Tools To Engage Customers Online

From Inc. Magazine

These new tools offer innovative ways to engage people who visit your site, and keep them coming back.

         Illustration by   Iker Ayestaran

Today’s Editor’s Picks

A lot of business owners are focused on interacting with customers on social networks. But how about your plain old company website? These new tools offer innovative ways to engage people who visit your site—and to keep them coming back.


Best For: Building Buzz

Looking to generate some prelaunch excitement? This service helps you create a Coming Soon page for your website. After creating an account on, select a background design or upload your own, then add information about your business. A box will appear on the homepage encouraging people to sign up to receive e-mails with company news and earn incentives for spreading the word via e-mail or on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and other websites. Go to your LaunchRock dashboard to track a variety of information, including daily sign-ups and page views.

Cost: Free


Best For: A personal touch

When people register on your website, Intercom adds their information to an online database, along with information culled from social networks and other websites. You can sign on to your Intercom dashboard to view user profiles and see when they signed up and the last time they visited. Then, you can compose messages for specific people and the notes will pop up automatically the next time they come to the site. On your dashboard, you can see a list of open replies and respond to them. Intercom rates the strength of your relationships based on how often you interact with visitors.

Cost: Free during beta testing


Best For: Rewarding loyalty

PunchTab’s loyalty program lets you reward people for coming to your website every day, making comments, and sharing your content on social networks. After you set up the program using a wizard, visitors can click on a Rewards ribbon on your homepage and log in to earn points, which they can redeem for gift cards in a PunchTab catalog on your site. You can use PunchTab’s standard rewards guidelines—for instance, the service recommends doling out 100 points for each visit—or create your own. Log on to to check out user profiles and leaderboards.

Cost: Free for a standard program with up to 10,000 users


Best For: Chatting

This service makes it easy to add a Web chat function to your site. After pasting in a line of code, go to your Olark account to choose a design and size for the chat box, stipulate where it should appear, and link it to an instant-messaging program. You can also customize a welcome message and offline notification. When customers click on the box, a message opens in your IM program, where the chat takes place. You can view transcripts on and export them to customer relationship management programs, including Salesforce.

Cost: Starting at $17 a month for one user

For Backup, You’ve Got a Friend, Family or Cloud

This review by Katherine Boehret in the Wall Street Journal came at just the right time.  I have my regular backups all over hard drives in the office. Nice except if the office disappears. I think this is worth some peace of mind and it looks like an easy solution.

Nothing elicits such a strong case of technology guilt as asking other people if they back up their computers. Eyes dart toward the ground. Excuses are made. The subject is quickly changed.

As many people know or quickly find out, backing up a computer can be a painfully slow process. This week, I tested a computer-backup system that requires minimal effort and works in the background to automatically back up files: CrashPlan. This appropriately named program is made by Code 42 Software, a Minneapolis-based company.

CrashPlan is a new software program that takes the hassle out of backing up your computer’s precious hard drive. WSJ’s Katherine Boehret says there’s a range of ways – and a range of prices – to make it happen.

CrashPlan works with all types of operating systems and lets users back up to remote servers in the cloud and/or other computers or hard drives, like another PC they own or one belonging to a good friend or family member (as long as they give permission). The system also sets no restrictions on file size.

On a typical home Internet connection, the backup process to a CrashPlan remote server could take several days or even weeks for a first-time backup. (After that, backups are much faster and happen unnoticed.) The first-time backup for one of my laptops with about 46 gigabytes of data had been running almost continuously for three days when I filed this column on Tuesday. After the initial backup, regular backups won’t take nearly as long. CrashPlan has a mobile app that works on Apple‘s AAPL +5.10% iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, Android and Windows Phone 7, allowing remote access to backed-up files.

The free version of CrashPlan enables a daily backup to other computers and hard drives but not to Code 42’s remote servers. The subscription-based CrashPlan+ will back up to the remote servers as well as other computers or hard drives. It can back up as often as once a minute and lets users choose what data to back up where.

Code 42 SoftwareCrashPlan’s straightforward user interface clearly shows what your data are doing and where they are being stored.

CrashPlan+ comes in three payment plans, each with its own tiered rates—from a month-to-month option to a four-year subscription. For each of the three plans, the four-year subscription is the least expensive at $70, or about $1.50 a month per computer for up to 10 gigabytes of data; $140 or $3 monthly per computer for unlimited storage; and $288 or $6 monthly for up to 10 computers and unlimited storage. The company offers a free 30-day trial.

