Has Digital Content Killed Paper Marketing Collateral?

Has Digital Content Killed Paper Marketing Collateral?
“Video Killed the Radio Star,” written by Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes, and Bruce Woolley, and performed by the Buggles in 1979.

Do you remember “Video Killed the Radio Star?” The kitschy pop song laments the fading glory of radio talent when the rise of music videos caused radio to lose much of its appeal. The same thing happened back in the 1920s when talking pictures stole the focus from silent movies.

Today, we’re witnessing a similar media transformation. Many magazines, including such notables as Time and Newsweek, have reduced or even eliminated their print publications in favor of online digital editions. Most of us watch the news, we don’t read it, and either way we’re likely doing so online. Much of the marketing content we consume is online. You’re almost certainly reading this on a computer screen, a tablet or a smartphone, not on a piece of paper.

But does that mean paper is passé? Should you still include print in your marketing budget? Consider a few areas where printed material still has value.

Trade Shows

Visitors drop by your booth and you explain your products and services. You get their email address and phone number so you can follow up with them later. You also hand them a brochure, a white paper, or at least a sales sheet. Having something physical they can hold in their hands makes your business that much more real to them. Sure, they may toss it in the circular file as soon as they get back to their office. But they might read it first. They might pass it on to their co-workers.

Seminars

Will your attendees take notes? If so, will they take the right notes? Will they get the points you want to make? Make sure they do by giving them a handout with your main points, either at the beginning so they can follow along, or at the end so it doesn’t distract them during the presentation. But either way, before they leave, make sure they have something in their hands to remind them of your message.

Direct Mail

People are so used to receiving email and texts, that personally-addressed letters delivered by the post office, once the norm, now stand out as special. While an email message may be immediately deleted unread, an envelope with the person’s name is more likely to arouse curiosity and be opened and read.

None of these situations require an either-or approach. Printed marketing collateral can co-exist with digital material. One should complement the other. But however you deliver it, you still need a message that will motivate your readers to action.

There’s much more to producing effective paper-based marketing collateral than just printing out what you already have online. Give LightningStrike Studios a call. Online or off, we’ll help you get your message across.

Building Your Business With Social Media Marketing

Building Your Business With Social Media Marketing
CC0 Gerd Altmann

You know that social media can be a powerful tool to help you build your business. But how does that work, exactly? Do you just open a Twitter account or a Facebook page, post some stuff, and then sit back and watch the customers beat a path to your door?

Oh, if only it were that simple!

Using social media as a tool to promote your business isn’t difficult, but it does take time. Basically, there are 3 phases to this.

Establish Contacts

The “social” in social media requires interacting with people. You do this by following other people, liking and commenting on their posts, and sharing them. Some of those people may view your profile, follow you back, and like and share your posts. A few may visit your site.

Should you share content from your competitors? That depends. Is the other business really a competitor? Do they provide a service similar to yours, but for a whole different geographic area? Or do they cover the same region, but provide a different but complimentary service? Especially if the latter is the case, sharing content from such a business could actually help you. They may be inclined to share your posts in return, which would increase your exposure. It could even lead to an exchange of business.

Draw The Right People To Your Site

You do this by posting your own content and linking back to your site. These posts need to highlight the value of your business, such as by featuring the services you offer that people may not be able to easily handle on their own, or the products you provide that people need.

Your posts should have real value. Entertaining posts, or posts about controversial subjects that have nothing to do with your business may generate views, but are unlikely to attract paying customers.

Once People Are On Your Site, Turn Them Into Customers

You’re not going to see the results you hope for unless your site is able to convert visitors into customers, to convince them to do business with you. Building an effective website that does this is an art in itself, but here are a few basic points:

  • Have a visually appealing, easy-to-navigate site with quality content.
  • Highlight the benefits of your service and establish your expertise.
  • Make sure that each page has a single, clear focus.
  • Make sure that each page and each blog post has a call to action, linking to your contact page.
  • Make your content worth sharing and easy to share, with properly functioning social media buttons.
  • Ensure your site is fully responsive, easy to see and easy to use on a small screen mobile device.

Related platforms, such as your YouTube channel, should have a look and feel consistent with your own website. Your profile on those platforms and all content should link back to your site. Here, too, your content should reflect your business. If you want to share your liked videos, playlists, and subscriptions, do so under an entirely separate personal account.

