, my colleague Megan Conley breaks down the many nuances of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm in a clear and concise manner. Then, graphics, animations, and screencasts supplement what she talks about with data visualizations to make the stats and figures more memorable for the viewer. Finally, the video ends with helpful next steps viewers can take to solve the problem outlined in the video. The video isn’t about how to use HubSpot software at all — it’s only in the business of helping people get better results.

Takeaway for marketers: The most compelling how-to video might be one that doesn’t mention your product at all. Think about what questions your audience might be asking and establish your brand as a thought leader with helpful videos that don’t end with a sales pitch.

How to Make How-To Videos

Now that you have inspiration from real-life B2B and B2C brand videos, start thinking about how you could create helpful content for your audience.

Create buyer personas and use these to inform your strategy. What types of questions does your audience ask about your product? What questions do they ask about your industry? What problems does your product solve that you could demonstrate in a video? Use tools like Google Trends and HubSpot’s Keywords tool to learn more about the types of searches your audience is conducting and what content you could create to answer those questions.

What’s the best how-to video you’ve ever seen? Share with us in the comments below.

learn the secrets behind the coolest product videos and more

Is an MBA Worth the Money?

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Here on the HubSpot Marketing Blog, I haven’t exactly made it a secret that I went to business school. It was an experience that provided two years’ worth of fodder, lessons learned, and other actionables that I like to share here.

But there’s one question I have yet to answer, at least in this venue, about the time spent earning my MBA: Was it worth it?

It’s a question I considered even before I began applying to different business schools, and one in which I’m certainly not alone. When I asked my colleagues if any of them had experienced the great “Should I get my MBA?” debate, there was a clamor of responses. Many of us — all marketing professionals — had experienced the same decision-making process, which made us realize how many other marketers out there must be going through the same thing. Download our free SEO ebook here for more tips from experts on increasing your search rankings. 

While the topic seems to be eternally up for debate, we agree that there are instances when people should, in fact, go for an MBA — but it’s important to have a clear idea of what those circumstances are, and if they really apply to you. And if they don’t, fear not: There are alternatives. We’ve outlined the factors that do make an MBA worth the investment — and the other things you can do until that day arrives.

When an MBA Is Worth the Money

1) When you know exactly what you want out of it.

Before I began studying for the GMAT — the required admission exam for most MBA programs — I spent about five years deciding whether or not to apply to business school. I had a lot of questions, many of which were shared by my colleague, Mimi An, when she was faced with the same decision. For her, she told me:

The biggest things to consider were if I was at a place where I couldn’t progress further in my career, if I wanted to change function or industry, if I wanted to move, and what exactly I wanted out of the degree. I couldn’t answer the last question. In fact, the answer was ‘no’ to most of my questions. I could still progress. I did not want to change function. I did not want to move. I didn’t know what I expected to get out of it.”

According to Investopedia, the average cost of an MBA is $140,000 — and $260,000 if you’re not working or earning any income while you’re in school. Think of it this way: Would you spend that much on a luxury car or new condo if you weren’t sure why you were buying it? That’s a big chunk of change to spend on something that you aren’t certain is going to benefit you in some way.

Of course, for many people, the answer to those questions is overwhelmingly “yes” — in fact, they were for me. At the time, I wasn’t progressing in my career and I wanted to move, which are two fundamental reasons why I ultimately made the decision to go to business school. But not everyone will have the same responses to those important questions, nor do they come easily to anyone — so be sure to put sufficient time into them.

2) When your work isn’t teaching you what you need to grow.

There’s an important point that An made in her quote above — how much room for growth you have in your current career trajectory, whether that means you’re able to progress in your current job, or do it elsewhere.

If you’re not getting the right learning opportunities in your current workplace, but you’re also short on some of the skills to progress in another role or company, it might be time to think about getting an advanced degree. It’s what Jim O’Neill, HubSpot’s chief information officer, realized early in his career here, when he was also considering leaving to pursue an MBA.

“I couldn’t get it out of my head that I’d be giving up more by leaving the company at that stage than I’d ever be able to learn in business school,” he said. “And while I still might want a graduate degree someday, I was lucky to stay, learn, and grow over the following six years.”

