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Guest Post by Christoforos Zafeiris With billions of users active on the internet, companies (regardless of their size, outreach, audience) are integrating digital marketing and building their brand identity. By creating websites, having social media accounts across different channels, and establishing an online presence, everyone hopes to attract a share of potential customers. All these efforts need to keep in mind one single, simple principle: respect the brand identity and make it memorable, authentic, and original. In this article, we will focus on three main pillars of building a brand identity that everyone will talk about: email marketing, social media, and customer satisfaction. Email marketing Email marketing is considered a tool that can bring the highest conversion rates for a company. There are a few free email marketing services, which can help you create engaging, brand-oriented, authentic templates to grow your conversion rates. Strong brand identity will boost brand consideration, credibility, customer loyalty, and customer retention. As brand awareness is only the first step in a successful brand strategy, you should make your brand identity clear in every marketing venture. Consistent style Newsletters, email templates and other tools of email marketing are an important part, which shouldn’t be seen as temporary opportunities for quick sales. You should make clear that there is a specific style and identity, throughout your email marketing campaigns. A simple email layout, engaging visuals, proper font, and typography, are key elements of your email marketing. Do not forget that it’s crucial to follow your brand colors to make clear even visually that it’s your email. Brand logo and hero image via GIPHY Your brand logo should be one of the main aspects of your email campaigns. As soon as anyone opens your email, the logo should be clearly visible. Your brand logo should be combined with an attractive hero image. The hero image is usually a combination of image and text, which can be static or dynamic. Based on your brand identity and the goal of your email, you can incorporate video, GIFs, a punchline, or your brand name. Call-To-Action (CTA) button Every marketing action has a clear goal and as such every email marketing action has a purpose. The purpose of an email marketing action is clear in the Call-To-Action button, or at least it should be. Your email template should be designed around your CTA button so everything will end up in the reader wanting to click it. The most-used CTAs include the following: On-screen CTA Single button Freebies opt-in Premium trials No BS: this direct, prominent CTA works well for companies with already prominent branding The CTA should contradict the colors of the email template and have a very clear, simple, single-worded CTA button. Respect your audience via GIPHY The prerequisite for someone to receive your email campaigns is that they have at least expressed their general interest in your brand. As such, you already have them somewhat engaged and do not need to be too extra or too pushy; instead, you should respect the boundaries of your audience. Your audience will associate your brand with a positive feeling and not emails as useless spam emails. The people you want to engage with will want to remain in your email subscribers’ list. Pro Tip: Email campaigns might easily be considered as spam by email software, so don't forget to run an email deliverability test to guarantee that your emails will be delivered to your subscribers. Social media strategy via GIPHY As time passes, more articles, researches, and posts focus on the interrelation of a concrete, comprehensive social media strategy with the brand identity of a company, business, or even a startup. Social media is an indivisible part of our daily lives, as they are used for communication, information, entertainment reasons and play a major part in experiencing reality. Even though creating and shaping a proper social media strategy has its obstacles, even has drawbacks, no marketing company or in-house team can deliver proper results without a social media marketing strategy. Set clear social media strategy goals The first step you have to take is to clearly set your goals of the social media strategy you are going to plan and execute. The possibilities available for creating posts on social media are practically unlimited and this might lead you to pure confusion. So, one of the most effective ways to shape your strategy is to consider which part of the funnel you want to address on each post and which target audience. Infographic vector created by freepik - www.freepik.com Define your metrics via GIPHY After setting your goals, and before creating your strategy, you should consider and decide on which metrics you will use to evaluate your actions. The KPIs (key point indicators) are crucial, as they will help you identify, analyze and reshape your strategy. The more usual problem with deciding your KPIs is that a lot of marketers tend to focus on vanity metrics (for example, likes on Facebook), which cannot indicate the real value of your strategy. If you wish to be efficient and result-driven, then finding the right KPI for each action is a key element. Avoid two things: firstly, to use metrics that most companies use; secondly, to use the same metrics for each aspect of your strategy. Consistent brand experience via GIPHY Yes, consistency is a usual buzzword for digital marketing. But what does it mean, really? Consistency in marketing means creating, shaping, and reforming your strategies and actions, based on a predetermined set of principles. Such principles can refer to content creation, visual design, social media accounts, customer experience, or user interface. This creates a challenge for the marketing team, as they need to think carefully about all these concepts. The best option is to use a social media management tool to clarify your strategies, goals, actions, desired results, and then be accountable by reporting them, even to someone who has no relation to the company. Channel adaptiveness via GIPHY Each social medium has its own brand identity, loyal users, and characteristics. As social media channels try to distinguish themselves, creating one type of content for all of them is clearly out of the question. To be efficient and let your brand identity be promoted everywhere effectively, you need to adapt your social media actions, based on the channel they will be taken. For example, Instagram is an image-based, video-based platform, and you should edit your images accordingly. Also, since you have set a set of consistent guidelines and principles, it will be easy and simple for your team to adapt to trends and new social media. A clear example of that is how the NBA uses Tik Tok to create funny, viral videos that grow the audience of the league. Currently, it has about 9.7 million followers and 174.7 million likes. Customer experience A part usually overlooked in the process of making brand identity unique and memorable is the customer experience. We define customer experience as any moment of interaction between a customer and the organization. A positive customer experience is defined by moments that bring out positive reactions, by customers who feel appreciated and can recognize the brand identity in each interaction. Good customer service can be highly impacted by your brand identity, but there are four stages that you should consider for making your brand memorable and unique. Consideration All consumers go through a phase of consideration before deciding the brand that they’ll choose. During the consideration process, your values should be clear to your possible customers. For example, Nike is a company with a clear brand identity, followed by a clear catchphrase ("Just do it!)) and most people will consider Nike when shopping for a brand new pair of athletic shoes. Nike has successfully branded itself using basic storytelling and emotional branding. Purchase via GIPHY The purchase phase of your product/service is a critical point of getting your brand identity through to the consumers. Why? Recognizing and understanding your brand identity will create an appropriate set of brand expectations. These expectations will be met by your customers, and lead to their increased satisfaction. But, if your brand identity is not clear and customers feel disappointed, they will not move on to the next stages of customer experience. Loyalty via GIPHY Customer loyalty, also referred to as customer retention, is the result of constant positive experience, based on satisfaction and value. The group of loyal customers you have can be a real goldmine of data. You can create and run target-specific surveys on the experience of loyal customers, based on their interactions with your company. Collecting and analyzing data about your customers’ interactions with your company lets you see what you are doing right and wrong, connect your buyer personas with specific services, and find out what maintains their loyalty. As clearly indicated by academic literature, a strong, memorable brand identity is strongly connected with customer trust and loyalty. Advocacy Now, to the last part of customer experience, turning loyal customers to advocates of your company. This used to be a tricky part, as people usually relate enough to loyal to a brand, but do not feel that emotionally attached to advocate for a specific product or brand. Nowadays, the tricky part is not to involve someone actively, as social media have made it easier for someone to share opinions. The challenge is to create an emotional attachment with loyal customers, making them “blind” to other offers and opportunities. As such, your brand identity has to be constantly reshaped, based on the recent trends and changes, while allowing your customers to feel invested in this journey of brand management. A very successful rebranding process, leading to the re-engagement of customers and to their turning into advocates of a company, is Aegean Airlines. The Greece-based airlines has recently unveiled its new brand identity. The rebranding process managed to strengthen the core values of its brand identity while making the locals feel more attached to the company. Final thoughts Developing a memorable brand identity in 2020 is not an easy, step-by-step process, but rather a multifaceted process, based on constant interactions, analysis, and transformations. If you wish to deliver results for your brand, you should make a clear list of goals and set your brand voice and personality. Your brand identity will then be easily integrated into your different strategies. You should focus on the three aforementioned pillars: email marketing to boost your conversion rates, social media to get your brand identity out there, and customer experience to increase customers' satisfaction and their lifetime value. Christoforos Zafeiris works as an SEO Copywriter for the email marketing software company Moosend. He has always been eager to change the narrative and influence trends with his words; thus, copywriting is the only natural choice for him. Besides that, he has been an enthusiast of human communication, long walks, and emotional storytelling.
