4 Internal Struggles Great Leaders Must Overcome

Some leadership challenges are predictable: inspiring your team, guiding organizational change, prioritizing the right things at the right time.

Other challenges are less expected, and don’t always become apparent until you’re forced to face them head-on. 

4 Internal Struggles All Great Leaders Must Overcome

1) Combating the Consequences of Isolation

It turns out it really is lonely at the top. Underneath all the perks of power, there lurks a pervasive and potentially debilitating sense of isolation that can compromise a leader’s ability to pilot their organization effectively. That fancy corner office might seem like a sanctuary at first, but the distance it could wedge between you and your employees might have far-reaching, negative consequences.

Executive isolation occurs when leaders become less connected to their organizations’ day-to-day operations. While some level of disconnect from on-the-ground activities is benign and expected (leaders are responsible for focusing on the big picture, after all), too much can cause problems.

Being isolated at the top can compromise your decision making and leadership effectiveness, both of which require having as much firsthand information about a situation as possible,” wrote author and business consultant Ron Ashkenas.

So how can leaders prevent isolation from impairing their judgment? Step outside of the executive bubble and make interacting with people at every level of your organization part of your routine. You don’t need to go full-on Undercover Boss, but make an effort to connect with people outside of your regular circle of advisors to get some raw insight into how the company is doing. 

2) Fighting Cynicism to Build Authentic Relationships

A study conducted by M. Ena Inesi of London Business school and Adam D. Galinsky of Kellogg Graduate School of Business found that holding a position of power actually alters an individual’s response to generosity and kindness, making them more suspicious and cynical of others’ motivations.

In the study, participants were asked to describe a recent favor they’d received. The descriptions were notably free from power dynamics, with most people describing something nice someone had done for them without pretext — like babysitting their kids or feeding their cats while they were on vacation. 

Next, half of the participants were given an exercise to make them feel more powerful. When this group was asked to recall the same favors they’d described earlier, they were significantly more concerned about the motivations behind the favor. Those who did not complete the power-increasing exercise didn’t have the same reaction when asked to describe their favors again — they remained unconcerned about the motivations.

“When individuals have power, they know they are more likely to be the target of opportunists, who use kind words and seemingly selfless acts not for altruistic reasons but to further their own selfish goals,” Inesi and Galinsky wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “Those in power often over-apply this principle and become more suspicious of any kind acts they are offered, irrespective of the source.”

This (possibly even subconscious) suspicion can stunt a leader’s ability to form meaningful connections with those around them, since they’re always preoccupied with the motivations behind acts of kindness.

To fight through the psychological strain, leaders need to make a conscious shift to catch themselves when they start to slip into cynical patterns. Recognizing that you’re giving in to potentially toxic thoughts is the first step to combat them and change your behavior.

3) Embracing Dissent

Once they ascend to positions of power, most people become worse listeners, a study found. Research published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes revealed a negative relationship between subjective feelings of power and use of advice — in other words, the more powerful a person feels, the less likely they are to seek out and actually listen to advice from those who disagree with them.

This phenomenon can cause some leaders to surround themselves primarily with yes-sayers and cheerleaders for their own causes. While it’s comforting and natural to build up a circle of like-minded individuals, trapping yourself in an echo chamber of people who always agree with you won’t help you — or your organization — solve problems or grow. The best way for your team to support you is to disagree with you.

Robin D. Richards, the CEO and chair of CareerArc Group, has made dissent part of his company’s regular work flow, encouraging employees at all levels to offer up opposing viewpoints and ideas. “Our main mantra is speed, respect and an obligation to dissent,” Richards said in an interview with The New York Times. “Don’t have a meeting with your boss where you agree with him on everything he says. If you have an obligation to dissent, then we get the best minds and we get the best outcomes. People like living in that environment. They feel valuable. People become fearless.”

Seeking out constructive dissent isn’t necessarily an easy task, especially for executives at the very top of their companies. Subordinates tend to inherently present an agreeable view on things, shielding their leaders from many of the nitty-gritty details. Leaders who want to escape the echo chamber need to actively seek out differing opinions.

It’s not enough to ask your current advisor to just start challenging you more (although this can be helpful). You need to connect with people both within and outside of your company from diverse backgrounds who can not only challenge your beliefs, but also share new viewpoints you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

4) Balancing Confidence and Collaboration

Lawrence Levy, a Harvard Law School graduate who was hired by Steve Jobs in the 1990s as CFO and member of the Office of the President of Pixar Animation Studios, has seen first-hand how great leaders need to find a healthy balance between confidence and collaboration to succeed.

Extraordinary leaders, Levy wrote in Harvard Business Review, “believe they know best about how their ideas should be realized and won’t let up until their high standards are met.” But they still need more than sheer confidence and raw vision to steer their organizations toward success. They need collaboration to get things done.