But again — everyone’s experience is different. When O’Neill was contemplating this decision, HubSpot happened to be scaling up, which forced him to learn a lot of crucial business lessons as a byproduct of being in the throes of a company’s earliest stages. Not everyone will be in that same position, and some people will have to seek the lessons O’Neill learned elsewhere.

Depending on the program you choose, an MBA could be the best place to gain this knowledge. So when you’re making this decision, carefully evaluate where you are in your career, and how much you can learn on your current trajectory without an advanced degree.

3) When you actually have the time to dedicate to it.

During my first semester of business school, I was working full-time while also completing my coursework. Granted, most of my classes were at night, which on the surface seems like a convenient arrangement. But as any student will tell you, your academic work extends far beyond the hours you spend in the classroom. There are exams to study for, papers to write, and group projects to complete.

In other words, if you add that to your current professional workload — your nights and weekends are pretty much toast. At least, that was my experience.

That may seem like a sacrifice you’re willing to make, but think about it, in the context of the previous points. Even if you’re certain of your reasons for pursuing an MBA, do you really have the time to dedicate to it? Will you also be able to sufficiently take care of yourself, and spend enough time with loved ones to maintain a measurable level of mental health?

It’s easy to think that the answers to those questions are “yes” — in fact, I told myself that I would have plenty of time to work out between classes or before work in the morning, and to cook healthy meals ahead of time on the weekends. And while that was sometimes true, it required extremely strict time management, and left precious little time to actually relax.

My colleague, Karla Cook — who’s working full-time while pursuing her master’s degree — agrees. “I tell people the only reason they should work full-time while pursuing a graduate degree is if they get offered an opportunity that falls in the ‘dream job’ category,” she explains. “If that’s not the case, then it’s probably not worth completely killing yourself over, because you will have no free time.”

But the good news is, it’s temporary. Business school doesn’t last forever — though it might seem like that while you’re going through it. But before you seriously consider going through this kind of program, have a clear idea of what’s going to make it “worth it” to you. Having that goal in mind gives you something tangible to keep you motivated during these stressful periods.

4) … And when you have the money saved.

They say that “time is money” — and just as you must be sure you’re willing to sacrifice the former, you also have to make certain that you have the latter. Remember those aforementioned dollar figures we cited about the true cost of an MBA? File this point under deciding what will make the degree “worth it,” with “it” being the hundreds of thousands of dollars that your degree will likely cost.

When you’re deciding whether or not to go to business school, ask yourself if you can afford to take on student loan debt. If you’ve just bought a house, paid for a wedding, expanded your family, or bought a car — the answer might be “no,” unless you happen to have a lot of liquid funds at your disposal.

That said, loans aren’t the only answer. You should also see what other resources might be available to you, like scholarships or fellowships, some of which might even be available through the school you end up attending.

When you begin selecting which programs you’ll apply to, explore their respective policies on merit-based financial aid — that’s the kind that you don’t usually have to repay. There are several guides to external merit scholarships available to MBA students, as well, like this one from GoGrad.org.

5) When the program’s career resources will actually help you.

At risk of sounding like a broken record, this point also speaks to the idea of what will make an MBA program “worth it.” Again, everyone’s priorities are different, but if you’re going to business school with the hope of advancing your career with a new employer, make sure the school you choose has the right resources to support your job search.

This factor is one that institutions know prospective students take seriously. In the Graduate Management Admission Council’s Alumni Perspectives Survey Report 2017, 91% of respondents indicated that they found their MBAs to be “professionally rewarding,” and many schools feel a lot of pressure to uphold that significant figure for their own students. For that reason, many graduate students have found advertised career services to sometimes be a bit embellished. Cook echoes that sentiment, and says she’s come across many graduate programs that lack “any useful career benefits,” despite what they claim.

In my own MBA experience, those services weren’t exactly embellished, but they were removed from the university’s budget after I had committed to the program. That wasn’t entirely negative — experiences like those can teach some students crucial lessons on networking and other valuable job search skills. Evaluate the resources available to you through a very fine lens, and consider how much of a priority they are in selecting a business school.

6) When your employer will cover your tuition.