Motion design is taking over the internet. Icons blink and move, pages fill with content as you scroll, and video content made up 67 percent of all internet traffic in 2016 — and its market share is only growing. While there are still plenty of pages and mediums where static content is appropriate, the eye is drawn to motion. Businesses should be using this human instinct to their advantage. An animated logo could get you more attention and conversion. . . if you know how to use one. Why would I want an animated logo? Marketing succeeds when we understand the needs of the consumer. If the natural inclination to prioritize viewing moving objects isn’t reason enough, there could be several other reasons your target market wants an animated logo: If you have a digital footprint, you’re in the right place for animation. “You would want an animated logo for your business if your goal is to target customers online,” Audrey Strasenburgh, SEO Strategist at LogoMaker explains. “Any e-commerce stores or cloud-based companies looking to showcase their brand in a modern light should consider this logo style.” If you’re competing in a packed industry, animation could help you stand out. “Today, with literally billions of people using social media sites, standing out is getting harder and harder,” Blogging Coach Janice Wald opines. “Marketers need online attention.” Lizzie Dunn, SEO Associate at Fundera, agrees. “As consumers are exposed to an increasing amount of advertisements and brands a day, you must go above and beyond to stand out amongst competitors,” she asserts. Janice Wald used the free tool Introbrand to create a video intro of her logo that is timed to music. If you need to communicate your brand’s unique services more effectively, an animated logo gives you more time and space to convey what makes you different. “Animation is a great way to help communicate your brand in a short and impactful way,” Nathan Hall, CEO of Simple Story says. “It can speak to certain brand characteristics, like playful and fun. Or it could be a signal to the world as to what your company actually does — picture an airline having their logo flying into frame.” Simple Story's own animated logo is elegant and professional. Pamela Webber, COO of 99designs, seconds this idea: “In addition to grabbing a viewer’s attention, it’s possible to incorporate an element of storytelling in an animated logo that helps communicate a brand’s personality. For example, when we recently animated the 99designs logo, we worked with platform designer Maryia Dziadziulia to incorporate a sense of creativity and playfulness.” It's amazing what a choice of motion can do. From a calligraphic brush stroke to letters bouncing into frame, how a logo moves can suggest how a business brands itself. 99designs' and Maryia Dziadziulia's logo exudes playful creativity. Where should I share my animated logo? So you’re convinced you could use some motion design in your branding. But where can you put this design so that it isn’t too distracting, but it will still garner attention? Most web platforms are becoming more open to a variety of file formats, meaning you’re less limited to a static image than you thought. Here are some places where an animated logo would be ideal: On social media — “You can share your animated logo around the internet,” Shane Naranjo of Sigil Digital Creative Agency explains. “The best way, though, is on social media platforms.” Sigil Creative has an animated logo for their Facebook banner. Did you know that was possible? You might be surprised to know that most social media platforms can handle animation in some form or another. You could pin the animated logo in a tweet on your Twitter account, or you could post it as a short video on your Instagram. Sigil Agency uses this as a Facebook banner, along with a few animated listings of their services. In promotional videos — “Animated logos are great for the intros and outros of your video,” Hall says. “It not only communicates who you are, but it tells the viewer what you are about right off the bat. Video is all about motion, so leaving your logo static on the screen for a number of frames would be unengaging and fall flat.” Dave Bloom, President of Bloom PR, seconds this: “Animated videos are an excellent relatively new visual that’s placed at the beginning and the end of a business video feature, no matter how long the feature video might be,” he says. “It’s an excellent way to brand companies in a colorful and visual way that has a 3-D look.” Bloom PR has animated several logos for video intros and outros. In fact, nearly any digital promotional material benefits from an animated logo. “Today you could have an animated logo that precedes your social media marketing videos, instructional videos, an app loading screen, digital signage, or even some companies use animated logos as their LinkedIn profile picture,” Shane Hebzynski, founder of 3 Cats Labs elaborates. You can use an animated logo in the place of many other motion graphics for loading screens and videos. When should I stick to a static logo? Animation doesn’t belong everywhere. Sometimes a page can feel busy if too many parts are moving, and you want to remember where your consumer will be focusing. There are some places where an animated logo doesn’t belong: E-commerce product pages shouldn’t overwhelm a user. “One place that you may want to keep logo animation out of is a product page or shopping experience (unless the transaction is complete),” Dunn warns. “You don't want to risk distracting the user away from a buying experience with an animation front and center.” Formal situations call for a traditional, static logo. “You should not include your animated logo on any digital PR material,” Strasenburg advises. “Press releases are much more formal and should therefore include just your static logo.” On images and media where your logo acts as a watermark or credit, animating it will distract from the media itself. “You would still use a static logo on documentation, as a watermark or branding on a photo, traditional signage, and where we commonly see logos,” Hebzynski says. When you’re a new business and when you’re on a tight budget, animated logos might not be your priority. “There are times when a static logo will serve the needs of your brand better, especially if you’re a new brand,” Webber suggests. “Your static logo is important for building quick, instant brand recognition in your customer base that will be invaluable in the long run. Equally, if your budget is tight, consider sticking with a classic fixed logo — hiring a good animator is an investment.” Who should I hire to create an animated logo? You might be wondering where you could find someone to make an animated logo. Not all graphic designers have the skills necessary to animate, and you might not have anyone on your team who has experience with motion design. But you have a few options for where to look: “There are really three types of agencies that you'd turn to for an animated logo,” Hebzynski explains. “An animation studio, a video production agency because they often do VFX, and a creative agency (like 3 Cats Labs) that offers VFX or video production/editing services.” You could also find a freelancer with these skills, because some graphic designers now study motion design in conjunction with their more traditional services. 3 Cats Labs creates its own dynamic logos. But beyond an impressive portfolio and range of VFX skills, you need to find a designer or company that can tell a story. “It is simple to find someone who can animate, but be sure to invest in a partner who can turn a five-second logo animation into truly valuable asset that can communicate what your brand’s all about,” Hall warns. For this reason, you might even want to work with the same designer or team for multiple projects. Discovering a designer who you feel "gets" your brand is essential to consistent design that will speak to your audience. This logo from Simple Story will instantly make you think of fresh water. Being clear about the direction you want to take with your logo can also help your designer execute your vision. “Work closely with them and ensure you give the creative working on the project a really clear brief about what you’re looking for to ensure a successful outcome,” Webber advises. Wrapping it up Can you see why animated logos are gaining popularity? They're fun, magnetic, and unique — not to mention perfect for many digital platforms. It makes for a great video intro or outro, and video content is on the rise. If you're looking for a way to enhance your brand's visibility, you might consider hiring a logo design company, team, or individual to create an animated logo for you.