I got started by downloading the software to my MacBook, creating an account and starting the initial backup. A scan of my data took a few minutes before the actual backup began. Using my Verizon DSL connection over Wi-Fi, the estimates of how long it would take changed dramatically by the second. I saw estimates of as much as 17.5 days and as little as 6.6 hours.

Katherine Boehret tests CrashPlan, a computer-backup system that requires minimal effort and works in the background to automatically back up files.

I also downloaded CrashPlan onto my office Windows PC, which has a fast, hard-wired Ethernet connection. I logged into my account and opted to back up a folder of photos that was roughly 16 gigabytes. The estimate for this backup was a little over one day, though I didn’t adjust CrashPlan settings to get the fastest transfer on this PC. In a simple menu, I could opt to back up the Windows PC to my MacBook as well as to remote servers—or just to the MacBook alone. On my MacBook, I made sure to adjust the settings to get the fastest speed possible for my giant backup.

Code 42 CEO Matthew Dornquast said the worst-case scenario speeds are initially displayed, but that these adjust down as time goes on. In my experience, the initial estimates didn’t change much.

CrashPlan backs up your newest files first on the assumption those mean the most to you, and it encrypts all files, so file names can’t be read on remote servers or backup computers. I liked CrashPlan’s straightforward user interface because it clearly showed me what my data were doing and where it was being stored. A section labeled “Destinations” let me choose where data was backed up and options included “CrashPlan Central” (remote servers), “Friend,” “Another Computer” or “Folder.” A section labeled “Files” showed exactly what was being stored; in my case, this meant 285,930 files. An “Inbound” section showed any computers that were using my computer for backup.

Code 42 SoftwareA CrashPlan mobile app is available on a Windows Phone 7, iPhone and Android phone.

In settings, users can opt to be emailed or even sent direct messages via Twitter that tell them the latest backup status. This is helpful if you’re only backing up to, say, one other PC in your house and that PC fails to back up.

In addition to over-the-air backups, CrashPlan users with a lot of data, very little patience or both may want to try an alternate option. For $125 (including shipping both ways) and a monthly fee for remote storage, the company will send a one-terabyte hard drive that can be loaded with data and mailed back. Once that huge block of data is initially stored on remote servers, regular backups won’t take nearly as long.

To get data back, a “Restore to Your Door” feature will send you a hard drive filled with your data so you can load it onto a new computer. This also costs $125 (with shipping both ways) and the monthly cost of remote storage.

Compared with competitors, CrashPlan fares well. For example, CrashPlan doesn’t limit upload or download speeds, while Carbonite limits upload speeds for large amounts of data after a certain amount has been backed up, further slowing the process. Mozy supports external drives, but this backup is deleted if the drive is disconnected or turned off for more than 30 days. CrashPlan keeps the backup indefinitely, waiting for the drive to be reconnected.

—See a video with Katherine Boehret on CrashPlan at Email

Elements Of A Successful Ad

Thanks to the longtime and often anonymous work from the folks at BtoB Online.

These guides will serve anyone working on getting a response message right for the audience it’s intended for.


    • The successful ad has a high degree of visual magnetism.


    • The successful ad selects the right audience.


    • The successful ad invites the reader into the scene.


    • The successful ad should promise a reward.


    • The successful ad backs up the promise.


    • The successful ad presents the selling proposition logically.


    • The successful ad talks “person-to-person.”


    • Successful ads are easy to read.


    • Successful advertising emphasizes the service, not the source.


  • Successful advertising reflects the company’s character.

The 10 Most Successful Ad Campaigns of All Time.

Ad Age Advertising Century: The Top 100 Campaigns

11 Successful Ad Words Ads and Why They Crush The Competition


Cash Mobs’ Use Social Media To Splurge In Locally Owned Stores

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Reuters) – Flash mobs have been blamed as a factor in looting during urban riots. But now a group of online activists is harnessing social media like Twitter and Facebook to get consumers to spend at locally owned stores in cities around the world in so-called Cash Mobs.

At the first International Cash Mob day on Saturday, wallet- toting activists gathered in as many as 200 mobs in the United States and Europe, with the aim of spending at least $20 a piece in locally owned businesses, according to the concept’s founder, Cleveland lawyer Andrew Samtoy.

“It’s my baby but I’m not a helicopter parent,” Samtoy told a crowd of more than 100 people gathered Saturday at Nature’s Bin, a grocery store that specializes in local and organic food, in Lakewood, an inner ring suburb of Cleveland.

