Want to know about Miami startups? A user's guide to this blog

Dear reader, Starting Gate has been providing and archiving South Florida startup and tech community news, views and resources since 2012. New to the Miami area? Thinking about relocating here? Just want to keep up with news, events and opportunities? We're there for you.

How to use Starting Gate: Besides scrolling the blog for the latest entries, you can access news and views by category. The "Funding" category will capture venture capital and angel funding news of individual startups as well as stories about funders. The startup categories chronicle news and my regular "Spotlights," and in Q&As you'll find interviews with CEOs and leaders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. There are also categories for guest posts, views, accelerators/incubators, resources, events and more.

Have news? Have an idea for a guest post? Send it to me at ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com. (See my Facebook announcement here)

Thank you for your support through the years and please come back often. Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg. - Sincerely, Nancy Dahlberg

December 27, 2017

Buzzfeed and NBCUniversal discuss the future of digital advertising in the age of Google, Facebook

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Two leaders of the international expansion of some of the world’s largest and fastest growing media companies spoke in Miami about the strategic importance of their growing digital audiences overseas, particularly in Latin America. Top sales executives from NBCUniversal and Buzzfeed met before a packed audience at Venture Café Miami this month to discuss the challenge of growing their digital advertising business at a time of growing industry domination by Facebook and Google.

Silvia Bruegger of NBCUniversal said Latin America is a growth market for digital ads. Forty percent of NBC’s online video views of English-language content, such as Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, actually comes from audiences in Latin America. These Latin American viewers account for 1.9 billion video views a year on YouTube.

“There is a sophistication of the audience in Latin America, of Colombians and Brazilians and Mexicans,” said Silvia Bruegger of Latin America TV and Digital Advertising Solutions at NBCUniversal. “They are curious to know what’s going on in the U.S. And they want snackable content they can watch on their phones.”

Bruegger said that NBCUniversal, which owns dozens of television networks and film studios, is exploring new ways to deliver digital advertising to the underserved market in Latin America. For example, NBCU offers an advertising program called Social Synch that allows brands to post promotional content on more than one thousand online social media handles it controls, such as feeds from Jimmy Fallon and other TV stars. And last year NBCU launched Audience Studio, a one-stop shop for data-driven ad targeting.

Buzzfeed, named The World’s Most Innovative Company by Fast Company in 2016 for its innovations in clickable content and native advertising, similarly sees untapped revenue in its international audience. The company has a global audience of 650 million people, half of them under age 35.

“About 50 percent of Buzzfeed’s audience is outside the U.S.,” said Matthew Drinkwater, who is Buzzfeed’s Senior Vice President of International Expansion. “But a much smaller percentage of our revenue comes from outside the U.S.”

NBCUniversal is actually Buzzfeed’s largest single investor, having invested $400 million dollars in the company.

The importance to media companies of increasing ad revenue overseas is underscored by the growing dominance of Google and Facebook at home. The IAB earlier this year estimated that Google and Facebook captured 77 cents on every digital ad dollar spent in the U.S. in 2016. And the Internet giants are growing their lead, accounted for an extraordinary 99% of every new ad dollar spent in the US in 2016. That means the average growth rate for every other media company was close to zero.

“The fact is that our part of the market share is frozen, and we’re fighting that,” Bruegger of NBCUniversal said. “It forces us to push the boundaries and reinvent ourselves.”

“It does keep me up at night,” Drinkwater said, adding that Facebook and Google “need our content to keep audiences spending time on their platforms. And the ROI [return on investment] that we get as a media content provider is not quite adequate.”

Drinkwater said the challenge to all other media companies when competing for digital ad dollars is the advertising platforms built by Google and Facebook work really well. The Facebook Ads and Google Adwords platforms are self-service, relatively easy to use and allow an advertiser to track their return on investment.

“They both built really great mousetraps,” Drinkwater said. “If I were a small or medium business owner, I would absolutely put a bunch of my budget into those platforms.”



The event was part of the BizHack Presents speaker series and was moderated by Dan Grech, a former journalist at The Miami Herald, NPR’s Marketplace and PBS’s Nightly Business Report.

The four-year-old public speaker series about innovations in digital marketing, entrepreneurship and media has featured guests from IBM, 500 Startups, Google, Facebook, Twitter, The Washington Post, and Stanford University.