Guest Post by Kristen Ruttgaizer, VP of People & Culture for Igloo When the CDC announced the first U.S. confirmed case of COVID-19 in January 2020, no one expected a pandemic that would change almost everything we knew about how to operate as a society, including how we work day-to-day. According to a Flex Jobs survey, only 3.4 percent of Americans worked from home at the start of the pandemic, but 42 percent were working from home full-time by the end of the same year. As the pandemic continued, having some form of remote work available became commonly accepted (if not necessary) and is now considered the norm. Another survey reported that 65 percent of employees would like to work remotely full-time going forward, while about 31 percent are open to a hybrid format. In short: working from home will continue into the future as companies have adapted to the work model and employees now demand it. With this new expectation, employers now face the challenge of making sure their employees are in-the-know and actively involved in the workplace, no matter where they’re located. To guarantee profit growth and productivity for your business over the long term, it’s important to notice whether an employee is engaged or actively involved, as well as apply different technologies and methods to continually foster employee collaboration. Common remote work myths There’s some concern over whether employees do as good a job working from home compared to working in the office. In order to implement effective strategies that will support the remote work environment, you should first remove any misconceptions about this work model from your mind. Shared below are three common myths about remote work, and why working from home is a viable option that won’t affect your employees’ workflow or the company’s bottom line. Myth 1: Remote employees are not as productive According to research, remote employees instead have the problem of doing too much work. A Buffer report shows that the biggest struggle shared by remote workers is unplugging after work, where they work after hours or check in more often than if working in-office. Myth 2: Collaboration and ideation are better done in person Evidence suggests remote work employees collaborate and brainstorm just as well, if not better than workers who are in-office. Associate professor of Harvard Business School, Ethan S. Bernstein, conducted a 2019 study that showed how the transition to an open office led to 70 percent fewer face-to-face interactions among employees over time. With so many conversations taking place in an open environment, employees started to wear headphones and avoid the potential for constant interaction. By contrast, virtual meetings tend to require an employee’s full attention and interaction with all participants on the call. There’s also further research that showed employees feeling more engaged and included — and less likely to leave their current job — compared to employees who were working in-office. Myth 3: Meaningful connections are not possible with remote work Making connections at work, even a best friend, leads to better job performance, according to a Gallup workplace study. Meeting virtually might give the initial impression that making such connections are impossible. However, when coordinated and well-organized, employees have a chance to interact with a wider network of individuals, including people who live far away. Remote interactions also help remove the concern of who can attend what event or activity, and give the chance for every face to be seen and voice to be heard in a given conversation, which proves invaluable for employees who are underrepresented or want to build their network and grow their career. Engaged or involved? There's a difference Now that you know remote work is a pretty good idea, you’ll want to make sure your employees feel included and are playing an active role in the workplace from a distance. Gauging whether an employee is engaged or involved is one way to help determine employee performance and figure out what can be improved. At first glance, employee engagement and employee involvement may seem interchangeable, but they're slightly different. An engaged employee is a worker who agrees and acknowledges a company’s goals; this employee is motivated to work because there is a sense of purpose behind their assigned tasks. However, an engaged employee is not proactively contributing to help build the business over the long term. For example, an engaged employee is not actively participating in activities that build the company’s culture or contributing to big, upcoming decisions. On the other hand, you can think of an involved employee as going one step further than a worker who is only engaged. An involved employee actively participates and helps plan ways for the business to improve by openly sharing their ideas and experience. This kind of employee doesn’t just come in for the paycheck or agree to follow orders. Instead, an involved employee has a leadership mindset and contributes their voice to decisions that could ultimately impact not only their own career but the entire business as a whole. An involved employee is more dedicated to the overall success of the organization, which inspires them to place their best foot forward to help achieve business goals and objectives. Having employees who are engaged and involved ensures that the business has a variety of perspectives and ideas that can achieve milestones that may have been missed without employee contributions from different levels of hierarchy. How to improve involvement with your remote employees Low employee engagement or involvement should be addressed when possible since disengaged employees can damage company morale and lead to serious financial burdens. A Gallup study found that a disengaged employee has higher absenteeism and lower profitability, and can cost the organization about 18 percent of their own annual salary. Thankfully, there are three strategies you can implement within your organization to encourage the involvement of remote employees. 1. Invest in flexible digital workplace solutions Low-quality software will only lead to disgruntled employees who will try to dodge the next meeting or activity. As globalization and remote work continue to become the standard practice over time, using digital tools, like intranet software, can guarantee all employees are informed and connected about what’s going on within the organization. Finding digital solutions that are customizable — and allow employees to interact whenever and wherever they work — will improve productivity and encourage employee collaboration. 2. Have management lead by example If you want your employees to be more actively involved, it’s important to make sure the individuals placed in managerial positions are actively engaged and involved themselves in company initiatives. The assigned manager sets the tone for how the rest of the team will work and interact with each other, so he or she should be invested in the growth and cooperation of employees under their guidance. Having regular check-ins and giving employees the chance to express ideas and concerns is great for management to practice, but making sure they don’t micromanage is just as important. An interest or concern over what your employees are up to while working from home is understandable, but allowing your employees to work independently and take initiative will build trust, which allows employees to feel more confident about participating and sharing ideas that will benefit the organization. The manager is also a key player in the overall communication within the organization and among employees; those in the management role are in an important, unique position that allows them to coordinate feedback and ideas across employees to determine the best strategy to achieve company objectives. 3. Celebrate what’s going well for your employees Giving a shout-out, a reward, or some form of recognition will not only show employees the quality of work to strive for but also lets them know that their job function matters and significantly contributes to the success of the business. As employees are recognized for exemplifying company goals and values, they will consistently practice their behavior and thereby build the brand as they interact with clients and customers. Overall, you’ll want to treat employees as if they are customers themselves. Like selecting a product or service, employees can be picky about where they work and how long they stay there. If you earn their loyalty and attention, your workers are more likely to stay and become involved with the company over the long term. The future of remote work It's more important now than ever for employers to embrace remote work and learn how to maintain employee involvement from a distance as working from home becomes a more permanent work model going forward. Being open to new practices, along with a focus on the people who keep the business running, will guarantee profit growth and productivity for your business over the long term. By implementing the right technology, having management on the same page, and rewarding your employees’ efforts, your workforce will still experience the same work ethic and company culture as a team working in an office environment. Kristen Ruttgaizer is vice president of people and culture at Igloo Software where she uses over 15 years of experience to shape the variety of employee and leadership programs at Igloo. In her role, Kristen provides expertise in global organizational design by implementing global HR programs and initiatives, as well as providing influential leader and employee coaching to foster a positive employee culture.
