15 Reasons Businesses Should Be Celebrating #SocialMediaDay Lauren Nelson | June 30th, 2016

Happy Social Media Day, everyone! Who’s ready to party like a minor MySpace celebrity circa 2004?

Party Hardy

In all seriousness though, it’s a day worth observing. Launched in 2010 by Mashable, the digital holiday was all about acknowledging what has since become a nearly ubiquitous part of our daily lives. As Mashable explained way back then:

Social media has changed our lives. It has not only changed the way we communicate, but the way we connect with one another, consume our news, conduct our work, organize our lives, and much more. So why not celebrate?

Since then, the holiday has grown, with great emphasis put on how social media has contributed to social movements, education, and entertainment. There are meetups across the globe and just as many threads of associated chatter on — appropriately — social media to discuss the impact of our favorite platforms on our lives.

But we’d be remiss to not address the ways in which social media has changed the game for businesses. Why do we love social media? Let us count the ways:

1. It lets us to get to know our customers in a way that wasn’t possible before… even if it is TMI sometimes.

2. It allows us talk directly to our customers in a more efficient and dynamic manner. Those conversations spur greater brand recognition and loyalty.

3. It gives us an outlet for the laughing baby videos that would otherwise be constrained to office email chains.

4. It’s offered us a concise means of curating conversation with hashtags that connect us with people we’d otherwise never know.

5. It’s totally transformed the way we all interact with video, democratizing marketing mediums that were once dominated by the heaviest spenders.

6. It saved us from SMS marketing gaining major prominence, for which everyone should be grateful.

7. It helped us find more meaningful ways to determine which content is working for us than Google’s algorithms.

8. It validated our vanity and made it socially acceptable by letting selfies become a thing.

9. It reminded us that weird brands are often some of the best brands.

10. It made us better by opening us up to direct public critique when the echo chamber in the office doesn’t save us from ourselves.

11. It shrunk this big ol’ world by creating communities that span the globe.

12. It found a way to bring talent from all over to the table for offices without boundaries.

13. It created a hive of business minds that learn and grow from one another.

14. It facilitated a smorgasbord of rich visual content that keeps us inspired and hungry.

15. It taught us how to have fun as marketers again.

We could probably keep going, but we won’t keep you from your festivities any longer. Go forth. Make merry. Be social.

The Problem is the Advertising, Not the Ad Blocker Lauren Nelson | June 30th, 2016

Media companies and publishers are mad. Like, really mad. Well, maybe more nervous than mad, but certainly angry enough to sound a lot like digital geriatrics shaking their fists at the ad blocking kids running up and down their site.

Their agitation is understandable. After all, the clever little extensions that give the rest of us a faster, cleaner, less irritating web experience are eating away at ROI for advertisers and revenue for publishers. They’re begging us to turn them off. Some have guilt trip popups to cajole the visitor into making an exception to their ad free browsing experience for them. Some wall off their content from those who refuse to see the ads. Just earlier this month, New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson said they were moving toward a similar approach, defending the move by declaring, “No one who refuses to contribute to the creation of high quality journalism has the right to consume it.”

Now, Thompson has a point. High quality journalism provides a public service, but it also costs money to produce, and ads have long been part of the funding mix. But attacking ad blockers as the problem instead of considering that the model itself might be broken is where he gets it wrong.

Thompson admitted that publishers have sort of screwed the pooch in the way they’ve gone about selling advertising space: it’s been too cluttered, too loud, too obnoxious. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, though. As we’ve written in the past, even when those ad blockers are switched off, more than 70% of visitors tune out the ads anyway. The fact of the matter is that traditional digital advertising space, whether ad blockers are a thing or not, is simply not as valuable as it used to be. Thompson and others in his camp are taking up arms for an already lost cause.

But there are other reasons this grandstanding is ill advised. Ad blockers aren’t just cleaning up the ad-saturated aesthetic of a website. They also can cut load times by as much as half on some websites, which matters a lot when shorter load times can halve your bounce rate and increase your conversions by more than 25%. In other words, by standing by an already faltering business model in the name of revenue protection, these companies may unwittingly be sacrificing more durable revenue streams in the long term.