This one seems a bit obvious, but it requires some reading between the lines, so to speak. If your employer will reimburse your MBA tuition, it might seem like a proverbial no-brainer to take advantage of that benefit. But understand what will be required if you do.

First, understand that you’ll most likely have to pay taxes on any amount of reimbursement you receive over $5,250. Also, some employers require you to stay with the company for a certain amount of time upon completion of your degree as a condition of receiving this benefit. Once again — ask yourself what your reasons are for pursuing an MBA. If they include progressing your career in a new work environment, taking a route that requires you to stay with the same employer for at least two years after you graduate might not be the most optimal one.

You might notice that many of these considerations work in tandem. For example, the point above about tuition reimbursement from your employer could be countered by having enough money saved to invest in the degree yourself, or being in a position to use student loans. That’s why we encourage you to spend ample time thinking about all of these factors — getting an MBA isn’t a minor decision.

When an MBA Is Not Worth the Money

1) When you should get a different degree.

Maybe — just maybe — you’ve decided against getting an MBA because it’s simply not the right degree for your career trajectory, or for what you’re hoping to do. If you’re looking to specialize in corporate communications, for example, it might be worthwhile to look into graduate programs that specialize in it, and have the catered career resources to support it.

That idea re-emphasizes the importance of knowing exactly what you’re hoping to gain from an MBA. When you outline your goals, compare them to the standard coursework required of an MBA, and see if they align. If not, it might be time to look into a different academic concentration.

2) When you can work for an emerging or early-stage business.

Remember O’Neill’s great story of how much he learned from sticking with a company that was scaling up — in lieu of pursuing an MBA? As we mentioned earlier, working with a company in its earliest stages often forces its employees, whether they like it or not, to learn a ton of business fundamentals.

In a valuable MBA program, you should learn such fundamentals as managing budgets, personnel, projects, and — when the company really begins to take off — scaling it to keep up with that growth. Sounds a lot like the type of thing that managers have to learn with a new, emerging business, doesn’t it? If that’s the type of work and knowledge you crave, it could be time to look for job opportunities with a company in these early stages.

3) When you can use individual courses to gain the skills you’re missing.

When I was in business school, I was fortunate enough to have some truly great professors. But I also learned something else — without naming names, I realized that while many academic instructors are experts in their respective fields, that doesn’t mean they excel when it comes to teaching.

That meant, for certain subjects, I sometimes had to seek outside resources to supplement classroom teachings — most notably, Khan Academy, an online provider of free classes and courses. I found out about it through a classmate in a particularly difficult class, and once I started using it for that particular topic, I saw how much knowledge the site has to offer.

And while I wasn’t about to abandon my MBA to self-teach via this resource alone, it did make me realize that, for individual areas and skills, sites like these can be a tremendous help to those who aren’t ready to pursue a full degree, but want to improve their professional credentials. And Khan Academy — despite offering a plethora of courses on subjects ranging from economics to art history — is hardly the only resource of this kind. Our favorites include Coursera, edX, HubSpot AcademyLynda, and Udemy. Even better, some of these sites, like Coursera, actually offer classes taught by faculty of some top-tier schools, including Stanford.

To B-School, or Not to B-School

Deciding whether or not to pursue your MBA is a pretty big decision — it can be a significant investment of both time and money. But, for many, it’s worth it. And now, you have a checklist to help make that decision just a little bit easier.

And as for me — the verdict is in. My MBA was worth it. In the thick of my coursework, I did sometimes question, “Why am I doing this?” Plus, I agree that there are many times when the investment just isn’t necessary. But in the end, I remain very happy with my decision to go to business school. I got to experience living in a new city, gain new skills, and figure out what I don’t want to do, which, to me, is a milestone in one’s career progression.

All in all, I think of it as a very productive use of my time — and I want it to be for you, too. You’ll make the right decision. But please, don’t make it in a hurry.

What are your thoughts on pursuing an MBA? Let us know in the comments.

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Social Media for Small Businesses: Less Is More – Marie Forleo [SSM041]

Managing social media for a small business is a unique and sometimes overwhelming challenge for so many entrepreneurs and marketers.

On one hand, you have a business to run. On the other, you want that business to grow and flourish.