Guest Post by Emil Hajric Your organizational knowledge is your company's most valuable asset. Really, it's invaluable. The knowledge your organization possesses as a whole is the thing that makes your company unique and allows your brand to stand out from your competitors. More than just the tacit knowledge held by your individual employees, your organizational knowledge is the combined product of this individual knowledge applied in such a way as to further your company’s mission. To be valuable to your company, though, this knowledge must be able to flow freely throughout your organization — and should continually grow in quantity and quality as time goes on. To allow for this open flow of knowledge, your team will need to cultivate a culture of knowledge and continuous learning. Key Takeaway: Focusing on a knowledge-sharing culture will improve your company's ability to reach worthy goals. Enhance organizational alignment Empower and retain employees Improve knowledge acquisition Spearhead procedural improvements Drive revenue, profit, and growth 1. Knowledge sharing enhances organizational alignment A group of talented individuals working in isolation just cannot produce the same results as a similar group working cooperatively. And, a group of talented individuals all working toward different goals just isn’t going to be good for business. Case in point: Gartner found that organizational alignment can lead to a nine percent increase in revenues — while a lack of alignment can cause a 12 percent drop in employee performance. In other words, organizational alignment has a direct relationship with both employee and company performance. This organizational alignment cannot exist without cultivating a culture of knowledge sharing amongst your team. Or, perhaps more accurately: You can try to create alignment around your organizational mission and vision — but it’s not going to stick over the long-term without an ongoing focus on sharing knowledge. In terms of on-the-ground alignment, a team that isn’t constantly communicating and sharing information will easily become disjointed and unable to reach even its most immediate goals. But, a team that does understand the importance of continuously exchanging knowledge will stay on the same page when working toward both granular and big picture goals. This sets the stage for maximum team performance throughout your organization. 2. Knowledge sharing empowers your employees — and keeps them onboard Building a culture of knowledge sharing and ongoing learning communicates a clear message to your team members: Your knowledge and expertise matter to our organization. Without it, our organization would not exist as it does today — and would not be able to grow into what it will be tomorrow. The fact that you’re calling your team members to share the knowledge they bring to the table shows that their value to the company goes beyond the tasks they perform on the job. This recognition will go a long way in the eyes of your individual employees: 40% of U.S. employees say more recognition would motivate them to put more effort into their work Nearly 9 in 10 employees who feel recognized are more trusting of their organization and their bosses 63% of employees who feel recognized say they’re unlikely to be looking for a new job It’s in the open exchange of ideas, expertise, and experiences that your team’s — and your individual employee’s — purpose becomes truly apparent. In continuously sharing and gaining more knowledge, your employees will both become more valuable to your organization and feel more valued as a member of your team. This intrinsic motivation is key to optimizing employees’ performance and overall outlook on the job. 3. Knowledge sharing improves knowledge acquisition and retention Individual knowledge acquisition and organizational knowledge retention are two sides of the same coin. Of course, each side can benefit from the creation of a knowledge-sharing culture. In focusing on knowledge acquisition, think employee onboarding and ongoing professional development. Building your organization around the sharing of knowledge means you’ll always be able to get your team members up to speed with any need-to-know information regarding their professional duties. (As we said earlier, an individual employee’s knowledge will only get them so far. To be truly valuable to your company, they need to integrate their knowledge with that of your organization.) You’ll also be able to continuously improve your onboarding and training efforts as time goes on. For one thing, as your organization becomes more knowledgeable, you’ll be able to deliver even more comprehensive learning content and experiences to your team members. Moreover, you can make ongoing improvements to these experiences as you survey and gather feedback from your employees over time. Knowledge sharing also ensures that your organization retains important knowledge when employees retire or otherwise resign. With proper knowledge management processes in place, best practices, step-by-step instructions, and procedural demos will be documented and continually improved upon — and will continue to provide value to your organization long after an employee leaves. Successful knowledge sharing also leads to knowledge centralization — making it ultra-accessible to all who need it, when they need it. This not only makes onboarding and training a snap, but also enables your team to continue building on the knowledge that accumulates throughout your company’s lifespan. 4. Knowledge sharing leads to procedural improvements Your team should always be looking for ways to improve internal processes as well as overall productivity levels. And, it really does need to be a team effort. In addition to worrying about improving their own processes, team members should also be focused on helping improve their colleague’s productivity levels, as well. This goes back to creating alignment and helping your employees better understand your company’s vision. It’s not necessarily about any one team member’s performance, but about what the team can achieve together. As team members begin sharing their knowledge, expertise, and experiences more freely, it will become easier for the team as a whole to understand what works and what doesn’t regarding their current processes. In contrast, a lack of knowledge sharing means a lack of diversity in terms of insight, experiences, and ideas amongst your individual employees and your overall team. Without this diverse input, breakthroughs and a-ha moments will be few and far between. This leads to the effective creation and optimization of standard operating practices throughout your organization. Instead of developing SOP from the top down — without actually involving those responsible for completing said tasks — you’ll create them collaboratively, using any and all applicable knowledge possessed by your team to do so. The best part? Since your team members will be openly sharing best practices with one another, this development of SOP will happen almost organically. As you make these feedback-based improvements on the fly, you’ll then be able to easily document said processes to bring them into official use within your organization. 5. Knowledge sharing drives revenue, profit, and business growth So far, we’ve focused on the more intrinsic benefits of building a culture of knowledge sharing among your team. To be sure, these intrinsic gains will lead to tangible, monetary gains for your business. Unfortunately, the best way to illustrate this is to show what happens when organizations aren’t focused on sharing knowledge: According to a 2018 report from Panopto, ineffective knowledge sharing causes the average US business to lose $47 million in productivity. Panopto provides further context, explaining that “a business with 3,000 employees loses $8 million annually, a 10,000-employee business loses $26.5 million annually, and a 50,000-employee business loses $132.7 million annually.” This massive loss in productivity stems from much of what we’ve discussed thus far: An inability to quickly and easily locate, digest, and apply organizational knowledge Poor cross-team alignment and communication Loss of organizational knowledge Check out Best Company’s list of project management software available to find the best tools to help aid your company with knowledge sharing. Poor knowledge sharing capabilities also hinder an organization’s ability to make improvements. So, in addition to the actual losses sustained, poor knowledge sharing also leads to missed opportunities for growth over time. With that in mind, it’s accurate to say that the losses your business will incur due to poor knowledge sharing processes is incalculable. Conversely, cultivating a culture of knowledge sharing can lead to massive monetary growth for your business. Not only will you minimize operational costs and losses, but you’ll also unearth new, previously-unseen opportunities for growth just as a matter of doing business. For your knowledge sharing initiatives to go as planned, your team needs to have full control over your organization’s cumulative knowledge. Fortunately, there are a number of tools and services available to help your team better manage your customer-facing and internal data. Visit Our Business Services Page Our software reviews can show you which tools are right for your business’ current purposes — and which ones to keep an eye on as your company’s business intelligence needs grow. Learn More Emil Hajric, the founder and CEO of knowledge base software company Helpjuice, is an organizational learning expert and author of Knowledge Management: A Theoretical and Practical Guide for Knowledge Management in Your Organization.
