Why Instagram's New Algorithm Is Good News for Businesses and Marketers

This past June, Instagram hit a milestone that no marketer or business should ignore: 1 billion people are officially signed up on the platform. Just as staggeringly, half of them log in every day.

What’s more, the photo- and video-sharing social network’s architects seem increasingly aware of the platform’s potential usefulness to advertisers. Instagram recently unveiled a new algorithm determining what individual users see in their feed, and more than the previous algorithm, it’s favorable to brands hoping to get their message out to potential customers. Allow me to help you understand how – so you can quickly make full use of it.

3 feed factors

The first important lesson to grasp about the current algorithm is that three factors have an outsize impact on what a given Instagram user sees first as they scroll through their personalized feed:     

  • Recency. This one’s simple: The algorithm favors new posts over older posts.
  • Relationship. The feed also prioritizes posts from accounts that a given user often likes, comments on or is tagged in.
  • Interest. This is the most complicated aspect of the algorithm, because it relies on machine learning to determine what kind of content a user likes to see. This goes a few steps beyond relationship. Even if a user doesn’t “like” a video, if they watch it three times, Instagram will offer up more videos like it. If another user looks at a lot of car pictures in the search tab, the algorithm will start favoring car pictures (even if the user never follows, likes or comments on those pictures). The algorithm is now intelligent enough to determine when a car is pictured, even when it isn’t tagged or described as such.

The new algorithm factor listed here to which marketers and brands should be paying the most attention is recency. The previous algorithm relied heavily on tracking engagement, pushing recency to a lower-priority factor. But now, a brand can strategically post at times when its users are most likely to be on the app. Instagram’s native analytics even inform you of the times when a given post racks up the most views. To say this is a valuable update is an understatement.

 

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Making Instagram work for you

Marketers and brand managers should remember that, while this algorithm is absolutely more brand-friendly than the previous one, the key to effective branding on Instagram continues to be creating high-quality content that works well in Instagram’s own context, as I always reiterate when I consult with clients. What exactly should that look like?

  • Encourage users to engage. Ask a question (even if the answer is one word), prompt viewers to tag someone else, or just invite them to post an emoji. Remember that comments are still very important for the algorithm. One pro tip I haven’t heard many others give is to use the poll feature inside of stories. If a follower completes the poll (which is quick, easy and fun), that counts as engagement in the algorithm’s eyes.
  • Incorporate video. Although the algorithm doesn’t technically favor videos over photos, the simple fact is that most users look at videos longer than they do photos, thus boosting engagement from the algorithm’s perspective.
  • Post while your users are on the app. Study Instagram’s analytics and try posting at different times during the day to determine when is best for your brand and engagement.
  • Leverage emojis – as long as they fit with your branding. Emojis are the prime example of native language on Instagram. They make you sound like you’re speaking the platform’s language.
  • Use #hashtags. You’ll gain new organic followers who are searching for your targeted terms.
  • Think up creative contests. “First 100 to comment win a free service.” “Tag your best friend in this post and enter to win a sweepstakes.” Contests work well on Instagram and help you to gamify the experience.

If it’s not already clear that Instragram is a platform with relevance to nearly every brand and marketer, this new version of the platform’s algorithm will drive the point home. Of course, those brand managers with the most thorough understanding of the algorithm’s ins and outs stand to gain the most, so get out there and implement these tips while you’re still ahead of the pack.

 

4 Free SEO Courses You Should Sign Up for This Summer

If you’re a newbie in the world of SEO, it can seem like an intimidating subject to master. But thanks to the internet, you no longer need to fork over a ton of money for a course or attend a local college to learn a new skill. There are a lot of free SEO courses you can find on the web that will teach you everything you need to know to grow your business and compete with the big guys.

A lot of your target audience is searching online for what you have to offer. In fact, Google receives over 68,000 searches per second on any given day. If you can learn how to rank well in search engines with SEO, more people will find your site and more traffic equals more leads for your business.

Whether you’re a beginner, an expert or somewhere in the middle, you’ll be able to find a course to match your needs. Put your thinking cap on and check out these four free SEO courses you should sign up for this summer.

1. Hubspot Academy: SEO Training Course: Building Sustainable Traffic for Business Growth in 2018

Hubspot Academy is the worldwide leader in inbound marketing and sales, which make it an SEO expert you’ll want to learn from. The company offers a ton of free courses including this great SEO training course for beginners.