The challenge for self-assured leaders, Levy explained, is that the same self-confidence enabling them to make bold decisions also inherently hurts their ability to collaborate, take constructive criticism, and avoid confirmation bias.

So how can leaders collaborate without compromising their vision? In addition to surrounding themselves with a diverse group of advisors, leaders need to practice open-mindedness and humility when soliciting advice from others. Levy recounts how Steve Jobs “had a very small circle of hand-picked advisor and put aside his stubborn intensity to pay attention to their advice.

Even Jobs — who was known for his sometimes extreme pursuit of personal visions — knew there was incredible value in setting aside his preconceived notions to hear what other people had to offer — even just temporarily.

What unexpected challenges have you overcome in a leadership role? Let us know in the comments.

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How to Use Hashtags on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram

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A lot of words have been added to the dictionary over the past few decades thanks to social media, but few have become so widely used and accepted as “hashtag.”

For a long time, the hashtag symbol (#) was known simply as the “pound” symbol. Now, I could swear that the only time I hear it referred to as a pound symbol is when I enter my PIN number to pay my cell phone bill. Manage and plan your social media content with the help of this free calendar template.

While hashtags were originally made famous by Twitter, they’re now used on many major social networks, including Facebook and Instagram. Let’s explore what a hashtag is, why they’re so great, and how they work on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

What Does ‘Hashtag’ Mean?

A hashtag is simply a keyword phrase, spelled out without spaces, with a pound sign (#) in front of it. For example, #InboundHour and #ChocolateLovers are both hashtags.

You can put these hashtags anywhere in your social media posts: in the beginning, at the end, or anywhere in between. (Read this blog post for more instructions on using hashtags.)

These hashtags tie public conversations from all different users into a single stream, which you can find by searching for a hashtag, clicking on one, or using a third-party monitoring tool like HubSpot’s Social Inbox. Note that, in order for a post with a hashtag to appear in anyone’s search, the post must be public.

What Makes Hashtags So Great?

Back in 2007 when hashtags were a brand new concept, Google’s Chris Messina realized the value of hashtags right away. He wrote that the “channel” concept of hashtags satisfies many of the things group discussions do, but without inheriting the “unnecessary management cruft” that most group systems suffer from.

In addition, Messina wrote that they’re easily accessible with the syntax on Twitter (and now on other social media networks), easy to learn, flexible, and works with current user behavior instead of forcing anyone to learn anything radically new. It also works consistently on cell phones — whereas, for example, the star key doesn’t.

A decade later, the hashtag continues to thrive. When used properly, hashtags are a great way for individuals and brands to make their social posts more visible and increase engagement. They can give people useful context and cues for recall, aggregate posts and images together, and update a group of like-minded individuals on certain a topic in real time.

Hashtags are often used to unite conversations around things like …

  • Events or conferences, like #INBOUND17 or #Rio2016
  • Disasters or emergencies, like #Aleppo or #PrayForNice
  • Holidays or celebrations, like #WorldNutellaDay or #NationalCatDay
  • Popular culture topics, like #GameofThrones or #PokemonGO
  • General interest topics, like #WinterWonderland or #ChocolateLovers
  • Popular hashtags, like #tbt or #MotivationMonday

The key is to use hashtags sparingly and only when they add value. Use them too much, and they can be confusing, frustrating, and just plain annoying.

How Hashtags Work On Twitter, Facebook & Instagram

Click on a social network below to jump to that section:

  1. How Hashtags Work on Twitter
  2. How Hashtags Work on Facebook
  3. How Hashtags Work on Instagram

1) How Hashtags Work on Twitter

A Twitter hashtag ties the conversations of different users into one stream. If Twitter users who aren’t otherwise connected to one another talk about the same topic using a specific hashtag, their tweets will appear in the same stream.

Here’s what a hashtag stream on Twitter looks like — we’ll use #MotivationMonday as an example:

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Most of the good stuff takes place in the center of this page. For the hashtag #MotivationMonday, you’ll see there are a few ways to toggle the hashtag stream: Top (the default), Latest, People, Photos, Videos, and More.

  • Top: A stream of tweets using that hashtag that have seen the most engagement — which usually means tweets from influential people or brands that have a lot of followers. (Download our guide on how to get 1,000+ Twitter followers here.)
  • Latest: A live stream of the latest tweets from everyone tweeting out that hashtag.
  • People: A list of top Twitter accounts to follow related to the hashtag.
  • Photos: A collage of photos included in tweets that use the hashtag. When you hover your mouse over a photo, you can reply, retweet, or Like the tweet with just one click. You can open the tweet by clicking on the photo.

