How to fail at guest blogging in three easy steps

via Pixabay

Guest blogging can be a terrific potential opportunity for you to shine – all while conveniently directing traffic to your own website – but only if you know what you’re doing.

Here are three ways a guest blogger can fail – and three ways you can make that post a smash hit instead.

Mistake #1: You haven’t done your research about your target website

Dear Sir. Dear Madam. To Whom It May Concern. These are all awful phrases to begin a pitch. Take a few seconds to personalize your pitch. Visit the site’s “About” section. Learn who’s running the show and learn about the types of content the site publishes. Your content must align with the site you’re pitching. If you’re proposing a piece about sports nutrition and you’re pitching a site about dog breeds, then you are surely barking up the wrong tree. (Sorry.) (But you won’t forget this tip now, will you?)

Mistake #2: You don’t read the guidelines for guest bloggers

If a website accepts pitches for guest bloggers – which you should know if you have done your research and successfully avoided Mistake #1 – read the guidelines if they are provided. Then follow them. Some site owners may prefer you submit dozens of ideas, while others may just want one solid comprehensive piece.

Mistake #3: Your content is terrible

I know. You may think you’re the World’s Best Writer®, but before you submit, enlist another pair of eyes: a friend, a subject matter expert, a corporate communications agency (ahem). These resources can tell you if the content will benefit an audience (which is really the only thing a site owner wants from a guest blog). Is it interesting? Informative? Easy to understand?

Three tips for success

I wouldn’t leave you hanging, dear blogger. Three bonus tips to help you on your way to success:

  1. Start with small sites to build your portfolio. You’ll have better luck pitching minor sites and increase your number of published pieces faster.
  2. Sell yourself in your pitch. What makes your content special? What will the audience learn?
  3. Include a call to action. Your pitch was successful. Your post will be published. But wait – don’t just link to your blog in your author bio. Give your readers an intriguing reason to visit before providing the link. “Want to learn the best way to train for a marathon?”/”What’s a surefire way to get an upgraded room when checking into a hotel?”/”Find out why millennials like avocado toast so much.” Isn’t that better? Just make sure your call to action matches up with your content.



Storytelling is magic for brands


The explosive growth of social media and content marketing means more opportunities to promote your brand. With so many companies vying for attention in the digital sphere, how do you stand out? The answer lies in engaging storytelling.

Creating a story around your product allows you to shape consumer brand perception. After years of declining sales, Apple rebounded after its 1997 “Think different” rebranding campaign.


Apple relied on its outsider status and imagery of iconic visionaries to compel customers to “rebel” by buying its products. The company successfully gambled on the concept of individuality – rather than technical capabilities – to sell computers.

At its core, storytelling isn’t a sales pitch. It’s meant to emotionally connect with consumers, in the process building loyalty, attracting new customers, and increasing brand visibility.

Beyond traditional television or print ads, the digital age has equipped marketers with new platforms for visual storytelling. Social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat allow even the smallest company to gain a greater amount of exposure than with typical advertising – thanks to free or affordable posting options – with the added benefit of possible post amplification when fans share its content.

It’s key to follow a few guidelines for savvy social media storytelling.

  1. Use arresting visuals. Visual content, like photos, receive 40 times more shares and 90 percent more clicks than text-only content.
  2. Infuse your posts with personality. Use an informal voice in your writing to attract and retain your audience.
  3. Create magnetic characters. Your customers should root for your protagonist, even if it’s just short-form content, like Microsoft’s Instagram post above.
  4. Don’t give it all away. Posting teasers can lead to additional offline or mobile marketing opportunities.

How have you successfully used storytelling to sell your brand?

30 predictions for social media & social media marketing in 2016


As the last month of 2015 dawns in a flurry of gift-wrapping and cocoa-drinking, prediction lists start their steady creep across the internet, with every technology prognosticator, online marketing expert, and social media blogger clamoring to forecast the potential state of our digital world in 2016.

They might be right; they might be wrong – only time will tell. So, what’s in store for us on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest next year? Let’s learn what the fortune-tellers at SocialMediaToday anticipate:



More Emoji

We used to star tweets we like. Now we “heart them.” Soon we’ll be able to express a full range of (cartoon) emotions. Twitter is experimenting with an emoji reactions tool. Why? Emoji are incredibly popular the world over, and are more likely to hook a younger crowd than traditional icons. Expect this feature to become widespread in the first half of 2016.