The call to action from Thompson also ignores one of the biggest benefits of ad blockers: protection from infection. As the Columbia Journalism Review explains:

Thompson did not say one word in his keynote address about the significant security benefits of ad blockers, which is ironic, because his paper was one of several news organizations that served its users ransomware—a particularly vicious form of malware that encrypts the contents of your computer and forces you to pay the perpetrators a ransom in bitcoin to unlock it—through its ad networks just a few months ago. Several major news sites—including the Times, the BBC, and AOL—had their ad networks hijacked by criminal hackers who attempted to install ransomware on readers’ computers.

Advertising networks have served malware onto the computers of unwitting news readers over and over in the past couple years. Ads on Forbes, for example, attacked their readers in January, right after the magazine forced readers to disable ad-blocking software to view its popular annual “30 Under 30” feature. As Engadget reported, “visitors were immediately served with pop-under malware, primed to infect their computers, and likely silently steal passwords, personal data and banking information.” It wasn’t the first time this had happened at Forbes, either. And it’s not just in the US. A couple months ago, almost every major news site in the Netherlands served malware through its ads to its users.

You can bet this problem is only going to get worse. According to a 2015 study, malware served by advertising networks tripled between June 2015 and February 2015. So the longer people wait to install an ad blocker, the more vulnerable they become.

In other words, Thompson is missing the forest for the trees, as are the advertisers lining up behind him. As they cling to the vestiges of a failing model, they ignore the user experience and ask their audience to put themselves at risk. That’s not exactly sound business practice.

Instead of attacking ad blockers, we should be focusing on how to connect marketers and their audiences in ways that are less obtrusive and precarious. Find ways to join the conversation instead of speaking over it. Native advertising. Co-sponsored content. Webinars. The possibilities are limitless.

Get creative. Or get a creative at crowdSPRING to help you get it right.

Fresh from the SPRING: L3golas Audree | June 30th, 2016

When perusing our galleries here on crowdSPRING, we see some amazing work submitted in the projects. Today, we noticed this gem submitted in this logo project.

Let us start the slow clap for L3golas. Check out more great work on L3golas’ profile page.

Nicely done, L3golas , nicely done!

FFTS-L3golas

 

Why We Should Be Teaching Kids the Language of Design Lauren Nelson | June 29th, 2016

Let’s face it: the U.S. has been behind the curve when it comes to the study of languages for… well, too long to calculate at this point. While their European and Asian counterparts learn multiple languages before heading off to higher education, the American students find delayed instruction in languages other than English until middle school at the earliest in some cases, with most high schools requiring a meager two years of foreign language study for a student to receive their diploma.

Despite concerted efforts to change that trend over the last couple of decades, there’s been only minimal progress. But as technology has transformed the world around us, there’s been an new push to have our kids learn different languages. These languages come without feminine and masculine nouns or accents that baffle the average high schooler. No, these languages are used by tech companies the world over who are all too eager to hire the best and brightest young and fluent minds they can find. I am speaking, of course, of the push for teaching our kids how to code.

Don’t get it twisted. There’s no denying that’s a good idea. Period. Point blank. No caveats. But as we grow to accept these languages as worthy of study, we should also be willing to a language more fluid than those defined by binary code, unfamiliar alphabets, and dead speech patterns. There’s another language we need to be teaching our students these days: the language of design.

Put on your listening ears.

It’s impossible to say that “x” is the most important element of building and growing a business, but if we were to try to rank all the ingredients in such a recipe, design would most certainly be towards the top of the list. A poorly designed website will turn off potential customers faster than you can blink an eye. A poorly designed social profile will undercut your brand’s credibility and kneecap your attempts to build an audience. Poorly designed emails will do little to improve your conversion rates while diminishing your engaged audience. Poorly designed landing pages are close to useless. Poorly designed product packaging will sit in the shadows on a shelf.

Poor design sells nothing and can cost you everything. It doesn’t matter how fantastic your product or service might be. It doesn’t matter how eloquently you speak or write about the quality of what you have to offer. If you cannot present it in a compelling manner, you’ve already lost the game.