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  • Videos: A stream of tweets using the hashtag that have videos in them.
  • More: A dropdown menu that has a few great options to pick from, including “From people you follow” and “Near you.” You can also save your search here by clicking “Save this search.” To access it later, simply click into the search box on the top right of your Twitter home screen and it’ll appear as a saved search.

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On the left-hand side of the screen on the #MotivationMonday stream, you’ll find “Related searches.” This is especially useful if you’re looking for unofficial hashtags for your own events and campaigns and others’.

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How to Use Hashtags on Twitter

Want to get involved in the conversation, or even start your own? Using a hashtag on Twitter is as simple as publishing a tweet from a public account that includes the hashtag, like this:

As long as your account is public, anyone who does a search for that hashtag may find your tweet.

How to Find Hashtags on Twitter

There are a few ways to find hashtags on Twitter. If you already know the hashtag you want to search for, there are four main ways to search for it: a simple search, an advanced search, monitoring using a third-party tool, or typing it directly into the URL.

You can do a simple search using the search box in the top right-hand corner of your screen:

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If you’re searching for a hashtag but want to include more details in your search, try Twitter’s Advanced Search. Here, you can search for tweets with specific words and phrases, written in a certain language, from certain accounts, near certain locations, published on certain dates, and even containing smiley 🙂 or frowny 😦 faces.

For example, if I wanted to search for the sad #MotivationMonday tweets, I might search for the MotivationMonday hashtag with a frowny face, like so:

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The results show up in a stream with different toggle options, just like our original hashtag search.

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You can also use a third-party monitoring tool like HubSpot’s Social Inbox to monitor certain hashtags. These tools will put certain hashtags in a stream beside any other streams you’ve set up in the tool already.

(HubSpot customers: To set up a stream in Social Inbox, click Social > Monitoring > “+” and enter the name of the hashtag you’d like to monitor. Click here for detailed instructions on how to create monitoring streams.)

Finally, you can search for a hashtag by typing it directly into a URL like so: twitter.com/InsertHashtagHere. So #MotivationMonday can be found at twitter.com/#MotivationMonday.

If you’re searching for popular hashtags from scratch, the best place to look is the trending topics bar on the left-hand side of your homescreen. Popular hashtagged words often become trending topics — which are topics so many people are talking about that they are a “trend.” The topics bar will also show you if accounts you follow are tweeting about the trending topics.

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By default, Twitter tailors these trending topics to you based on your location and whom you follow. If you want to change the location Twitter uses to tailor your trends, you can do so by clicking “Change” to the right of “Trends.” In the window that appears, click “Change” again, and then enter in the location information you’d like Twitter to use instead.

Twitter’s native “trending topics” is limited to only a few hashtags, so if you want to find more outside of trending topics and you don’t know what to search for, consider using Advanced Search to browse tweets, or a third-party application like Trendsmap.

Twitter Chat Hashtags

Along with hashtags for events, campaigns, and promotions, there are these unique things on Twitter called Twitter Chats. Twitter Chats are live Q&A sessions organized around a hashtag — either on the fly, or at a pre-arranged time.

I like how Buffer explains them: “Imagine a business networking event — but without a dress code and with a keyboard instead of a bar. The same social customs apply — courtesy and respect — and it’s a great way to meet new people with similar interests.”

There are Twitter Chats about pretty much everything, from marketing to personal finance to affinities for cats.

If you’re looking for Twitter chats to engage in, check out TweetReports’ Twitter Chat Schedule, which you can toggle by date, hashtag, and topics like writing, social media, and so on. You can also submit your own Twitter chats to be considered.

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2) How Hashtags Work on Facebook

Like on Twitter, a Facebook hashtag ties the conversations of different users into one stream. But unlike Twitter and Instagram, where many people have public accounts and their posts can be seen by anyone, most people’s Facebook posts and accounts are private. This means that even if individuals are using hashtags, they aren’t searchable. The result? The hashtags you can search for on Facebook tend to be published by influencers, brands, and publishers, rather than by individuals.

Here’s what a hashtag stream on Facebook looks like, using #MotivationMonday as an example:

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Most of the good stuff takes place in the center of this page. For the hashtag #MotivationMonday, you’ll see there are a whole bunch of ways to toggle the hashtag stream — even more than we have on Twitter: Top (the default), Latest, People, Photos, Videos, Shop, Pages, Places, Groups, Apps, and Events.

  • Top: A stream of Facebook posts using that hashtag that have seen the most engagement — which usually means posts from influential people or brands that have a lot of followers — and your Facebook friends posting using the hashtag.
  • Latest: A stream of public Facebook posts using the hashtag, usually by influencers, brands, or publishers — like a fitness guru posting an instructional workout video.
  • People: People on Facebook with a name officially associated with the hashtag. For a hashtag like #MotivationMonday, there are no results here.
  • Photos: A stream of public Facebook posts using the hashtag that have photos in them.
  • Videos: A stream of public Facebook posts using the hashtag that have videos in them.