The 32-year-old dreamed up the Cash Mob idea last year after spending time in Britain during summer riots that unleashed looting in cities including London, Manchester and Birmingham. His first Cash Mob, in Cleveland last November, brought around 40 shoppers packing in to the Visible Voice book shop, on a welcome spree in which each of them spent on average $40 within an hour-and-a-half. “We are kind of slow in November so I wasn’t going to turn it down,” said the independent book store’s owner, Dave Ferrante, who estimated he made about eight times his normal take on that day.

“We have a very limited marketing budget and it brought in people who wouldn’t have been here. It sounds corny but we really build a base one customer at a time,” he added.

After the original Cash Mob in Cleveland, Samtoy’s Facebook friends in other cities picked up on the idea and organized their own gatherings.

Samtoy can rattle off a list of friends from Los Angeles to Boston, from church camp to law school, who were the ‘early adapters’ of the Cash Mob phenomenon.


As well as the spree in Cleveland on Saturday, gatherings also took place in Kansas City and New York. Reuters was unable to verify independently if community shoppers splurged in other U.S. cities and worldwide.

Samtoy’s approach is to target one location bringing as many people to one site as possible but other cities have taken a different approach. “There is no science to it and there are also no hard and fast rules,” he explains.

He told the group gathered in Cleveland that he only has three rules or goals as he explains them: “You have to spend at least $20, meet three people you never met before and have fun.”

Cash Mob participant Amy Marke, from Independence, Ohio, came with her cousin because she wanted to support local businesses and was drawn to this event because the store does vocational training for disabled adults.

“I never do anything spur of the moment or crazy like this but I heard about it and had to come,” she said. Kelly Ziegler, co-founder of the Cash Mob movement in Kansas City, Missouri, told Reuters activists planned flash spending sprees in nine different locations around the metro area on Saturday. “Kansas City is really spread out. We have a really strong following on Facebook and there were calls for cash mobs at all of these areas. There are so many shops to hit we thought ‘why not hit a lot all at once?'”

“I grew up in a family with a small business. I know these small businesses can’t afford a million dollar ad campaign. When you spend $1 at these local stores that stays in the community,” she added.

And in Brooklyn, New York, activists noted how easy they are to organize. “It really doesn’t take a lot of effort,” said Park Slope Cash Mob organizer, Amy Cortese, author of ‘Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From it.’

With the large amount of locally-owned business and culture of entrepreneurship in Brooklyn she says it only made sense to get behind the Cash Mob movement. “It is surprising that no one had thought to do this before,” she added.

(Editing by Tim Gaynor and David Bailey)

7 Hip Ways to Recycle Content for an Immediate Lift in Traffic

By Amanda MacArthur   •  04/03/2012

As an editor, especially one that writes every day and several times a day, it’s sad to see some of your best content hang out in the background, possibly never to see the light of digital eyes again. With hundreds of articles under your belt, there are surely a few gems that you’re extra proud of and that if someone saw them a year later, they’d still be just as brilliant.

Thankfully, the web gives us lots of ways to recycle our best content. If you’re in the mood to boost traffic while highlighting some of your best work, here’s the lesson plan for today.

Step 1: Dig up all of your favorite posts.

This may take some time, but in the long-run it will be worth the effort not to miss a single one because having a big archive to start with means that you can work more strategically going forward. It also means you won’t need to do this part again.

Step 2: SEO these posts for search.

If they aren’t already, make sure that the titles of these blockbuster posts have awesome keywords. No longer will they sit in the archive under a layer of digital dust; SEO will bring them back to life and continually send new readers. Your best work deserves keywords!

Step 3: Create images and Pinterest away.

Before you say anything, take a look at the strategy behind Wall Street Journal; They’re creating new images using pull quotes. People love to re-pin quotes on Pinterest so this is certainly the most Pinterest-friendly approach we’ve seen from such a business-oriented organization. Of course if you’re writing about knitting patterns then you probably already have the images you need in the post.

Wall Street Journal goes with pull quotes.

Step 4: Craft a white paper.

Find a theme in the lot of your favorite articles and decide how you can transform them into a white paper, ebook, or a round-up post that highlights each individual article. Many publishers create their ebooks from a collection of old blog posts, so why not share your best work in the same way? Package it together with a shiny bow while adding value to your site and boosting your email list.

Step 5: Tweet it forward.

Twitter applications like Hootsuite and TweetDeck allow you to schedule tweets for a reason. In our normal schedule, we post new articles right away and also schedule tweets a month later and then again six months later. This renews them and keeps our feed diverse. You can do the same with your blockbuster posts. Use one of these programs to create an upcoming Twitter calendar that continually re-posts your best once or twice a month for the next year, or for as long as you want to schedule them. Then you’ll know they’re always being renewed and new people will be reading them each time.

