How to Write a SMART Goal [+ Free SMART Goal Template]

There’s almost nothing more gratifying than the feeling you get when you accomplish a goal.

Whether you’re pressing “Publish” on a blog post or collecting initial analytics on a campaign months in the making, it’s undeniably satisfying to know you’ve successfully finished a task.

When you’re not chasing a clear goal, though, work can feel like a never-ending grind. Without goals, you’re setting yourself up to feel like the work you’re doing isn’t enough — or, worse, you position yourself to do work that doesn’t actually impact your company’s bottom line.

Making your goals SMART is an effective method for clarifying your motivations, setting a clear direction for you and your team members, and ensuring you’re able to celebrate the wins when they come along.

To help you write SMART goals, we’ve created a free template with all the tools needed to get you started. But first — what exactly is a SMART goal, and how does it differ from a regular goal?

What is a SMART goal?

The letters of SMART stand for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

The SMART acronym is a framework that will enable you to write goals that drive greater impact. Write goals with each of these aspects in mind, and you’ll be able to quantify how far you’ve come and how far you have left to go against your goal.

When you reach the milestone you articulated in your SMART goal, you’ll be able to celebrate knowing that you achieved something tangible and impactful.

To make the process of setting a SMART goal simple, we’ve created a free, downloadable SMART goal setting template. I’ll walk through the template as we discuss each aspect of a SMART goal, below.

I’d suggest downloading the template yourself to follow along throughout the rest of this blog post. Next, let’s dive into the importance of each aspect of the SMART acronym. 

What does each aspect of the SMART acronym actually mean?

While we run through the definition behind each aspect of the SMART framework, we’ll apply the framework to a real-world example as we go. You can download the template to follow along (input your starting goal in cell F8) or simply write your starting goal on a piece of paper.

Let’s start with a basic, non-SMART goal as our example — “I want to get more fit.”

1. Specific

Goal setting is often associated with striving toward our highest aspirations — and actually reaching those aspirations can seem daunting. Specificity helps us determine the path between where we are, and where we want to be.

“Getting more fit” is ambiguous. There are innumerable ways to get more fit, and everyone has their own definition of fitness — for instance, are you looking to lose weight? Perform more push-ups? Cut a minute off your mile time?

When a goal isn’t specific, there is no way to tell whether the actions you’re taking are going to help you achieve that goal. If your specific fitness goal is actually to increase the number of push-ups you can do at one time, following a running plan isn’t going to be very helpful in getting you to your true goal.

A specific goal is one that makes your next steps clear — or, at the very least, narrows down the potential next steps you might take.

To specify what we mean by “I want to get more fit,” I’ll alter our example goal to read, “I want to be able to do more push-ups.”

If you’re following along in the template, make your goal more specific and type it into the cell under Step 1.

2. Measurable

When a goal is measurable, you can easily track your progress. Typically, this means that a number will be attached to your goal.

A numerical goal is valuable for many reasons. In addition to giving you something to strive toward, you’ll be able to celebrate a victory when you reach the final benchmark.

If you say that you just want to do more push-ups”, for instance, does that mean that you want to be able to complete just one more push-up per session, or that you want to double the number of push-ups you can do overall? One goal will take a lot more time and dedication to achieve than the other.

Let’s say I can do ten push-ups in a row right now. To allow us to measure our progress against our final goal and know when we’ve reached a milestone, we’ll edit our push-ups goal to read, “I want to be able to do 25 push-ups in a row.”

3. Attainable

I’ve set some pretty lofty goals before — and if you’re reading this, you’re probably a self-motivated person, too.

Big aspirations are admirable, but it’s important to balance long-term goals with more achievable, short-term goals.

Setting attainable goals is all about looking at what you’ve done so far and adjusting your goals to be realistic relative to those benchmarks.

To consider the point in more concrete terms, think about business growth rates — if your company has been selling 2% more product each month for the past 12 months, aiming to sell 15% more product next month would be an unrealistic goal. Keep in mind that 2% growth is the status quo — so a good stretch goal might be selling 3 or 4% more product next month. Selling 4% more product would still be doubling your month-over-month growth.

Attainable goals are useful because they help you maintain momentum. It can be hugely discouraging to miss huge targets, whereas consistently making small gains will encourage you to continue delivering wins.

Each month, you’ll be aiming for the familiar satisfaction of hitting your target rather than dreading another seemingly major miss.

For instance, to make our example goal a bit more attainable, I’ll move the target from 25 push-ups to 20 push-ups. There’s still a significant amount of work required to get to where I want to be, but I’ll be able to celebrate a huge achievement — doubling the amount of push-ups I can do — and use that momentum and celebration to drive me to set a goal of doing 25 push-ups soon after I achieve my goal of 20.

Consider what you’ve done in the past in relation to the goal you’re in the process of setting, and adjust it accordingly.

4. Relevant

Relevant goals are ones that will help you move in the direction you truly desire. You can allocate your time to an infinite amount of activities, but which activities will actually push you closest to your ultimate goals?

It’s a common trap to feel like we’re being productive when we’re busy, even if our action isn’t creating a meaningful impact.

In the beginning, our example goal was to “get more fit.” To make sure our goal is relevant, we need to ask ourselves whether following through on this goal will really help us get to where we want to be.

In the case of our push-up goal, the answer is yes. Push-ups engage several muscle groups, including your back, arms, shoulders, and core, and doing a significant number consecutively can definitely elevate your heart rate. Therefore, executing on this goal will improve my muscular strength and perhaps even my cardiovascular strength, both of which are key elements to overall fitness.

Ask yourself whether the goal you’ve set is going to create real impact on your overarching targets, and adapt it or identify a way to track impact if the answer is currently no.

I’ll adjust our example goal to include its overarching purpose: “I want to be able to do 20 push-ups in a row to improve my overall muscular fitness.”

5. Time-bound

The final letter of the SMART acronym stands for time-bound. You should always aim to accomplish your goal within a specific time period. Adding in a time frame will not only motivate you to take steps every day toward your goal, but also allow you to track how much progress you’ve made against your goal versus the time that’s passed.

If I’m aiming to increase the number of push-ups I can do by ten in two months, I’m able to set a midpoint milestone of adding five push-ups in the first month. If a month passes and I’ve only increased the number by three, I’ll know I need to ramp up my efforts, re-evaluate my strategy for increasing my push-up strength, or adjust the time frame I initially chose.

Additionally, a time frame can help you chart your progress. I’ll make our example goal time-bound by saying, “I want to be able to do 20 consecutive push-ups two months from today to improve my overall muscular fitness.” Now, I have a goal that clarifies the path to where I want to be.

In the final tab of the SMART goals template, you’ll be able to document the roadblocks to achieving your goal that you anticipate, and make an action plan for overcoming those roadblocks to set you off on the right foot.

Download the Template

Before I made my goal SMART, it would’ve been easy for me to make excuses. It wasn’t clear how I’d measure whether I’d gotten fitter, or when I was going to check-in with myself to see whether I had.

With my new SMART goal, I have a clear target to aim for and metric for success. I can quickly evaluate whether I’m on pace with achieving my goal or behind, and I can celebrate the achievement when it does come because it’s a realistic metric that’s relevant to my ultimate goal.

 

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Author: Lucy Alexander

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How to Host a Twitter Chat That Connects with Your Audience

A Twitter chat, or TweetChat, is a virtual meeting or gathering of people on Twitter to discuss a common topic.

Companies like Cisco and FedEx have hosted their own TweetChats to engage with their audiences on a more personal level, and it’s a great inbound marketing tactic for your social media strategy.

For B2B companies, hosting TweetChats are an amazing way to get a better understanding of your fans, customers, and leads while also allowing you to grow your Twitter reach. But hosting a TweetChat also requires some thorough planning in order to be successful.

Below are eight steps you can take to plan a TweetChat for your business and ensure it’s a success.

How to Host a Twitter Chat

1. Monitor other chats and fill a void.

Before you even think about starting your own TweetChat, it’s important to take note of how other groups are conducting their chats. How do they interact with their followers? What are they discussing, and what types of questions are they asking? Monitoring other TweetChats will also allow you to refine your choice of topic for your own chat.

Try to identify a topic in your industry that is getting talked about a lot but hasn’t been represented yet in a formalized TweetChat. This is a great way to choose an appealing topic that generates interest from your target audience.

Once you’ve done this, attend a few Twitter chats that interest you and learn from what worked and what didn’t.

2. Determine your topic and make it the theme of your chat(s).

You may either decide that you want to run a one-time Twitter chat or that you’d like to host one every week. Either way, it’s important to have a common theme to guide your chat.

For example, FedEx’s TweetChats are always about some issue related to small business trends and issues.  They stay core to their focus throughout the chat and don’t segue to other issues that don’t relate to their core theme. Make sure that when you pick your topic, you stick with it throughout the chat. This keeps things focused and organized.

3. Choose your hashtag.

Now that you have your TweetChat topic/theme figured out, the next step is to pick a hashtag so people can follow your chat. You may want to use your corporate name in the chat, but it’s more important to make sure that the hashtag reflects what the chat is about.

People want to get a sense of what they’ll be participating in — be straightforward with them. And if you’re hosting a weekly chat based on a particular theme, consider making the hashtag more general so it can be used for future chats. For example,

4. Pick a date and time.

It’s important for you to choose the timing for your TweetChat based on what’s accessible to both you and your followers. Try to find a time that doesn’t conflict with another chat that may overlap with your specific topic.

For example, if you noticed that there is a #SocialMediaChat, you probably wouldn’t want to schedule your #FacebookChat to occur at the same time.

5. Create engaging questions for discussion.

Now that you have your topic, date, and time nailed down, think about the needs of your prospects and customers and what questions related to the topic they might want answers for. It’s important to create questions and discussion points ahead of time that you can use to help facilitate conversation during your chat.

For example, think about asking your followers which tactics they use, what’s the one biggest problem they face, or what they think will be a solution to an industry problem.  It’s important to make sure your questions can allow for some great engagement and interaction between your TweetChat attendees.

6. Bring in guest tweeters to help you host your chat.

If you want to make your TweetChat a “must-participate,” a great way to entice your followers is by asking an industry expert to join the chat from their personal account.

These guest tweeters can be from outside your company or they can be your business’ executives. Promoting that an industry expert will also be participating in your chat is a great way to add credibility to your chat and topic you’ll be discussing. It’s also a great way to encourage others to participate in your chat.

7. Promote your Twitter chat ahead of time.

After you have your chat organized and ready to go, it’s time to promote it!

Write a blog post about it, promote it to followers in other social networks, and tweet about the chat, its hashtag, and when it’s happening. Make sure people know that you’re organizing a TweetChat. If you want to attract key people in your industry to participate, go the extra mile and invite them personally, explaining how you think their insight on the topic would make for a truly valuable and engaging TweetChat.

8. Start your Twitter chat.

When the time comes, prepare to launch your Twitter chat. Confirm each host’s availability and be sure they have solid questions and topics to discuss.

Once you get started, it can’t hurt to have someone other than your host monitoring the discussion. This way, if you get a lot of tweet responses, you’ll be able to easily answer them with your team. It’s also helpful to have someone on board with community management knowledge incase the chat gets dull or is plagued by bad language, complaints about your company, or other unfortunate tweets. 

9. When the chat ends, continue to monitor the hashtag.

After you finish your chat, participants may still use your hashtag to engage in conversation, especially if you chose one that is more general. Make sure you’re still monitoring this discussion. It can help you identify followers who may be more qualified leads, and the discussion that sparks may even give you an idea for your next TweetChat!

10. Use highlights from your chat to promote future Twitter events. 

In step seven, we suggested that you should write a blog post to promote a chat. But, if you’ve already had one chat that gave solid insights and plan to have another, you could also write a blog post with the best quotes and tweets from the previous chat. Then note when and where readers can go to see future Twitter chats hosted by you or your brand.

This might be a great way to reach audiences that aren’t following you yet, and might make people feel like they missed out. If they do feel that way, they might want to attend the next chat. 

TweetChats can be a powerful tool for creating engagement and growing the reach of your Twitter account. These steps will help you on your way to becoming a TweetChat superstar.

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The Qualities of a Powerful Word-of-Mouth Marketing Strategy

Many businesses think that if their product or service is spectacular, it will speak for itself; they’ll need very little marketing effort for it to take off.