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  • Shop: Pages can now sell their products directly to Facebook users using this feature. For a hashtag like #MotivationMonday, there are no results here.
  • Pages: This tab shows Facebook Pages associated with or posting about the hashtag you’ve searched for.
  • Places: Places in the world with a name officially associated with the hashtag. For a hashtag like #MotivationMonday, there are no results here.
  • Groups: Groups with a name officially associated with the hashtag.
  • Apps: Facebook apps with a name officially associated with the hashtag.
  • Events: Facebook events with a name officially associated with the hashtag.

How to Use Hashtags on Facebook

To use a hashtag on Facebook, all you have to do is publish a Facebook post to your Page or timeline that includes the hashtag.

Be sure your post is public if you want people other than your Facebook friends to be able to find it. To make a Facebook post public, click on the button to the right of “Post” and choose “Public” from the dropdown menu.

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Once you publish the post to your Page or timeline, the hashtag becomes a clickable link, which takes folks to the hashtag page. Here’s what a Facebook post with a hashtag looks like:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FMensHealth%2Fvideos%2F10157696907465207%2F&show_text=1&width=560

How to Find Hashtags on Facebook

If you already know the hashtag you want to search for, there are two main ways to search for it: a simple search or by typing it directly into the URL.

You can do a simple search using the search box in the top left-hand corner of your screen:

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You can also search for a hashtag by typing it directly into a URL like so: facebook.com/hashtag/InsertHashtagHere. So #MotivationMonday can be found at http://www.facebook.com/hashtag/MotivationMonday.

If you’re searching for popular hashtags from scratch, the best place to look is the trending topics bar on the left-hand side of your homescreen. (Note: This is currently only available in English in select countries.) The articles and hashtags Facebook shows you are based on a number of different factors, including engagement, timeliness, pages you’ve Liked, and your location.

While most trending topics on Twitter are mostly hashtags, this is not usually the case on Facebook. You’ll see that none of the trending topics below are hashtags:

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3) How Hashtags Work on Instagram

An Instagram hashtag ties the conversations of different users into one stream, just like on Twitter and Facebook. If Instagram users who aren’t otherwise connected to one another talk about the same topic using a specific hashtag, their posts will appear in the same stream.

Here’s what a hashtag stream on Instagram looks like — again, using #MotivationMonday as an example:

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Notice the user interface on Instagram’s hashtag stream is much simpler than those on Twitter and Facebook. There are three things you can do from this page: Scroll through related hashtags, look at the Top Posts, and browse Recent Posts.

  • Related Hashtags: All related hashtags (like #dontquit, #getmotivated, etc. in this case), which users can scroll through sideways.
  • Top Posts: The nine posts using that hashtag that have seen the most engagement — which usually means tweets from influential people or brands that have a lot of followers. This is limited to nine posts.
  • Most Recent: A live stream of Instagram posts from everyone posting that hashtag.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram

Want to get involved in the conversation, or even start your own? Using a hashtag on Instagram is as simple as publishing an Instagram post from a public account that includes the hashtag, like this:

 

⬆️ #motivationmonday

A photo posted by HubSpot (@hubspot) on Dec 12, 2016 at 5:04am PST

As long as your account is public, anyone who does a search for that hashtag may find your Instagram post.

When you write a new post and start typing in a hashtag using the # symbol, Instagram will actually suggest hashtags to you based on their popularity. Check out the suggestions I got when I typed in the incomplete hashtag, #Motivation:

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How to Find Hashtags on Instagram

If you already know the hashtag you want to search for, the only way to search for a hashtag on Instagram on your mobile device is through a simple search. You can do a simple search by clicking the magnifying glass at the bottom of your screen, which brings you to the “Explore” tab. From there, type the hashtag name into the search box at the top of your screen, and toggle your results by “Tags”:

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If you’re searching for popular hashtags from scratch, the best place to look is in Instagram’s “Explore” tab. Here, you’ll find popular posts liked by people whose posts you’ve Liked, or posts that are Liked by a large number of people in the Instagram community.

Go to the “Explore” tab by clicking that magnifying glass at the bottom of your screen. Check out posts there to browse trending hashtags by scrolling down.

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What About Using Hashtags “in the Wild”?

Although hashtags were born and work best online, you can point people to them in real life. Try placing hashtags in relevant and well trafficked public locations — like in pictures or posters, menus, stickers, and so on — to encourage people to search for that hashtag online.