Discover social media marketing tips for doing business and building website traffic with Twitter—that you can start using today—when you download Twitter Advice For (and From) Content Marketers for FREE right now.

Step 6: Show some Facebook love.

I’m not talking about your traditional Facebook post here. Actually, I’m talking about that rank-boosting Facebook hack (one of my own blockbuster posts) where you post your article on the pages of other businesses. Now, this isn’t applicable to everyone, but if you’ve ever featured or complimented a business in one of your articles, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t leave them a note that says “hi there, we mentioned you in the article, hope you enjoy!” with a link back to your article. This strategy drives a considerable amount of traffic. Not every business allows customers to post on their walls, but the majority of them do.

Telling The Daily Meal we reviewed their re-design.

Step 7: Submit these posts to popular bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon and Reddit.

I’ve actually seen significant traffic from these two sites for many different types of publishers. They have very active communities but haven’t yet been littered by marketers. Don’t share every article (because then you’ll be that marketer that everyone hates), but disperse your best posts in a strategic fashion and be genuine about it.

If you’re a food publication, there are 29k editors waiting for new recipes here.

My bonus tip would be to link back to your blockbuster posts in your new articles too (like I did above). If they truly are blockbuster posts, then they’re undoubtedly a go-to resource when you need to reference outside of your current article.

If you follow step 1-7 today, you’ll be happy with the results. As always, I’d love to hear your own tips and tactics for recycling content. Leave your feedback in the comments below!

Unhealthy Habit: Why Haven’t You Optimized Your Mobile Experience Yet?

By Reggie Bradford Tuesday, April 3, 2012

We’ve reached the tipping point where the most creative, engaging and action-driving digital marketing initiatives that were originally designed specifically for the Web can be a wasted investment. This is due to the fact that the majority of your audience is likely seeing this content on their smartphone and it’s not optimized for the mobile channel. Case in point, for the first time ever, smartphones outsold PCs this year, and that ratio will only continue to grow.

Mobile devices provide immediate access to information, anytime, anywhere. For example, patients can conduct research from within the doctor’s office or refill prescriptions on the go; people who exercise can check-in to their gym and track their fitness regimen; dieters can update their diet-trackers; and sport coaches can find the nearest doctor -– with directions -– should anything happen at out-of-town tournaments.

So, what’s the prognosis, if you’re not mindful of the growing audience using mobile devices? If the content isn’t optimized for mobile, then that new “find our nearest locations” button is probably too small to see on your customer’s Android screen and that great site-intro developed entirely in Flash won’t be seen from any Apple devices. This results in marketers running the risk of losing loyal customers, if their mobile web experience isn’t all encompassing on one device. Think of full customer service lines, decreased access to information and other missed-connection opportunities.

Many companies in the healthcare industry have already optimized mobile experiences for their patients and customers –- and with each example I’ve provided below, there are lessons to be learned to ensure an optimized digital experience for all users, making it that much easier for consumers to access information from any device.

Recognizing Healthy Mobile Attributes

Understanding that an increasing number of patients accessed their website via the mobile Web, earlier this year, Kaiser Permanente, the largest managed care organization in the United States, launched an optimized mobile site. The new site means that Kaiser Permanente patients can now access their own medical information, securely and from anywhere in the world, through any Web-enabled device. Kaiser Permanente hopes to greatly increase the customer experience by featuring 24/7 access to lab results and diagnostic information as well as providing direct and secure email services with their doctors via a site that has fast load time, automatically scaled to the device’s screen size and providing easy navigation and scroll features. By focusing on the services that matter most to their patients, the company expects mobile traffic “to increase significantly with the new mobile-optimized site.”

Walgreens and CVS are two examples of pharmacies that truly understand the priorities of customers that are accessing their storefronts via mobile. In both their smartphone apps and optimized mobile Web sites, customers are able to input and/or scan their prescription barcodes for quick and easy refill orders. Additionally, these two sites feature a consumer-friendly navigation system with efficient scrolling features as well as e-commerce capabilities. Upon accessing the site, customers have the option to immediately download their respective smartphone apps -– a feature that more loyal and frequent customers surely appreciate.

Mobile Web and smartphone apps are only a part of the larger mobile experience. It’s also important for healthcare and wellness companies to think of the big picture and get creative with customer engagement. For example, Foursquare’s badge system is perfect for pushing patients to reach their goals. The company partnered with HealthMonth to introduce new Foursquare badges while making life improvements and help “increase the chances of actually making meaningful changes.”