But in reality, any companies that seem to have achieved remarkable growth in this manner do indeed have phenomenal products. But it only appears to have been achieved with little or no marketing effort because their fame and fortune was won through word-of-mouth marketing.

Aside from the fact that the companies that benefit from word-of-mouth marketing appear to catapult from nothingness into fame and fortune, this marketing strategy is appealing because it is relatively inexpensive.

But successful word-of-mouth marketing takes work and serious marketing savvy, leveraging many components of inbound marketing like product marketing, content creation, and social media marketing.

If you’re trying to achieve success for your product or service with a word-of-mouth approach, make sure your campaign includes these qualities so you can effectively create buzz around your product from the ground up.

Need inspiration? Scroll down for a successful word of mouth marketing example.

Word of Mouth Marketing Strategy

Create personas to learn about your audience.

Create personas that exemplify who your target audience is. These should be ridiculously specific. You’ll have more luck inciting a ground-up movement if you speak to a very specific problem facing a niche demographic.

The more specific the problem, the more personal it is to your target audience. This means you’re the one solving a problem that strikes a chord with your audience, bringing you into their lives and inciting the passion necessary to create brand evangelists.

To be clear, this problem doesn’t need to be particularly emotional to be personal. You don’t have to solve deep-seated psychological issues that have been plaguing your customers since childhood.

Solving a personal problem simply means addressing something that is so specific to your audience, it’s easily overlooked by most people who can’t also relate to it in some way.

Know your product, service, company, and industry.

Know the ins and outs of your industry and your product/service like the back of your hand. This means getting your product marketing team, support staff, and engineers involved with your word-of-mouth marketing campaigns. Additionally, you need to really “get” your company and its mission statement. Have you established your brand’s position on the hard-hitting issues that are plaguing your industry? Do you know your competitors and their points of view on the questions and controversies that commonly arise?

Be poised to speak to literally any facet of your product, service, company, or industry that may arise from conversations with your prospects and customers. These are the traits of a thought leader; they are qualities that elicit the feeling of trust that is necessary to create word of mouth buzz. You’re asking people to put their reputation on the line for you, and there’s no way anyone will do so if they don’t trust you and know you are the best in your field.

Build a very close social media community.

This requires a deep understanding of your target audience (good thing you made those personas!) and how they like to communicate. What social networks are they using? You might find it’s not what you think. Do some research and figure out if a smaller, more niche social network like Quora appeals to your community more than, say, Facebook.

Building a close social media community relies on nuance, though. Establish the right voice to use; how do these folks like to be spoken to? What’s their sense of humor? Are they all business all the time, and want you to be straight to the point? Or are they there for some conversation? Monitoring and interacting with your social media community has to become a regular part of your life so you and your community are actually…well, friends. Their success should be intertwined with your success, and vice versa. This is how you build a following that will not just speak on your behalf, but also shout.

Identify community influencers.

If you’ve built a close social community, you know them well enough to know who among them are the influencers. But don’t forget to also look for influencers outside of your community.

There are influencers in the world that could benefit from what you have to offer, and it’s your job to introduce yourself to these people. Some common qualities of influencers are early adoption and large social media followings, and they are probably bloggers or creators of original content in some capacity and always on the front end of news. Get these people on your side, and use their reach to market your product or service.

Who influences your influencers?

Your influencers are independent thinkers, but they get their information somewhere. To which news outlets do they flock for information? Which publications do they read religiously? With what communities do they interact? What podcasts do they listen to?

Make sure you’re not only up to date on what these influencers are saying, but that you also market your brand to them and make connections within those communities. You should be a contributor or guest, and interact on a regular basis with these groups to get your brand the exposure it needs to create word-of-mouth buzz.

Don’t censor negative comments.

If you’re dedicated to word-of-mouth marketing, you need to be comfortable relinquishing control of the conversation around your brand. In word-of-mouth marketing, the whole point is getting people to talk about you. But they can say whatever they want to say, to whomever they choose.

You can, however, guide the conversation. First, make sure you don’t have any skeletons in your closet. Get ahead of any potentially bad PR by being the one to break bad news. You can also select the aspects of your product or service that you want to highlight, and promote those more heavily than others. But remember, people have a way of finding out the juicy details, so try to make sure the positive information outweighs the negative.

Consider leveraging exclusivity.

I just told you not to restrict people, and now I’m telling you to be exclusive. Sounds quite contradictory, doesn’t it? Let me explain.

Google+ was the most widely known example of leveraging the kind of exclusivity I’m talking about, but it can also be attributed to companies like Rue La La, Gilt Groupe, Spotify, and plenty of other invitation-only sites.

Consider not letting everyone use your product or service when it’s introduced. If you’re in beta (at a point where it’s usable enough to keep users around, of course) invite influencers and highly connected people in your community who will give you meaningful feedback.

They can then invite their community of influencers, and help it go viral. People want what they can’t have, so even if it’s out of curiosity, your product will be disseminated to a highly relevant audience. Plus, that audience will have received it from a family member, friend, or coworker that recommended it with their seal of approval.

Word of Mouth Marketing Example

GFuel, a sports drink company and HubSpot customer, wanted to amp up its marketing strategy. Because they had a number of happy customers, they leveraged them through a word-of-mouth strategy. After ordering the drink product four times, customers were encouraged to write an online review about the drink.

GFuel word of Mouth Campaign

After doing this, the brand’s Google My Business page went from four to 1,500 reviews and their score rose to a 4.9-star rating.

The Key to a Word of Mouth Marketing Campaign

The success of a word-of-mouth marketing strategy relies, ultimately, on having a great product or service–and frankly a great company–that people can get behind. Ask yourself: are people willing to stick their neck on the line for me? Are they willing to not just use the product or service I offer, but vehemently evangelize it to their friends, family, and coworkers? If you can’t say with 100% certainty that they will, get back to work on your product or service and shelf the word-of-mouth marketing approach until you’ve worked out the kinks that are shirking your confidence.

 

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How to Cultivate Psychological Safety for Your Team, According to Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson

Welcome to The Science Behind Success — a blog series that explores the best ways to help our brains perform better at work. With psychological research and interviews with leaders in the field, we’re showing you how psychology can help you overcome workplace obstacles and excel in your career. Because a little mindset change could go a long way.

Let’s start with a seemingly easy question — why do some workplace teams perform better than others?

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking, “A good team consists of people who feel their work is purposeful, and are motivated by similar rewards.”

Alternatively, perhaps you’re thinking, “A good team consists of people who are, simply put, good at their jobs.

In 2012, to answer this very question, Google launched an initiative known as “Project Aristotle”. They gathered Google’s top organizational psychologists, statisticians, and engineers, and asked them to study hundreds of teams at Google to figure out why some teams did remarkably better than others.

They considered the question from every angle — were the best teams made up of people with similar interests, motivations, or personalities? Or, maybe the best teams were a mix of introverts and extraverts? Alternatively, perhaps the best teams were simply a collection of people with the most impressive educational backgrounds?

Ultimately, Google found one norm was more critical than anything else for making a team work: a concept known as “psychological safety”.

You might’ve heard this term before. A simple Google search of “psychological safety” yields results from major publications, including The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, and Forbes.

However, it’s relatively new rise in popularity is credited, in part, to Amy Edmondson, who coined the term in her 1999 research study on workplace teams.

Here, I sat down with Edmondson, professor at Harvard Business School and author of the new book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth, to learn more about why psychological safety matters for business innovation, the risks involved in not having psychological safety, and how teams can increase psychological safety in their own workplaces, today.

But first, let’s explore how Edmondson discovered psychological safety in the first place.

Edmondson’s Accidental Encounter with Psychological Safety

In the mid-1990s, as a first-year doctoral student, Amy Edmondson set out to investigate whether high-performing medical teams made more or fewer mistakes than low-performing teams.

To conduct her research, Edmondson collected survey data to indicate whether teams were high-performing or low-performing, and then compared that data to statistics on which teams made the most mistakes. Simple, right?

However, when she put the data side-by-side, she noticed something puzzling: her highest-performing teams weren’t make the fewest mistakes, they were making the most.

How could that be possible?

Why were the best hospital teams messing up consistently, while the less powerful teams were making considerably less errors?

In her book, Edmondson describes one moment as a ‘eureka’ moment. “What if the better teams had a climate of openness,” she writes, “that made it easier to report and discuss error? The good teams, I suddenly thought, don’t make more mistakes; they report more.”

Since her initial findings, Edmondson has studied psychological safety across numerous companies, organizations, hospitals, and even government agencies. She’s a Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, and her TED Talk, “Building a psychologically safe workplace” has been watched over 350,000 times.

Before diving into my interview with Edmondson, it’s critical to note — psychological safety isn’t equivalent with kindness, as I’d originally suspected.

For instance, you might feel like your coworkers are incredibly nice to you. They ask about your weekend, remember your birthday, and even invite you for after-work drinks.

And yet, at meetings, maybe you still find it difficult to speak up. Perhaps you’re nervous you’ll look stupid or you’ve seen how closed-off your manager is to new ideas, so you figure, What’s the point?

When speaking with me, Edmondson described a psychologically safe work environment as “one in which people absolutely take seriously and believe that it will be without punishment, without negative consequences. That they’re able to speak up with work-relevant ideas, questions, concerns, mistakes, and problems.”

“Simply put, it’s an interpersonal environment where people believe their voice is welcome.”

Psychological safety is about creating a space where new ideas are both encouraged and expected. It’s about leaders who ask each of their employees for feedback and are truly receptive to the feedback they receive; and it’s about any employee, whether entry-level or senior executive, feeling supported to voice when they’ve made mistakes, knowing those mistakes could lead to innovation, not embarrassment.

Ultimately, psychological safety isn’t just a “nice to have” for team bonding and workplace culture — it’s a necessity for company growth and long-term success.

Next, let’s dive into Edmondson’s take on how you can enact psychological safety in the workplace, why it matters, and what might happen if you don’t.

Amy Edmondson’s Tips on Cultivating Psychological Safety

1. Recognize its importance to both innovation and growth.

There are some risks to not having psychological safety that are relatively obvious. For instance, your company might have a high turnover rate if employees are unhappy or don’t feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to the office.

But even more importantly, psychological safety is critical to innovation. As Edmondson told me, “Innovation happens in a psychologically safe environment, full stop. Without it, you’re at risk for failing to innovate, which won’t just jump out at you like, ‘Oh, there was a big failure.’ You know? It’s the innovation that didn’t happen that’s hard to see at the time.”

“But over time, the company becomes less relevant, less vital, in the marketplace because it didn’t innovate.”

Pixar is a prime example.

As Edmondson writes in her book, Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull “credits the studio’s success, in part, to candor … when candor is a part of workplace culture, people don’t feel silenced.”

But Catmull did more than encourage candor — he institutionalized it. For instance, he created a process called “Braintrust”, in which a small group meets every few months to assess a movie and provide feedback to the director. The iterative process forces employees to speak openly about what’s working in a movie, and what isn’t.

The Braintrust has rules — for instance, feedback must be about the project, not the person. The filmmaker can’t become defensive, or take criticism personally. And comments are merely suggestions — not prescriptions — and must come from a place of empathy.

Creating a safe space to iterate, share ideas, and brainstorm is critical, but it’s equally vital that the leader demonstrate psychologically safe behavior themselves. For instance, Catmull demonstrates honesty and humility in his own language, admitting, ” … early on, all our movies suck.”

By openly showing his employees he believes there’s plenty of room for improvement, Catmull makes it feel ridiculous not to share ideas.

In the early 1990’s, Pixar implemented a Braintrust during the creation of Toy Story. Due in part to the Braintrust, Toy Story became the highest grossing film of 1995.

2. Create structures and systems to encourage psychological safety, and show leaders how to model psychologically safe behavior.

I asked Edmondson whether she believed creating a psychologically safe environment requires structure and systems — like Pixar’s Braintrust — or whether it can be cultivated simply by encouraging leaders to remain open, receptive, and honest.

Edmondson told me your company needs both. “Leadership has the job of modeling behaviors that work, that matter, but also putting in place structures and systems that make it easier for people to bring their ideas forward, to bring their concerns forward. Ultimately, it’s really both. There’s the behavioral dimension of leadership that is very important and powerful in shaping others’ behaviors, but there’s also the wonderful structures and systems that make it just a little bit easier.”