What other hashtag tips do you have for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram? Share with us in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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Are You an Intelligent Marketer? [Infographic]

Intelligent-Marketer

Marketing is no longer the art form it once was. Today, the companies working relentlessly to master digital marketing are responsible for gathering, analyzing, and applying the data they produce to raise their game. All the while, laggards in the number-crunching revolution are vulnerable to losing to brands that value marketing analytics and make it an essential part of the way they operate.

While the practice of collecting and mining data to inform marketing strategy is now baked into many business strategies, there’s still immense room for improvement in turning intelligence into actionable insights.

In my work with Alexa — whose tools focus on optimizing SEO and PPC strategy — I dug deeper into five digital marketing analytics areas, interviewing experts in SEO, conversion rate optimization, PPC, social media marketing, and email marketing. And I’ve organized those findings into one helpful guide: How the Pros Turn Marketing Analytics into Effective Marketing Strategies.

If you’re looking for a sneak preview, check out the infographic below. This graphic covers fascinating data regarding the application of marketing intelligence and insights around the trials and tribulations companies encounter as they evolve their data-driven initiatives. 

Take a look and consider where your company stands. Have you managed to use marketing intelligence to improve your ROI and accelerate your success?

Intelligent Marketer Infographic

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The Year of Customer Experience: How Ecommerce Brands Can Prepare

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This year will be an important one for ecommerce brands, hinging largely on one specific element — customer experience (CX).

According to Gartner data, 42% of CEOs say that better CX was “the key change that has driven more wins.” Furthermore, for 80% of B2B customers, CX is the biggest influencer in the decision to work with a certain vendor. And, Walker insights indicate that by 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiators.

That data emphasizes the significance of CX, but what do online retailers really need to know about it? And with 89% of organizations competing on customer experience, what’s the best way to stand out? Download our free guide to learn how to more effectively use and measure customer loyalty programs for your business. 

In this post, we’ll explore those questions, and look at some examples of brands who already reap the benefits of building a strong online experience.

The Growth of Experience

To better understand why more brands are putting an emphasis on improving their CX, let’s discuss how it’s evolved. We’re already seeing CX come to the forefront in many different formats. For example:

When we look at experience-related changes that are happening around us, the above examples are merely at the tip of the iceberg. But what we can glean from them is that online CX takes on much more importance than it has in the past — in fact, 76% of consumers say they view this experience as the true test of how much a company values them.

So what changes can be made in the ecommerce world to improve the overall experience? Let’s look at some examples from ecommerce brands who are stepping up their online CX, and find the elements of their successes that we can learn from.

How Brands Can Improve Online Experiences

1) Marucci Sports

The Takeaway: Emphasize the Story

We can take a page from the book of Marucci Sports, the brand that redesigned its site to be both story-centric and mobile-friendly. Using strong visuals and compelling copy — with responsive design — to highlight relationships with players, Marucci was able to increase mobile conversions by 50%.

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2) Di Bruno Bros.

The Takeaway: Enable Exploration

We can also learn from food and beverage brand Di Bruno Bros. — and its site redesign — which put an emphasis on a discovery-based CX. With detailed product descriptions and strong visuals, the brand makes it easy for visitors to explore offerings and gather the information they need to make a purchase.

It worked. After these changes were implemented, Di Bruno Bros. more than doubled its average conversion rate and boosted online sales by 6.5%.

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3) BOXHILL

The Takeaway: Showcase the Product (and Earn Press)

When BOXHILL revamped its logo, the team looked to implement a new site design that would accomplish two goals:

  1. The logo was to appear front and center.
  2. The new design needed to showcase the products, pushing more customers to conversion, rather than losing them on what was a confusing journey across the site.

The use of white space, a centered logo, and a more modern site experience increased conversion by 410%. Even better? The publications and vendors BOXHILL was working to secure became more inclined to include the brand in mentions and roundups. With the new site design, BOXHILL earned coveted spots on outlets relevant to its brand, like Goop and HGTV Garden.

BoxHIll

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4) Andreas Carter Sports

The Takeaway: Remembering to A/B Test

When Andreas Carter Sports relaunched its new site that was replete with a new look and feel, the brand saw nearly immediate results. That made sense — customers would now be able to immediately view products in all available colors, for example.

But the Andreas Carter Sports team knew that additional changes could even further boost success. One of the biggest long-term modifications tested was changing the “Add to Basket” button color from black to blue. It worked — during testing, that one change reduced abandoned carts by 50%, eventually leading to a change of the button color across the site.

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5) Baby K’tan

The Takeaway: Learn From the Competition

Good site design isn’t created in a bubble. Online consumers grow used to certain functionalities — things like the “hamburger menu,” which you can read more about here. At first, it was only used on a few sites, but was eventually adopted by many as a mobile best practice.