This list is by no means an exhaustive How To; there’s a lot more involved, but you get the idea. And if you haven’t realized it yet … Yes, this all takes a lot of time. But in today’s online, internet-centric world, investing this time is often essential to building your business.

LightningStrike Studios can help you design and build an effective website that will convert visitors into customers, and then help you use social media to drive visitors to your site. If you don’t have the time, contact us. We’ll be pleased to help.

Six Ways To Avoid Being A Social Media Jerk

Six Ways To Avoid Being A Jerk On Social Media
Misuse social media and you risk appearing to your peers – and to potential business prospects – like a jerk.
CC0 Erik Lucatero / CC0 Vigan Hajdari

Watch any recent superhero movie and you’ll hear the adage, “With great power comes great responsibility.” That certainly applies to the power of social media. Use it wisely and you move closer to your business goals. Misuse it and you risk appearing to your peers – and to potential business prospects – like a social media jerk.

Here are six ways to avoid being a jerk on social media. (We’re going to focus on LinkedIn and Twitter, but the principles apply wherever you interact with people online.)

1 – Don’t try to trick people into following you

Here’s a common strategy for building a follower base on Twitter: First, you follow a bunch of people. Since some people automatically follow back anyone who follows them, at least some of those people will follow you. But since you want to keep your follower-to-following ratio high (supposedly it looks better) you unfollow anyone who hasn’t followed you back within a couple of days, at which time you repeat the process with a fresh batch of prospects.

While this strategy works – it can quickly increase your follower count – it also shows that you don’t really care about the people you follow. Instead, only follow people you really want to follow, and don’t worry about whether they follow you back or not.

The process on LinkedIn is a little different. LinkedIn allows you to send connection invitations to individuals whom you would like to have in your network. The problem is, some people send these out randomly to people they don’t really know and who don’t know them. Instead, send connection invitations to people with whom you already have at least a casual relationship. If you must send an invitation to someone you’ve never met, give them a reason to accept. Include a message introducing yourself and explaining why you want to connect and how it might benefit them.

Focus on earning followers and connections by posting valuable content. Will it take longer to build your numbers? Absolutely, but those who do follow you or connect with you will be more valuable, doing so out of a genuine interest in your content, rather than from a knee-jerk follow-back reaction.

2 – Don’t tag people for no reason

On most platforms, when you post a message you can include another user’s handle or username. They then receive a notification that they’ve been tagged or mentioned. You might do this because your post originated with them or refers to them. Or you may tag someone because you sincerely believe the post will interest them and you want to draw them into the conversation.

Don’t tag people just to get their attention in the hope they’ll follow you or share your post. If you tag someone, make it plain in your comments why you’re tagging them.

Recently, someone used my Twitter handle in one of their posts, thanking me. How nice! Except … I had had no previous contact with this person. I wasn’t following them and they weren’t following me. I had nothing to do with what they posted, nor had I ever expressed any interest in it. They tagged me – apparently – simply to get me to follow them. It didn’t work.

3 – Don’t misuse direct messages

Imagine you have just met someone at a conference and exchanged business cards. A few minutes later you receive an automated phone call prompting you to buy their products. Would you appreciate it? Probably not.

Twitter and LinkedIn – as well as many other platforms – allow you to send private messages to your contacts. There can be many legitimate reason for these. Perhaps you want to set up a meeting. Maybe you’re exchanging contact information and you don’t want to make it public. Some people, however, use this facility to send automatically generated messages trying to get the recipient to subscribe to their newsletter, read their blog, or buy their products.

Like automated phone calls, these messages are simply annoying. If you send a direct message, take the time to write it yourself. Make it personal. You’ll be more likely to get a response.

4 – Don’t expect everyone to agree with you

You have an opinion on an important subject, perhaps something related to your business, or maybe some current social or political topic burning up the airways. If it’s the latter, your business social media stream probably isn’t the best place to discuss it. But even if it’s the former – directly related to your business – you need to be careful how you address it.

Don’t expect everyone to agree with you, and don’t resort to insults, threats, or other abuse to get your point across. Doing so just makes you look immature and ignorant. And who wants to do business with someone like that?

Keep your online conversations respectful and professional. Disagree without being disagreeable.