This particular course contains step-by-step lessons on SEO for beginners, link building for beginners and a Google SEO tutorial, all in 15 fun and informative videos.

2. Yoast: SEO for Beginners

If you’re using WordPress for your website then you’ve probably heard of Yoast. It’s an amazing free plugin that makes it easy to optimize your website and blog posts for SEO and they offer a free online SEO course for beginners to go along with it.

You do need to create a free account to access the course and it contains Yoast Academy videos that will teach you about keyword research, copywriting, site structure and more.

3. Udemy: SEO Courses

Udemy is an online learning platform where you can find a ton of different free SEO courses and they offer paid courses as well.

With Udemy courses you get a mix of written courses and video lectures from a variety of different teachers who are experts in SEO, offering tons of tips for people who want to get to the top of Google pages.

4. Serpstat Academy: SEO Courses

At Serpstat Academy, you can sign up for a free account with your email address and get access to a number of SEO courses at beginner and advanced levels.

Serpstat offers courses on building backlinks, long-tail keywords and API. When you complete all of the courses, you can take a quiz about the skills you’ve learned to receive a Serpstat certification.

Bonus Resources Moz: Beginner’s Guide to SEO

Moz is one of the most reputable SEO companies so this introductory course is a great one to add to your to-do list. It includes 10 chapters that focus on the basics of SEO-friendly design and development, keyword research, growing popularity and links and more.

The guide itself is easy and beautiful to read. It’s definitely not your typical, dry textbook style and you can download the PDF or read it online in your browser.

Quick Sprout: The Advanced Guide to SEO

Quick Sprout’s Advanced Guide to SEO is created by Neil Patel, who was named a top-10 marketer by Forbes, and Sujan Patel, the co-founder of WebProfits US. This extensive guide is presented all in infographics making it pleasing to read.

Before starting this course, you should have the basics of SEO down as it discusses advanced SEO techniques for your business including data research, link building with content and search verticals.

MonsterInsights: 10 Google Analytics SEO Hacks to Increase Organic Traffic

MonsterInsights’ Google Analytics SEO Hacks is a great resource for those wanting to increase traffic. If you’re just starting out with Google Analytics or want to get the most out of it, make sure to implement these techniques.

Your Turn

Utilize as many courses, guides and resources as you can to get the most well-rounded view of SEO and find the tactics that will work best for your business. By taking the time to learn search engine optimization, your website will rank higher in search engines, bringing in more qualified leads to your business.  

How to Protect Your Web Application – Even If You Don't Own Sensitive Data

The hacking attacks on Equifax and Panera, less than a year apart, were highly publicized events. After all, 146.6 million people were affected by the Equifax breach, and Panera’s attack compromised the rewards accounts of more than 37 million customers.

Other than the fact that they were breached by hackers, Equifax and Panera don’t have much in common. Equifax might seem like the logical target for data and identity theft because it’s one of the country’s three major credit bureaus. Panera’s breach affected its rewards program.

But what they do have in common is that they were breached through their web applications. In Equifax’s case, the breach targeted Apache Struts, the open-source application framework underpinning its dispute portal web application. The vulnerability allowed attackers to run code on servers powering applications that used a web plugin built with Struts. Web applications, or software programs that run on remote servers and are accessed via web browsers, are becoming increasingly popular as more people conduct their business online. The technology exists to make these applications secure, but human error can negate many of those security measures.

Compared to housing your company’s applications on local servers, web-based applications offer several important advantages. And web-based applications aren’t likely to go anywhere soon, so the key to protecting your company is to give your employees the knowledge and tools they need to avoid puncturing holes in your system through these applications.

More than one type of breach

With Panera’s data breach, there was valuable information housed within its rewards program. It wasn’t as obviously beneficial as Equifax’s, though, but it does present a threat for the consumers affected. It’s common for people to use the same email and password combinations for a variety of personal online accounts. And if hackers can gain access to that data, it becomes a lot easier for them to access other online portals – like a rewards member’s financial accounts.