In some cases, your cometition might provide a certain experience that people have gotten used to — but your site doesn’t provide that experience. In that case, it’s good to do research to figure out what your site might be missing, which is what baby carrier manufacturer Baby K’tan did.

“Our site was inspired by a few favorite websites which helped us decide on a desired layout, and by our brand culture which revolves around family and expressing a cheerful emotional connection,” Tali Zipper, Baby K’tan’s VP of Marketing told BigCommerce. “We wanted something that was colorful, with bright and joyful images as well as a clean and simple layout for easy navigation.”

With these changes, site traffic grew 116%, and the brand saw a 45% growth in revenue.

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Prepare for the Rise of Ecommerce Experience

As mobile usage continues to rise — and begins to outpace desktop usage — customer experience will be the focus for many ecommerce retailers. But with the statistics and examples we’ve covered, you can start planning your own customer experience improvements.

Think about which areas or your online presence can be enhanced for your particular audience, and put together an experience strategy that takes it a step further — or better — than competitors.

And remember — observe your customers, imagining yourself in their respective places. What’s missing? What do you wish was there? Answer those questions, and you’ll be on your way to an action plan for CX that excels.

Learn how to get started with ecommerce retention and loyalty with this free guide.

4 Exercises That Boost Creative Confidence

If you work in a creative profession, you’ve likely battled with self-doubt at one point or another.

Perfectionism is the bane of any creative professional’s existence. Constant insecurity about the quality of your own work can cause creative paralysis and make it difficult to stay motivated. And that’s a big problem if being creative is how you make a living.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for developing confidence in your own work, but we’ve shared a few exercises here that will help get you started on the right path. Check them out below to start building creative confidence and a renewed sense of purpose in your work. 

4 Exercises that Boost Creative Confidence

1) Learn a creative skill outside your comfort zone.

If you’re a copywriter, take up photography. If you’re a graphic designer, sign up for a cooking class. If you’re a painter, try poetry.

It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it falls outside of your usual creative grind. Once you start earning a living in a creative field, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut — you’re getting paid to produce creative work in a single area, so why should you try anything that doesn’t directly relate to it?

Stepping outside of your creative comfort zone and trying a new skill can have a positive impact on your creative confidence. Author Srinivas Rao calls it creative cross-training, and it can help creative professionals embrace new points of view and come up with fresh ideas in their respective fields.

You don’t have to become an expert in the new field, you just have to try it out and commit to experimentation without self-judgment. Rao, a podcast host and writer, tried out realism drawing and found it gave him a new appreciation for everyday objects:

When I read the book Teach Yourself to Draw in 30 Days, I learned so many things about why nothing I drew ever looked real. I learned about the role that light and shadows play. I learned about how to create depth in my drawings. But more than anything, I learned how to see all the things that I had never noticed before when I looked at everyday objects.

Challenge yourself to try a new skill outside of your field for 30 days. Take a class, get a book on the subject, or just search the web for tutorials. It doesn’t matter how you learn it, as long as you commit to it fully and approach it with an open mind.

2) Embrace checklists.

Checklists end up getting a mention in many articles on productivity and creativity because they really work. Setting small, attainable goals and marking them as complete not only helps us keep big projects on track, it also boosts our confidence and gives us more creative freedom.

Worried that checklists are too rigid or confining to be useful in a creative profession? The exact opposite is true, according to psychologist and career coach Marty Nemko. “You won’t feel confined,” Nemko wrote in Psychology Today. “Knowing you’ll remember everything will free-up the brain space to use your creativity … safely.”

When we cross something off our checklist, our brains release dopamine — the chemical that makes us happy. Using checklists to stimulate dopamine levels can help us form productive habits and feel good about accomplishing attainable tasks — which in turn boosts our confidence. Psychologists call this effect self-directed learning.

When we acknowledge successful actions with a small reward (like checking off an item on a checklist), the resulting release of dopamine serves to “lock our attention to the current topic,” which researchers at the University of Colorado say plays a role in “encouraging focused practice on tasks where success is possible but not certain.” In other words, you’re more motivated to complete the next task, because your brain knows it’s going to be rewarded.

3) Start designing a flexible work process, not a rigid one.

Creative work can sometimes feel inherently unstructured (especially if you’re a freelancer or work from home), but designing a process you can continually come back to can make conquering creative projects more methodical, and less of a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of endeavor. Having a proven approach to creative work helps us build confidence, giving us a method we can fallback on if we ever hit a creative block.

Designing a process around your work doesn’t mean you need to immediately create a strict schedule for yourself or put intense expectations on your daily output. Going from no clearly defined process to a super-strict process overnight isn’t realistic, and you risk setting yourself up for disappointment.

When we put unrealistic expectations on ourselves to adhere to structured creative schedules, we usually only end up getting mad at ourselves when we fail to meet those lofty goals right away. This hurts our creative confidence, and makes us feel like we aren’t disciplined/talented/productive enough.