We’re not saying that every high school graduate should be able to design a perfect logo or website or any other creative asset. The truth of the matter is that, even with technical proficiency in the tools of the trade, not every mind is cut out for the world of design. It takes more than knowledge of the most recent version of the Adobe creative suite to be a successful designer.

But anyone entering the workforce should have a basic understanding of the principles of design. Whether those students go on to be CEOs, CFOs, COOs, or CMOs; whether they’re customer service wizards, superstar sales people, or human resource managers; whether they’re administrative assistants, system analysts, or accountants — understanding the significance of design and the various ways in which it plays a role in a company is important to the health of any company. Why?

Business Is Changing… and So Are Your Needs.

For starters, it’s part of success in a modern era. More and more, business leaders are realizing that any and every employee has the potential to transform a company. It doesn’t matter where you start or what your role is; any team member is capable of coming up with the next idea that will take the business to the next level. If those employees are empowered with an understanding of design, their ability to contribute is magnified. It offers a different dynamic to their thought process. Conceptualization starts to extend beyond decimal points and bottom lines. They start to realize that an inherent part of progress is creativity, and begin to incorporate, at a minimum, a respect for that need in their approach to innovation.

Mind. Blown. Or, it should be.

And even in a world where those people aren’t thinking in terms of pixels and brand standards, let’s be real: when has it ever hurt to have a workforce that’s been trained to think creatively?

Your Budget Needs a Reality Check

A rudimentary understanding of design also means you’re more likely to have consensus when it comes to resource allocation. Far too often, the first thing to go when the going gets tough is the budget for creatives. The common perception is that creative work is the fat when it comes time to go lean. That probably shouldn’t surprise us. Even in our schools, the arts are the first to go when times get tough. We teach ’em young to devalue that spark of creativity.

Seriously?

But when the creative budget is sacrificed, every other function is compromised. Your sales team has fewer resources. Your operations team, which frequently relies upon effective communication to keep the ship upright, finds themselves hamstrung by a stale pantry. And the makeshift efforts of the untrained who try to pick up the torch in the vacuum left by short-sighted cuts? They can do a lot of harm to the long-term health of a brand and that bottom line you value so dearly.

You're in over your head.

Creatives Are Already Mad As Hell

But perhaps most importantly, ensuring the next generation understands at least the basics of design just might help those in charge make better decisions about design by teaching them to trust designers. One of the most frustrating things for design professionals is when a client’s engagement or critique amounts to a shrug and personal preference. That has to be at least somewhat understandable, right? Imagine how you might feel, as an experienced plumber, if someone took a look at your handiwork and said, “Eh, I’m just not feeling it.”

UGGGHHHH

Don’t get us wrong: instinct and vision are indispensable in the business world, and decision makers should not feel beholden to designers. But if a seasoned designer is explaining your options along with the benefits and drawbacks of each potential choice, you’d do well to listen. They’ve spent a great deal of time honing their craft and learning from their experiences. They’re not talking because they enjoy the sound of their own voice.

Listening ears on, please.

And maybe, just maybe, in a world where design education is folded into our standard K-12 curriculum, that whole listening thing will become more common.

Let’s Get Our Act Together

Students today should be learning Spanish. And Mandarin. And German. And Russian. They should be studying HTML and CSS and PHP and SQL and Java and Python and C++ and beyond. But they should also be learning about design.

As we move in that direction, creative crowdsourcing sites like crowdSPRING offer you your best shot at getting the whole design thing right. Many minds, many concepts, many explanations of the opportunities presented, many opportunities to learn and grow and prosper as a company, and all on a budget that’s hard to turn down. It’s a winning proposition. Make it your secret weapon while the American education system catches up.

Given the country’s track record, it might take a while. But don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

Lessons from the New Netflix Logo Lauren Nelson | June 29th, 2016

Netflix made waves recently with the announcement of a new logo. The ever evolving company began refreshing their image last year with a modified version of their wordmark logo that ditched the kitschy, oversized drop shadow for a cleaner, crisper look. The new logo — a sharp, sophisticated lettermark — is the natural next step in this visual evolution.

new netflix logo

It’s a pretty boss logo, but more than that, it’s immensely strategic. As Mark Wilson writes:

Before this update, Netflix had been forced to cram all seven letters of its name onto social networks and the tiny icon of its iOS app. Its wide stance didn’t play in a box, and this full-word approach worked particularly poorly at small sizes. Replacing the word with one giant letter allows Netflix to compete better with everything else on your mobile screen.