The audience of more than 100 entrepreneurs and business owners asked the speakers what lessons they could share about how Miami businesses could learn to use digital advertising to grow.

“It took six months of daily work learning on the job before I started to feel like I even knew what I was doing in digital marketing,” said Dan Grech, the founder and lead instructor of BizHack, a digital marketing academy that’s trained more than 200 entrepreneurs and business owners in South Florida. “I don’t want any other professional who decides they want to learn digital marketing to grow their business or level up to get that promotion to have to go through six months being lost in the woods.”

-Submitted by BizHack

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December 22, 2017

Streann Media’s bold bet: ‘We are here to rescue the broadcast industry’



Startup Spotlight: Streann Media of Miami seeks to reinvent digital content for media customers and brands through distribution, engagement and monetization.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

Company Name: Streann Media

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: Reinventing digital content for media customers and brands through distribution, engagement and monetization.

Story: The beginnings of Streann Media trace back six years, when the paths of Giovanni Punzo and Antonio Calderón crossed during their roles with disruptive technology provider LiveU. Around this time, Netflix’s new media content business model was just emerging, and the pair of innovators discovered firsthand the struggles that other content providers were having making the shift to digital and then to streaming content. Knowing that these other providers would soon be forced to follow the Netflix model to save their businesses, they sought a new solution — and Streann Media was the result.

 “We are here to rescue the broadcast industry,” said Calderón, Streann’s chief technology officer. “Thanks to our technology, our customers are building next-generation digital networks, their own version of Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, etc. With our technology, our customers are finally really engaging with end users and most importantly they are monetizing in digital,” added Punzo, CEO.

How does a TV station or radio station make money? Selling advertising. While traditional advertising spending is down and it’s boring; digital ad spending is up and should be more engaging, said the co-founders, who previously worked in the broadcast industry. “We built a digital advertising technology that can increase digital ads revenue times 10 in live video, audio and video on demand. Our customers create campaigns like Facebook Ads Manager but the ads are in their own digital networks. Content providers are in control and they monetize,” Punzo said.

Game shows and contests are ways a radio or TV station can engage their audiences. So Streann created a new feature in the platform for content providers to create contests on mobile with cash rewards, such as video Selfie-Ads.

“Already customers like TCS Digital in Central America, Actualidad Radio in Florida, Cariflix in the Caribbean, Iriejam in New York and Puravida in Costa Rica are using our new inventions and engaging with their customers,” said Punzo. “The results have been great — new user generated content, real testimonials, real storytelling.”

Streann’s technologies touches millions of people with more than 160 digital entertainment networks deployed for Web, iOS, Android, Roku, AppleTV, Virtual Reality, streaming in 141 countries, Punzo and Calderón said.

“Streann looks at the future of television like no one else is. Its user experience and monetization platforms make companies take a huge leap in technology. They are at the forefront constantly and have a personalized and exceptional relationship with each client,” said Raúl Domínguez, digital and new business director of TCS Digital.

Founded: 2014

Website: www.streann.com

Management team: Giovanni Punzo, CEO and co-founder; Antonio Calderón, chief technology officer and co-founder.

No. of employees: 15

Financing: The company has received investment from Tamiami Angels and Florida Angel Nexus investors.

Recent milestones: Launched Inside-Ads in Q3 2017 and Selfie-Ads user-generated content in November 2017. The Selfie-Ads product attracted regional brands such as Nestle, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut and Diana. Streann recently launched Vlixers, an influencer platform for its customer TCS-Digital. It’s a unique platform designed for millennials with original content created by millennials available on Web, iOS and Android. The company won at the Early Stage Capital Conference in 2016 and was a finalist in eMerge Americas Startup Showcase.

Biggest startup challenge: Educating content providers to make the digital switch utilizing Streann technologies.

Next step: Launching new engagement and monetization features by NAB 2018, a broadcasting trade show in April. “The soccer World Cup in 2018 will help us grow even more as many of our customers will transmit World Cup content through our platform,” Calderón said.

Advisor’s view: Eric Giler, a Boston-based serial entrepreneur and on the board of Streann, said he worked with Punzo at his previous company, and admires his vision and energy level. “Gio’s partner and co-founder Antonio Calderón is a superb technical complement to Gio’s market and business sense,” Giler said.

