Thursday, March 31, 2016

What Instagram’s Newest Change Means for Communicators

By Sarah Larson

Instagram this week announced a major change that expands its video capabilities and marks another milestone in the continuing shift toward visual communication.

On March 29, the social network said that it would expand the allowed length of videos posted to the site to 60 seconds. That quadruples the time from the app’s current cap of 15 seconds.

The new video capabilities are being tested with small groups of users (New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was one of them) and are expected to be rolled out to all users “in the coming months,” according to Instagram.

The move is driven by one simple factor: popularity.

“In the last six months, the time people spent watching video increased by more than 40 percent,” Instagram said in its announcement.

What does this change mean for professional communicators? Several things.

First, of course, it means more time to tell your story. Whether you’re promoting a fundraising event, sharing behind-the-scenes glimpses of your company at work, or announcing a new initiative, having more time gives you more opportunity to shine.

Just because your videos can be longer, however, doesn’t mean they should be. Strong editing will remain key to success. Though digital marketers still love to debate the “ideal” average length for online video, nearly all agree that viewership and engagement decrease as running times increase.

It also doesn’t mean that writing is irrelevant. In fact, powerful writing is vital to the creation of a powerful video. Tight voiceover scripts that choose just the right word and thoughtful onscreen text that reinforces key messages are just as important as the wide shots and graphics. (Some argue that writing is actually the most important skill for broadcast.)

If it weren’t already clear to organizations that their communications strategies should include video, this move by the world’s most popular platform for sharing still photography should erase any remaining doubts.

How are you incorporating visual storytelling elements into your marketing and public relations plans? Share your experience in the comments.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How Do You Set Up a Free WordPress Blog?

By Laura Powers and Heather Truitt

Do you have the urge to write and publish but don’t want to invest time and resources in establishing a full-blown website? A WordPress option allows users to set up a blogging website, for FREE. Just follow the steps below and you’ll be on your way to blogging in no time.

Step 1: Visit Wordpress.com

Click “Create a Website” or “Start a Blog” (both have similar results).

NEXT PAGE: Type in the name you have determined for your blog; this is the web address people will use to find your blog. The name will be appended by .wordpress.com, so your site name will be yoursitename.wordpress.com. WordPress will let you know if that address is already taken.

Choose a username and a password and type in the email address you want associated with the WordPress account. This should be an email that is monitored frequently. Click “Create blog.”

NEXT PAGE: Check your email to complete your registration. Your account is now active.

Log in to your blog account with your username and password. In the black menu bar at the top of the page, click on “Dashboard.” Select a blog title and tagline that will display at the top of the blog. These should be search-engine optimized to reflect the topics and subject matter of the blog. These can be edited at any time during the life of the blog.

Step 2: Activate Your Theme

Navigate to the “Themes” menu on the left column. Click “Customize.”

There are free themes to select from if you navigate to the right-hand side and click the bar that says “all” and select “free.” After selecting a theme, click “try and customize.” Using the left hand side menu, you can change colors, backgrounds, fonts, the header image, menus, and add widgets (see Step 3).

Step 3: Add Widgets

Navigate to the “Widgets” menu on the left column. Click “Widgets.”

Widgets enhance the design and functionality of your blog. On this page, you will choose what functional options you want the blog to show readers. The most common widgets are an Email Subscription form (a widget called “Follow Blog”), Categories, Archives, and a Facebook like box. It is recommended that you also add a Meta box so you can easily log in to your site.

Once you’ve decided which widgets to use, select them to add them to the list. Drag and drop widgets to move them around your blog layout. Feel free to experiment here.

When you’re satisfied with the layout, click on the “save and activate” button.

Step 4: Publish your first post!

Have you set up a free WordPress website or blog? How was your experience?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Importance of Color Selection in Website Artwork

By Heather Truitt

How important is the color of the artwork you select for your website or your blog? It is critical in ensuring that your viewers see a harmony between your overall brand, your website and the images used on the site and on any associated social media channels.

Color powerfully conveys emotion. And it doesn’t have to be heavy-handed; some of the best websites reflect a brand designed with a minimal palette of colors.