Speaking of social, it’s time that marketers embrace their mobile-social customers. As I’ve mentioned before, healthcare marketers need to leverage the social Web. Many individuals are looking to their social groups for advice, information, counsel and resources – such as this woman who is grateful for the ability to quickly and easily share a photo of her son’s rash, which allowed a neighbor to identify the rare condition and intervene at a crucial time! Further, with about 40% of Facebook users coming in via mobile, Facebook has been placing a lot more attention on its mobile strategy, rolling out a multitude of mobile features for brands, including premium mobile ads and the new mobile-friendly Timeline layout for brand pages. How is your company’s social presence optimized for mobile users? Are the links, photos and features accessible via Facebook mobile?

Stay ahead of the curve to ensure that your customers are able to access the information, resources, products and services that are most important to their brand experience. Take note of trends like social gaming and Pinterest – activities that pull both mobile and desktop users. Aetna took note of the gaming trend and teamed up with social gaming company Mindbloom to offer Life Game, a “rewarding and effective way for Aetna’s members to make lasting improvements in their physical and emotional well-being.” And while Pinterest doesn’t currently feature a health, medical or healthcare category, this destination reaches an engaged community of mostly younger females -–  the same segment that is responsible for most health and medical-care decisions.

Key Takeaway: Mobile is NOT an Afterthought 

Mobile should be built into marketing efforts. Understanding both where and how your customers and patients are discovering your business will support in optimizing mobile experiences and ensure that engaging, informative and resourceful content is accessible to any consumer, from any device.

Reggie Bradford is the founder and CEO of Vitrue, a social marketing platform. He was the CMO of WebMD and CEO of N2 Broadband before founding Vitrue in 2006.

Will Social Discovery Apps Lead to Meaningful Relationships?

  |  April 9, 2012

Click here to find out more!

There was a lot of talk this year at SXSW about social media discovery apps (Highlight, Glancee, Sonar, Banjo, etc.), which got me thinking about social media and how it affects relationships. Now, I have been accused of having too optimistic a view at times, but I think one of the most powerful aspects of social is that it has provided a deeper level of connection to people that, in the past, we may have viewed just as casual friends, work friends, or friends of friends.

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying this as a blanket statement across all of our social connections. There are lots of studies showing that people’s desire to appear popular by amassing large followings (i.e., 500+ “friends”) is in fact not a reflection of true connections. In fact, a study by Robin Dunbar of Oxford University showed that the human brain is limited to maintaining only about 150 meaningful relationships. An even more telling study by Matthew Brashears of Cornell University found that the number of true confidants the average American has, has dropped from three to two over the last 25 years, and that the percentage of people who don’t confide in anyone about important matters has skyrocketed from 8 percent to 25 percent.

The deeper connection I’m referring to is not in this top 1 percent of friends, but rather a subset of connections that, without the proliferation of social networks, would never have developed into deeper relationships. This is the network that you now reach out to when you need emotional support, the friends who crack you up on a daily basis with their posts, the ones you might meet for lunch, arrange a kids’ playdate with, or who might send you a little something in a care package.

As an example, my wife and I have a friend who was a part of our extended circle when we lived in Los Angeles. She was someone we typically didn’t hang out with one-on-one, but always with a group of other friends. She now sends us fruit from her backyard so we can have a little bit of California in Atlanta. Our relationship evolved through a higher level of social participation in each other’s lives as well as a health connection that was born out of a Vegetarian Mamas Facebook group that my wife runs. So, what started as an occasional, casual friendship has grown online and translated into a deeper offline relationship. I believe this is only because she now, through social media, has a view into our daily lives and we into hers.

So, how does this new breed of social discovery apps factor into our online relationships? If you’re not familiar with these applications, they serve to connect you with people who are close by and share a tie like mutual friends, similar interests, or the same hometown. These are also sometimes referred to, tongue-in-cheek, as “hookup apps” because they serve as a nice way to break the ice by giving you a virtual introduction. Of course, this same ice breaking can be used as a networking tool at conferences and meetings.

There are some well-founded concerns about these types of applications being utilized in connection with stalking incidents. However, as is the case with all social network platforms, as the category matures, I’m confident the right level of security restrictions will be put into place.

Are these applications just propagating more vapid relationships? I would say probably less so than a typical “cold” approach someone might have at a bar or coffee house. At least with these digital connections, there is something more that the two people involved have in common outside of just physical attraction. Also, the physical and online relationships are defined not by how the connections are discovered, but rather by how the relationship develops afterward. Looking back to when online dating began, there were many people who felt connections made online were just too impersonal to be meaningful. However, online dating sites have an amazing track record of connecting individuals and forming long-lasting relationships. If discovery apps catch on, it will be interesting to see if they can similarly develop into a common and accepted path leading to real-world connections.