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I recently redesigned the monthly e-mail newsletter of one of our clients to be mobile-compatible, and am preparing to do so for another. Why? Well, according to email testing and analytics company Litmus, email open behavior has changed dramatically over the past four years. Between 2011 and 2014, the percentage of emails opened on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, increased from eight percent to about 50 percent. This represents 500% growth! That is a huge shift in behavior.

Managing email is one of the functions most commonly performed on mobile devices. When users encounter email that is not mobile friendly, they get frustrated and frequently delete it without reading, and may not even open future emails from you. This can kill your open and click-through rates, when what you really need is for your reader to open, read and find value in your email content. Optimizing email to facilitate an enjoyable and engaging experience on mobile devices has become crucial.

Here are six tips to keep in mind when designing email for mobile:

Provide a sneak-peek
Pre-header text provides a preview of the first few words of the email either behind or below the subject line that is visible on most mobile devices without opening the email. This allows the recipient to scan his emails and helps in deciding whether or not to open them. Intriguing pre-header text can spark higher open rates.

One size should fit all
Use a responsive or flexible design. Responsive means that the content automatically adjusts to fill the screen space available, be it a mobile device or a desktop unit. This is easily done by using a responsive or mobile-friendly template provided by third-party email services.

Eliminate scrolling around
Use a narrow (480 pixels), single column design. Multiple columns can be difficult to read for mobile users, especially if they have to scroll around to view all the information. Make sure you use a font size that is large enough that your reader doesn’t have to zoom in by pinching in and spread out in order to read your content.

Cater to goldfish (hint: they have short attention spans)
A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that people have an attention span of 8 seconds, which is 1 second less than that of a goldfish. Keep your content short, relevant and easy to follow. Use headings and bullets to break up large blocks of text. Readers “on the go” will be more likely to read content that’s brief and can be absorbed at a glance.

Let fingers do the walking
Make sure any buttons and links are easy to tap on a mobile touch screen. Make sure they are large enough, and don’t place links too close to each other. Keep in mind that users often hold their devise in one hand, with the thumb doing all the navigation. If you use a menu bar, keep the number of navigational links to a minimum.

Make it worth a thousand words
Images can be great for adding visual interest. But using too many or using large images can exasperate users with lengthy download times. Also, many mobile devices have automatic display of images turned off by default, leaving blank areas in the message. Use ALT text for any image you do use to provide context when images are blocked.

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In the spring 2015 issue of VantagePoint, the magazine of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives, Mike Ruzicka laid a great foundation for why and how associations should make video part of their communications strategy.

Ruzicka stated that one can use a smartphone or a tablet to shoot the video. I see this statement a lot and it got me thinking, “Can one make a decent video with a smartphone or tablet, GoPro-type camera or camcorder?”

Absolutely.

Current technology has made it easy for anyone to shoot and edit HD video. This is no slight to professional video companies. If you need to make a corporate/organization image video, spend the money — it’s worth it. However, you don't need to go to a studio every time you want to communicate with your audience.

What do you need to make a decent video? Note that I said “decent.” Professionalism is up to many variables like environment, lighting and ambient noise. Typically the problem isn’t the equipment you are using.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to make an engaging message for your organization. For a modest purchase of $30 and awareness of the following “Four Key Elements to Better Videos,” you will drastically improve the quality of your videos. I will also share some moderately priced investments that will improve them further.

1. Good audio makes for a good video
2. Environment and lighting
3. Equipment
4. Look at the lens

Good audio makes for a good video
Have you ever watched a video but could barely hear the person speak?
• The video was shot on a busy tradeshow floor or a noisy/windy spot outside
• The speaker was too far away from the camera
• The speaker sounds like he is speaking in an empty warehouse

“Wait, the most important thing for making a good video is ... audio?” Yes. Your audience might forgive dim, harsh or otherwise “bad” lighting, but they won't forgive bad audio. I’ll prove it: Many people multitask while “watching” TV or a webinar.

Avoid using the device’s built-in microphone. These microphones are made to pick up everything around you: wind, a nearby loud-cell-phone-talker; everything. If you must use the built-in microphone, get close to the microphone and camera.

Improve your audio by being aware of the environment in which you are recording. Try to use a small office with “stuff” in it. A furnished room with chairs, couches, paintings, etc. will help your video sound less “echo-y.” Avoid large and sparsely decorated conference rooms.

Lighting
You don’t need expensive lighting to make a decent video. Use natural light when you can. You can even use desk lamps and reflect off of some foamcore or white tag board. Try to avoid harsh lighting and shadows on your face.

If budget allows, you can get a light kit for $150.00 and you look like you are in a studio!