Employee engagement has been a hot topic for nearly a decade. Studies conducted by Gallup indicate that companies with highly engaged employees report an 18 percent increase in productivity and a 23 percent increase in profitability, not to mention significant decreases in employee turnover, absenteeism, and product defects. With gains like these, it’s obvious why companies are keen to develop an engaged workforce. But that can be easier said than done. While there are several different definitions of employee engagement, they all relate to an individual employee’s opinion, attachment, and/or dedication to their job and employer. Many companies utilize employee recognition software and other ready-made solutions to help engage and validate their employees. However, employee engagement is an individual matter. While these solutions aid engagement, they will not work for everyone. If you notice one or more of your employees are not engaged with their work, it may be time for a new approach. Negotiation is a key element of business. However, it’s tactics are rarely discussed outside monetary situations (sales, contracts, salary, etc.). In his book, Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss states, "Life is a negotiation. The majority of interactions we have at work and at home are negotiations that boil down to the expression of a simple, animalistic urge: I want." With this mindset, the skills and tactics used to negotiate sales and salaries can be used to increase employee engagement. Your “I want” statement is simply, “I want my employee(s) to be fully engaged at work.” It’s not necessarily a selfish want. Engaged employees frequently report higher job satisfaction and increased well-being. But employees won’t become engaged in their work just because you tell them it’s good for them too. If you want to successfully negotiate engagement with your employees, you need to discover their Black Swan. Finding the black swan Black Swan theory was popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, but it’s based on a saying from 17th-century London. It was common for Londoners to refer to impossible things as “black swans,” since only white swans inhabit Europe. But Dutch explorer Willem De Vlamingh discovered black swans do exist when he traveled to Australia in 1697. Today, most people use Black Swans as a metaphor to refer to unforeseen events that dramatically impact how things are done. The global COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of a Black Swan event. However, Black Swans can also be pieces of information that drastically change expectations. In negotiations, Black Swans are the unanticipated “I want” statements, the hidden motivation driving someone to act. If leveraged properly, Black Swans allow both parties to walk away with what they desire. Discovering your employee’s Black Swan is the key to helping them engage in their work. Maybe they're trying to gain experience for the next step in their career or simply saving up for a dream vacation. Whatever it may be, understanding their Black Swan will give you the insight you need to create a win-win situation. However, uncovering a Black Swan can be difficult. Many employees, especially unengaged employees, don’t know what’s really motivating them. If you try to just ask them outright, you’ll likely get very simple answers that don’t convey the whole story. If you want the truth, you’ll need to engage in what Voss refers to as tactical empathy. Tactical empathy is understanding the feeling and mindset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow. It’s bringing our attention to both the emotional obstacles and the potential pathways to getting an agreement done. It’s emotional intelligence on steroids. — Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference Use tactical empathy We all fall victim to the fallacy that everyone else thinks and feels the same way we do. We balk when others are offended or upset by something we consider to be completely benign. Unfortunately, instead of trying to understand each other, we often just assume the other person is an anomaly and continue believing everyone else is on our side. As humans, we don’t like things that are different. It’s a primitive reflex leftover from our caveman days where anything that was different was likely going to hurt or kill us. However, you have to overcome this aversion to differences if you have any hope of discovering your employee’s Black Swan. The moments when your employees do or say something you don’t understand or think is “crazy” are some of the best moments to discover their Black Swan. Engage them in conversation. Ask them for more information until you start to understand how they think and feel, or what their “I want” statement is. The following tactics will help keep your conversation flowing: Mirroring — Repeat the last (or most important) 1–3 words the other person said in the form of a question. For example, if your employee said, “I’m going skydiving this weekend.” You would simply respond, “Skydiving?” This indicates you heard what they said and are interested in hearing more. Labeling — If you notice a pattern in the conversation, label it. People feel validated when you can describe what they are feeling or thinking. If you misinterpreted something, it gives them the opportunity to correct you. To continue the previous example: Employee: I’m going skydiving this weekend.You: Skydiving?Employee: Yeah, it’s kind of a tradition I have with my sister. You: It seems like you have a good relationship with her.Employee: I don’t know if I’d say that. Skydiving is really the only thing we have in common. You could then continue the conversation by mirroring again or asking a follow up question until you understand the motivation behind your employee’s actions. If your goal is to find your employee’s Black Swan, they should talk more than you. There will obviously be times in the natural flow of conversation where you say something about yourself or tell a related story. It can help form a connection between the two of you. But if you’re talking about you, you’re not learning about them. Keep the conversation focused on your employee. Engage in casual social interactions Black Swans rarely appear in formal meetings. Remember, Black Swans are unanticipated “I want” statements. They’re less likely to surface if you have a preset agenda. Make the time to talk to your employees outside of your office. Stop to talk when you see them in the hallway or breakroom. Take a few minutes before and/or after a one-on-one to talk about something not-work related. It’s the casual, unguarded conversations where Black Swans are easiest to spot. It’s important to note that many people become nervous around those in positions of authority. They feel like they are going to be reprimanded or get in trouble somehow. It may take time and effort before some of your employees feel comfortable enough to have a casual conversation with you. Don’t get discouraged. If you continue to show genuine interest in your employees and their personal interests, they will eventually become more comfortable. Once you discover your employee’s Black Swan, you can start to successfully negotiate their active engagement. Negotiating for engagement Discovering your employee’s unanticipated “I want” statement turns the situation from you wanting something from them (“I want you to be fully engaged in your work”), to a situation where you want something from each other. For example, one of your employees really enjoys competition. They regularly get involved in activities like March Madness brackets or ping-pong tournaments. Even if the only prize is bragging rights, they seem to enjoy the challenge of competition. This could be a hidden “I want” statement: “I want to participate in competitions,” or even, “I want to win.” You now have the opportunity to provide your employee with something they want in exchange for what you want. Talk to them about how you could create competitions out of their daily tasks to make work more rewarding for them. Depending on their interest, maybe even have them organize and track weekly, monthly, and/or quarterly goals for your team. If you negotiate properly, you should see an increase in your employee’s productivity and they should start to feel more fulfilled. Don’t make promises you can’t keep It is absolutely crucial that you can fulfill whatever deal you make with your employees as soon as possible. If you’re using phrases like “I’ll see what I can do,” or “Depending where we are next quarter,” you are not done negotiating. Keep discussing what can be done until you have something you can act on and deliver within days. Making grand promises might motivate an employee for a week, but they will become actively disengaged as soon as they realize you cannot fulfill it. Let’s say you discover an employee’s Black Swan is that they want to become a graphic designer. They’re even going to school for it, but their current position has nothing to do with design. Promising to get them a job in your design/marketing department is obviously not going to work. Neither will promising you’ll “talk to the manager” to see if your employee can help out on a few projects. More realistic options would be to help your employee set up networking opportunities within your company or associates. Schedule a meeting with the head designer so your employee can ask questions about career growth, education opportunities, etc. Find small projects within your team or department that give them an opportunity to practice their skills. Have them design meeting handouts or training materials. You are not always going to be able to deliver exactly what your employee wants. But that is the point of negotiation — to collaborate with each other until you find a solution that both parties can realistically deliver. Investing your time There is no “quick fix” when it comes to employee engagement. Even plug-and-play employee recognition programs and software won’t change company culture overnight. Talking to individual employees and discovering their Black Swans takes time and energy. Progress may be slow, but as employees become more engaged you should start to see the benefits positively impact your business. Step-by-step, you’ll get back to where you want to be.