The first thing you notice about that letter is that it isn’t the same “N” you’ll find in “Netflix” itself. It features a rounded bottom that gives a nod to the main logo, but letter itself pops from the page in 3-D. The letter is built from a single red ribbon, folded over itself with drop shadow.

What really strikes me is the success of this logo’s core visual metaphor. What is that ribbon? Is it a red carpet? Is it a celluloid film print? Is it the visualization of Netflix’s own stream, bouncing from them to servers to your own home? It could be all these things at once—not a bad metaphor for a company with astronomical ambition.

Companies can learn a lot from Netflix’s big win here. It’s not that their existing wordmark logo is bad or going anywhere. It’s that the company recognized that they might be able to boost brand recognition and portray a more digitally grown up image if they crafted a logo that was better suited for the avenues through which their audience engages them: the icon on their smart phone, the profile photo next to their Facebook status updates, the avatar next to their tweets. For Netflix, this meant boiling their wordmark logo down to a lettermark.

For those whose primary logo is already a lettermark, symbol, or emblem, such adaptation may not be of great concern. But for those whose primary logos are wordmarks or combination designs, going the Netflix route and finding a simpler design for use on appropriate platforms might be a smart play. In these cases, crowdsourcing design work can be invaluable.

It can be tempting to think that creative assistance isn’t needed to create such a simple derivation of your current logo, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, you could crop your logo down to a single letter, but that’s not going to achieve the same results as working with a creative to breathe life into a minimalist logo for web and mobile use. The Netflix lettermark, as Wilson points out, isn’t just the traditional “N” found on the Netflix wordmark. It’s entirely different while still feeling familiar, which is why it’s so striking.

And making something so simple remarkable? That’s hard work, especially for those close to their brand. That closeness can distort perspective, making it hard to envision anything beyond the familiar. As a result, in-house attempts to freshen or adapt a well-loved logo can sometimes yield flat creative that fails to rise to the occasion.

Crowdsourcing solves for all of that. With platforms like crowdSPRING, your needs are broadcast to an army of talented creatives itching to show you their best ideas. You have the opportunity to engage directly with designers to make sure the final product has that wow factor. And the best part? You don’t need a Netflix-sized budget to do it.

How Businesses Can Brace Themselves for the Post-Brexit Fallout Lauren Nelson | June 28th, 2016

A year or two ago, it would have been unthinkable. Even as the vote grew closer, most predicted it would fail. The exit polls suggested we were safe. But when the more than 33 million votes cast were finally counted, it became a dizzying reality: Britain had voted to leave the European Union.

Global markets turned chaotic as that reality hit. The pound fell below even 2008 levels to its lowest point since 1985 while the Euro fell against other world currencies. Volatility surged while stocks went into free fall. And though the ECB and Bank of England quickly told the public that they had earmarked money for market stabilization, their promises weren’t exactly reassuring. After all, the vote is only the tip of the iceberg here. What comes next? What does Britain leaving the EU even look like? There’s talk of Scotland and Ireland seeking independence and other EU nations plotting exits of their own, as well. Mix in a contentious U.S. election cycle, the ongoing refugee crisis flowing out of the Middle East, and geopolitical tensions with Russia, and it’s no wonder the Brexit vote’s got the world like…

AHHHHHHHH!

Hold up, you might be saying. What on earth does this have to do with a company trying to grow?

A lot, actually.

Unless you actually live in Europe, this might not seem immediately alarming — concerning, perhaps, but a world away. But even if you’re running a startup out of your basement in Omaha, this is a situation to which you should pay attention. You might not be directly impacted in this moment, but the shock waves sent out by the election results may have a significant impact on the ever-shrinking global environment in which your business is operating.