Here’s a video with some great information about “making do” with what you have. The video was made a few years ago so it’s a bit dated on the equipment suggestions, but relevant on environment, lighting and sound. (Skip to 1:50)

Equipment
If you are using a smartphone or tablet, you can buy a plug-in lapel/lavalier microphone for about $30. An external microphone will help overcome echo and environmental noise you can’t control.

If you have the budget, you can get an HD camera with a microphone jack. Here you can use a wireless or plug-in microphone. There are all kinds of YouTube videos and blog articles on what kind of microphone you should use depending on the application. For sit-down or “roving reporter”-style interviews, you could use a shotgun or lapel mike. A good set up for the camera and microphone will set you back $800-$1,000.

If you are on a shoestring budget, you can use your earbuds’ built-in microphone. Hint: run the cord under your shirt to your first or second button. Frame the shot of your head and shoulders. Note that you’ll be limited on how far you can be away from the camera.

Look at the camera
We’ve all seen it. The eyes dart down, or stare just below the camera. The notes of the speaker are taped to the tripod or perhaps on an iPad just below the camera. It doesn’t look professional to read your notes.

If you are well-practiced at extemporaneous speech, or use a teleprompter, looking into the camera will be much easier. Pick three big points to make instead of covering a lot of detail. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Anyone can build an inexpensive teleprompter. A teleprompter will allow you to read (as long as you don’t sound like you are reading) your notes and look directly into the lens.

I made one out of foamcore, free scrap wood from a big box hardware store, a shadow box frame, and some black felt, all for about $10! If budget allows, you can buy one for $100-$200 (and much more) online.

Control what you can and “make do” with what you have
Being aware of the elements of a good video will help you improve your messaging and communications, instead of introducing distractions from it. Using a few tips here will encourage your audience to watch…and listen to your entire video and come away with the message you are trying to impart.

Video is an important part of marketing and communication. I am a bit of a DIY pragmatist. Do a bit more research on YouTube and Google to improve your skills, and use what you have to “make do.” However even a small budget will allow you to actually have an inexpensive “studio” with the elements and components shared here for about $1,000-1,200.

More resources:
10 Tricks to Make Amateur Video Look Professional (Skip to 2:47)
How-to: $35 DIY Teleprompter for LCD or iPad
Microphones & Audio Syncing Tutorial (Skip to 1:47)
Improving Video for Web Presentations (Skip to 1:50)

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With all the new platforms emerging as the latest and greatest new marketing channel, email strikes many as old-fashioned. Other digital venues such as social media and mobile marketing may be stealing the spotlight, but email continues to grow, as well.

One reason email is so effective is because it provides a more personal connection than other digital strategies. It takes the conversation about your association out of the public domain, off your website or social media channels, for example, and into a very personal space — the in-box.

According to Jason Hirschhorn, chief executive of the digital curator ReDef, email is a "great place to get in front of people who are interested in what you have to say. Email is a 40-year-old technology that is not going away for very good reasons — it’s the cockroach of the Internet.”

News on the web or delivered via social media channels can too easily get buried in news feeds and lost in continual scrolling. A message delivered via email remains in the in-box until some action is taken. We hope that action is to open eagerly and read the content with interest, clicking links to our website for further information and even sharing information contained in the message with friends and colleagues. Unfortunately, this is not always what happens.

Associations send regular newsletters as a benefit of membership, to keep members informed of association activity that may be of interest to them, as well as provide supplementary news and context that is relevant to them.

Members already have a natural connection to and interest in an association’s newsletter content. However, everyone’s inbox is overflowing. So, how do you set your message above the others to ensure it gets read?

Write effective subject lines so recipients open your messages. Many email services recommend against subject lines such as “Monthly Newsletter.” They suggest using this space to tease your top news. However, if readers know that your newsletter contains lots of relevant information that is of interest to them, that monthly newsletter may catch their eye right away.
Also, research shows that shorter subject lines, of fewer than 30-35 characters, result in higher open rates. Try different approaches and track your results to see what works best with your readers.

Write effective and creative headlines and subheadings. Your newsletter should be easy to navigate at a glance. Cater to skimmers (like me).

Consider how your message looks with images disabled. Because most people read email either on a device or by viewing it in their email’s preview screen, they won’t have images enabled. Design your newsletter to look professional even with blank boxes inserted where images should be. Images should not occupy overly large areas, especially near the top, and text should wrap neatly around those graphics.

All your images should also include “alt text,” which is the alternative text that appears when images aren’t loaded in an email. This can be done easily when using an email newsletter service such as Constant Contact.

Please also note that because use of email preview screens allows readers to read and review email without actually opening it, your readership may actually be quite a bit higher than your stated open rate.

Test. Your last step before publishing your newsletter should always be to send it to yourself as a test. Make sure it renders correctly, and check all links.