Enhanced Engagement

Twitter has always skewed young. To retain this vital demographic and ensure its continued growth, Twitter will roll out more interactive features. In addition to emoji, Twitter will further develop its poll feature and branded event emoji, the latter of which has already been used by Coke, Star Wars, Taylor Swift, and Starbucks.

Customer Service

A significant amount of customers turn to brands on Twitter to answer customer service queries. In fact, many bigger players have hired employees dedicated solely to social media to meet this need. Twitter has evolved to make it easier for businesses to interact with their customers by removing direct message character limits (previously limited to 140) and instituting quote tweets, which allow users to track relevant conversations. The next step? A streamlined platform catering to customer service, possibly even a form of artificial intelligence-driven assistant service. Earlier this year, Twitter acquired AI provider Whetlab, so clearly something is in the works.



On-Platform Content

Facebook is making a big push to keep its users on its site, rather than following links to other sites. Its newest features include Instant Articles – posts uploaded directly to Facebook (reducing load time and giving creators access to new tools like in-post video) – and on-platform blogging with its revamped Notes. With a new focus on aesthetics and customization, the new Notes (screenshot above) is a big improvement over the bare-bones style of the previous version.


Last year, Facebook made headlines with its $2 billion purchase of virtual reality startup Oculus VR. While the first Oculus headsets will soon be available, virtual reality will take time to become truly transformative technology. In 2016, we’ll likely see VR take its first baby steps on Facebook with more 360-degree videos and the rise of VR gaming. We’ll probably witness a greater impact from VR in 2017.



Advanced Search Tools

Pinterest launched a very clever search tool this month (apparently simply called “our crazy-fun new visual search tool“): You can search a visual element within a pin. Say you’re redecorating and spy a lamp you like in a pin showing someone’s kitchen. Now, you can highlight the lamp and Pinterest will bring up visually similar items, so you’ll know where to find the it. Pinterest will look to further improve the functionality of its search tools to make them more personal – and useful – than ever, potentially resulting in an uptick in ecommerce transactions.

More Buying

Speaking of ecommerce, this year saw the launch of “Buyable Pins” allowing pinners to buy featured products. As ecommerce and search options expand and become more valuable, Pinterest may develop better algorithms to predict what pinners will want and offer a more streamlined on-platform buying system.

What are your predictions for 2016?

Superfans, content, and convenience: How the biggest brands ensure the future of digital marketing


It’s been almost 21 years since the premiere of the first web banner ad, hearkening an era of constant innovation in the digital marketing field. So what are these latest revelations? The IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau) Engage conference this week probed this question, with experts revealing their findings about some of the biggest brands in the world.

Superfans tell all

Online lodging behemoth Airbnb wants to ensure its “superfans” shape the future of the explosively popular company. Airbnb recently invited its top 6,000 property listers to Airbnb Open, the first conference for hosts, to learn how to keep the gigantic brand personal. UK country manager James McClure said Airbnb wants its one hundred millionth customer as happy as its tenth. The company experienced its biggest night ever just a few months ago when one million people stayed at Airbnb properties. With those numbers, keeping Airbnb personal proves to be a challenge. At Airbnb Open, company execs will gather valuable takeaways from those who know the company best. “These guys are our superfans,” said McClure, “But they also don’t hold back from telling us things we can improve on.”

Data: Enhancing or overshadowing consumer feedback?

The topic of data prevailed at IAB Engage. Analysts cautioned brands against relying too heavily on data lest they lose sight of the creative process and connecting with consumers. However, Disney CMO Anna Hill said data can be an asset as long as brands place importance on prioritizing its consumers’ interest. At this UK-centric conference, Hill said Disney employs 30 Europe-based brand researchers who speak to more than 70,000 consumers a year, all in the name of learning what resonates with the public.

For example, the company discovered an untapped market of adults interested in its brand in Japan, leading to new partnerships with fashion brands like Jimmy Choo. However, Hill believes even numbers can’t replace simply listening to consumers. “A brand like Disney is ultimately about the kids. You have to get a balance between what the science and data and what your instinct and gut tells you,” she said.