The economic impact of COVID-19 and related stay-at-home orders has reached nearly unbelievable proportions. As of April 10, 31 percent of Americans were furloughed or had lost their job because of virus-related events, according to a survey by Freedom Debt Relief. But many businesses are hoping they can hang on to their employees until they can secure Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds to temporarily cover payroll costs or the economy reopens to begin the long process of recovery. To business owners looking for every possible place to cut costs and preserve cash before initiating layoffs, there are several budget adjustments to consider. (And if you’re an employee feeling vulnerable right now, this guide will help you understand what your company is up against.) Increasing sources of revenue may be out of the question right now, but you may be able to identify costs you can cut without devastating your company’s ability to — eventually — re-grow. Decision-making principles Decision-guiding tools Potential budget adjustments 1. Eliminate perk benefits2. Evaluate your workspace and equipment3. Suspend low-yielding growth initiatives4. Adapt marketing and sales strategies5. Consider co-opetition6. Negotiate contracts7. Protect revenue where you can 8. Eliminate non-essential software9. Re-orient and innovate 10. Apply for relief loans, grants, and business loans Decision-making principles Fintech product expert and Successful Release director Adam Sanders focuses on efforts with the highest-yielding ROI when successfully re-evaluating a budget and recommends the following: Key Takeaway: Stabilize your business through strategic decisions. Identify key drivers for success and prioritize those areas. Identify which expenses are easy to stop and start. Project multiple scenarios for the next year and assume the worst. Focus on keeping the lights on, sacrificing future growth for stability in the short-term. In all business decisions, intuition and gumption can play a role in getting you to where you want to be. But data is key. Decision-guiding tools Sanders says QuickBooks has been helpful in managing his company’s expenses as it identifies patterns and specifics in spending and growth. "Going through all the data without software like this would have taken much, much longer," he explains. Entrepreneur Bradley Steven, founder and CEO of LLC Formations, adds that financial pivots need to be extremely specific at every step of planning and execution. He shares, “HR developed a comprehensive report of the last five years of expenses by gathering and summarizing the data. This report assisted us in doing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis to guide our process.” Budget analysis is the name of the game right now and expense management software plays a major role. Alex Bean, co-founder and CBO at full-stack expense management platform Divvy, says that the need to manage budgets has always been a priority for their customers, but during this difficult time he's "seen users put an even greater emphasis on counting every penny — and stretching pennies where they can.” According to Bean, Divvy helps businesses see exactly how much spend is going to every team, department, and budget in real-time. “Rather than waiting until the end of the quarter to review which projects are yielding the highest results, you can evaluate on a weekly or even daily basis," he explains. “This kind of real-time visibility helps businesses identify which expenses bring the highest ROI and thus, should be maintained.” Read reviews from Divvy customers Potential budget adjustments 1. Eliminate perk benefits Your employees would rather have a job with few or no extra perks than no job at all. Decide to pare down or eliminate some or all of the following perks if you’re offering them currently: Catered lunches Fully stocked break room Entertainment benefits Gym memberships Company outings Seasonal activities Travel stipends Company swag and other gifts Dan Bailey, president of online marketplace WikiLawn Lawn Care, says he’s needed to cut back on using a rewards program service in which employees could accrue points towards gift cards. While he’d like to continue the program in the future, it’s not realistic for their budget right now. Bailey’s employees took it well. He explains, “We were honest with our employees about it, and of course everyone unanimously agreed that while it's a loss, it's far preferable to being laid off.” 2. Evaluate your workspace and equipment If your employees are working remotely for the first time, you may be already saving money with little to no cleaning service fees and lower utility bills. If you find that a remote work setup works for your company, you may consider selling your space or not renewing your rental contract in the long term to get rid of your mortgage or rent, property taxes, and utilities. A co-working space could suffice for in-person meetings to supplement video conferencing. James Chittenden, a former small business banker and now co-founder of One Click Advisor, a business finance and business planning platform for startups and small businesses, points out that many banks have already made provisions to defer or modify mortgages. In addition, he says that pressure has been growing on landlords to be understanding with rent, with states such as California, New York, and Washington, imposing moratoriums on evictions. Regarding equipment costs, Chittenden recommends that, in general, businesses lease their equipment instead of buying it. Why? “The owner assumes the depreciation and pays any debt associated with owning it,” he explains. If you do own a piece of equipment that you could lease to someone else, map out a plan for doing so. Use the furniture and technology already onsite to outfit employees’ work from home stations. If you need to buy supplies, buy gently used. 3. Suspend low-yielding growth initiatives You’ll probably need to make some moves that don’t align with the dream you initially had but nonetheless extend the life of your business. This might include halting the investment in high-potential but low-performing growth initiatives such as the following: Products or services that require several times the current amount of users to generate sufficient revenue Partnerships that have gone stale or that haven’t fully materialized Serving customers or clients whose return doesn’t justify the spend of time and money Peripheral, exploratory efforts that don’t align with your core focus Whether it’s letting go of a customer, a client, or a campaign, do what you need to do to focus on initiatives that can pay your bills right now. 4. Adapt marketing and sales strategies Tough economic times call for nuanced approaches to marketing and sales. Here’s what some companies are doing: Reduce online ads According to Michael Alexis, CEO of physical and virtual event services company Team Building, it’s easy to adjust spending on online ads: “You can usually modify the display volume and cost instantly, which means that you can reduce it and increase it again as needed.” Prioritize present over future Alexander Kehoe, co-founder and operations director of web design company Caveni, shares, “We have had to scale back and cut long-term programs that were meant to capture new clients down the line in favor of supporting shorter-term programs that generate more immediate cash flow.” Kehoe says the sales team has been instrumental in results-based reporting. Instead of directly calling potential clients, Caveni has instead opted for a digitally based sales process. Lean on search engine optimization (SEO) Shawn Breyer, owner of Atlanta House Buyers, points out that SEO is a low-cost alternative to online ads. “Since we have always focused on SEO as a marketing strategy, we are still generating leads for our business,” he explains. “Having enough organic leads to fund operations has allowed us to cut out paid marketing, which has saved us thousands of dollars each month and allowed us to keep people employed instead of laying them off.” Cut direct mail ads Jonathan Faccone, founder of Halo Homebuyers LLC, a real estate development and investment company, says that since real estate transaction activity has slowed, he has cut marketing generating mediums like direct mail since it is his largest expense and it is not generating the activity necessary to justify it right now. Faccone explains, “Even if we were generating new business with direct mail, we can not take on additional projects that require large capital investments and greater liquidity strains. We just don't know how soon we would be able to sell projects once we are finished with them and what they would sell for.” Pause completely for a time For business owner Christina Kumar, “marketing had to be cut to minimize new orders due to extreme shipping delays” and won’t be re-launched until the economy reopens again. Kumar says she doesn’t know when the orders from her distributors will arrive and she wants customers to have minimal wait times after placing an order. Keep in mind that adjusting your marketing and sales efforts doesn’t mean you have to stop them. Focus on low-cost efforts like engaging your organic social media followers, crafting tasteful emails for your subscribers, and producing keyword-optimized content on your website. And where the demand for online ad space is relatively low right now, it may actually be a good time to try bidding for some affordably priced ad space on Facebook or Google. 