And although you know that social media has the power to be an important part of your overall marketing strategy, there’s tons of completely valid reasons why it never quite happens. Time, resources, energy, knowledge… the list goes on!

Marie Forleo has been helping small businesses with their online marketing strategies with incredilbe success for more than 15 years. We had the pleasure of chatting with her in episode #41 of The Science of Social Media.

Marie shares specific ways that you can use social media to build an audience, connect with your customers, and eventually, grow your business. Whether you’re just starting out on social media or you’ve been using social media for years, you’ll learn the best-practices that thousands of businesses have used to succeed online.

A huge thank you to Marie for packing this episode full of inspiration and actionable takeaways for entrepreneurs and marketers looking for solid social media strategies to grow their small business.

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

This episode is available on:

In this episode, here’s what you’ll learn:

Marie Forleo shares her expert insights into the strategies and tactics that she uses to help business achieve real growth online. You’ll also learn tons of other great things like:

  • How Marie got started way before social media was a “thing”
  • How to not let social media become overwhelming for your business
  • Social media campaigns vs. ongoing strategies and how to approach each
  • The importance of providing value, building trust, and being patience
  • Quality over quantity and how small businesses can achieve that balance

Social Media for Small Businesses: Less is More - Marie Forleo [SSM041]

Actionable Advice for Small Businesses to Looking to Rock Your Social Media Strategy

In Marie’s words…

1. Less is more. Quality over quantity.

Allow yourself the freedom to focus on one or two platforms and do it from a place of joyful creation – have fun with social media!

2. Is this a brand social media strategy or campaign

What you can do is think about if your real goal is more brand social or a single campaign. For example, how many times are you going to post to social media each week? Is this really good for your small business? Will it help you reach your goals? Or, do you need to create a social media campaign for a specific end purpose?

3. Continuously set boundaries and bumpers

Try and set boundaries and bumpers for yourself when it comes to how often you engage on social media. When it comes to social on your phone, if you don’t want to be addicted (and you’d like to help yourself be productive) try not to put social media icons on your homescreen. Make yourself swipe at least 3-5 screens to get to your apps, which will help you stop the addictive habit.

A Great Moment

Marie Forleo Business Philosophy - The Science of Social Media

“My core philosophy, when it comes to business, is: always create value, build up that trust over time, and have patience.”

– Marie Forleo

Awesome People and Stuff Mentioned in the Show

Favorite Quotes

  • I used to walk around with a yellow Legal Pad and have people sign up for my email list manually… because that’s what you did when you didn’t have another option!
  • In growing my business it was non-stop hustle. It was about always looking for ways to share knowledge and support people.
  • Social media is an important part of the mix for 90-95% of modern business owners. And what I want to do is to help people not allow social media to overwhelm them.
  • As long as you’re creative – meaning the posts that you share, the copy that you write, the images that you create – is in the sense of generosity and true service, then you as a small business can pull it off.
  • I suggest that marketers and small businesses choose one, maybe two, social media platforms to really dominate.
  • When you’re thinking about creating content for social media, really think about your strengths that you can leverage.
  • Social media is such a gift and there’s all of these beautiful things that come along with it, but we cannot be bling to the downside. We cannot be ignorant to the “comparison cycles”.
  • I’m a big fan of less is more. I would rather have a small business crush it with their email marketing and one social media channel rather than trying to be super-human and do it all (and constantly feel like you’re failing.)

How to Say Hello to Marie (and us)

Marie is always sharing incredible marketing and social media tips for small businesses across all of her platforms. If you’d like to follow along and learn from the best, you can find Marie on Twitter here, YouTube here, or on her own website at marieforleo.com.

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.

Type A vs. Type B: Does Personality Type Matter at Work?

typeAtypeBatwork-compressor.jpg

We begin with a cast of two characters. One is organized, ambitious, competitive, and sometimes a little impatient. The other is laid-back, collaborative, creative and, sometimes, a little messy.

Do you identify with one more than the other?