Here are a few tips for leaders looking to adopt psychologically safe behavior:

  • Replace criticism with curiosity. If you believe your employee messed up, don’t assume you know why. State the negative behavior as an observation, and then ask them to explain to you why it happened. For instance, you might say, “I noticed you haven’t been hitting your deadlines over the past two weeks. I assume there are a few factors that are inhibiting your ability to get your work done. Can you walk me through what those are?” Additionally, don’t spend too much time on fault — instead, focus on resolution. Say something like, “I’d like to brainstorm a few solutions with you, if that’s okay. How can I best support you?”
  • Admit when you make a mistake. An employee is never going to speak up in meetings if he/she feels everyone else in the room is perfect. By admitting when you’ve made a mistake or misspoken, you’re allowing others in the room to do the same.
  • Ask for feedback from employees, and remain thankful for any feedback you receive. One of the easiest ways to create a psychologically safe environment is to ask your employees what you could be doing better to support them or make them feel open to sharing ideas and opinions — but if you shut them down when they try to give feedback, you’ll never create a psychologically safe space. Instead, take their feedback seriously. Write it down in a notebook or on your computer, consider strategies that might help you strengthen your leadership skills for the team, and respond, “Thank you so much for your feedback. I really appreciate it.”

Additionally, you might create structures and systems by providing rules and regulations to your meetings. For instance, if you’re conducting a brainstorm, there are various opportunities for you to mix up the format to achieve honesty and openness.

For example, you might ask your employees to write down their suggestions ahead-of-time, anonymously. Alternatively, maybe you pose a question before the meeting — “In today’s meeting, I’d like everyone to come with the answer to this question: ‘What’s one way we can improve our Facebook campaign before launch?'”

Ultimately, it’s critical you create a space in which employees feel safe sharing new ideas, even if those ideas go against your team’s status quo. If you don’t, you truly risk losing out on long-term growth for your team, and your company.

3. Measure psychological safety.

Psychological safety can vary team-to-team within an organization. In fact, Edmondson found the teams she studied in the hospital back in 1999 varied drastically in terms of their levels of psychological safety.

If you’re a senior executive, it might be difficult to determine where strengths and weaknesses lie in your organization in terms of psychological safety. It’s best, then, to measure it objectively.

To measure a team’s psychological safety, you might ask team members to take Edmondson’s survey, with questions like the following:

  1. When someone makes a mistake in this team, it is often held against him or her.
  2. In this team, it is easy to discuss difficult issues and problems.
  3. In this team, people are sometimes rejected for being different.
  4. It is completely safe to take a risk on this team.
  5. It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.

To measure her responses, Edmondson uses a seven-point Likert scale (from strongly agree to strongly disagree). For additional tools and resources, check out Edmondson’s tool kit, Is Yours a Learning Organization?

4. Make psychological safety a priority for your entire organization.

Now that we’ve explored the importance of psychological safety, and a few different methods to increase psychological safety in your own workplace, let’s dive into one final scenario: what might happen if you don’t practice psychological safety.

In Edmondson’s book, she describes a real-life scenario with Wells Fargo as a prime example of the risks you run as a company by not implementing psychological safety measures.

Here’s the gist: in 2015, Wells Fargo, a U.S. bank, encouraged employees to cross-sell a minimum of eight different financial service products to existing customers — they even had a slogan, “Going for GR8”.

While a great idea in theory, it was impractical — most Wells Fargo customers couldn’t afford the eight different products. However, leadership continued to push their employees. There was no space for openness or candor — leadership didn’t encourage or welcome feedback from their employees.

Instead, as Edmondson writes, people believed they’d be fired if they didn’t hit their quota.

So, ultimately, employees felt they needed to cross an ethical line. They began creating fake customers, or lying to customers to trick them into signing up for new products.

All of which is to say — having psychological safety isn’t just advantageous for long-term company growth. It’s also an absolutely critical component for ensuring you don’t run into major business failure.

Your boots-on-the-ground employees know your customers. They have perspectives and opinions you might not. Ultimately, it’s vital your leadership team create a space in which these employees feel safe and encouraged to bring forward their opinions, suggestions, and disagreements.

You’ll have a happier, healthier, more productive company as a result.

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It’s An Open Platform World. HubSpot’s Growing App Ecosystem Helps You Thrive In It.

At INBOUND this week, over 24,000 people have come together to learn how to deliver remarkable customer experiences in today’s digital environment. How do you coordinate marketing, sales, and service teams across your company to attract, engage, and delight your audience? How do you accelerate that virtuous cycle of word-of-mouth — or, word-of-keyboard, as the case may be — to win more customers and make them happier customers?

CDI-1

Increasingly, a key part of the answer is: an integrated ecosystem for your tech stack.

Software has eaten the world, as Marc Andreessen predicted eight years ago. Every company now uses a collection of cloud-based apps to run nearly every facet of their business. The term “tech stack” has entered everyday business conversations to describe these collections of tools.

And these stacks are growing, even in the SMB space. According to data from Blissfully, businesses with 101-250 employees have an average of 99 SaaS app subscriptions.

 

It’s not enough to have the wondrous capabilities all these different apps offer, especially if each is locked in their own silo. To run your business effectively and to give customers a coherent and compelling experience across all the different touchpoints they have with you, all these different apps need to work together.

This is why HubSpot is committed to building an open platform that can serve as a “hub” for the myriad apps across your business that all contribute to improving the customer experience. We want to make it easy for you to orchestrate these apps, to better serve your customers, and to help you grow better.

At the beginning of the year, we shared our progress on this mission from 2018 and celebrated the many new and growing partners in our app ecosystem. We’re excited to give you an update on our platform ecosystem so far this year…

Growth in App Partners and App Adoption

We now have over 300 app partners, based in over 30 countries, providing an incredible range of capabilities that you can plug into your HubSpot portal. Here is just a sample of the categories our partner ecosystem powers:

  • Event management
  • Employee advocacy programs
  • Account-based marketing tools
  • Call system integrations
  • Webinar production
  • SMS messaging
  • Accounting integrations
  • Interactive content
  • Loyalty program management
  • Influencer management
  • RFP response management
  • Content translation
  • Videoconferencing
  • Revenue forecasting
  • Data cleaning and de-duplication
  • Reputation and reviews management
  • Direct mail automation
  • Gift card delivery
  • Affiliate program management
  • … and so much more.

Even within these categories, our ecosystem includes a wide range of apps to provide choice and depth in these capabilities. For example, if you’re looking to implement world-class account-based marketing (ABM), you can leverage buyer intent data from G2, account-based ad targeting from Metadata.io, collaborative account mapping with OrgChartHub, coordinated account promotions in individual emails via Opensense and Sigstr, and dedicated ABM management solutions such as Engagio, Triblio, and Calibermind. All these apps can be integrated with the HubSpot platform as the common system of record.

App adoption is on the rise, as we’re seeing our customers taking advantage of the range of capabilities available in our ecosystem. Of our 64,000+ customers, 93% have installed at least one app or integration. On average, customers install five apps each, and some customers have more than 10 integrations. Across our entire user base, including those working with our free products, 700,000 apps have been installed.

A Brand New App Marketplace Built for Scale

We launched a brand new App Marketplace at INBOUND this week that makes it easier for HubSpot customers to find, understand, and install apps. (Read the announcement here.) With hundreds of app partners to choose from and rising customer appetite for integrations, the marketplace will be a powerful tool to help our customers optimize their processes and improve their customer experiences.

We want to make it easier for customers to find the right apps to grow their businesses and support “informed choice” — understanding the different features and pricing of several alternative products. Here’s what’s new:

HubSpot App Marketplace_v3

1. We’ve organized apps into more granular categories and subcategories, so it’s easier to find what you’re looking for.

2. Want to discover new apps that can help you grow better? We’ve added more collections of apps that are hand-curated for different types of business and users, such as:

3. We leveraged user feedback to help make app listings more helpful. App listing pages are now more robust, significantly expanding the information that app developers can publish in our marketplace. This means you can conveniently see all the important details about an app in one spot, like subscription requirements, shared data protocols, pricing, and demo videos.

Slack V2 (1)

4. For developers, the new app listing flow makes it easier than ever to create and list an app with HubSpot. If you’re an existing app partner, making updates to your app’s listing page has never been more frictionless. And now, your whole team can now access your tier status, install progress, and app listings all from one account — no more waiting for monthly emails.

App Listing Flow

The Most Popular Apps in Our Ecosystem Today

The advantage of a growing number of app partners is that you are more likely to find the one that meets your requirements, even if you’re looking for a solution that’s highly specialized. However, we also find it’s useful and interesting to see which apps are being widely adopted by HubSpot users, revealing trends about the capabilities many businesses are adding to their tech stacks.

Through July 2019, these were the top 20 most popular integrations in the HubSpot ecosystem:

  1. Gmail — email service
  2. Outlook Calendar — book meetings
  3. Zapier — integrations automation
  4. Facebook Ads — targeted social ads
  5. Google Calendar — time-management and scheduling
  6. Twitter — microblogging and social networking
  7. Mailchimp — email and marketing automation
  8. WordPress — free content management system
  9. LinkedIn — social network for professionals
  10. Facebook — social media and networking
  11. Slack — collaboration hub for work
  12. Google Search Console — website indexing and optimization
  13. HubSpot Video powered by Vidyard– create and manage videos
  14. Google Ads — online advertising
  15. SurveyMonkey — survey collection
  16. Databox — KPI dashboards
  17. Eventbrite — event management and ticketing
  18. Salesforce — CRM
  19. LinkedIn Ads — targeted social ads
  20. GoToWebinar — video conferencing

Many of those integrations were built by HubSpot to connect with apps that are already widely adopted, such as Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter. We also want to recognize the top 20 most popular integrations built by our app partners to highlight the broader set of capabilities in our ecosystem:

  1. Databox — KPI dashboards
  2. MagneticOne  — business card reader
  3. Automate.io — integrations automation
  4. Typeform — online form and survey-building
  5. Hotjar — heat mapping
  6. PandaDoc — docusigning
  7. Zendesk — support ticketing and customer service software
  8. Unbounce — landing page building
  9. Import2 Data Migration — data migration tool
  10. PieSync — integrations automation
  11. Intercom — customer messaging
  12. HelloSign — docusigning
  13. ManyChat — Facebook bot creation
  14. Klipfolio — business dashboards
  15. AdRoll — ecommerce marketing
  16. Teamwork Projects — team collaboration
  17. Instapage — landing pages
  18. Drift — chat software
  19. Wistia — video hosting
  20. Import2 Wizard — seamless data sync

There’s also our “rising stars” — the fastest growing apps by total net installs since January 1, 2018:

  1. Import2 Data Migration — data migration tool
  2. ManyChat — Facebook bot creation
  3. Typeform — online form and survey-building
  4. CRM Perks WordPress Plugin — form building
  5. Integromat — integrations automation
  6. Intercom — customer messaging
  7. OptinMonster — lead generation
  8. Leadfeeder — visitor tracking
  9. JotForm — form building
  10. Import2 Wizard — seamless data sync
  11. Better Proposals — proposal creation
  12. G-Accon — Google Sheets connector
  13. Insycle — data management
  14. OrgChartHub — organizational chart building
  15. Asana — project management
  16. Salesmsg — SMS and MMS messaging
  17. Neverbounce — Email data cleanup
  18. WooCommerce — ecommerce connector
  19. Setmore — appointment booking
  20. Autopilot — marketing automation

Congratulations to these app partners on their growing success. We’re happy that so many HubSpot customers are getting value from their solutions.

Want to Build Your Own App With HubSpot?

If you’re an app developer — or aspire to become one — we warmly invite you to join our platform ecosystem. Tens of thousands of HubSpot customers around the world are eager for new and innovative solutions that will help them manage, streamline, and integrate their business activities. And we’re committed to doing our very best to deliver an excellent experience to developers and customers to help them connect and grow better together.

Developers Website for Retro

As our CEO Brian Halligan said in our public earnings call last month:

“This year we’re adding fuel to the platform fire… Through our partners we’ll be able to do more and, our customers themselves will be able to do more. We’re just getting started here.”