We’re not exactly at 2008 financial crisis levels just yet, but global economic events like these tend to weigh heavily on things like credit markets, investment portfolios, investor confidence, consumer confidence, and consumer spending. For startups and small businesses, these shifts can have a major effect on the trajectory of your company.

What can you do to prepare for the brewing storm?

Talk to your money people.

Get that money right.

Investment advisers, financial planners, accountants: oh my. Love ’em or hate ’em, now is the time to reach out and talk game plan. Make sure you’re in a position that’s not only appropriate for your available risk capital and risk tolerance, but is appropriately insulated from the most likely potential sources of volatility in the markets in the coming months. To be clear: this isn’t us giving you financial advice. This is us telling you that now is a good time to go seek such advice from financial professionals.

Stay lean.

Grind on, party people.

While it’s always important to be shrewd about managing your business costs, climates like the one emerging today can be particularly brutal. Take advantage of the burgeoning non-traditional labor market and opt for contract work where appropriate to keep your overhead low without leaving yourself exposed. Crowdsourcing is always a good tactic here.

Keep your eye on the prize.

Knope knows best. SWING. HARD.

Even as you pinch pennies, don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re neglecting your brand. If anything, consciously choose to invest in solidifying your brand’s image. When the economy seizes, a strong competitive position is what will keep you afloat, and a strong brand is the cornerstone of your competitive position. Keep that web design fresh, your social accounts active, and your pixels on point.

Get weird.

A little madness goes a long way.

In times like these, it’s tempting to play it safe at all costs. No big changes, no big risks. And while an ounce of caution is certainly warranted in the face of volatility, and some conservative plays make sense, you can’t stop moving. Content, email, and social media marketing are relatively low cost options for creatively engaging your target market.

Listen, people the world over were caught off guard by the Brexit vote, but there’s a lot more chaos on the horizon. Don’t let yourself get caught off guard by the curves in the road ahead. With the right frame of mind and game plan, you’ll weather the ride just fine.

Keep it together, yo.

Image Credit: Orchard Marketing Associates

What Marketers Can Learn From Kim Kardashian Arielle Kimbarovsky | June 28th, 2016

Kim Kardashian Takes a Selfie

We’ve got some bad news. Your customers are probably ignoring you.

Sure, there are an infinite number of YouTube commercials, product placements, sponsored blog content, and a whole cacophony of other messages being thrown into the interwebs by companies trying to get some brand attention on the daily, but is their target audience really seeing all of these marketing messages?

Despite the massive amount of money spent on online marketing every year, a 2013 study confirmed that a shocking 86% of consumers suffer from banner blindness, or the tendency to be oblivious to traditional advertisements. With the rise of adblockers, those numbers are getting worse. To be entirely fair, such data is pretty specific to what’s now considered conventional digital advertising. Since then, tactics like native advertising, social branding, and robust content marketing have provided access to customers that those banner ads could never offer. But even with these tools at our disposal, businesses are still fighting an uphill battle. After all, the average internet user’s attention span these days is quite literally shorter than that of a goldfish.

goldfish

So how do you get the fishies to stick around? According to psychologists Horton and Wohl, the answer lies in parasocial interactions.

Initially seen as a social abnormality, Horton and Wohl chalked up parasocial interactions to lonesome people who wanted media figures to feel like their friends. However, upon further examination of popular media figures and media consumers, the psychologists realized that the celebrities created parasocial relationships with the consumers, giving them the illusion of being in a seemingly face-to-face relationship. Their paper on parasocial interactions details this illusion:

One of the striking characteristics of the new mass media – radio, television, and the movies – is that they give the illusion of face-to-face relationship with the performer. The conditions of response to the performer are analogous to those in a primary group. The most remote and illustrious men are met as if they were in the circle of one’s peers; the same is true of a character in a story who comes to life in these media in an especially vivid and arresting way. We propose to call this seeming face-to-face relationship between spectator and performer a para-social relationship.

We mostly see these parasocial interactions in marketing on the social media pages of influencers, whether it’s a mainstream celebrity or a celebrity for a small niche group of people. Whether it’s reality TV star Kim Kardashian (@KimKardashian) or tech influencer Michael Stevens (@tweetsauce), the future (and present) of marketing is falling deeper and deeper into their hands. They’re making money from product placements and are gaining Twitter followers by the minute. What influencers such as Stevens or Kardashian do is make a connection with their audience, and open them up in a selective way so that it looks as though people know their personal lives.