Convenience over content

From Netflix to Uber to Spotify, the hottest brands may be captains of their respective industries, but all share one thing in common: convenience. That’s right: content isn’t king – convenience is. “Brands that can help consumers easily book a hotel room or order a taxi or listen to music will win out,” said consumer psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden. Brands and agencies alike should be investigating how they could be improving their consumer relationships. How can you make your customer’s life easier? “The future of advertising is in business model innovation,” said Marsden. “It is not about the next great ad format that changes everything or the next way to interrupt people. You have to change the value proposition.”

It is certainly a brave new world for the digital marketer, all of whom can trace their origins back to a single source – that first web banner:

What does the future hold for digital marketing? Only time – and apparently consumers – will tell.

Shop a song with eBay

eBay just unveiled a delightfully creative online ad campaign to showcase its endless wares. In these “Shop a Song” spots, products playfully dip in and out of the screen as a tune plays, each item somehow matching the lyrics. In the “Only the Good Die Young Collection,” when Billy Joel croons, “You got a nice white dress and a party for your confirmation,” the video shows in quick succession a white formal dress, foil party poppers, and a rubber “Confirmation” stamp.

Five tracks comprise the campaign:

• “Riptide” by Vance Joy
• “My House,” by Warren G.
• “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel
• “Shine On” by Florida Georgia Line
• “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha

The spots nicely highlight the site’s offerings in a manner that’s short, palatable, and, most importantly, fun.

Watch below:

What do millennials want?

Image via Adweek
Image via Adweek

Speakers from four of the biggest companies in the digital sphere – Facebook, Pandora, Snapchat, and Twitter – offered expertise on marketing to those elusive millennials during a panel at ZenithOptimedia Group’s Mobile Day in New York on Tuesday.

Why the specific focus on this age group? While earlier generations were receptive to traditional print, radio, and television marketing, today’s young adults have eschewed regular channels in favor of social and streaming media.

The speakers at Tuesday’s event suggested learning about millennials’ digital media preferences would assist companies in building more effective ad campaigns.

Here are some of the panelists’ insights:

1. Maintain authenticity by marketing locally

Young adults hate feeling like they’re being marketed to, according to Steve Hwang, Snapchat’s Director of Operations and Strategy. Instead, they want to follow content their friends post.

“Authenticity is really important, and I don’t mean in terms of pretending to be [someone’s] Facebook friend,” said Hwang. “There’s a ton of opportunity for brands to be involved on a more local level in the real world.”

Snapchat’s Live Story feature, for instance, curates users’ similar content into a single stream for other Snapchat users to follow. Earlier this week, the company presented “Mecca Live,” combining content from users who traveled to Mecca during Ramadan and allowing non-Muslims – who aren’t permitted in the city – a rare glimpse inside.

2. Determine your creative strategy with data

Tamara Bedrosian, Pandora’s SVP of Consumer Packaged Goods Sales and Strategy, opined that data should determine the direction of an ad.

Should a campaign run on mobile or desktop? To answer this question, advertisers could learn that young millennial women like to listen to YouTube violinist Lindsey Stirling on Pandora, and the vast majority are listening on Pandora’s mobile app. By tracking data like this, a company can gauge the best platform for a campaign.

“We don’t go out with mobile-first or mobile-only strategies,” said Bedrosian. “Tailor your creative message to the environment and mindset.

3. Seek out new social celebs

“[Social media stars have] followers and a social graph that is far bigger than any celebrity out there,”  said Stephanie Prager, Agency Development Lead at Twitter. She added that these are the figures with whom brands should align when advertising.

Big brands get it. This year, Toyota tapped YouTube stars Rhett & Link to film stunts in its redesigned Camry. In about six months, the video had garnered a mere 75,000 views on Toyota’s YouTube channel, but the online celebs further increased brand awareness when they mentioned the new Camry during six episodes of their daily Good Mythical Morning YouTube talk show, gaining an additional 10 million views.

4. With video, think seconds, not minutes

Videos on Facebook are set to auto-play by default, so advertisers have precious few seconds to grab users’ attention. “You have maybe the first three seconds to stop people in their feeds to get them with a piece of content,” said Trevor Johnson, Director of Facebook’s Global Agency Team. Because of this small window of opportunity, Johnson advises marketers to create four-, eight-, or 10-second videos. Users activate volume once they click on a video, making it more likely they will watch longer clips if interested.