Even if your application doesn’t collect such information, your company still runs on data. If hackers get in, they can lock you out of the system or commandeer the data until you pay a ransom. Regardless of the type of breach, consequences like hefty fines, lost customer loyalty and the embarrassment of having data stolen from you can hurt your company long after the breach has been resolved.

Hackers don’t have to physically access a server to hack into a web application. They won’t show up at your office with a thumb drive, and they don’t have to steal an employee’s laptop. All they have to do is trick someone with access into leaving an online door open. Some of the most common methods of stealing data are phishing and other email scams. One stolen password or careless click, and hackers can access your system from anywhere around the world.

Securing the weak points in web applications

Besides freeing up space on your company’s servers, web applications are intended to combine security with convenience. No one has to install a program to access it, and system upgrades can be rolled out simultaneously to everyone who uses the application. But many companies don’t take every necessary precaution. Be sure to prioritize these four critical measures.

1. Invest in a good anti-spam filter.

Spam is a hacker’s email campaign. It’s a zero-cost, infinite-returns investment that allows hackers to send out millions of emails daily. Even if they get only one click in return, their mission was accomplished. Because you can expect spam to keep coming, investing in a good anti-spam filter is worth it. It’s one of the most important measures you can take.

It’s also one of the least expensive security features. Most common email platforms, including Office 365 and Gmail, offer highly affordable anti-spam options for their users. No filter is 100 percent effective because spamming techniques are constantly evolving, but they can prevent a majority of scams and phishing emails from getting through.

2. Keep employees updated on phishing techniques.

A good anti-spam filter saves employees from wasting time sifting through garbage emails, but some of them will still make it into the inbox. Those are still a significant threat, so train employees to spot spam emails and avoid falling for them. The first lesson should be to remain suspicious of all unsolicited and unexpected communication.

These days, not all scams are obvious. For instance, hackers broke into LinkedIn’s system through a spam campaign that mimicked legitimate email notifications. Train employees to never click on links in an email they didn’t solicit and to be wary of other companies offering free goods, cash back and other rewards in exchange for personal information.

3. Train employees on cybersafety.

In addition to avoiding spam emails, it’s important to train employees on how to use passwords that aren’t easy to crack. They should never use any password for more than one account, and each one should be too complex to guess (i.e., nothing personal). Also, make it mandatory for employees to change their passwords every 60 to 90 days.

The more passwords your employees have to keep up with, the less likely they are to remember them all. Rather than writing them down on paper or saving them in a list on their personal devices, invest in a password storage tool. Most are free or cost less than $12 a year, and employees only have to remember a single complicated master password to access them when necessary.

4. Insure your company against errors and omissions.

As cyberattacks constantly evolve, there is no guarantee that your company will never fall victim. With errors and omissions insurance, you can protect your company and employees in case a breach occurs, provided you take all of the above precautions (and any others that the underwriter deems necessary).

For example, to qualify for the insurance, your company has to routinely train employees on up-to-date cybersecurity and email security protocols. That includes using complex, unique passwords; changing those passwords often; and implementing measures like anti-spam filters and data backups for optimal protection.

Even if you don’t own or control your customers’ sensitive information, simply having a web application for them to access means hackers are probably watching. Do all you can to keep them out by securing your web application and customer accounts with these few steps.

Why Adopting a Zero-Friction Approach is the Key to Success

From small-town auto shops to digital startups to global conglomerates, lowering friction makes it easier for customers to spend their money. In the end, this means speedier sales, fewer complaints and more repeat business.

Today’s empowered consumer despises friction

What do we mean by “friction?”

Before we explore “zero friction,” we need to explore the concept of friction. After all, how can you know if your business is frictionless if you don’t have a clear understanding of friction itself?

By “friction,” we mean mean anything that slows the customer journey at any phase. Anything that causes your customer to hesitate is friction. Anything that creates a wait in the transaction is friction. Anything that takes your customer’s time is friction.

And as you’ll discover, friction can come in many forms.

In person, customer friction can include waiting in line at the checkout counter or waiting for someone to help at the service desk. It can even be dealing with a crowded parking lot or a store that is packed with other customers – things that on the surface can seem like a good problem for brick-and-mortar retailers. From limited business hours to waits at the doctor’s office, there are thousands of potential sources for in-person customer friction.