5 – Don’t spam your followers

Look at the social media streams of some people and all you’ll find is post after post hawking their services. While it’s fine to use these platforms to promote your business – that’s one of the main reasons for their existence – if that’s all you do you’re not giving people a reason to follow you.

How much of your content should be promotional? The 80/20 rule is a good place to start. 80% of your posts should be value content – content that informs, educates, and engages – while 20% should promote your brand or business. And if you can make that 20% engaging as well, so much the better.

6 – Don’t dox people

Doxxing is the practice of publishing someone’s personal information online without their consent. Besides being illegal in some jurisdictions, it’s downright rude. People value their privacy and if they wanted to post their home address, phone number, and other personal information online, they would.

If you dox someone, don’t be surprised if you discover business prospects no longer trust you.

Use your power wisely

Social media can be a powerful business tool, but using it properly takes time. It can be tempting to take shortcuts, and in some cases it makes sense. You may manage to increase your number of followers or gain new clients. But take the wrong shortcuts and you risk alienating the very people you’re trying to attract. Good manners, on the other hand, may slow the process, but you’ll form stronger relationships and, in the long run, be further ahead.

At LightningStrike Studios, one of the services we offer is managing your social media presence. When we do so, we’re careful to avoid tactics that could undermine your reputation and make you look like a social media jerk. If you’d like us to help you manage your online presence, contact us.

5 Ways To Keep Your Website Safe

5 Ways To Keep Your Website Safe
Gerd Altmann / Silvia

You put a lot of work into building your web site, making it look and perform exactly as you wish. The last thing you need is for some miscreant to deface it, take it down, or take it over. To prevent that, you need to be proactive.

1 – Strong Passwords Matter

Your first line of defense is a strong, unique password. WordPress generates complex random passwords for you, but many people choose to use something easier to remember. Worse, they often use the same password across multiple sites. Sure, it can be tempting to use something like Rover2018 as your default password for all your accounts. It’s easy to remember, easy to type … and easy for hackers to exploit. In fact, hackers count on this behavior.

In recent years, cybercriminals have captured millions of passwords from a number of popular sites including LinkedIn, Equifax, and Yahoo. Thus armed, they try those same passwords on other sites. So if you use a password on one site, and that site is later compromised, hackers may try using that same password to access other sites, including yours.

WordPress is, by far, the most popular Content Management System in use today – according to W3Techs, more than 30% of all websites run on WordPress – so we’ll focus our discussion on WordPress, although the principles apply to whatever system you use.

Does a variation of a standard password help? Not really. Hackers know that if you used Rover2017 last year, you’re likely to use Rover2018 this year. They know that if you use LinkedIn12345 as your password for LinkedIn, you’re likely to use Facebook12345 as your password for Facebook.

Of course, cybercriminals don’t sit at a keyboard and manually type passwords. Instead, they use programs that run complex algorithms to do the work for them. These programs, often running on sites the hackers have already compromised, attempt to break into other sites. Depending on how your site is configured, they may be able to try tens of thousands of passwords a minute.

So what should your password look like? A strong password is long – aim for at least 16 characters – and incorporates both upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols, all in a random order. Of course, no one wants to try to type or remember something like V33AOsT+N\iJyP57t-:S(L~zf every time they log into their site. Fortunately, with a good password manager, you don’t have to.

Password managers allow you to store all of your passwords in a database, secured with a single master password. You only have to remember that one master password to open the database, and then you can copy and paste the password you need, without having to retype it. Some managers will even enter the password for you when it determines which account you’re trying to access.

There’s a wide array of password managers available, both free and commercial. If you’re looking for a good, free solution, consider KeePassXC, available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Whatever system you use, just make sure to keep a backup of your password database. Of course, you regularly back up your computer anyway, don’t you?

2 – Keep Your Site Updated

In an ideal world, everything would just work and keep on working. There would be no need to update the software that runs your website. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. While the developers who create and maintain WordPress, its themes, and its plugins do an excellent job of making sure the software works the way it’s supposed to, occasionally bugs creep in. To counter this, the developers issue updates … so many updates.

By default, WordPress applies minor system and translation updates automatically. While it’s possible to configure WordPress to apply major updates as well, you shouldn’t. Instead, only apply major updates of the core WordPress system yourself, and only after taking some preliminary steps.

Make sure your site is fully backed up. (See the section Backup Your Files And Database below.)

Make sure that any plugins and themes to be updated are compatible with the latest version of WordPress.