Learn more at developers.hubspot.com.

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How to Create an Email Newsletter People Actually Read

For most marketers, this will sound familiar. You’re sitting around a conference room, trying to figure out how to best engage your leads and customers, sell more products, or just “stay top-of-mind” for your target audience, and someone decides there’s a solution that can solve all of those problems at once: an email newsletter!

Suddenly you’re “volunteered” to do it. And you’ve got make sure that open and clickthrough rates don’t dip. Oh, and the first one needs to go out tomorrow.

That sound good?

I’ve been in that situation before, and I was terrified. Even though e-newsletters are one of the most common types of emails to send, they are actually some of the hardest to do right

Want to ace your new email newsletter project, or rejuvenate an old one? Below are 10 things you need to make sure to do. And if you’re looking for some inspiration, here are some awesome email newsletter examples you can check out.

1. Evaluate whether or not you need an email newsletter.

I know it can be kind of scary pushing back on your boss about a project you’ve been handed, but if an email newsletter isn’t right for your marketing, you shouldn’t waste your time working on one.

To figure out what you need to do, first do some research. In your industry, are there successful email newsletters that people like to subscribe to? What’s in them? With the resources you have available to you — budget, time, and internal support — could you be successful? 

Then, re-examine your business’ goals. Are they trying to increase the number of leads? Better qualify leads to speak with salespeople? Close more deals? Retain more customers? 

If your industry isn’t really interested in email newsletters, or if your goals don’t line up with what a newsletter could accomplish, your time might be better spent creating something else like a lead nurturing email workflow or content for your blog.

So gather some data, create a plan-of-action (either for a successful newsletter or another activity), and go chat with your superior. Even if you disagree with his or her vision in doing an email newsletter, your boss will be glad you came prepared with a plan for success.

Okay, let’s say you’ve found that you should do an email newsletter. What next?

2. Figure out what kind of newsletter you want to send.

One of the biggest problems with email newsletters is that they’re often cluttered and unfocused because they’re supporting every aspect of your business. Product news goes right next to PR stories, blog posts go next to a random event week … it’s kind of a mess. Email — whether it’s a newsletter or not — needs one common thread to hold it together.

One way to help reduce the randomness of an email newsletter is by keeping it to one very specific topic. So instead of it being about your company in general, maybe it’s dedicated to one vertical.

An example of a great, topic-based email newsletter is BuzzFeed’s “This Week in Cats” newsletter. (Don’t judge … I recently adopted a kitten and I’ve become full-on obsessed with cats.) Though BuzzFeed writes about pretty much everything under the sun, they offer up one specific newsletter for people who love reading about cats. Because the niche is aligned with a specific interest, the articles have an opportunity to get way more engagement than they would in a newsletter featuring content from all over the website.

buzzfeed-cat-newsletter

3. Balance your newsletter content to be 90% educational and 10% promotional.

Chances are, your email newsletter subscribers don’t want to hear about your products and services 100% of the time. While they may love you and want to hear from you, there’s only so much shilling you can do before they tune out.

Case in point: I have a thing for shoes, and I especially love this one shoe site. I willingly opted in to the company’s email list, but it now sends me emails 2-3 times a day to buy, buy, buy … and when I see it’s sender name pop up in my inbox, I want to scream. If they sent me educational content — maybe about the latest styles of shoes, or how to pair certain styles with certain outfits — I might be more inclined to buy from them, or at least start opening their emails again.

Don’t be that company. In your email newsletters, get rid of the self-promotion (most of the time) and focus on sending your subscribers educational, relevant, timely information. Unless you actually have an exciting, big piece of news about your product, service, or company, leave out the promotional parts.

4. Set expectations on your “Subscribe” page.

Once you’ve figured out your newsletter’s focus and content balance, make sure you’re properly communicating about them on your subscribe landing page. 

Get specific. Tell potential subscribers exactly what will be in the newsletter as well as how often they should expect to hear from you. Take a page out of SmartBrief’s book: On the subscribe landing page, it says what’ll be in the newsletter and gives potential subscribers a preview link. Check it out:

Smart_Brief_Subscription_page

As a subscriber, wouldn’t that be awesome? You’d go in with open eyes knowing exactly who you’ll be receiving email from, what they’ll be sending you, and how often they’ll be sending it. As a marketer, having this information up front will help diminish your unsubscribe and spam rates as well. 

5. Get creative with email subject lines.

Even if your subscribers sign up for your emails, there’s no guarantee that they will open your emails once they get them in their inbox. Many marketers try increasing familiarity with their subscribers by keeping the subject line the same each day, week, or month that they send it.

But let’s face it, those subject lines get old for subscribers — and fast. Why? Because there’s no incentive from the subject line to click on that specific email right this instant. A better approach would be to try to have a different, creative, engaging subject line for each newsletter you send.

One company who does this really well is Thrillist. Here’s a collection of email newsletters I’ve received recently:

Thrillist_Newsletter_subject_lines_in_Inbox_Example

I’ve opened every single one of these because of the company’s subject lines. Even though I know that these emails are coming in my inbox every morning, the subject lines are what entice me to click.

If you need help with your email newsletter subject lines, check out this recipe.

6. Pick one primary call-to-action.

Okay, part of what makes a newsletter a newsletter is that you’re featuring multiple pieces of content with multiple calls-to-action (CTAs). But, that doesn’t mean you should let those CTAs share equal prominence. 

Instead, let there be one head honcho CTA — just one main thing that you would like your subscribers to do. The rest of the CTAs should be “in-case-you-have-time” options. Whether it’s simply to click through to see a blog post or just to forward the email to a friend, make it super simple for your subscribers to know what you want them to do.

Check out Second Glass‘ email newsletter below, which was promoting their most recent Wine Riot event in Boston. It’s colorful and chock-full of information … but it’s also pretty obvious what they want you to do: purchase tickets for the event. By placing this CTA above all the other pieces of information, Second Glass increases the chance that their email recipients will click on it.

wine_riot_emai_with_consistent_ctas

7. Keep design and copy minimal.

Like we said before, a newsletter can easily feel cluttered because of its nature. The trick for email marketers to look uncluttered revolves around two things: concise copy and enough white space in the design.

Concise copy is key — because you don’t actually want to have your subscribers hang out and read your email all day. You want to send them elsewhere (your website or blog, for instance) to actually consume the whole piece of content. Concise copy gives your subscribers a taste of your content — just enough that they want to click and learn more.

White space is key in email newsletters because it helps visually alleviate the cluttered feel, and on mobile, makes it much easier for people to click the right link.

Look to Tom Fishburne’s blog post newsletters to see how this should be done. The main blog post has one large comic, a few small paragraphs of introduction, and a link. The rest of the newsletter components are smaller and more visual, making the whole design feel uncluttered an easy to read.

marketoonist's minimally designed email newsletter

8. Make sure images have alt text.

Given that visual content is incredibly important to the rest of your marketing activities, it’d make sense that you’d want to include them in your emails … right?

Right. But email’s a little bit trickier. Most of the time, people won’t have images enabled, so you’ve got to make sure your images have one essential component: alt text. Alt text is the alternative text that appears when images aren’t loaded in an email. This is especially important if your CTAs are images — you want to make sure people are clicking even without the image enabled.

Each email marketing program is different, but here is one tutorial for adding alt text to email.

9. Make it easy for people to unsubscribe.

This seems kinda counter-intuitive, but it’s key if you want to maintain an active, engaged subscriber list. Don’t use weird language like “Alter your communication with us.” Don’t hide an unsubscribe button behind an image without alt text. Besides keeping your list healthy, having a clear unsubscribe process will help ensure your email isn’t marked SPAM before it hits the rest of your list’s inbox.

Take a look at charity: water’s newsletter below to see how to do this right. The link to unsubscribe is bolded and capitalized, making it really easy for you to take action on it (if you wanted). No footer hunting required to uncover where the heck you can change your email settings.

charity_water_newsletter_with_clearly_visible_unsubscribe_options

10. Test, test, test.

I know I just listed out nine things you should do to make sure you’re doing email newsletters right, but you’ve also got to find out what works for your company and your list. Just like different cultures of people prefer different things, different groups of email subscribers prefer different things.

So use these email newsletter best practices as a jumping off point … and then experiment to find your secret sauce. Here are a few things you can try:

Short, Funny Subject Lines

All of your subject lines should be on the short side. (They work better that way.) But have you ever tried infusing a little humor into your copy? It could put a smile on your recipients’ faces — and potentially improve your open and clickthrough rates. Below’s a really cute subject line example from Airbnb:

Airbnb email newsletter with funny

CTA Copy & Design

Maybe your readers like loud, bright colors on your CTA — or maybe drab, bland ones are the way to go. Maybe they prefer really fun, excitable, action-oriented copy — or maybe a simple “click here” works. Definitely test out your CTA language and copy to see what resonates. 

As a good example to follow, Litmus has a ton of CTAs in their email newsletter, but the way that they use color and copy makes them seem very natural and easy-to-read.

Litmus email with strong CTA and body copy design

No Images

Most of the emails featured in this post have lots of gorgeous, compelling images … but that doesn’t mean you need them in your emails. Try stripping away images in favor of seriously well-written copy.

Below is a great example of a plain text email with excellent copy from Maple Jeans. I especially love the P.S. bits toward the end. They increase the spacing between the different CTAs, making it even easier to click on mobile and giving the whole email a less promotional feel. Plain-Text-Marketing-Post-Email_from_MapleJeans

Source: ReallyGoodEmails

Mobile Version

More and more people are surfing the web and checking their emails on mobile devices, so you should make sure that whatever design you work with is both visually pleasing and functional. This will ensure that your mobile email is engaging to both desktop and mobile users. 

Want to learn more about this? Here’s a detailed guide that walks you through how to optimize your email for mobile devices.

Sender Name

Last but certainly not least is an example from my colleagues running our INBOUND conference. Recently, to alert INBOUND attendees of a special ticket sale, they sent an email from Romeo, our CEO’s dog, in honor of the Boston Red Sox’s season home opener. And it worked: the email received 7% more opens and 2% more clicks than typical INBOUND emails sent. Even if your CEO doesn’t have a dog, running a sender name test could be very worthwhile.

HubSpot email with sender name personalization

Putting Together Your Newsletter

Once you’re ready to put together your newsletter, be sure to follow the above steps. You should also keep a few major things in mind, regardless of your newsletter’s formatting:

  • Keep things short and sweet. Don’t overwhelm people with too much text or imagery. Level things out. Even if you choose a photo-less newsletter, keep your message quick and to the point so the email cuts to the chase and grabs attention the whole time.
  • Make your content valuable. No one wants to open an email with a bunch of advertisements in it. So, include gems of wisdom, tips, and helpful blog posts along the way so the reader feels like they’re actually learning something. This will make the subscription feel much more valuable to them. 
  • Always test your emails. It’s embarrassing when a link doesn’t work or a design aspect looks wonky. So be sure to send test emails to yourself and a colleague who can give you helpful feedback. Check them on both a computer and a smartphone inbox so you can confirm that both the mobile and desktop designs look good. 

Want to start designing but aren’t sure how? Use a template! Check out our long list of effective email templates that are free or very affordable. 

 
Free Download Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing

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How 19 Brands are Using Instagram Stories

According to Instagram, one-third of the platform’s most-viewed Stories are from businesses.

Why could this be? As people are increasingly using social media to research prospective purchases, Instagram Stories serves as an outlet for brands to creatively show their products, services, or happy customers in action.

Branded Instagram Stories also enable audiences to learn more about topics related to your brand’s industry. Helpful and valuable content might also allow prospective buyers to trust your brand more.

And as video marketing becomes more and more prominent, the same benefits could exist for visual storytellers on platforms like Instagram.

If you’re not a natural storyteller and haven’t done any visual marketing before, the idea of this creative strategy can seem intimidating or tricky.

Luckily, Instagram, which is booming with brand activity, has a helpful and easy-to-use Stories feature that allows influencers, individuals, and brands to easily tell stories with images, videos, interactive elements, and basic effects. Because the platform is so fast-paced, engaging stories don’t even have to be that long or time-consuming.