After the color palette for your brand has been developed, you want to make sure that you stick to that palette when creating any website art – even the thumbnail art you may create to use to anchor blog posts. From graphics, to buttons, to infographics, it is important that all elements used on your blog or website keep within the chosen palette of colors in order to reinforce consistency and brand awareness.

For example, what colors come to mind when you think of the following brands?

  • Target
  • CVS
  • Walmart
  • Gap
  • Starbucks
Red, red, blue, blue, and green.

Target uses red for everything on their website design; from the logo, menu bars, and “add to cart” button, everything is consistently colored an identical red.

The same can be said for Walmart, Starbucks, CVS, Best Buy, and the list could go on to encompass the majority of major retailers.

You associate each of these companies with the colors of their brand. In fact, sometimes the association between the company and the logo in combination with its color can be so strong that companies have taken their name off of their signage. Target, for example, will often use only the red bullseye, and Starbucks often will use only its siren logo.

Maintaining color consistency of images and graphics placed on your website or blog is vital, not only for major retailers, but for small companies, too. Keeping your brand consistent throughout all mediums and platforms reinforces customer recognition and retention and strengthens your brand.

How do you use color in your website artwork? Let us know in the comments.

Monday, March 07, 2016

How Can Lawyers Boost Their Avvo Ratings?

By Gina Rubel

As we discussed last week, Avvo is an attorney directory website that aims to “match consumers with the best possible fit for legal representation.” It also “rates” attorneys with a number from 1 (indicating “extreme caution” to 10 (Superb).

As we also discussed last week, that rating does not necessarily reflect an attorney’s actual prowess. Even Avvo admits as much, noting that, “The Avvo Rating is based only on the information we have collected and that the attorney has provided, so we don’t recommend the Avvo Rating as the only piece of information you use to evaluate whether an attorney is right for you.”

What is in the ‘Secret Sauce’?

Much like the formula for Coke or the 11 herbs and spices in Kentucky Fried Chicken’s seasoning, the precise factors that Avvo uses to calculate an attorney’s rating are kept secret. Avvo maintains that the information it uses is the same information displayed on an attorney’s profile.

“However, we do not disclose the weight we give to this information so that no one can game the system, boosting their rating through unfair advantage,” it says. “Much as Google doesn’t share its search engine secrets, we don’t share the inner-workings of the Avvo Rating so we can maintain the neutrality and integrity of the rating.”

Whether you agree with the fundamental premise behind Avvo’s ratings or not, the site still probably has a profile for you. Because it appears so high in search engine results, we advise our clients to take control of their Avvo profiles and to fill them out as completely as possible.

6 Tips to Boost Your Avvo Rating

After years of experience helping clients improve their Avvo ratings, here are six areas of the Avvo profile that we have seen correlate to a higher overall rating.

Attorney endorsements: We have found that endorsements from fellow attorneys significantly increase an attorney’s Avvo rating. However, there is a limit to how many endorsement points you can receive. To receive endorsements from your peers, you need to proactively request those testimonials. It’s the same as asking someone for a reference, and it is rare that other attorneys will endorse you without being formally asked first.

Work experience: The Avvo Rating factors in the type of work experience as well as the number of years you have practiced law. This can include leadership positions that you have held with legal associations (e.g., state bar). And be sure to include your current employer. If your current employer is already listed on your Avvo profile, check to make sure that information is correct such as your employer’s address and contact information.

Awards and honors: Awards from recognized groups such as Super Lawyers, The Best Lawyers in America, Martindale-Hubbell, etc. will positively impact your Avvo Rating. The weight from these awards will decrease over time, however, so be sure to update each year that you receive the award.

Associations: Avvo also is interested in your professional involvement in the legal community. This shows that you take your law practice seriously and that you are committed to improving yourself as an attorney. The boost to your rating will be even bigger if your peers have elevated you to an office or position within that group.

Publications: If you have not published any articles, now is the time to do so. We highly recommend submitting an article in your area of expertise to a legal journal or other media outlet. If it is published, you will have a publication credit to add to your Avvo profile. If you already have published law-related articles, then you are ahead of the game; just list them on your profile. This is also a great place to include media mentions if you or your cases have garnered positive media coverage.