“A laser-like focus on the Latin American market has been key to Streann’s early success. No other company is approaching the market like Streann. The challenge will be scaling the business as they continue to expand. Building out the team and attracting capital will be important as they continue to grow.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter. Email ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com


Pictured above: Antonio Calderón, CTO, at left, and Giovanni Punzo, CEO, co-founders of Streann Media, in their office in Doral. Jose A. Iglesias jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

December 07, 2016

Hispanic Small Business Owners’ Secrets to Success

By Gary Garth

Gary Garth HeadshotWe heard a lot during the Presidential campaign about the importance of winning the Hispanic vote. But any campaign strategist knows you can’t paint such a diverse population with one broad brush. The same holds true for Hispanic business owners. The key to growing your customer base is developing marketing campaigns that target specific demographics and drives them to your website and bricks-and-mortar locations. In an age where we’re all connected 24/7 to the Internet and our attention spans are shorter than ever, search engine marketing is the most efficient and cost-effective way to do just that.

Having just advised you not to lump all Hispanics into one category, I will backtrack just a bit to point out there is one generalization that holds true: Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of our local and national populations.

The U.S. Census bureau reports that Florida’s population grew by 1.46 million people from 2010 to 2015. Hispanics represent 51 percent of that surge. In five years, Florida’s Hispanic population grew six times more than non-Hispanic whites, and more than twice as fast as blacks. Nationally, Hispanics count for 56.6 million citizens. That’s 17.6 percent of the U.S. population, the country’s largest ethnic or racial minority. Local Hispanic small business owners who cater to Hispanic consumers should hear sounds of cash registers ringing (or computer mice clicking) when they see those statistics. Their customer bases are large and still growing.

Of course, thanks to the ubiquity of high-speed Wi-Fi connections and powerful mobile devices, the entire world has become one big consumer marketplace. While this enables local businesses to consider pursuing new customers outside South Florida, it also means they must compete for those customers’ eyeballs with other businesses nationwide and even internationally.

To make things even more difficult, consider this bit of irony: while consumers spend more time online than ever before, they have also never been quicker to hop from web site to web site. Consider these three statistics:

*We've seen a 20 percent increase in mobile's share of online sessions across the web in the past year;

*At the same time, we’ve seen an 18 percent decrease in time spent per visit across the web in the past year. As mobile accounts for more sessions, they’re getting shorter overall;

*But there’s a lot happening in these session: In the past year, mobile conversion rates have increased by 29 percent.

I call these “micro-moments”, and they are critical for brands to win. These are the moments that can keep a first-time customer coming back to your web site, or attract new customers to visit and linger. Search is the top online source used when gathering information about a potential purchase. Google has found that 86 percent of Hispanics use search to gather information, and that 93 percent of that group who remember seeing an online advertisement took action such as visiting a web site.

The challenge for Hispanic business owners is drawing Hispanic consumers to their web sites, and more importantly, how to keep them from leaving. We’ve found that search engine marketing campaigns that target both English- and Spanish-speaking Hispanic consumers yield significantly better returns:

*221 percent increase in click-through rates

*25 percent higher conversion rates

*63 percent lowered cost-per-click

*65 percent lower cost per conversion

An effective search engine marketing campaign leverages Google AdWords to compel consumers to visit a web site. You’re likely familiar with the ads that appear on the tops of your computer or mobile browsers. Those are AdWord ads. You identify which keywords will grab your target customer’s attention as he or she is searching Google. You only pay Google if that person clicks on your ad and goes to your site.

To ensure a high return on your investment, be sure to target the right audience(s) for your market. For example, if you own a surfboard store on Miami Beach that caters to the local Hispanic communities, don’t blanket the entire country. Unless you’re selling surfboards online and shipping them nationwide, don’t bother targeting people shopping for surfboards outside South Florida. Target only the local communities, beaches and cities near your store so potential local clients become aware of your services and generate sales.

AdWords can also provide you with invaluable data on your customers’ behaviors and preferences, and whether you’re getting a good return on your investment. You can do this by implementing Google Analytics, Conversion Tracking or Call Tracking.

Of course, getting people to your web site is just step one. Your landing page must keep them on your site, and compel them to take specific actions such as requesting more information or making a purchase. There must be a strong correlation between the ad that the user clicked and the page on which they land. If users do not find what they expect, your bounce rates will be unacceptably high. Bounce rate indicates the effectiveness of a website in encouraging visitors to stay. A good bounce rate is generally below 60 percent. 