If you’ve been on Instagram for a while now, you’re probably more than familiar with its Stories feature. But if you’re new to the platform, here’s a quick explanation of Stories:

While an individual might use a Story to show photos or videos from a vacation, work, or other aspects of their daily life, brands often use this feature to highlight photo or video content about their product, brand, or a topic related to their industry. By doing this, the brand might entertain and gain awareness from Instagrammers who enjoy tapping through random Stories.

To make your content even more interesting, you can also add GIF stickers, text overlays, filters, and interactive features — like polls and quizzes — to Stories after you upload or shoot them. You can also optimize your Story by adding text overlays with relevant hashtags or by adding handles of users that are affiliated with the content.

Whether you’re new to the app or a pro, you might be wondering where to start when it comes to using this feature for your brand. You might also worry that this strategy could be expensive, time-consuming, or require graphic design skills.

The truth is, creating Instagram Stories can actually be pretty simple and fun for your social media managers. Because Instagram offers a variety of unique effects and features, you can also do a lot of your story editing in the app itself.

To help you plan your Instagram Story strategy, we’ve compiled a list of 19 brands that have mastered the app feature. Although the brands on this list are larger companies, all of them have strategies that could be easily scaled to fit the marketing budget of smaller companies.

19 Brands Using Instagram Stories

LEGO

While LEGO commercials and other branding material might be more targeted to children, its Instagram approach is targeted to older audiences that will buy the product. These audiences could include young adults that love puzzle projects, or parents that might buy a set for their children.

LEGO’s Instagram primarily highlights works of art made with their products. While this might be interesting for younger people on Instagram, it could also be fascinating to older people who used to play with LEGOs and might want to buy them for their children.

LEGO adds to these Stories with interactive polls and quizzes. In a recent Story celebrating Harley Davidson, they showed a LEGO replica of a motorcycle and included a quiz that asked, “How many LEGO elements are in this life-size Harley?” This is a great example of how a brand can use a relevant quiz to engage people in an interesting way.

LEGO Instagram Story

LEGO’s Instagram is a great example of how a brand that sells a product primarily to one age group can adjust its content for social platforms that host audiences from other generations. While they’re still on brand and hone in on LEGO nostalgia, they do a great job of creating interactive content specifically for the young adults on the platform.

NASA

NASA leverages beautiful space imagery, pictures of cool gadgets they work with, and interesting space discovery news to create Stories that speak to science lovers. On any given day, you might see a Story about a new planet, polls related to space travel, or quick historical fun facts.

NASA’s style is surprisingly casual and easy to comprehend. Although the organization’s content discusses complex topics like space, science, and technology, its Stories do a great job at cutting to the chase by explaining what’s interesting or newsworthy in a way that’s understandable to those without science degrees.

To pull in viewers, NASA begins Stories with an interactive element or text that summarizes the topic they’ll discuss. Here are two pages they used to kick off different Story editions:

NASA Instagram Story

Takeaways

NASA’s strategy of grabbing audiences with quick, understandable, and interesting information can be key on many fast-paced social media platforms where people merely glance at a post or tap quickly through a Story before moving on to the next interesting piece of content.

When it comes to their overall approach, NASA does a great job at leveraging the strong content and information it has readily available to create unique Stories about space. While some brands might need to get super creative and brainstorm Story content from scratch, NASA recognized that its photo and video content would align well with Instagram Stories.

If you’re part of a smaller brand that has highly visual products or content, you might want to prioritize visual social platforms like NASA has done. Not only will it be easier for you to leverage visual content that you’re already creating, but you’ll have a leg up on brands that aren’t as visual.

Additionally, while some people might be intimidated by scientific discussions, they might still follow NASA because the brand publishes jargon-free stories that simply explain need-to-know details about complex topics. if you have a highly technical or complicated product or service, take a page from NASA’s book and use Stories as a chance to be more accessible to your audience.

MIT Technology Review

MIT Technology Review’s Instagram content isn’t only for academics and science experts. The publication actually does a great job of creating and telling stories most of the Instagram’s audiences can understand.

One of the publication’s Instagram Story strategies involves taking long-form pieces of content and abridging them for the platform. Because MIT Tech Review is verified with over 10,000 followers, it’s able to include “swipe ups” in Stories. A swipe up is a CTA that says something like, “Swipe up” or “Read more.” When a viewer sees it, they can swipe their finger upward to see a page or article from the publisher’s website.

If you can include swipe ups, this tactic is both creative and might be helpful for boosting traffic to full stories. Users might read an interesting, but short, Story — like the one below about 2019 technology fails — and want to swipe up to see a full long-form article.

MIT Tech Review Instagram Story

Takeaways

While NASA leverages its exclusive visuals, MIT Tech Review similarly leverages its readily available editorial content. Rather than writing seperate news content for Instagram Stories, they adapt pre-written articles that they think will be interesting to Instagram readers.

This abridged-content strategy could be excellent for publishers or brands that regularly blog. If a brand can’t link Stories to their website just yet, they could still create a shortened version of a blog post and alternatively include a page that says the article’s link can be found in the Instagram account’s bio.

Harvard Business Review

The Harvard Business Review often centers Stories around management, professionalism, and career-life. Like the MIT Tech Review, it uses a casual tone of voice and similarly adapts long-form content into abridged Stories. However, one key difference is that HBR is a bit more interactive.

While HBR embraces Instagram’s poll, quiz, and other interactive Story features, it also gets creative by adding its own spin on interactivity to a story. In the example before, the publication shows users a burn-out checklist which they can screenshot and check off. The story then gives you advice for what to do if you checked any of the boxes.

Harvard Business Review Instagram Story

For readers that want to know more, they offer a swipe up to a long-form article on their website.

Takeaways

Although the name “Harvard” can sound intimidating, the publication’s Stories are easy for any reader to follow. This is a great example of how a brand can succeed by talking directly to the young, more casual audience of Instagram.

On top of an understandable and relatable tone, interactive elements like checklists, polls, and quizzes might make readers think more deeply about a topic than they had before. This might pull them into content because they want to learn more or dive deeper into a topic they were asked to vote on.

Even if you aren’t a publisher, doing something similar could be equally as beneficial to your content.

For example, if you’re running an Instagram account for an extermination company, you might start a story with a poll saying, “Do you know where bed bugs come from?” Then, you could tell a story of where they come from, how to prevent them, and how they can call an exterminator if their preventative measures don’t work.

People might tap through after taking the poll to see if they’re right about bed bug origins or because the question made them realize how worried they are about bed bugs.

America’s Test Kitchen

Like NASA, America’s Test Kitchen, a website and video blog with recipe content, doesn’t go too far off-brand with its Instagram Stories. While many of America’s Test Kitchen’s videos on other platforms show you how to make a recipe, the brand publishes behind-the-scenes kitchen videos and shots of ingredients to amp up audiences for upcoming recipe videos.

In a one Story, the Test Kitchen showed photographs and videos of bacon as chefs were testing out bacon recipes. The Story then offered up a poll that asked viewers how crispy they like their bacon.

America's Test Kitchen Instagram Story

Takeaways

While America’s Test Kitchen’s Story strategy is perfect for food publications, it could also be helpful for restaurants as well. When someone sees a video of a restaurant’s chef cooking a new dish, it might make them crave that meal and go to the restaurant to order it. Additionally, as prospective customers see chefs cooking thoroughly and with care, they might also trust that their food will be prepared well

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston uses Instagram Stories bring its current statues and paintings to life. While you might think that looking at pictures of 17th-century art might bore you, the MFA zests things up by partnering them with funny quotes, meme references, and polls.

For example, they recently presented multiple pictures of horse-related art accompanied with lyrics from the highly-memed song, “Old Town Road.”

Museum of Fine Arts Boston's Instagram Story

Takeaways

While the MFA is known for being prestigious and academic, it uses Instagram Stories like this to show that the brand can still be both humorous and hip.

This is an example of how a brand that could’ve been considered “dry” on Instagram thought outside the box to show off their product in a whole new way. While it can be beneficial to stay on brand if you align well with a platform, some companies or organizations, like museums or national parks, might want to experiment with odd new content strategies on fast-paced platforms like Instagram.

National Geographic

Aside from Instagram’s own account, National Geographic is the most-followed brand on the platform. Like its standard photo posts, the publisher experiments with a variety of different content styles.

While NatGeo’s Stories usually highlight mini-documentaries, they also occasionally include polls or quizzes. This is a good example of how mixing things up and experimenting with different content styles can keep your audiences on the edge wondering what type of content they might see next.

Like MIT and Harvard, National Geographic also occasionally abridges long-form content in order to promote an article or video that a viewer can swipe up to. In the example screenshotted below, they promote a video that discusses the history of NASA’s Apollo mission, while tagging NASA for some added Story optimization.

National Geographic thanks NASA in an Instagram Story

The brand has also dabbled with sponsored content. In one edition, sponsored by Barbie, they told the story of a female conservation photographer. This was an interesting example of a sponsorship which allowed National Geographic to tell a beautifully shot story about nature, while aligning with Barbie’s mission to encourage female empowerment.

National Geographic Partnered with Barbie for an Instagram Story

Takeaways

Like MIT Tech Review and NASA, National Geographic leverages the beautiful and exclusive imagery it already has to adapt interesting on-brand content for Instagram. This allows the company to use their resources in an economic way while also promoting long-form content that goes into more detail than the Story does.

While NatGeo does a great job of adapting content, it also experiments with partner content. When even small brands partner with other companies to create content, production can be more affordable, and launching the content could help both brands gain fans from the other’s base.

Outback Steakhouse

Like America’s Test Kitchen, the restaurant chain Outback Steakhouse leverages images of delicious food and polls to engage its Instagram Story audiences.

While some Stories feel like ads by discussing promos and deals, others feel more interactive and creative.

For example, in one recent Story, users were shown multiple Outback menu items for each dinner course, then they were asked to vote on which meal they wanted for each course. At the end of the Story, Outback noted a multicourse dinner deal they were offering. This is a great way of highlighting multiple products at once without making your audiences feel overwhelmed.

Outback Steakhouse uses poll tool in Instagram Story

Takeaways

If you can’t think of an idea for a Story with a more traditional plot and narrative, Outback proves that you can still pull people through a series of images in a way that feels more like an interactive experience than an ad.

A variety of different brands could take on a similar strategy. For example, if you were a marketer for a shoe company could post a Story that allows people to vote on the shoe styles that they’d wear for different occasions. This type of story would allow your audiences to see and weigh in on two different styles of your products at once.

Later, when they can’t figure out which shoes they want to wear to an outing, they might remember your Story and go to your shoe outlet knowing you have a bunch of different options.

Nike

Nike’s Instagram Stories feature interviews with prominent athletes who use Nike products. During the interviews, the athletes talk about their career accomplishments, rather than focusing on Nike products.

In the example below, soccer player Alex Morgan told the story about how she realized she wanted a different career path than her sister.

Nike Interviews an Athlete in its Instagram Story

Although this has nothing to do with shoes, the content aims to motivate athletes who might want to purchase shoes worn by other successful people in the sporting industry.

Takeaways

Leveraging relevant influencers, like Nike, allows you to create content that aligns with your brand without purely focusing on your product.

People might watch these Stories to learn more about the famous athletes being interviewed. Then, they might trust Nike’s brand more because these successful athletes also trust its products.

While a small company might not be able to hire or film a famous athlete or influencer, they could still experiment with a similar strategy by interviewing smaller influencers or experts within their industry.

For example, if a gym owner wants to gain more clients, they could interview a local athlete about their goals, accomplishments, and what motivates them. People interested in the local athlete might watch the video to learn more about the person, but then consider a gym membership if they want to have similar athletic accomplishments.

Airbnb

Stories are a major part of the travel company’s Instagram strategy. In fact, they have a few different styles of Stories. For example, which gives short profiles of Airbnb customers is called “Experiences, while another — called “Adventures” combines curated and Airbnb-recorded content to show documentaries of unique vacations around the world.

Here’s an example of one of Airbnb’s Experience pieces which centers around a customer who regularly stays in Brooklyn. Aside from explaining what the customer does, AIrbnb also uses polls and quizzes related to her job to get people interested in the history she researches:

Airbnb highlights customers in its Instagram Stories

While Airbnb creates a lot of high-quality video and animated content for its stories, they also don’t shy away from sharing high definition customer videos while crediting and tagging them.