Many of us already identify as either a “Type A” or “Type B” personality. Or, maybe you see yourself as a hybrid of both — like those of us who schedule our time and manage to-do lists like maniacs, but can’t recall the last time we made our beds. New Call-to-action

Here’s how the two types tend to break down, according to the American Psychological Association:

  • Type A: “A complex pattern of behaviors and emotions that includes excessive emphasis on competition, aggression, impatience, and hostility.”
  • Type B: “As compared to Type A behavior pattern, a less competitive, less aggressive, less hostile pattern of behavior and emotion.”

But if you’re anything like me, you might be thinking, “Well, that seems a bit restrictive.” That’s why we’re going to dive a bit deeper into each one. But first — let’s have a little fun.

Type A vs. Type B Personalities

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of these personality types, check out this infographic to see if there’s one with which you identify more than the other:

A-B-Personality-Infographic.png

While the options above might be generally easy to associate with either Type A vs. Type B workplace personalities, you may have found yourself identifying with a little bit of both. And that’s normal — it’s hard to check off all the boxes for one category.

It’s a visual, very informal representation of the A/B personality test — take it with a grain of salt, since it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the original version of this assessment. That began in the 1960s, when researchers David C. Jenkins, Stephen Zyzanski, and Ray Rosenmen sought a way to measure the correlation between certain behaviors and coronary heart disease.

That study lead to the development of the Jenkins Activity Survey (JAS): a multiple-choice questionnaire that was distributed for use among psychology professionals in 1979. Today, many A/B personality tests are adaptations of the JAS, like this one — designed primarily for university students — available through UNC Charlotte’s Department of Psychology.

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 11.18.51 AM.png Source: UNC Department of Psychology

Today, it’s hardly the only personality inventory of its kind, and almost seems a bit antiquated. In the last few decades, we’ve seen more complex assessments emerge, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), DiSC, and Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®). Sure, we might still make general references to it — for example, I’ve lost count of the number of times each day I declare how Type A I am — it seems like the classic A/B dichotomy isn’t sufficient enough to comprehensively measure someone’s personality anymore.

It poses the question: Is there still room for the old fashioned Type A vs. Type B labels in the workplace? Or are they, as a reliable measure of personality, defunct? And in the end, do all of these elaborate assessments and profiles really just lead to Types A and B?

Does the A/B Personality Construct Have a Place in the Office?

The fact that many people identify with characteristics ascribed to both Type A and Type B — depending on the context — is why these more elaborate personality inventories were created. For example, DiSC is a test that assesses someone’s personality based on four behavioral drivers:

  1. Dominance
  2. Influence
  3. Conscientiousness
  4. Steadiness

Someone who scores high in steadiness, for example, tends to be friendly, empathetic, and places a lot of importance on being well liked and avoiding risk. That might sound a bit like Type B, right?

Someone who scores high in influence, on the other hand, tends to be outgoing, spontaneous, enthusiastic, unfocused, and optimistic. But wait — those also sounds like Type B traits.

But despite both steadiness and influence erring more toward the Type B side, each sounds like it has a pretty distinct character, working style, and approach to collaboration. See? As we said — that’s why these more detailed personality profiles exist.

Now, let’s take a look at someone who scores high in conscientiousness. This person tends to:

  • Be a data-driven problem solver.
  • Work deliberately and at a conservative pace.
  • Want to be correct and accurate.
  • Communicate in a more non-verbal manner.

So which bucket does this person fall into: Type A, or Type B?

The value that this person places on accuracy might scream, “Type A!” But the conservative pace might lean a bit more toward Type B. It’s more difficult to place this one into a single category — again, that’s where a more detailed personality inventory becomes particularly useful.

How Much Does “A” or “B” Really Matter?

When we’re able to categorize things, it gives us the impression that we can better understand our surroundings. It’s human nature — the A/B personality constructs, like many other identifying “buckets,” likely exist because of our instinctive compulsion and desire to identify the unknown.

But much of the time, these categories leave out important details. After all, if you don’t fit neatly into one bucket, what are you supposed to do?

Good news — that doesn’t really matter.

What does matter, however, is how you operate in and respond to day-to-day workplace scenarios. Which systems help you stay organized? How many unread emails do you feel comfortable having in your inbox? How far in advance do you care to plan out your lunch?

Answering those questions can help you identify and align your priorities, and ultimately determine which factors are going to help you be most successful and productive at work.