Start documenting your process to see what works best for you, and build a daily creative practice around what you discover. Keep a record of everything you do each day for a week (work-related and non-work-related), and look for patterns on the days you were most productive and motivated.

4) Build keystone habits.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, coined the term “keystone habits” to describe positive habits that have a strong correlation with other positive habits — like a ripple effect of positivity. For example, exercising regularly has been proven to increase confidence levels and lead to healthier eating and sleeping habits. When you adopt keystone habits, a lot of other things in your life tend to fall into place.

Building keystone habits around your creative endeavors can help you develop more confidence in your work, and increase your overall productivity on a daily basis. Start by cultivating positive daily rituals you’ll actually hold yourself accountable for, like developing a morning free-writing practice, preparing a meal completely from scratch, or even just making your bed. These seemingly small habits can add structure and intention to your day, resulting in more good habits and confidence down the line.

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What We Learned From Our First Year on Medium

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Context, a publication brought to you by Medium’s Creative Strategy team. Follow the publication to keep abreast of the best ideas in brand storytelling.

Two years ago if you asked me to explain the concept of content marketing I would start by talking to you about planets.

Imagine you are a marketer standing all alone  —  like The Little Prince  — in the middle of a small planet. That planet is your website. Today it doesn’t get many visitors because it’s too small to notice and the universe is filled with bigger, more interesting planets.

But like planets, as you build up the mass of content around you, your website grows, and your gravitational pull becomes stronger. More content, keywords, and inbound links pulls more people your way. Content becomes your magnet.

This fundamental principle of content marketing has been a key part of HubSpot’s marketing playbook. Our “planet,” comprised of our website and blog, continues to fuel our company’s growth at a higher rate than any other marketing tactic. You may find it odd then, that about a year ago, we very quietly walked to the edge of our home planet and stepped off.

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Amazing space cat by William Herring

Getting Behind the Idea of Publishing Off-Site

We started ThinkGrowth.org, an off-site publication on Medium.com. November 2016 marked the one year anniversary of ThinkGrowth.org and I wanted to share a little bit about what we’ve learned: why we did it, where we stumbled, and  — because benchmarks were hard to come by when we were getting started  — what our numbers looked like throughout the year.

Grab your space helmets. Here we go.

Let me make this very clear: you do not own your audience. Regular monthly visitors, big subscriber lists, well-trodden conversion paths give us the illusion that we own the attention of our audience  — but it is only an illusion. Attention is fleeting, and must constantly be earned.

While a lot of content discovery still happens through search, more and more people are consuming articles directly from platforms like Medium, Facebook, and podcasts. Medium has done a remarkable job with editorial curation and a loyal readership has followed, with a lot of this being driven by mobile. According to 2016 research from eMarketer, 86% of time spent on mobile devices is spent in apps rather than internet browsers. Apps like Medium have become new discovery platforms for content.

And these new discovery platforms come with notable differences in behavior. On the open web, people are searching, but on Medium, people come to spend time reading. This leads to much higher engagement on Medium and it’s this engagement, not search behavior, that fuels further discovery.

As the saying goes, sometimes you have to lose sight of your own shore to explore new lands. We have always tried to build our content strategy by paying attention to our readers over ourselves. Simply put, we decided to publish on Medium because we wanted to be where our readers are.

Breaking Through the New Publication Plateau

We’ve long admired the transparency of companies like Buffer who make a practice of openly sharing their own experiences and data. So, here’s our data from the last year. It wasn’t always pretty.

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We started unassumingly on Medium. We didn’t launch with a bang or promotional push. We decided to just get some content up on the platform and see what it did. Our early posts were mostly cross-published content from the HubSpot blog (Medium makes it very easy to do this without hurting your own SEO). These first cross-posted pieces back in November of 2015 netted a few hundred views each, not too exciting.

But we quickly found that certain content just does better on Medium. As I mentioned, people come to Medium to read, not search for information on a specific topic. This makes Medium an inherently social platform where opinion pieces, personal accounts, or reaction posts often have a stronger performance than on our home blog.

Then a few months in, we attached the HubSpot handle to the publication. We saw a small jump as our social followers started to be able to find us and our content better, but the volume of views still wasn’t outstanding. We were making progress, but it was slow.

Optimizing for People After Years of Optimizing for Search

The first break-out post we ever had flew to the top of our most-read list mainly because it was highlighted by Ev Williams. And yes, while Ev is the mayor of Medium, this isn’t about Ev in particular, but rather the underlying point that Medium is a network. Anyone who has built up a following on Medium, whether it be the founder or a talented writer can have a major ripple effect on the visibility of an article just by interacting with it.