If you’ve made any modifications to your theme, be sure to take note of them so you can re-apply them afterward, since updating the theme may overwrite them.

When you’re sure everything is ready, update WordPress, followed by your theme, then your plugins. After the updates are complete, examine your site carefully and make sure everything still looks right and works as it should.

3 – Use A Firewall

On its own, WordPress is remarkably secure, due in no small part to its open source nature. With hundreds of active developers and thousands of others examining the code, bugs and vulnerabilities are quickly found and corrected. Well, most of them. The occasional bug does manage to slip through, leaving a hole in your site’s armor. And there’s a never-ending hoard of hackers always probing your site, looking for those holes. To stave of that assault, you need a robust firewall.

As always, with WordPress you’ve got an array of options. One excellent choice is Wordfence, from Defiant. Installed and managed as a WordPress plugin, Wordfence keeps attackers at bay by:

  • Blocking brute force attacks
  • Blocking login attempts from known attackers
  • Scanning your site for known malware and suspicious activity
  • Repairing damaged files
  • Alerting you to available updates

For the most part, Wordfence is install and forget. However, the application includes a variety of monitoring tools that let you see – in real-time – who’s accessing your site. There’s something very satisfying about watching a storm of hacking attempts, knowing your firewall is keeping them out.

4 – Backup Your Files And Database

Even with strong passwords, regular updates, and an impenetrable firewall, your site can still fail. Bugs can sneak past the developers of WordPress, its themes, or its plugins; or into any of the multiple layers of software supporting your site. Any one of the countless hardware components on which your site resides can malfunction.

To recover from these eventualities you need a reliable backup. How you back up depends on your circumstances. How large is your site? How often do you make updates to your content, including your blogs?

In most cases, a plugin like UpdraftPlus will serve you well. It’s free option backs up your files and database to your own Dropbox account, Google Drive, or other locations, while, for a small fee, you can encrypt your backups and have them stored on UpdraftPlus’ own servers.

Assuming your hosting provider offers you the necessary access, you also have the option of backing up your site manually using tools like sFTP for the files and phpMyAdmin for the database.

Whatever option you choose, it’s important to periodically test your backups. Ideally you’d use your backup to create a temporary parallel site. Of course, that’s a lot of work and likely not practical for most people. Instead, periodically download your files and database exports from wherever your backup stores them, and examine them to be sure they’re complete.

5 – Get Help

WordPress makes it easy to maintain your website. It alerts you when updates are available and allows you to apply those updates with a couple of clicks. It’s an excellent system and it usually works well.

Every once in a while, however, bad plugins, conflicting plugins, or a broken theme can make your site – including the dashboard – inaccessible. When that happens, sometimes the only way to fix it is by editing your files and database directly, performing WordPress surgery. If that prospect seems a bit daunting, contact your web designer.

Any half-decent web design company will provide a maintenance agreement under which they’ll take care of all of your site maintenance – updates, security monitoring, and backups – for a modest annual fee.

Don’t Leave Your Site’s Safety To Chance

Considering all we’ve discussed, taking care of this on a regular basis may seem like a lot of work, and it is. Is it really worth it?

Figures vary, depending on who you ask and how they calculate their results, but estimates put the number of websites hacked at more than 30,000 every day. A recent survey of web developers found that 38.9% had seen their website compromised in the past 12 months. At the same time, those who are more experienced web developers are also the most concerned about security; they understand the dangers.

If your website is important to your business – or just important to you – don’t leave its safety to chance.

If you don’t have the time to create and maintain your own web site, contact us. We produce modern, responsive sites with compelling content, and then maintain them to keep them functional and safe.

Don’t Steal That File!

cyber criminal stealing a digitial file
Creating quality content takes time and effort. Don’t steal it! Give credit where credit is due and respect the creator’s copyright.
Original Photos: CC0 JuralMin and CC0 PIRO4D

Some people have the idea that everything on the Internet is free. They see a photo they like, they take it for their own site. Some text sounds good, they copy and paste it into their own blog. They hear a song they like, they use it in their video.

Is this OK? Or is it theft?

Standard disclaimer before we proceed … Don’t take this as legal advice. I am not a lawyer. I’m only sharing what I’ve learned through research and experience. If you need advice about a specific situation, talk to a qualified copyright attorney.