So the benefit of maintaining a high degree of relevance between your ads and landing pages is enormous. On one hand, you enjoy better quality scores and on the other you achieve a higher conversion rate in conjunction with lower bounce rates. This sets you up for an improved ROI on your ad spend.

Done correctly, search engine marketing can be your best marketing tactic for targeting specific audiences within the local and national Hispanic communities. You can set up your campaigns in English, Spanish, by geographical area and even target visitors who have left your site. Search is the most efficient outlet to get measurable and quick results because, unlike most other forms of advertising, you can see in real time how each dollar spent is working (or not) and quickly make minor or major adjustments. 

Finally, be sure to avoid the common mistakes that drive first-time visitors away from your site. Delete or optimize visibly outdated content, modernize tired-looking design, ensure your call to actions are set up properly, and establish your credibility by making sure your contact information is always visible, maintain a blog, and provide easy access to customer service and support resources.

Gary Garth is co-founder and CEO of White Shark Media. He is responsible for guiding the company’s strategy and growth.

May 24, 2016

3 tips for training your startup salesforce

By Mark Crofton

MarkcroftonI wrote  an earlier blog post here  on 4 sales tips for startups. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many more early-stage Miami companies as well as take a new role leading a global sales training program. Here are (just) three tips based on those experiences:

1. Sales can be taught

It’s an age old assertion: Salesmen are “born, not made.” In fact, many people have told me that I’m a “natural” sales person or that I was “born” with all the attributes and talent to be a salesperson. Yet the truth is that while there are many attributes or traits which correlate to success in sales --such as enjoying interacting with others, ability to express oneself well-- there are also numerous skills to be learned to effectively run an enterprise sales cycle.

Few people enter this world intuitively knowing the best techniques for generating new opportunities, qualifying those opportunities, identifying all the relevant decision makers/influencers/stakeholders, or negotiating tactics. This is especially true if your early stage company is selling a product or solution that is even marginally complex to another business, as is an enterprise sale. The good news? There is a wealth of material, research and documentation on what works and doesn’t work in enterprise sales. You certainly can be taught the necessary skills.

2. Don't set and forget. Learning is an ongoing thing

Another well-known tenet in sales is that things change. Whether it’s your product, the competition, or the way your customer buys, if you don’t continuously give your sales team learning opportunities to catch up with change, they risk falling behind. At that point, it’s not only about losing to the competition, but the fact that their hard-earned customers simply won’t buy from them anymore, because they aren’t selling the way the customer buys.

Consider a fundamental way that selling has changed: determining where in the sales cycle to engage customers. When I began selling 20 years ago, most sales cycles began with a customer telling me about his challenges or problems. I would then look into my sales bag and present a solution, or better yet, several solutions that would solve his problem. I’d explain what each product did and how it would addresses his problem. The customer didn’t know very much about my products or often even about what was available in the market place. There was asymmetrical information: I knew a lot about my products and the customer generally knew considerably less. I was essentially engaging my customer in the early stages of the sales cycle.

Fast forward to today: It’s often the case that by the time the customer calls your sale rep, she understands their problem, is familiar with your product, as well as your competitors’, and has read all the reviews. She is simply much further along in the buying cycle. Therefore, the approach to the customer is different, and you need to provide your sales executive the ongoing training to sell accordingly.

3. Measure the impact, and then course-correct

Training your sales force is probably going to be a costly endeavor, both in terms of money and time. In addition, if you consider the cost of being out of the field, and not selling while occupied in class, the true cost can be much higher. So, why do so many organizations fail to track their return on this important investment?

In companies where I have worked, we compared the performance of a sales executive who took the new-hire onboarding class, versus those who did not. The data helped determine that it was a good use of his/her first week on the job, and this information was also used to convince other managers of new hires to make the investment. Ultimately, this could have an important impact for the company.

However, it is also valuable, but generally much more difficult, to track the effect of a single course. For example, what happens two quarters after your sales executives took a new Prospecting class? Was pipeline multiple affected? If not, is it necessary to eliminate the class or perhaps retool it? Having the right data on hand for instructional re-design is critical, as well as incorporating specific feedback to help course-correct.