We’ve seen that interactions from highly followed readers carry the heaviest weight, but any interaction can make a big difference. We ran an analysis on the correlation between various values and views for all of our articles so far. For us, the most strongly correlated factor with views is recommends (r=0.77). What I like about this lever is that it really is about the quality of the writing. Green-hearted recommendations aren’t typically fooled by click-bait titles, keyword stuffing, or any other shortcut. Recommends come after considered reading.

Another way we started optimizing for people was opening up our publication doors. We’ve seen our best success by finding writers on the rise on Medium and syndicating content they’ve created  — exposing both them and ourselves to a new audience. Guest contributors have fueled the growth of our audience and brought in a diversity of perspectives that have made our entire anthology better. We’ve published a piece from the CEO of Litmus Paul Farnell and one from the CEO of Mattermark Danielle Morrill. We’re seeing that the best content on ThinkGrowth.org isn’t about us, nor is it necessarily by us.

Discovering the Power of a Built-In Audience

People talk a lot about the power of Medium’s built-in audience. What they don’t tell you is how expansive and varied that audience can be. One of our biggest concerns when getting started with Medium is that we would be preaching to the same choir. But after doing some analysis of our comparative audience across the two sites we discovered that only about 10% of our Medium followers were previously known to us at HubSpot.com.

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This is incredibly powerful. HubSpot has been writing content for more than ten years. Our onsite blogs get more than 4.5 million visitors a month. Discovering this new audience pocket feels like we’re showing up a friend’s party after 10 years of hosting at our own place, and we find a whole new group of wonderful people, and they’re like, “Hey! It’s cool you finally left your own little planet.”

Deciding How to Measure It All

Measuring success on Medium is tricky. First, the rules for success are so different. Second, Medium stats are detached from the rest of our analytics. Third, Medium’s analytics dashboard just doesn’t allow you to go very deep. You can look at total number of views, follower count, number of interactions, time spent reading and so on - but these are very surface level.

Fans of the musical Rent at HubSpot will always remember the day our publication crossed five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes of reading time.

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The day we discovered Sam Mallikarjunan was a Rent fan.

I’ll admit that as VP of Content I’m always a seduced by a good up-and-to-the-right readership chart. But neither of those may be entirely right when you think about what constitutes success on this platform.

If Medium really is a hybrid between a social network and a publishing platform, and success is determined by how engaging your content is, it may make sense to look at how active that follower base is. Heading into our second year as a publication we still plan on tracking everything (we’re data people after all) but we’d like to start paying particularly close attention to our number of weekly active readers. This is a much higher bar than views and followers alone, but we think this is the best way to hold ourselves accountable as a publication.

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A T. Blake Littwin original  — used in Brian Halligan’s reflections on evolving HubSpot from a startup to “scale-up.”

Looking Ahead

Writing on Medium started as an experiment. Something that could help us stay on top of how reading habits are changing (And boy, are they changing). It wasn’t always the easiest year. We spent months studying our readership, reading advice from Medium editors (Elizabeth Tobey in particular), and talking with peers of ours like Kevan Lee who were also exploring the platform. Thanks to that advice and frankly the ruthless, almost superhuman, focus of Sam Mallikarjunan, Erik Devaney, and most recently Janessa Lantz we’re starting to get there.

We’ve learned enough in the last year to see the potential that exists when as a brand you take the risk of stepping beyond your home planet to explore new channels, platforms, and audiences. I’m happy to say that on the anniversary of our first exploration onto Medium, we’ve decided to increase our investment in that potential by spinning up a brand new team at HubSpot focused entirely on “offsite” content strategy.

We’re going to continue to iterate our publication to make it better. In the words of ThinkGrowth.org writer Sam Mallikarjunan, “We feel good about the growth we’ve achieved with the new blog and just a few writers, but there are even cooler things we haven’t done yet on Medium.”

Stay tuned.

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The Evolution of the Strategic CMO [Infographic]

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As marketers, we spend a lot of time strategizing and writing about how business professionals can adapt to the constant state of change that characterizes the digital world.

The tricky thing when it comes to all of that change is that it can be challenging for marketing executives to learn the ins and outs of new technologies and run the business while still prioritizing growth and big-picture branding changes. And according to a recent survey from the CMO Council, there’s a significant disconnect between what CMOs know they should be focusing on and how they’re actually spending their time.

In fact, while 48% of CMOs surveyed knew they needed to spend time developing strategies for long-term growth, in reality, 45% of CMOs said they spent their time reviewing budgets, approving content and campaigns, and evaluating marketing plans.

Check out the infographic from the CMO Council below to learn more about how CMOs are spending their time, what they’re accomplishing and what they’re neglecting, and how marketers can shift priorities to help the entire team.

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