For example, in a tweet on May 23, 2016, Stevens reveals a video of a hike taken with his family. This tweet doesn’t advertise anything. There’s no call to action or ask. It’s not helping him, or any company. He’s not getting paid. But it’s gaining him a reputation of relatability, so the next time he recommends a product or a video, people are more likely to click and watch it because they think it’s a recommendation from a friend.

But I need to sell something, you might be thinking. How do mountaintop selfies help me do that? Sure, parasocial relationships help celebrities, but how could it work for little old me?

Really, the answer goes back to rather conventional sales thinking. Ask any salesperson worth their salt how they manage to generate top tier results, and they’ll tell you that it’s all about the relationships they cultivate with their clients. That relationship building fosters the trust and affinity that helps them close the deal, and that same type of tactic can be leveraged in your marketing strategy. Give your brand an authentic personality with which your audience can engage, and they’re far more likely to be receptive to you when you want to talk about what you bring to the table.

So go ahead. Post a picture on Instagram of you making a face behind your sleeping employee. Tweet out the funny cat video that is starting your morning out with a fit of giggles. Send out a snap of the team singing karaoke in the office. Let your hair down and give the Kardashians a run for their money. Your brand will thank you later.

Image credits: The Celebrity Auction and Aquadine

Fresh from the SPRING: ezequielsantos Audree | June 21st, 2016

When perusing our galleries here on crowdSPRING, we see some amazing work submitted in the projects. Today, we noticed this gem submitted in this logo project.

Let us start the slow clap for ezequielsantos. Check out more great work on ezequielsantos’ profile page.

Nicely done, ezequielsantos, nicely done!

FFTS-TEq

How One Book, Science, and This Article Will Change Your Productivity and Happiness Arielle Kimbarovsky | June 15th, 2016

15599597515_fc121272c5_z

The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is one of my favorite business books. When I first read it several years ago, I had no experience working a self-directed, flexible schedule. With one short exception, I had always been exposed to specific timetables, exclusively hard deadlines, and the mentality that “more is more”. The sole exception was during an internship with a company that briefly experimented with flexible self direction – only to change managers and require set hours, working around the clock.

Set hours made me really unhappy, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t realize the toll that such an overly structured, hyper-managed culture was taking on me. I didn’t think much about this until I switched companies and was introduced to an open, flexible, relaxed culture. Truthfully, I couldn’t fully understand my own feelings about working in a rigid culture, and I’m sure that many other people struggle with the same issue.

Despite many companies and startups advertising (and purporting to implement) company cultures that include the required buzzwords of “unlimited vacation time”, “flexible work schedule”, and “ability to work remote”, many business owners still buy into the idea that “time is money”. More time worked equals more money – or at least that’s the formula some business owners follow.

Here’s an interesting fact that I’m certain managers and business owners never share with people who work 60 to 100 hour per week: we can’t actually tell the difference between the productivity of someone who works over 80 hours vs. someone who works fewer than 40 hours.

In a study published by Organization Science (Embracing, Passing, Revealing, and the Ideal Worker Image: How People Navigate Expected and Experienced Professional Identities), Erin Reid from Boston University Questrom School of Business analyzed the differences between employees self-perception and their employers’ evaluations. Reid made several interesting discoveries. For example, Reid found that employees in harsh “time is money” cultures were usually dishonest about the actual amount of work they completed in the timeframe they gave their boss. She also found that employees gave the most positive evaluations to those workers who they perceived were working the longest hours.

Read the rest of this post »

Fresh from the SPRING: joannagraphic Audree | June 14th, 2016

When perusing our galleries here on crowdSPRING, we see some amazing work submitted in the projects. Today, we noticed this gem submitted in this Package Graphics project.

Let us start the slow clap for joannagraphic. Check out more great work on joannagraphic’s profile page.

Nicely done, joannagraphic, nicely done!

FFTS-joannagraphic

 

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