As you consider your ongoing investment in your sales team, don’t forget to factor in some time and budget for training. If you follow these 3 tips, investment is sure to pay off.

Mark Crofton is a Vice-President at SAP SE. He is a leader of the SAP Academy, the global sales training program for developing the next generation of SAP sales executives. Mark is also involved locally in Miami mentoring and advising startups.

Read more: Four sales tips for startups




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March 11, 2016

Seen and heard at SXSW: Gary Vaynerchuk, Google self-driving cars

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Gary Vaynerchuk tells it like it is.

IMG_4076It didn’t take long for a long line to form when Gary Vaynerchuk of Vayner Media, Wine Library TV and Ask Gary Vee, invited SXSW attendees to ask him anything. He was a keynote speaker at South by SouthWest on opening day in Austin. Here is some of what the marketing guru –- oops, don't call him a guru, he said; the founder of several multi-million businesses  prefers practitioner -- dished out to the packed ballroom at the Austin Convention Center:

On company culture: “you can building a billion-dollar business on good. People work better on honey than vinegar.”

On social media networks to watch: Snapchat. It’s really the only place to watch the masses in the moment, he said.

On the hustle: You can’t market your way there. “If you build the best f------ whatever, you win.”

Born or made: The entrepreneurs building billion dollar companies are born, not made. However, hustlers not born with it can still build strong companies.  “Hard work is the variable to maximize your success.”

Self-driving cars: How soon?

In 1.4 million miles of driving time, Google’s self-driving cars have seen it all. There was the woman in an electric wheelchair chasing a duck with a broom. Or the group of college students playing “Frogger” in the street. Once, in Austin, a man ran out from his house to greet the car – but he was naked, said Chris Urmson of Google. “Thanks for keeping it weird, Austin.”

It’s no secret traffic is out of control: 6 billion minutes per day are spent commuting in the U.S. Put another way: 162 lifetimes per day in the U.S. are wasted commuting, said Urmson of the Google Self-Driving Car Project.

For this reason as well as safety – 38,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year -- the technology can’t come soon enough. Imagine being able to use the car to sleep, work or relax and watch a movie. The car will be like a room that moves with you. Imagine the implications for cities if they don’t have to park? Parks instead of parking spaces?

But when? Testing is still on-going and the cars are improving every day. “Today our cars are a little bit paranoid,” he said. “We want to make them more confident.” 

Urmson believes the technology will begin hitting the market in waves, starting perhaps as soon as three to five years.


March 01, 2016

Former Facebook VP Alexandre Hohagen will lead Miami-based Nobox

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Nobox1Alexandre Hohagen, who formerly headed up Latin America for both Facebook and Google, has acquired Nobox, a pioneering full-service marketing agency based in Miami. He will be CEO and partner. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Hohagen will bring his experience with advertising and technology in these markets with the goal to further enhance the agency's relevancy and footprint for its marquee clients including Netflix, PlayStation, Hotel Tonight, Marriott, Copa Airlines, Royal Caribbean and Volkswagen. Nobox, already a multi-million agency with a focus on the Latin America market, also has a keen focus on digital and social with more than 15 years in the market.

“Nobox's work for some of the world's leading brands, bringing relevant digital strategies to Latin America, made it quickly the most consistent digital agency in the region. We were attracted to Nobox because of the combination it brings of creativity and technology, to achieve amazing results for its clients. We are thrilled to be part of it,” Hohagen said in a statement announcing the transaction. Hohagen, most recently vice president of Latin America and U.S. Hispanics at Facebook, left the social media giant in early 2015 and has been an investor and board advisor based in Miami in recent years.

In addition to Hohagen, Pedro Cabral, founder and former CEO of Agencia Click in Brazil and former chairman of Isobar Global, will become the new chairman and investing partner, joining Nobox co-founder Jayson Fittipaldi, who will remain as chief creative officer. Carlos Garcia, co-founder and former CEO of Nobox, will remain a partner and advisor on innovation as he leads a new venture in marketing tech called HYP3R.

In 2016, Nobox has the opportunity to continue developing in the U.S. Hispanic and Latin America region, even though some markets are going through tough times, Hohagen said. “We see a big opportunity in Latin America. We believe that now is the perfect time for us to grow, especially as some markets struggle. Our approach is very much focused on impact and results; and that's exactly what clients will be focused on moving forward.”