Speaking engagements: Lastly, be sure to list prior speaking engagements. This can include events where you have given a talk, such as at the annual bar association conference, or if you have led any continuing legal education (CLE) programs. If you haven’t yet taught a CLE program, think about what expertise you have to offer. In addition to expanding your knowledge of your chosen practice area, it's a good way to increase your Avvo Rating.

Has your Avvo Rating affected your business? Share any thoughts and/or experiences in the comments below.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

What Goes Into an Avvo Rating, and Why Should You Care?

By Gina Rubel

As legal marketers, we field questions from attorneys all the time about Avvo – what it is, what its lawyer “ratings” are based upon, and whether attorneys should pay it in any mind.

Founded in 2006 in Seattle by former Expedia general counsel Mark Britton, Avvo is an attorney rating and directory website that aims to “match consumers with the best possible fit for legal representation.” It enables potential clients to research lawyers by city, state and practice area and to submit requests for legal advice, among other things.

Lawyer referrals go high-tech

Britton and co-founder Paul Bloom raised millions in venture capital to launch Avvo, which they envisioned becoming a name brand nationwide resource.

“When you are looking for a book, there’s Amazon; when (you) travel, you have Expedia; for jobs, there’s Monster; and when it comes to search, there’s Google. But when it comes to legal, there’s nothing,” Britton told the Seattle Times in a 2007 interview.

In the years since then, Avvo has raised millions in funding, including $71.5 million in 2015 to expand its product offerings, boost its headcount, and increase its marketing efforts. According to Bloomberg Business, the site is valued at $650 million.

Attorney ‘ratings’

By far Avvo’s most contentious offering is its ratings system, which assigns a numerical value to attorneys in its vast directory. Shortly after the site’s launch in 2007, it found itself in the legal crosshairs of two Seattle attorneys who took umbrage at the site’s ratings, alleging it engaged in “unfair and deceptive practices by falsely claiming to be objective, reliable and factual.” The suit was dismissed by a federal judge who wrote, “Neither the nature of the information provided nor the language used on the Web site would lead a reasonable person to believe that the ratings are a statement of actual fact,” Lasnik wrote.

So what does all of this mean for attorneys? Should lawyers care about their Avvo rating?

In short, yes, but first, it is helpful to understand how those ratings come to be.

Avvo calculates a rating for a lawyer, with 10 being the highest, using a mathematical formula based upon the information provided to Avvo in a lawyer’s profile and from public records such as state bar associations and law firm websites. Therefore, an Avvo rating often has little to do with an individual attorney’s prowess, and instead is based upon how thoroughly an attorney has filled out his or her Avvo profile. That sometimes leads to situations where well-regarded attorneys who have practiced for decades will have lower Avvo ratings than less experienced attorneys who have claimed and updated their Avvo profile.

Avvo’s marketing investment can benefit your practice

Remember that $71.5 million in funding we mentioned? Avvo is pouring some of that money into advertising its site, which now claims 8 million unique visits each month. Attorneys can benefit from that traffic in various ways:
  • Individual Avvo profiles appear very high in Internet search results. If you’re an attorney, Google your name and see if your Avvo profile appears on the first page of results; there’s a good chance it will.
  • Avvo provides free online real estate of which attorneys should take ownership. If your name is on it, you want to be able to exercise as much control over it as possible.
  • Avvo ratings are important to consumers (just like Super Lawyers).
  • High Avvo ratings can be used for firm marketing efforts.
  • Avvo profiles allow attorneys to link to their firm’s website, boosting the traffic to the website.
Although claiming your Avvo profile sometimes can be tedious, we advise clients to invest the time in doing so. But don’t stop there; a surprising number of lawyers claim their Avvo profile and then do nothing with it. It is important to fill in an Avvo profile completely in order to ensure it accurately reflects a lawyer’s credentials and experience. It’s also just as important to maintain that profile and keep it updated.

Adding relevant, current information to a lawyer’s profile can translate into “points” toward Avvo’s calculated rating. We advise attorneys to fill out as much of their Avvo profile as possible, to help achieve as high a rating as possible.

In a future blog post, we will share tips on ways attorneys can boost their rating, looking at the factors that influence an Avvo rating – and those that don’t.

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