While all the panelists had varying methods of targeting young adults, one of Johnson’s sentiments summed up the direction of marketing in this era: “Millennial behavior… is really driving social and technology behavior going forward.”

It appears the coming years will bring audiences ever more innovative ways to consume advertising.

Vegetable paint and homemade computers: one company’s eco-friendly campaign

An organic food retailer recently launched an ad campaign as fresh as its wares.

It was into a high-tech, CGI-ed world that French company Biocoop loosed its carefully crafted lo-fi marketing efforts. The brand’s top priority is environmental responsibility and executives wanted messaging to embody this concept, charging Paris ad agency Fred & Farid with the challenge.

The entire production left the smallest of carbon footprints. The team:

  • Shot prints with a pinhole camera
  • Wrote taglines in vegetable paint, untouched by Photoshop
  • Printed ads at 25 percent the usual size, which later gained a second life as bags
  • Constructed a computer in a crate
  • Recorded music in one take
  • Designed the website almost entirely in ASCII text

To announce the campaign, employees took to Twitter. But they didn’t even create new tweets; instead, they used “recycled” tweets by retweeting other messages in a new order.

“La Campagne Éco-Responsable” is a terrific study in a brand aligning its messaging and practices. How does your marketing stack up?

Dial a local business… via Facebook ad

Score one for the little guys: As part of its “local awareness” objective, Facebook today introduced a new feature allowing its users to telephone a business through a “Call Now” button on newsfeed ads.

When the initial campaign launched in October 2014, local businesses who bought Facebook ad space could target nearby potential customers. With this latest addition, mobile users interested in contacting the business can tap the “Call Now” button, which opens a user’s phone keypad and automatically dials the number listed.


Previously, businesses could include “Get Directions” and “Like” buttons on their pages, but the “Call Now” button is Facebook’s first feature to truly connect consumer and local business owner.

Ricky Gervais urges Aussies to watch Netflix. Or not. He doesn’t care.

In an inspired ad campaign to herald Netflix’s arrival in Australia, broadband and cable company Optus recruited comedian Ricky Gervais to deadpan his way through a series of short ads to promote its partnership with the video streaming service.

Karen Phipson of Optus explained:

“Key to the strategy was to approach this through a lens of entertainment and let Ricky interpret the message in his own style. The result is content that will drive social media conversation whilst delivering our core message of Optus and Netflix, which has become part of Ricky Gervais unique comedy.”

This “truth in advertising” strategy seems to have worked. Notes one YouTube commenter, “The first time I saw this was on a YouTube commercial before a video. I was going to skip it, but then it had me hooked on how different the ad was and I watched it all. Possibly the first time I’ve watched a YouTube ad in its entirety without wanting to skip it.”

The tongue-in-cheek campaign was created by APN News & Media’s content marketing division Emotive in conjunction with Fuel Communications and M&C Saatchi.

Want more? Check out Ricky’s whole set of commercials (so far) below:


California tourism site gets facelift

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 4.30.10 PMVisit California has unveiled a sleeker site for the state’s direct marketing organization (DMO). As a former California girl myself, it’s refreshing to see the digital portal align itself more closely with the natural beauty and excitement of the Golden State. Visit California will be the crown jewel in a media marketing plan costing $100 million a year.

A curated gallery of California’s abundance of experiences, the new offers compelling content that better embodies our dreamer lifestyle… The site includes big, bold images that bring the California experience to life, showing consumers the abundance of what the Golden State has to offer. –Caroline Beteta, president & CEO, Visit California.

This is the website’s first overhaul in 10 years. While online travel agents remain the most popular source for travel planning, destination websites are the second most-used source for researching leisure travel in the United States. The new site represents a commitment to establishing the California brand in the digital space. The new model also serves to lure international visitors to the state.

[It’s] a vehicle we can use to inspire people and convert, especially in international markets, such as Brazil and China, where they typically have limited understanding of California beyond Hollywood and Disneyland. [We want to] show people sides of California they haven’t seen before, and to do so in a way that’s shareable. – Lynn Carpenter, vice president of marketing, Visit California