READ MORE: Digital marketing agency Nobox goes all-in on Latin America, flexes social muscle


March 14, 2015

Q&A with Manny Ruiz, the man behind Hispanicize

Manny Ruiz founded Hispanicize in 2010, and has grown it into the largest gathering for U.S. Hispanics of its kind. The weeklong conference opens Monday in downtown Miami.

HispanicizeBy Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

As Hispanicize opens Monday for its sixth annual weeklong event packed with workshops, speakers, awards and concerts all featuring U.S. Latinos, a lot of people may not know the unusual entrepreneurial journey of the man behind it all.

Hispanicize is the largest U.S. Hispanic social media and entertainment event of its kind, specializing in marketing, media, film and music, said its founder, Manny Ruiz. “What people really love about Hispanicize is that we are the one event that is laser-focused on the aspirations, opportunities and challenges of the U.S. Hispanic.”

Ruiz’s father was an early Cuban exile and his mother is a second-generation Cuban American: “I was born and raised in Little Havana and Hialeah, as blue collar as you can get. … My family didn’t have much in Cuba and they didn’t have anything in Miami either, [but] their work ethic has stayed with me … and kept me grounded.”

Today, Ruiz, 45, is the chairman and founder of the Hispanicize brand of platforms that include the annual Hispanicize event, the Latina Mom Bloggers network, Being Latino, Hispanicize Wire and the Hispanic PR Blog.

Before building his current grouping of media properties, Ruiz founded, led and sold Hispanic PR Wire for $5.5 million in 2008. In thinking about what his next project would be, he was inspired by South by Southwest, the big annual music, film and entrepreneurship event in Austin, Texas. The first Hispanicize was in 2010.

But here are some things you may not know about Ruiz. He almost flunked his senior year at Miami Southwest Senior High — twice.

“The shocking part of my second senior year was that despite a horrible academic record — I was 10 spots away from graduating last of my second senior year class — my high school principal believed in my investigative journalism work on the school newspaper so much she nominated me to be our high school’s [Miami Herald] Silver Knight representative for journalism,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said he was moved to pursue journalism — he was affectionately known as “Geraldo“ in high school — after his middle school experience attending a corrupt and drug-ridden private school, Miami Aerospace Academy. It was ultimately the power of the press that got the place shut down, he said.

He then stoked that journalistic passion at Miami Southwest and later at Miami Dade College, which will install him next month in the MDC Alumni Hall of Fame, and at the Miami Herald before transitioning into marketing, online media and entrepreneurship.

The Miami Herald talked with Ruiz about his unusual entrepreneurial journey and plans for the 2015 Hispanicize, which opens Monday at the InterContinental Miami with an expected record attendance of more than 2,000. Here are excerpts of the conversation:

Continue reading "Q&A with Manny Ruiz, the man behind Hispanicize" »

July 30, 2014

Running a social media contest? Our top five tips.

Echo herald blog supersocial (1)

By Susan Linning

SusanLinning_001 rt2So you want to run a contest on social media??  Isn’t that interesting.  Everyone else wants to do the same thing.  And they want their contest to be way more successful than yours – producing more likes, higher engagement, increased brand recognition and awareness and more…well…sales.

What’s the value of running a Facebook contest? How will a contest help a business market itself? How do I make my contest different?  How do I make it stand out in a sea of rhetoric? 

We hear it over and over. Business owners know the importance of having a solid social media presence, but many are still trying to understand the benefits of running contests.

Review our top five tips, below, and get your brand’s contest to the top of the list, with the highest engagement, traffic and likes/new fans/followers. 

 1.      Choose the Type of Contest that Meets Your Goals

What kind of contest best suits your goals, objectives and target market?

 Sweepstakes  - Anyone can enter by simply by liking your page and/or supplying their email address.  These contests quickly build likes and your email distribution list (marketing’s holy grail). They also provide a huge boost to brand awareness. Prize is critical.

Vote Contests - Get consumer feedback. Let your fans/followers choose your next product tag line, product offering, logo, t-shirt design or just enjoy the increased engagement with fans voting on a fun idea. 

Photo Caption Contests - Ask entrants to caption an image you choose. This is a simple, engaging way to get people talking and sharing your photo and it also increases brand awareness and page likes. 