So While There’s No Need to Be “A” Or “B” …

… it might be helpful to look into some of the newer, more detailed personality inventories. Many of them, like the DiSC, are designed to help you gain more honest insight into the questions above — the ones that help you shed light on how you approach deadlines and collaborate, for example. Having that information can help you better prepare for team projects and high-pressure scenarios, and self-identity detrimental behaviors of which you might not have been previously aware.

So, while there’s no need to pressure yourself to uphold one personality type or the other — whether it’s Type A or Type B, introvert or extrovert, ENTJ or ENJF — it’s important to know what’s going to help you do your best work.

Do you think understanding formal personality types are important at work? Let us know in the comments.

This post was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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How the Modern Viewer (& Cupcakes) Transformed Saturday Night Live

saturday-night-live-content-compressed.jpg

Disclaimer: I love Saturday Night Live.

Actually, that’s a huge understatement. I grew up watching SNL, some of my role models are SNL veterans, and I regularly abandon Saturday night plans so I can watch the show live.

So you can imagine my joy when SNL started going digital. After almost 40 years on the air, SNL began publishing clips from the show on NBC.com and YouTube, where videos racked up millions of views and changed how the show was watched. And since the introduction of more social media platforms, SNL has only gotten more innovative and creative with its approach to sharing comedy with the world. The current season of SNL, Season 42, is the most-watched in 24 years.

To pay homage to the Spartan Cheerleaders, the Ladies of SNL, and too many impressions to count, we’re doing a deep-dive into how SNL is evolving its strategy to suit the modern viewer. The show still airs on Saturday nights at 11:30 p.m. at 30 Rockefeller Center, but SNL is also diversifying how, where, and when you can watch its hilarious skits and stellar musical performances.

How SNL Is Diversifying Content

Pre-Produced Skits for Watching (and Rewatching) Online

Does anyone else remember the iconic “Lazy Sunday” rap that went viral online and kicked off the career of The Lonely Island?

That video was SNL’s second Digital Short ever, and it was released back in 2005.

“Lazy Sunday” was released the same year a little video hosting site called YouTube hit the social media scene. And although NBCUniversal only released SNL clips on its own website at the time, the rapid proliferation of pirated recordings of “Lazy Sunday” across YouTube is partly credited for YouTube’s growth — and the popularity of the digital short format on SNL. “Lazy Sunday” was watched more than 5 million times on YouTube in the first few days after it aired.

Since then, SNL has produced more digital shorts in addition to its trademark live skits — pre-produced videos that aren’t performed live but are still aired with the audience’s live reactions. Check out its recent music video about a high school theater production’s cast party:

Since the dawn of internet video in the early 2000s, SNL has leaned more heavily on creating these pre-produced music videos and commercial parodies that lend more easily to watching and rewatching online. These videos have higher production value than the live skits, confront topical political and cultural references head-on, and have made up close to one-third of the show’s lineup since “Lazy Sunday” premiered.

These videos perform incredibly well on YouTube — check out the pre-produced “Undercover Boss” parody series episode that earned almost 22 million views below:

snl_starwars_youtube.png

Source: YouTube

When an episode of SNL airs, NBCUniversal publishes the full episode and all of the skits and performances on its own website. Then, it publishes the most popular videos on YouTube, where some go on to achieve viral status. And although viewers can’t watch the complete episodes on YouTube, the modern accessibility of SNL online has helped the show maintain topical relevance and popularity.

Takeaway for marketers: SNL teaches marketers to pay attention to what their audience is doing and to cater to them. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election cycle, for example, SNL’s YouTube channel grew 48% — a nod to the impact of catering to viewer preferences on video metrics. Live sketches and improvisation will always be the bread and butter of SNL, but it also leans on quality pre-produced videos, a distributed content strategy, and what’s happening in the world to guide its editorial strategy.