One of the top examples of customer friction is when a caller is put on hold. This is especially harmful to your sales process if you are dealing with someone who is not yet a customer. Being placed on hold, transferred from department to department or forced to repeat complaints or questions are all examples of customer friction at its worst.

While the internet is generally seen as a way to reduce customer friction, when organized improperly it can be a major source of frustration. Confusing, uninformative websites are a perfect example, but overly-long landing pages, disconnected marketing messages and slow loading times can all cause friction that drives customers away.

How does friction destroy business?

When customers experience friction, they go somewhere else. If they are constantly put on hold, if they can’t get basic information from your site, if they have to deal with uninformed sales representatives, they will find another place to spend their money.

But as business owners, we need to know just how badly customer friction can impact sales and revenue. After all, if high friction only results in a few lost sales a year, is eliminating it really worth the time and energy?

As you’ll see, high friction can result in more than just a small loss.

According to a survey from Dimensional Research, which was funded by Zendesk, customer experience was the No. 1 factor to determine trust in a vendor. Among businesses who serve consumers, 52 percent of customers stopped buying after a bad service interaction and 42 percent purchased more after a positive experience. If your customers are other businesses, the numbers are even more impactful. Sixty-six percent of businesses stop buying after a poor interaction, while 62 percent purchased more if interactions were positive.

What, in the mind of a customer, constitutes a bad experience? According to the data, 72 percent blame a bad customer experience on having to explain the problem multiple times. This should provide clear direction for one specific area of improvement.

How can businesses create zero friction?

We know, both through common sense and hard data, that a positive customer experience, one with zero friction, is crucial to the success of your company. But how can you go about actually creating a zero-friction environment?

The first step is to identify areas of friction that currently exist in your business. Take a look at your sales process from the very beginning (which is likely marketing and advertising) to the very end (which, if all goes well, should be customer repurchasing).

Identify any areas of friction that might come from your marketing efforts. This could very well be a disconnect between the supplied information and the actual services or products you offer. Make sure customers are supplied with the knowledge they need to make the right decision for their needs, and be sure your website and landing pages reflect your business properly.

Now take a look at the sales funnel of your company. How does a customer go from informed to interested to purchasing? Are there multiple forms they need to complete? Do they have to contact numerous representatives for basic information on your products? The more steps you can eliminate for the customer, the more you reduce friction.

Payment processing can be a point of friction for numerous shoppers, including both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) customers. Be sure that your payment options are not a point of friction, and if needed, implement convenient, efficient ways for a customer’s dollar to become your dollar. Options, depending on your needs, can include Apple Pay, PayPal or even cryptocurrency.

A dedicated staff may be the No. 1 resource for reaching zero friction. Explain to your staff the concept of zero friction and its importance to the business. You can even share some of the figures we discussed above. Demonstrate that by reaching zero friction, they are helping to create a stronger business. A staff dedicated to zero friction is not only important for landing a sale, it’s possibly the most important aspect for maintaining a strong foundation of loyal customers.

Frictionless is not the future, it’s the present

Don’t be fooled, the concept of zero-friction service is not an upcoming trend. It’s a real movement that is living in the present. People are demanding zero friction from the businesses they use, and the companies that are excelling today are the ones that have eliminated barriers and made life easier for their customers.

Glancing one more time at the Dimensional Research article, you’ll see that 54 percent of Generation X (born roughly 1960 to 1982) will avoid high-friction vendors for as much as two years. These are not the up-and-coming millennials, but people who are in the earning – and spending – prime of their lives.

Clearly, the time to eliminate friction is now.

5 Tips for Building a Globally-Minded Creative Team

People around the world have a lot in common. We all eat food, live in communities, work, play, and generally strive for happiness. However, the variety that exists within those basic parameters is mind-boggling, and nuances within different cultures can be tricky to navigate for brands considering a global identity.

Companies with the potential to cross borders have a complicated branding task at hand. For one, about 75 percent of global respondents say a brand’s country of origin is more important to them than other top purchasing drivers.

Make Your Global Entrance Seamless

If you’re striving to be a global brand, it’s important to remember you’re not trying to reach the entire country — just a specific audience within each context. You might be targeting business leaders or teens in 20 different countries, but be thoughtful about speaking the exact language of the audience, even if it’s across borders.