Here’s another screenshot from one of the brand’s Adventure Stories where they included videos of an Airbnb customer swimming with sharks and credited them with their account handle:

Airbnb Instagram Story features video from customers

Takeaways

One of the best ways to gain brand trust is by telling or presenting stories from happy customers. Airbnb’s Instagram team recognizes this and centers its storytelling strategy around that.

While they film and present their own beautiful footage and documentaries, they also are wise to share user curated videos and images.

While curation can obviously save you time and money on creating content, it also gives happy customers a new way to interact with the brand. Not to mention, it gives the brand a great opportunity to show its fans how pleased customers were with their trips.

If a prospective customer worries that a startup ro non-traditional company is untrustworthy, videos from customers could ease their nerves or give them a sense of FOMO (or fear of missing out) that makes them want to book a flight.

Although this customer experience strategy works well for Airbnb, it could work for a variety of other companies, especially if they are still building up their customer base or selling a disruptive product that no one’s used before.

For example, if a new ride-share company had a few happy customers but wanted to boost its marketing strategy, it might create Stories where customers talk about interesting places that their shared ride brought them to, or maybe they’d discuss an interesting driver they met on a long ride. They could earn trust when prospective customers see how happy and safe customers felt when using the ride-share service.

Starbucks

Starbucks uses Stories to share customer testimonies, new product launches, and other interactive content. Although some a lot of the brand’s content revolves around its drinks, the Stories don’t feel like advertisements because they embrace fun facts and interactive polls and quizzes.

In one example, Starbucks asks viewers to guess which drink is coming back. It then shares the best answers and reveals the S’mores Frap and image. To add some extra interactivity, viewers can vote on what type of S’mores Frap they prefer and guess how many s’mores are shown in a video.

Starbucks Instagram Story

Takeaways

Even if they center specifically around a product rather than a narrative or plotline, Stories like these can still be fun from beginning to end. Starbucks does a great job of using interactive features to engage viewers.

By offering open ended questions and quizzes, they might engage with people who don’t like a specific beverage, but want to guess anyway. With the polls, they can gain similar engagement, while also possibly learning more about what drinks and flavors their audience prefers.

Instagram

Yes. Obviously Instagram is excellent at posting Stories on its own platform. But, even though the brand is giant, they still rely on their fanbase for most of the content.

Almost all of Instagram’s Stories are filled with photos or videos submitted by users. This allows Instagram to show off some of the most beautiful imagery and the most interesting videos on the platform. Because they tag and credit users who submitted content, they also give those accounts some great promotion. This, in turn, makes Instagram look like they care about their community and how people are using the app.

Here’s a screenshot from a motivational story created by an Instagram user:

Instagram's Instagram Story with curated content from users

Takeaways

Whether you’re marketing a small business or large business, you always want to be picking “low hanging fruit.” For those that don’t know this common startup saying, it means that if you see a huge opportunity in front of you, you should grab it. Just like you would grab a delicious-looking apple that was hanging low to the ground off of a tall tree.

By sourcing and republishing interesting content from some of its most engaging users, Instagram grabs its low hanging fruit and makes a delicious juice out of it.

Odds are, you’re not Instagram’s size — and you probably don’t have your own thriving social platform to pull content from. But, this doesn’t mean you can’t curate content from your customers in a more scalable way.

Like Airbnb, Instagram benefits greatly from highlighting content that was already created by its fans. If you’re a small business that regularly gets some type of content from your customers or fans, you can create a sense of trust and community by sharing it and acknowledging those individuals.

For example, if you run marketing for a clothing outlet and keep getting pictures of people wearing the dresses it sells, you could make a Story that shows photos from customers who wore those outfits to different outings. Like Instagram, you could tag those customers so they or their followers might see the Story.

In another scenario, say you’re running a local art studio. You might want to publish a Story that includes photos, sculptures, and paintings from your students. This allows your students to feel like you care about their success and want to share it, while also showing prospective students how much they could learn if they took your classes.

NBA

The NBA regularly posts behind-the-scenes styled Instagram Stories which might highlight post-game celebrations, interviews, and other off-the-court happenings.

For example, a recent Story followed the Toronto Raptors parade in Ontario, Canada and showed clips of players with family members and posing for photo ops with the Canadian rapper, Drake.

NBA Instagram Story

Takeaways

When you show the people behind a company or brand, it makes it feel more relatable or trustworthy. With the NBA, we often see players looking serious and tough as they play basketball. But, when you see them off the court, you realize that they’re human, just like you.

Although someone might not be a sports fan, they might still watch behind-the-scenes stories like this to learn more about the faces behind the brand or to get insight on how the world of sports works.

In other industries, people might also respond well to behind-the-scenes video. For example, if you’re marketing for a school or gym where professors and trainers might seem intimidating to prospects, showing Instagram Stories that follow them in their daily lives might make prospects less apprehensive about signing up for a course or membership.

Wayfair

Wayfair, an online furniture and home-decor company, publishes Stories that fall into five home-related categories: Wall Art Wednesday, #WayfairAtHome, Home Renos, Multifunctional, and Design Services.

When you visit its account page, instead of featuring multiple individual stories, they show you icons for each category. Once you click in, you’ll see multiple Stories that relate to each group.

How Wayfair organizes Instagram Stories on its profile

Regardless of which category the Story falls into, Wayfair is always creatively weaving product shots into it in either a humorous or creative way.

Here’s a screenshot from a Story where the brand uses humor to show off wall art:

Wayfair jokes about wall-hangings in its Instagram Story

In another example, they give valuable tips for home renovation that acknowledge Wayfair products:

Wayfair highlights spice rack in Instagram Story

Wayfair includes a “See more.” swipe up call to action in every page of its Stories which allows viewers to swipe directly to a product immediately after its shown.

Takeaways

If you’re working at an ecommerce company, or want to highlight and sell products quickly, Wayfair’s strategy could be beneficial. These Stories allow possible customers to see products in action and used in real-life scenarios, which might make them want to make a purchase.

If you can’t link your website to your Story, you could alternatively stick a product line link in your Instagram bio, then create a Story highlighting products that will be shown on that webpage. At the end of it, rather than including a linked call to action, you could direct viewers to your bio.

If you end up creating a bunch of Stories that fit into just a few categories, you might also want to consider presenting them as featured Stories like Wayfair does on its profile. That way, if someone is interested in one product category over another, they’ll know where to click to see relevant content.

Caffe Nero

The New England-based Italian coffee chain, Caffe Nero, uses its Instagram Stories to highlight new products, menu items, and it’s baristas. Recently, the company posted a Story about its “Barista of the Year” competition and award which highlighted the winner as well as eight baristas who were named as finalists.

Caffe Nero Instagram Story

Takeaways

Whether you’re marketing for a local business or a chain, Stories can be a helpful way to highlight unique aspects of your brand — especially devoted and friendly staff.

By highlighting nine highly-skilled baristas and showing an award ceremony, Caffe Nero shows prospective customers that its employees are pleasant, want to help customers, are good at making coffee, and enjoy their jobs. It also makes Caffe Nero look like a brand that cares about both its staff and good customer experiences.

If someone has to pick between a huge restaurant chain with unhappy staff and a smaller chain with staff that cares about customer happiness, odds are, they’ll probably choose the second option because their experience might be smoother and more pleasant.

New York University

NYU’s Stories center around topics that you might see in a student newspaper. In any given story edition, you might find student profiles, historical fun facts about NYU, graduation speeches, and university-related newsbites.

In one Story, published on Valentine’s Day, NYU discussed alumni who fell in love:

NYU Valentines Day Instagram Story

In the same Story, they also highlighted instances of sibling students

NYU highlights sibling classmates in Instagram Story

And just recently, NYU published footage of its Pride Parade:

NYU covers Pride Parade in Instagram Story

Takeaways

Because Gen-Z and millennials flock to Instagram, this type of student-friendly content seems very well targeted. While many in Gen-Z are starting to enroll in college programs, some millennials might still be thinking about getting a first or second degree.

When prospective students are preparing to make a huge investment in college, they want to choose a school that cares about its students. With the strategy of telling interesting student stories and covering campus events, NYU gives possible students an idea of what going to the school might be like. These Stories might also show them how fun and diverse NYU could be.

If you’re part of a business that requires students or customers to pay large annual fees, one great way of showing them it’s worth it is by highlighting current customers or students. Emotionally, prospects might connect with people in their situation who are happy with a big investment that they made.

While this strategy works well for colleges and universities, it might also benefit other programs, such as a networking organization. For example, if you’re trying to market a group where members pay to attend networking events, workshops, or other career training, you might post Stories that talk about members who found jobs after joining, or use the platform to show videos of current members at an interesting networking workshop.

Planet Fitness

Planet Fitness leverages its diverse customer base by promoting gym triumphs in its Instagram Stories. Its featured Story includes one customer triumph or success story on each page with teaser language encouraging viewers to swipe up to the Planet Fitness website.

Planet Fitness Instagram Story

The best thing about this Story is that it shows successes from a wide range of people at different ages and fitness levels. While you might see a highlight about an athlete preparing for a marathon one day, you’ll also regularly see moms going to the gym to lose baby-weight, friends working out together to keep each other accountable, or other testimonials about customer weight-loss or wellness milestones.

Takeaways

While some gyms might promote their most athletic, body-building members to show how successful they are, Planet Fitness continues to define itself as a “judgement-free zone” by showing realistic accomplishments by every-day people.

Those who want to go to the gym, but feel intimidated or worried that athletes will be judging their fitness level might see these stories and feel like Planet Fitness is a realistic and welcoming place for them to start working out.

Furthermore, when they see a success story about someone losing just a few pounds or inches, they might trust that Planet Fitness is a more realistic gym with staff that will help them reach healthy and achievable goals, rather than pressure them to overwork themselves.

Every-day person success Stories can be a great way to lighten up your brand image if you think prospects are too nervous to come to you. Aside from gyms, this could be an approach for other businesses or brands that might be intimidating to customers.

For example, because people can get nervous around lawyers, a law firm might want to use Stories to post video testimonials from clients who won their court cases with help from the organization. In another scenario, a nutritionist might have patients volunteer to talk about their wellness success. Viewers who are worried that they’ll have to change their whole diet with a nutritionist might be comforted by seeing that expert advice can help them be healthier.

The Jimmy Fund

The non-profit organization which raises money for cancer research and treatments regularly keeps Instagram followers up to date with the projects its funding, cancer-survivor testimonials, and updates on its annual 5K Fun Runs.

Although cancer is a tough topic, The Jimmy Fund’s Stories are optimistic and promote the charity’s successes.

In one Story, the organization toured a state of the art cancer treatment center that they had helped fund:

Jimmy Fund Instagram Story at Cancer Center

In another, a cancer survivor gives five tips for living with the disease:

Jimmy Fund Instagram Story where cancer survivor gives tips to others with the disease

 

Takeaways

If you’re a marketer for an organization that asks for donations or funding, you might already know that you’ll need to gain trust from your following in order to get the money you need. One of the best ways to show that someone’s donation will be put to good use is to promote how the funds are effectively being used to help others.

By using the Stories feature to present funded projects, like new cancer treatment centers, viewers can literally see what their money could go toward.

If you’re just getting a philanthropic organization or fund off of the ground, another way to earn trust could be by creating content that is valuable to the group you’re trying to help.

For example, along with noting what the charity has been funding, The Jimmy Fund also posts advice for cancer patients and cancer survivors. While those living with cancer can benefit from this, those who aren’t will see that the organization genuinely cares about the group it says it supports.

Lowe’s

The home-improvement store uses a variety of different story styles to show off its products. While most are created by Lowe’s, other [1]stories are curated from customers.

In one curated story, viewers can watch a woman refloor her bathroom with tiles she bought at Lowe’s:

Lowe's How-to Home Improvement Instagram Story

In a story created by Lowe’s, the brand takes a similar approach as Outback Steakhouse by allowing viewers to vote on which type of paint color they preferred in a specific room:

Lowe's uses polling tool in an Instagram Story

Takeaways

While home-improvement might be nerve-wracking to someone who hasn’t done it before, Lowe’s uses colorful imagery and creative stories to show how fun and creative it can be. Because Lowe’s shows its own tools in these stories, novices who don’t want to be overwhelmed by product choices might just buy the exact same supplies so they can replicate what they’ve already seen.