Essay Contests - Get specific feedback on your products and/or services.  Require entrants to write a few words on a topic you choose (i.e. Why would your mother love spending Mother’s Day at “Her Favorite Beauty Bar”?).  This provides a better understanding of why clients come to your spa/salon, what they value, etc.  Prize is critical, as the entry method is more complicated and time consuming. 

Photo Contests – Increase user generated content by asking entrants to submit a photo of themselves using/wearing/trying your product, or before/after images of the use of your product/service.  The entries to this contest can later be used for blog material, website information, etc.

 2.     Contest Prize is Often Key

The contest prize often determines the contest’s success.  Most people will first determine if the prize merits the time and energy required for entry.  If you have a high-value prize (over about $300), the more you can require from contest participants.  If your prize is lower-value ($50 - $300), the contest requirements must be simple and entry must be easy.

If your prize is on the less expensive end, it is wise to have the contest run over the short-term (no more than two weeks).  For a high-value prize, your contest can run for weeks and even months.  

It’s beneficial to your business and brand to make your prize brand-related.  That means giving away gift cards for your products or services.  And while the retail value of the prize might be $500, the cost to you is obviously far less. This isn’t true for those contest prizes that are third party purchases (iPad, AMEX gift card, air travel, etc.).

3.     Make Contest Entry Simple

Complicated entry process = guaranteed fewer participants.  Make your contest stupid-proof.  Advice you can take to the bank:  most people are impatient and don’t want to spend much time thinking about your contest.  Dumb down the contest entry to make it achievable for a kindergartner.  ;)

 4.     Promote the Contest

Spread the word about your contest. Use Facebook promoted posts, FB ads and ask fans/followers to share the contest on their personal pages.  Add a contest promo banner/cover image on FB, TW and G+ pages.  Cross promote the contest on all social media platforms, websites and through dedicated email blasts.  Create a unique hashtag for your contest (critical for Instagram contests):   #JumpingJackFlashContest  #BoiseGreatGiveaway

 5.     Post Contest Follow Up

Send an email that includes all entries to those who participate in the contest.  Later, post and email an image of the winning entry or a photo of the prize.  Follow up with posts on all social media platforms showing winner receiving prize or the gift certificate being mailed, etc.  Post teasers for future contests to keep momentum going and fans/followers engaged. 

 Why run a contest anyway, you might ask?  Here, we give you the skinny:

1. Get more fans, followers

2. Increase brand awareness

3. Generate new emails and leads

4. Develop user-generated content (UGC)

5. Crowdsource your product development

6. Impact sales

7. Launch a new product or promote an event

8. Obtain greater insight into your fans’ and followers’ preferences, opinions

9. Drive more traffic to your ecommerce store

10.  Exposure.  Exposure.  Exposure.

Susan Linning is president of ECHO SOCIAL MEDIA + MARKETING of Miami, which develops and executes social media and integrated marketing strategies, creating custom content and maintaining pages on social media platforms. ECHO also provides blogging and copy-writing services.

Search this blog for past columns by Susan Linning.


February 02, 2014

5 ways to start conversations online to gain, retain customers

By Tasha Cunningham

TashaFor years, people have been socializing online. Whether it’s on dating sites to find a potential mate or visiting a retail store online in search of the perfect product, consumers spend a considerable amount of time expressing their opinions, making purchases and connecting with others on the Web. In fact, in just one minute in 2013, a whopping $83,000 in purchases were made on Amazon, 1.8 million likes were posted on Facebook, 278,000 tweets were sent on Twitter and 216,000 photos were shared on Instagram, according to Qmee, a site that offers the public cash rewards for searching online. The firm compiled data from PC Mag, Business Insider and other sites to create a composite of what happens online in 60 seconds.

For the small business owner, the flurry of online activity presents a good opportunity to find and retain customers by starting conversations online. Many entrepreneurs are overwhelmed by marketing their businesses online. There are millions of sites to post information, create profiles and share product pictures. Making sense of it all can be tough. But not to worry, free tools combined with sound marketing strategies can make starting and sustaining online conversations easy.