Further, pay close attention to cultural behaviors. An architect at WeWork told me about the brand’s experience expanding to Amsterdam. Team members were designing workplace kitchens the same way they did in America, which meant separate small tables. But during lunch, Amsterdam employees pushed the tables together because in their country, people like to sit together in one big group. The design needed to be adjusted to suit a different cultural norm, one that could’ve easily gone unnoticed.

So before making the global leap, it’s critical to carefully assess what your brand is and outline its ambitions. Afterward, if you decide a global brand is still for you, there are several hazards to be aware of. That’s why it’s vital to incorporate different perspectives in a tight-knit team when building a creative, global brand.

Language is obviously a critical element when working internationally, but you also need to be careful about the visuals and colors you use to communicate. Additionally, making assumptions is a treacherous habit. Only locals truly understand how things work in their global communities. You don’t want to embarrass yourself or, worse, offend your market base.

How to Build a Globally-Minded Creative Team

There isn’t one right way to build a globally-minded team in charge of creative opportunities. For instance, perhaps one person can do it all. You can use that individual as a start and then add team members to supplement weaker areas to really bring your brand to life.

Whatever approach best suits your company, there are several best practices for putting together an effective, globally minded branding team:

1. Have a contrarian in the room

Don’t waste time hiring “yes” people. When I was a freelancer, I knew employers were hiring me for my expertise. I wasn’t doing anybody any favors if I didn’t give my opinion. Tact is important, as well, but hire people for their expertise, not to boost your ego.

This is relevant when hiring creative freelancers. You might already have a full-time staff equipped with general capabilities. However, when bringing in a freelancer, she or he can provide the contrarian perspective that the majority of your brand isn’t seeing while still providing creative skills to help your product flourish. 

2. Look beyond your network

It’s comfortable to hire people you know, but expanding beyond your immediate circle brings in much-needed different perspectives. Without taking this extra step, your brand could severely miss out because 85 percent of employment is filled through networking. In turn, a global brand must hire experts and high-potential freelancers from a variety of relevant backgrounds.

Get involved with professional development programs such as 4A’s MAIP and The One Club for Creativity’s Here Are All the Black People. Branching out in your networking efforts can widen the creative candidate pool with individuals who otherwise wouldn’t be on your radar. In addition, look into providing a scholarship fund so up-and-coming students and young professionals from underserved backgrounds can better afford to live in your city and take internships at your company. In doing so, you will have an opportunity to tap into their knowledge. It’s a win-win for everyone.

3. Actually listen to different perspectives

Don’t embrace different perspectives during the hiring process just to ignore them when it counts. In fact, on a typical day, a person will spend 70 to 80 percent of their time absorbed in communication, with 55 percent of that communication devoted to listening. So make sure you are actually listening and not just nodding your head. If your employees and freelancers are in the specific market you’re targeting, pay close attention to their views. They’re likely getting feedback from the community, region, or country at large.

As you implement ideas, check to see whether they resonate with your audience. If they don’t, make changes. And if they do, double down. However, make sure to remain open to evolving elements. Culturally, things shift quickly, especially on an international level, so staying in tune with your audience is vital.

4. Seek short-term advice

Sometimes you just need someone’s input for a day or two to make sure you’re maintaining cross-cultural relevance. Short-term advice provides a litmus test to see whether a project is heading in the right direction.

A suggestion from the book “Sprint” (Simon & Schuster, 2016) by Jake Knapp is to bring in five people, like a little focus group, to make sure you’re on track. Ask freelancers, consultants, or potential clients for their input on a global idea quickly, and then send them on their way while you implement the feedback.

5. Make data your best friend

When I was freelancing, I considered myself an artiste. The idea of data made me cringe. After all, I wanted to listen to my instincts, not a bunch of numbers. But as a business owner, I’ve come to appreciate the far-reaching value of data. Hard numbers reveal actual behaviors and show whether or not something is working.

For example, if one feature of your product or campaign is working well in the U.S. and not Germany, it could be because the language isn’t resonating. Fortunately, data can definitively share what is more and less effective. With data’s insights, there’s no longer room to consider that one idea is better than another just because you like it and don’t want to budge.

To reach an audience on a global scale, you need to take into account global perspectives. Do this through your team members and through direct contact with audience members. By doing so, you’ll understand nuance and add depth and accuracy to your global branding strategies.

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