5. Consider co-opetition Co·op·e·ti·tion: collaboration between business competitors, in the hope of mutually beneficial results. It might sound like a crazy idea, but if you’re struggling, your competitors are too. No one wins if you both go out of business! This may be a good time to consider splitting supply costs or sharing resource libraries, partner network benefits, or even a workspace with a competitor or with any local company whose needs and opportunities complement yours. An online barter exchange is another option. Belonging to a barter organization like International Monetary Systems (IMS) allows businesses to get some of the supplies or services they need without spending cash they don’t have. For example, a small business could hire a lawyer, accountant, or landscaper or purchase goods from a supplier by trading their company's products or services. report_problem Attention: Bartered exchanges are taxable. Keep in mind that you do need to pay tax on a bartered exchange. The fair market value of the property or services received through a barter exchange is considered taxable income and both parties must report as income the value of the goods and services received. 6. Negotiate contracts Your point of highest leverage is when you still have cash, so if you haven’t started negotiating with vendors, partners, and other parties, do so now. Negotiating can certainly include a healthy dose of collaboration. But ultimately, you need to do whatever you can to generate cost savings for your business from the following parties, among others: Electric, phone, and internet providers Landlords Lenders Manufacturers Suppliers Affiliate partners To negotiate for lower inventory order costs, first price out other suppliers and then request a discount for a price match from your current supplier. James Chittenden says negotiating with suppliers during hard times is vital and recommends consignment, floor planning, and term restructuring. “One way to negotiate with suppliers is to ask for easy terms, for example, 45 days,” he explains. “In return, after six months, you will pay five percent over invoice for another six months.” 7. Protect revenue where you can On the flip side, be prepared to protect what revenue you do have when your clients or vendors approach you with negotiation proposals. When a customer or other party comes to you to negotiate, examine all relevant information through a discovery call including their usage, activity, and other analytics to understand the complete impact of what they are experiencing. If someone is truly unable to meet previously agreed terms, be open to negotiation. But if there are no clear indicators that they’re worse off than your own business, you may need to be firm in your expectations. You could lose customers by saying "no," but that doesn't necessarily mean you made the wrong decision. 8. Eliminate non-essential software Don’t ditch any software that is essential to your operations or that drastically improves efficiency. But if there are programs collecting dust, stop paying for them. Dan Bailey canceled several subscriptions and switched to a less expensive web host. Michael Alexis found lower-priced substitutes. For example, their previous email marketing platform was costing them $5,000 per year, and they transitioned to a self-hosted version with fewer features, but is reportedly fast, easy to use and costs less than $4 per month. Ken Eulo, founding partner of Smith & Eulo Law Firm, decided to cut down on tools that helped the business but that were ultimately not essential to its survival. This included their CRM and email marketing tools. “These things made our work life easier, but with a little more effort, these tasks can be done by employees.” he explains. Along those lines, if there are money-saving tasks that require simply a set amount of time and some grunt work, like changing your credit card processor or adjusting your Amazon Web Services or other account details, buckle down and do it. 9. Re-orient and innovate Small business consultant Racheal Cook gives the following recommendations for businesses to successfully pivot during a crisis: Key Takeaway: Identify your unique opportunities for a meaningful contribution. Ask, "What can I offer my community right now?" Don't reinvent the wheel, but do look for low-hanging fruit. Keep making offers, even if you need to tweak or completely change your existing offers; relevance is key. Keep showing up, and don't stop your offering. Lean into those that support your business emotionally and strategically. What can that look like during COVID-19? In mid-March, word-of-mouth marketing platform Wooly founder Scott Paul found that many of his clients could no longer pay for the service. He decided to remove his own salary from the budget. Then he adapted the business model to keep the business afloat. Now, Wooly charges customers only when they get paid instead of charging for the service upfront. For cash flow, Paul started a completely new side hustle: a reusable mask production company, MIAKOMO, making masks similar to the N95 but at a price of $0.30 per use rather than the $7 per mask rate some brokers are charging for disposable masks made in China. This new company provides a needed product, generates cash, and contributes meaningfully to the world. And he’s been able to utilize Wooly marketing methods to promote the new product. 10. Apply for relief loans, grants, and business loans If you’ve never needed a loan or grant before, chances are you need one now. Access to PPP loans has allowed some struggling businesses to maintain payroll. But there are other resources available too. Federal relief initiatives include the following: Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans provide up to $10 million and include loan forgiveness for retaining employees. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) provides up to $2 million with a $10,000 advance available. Small Business Administration (SBA) Express Bridge Loans enable small businesses with a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender to quickly access up to $25,000. The SBA Debt Relief program will automatically pay the principal, interest, and fees of current 7(a), 504, and microloans for a period of six months. The Main Street Lending Program will support lending to small and medium-sized businesses that were in good financial standing prior to COVID-19 with new loans running from $1 million up to $25 million but without the loan forgiveness or low APR of the PPP. The U.S. Small Business Innovation and Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program assists small businesses engaged in vital technological, scientific, or medical research (including efforts to find a cure for COVID-19). While these loan programs are playing a crucial role, most businesses (92 percent according to a survey by Small Business Majority) say what they really need to survive this crisis is direct grant assistance. Grant programs have zero risks in that they don't require repayment. Nav's state and local resources page is a great starting point for finding state-based relief. But as with all of the unknowns surrounding the pandemic, there are no guarantees for securing state funding. When Denver-based photographer Jermaine Amado heard there were no more PPP funds available, he searched everywhere for other small business resources and stumbled upon Colorado’s COVID-19 Business Resource page. He quickly got to work applying for some of the grants available. However, after two weeks and counting, he’s still waiting for relief. “I heard back from one Denver-specific grant that I was ineligible because my mailing address is in a neighboring city,” he says. “But I’ll keep applying and hoping.” Resources that are not pandemic-specific are still on the table Traditional SBA loans typically have low-interest rates for applicants with excellent credit, though they are historically slow to fund. A traditional business loan with your financial institution is another alternative to the PPP, assuming you can qualify based on your business credit report. According to Brian Cairns, CEO of ProStrategix Consulting, “Even if you have great credit and especially if you have less than stellar credit, alternative lenders are worth a look.” He continues, “They are faster and more forgiving, but they do charge higher interest rates. Lending platforms such as Lendio and the like are a good place to start. They enable you to access a network of lenders with one application and typically do not require a hard pull until you formally apply to the bank you choose.” Read reviews from Lendio customers Wrapping it up It’s every employer’s hope that by cutting expenses, maximizing revenue sources, and accessing economic relief they can keep payroll intact. Aside from the toll layoffs can take on company morale, it’s expensive and inconvenient to rehire. It takes the average U.S. employer $4,000 and 24 days to hire an employee when factoring in job sourcing, recruitment technology, marketing, in-house recruiting staff, and referral rewards, according to a Glassdoor study. Though it’s likely those numbers will be unique during and after this pandemic is resolved. At this point, no one can predict exactly what the future holds for our country’s economic health at the macro or micro levels. We just hope that individuals and businesses can make the decisions necessary to make it through, one day and one challenge at a time.