What Is Copyright

In general, anything you create – be it an application, a blog post, a drawing, a video, or a musical composition – is immediately covered by copyright. That is, you have the right to determine who may use your work and under what conditions. (The exception to this is a work-for-hire; unless you’ve agreed otherwise, when you are hired to create a work for someone else, they own the copyright, not you.) While you may affix the copyright symbol © (or ℗ for sound recordings) to the work, it isn’t mandatory; not having the symbol does not mean the work is not protected under copyright.

Depending on the jurisdiction, copyright typically spans the lifetime of the author, and some period thereafter. In Britain, for example, the entire Sherlock Holmes catalog by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been in the public domain since the end of 2000. However, in the U.S., only those works published prior to 1923 are in the public domain. Doyle’s Holmes stories published in 1923 and after are still protected by copyright.

Not everything you create is protected by copyright. Facts are not. Maybe you climbed Mount Everest and measured its height as 8,848 meters, and then published that figure in an article. Nothing prevents someone else from using that same figure without your permission.

Ideas are not protected by copyright. You may have a great idea for a movie about brave rebels fighting an evil empire that spans the galaxy. The fact that George Lucas used that idea for his Star Wars franchise doesn’t prevent you from taking a shot at producing a wholly original work based around the same premise. Nor does copyright prevent someone else from producing a work similar to your idea.

Fair Use

Copyright is not absolute. Others may be able to use your work in some way – referred to as fair use – without your permission and without violating your copyright.

Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs was not a copyright infringement of George Lucas’ Star Wars; it was parody, meant to exaggerate elements of Lucas’ story and take them to ridiculous extremes. Even a serious work may borrow from copyright material for the purpose of commentary or criticism. It would be near impossible to properly analyze another work without quoting from it to a degree. Quoting a few lines from a long poem may be permissible, while quoting the same number of lines from a short poem may be an infringement.

Granting A License

Various licensing systems have been devised to make sharing your work – or using someone else’s work – easier. These systems identify the work as protected, but clearly specify what you may and may not do with it without having to contact the original creator to ask permission.

One of the most popular licensing systems is Creative Commons.

Under this license you may grant a combination of permissions, allowing others to use your work in the way you specify.

  • Attribution: The original creator of the work must be credited in the way they specify, such as by name or by a link to their site.
  • ShareAlike: Others may share the work, but only under terms identical to those originally granted.
  • NoDerivs: The work may not be altered; it must be used unchanged and in whole.
  • NonCommercial: The work may be used for non-commercial purposes only.

The Creative Commons site also offers a great search feature that makes it easier to find content you can use without violating the creator’s copyright.

If you don’t want to restrict what other people do with works you’ve created you can always place your work in the public domain. Be aware, though, that once you release a work, either in the public domain or under a specific license, you may have little legal recourse to change the license or take back that work at a later date.

Getting What You Need

If you find a file online you want to use and there’s no indication of who owns it – there’s no copyright notice and no mention of a license – what should you do? Don’t assume the file is free to use; make an honest effort to find out who owns the copyright.

Begin by contacting the owner of the site where you found it. Of course, it’s possible the site owner just grabbed the file from somewhere else and doesn’t have any right to use it themselves, much less to grant that right to you. So rather than ask if you can use the file – to which they may respond, “Sure go ahead,” – ask if they know who the original copyright owner is. If you’re unable to track down the owner of the copyright and the file is not specifically shared under a license like Creative Commons, it’s best to move on.

If your use of a file requires attribution, be sure to provide it as requested, either by including the creator’s name or a link to their site somewhere in close proximity to the file.

Intellectual Property

Finding content you can use takes effort, especially if you have to track down and contact the legitimate copyright holder. If you’ve hired someone – to produce a video; build a web site; or write a white paper, brochure, or anything else – make sure they understand that whatever content they provide must be free of encumbrance. You don’t want the copyright holder coming to you later with a legal claim, demanding either removal of the work or monetary compensation.

Those who think intellectual property should be free likely have little intellectual property of their own. As a result, they don’t appreciate the effort that goes into creating content. Whether it’s the crown jewels, a car, or a file on the Internet, taking it without permission is theft.

It takes time to produce quality content. If you don’t have the time, contact us. With our network of associates, we’ve worked for artists, freelancers, and entrepreneurs across a range of fields, producing original content that gets results. Best of all, you own the copyright!