As with your friendly neighborhood cockroach, which has survived millions of years, through ice ages and nuclear war, email has demonstrated its staying power. Use the newer social marketing channels in conjunction with email, and the two can complement and strengthen each other. Encourage your readers to share your content by including social sharing buttons for key articles within your newsletter. And, including social follow buttons in your newsletter allows readers to easily follow you on those channels. Experiment to find a strong balance, and don’t give up your association’s monthly e-newsletter just yet.

Sources:
www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/resources/email-newsletters/nonprofit-email-newsletters
www.nytimes.com/2014/06/30/business/media/for-email-a-death-greatly-exaggerated.html?_r=1
http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/guide-creating-email-newsletters-ht

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ettiquette

I attended a baby shower this weekend at which guests were asked to pre-address their own thank you note envelopes. What? I may as well have been asked to write the thank you note, itself. In my book, this is tacky and a major etiquette no-no. If a guest has made an effort to show up at the shower and bring a present, the least the recipient can do is send a personalized thank you card.

Am I a correspondence snob? Probably. When it comes to business correspondence, there are a lot of us. Dozens of business etiquette resources and websites point to the same bothersome trend: that writers have gotten lazy. The days of hand-written letters, even printed business letters, are fading, replaced by email and further degraded by phone texts.

To set you, the sender apart, I suggest the following email tips culled from my own experience and some pretty awesome etiquette websites.

  1. Include a courteous greeting and closing. It’s just a nice thing to do.
  2. “Please” and “thank you” are common courtesies that will take you far.
  3. Initially, address your recipient formally: Dear Mr. Pitt, Hello Ms. Jolie. Use first names after a few interactions.
  4. Know your fields: The “to” field is for those from whom you would like a response. The “cc” field is for those who you are just FYI'ing.
  5. When replying to an email with multiple recipients noted in the “to” or “cc” fields, remove the addresses of those who your reply does not apply to.
  6. Refrain from using the “Reply to All” feature to give your opinion to those who may not be interested.
  7. To be safe, don’t complete the “to” field until you’ve completely written and reviewed your message and are ready to send. How many times have you accidentally hit the “send” button prematurely? “Doh!”
  8. Take the time to review each email to ensure the message is clear and cannot be misconstrued. Check your tone.
  9. Refrain from using too many exclamation points. It’s annoying. This is a good rule for any writing – electronic or otherwise.
  10. If your email is emotionally charged, take a break before you send it. Nine times out of ten, you’ll feel differently in the morning. It’s for the best.
  11. Just because someone doesn't ask for a response doesn't mean you ignore them. Always acknowledge emails from those you know in a timely manner. And if you cannot respond to an email promptly, at the very least email back confirming your receipt and when the sender can expect your response.
  12. Keep emails brief and to the point. Don’t lose your message in a sea of filler.
  13. In a string of emails, feel free to modify the “Subject” field to more accurately reflect a conversation's direction.
  14. When in doubt, go formal. No abbreviations — use full words and sentences (you, not “u”).
  15. And for goodness sake, no crazy fonts or fancy backgrounds.

Lastly, if you need to clarify your message, don’t forget the telephone. I know it’s a scary thing to actually talk to people. Maybe my next blog will focus on the lost art of conversation . . .

 

Sources:
businessemailetiquette.com
www.netmanners.com
101emailetiquettetips.com

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webinars

Webinars are great for connecting with existing members or prospects. It can be a simple PowerPoint or a multifaceted Prezi with videos and live webcam feeds. I’ve co-paneled and hosted several webinars in conjunction with our client associations and put together some pointers that I believe will help make your next webinar a success.

1) Determine a topic that would be worth taking time away from work to watch.
Just because you can host a webinar on any issue or topic doesn’t mean you should. If you simply put together a few slides and read from a script to promote yourself, you won’t find many attendees. A great webinar will cover an important issue that many deal with. It should be educational, builds off the introductory slides, and benefits those attending. Don’t sell hammers – sell hanging pictures.

2) Practice.
A dry run is always recommended, especially if you’re co-paneling with someone else. Get name pronunciations down, pacing, who controls the slides, etc. It makes the webinar run far smoother.

3) Sign-on 20-30 minutes early.
Even with practice, there’s always the chance that technical difficulties or issues will arise. (As they usually do.) Plan on being signed on and ready to go at least 20 minutes in advance so you can work out the bugs and be ready for go-time.

mute-button4) Typed questions only.
A chat window allows attendees to ask questions throughout the webinar that you can return to at the end. If you have another person with you, they can answer questions while you continue with the presentation

That said, restrict it to typed questions only. An open mic results in attendees who aren’t familiar with the mute button, and I have listened to someone eat during a webinar. It’s not pleasant.

5) Always have a follow-up plan.
After the webinar, debrief on how it went and what the next steps are. You have a list of those who registered and attended — make sure you follow up. It can be a quick thank you email, or link to references made during the presentation, or even a recording of the webinar for future playback.

 

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