Original Skits on Snapchat

In 2016, NBCUniversal made a deal with Snapchat that it would begin creating original content for the ephemeral messaging platform. And in February 2017, SNL produced its first original skit for Snapchat.

snapchat_story_SNL-1.png

Source: Saturday Night Live via Snapchat

We’re not clear yet how many skits will be produced exclusively for Snapchat. We do know the skits are available for 48 hours after the air of the show on the Snapchat Discover tab, accessed by swiping left twice on the Snapchat home screen. SNL is expanding its distributed content strategy to include even newer platforms and audiences, and it will be fascinating to see how many of SNL’s 11 million viewers will consume its Snapchat content, too.

Takeaway for marketers: SNL teaches marketers not to stay entrenched in comfortable, usual channels for publishing and to experiment with new platforms and formats, such as ephemeral content on Snapchat. Try posting disappearing content stories on Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook Messenger to see if you can engage your audience with new content.

Behind-the-Scenes on Instagram

SNL’s Instagram is another must-follow for any sketch comedy superfan. Not only does SNL use Instagram to post short clips from sketches to drive viewers to its YouTube channel, but it posts fun, behind-the-scenes looks at rehearsals, costume changes, and performances that you’d only see if you were backstage.

 

When you find your own #tbt in the Studio 8H hallway. #SNL

A post shared by Saturday Night Live – SNL (@nbcsnl) on Feb 9, 2017 at 8:06pm PST

Everyone likes to feel like they’re in on a secret — after all, FOMO is a powerful marketing tool. These behind-the-scenes images help foster a sense of community between SNL and its viewers, and it gives viewers an incentive for following along — they get the inside scoop on their TV show.

In a recent Instagram post, SNL promoted its series of behind-the-scenes videos, “Creating Saturday Night Live,” available only on YouTube. Videos like these are for fans who want to learn more about the hair and makeup process that transforms cast members from presidents to aliens and back again, and other behind-the-scenes secrets.

Takeaway for marketers: SNL uses its Instagram to promote and repurpose content from the show, but it also creates original content to appeal to fans on a more intimate level. Marketers can duplicate this approach to drive engagement on different social channels by pushing for urgency. Publish content that’s exclusive to social media, offer a contest if viewers follow your Instagram Story, and use recording features like disappearing and looped videos to repurpose video content into something more engaging and easily consumable for social media users.

“Weekend Update” on Thursdays

SNL fans and political news junkies alike rejoiced when NBCUniversal announced “Weekend Update,” a popular comedic news segment on SNL, would air four episodes during Thursday night prime time TV during the summer of 2017 when SNL is normally off the air.

snl-weekend-update.jpg

Source: Vulture

“Weekend Update” covers topical news stories — primarily politics — during its short segments near the end of the SNL broadcast. No matter where you stand in regard to the current political climate, the numbers don’t lie: SNL sketches about the 2016 presidential race and President Donald Trump’s administration are the show’s most popular. In fact, the two most-watched videos on SNL’s YouTube channel are related to the President, and sketches like these are credited with garnering over 1.2 billion views and 1 million engagements. “Weekend Update” segments are particularly popular too, regularly racking up millions of views on YouTube.

Weekend-update-stefon.png

Source: YouTube

So it should come as no surprise that NBCUniversal and SNL are interested in keeping the comedy-news momentum going during the show’s hiatus.

Takeaway for marketers: This lesson teaches marketers to pay close attention to the performance of content campaigns and adjust their strategy accordingly. If a campaign performs well, analyze it to find out what works, and replicate it. It’s always a good idea to double down on what’s working of find ways to repurpose top-performing content. This could be a great strategy for broadcasting live videos on social media or creating compelling ephemeral stories, too.

And live from New York …

For one of the longest-running TV shows on the air, Saturday Night Live has proved itself to be one of the most innovative, too. Perhaps the biggest lesson marketers can take away from SNL’s evolution into a multi-platform comedy giant is to not be afraid of experimenting. While it’s too soon to tell how some of these initiatives are performing, the numbers speak for themselves: SNL is in the midst of its biggest season of the 21st century.

By embracing a distributed content strategy and adapting its creative process to viewer preferences and cultural trends, it’s achieved a level of popularity and viewership most marketers would envy. Experimenting with new types of video and adapting content to new social media strategies will be key to marketers’ success in the future, whether they market products, software, or sketch comedy.

Are there other TV shows with a strong social media presence? Share with us in the comments below.

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