If your company offers DIY products, whether they relate to home-making, cooking, art, or other activities, showing them in action can be a really great way to encourage purchases. How-tos and demonstrations can excite prospective customers and show them how easy it can be to do a home project. Because of this, they might run straight to your store to buy similar supplies or ask your staff to show them other products for another DIY project.

Tips for Creating an Instagram Story

If this list has inspired you to create a branded Instagram Story, here are a few key takeaways to remember as you begin to brainstorm your first edition.

  • Identify and leverage content that might already align well with the platform. Do you have great customers that you can interview on camera? Or photos or videos of your product or service in action? While you’ll still want to adapt imagery or Story lengths to fit the platform, don’t be afraid to publish Stories with curated or pre-created content that you think will engage Instagrammers and prospective customers.
  • Create content specifically for the platform’s audience. Whether you’re adapting content or creating it from scratch, make sure you’re posting about topics that younger and more-visual Instagram audiences will engage with.
  • Use interactive features like questions, polls, and quizzes. These add depth to a story and might enable users to think about each topic more seriously.
  • Keep stories quick and to the point. Don’t overwhelm your audiences with too much text or too many pages. This might cause them to tap out of your story.
  • Add a swipe up if you can. These can be a great way to gain traffic through Instagram. Don’t have the swipe up feature yet? Here’s how you can get it.

Stories can be a great way to add some unique and engaging content to your Instagram strategy. If you’re ready to make one, but feel overwhelmed by all the app’s features, you can check out this detailed how-to guide.

If you’re looking to up your Instagram game even more, click here to learn more about the strategies of its most-followed brands and individuals. You can also check out our Ultimate Guide to Instagram Marketing.

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How to Use Instagram Carousel Posts: 10 Tips

When opening Instagram, how often do you “swipe left to see more?” Maybe it’s to see that a blog post from your favorite media site was uploaded. Or to watch the entire trailer for the latest season of “Stranger Things” (guilty).

Whether you double-tapped on a “Throwback Thursday” post or commented on how helpful that newsletter on managing spreadsheets was, these engagements are an excellent use of Instagram’s Carousel feature, an expansive tool that fits into countless marketing campaigns.

Instagram Carousel Ads

Instagram’s Carousels allow an account to use multiple media (images or video) in one post. This is indicated by a post having the icon of two squares in the upper-right corner.

instagram-carousel-iconImage source: TechCrunch

Businesses are using the Carousel feature on Instagram to serve their current customers and generate new leads. As the number one social network for organic engagement, it’s a cost-effective, succinct, and engaging way to communicate your marketing message.

Carousels don’t necessarily have to be ads. In order to create a Carousel Ad, there are two requirements: switching to an Instagram Business account and having a connected Facebook Business page. That way, you can create Instagram Carousels from your Facebook page.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a Carousel Ad:

  1. Open Facebook’s Power Editor.
  2. Select the campaign you want to be in the ad, click “Create Ad Set.”
  3. Fill out the information requested, including targeting and placements options.
  4. In the placements stage, make sure only Instagram is selected.
  5. Proceed with Facebook’s instructions and click “Create.”
  6. Your Carousel ad will then be published on Instagram, in either a Story or on your main feed.

Instagram offers two types of Carousel Ads for Stories that cater to your objective, assets, and target audiences: Native Stories and Expandable Stories.

For Native Stories, all of the cards are automatically displayed, meaning viewers won’t have to “swipe to see more,” the ad will autoplay. Because these cards are automatic, there’s a max number of three for each ad.

A Native Story is an effective Carousel Ad for a full-length commercial or demonstration. Think of them as commercial breaks as viewers tap through their stories.

Expandable Stories are more traditional. Viewers can tap to keep watching and can tap through a max of 10 cards. Expandable Stories are great for mixed media ads and audiences who usually buy on mobile.

Both Story formats support mixed media and allow one CTA per ad. If any card, or all the cards, are seen by the same viewer, only one impression is counted. Finally, these ads can either have different web destinations per card or one destination for the entire ad.

New to the Carousel feature? We’ve put together 10 ways you can start using Carousels to promote your business.

10 Ways to Use Instagram Carousels

1. Product launch

Instagram is a perfect way to tease your followers with your next product launch. Use the Carousel to include pictures, specs, and even a first look, like Audio-Technica did below with their new headphones.

Since Instagram is known for business engagement, (about 80% of Instagram users follow a business), this is a great chance to answer questions and build hype. For instance, if a customer asked, “Are these headphones available for purchase?” Audio-Technica could mention them in a reply comment so others with the same question can see the answer.

 
 
 

 
 
View this post on Instagram

 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

Introducing the NEW wired ATH-G1 and wireless ATH-G1WL premium gaming headsets from Audio-Technica. Taking design inspiration from the iconic ATH-M50x professional headphones, these new headsets boast precision audio reproduction and powerful performance in a comfortable, lightweight and low-profile design. Hear your games the way they’re meant to be heard with studio quality, specially-tuned large-diameter 45mm drivers. Go wireless with the ATH-G1WL’s stable, lag-free 2.4GHz wireless connectivity and virtual surround sound or take advantage of your soundcard and amp with the ATH-G1’s 1,300mW input capacity. Both headsets feature a new lightweight, comfortable and incredibly durable metal headband as well new dual fabric ear-pads that provide great passive noise-reduction but remain breathable and cool for long gaming sessions. The new gaming headsets will be available this week at JB Hi-Fi for $249 (wired) and $349 (wireless). Read more at audio-technica.com.au

A post shared by Audio-Technica Australia (@audiotechnicaau) on Jun 30, 2019 at 8:02pm PDT

Image source: Audio-Technica

2. Full-length videos/images

Have a full-length commercial or photo that’s too big for Instagram? Give it the Carousel treatment. TechCrunch highlights a packing robot from Amazon in the two-video Carousel featured below. Sometimes full videos can do what a commercial or quick clip can’t.

Image source: TechCrunch

3. Before and after

One of the first questions asked when releasing a new product – or marketing an existing one – is “How does it work?” The Container Store uses Carousels to answer that question. Visually showing the benefits of your product gives your target audience the chance to see how your product fits into their lives.

Image source: The Container Store

4. Recap

If your business hosts events, and you’d like to boost attendance and thank attendees, consider using Carousels to recap those events. Followers can swipe through and reminisce on that rooftop dinner or RSVP for the next one. Take this example, from INBOUND:

Image source: INBOUND

5. Blog content

A secret weapon to promoting blog content? Teasing it on Instagram. IBM does this well by using the Carousel to tease their blog posts without giving the message away – a throwback theme for a throwback post.

Image source: IBM

6. Brand personality

Instagram is the perfect place to build your brand and company culture. Show the people behind the screen and highlight those who make your business what it is. Check out how Boston-based coffee company Pavement does this by spotlighting their employees and their favorite coffee blend.

 
 
 

 
 
View this post on Instagram

 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

⁣⠀ We’re sharing pictures of some of the Pavement team – and their favorite coffees at the moment.⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ Andy Dion is a supervisor at our Fenway location! Favorite coffee: Decaf Tolima, Colombia.⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ Some people just don’t need the caffeine. We’ve got a special place in our hearts for folks who don’t want caffeine and drink decaf just for the pure love of coffee. That’s why we source incredible Colombian decaf coffees through @collaborativecs and put as much effort into our decaf roasts as we do all of our coffees. 💫THE MORE YOU KNOW💫⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ PS, If you post a picture of a bag of Pavement’s coffee at home and use the hashtag #TakePavementHome, you earn a chance to win a free bag of coffee! Whoever posts our favorite photo is the winner!⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #PavementCoffeehouse #PavementCoffee #decafcoffee #decaf #eadecaf #bostoncoffee #bostonlocal #coffeegram #coffeeshots #specialtycoffee #igerscoffee #coffeeprops #alternativebrewing #peoplebrewcoffee #thetrendybarista #bostonfoodies #coffee #barista #baristalife #baristalifestyle #roaster #coffeeroaster #roasterlife #caferoastery #singleorigincoffee #coffeetime #coffeeshop #coffeeroasting #roastinglife⁣⠀

A post shared by Pavement Coffeehouse (@pavementcoffee) on Mar 26, 2019 at 12:34pm PDT

Image source: Pavement Coffeehouse

7. Customer testimonials

Ecommerce giant Shopify uses Carousels to promote its customer reviews in a weekly podcast. This is a great way to generate more leads and maintain existing customer relationships.

Image source: Shopify

8. Group themed images

Who doesn’t love dogs? Social media management platform Hootsuite sure does. They posted a Carousel of everyone’s best friend in incredible costumes. Not only does this showcase company culture, but it shows how using Carousel themes brings vibrancy to a business’s page.

Image source: Hootsuite

9. Storytelling

Carousels can do more than announce a product. They can also tell the story of a potential customer. Pepsi recently posted a comic-book style Carousel about a sixth sense: Pepsi style. They released it right around the time “Spiderman: Far From Home” was released, and it shows how Carousels can build suspense.

Image source: Pepsi

10. Process demonstration

Orangetheory Fitness has Carousels on their Instagram page to demonstrate how fitness helps the body in more ways than on the scale. Demonstrating a process is a great way of engaging potential customers who might be on the fence about buying a product. If your business offers long-term results, Carousels can be used to show the progression of the benefits your customers will enjoy.

Image source: Orangetheory Fitness

Instagram users are currently limited to adding 10 photos/videos per Carousel post. Use those 10 to your benefit, but don’t commit information overload. Images keep the content light and ultimately drive traffic to your website. Instagram is an aid, not the main event.

Don’t limit yourself to only photos or videos. Mix it up. Including a snippet of an interview as well as a promotional image is a smart way to show customers and leads what you’re all about.

Adding a consistent theme to your account makes it stand out and adds brand personality. Use carousels to post what you normally wouldn’t on your website. For more tips on how to wield Instagram marketing, check out our ultimate guide.

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Author: Kayla Carmicheal

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How to Use TikTok: A Step-by-Step Guide

With more than 500 million monthly active users, TikTok is taking app stores by storm and serving as a worthy competitor to apps like Snapchat and Instagram.

While Gen-Z has flocked to the app, brands like Chipotle and The Washington Post are also starting to experiment with TikTok’s video marketing opportunities.

The best way to learn more about the app, its user base, and the type of content that engages audiences is to start producing your own posts on a personal or business account.

However, if you’re a marketer that’s never used a niche social platform before, TikTok can be pretty hard to navigate. Even I — a social media-obsessed millennial blogger — had trouble figuring out how the heck it worked when I first logged on last year. 

If you identify with that struggle, don’t worry! I eventually figured it out — and you will too!

To help you conquer the app, I’ve put together a quick guide to show you how to use it.

Here’s a list instructions — with pictures — that will walk you through setting up your profile, filming your first video, adding special effects, and using challenges or duets to engage with other users.

Setting Up Your Account

1. Download the app and sign up.

Go to the App Store or Google Play and download TikTok. When you open it, TikTok makes it pretty easy to sign up. You can do an instant sign up with Facebook, Gmail, or Twitter, or add a standard username and password if you don’t want any of those accounts connected.

2. Set up your profile.

Once you’re logged in, you’ll instantly be brought to the feed of videos. I’ll show you how it works in step three. But first, tap the icon in the lower right that looks like a person’s outline to see and edit your profile.

Navigation bar at the bottom of TikTok app screen

Once you enter your profile, tap the Edit Profile button, then select a profile photo or video. You should also add your username and bio information. If you want to show off your other social media profiles, you can link up your Youtube and Instagram pages. If you’re a business, this could be a helpful way to advertise your other visual platforms.

Finding Videos and Engaging with Users

3. View the video feed,

Now that you’ve set up your profile, tap back to the first tab which shows you the video feed.

TikTok Feed

Think of this feed like Twitter’s, but where video is the primary content. If you don’t have any followers yet, the app will send you random trending videos. As you begin following and interacting with more people, your feed will become more personalized to your interests.

4. Like, comment, or share videos you enjoy.

When you find a video you like, you can tap the heart to like it or the speech bubble to comment on it. To share the video, press the forward sign underneath the comment symbol to see your sharing options. These symbols are all located on the right side of the video.