1. Use free social media monitoring tools to listen. One of the most effective ways to track conversations online is by using a monitoring tool. For small business owners, the cost of some monitoring services can be pricy. But there a number of free tools you can use to check out what consumers are saying about any topic, including your brand and that of your competition on the Internet. Check out Cyfe (cyfe.com), SocialMention (socialmention.com) and HootSuite (hootsuite.com) to get started.

When looking for conversations using a monitoring tool, be sure to search for a keyword or topic with and without the hashtag (#). This will allow you to track the terms on sites like Twitter and Instagram where hashtags are used often.

2. Take advantage of LinkedIn Mentions. This tool gives you the chance to mention a company or person in an update and then notify them that you’ve talked about them on LinkedIn. It’s simple to use and allows you to connect and start conversations with consumers who may have interest in your product or service.

Here’s how it works: Select someone else’s update you would like to comment on. Click on the “Comment” link and type @. Then start typing a name in the box. A list of potential people or companies you can mention will pop up. Click a name from the list and start typing your message. The person or company mentioned in your message will receive an e-mail alert about the mention.

3. Check out Twitter Conversations. You may have noticed that for a while now, Twitter has been making it easier for people to connect. One of the newest tools is Conversations. It’s essentially a vertical blue line that you’ll see connecting a thread between two or more people. You can select a conversation and then join it by replying to someone in the thread. Your reply will only be seen by your followers and the person you replied to, but it’s a great way to gauge the types of conversations on Twitter that are relevant to your business.

4. Explore Instagram Direct. If your company is using Instagram to market online, you might want to try Instagram Direct, a new feature that allows users to share content with specific people or groups in private conversations. To use it, click on the “Direct” icon in the top corner of your homepage, select a user or group of users to share your content with and you’re done. Once you’ve shared your content, private threads can occur on the image or video, but only the people you’ve shared it with will see it. But Instagram users can also block users from sending you direct content, so make sure what you’re sharing is useful and engaging.

5. Look out for the Facebook Conversations Group. Earlier this month, Facebook announced that it will forming the Facebook Conversations Group, a unit of the company aimed at building products designed to help make it easier for people to converse online. Facebook’s recently acquired team that developed Branch, a social discussion startup backed by the founders of Twitter. The Branch team will lead the group. In the meantime, check out Branch by visiting branch.com.

Tasha Cunningham is a principal in the Cunningham Group, a communications firm with offices in Miami and Orlando.



3 More Free Tools to Help Facilitate Customer Conversations Online

Finding easy ways to converse with and engage your customers online doesn’t have to be a chore! If you read my column in today’s Miami Herald, you saw that there are great free tools out there to help you get started. Here are three more that you can add to your online marketing arsenal! 

  1. Don’t forget about Tumblr. Tumblr is one of the fastest growing social networking sites around. It is very similar to sites like Facebook and Twitter, but with a few key differences that you can use to your advantage. First, posting content from just about anywhere is pretty easy. You can text updates from your mobile phone and the site has a bookmarklet that allows you to post literally anything you come across on the Internet. Next, interact with others by reposting their Tumblr content is quick with a button that lets you re-blog anything you find on someone else’s Tumblr. Check it out here – http://Tumblr.com

 Get people talking about your brand on Pinterest. Sharing pictures of your products or your employees in action is an effective tactic for engaging with potential customers on Pinterest. If you post images on your website, make sure that you add a “Pin It” button so that your customers can share your photos on their Pinterest pages.

  1. Promote others while promoting your business.  Remember that you’re trying to start conversations with potential customers online. One of the best ways to do that is to engage with their content. Like other people’s posts, comment on their pictures and favorite their content to get your business noticed.

Connect with Tasha on Twitter @MediaPRBranding. 

January 18, 2014

UM's PhilADthropy marketing marathon to help nonprofits; application deadline Jan. 24

PhilThe University of Miami School of Communication is seeking nonprofit organizations to work with students during its 5th annual PhilADthropy advertising event.

During this 25-hour ad-a-thon that will be Feb. 7-8, UM communications students will provide free advertising and creative services to local nonprofits. Nonprofits can apply online at http://philadthropy.com; the application deadline is Friday, Jan. 24.

The Feb. 7 event begins with earch selected nonprofit presenting its mission and goals and then working with its team of students to formulate a plan. The students then spend the next 24 hours creating advertising collateral for their clients. The nonprofits return Saturday morning to see teams present their work.

Published Jan. 18, 2014