Video on TikTok showing like, comment, share and follow buttons

If you really like a video and want to see if the user has more posts you’ll enjoy, swipe left to toggle to their profile.

Swiping left on a TikTok video to see the creator's profile

5. Search for videos.

Tap on the second tab, or magnifying glass, to enter the app’s search area. On this tab, you can either search out accounts or videos, or you can look below the search bar to see videos by trending topic.

Finding TikTok users through search feature

6. Follow users via videos, search, and TikCode.

If you want to keep up with a great video creator, you can follow them by pressing the icon that includes their profile picture and a plus sign above the heart button on their video.

TikTok screen with follow icon

If you already know of a TikTok account or person that you want to follow, you can search for them in the search bar and then press the “Users” filter. You can also find them by scanning their TikCode. This can be helpful for brands or people that want to promote their TikTok channel on other websites or in the physical world. It can also be great if you run into a friend in-person who wants to add you.

To find your own TikCode, go to your profile and tap the icon with four squares in the top right.

TikCode on TikTok profile

To scan another TikCode, go to the search tab and tap the square scan button next to the search bar.

Top of TikTok search page which shows search bar and square TikCode scanner

When the scan screen opens, hold it up to the TikCode you want to scan. The scanning process will begin instantly so you don’t have to press any other buttons. Within seconds of a successful scan, you’ll be sent to that person’s profile. If you have a screenshot of a code, you can also press “Photos” in the top corner of the scan page to upload and scan the code.

Scanning a TikCode on TikTok

How to Post on TikTok

7. Set up your shot and pick out special effects.

Tap the center tab to enter camera mode. To face the camera in the right direction, tap the Flip icon in the top right. On the right side of the screen, you’ll also see icons for the following:

  • Speed: Allows you to record your video in slow motion or sped up.
  • Beauty: An AR filter that can hide blemishes and smooth out your skin.
  • Filters: Lets you change the color filter of the camera.
  • Timer: Allows you to set an auto-record countdown if you want to film hands-free.
  • Flash
Camera screen view of TikTok app

Music and Effects

On the top center of the camera screen, you’ll also see music notes with “Add a Sound” next to them. Tap this to choose the musical overlay or sound effect that you want to work with.

Selecting a sound on TikTok

On the bottom of the camera, you’ll also see an Effects icon to the right and an upload button to the left — in case you want to record your videos outside of the app.

When you tap the Effects button, you’ll see a giant lineup of AR filters and other special effects that can augment your face or your surroundings. You can also pick out a video overlay-styled filter here.

Previewing AR bunny face filter on TikTok

In the black bar under the camera, you can set the time limit for your video or tap Photo Template to create a photo slideshow instead of a video.

Using time bar under camera screen to set video length on TikTok

8. Record the video.

Once you’re ready, press and hold the red record button. You can either record your video all at once or in pieces.

Recording a video with a face and color filter on TikTok

If you want to fit different shots in each video or record it in pieces, simply hold the record button for each segment, then let go, then press and hold it again when you’re ready for your next shot.

Don’t want to hold your record button the whole time? Before you enter record mode, you can also use the timer to give yourself enough time to prop up your phone and pose in front of it before it starts automatically recording.

Setting a video recording timer on TikTok

9. Make final edits and add a caption to the video.

When you’re done recording the video, you’ll still be able to add a musical overlay, filters, and other basic special effects. You can also add stickers and text overlays on top of the video.

Adding stickers and other effects to a video before posting on TikTok

When you’re done, press Next. You’ll be directed to a page similar to Instagram’s post page where you can add a caption, relevant hashtags, and account handles of others. You can also set the privacy of the video, turn comments on or off, allow duets or reactions, and tap “Save to Album” to download it to your smartphone’s photos.

Adjusting post settings and adding a caption on TikTok

If you aren’t ready to post yet, just press the Drafts button at the bottom left to save it for later.

10. Duet with other users.

See a musical post that you love? Want to join in with the person who made it? TikTok allows you to reply with a Duet video. To use this former Musical.ly feature, find a video you want to duet with, press the Share button to see sharing options, then press the “Duet” option on the bottom row in the center.

Using share options to start a Duet on TikTok

Your camera screen will appear next to the video. From there, you can press record and sing along, dance, or do whatever you want to the music.

Recording a duet on TikTok

To show you what a finished product looks like, here’s one great example:

If you make a post and don’t want anyone to duet with you, you can tap the “Duet/React Off” button on your Post page before publishing.

11. Participate in a challenge.

Like other social media platforms, you’ll occasionally see videos with hashtags for “challenges.” A challenge is when a video post, company, or person encourages users to film themselves doing something oddly specific — like flipping the lid of a Chipotle to-go bowl with no hands. Participants then film themselves doing the action and hashtag the challenge name in their post captions.

There usually aren’t any winners in a TikTok challenge, but hashtagging it might help you get more followers or views as people find you when searching the hashtag.

To give you a quick idea of what participating in challenge entails, here’s a video of someone doing the above-mentioned #ChipotleLidFlip challenge:

A Few TikTok Takeaways

Yes, TikTok may seem like a pretty odd platform right now, but it might be a great tool for engaging and spreading awareness to your younger audiences later. Because it is only one year old, it is also a great place for early video experimentation.

As you’re brainstorming or filming your first videos, here are a few tips to help you create unique and engaging posts:

  • Have fun with the special effects. There are a ton of ways to zest up your video, and audiences on TikTok expect it. So play around and experiment with them.
  • Embrace the music. Most videos on the platform have some type of song or sound effect in the background.
  • Film a few videos with multiple shots. This will make it feel more interesting and active.
  • Don’t be afraid to show a lighter side or a sense of humor. People come to this platform to be entertained.
  • Use trendy hashtags and try out a challenge video. Then, include relevant hashtags in your post caption so your video shows up when people search it.
  • Look at what other brands are doing. While your company might not need to jump on TikTok just yet, videos posted by other brands could inspire some ideas for your own strategy.

Want to learn more about TikTok’s backstory and what it might mean for brands? Check out this post. If you’re interested in checking out other emerging platforms, we’ve also got this great guide for you.

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13 PR Blogs You Should Be Reading This Year

One of my first jobs out of college was working as an entry-level PR associate. Like most recent grads without any real industry experience, I’d spend my days blasting out the same artless, impersonal pitch to any journalist who had ever covered a beat even vaguely adjacent to one of our client’s products.

Unsurprisingly, I got very few emails back.

If you work in PR, you don’t need me to tell you it’s a hard field to get started in. Now that I’m on the other side of it — receiving dozens of pitches per day — I appreciate a well-executed pitch even more because I understand just how much thought and energy goes into it.

Whether you’re a seasoned PR pro or an associate looking to break into the industry, reading expert blogs is a smart way to stay up to date on the latest PR happenings, expand your skills, and get inspired to do your best work. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite PR blogs (in no particular order) for you to get started. Let’s dive in.

1. PRNEWS

PRNEWS started as a weekly print newsletter over 70 years ago, and today still serves as a comprehensive, go-to resource for the PR community. The PRNEWS Blog features in-depth analysis of current industry news, useful how-tos, career advice, and opinion articles from PR pros across numerous industries. I also recommend (and personally subscribe to) their weekly email subscription, The Skinny, which offers a thoughtfully curated rundown of the latest PR, marketing, and communications news and trends.

Three posts to check out:

2. PRWeek

PRWeek bills itself as “the essential title for PR professionals in the US,” and it has an expansive, high-quality content library to back this statement up. Covering topics from notable agency happenings to how brands are adopting new strategies, PRWeek is as entertaining as it is informative. Plus, their daily Breakfast Briefing is the perfect early morning subway read. It features a quick rundown of the latest PR news in a format simple enough to digest before you’ve had your coffee.

Three posts to check out:

3. PR Daily

With sections on social media management, crisis communications, media relations, marketing, and more, PR Daily serves up a diverse range of topics for PR and comms pros. They’re quick to publish expert analysis on current events concerning the PR community, and also offer beginner guides on the tools and platforms you need to do your job — like social media ads, monitoring tools, and more.

Three posts to check out:

4. Digiday

While not strictly a PR industry publication, Digiday is a valuable read for anyone interested in how technology impacts media, marketing, and communications. Their editorial team leverages expert, insider interviews and original data to show how innovations in the tech landscape are changing the way brands and consumers communicate — for better or worse. If nothing else, I’d recommend checking out their ongoing column, The Confessions, which features anonymous interviews with professionals working in media. They dig deeply into revealing topics like working conditions in the industry and the (sometimes harsh) realities of advancing your career in a competitive environment.

Three posts to check out:

5. Spin Sucks

If you work in PR or corporate communications, chances are someone’s jokingly (or not so jokingly) called you a “spin doctor.” Spin Sucks is a blog dedicated to breaking down the negative perceptions of the PR field by calling out destructive practices in the industry and celebrating the authentic ones. The Spin Sucks team dissects recent campaigns and brand news to separate the spin from the reality, and share their own expert take on what could have been done better. They also regularly feature guest contributors, interviews with pros in different industries, and open-ended questions posed to their community of readers.

Three posts to check out:

6. Institute for Public Relations

IPR is a nonprofit organization that conducts and publishes in-depth research on the factors impacting the public relations and corporate communications fields. In addition to their extensive library of original research, IPR’s blog is a treasure trove of expert opinion pieces, strategy recommendations backed by credible studies, and takes on how new trends and tech will change the landscape of PR. Committed to sharing “the science beneath the art of public relations™,” IPR helps PR pros stay ahead of the curve.

Three posts to check out:

7. PRSay

PRSay shares thought leadership, tactical pieces, and professional advice for both seasoned PR pros and folks at the beginning of the careers. Their blog features helpful, how-to sections on training and development, but they also have dedicated sections that discuss diversity, inclusion, and ethics in the PR field.

Three posts to check out:

8. Public Relations Today

This blog aggregates the best content for PR and comms professionals across the web into one convenient, easy-to-navigate location. Their team of expert curators shares pieces on everything from branding to crisis management. Their homepage is also ordered by what’s trending in the industry on social media, so it’s easy to discover articles other PR professionals are reading and discussing.

Three (aggregated) posts to check out:

9. ImPRessions

Crenshaw, a public relations consulting agency, started ImPRessions as a way to “share expertise, industry insights, and impressions” of the industry with an audience of PR pros. Their blog features thought-provoking investigations into PR best practices, trends, and lessons from real brands. The blog also offers actionable strategies and advice for PR firms big and small.

Three posts to check out:

10. Solo PR Pro

If you’re a freelance or independent PR consultant, the challenges you face are certainly different than those experienced by an agency, in-house team, or large consulting group. Solo PR Pro is a blog specifically for PR and communication pros looking to “break free of the cubical” and be their own boss. The site focuses on topics relevant to the unique experiences of freelancers in the PR world, like promoting your services, building a client base, and balancing clients on your own.

Three posts to check out:

11. O’Dwyer’s PR News

Founded in 1968 as a print publication, O’Dwyer’s PR News diligently covers the latest industry happenings and keeps a running ranking of top PR agencies. For folks in the agency world, O’Dwyer’s is a good place to stay up to date on breaking agency news, big brand accounts, and controversies. The site also helps connect agencies with clients, with a section dedicated to RFPs and an extensive PR services database.

Three posts to check out:

12. Edelman Insights

Edelman, a top global communications firm, shares articles concerning industry news, best practices, corporate culture, and more on their Insights blog. With pieces written by influential industry leaders (like Edelman CEO Richard Edelman), Insights gives readers an inside look at the topics PR pros should be paying attention to. In addition to tactical and opinion pieces, the blog tackles meaty topics impacting the soul of the industry, like diversity and inclusion, and the responsibilities of professional communicators in the “fake news” era.

Three posts to check out:

13. The Future Buzz

Founded by San Francisco-based PR agency EZPR, The Future Buzz covers all things public relations and digital marketing with a refreshingly straightforward, decidedly un-sugarcoated tone. With headlines like “PR People: Don’t Do This” and “You Pitch Sucks,” you can trust this editorial team to tell it like it is. The Future Buzz is a solid source for hands-on advice, reflections on the industry, and commentary on the latest trends.

Three posts to check out:

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