Guest Post by Alan Godfrey, CEO of Swyft Filings Launching a new business during most years is difficult enough. Add in a pandemic, and starting a company becomes exponentially more complicated. In 2021, many industries faced challenges that might cause prospective business owners to reconsider. Entrepreneurs continued to be resilient and rose against any roadblocks. The following five sectors saw the most growth in new business applications in 2021, according to the annual State of Swyft Industry Report. The report, which reviews data from new business applications filed across the United States, offers insight into the status of the country’s top industries. Warehousing Though the volume of new business applications in warehousing was the lowest of major sectors in 2021 — coming in at 18th — the sector saw the most substantial year-over-year growth. According to Swyft Filings’ data, this amounted to a 46.43 percent increase since 2020 in business applications. Reasons for the exponential growth in applications tie into increased e-commerce. As online shopping became common during the pandemic, new business owners could see a straightforward way to open and run successful warehousing businesses. While the warehouse industry experienced steady growth before the pandemic, this percentage jumped significantly as warehouses saw an increased demand for goods of all kinds. COVID-19 spikes caused stores to place larger grocery, pharmaceutical, and household product orders. Quick delivery also fueled growth as new warehouses and fulfillment centers opened throughout the United States to meet demand. At the same time, the capabilities of warehouse automation have made opening a warehouse more enticing for many new business owners. According to the U.S. Census Bureau Department of Commerce, the U.S. retail e-commerce sales estimate for the fourth quarter of 2021 increased by 1.7 percent. While new business owners can cash in on the increased business in warehousing, challenges remain. As retail footprints shrink and more customers purchase online rather than brick-and-mortar, warehouses must store larger quantities of products. This will require locating and securing affordable and ample space to handle the influx. These shifts will also make embracing automation essential. Transportation The transportation industry has experienced consistent gains in business applications over the past two years. In 2020 and 2021, the sector hit #2 in growth rank, increasing 31.92 percent in 2021 and second in volume. E-commerce played an integral role in expanding the transportation industry, particularly freight. Over the last two years, there has been an increased need for transporting various in-demand products, including fast fashion and home goods. With online shopping looking to grow year-over-year, there will likely be an increasing demand for transportation services. According to ReportLinker, the transportation services market expects to reach $7.8 trillion by 2027. This growth will spur the need for increased tracking and logistical technologies. It will also demand that transportation companies incorporate the latest in automation technology. Fuel prices will continue to create challenges for freight companies in the short-term and foreseeable future. This will require new and established business owners to find ways to cut shipping costs wherever possible and adjust in other areas to offset. Rental and leasing The rental and leasing industry ranked #3 in growth in 2021, with a 26.85 percent increase in new business applications. Last year, the sector also ranked 11th for volume in new business filings. The total volume of new business formations in the rental and leasing industry is modest compared to other industries tracked by Swyft Filings. However, the sector grew exponentially throughout 2021, and we expect it to continue doing so. According to Business Wire, they project the global leasing market to go from $1,352.88 billion in 2021 to $1,528.03 billion in 2022 and, by 2026, hit $2,403.84 billion. The rental car sector significantly impacted the 2021 rental and leasing industry growth. When the pandemic cut the need for domestic travel in 2020, rental car companies sold vehicles. A year later, in 2021, demand increased once again as Americans became vaccinated and started traveling. The limited supply of cars led to increased rental prices. Data collected by Auto Rental News shows rental car revenue for 2021 at $28.1 billion, a 21 percent gain over 2020. Insurance After ranking 18th in growth in 2020, the insurance industry jumped up to #4 in 2021. Insurance came in nearly last in the volume of new business applications but saw a 24.37 percent increase in yearly applications. A study by Deloitte points to much of the insurance industry’s overall growth in 2021 stemming from carriers benefiting from the technological investments and operational efficiencies spurred early on by the pandemic. Insurance providers substantially ramped up digital offerings in response to the necessity of being more nimble and agile in an overnight virtual market. This resulted in exponential growth in 2021. The ability to operate more efficiently and effectively in the digital insurance arena likely attracted new business owners to the industry. Now that pandemic restrictions have lifted, moving forward, insurance companies will need to ensure that the lifeblood of their business, customer service, remains a top priority. Though business was primarily conducted virtually during the pandemic, there is a current need to reassess customer interactions. For instance, many insurance companies are now considering the value of incorporating face-to-face interactions once again. Accommodations The accommodations industry saw substantial growth in 2020, but that slowed the following year considerably. In 2021, the sector ranked 16th in the volume of new business applications and placed in the #5 spot in growth, increasing 15.21 percent. The result was new business applications that were flat and behind other industries. It’s no secret that accommodation businesses across the board faced monumental challenges because of COVID-19. While historic lows in property loans and grants in 2020 likely resulted in business applications for new accommodation-related businesses, it hit the industry hard. A dramatic slowdown in travel and a labor shortage has left many accommodation businesses fighting to remain viable. A 2022 State of the Hotel Industry Report by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) confirms that hotels struggle to keep their doors open. However, with the U.S. Travel Association predicting domestic leisure travel will surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2022 and beyond, the landscape will likely change over the coming months. To stay open, today’s accommodation companies will need to embrace digital trends that help ensure consumer safety yet provide convenience. Closing the wide labor gap will also be a necessity. New business owners up for the challenge and with an eye to the future are likely to dive into the accommodations industry, eyes wide open. Through technological advances and digital transformations, businesses adapted to keep their doors open and continue growing despite setbacks. These five industries are on track to continue their exponential growth, with more and more entrepreneurs ready to jump in on the opportunity. Alan Godfrey is the CEO of Swyft Filings, an online incorporation, compliance, and SMB services provider based in Houston, Texas. The company analyzed more than 63,000 new business applications filed in 2020 and 2021 to determine the year-over-year potential for new business growth and volume. You can read the complete analysis in the Swyft Filings 2021 State of Swyft Industry Report.
Here at Best Company, we’re all about helping consumers access accurate information and helping businesses establish their online reputation. At the heart of these aims is a commitment to real reviews — especially when it comes to significant financial decisions, like taking out a business loan. ROK Financial CRO Patrick Manning understands the importance of customer voices for establishing trust, improving processes, and educating prospective borrowers about what to expect when they finance through an alternative lending broker. Manning walks us through these concepts and more in this interview with Best Company’s Head of Product Marketing, Justin Ashby. Ready to take the next steps for your business? Visit ROK Financial's profile to learn more about the company, its reviews, and its products. Learn More Topic guide by segment: Traditional lending vs. alternative lending (0:20)ROK as a comparative online marketplace (1:50)How reviews can build trust and assist prospective borrowers (3:50) How ROK has made improvements based on customer feedback (6:05)What makes ROK different from other companies (7:35) Tips for business loan comparison shopping (10:15) The transcript has been edited for length and readability. Ashby (BC): So talk to us a little about ROK Financial, how you may be different than some of your competition. It's an interesting industry that you work in — you do help quite a few customers as well. So, talk to us a little bit about your business. Manning (ROK): Absolutely. How are we different, right? And this [ROK Financial and Best Company] relationship really speaks directly to how we're different. You know, when it comes to business finance outside of traditional lending, which is where we operate. . . traditional to me is the Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo's of the world. When those options are not in play for a business owner, there's this alternative world that they have to turn to. And in that alternative marketplace, there are so many different lenders, there are so many different products. It's really hard to determine the real from the fake or where you should go. And the reason why it's so difficult is that these lenders that are in this private sector — they're not in the local community, they're not on the corner of Main Street, right? So when these business owners are searching for these options, they're looking online, they're not able to walk into a physical location. It's hard to know who you're interacting with and if they're the right company or not. What really separates us is number one, the fact that we put a big focus on having an online reputation, partnering with companies like Best Company, where we can be very transparent with business owners that are out there and say, “Hey, you know, don't take our word for it, don't just listen to our marketing.” Yeah, we do marketing because we need to let you know that we're here and what we offer. But at the end of the day, the reason why you should choose to work with us is for that reputation that we've put in place because of the fact that we are transparent and we get testimonials from our past clients. So you know what type of experience you know to expect with us. But what is ROK Financial? ROK Financial is a leading online marketplace for alternative business solutions — for any different type of business financing. We offer things from SBA lending to term loans, lines of credit, and even specific equipment financing. So, you know, various financial products that we offer specifically for small businesses. And what's really cool about us is we're a one-stop shop. So we offer this online marketplace that consists of 75 different lenders that offer 6 to 10 different products. And instead of searching for all these lenders and brokers who I mentioned have no online reputation or you're not really sure what you're going to get, you can come to ROK and you know what they're all about. They are very transparent. The reviews are online. But most importantly, we'll do that comparative shopping for you. You know, we'll get to understand your business, your needs, the opportunities or challenges you may be facing. And then we hand-select a group of lenders that we feel is the best fit for you based on what you qualify for and what you're looking to accomplish. And then we ensure we get you the best offer. So we're a service provider to small business owners. We go out there and we bring the best offers — the best lenders — to the table. We make them compete against each other to ultimately drive you, the business owner, the best offer. And this way you can cut down on time shopping and going through paperwork and you can stay focused on running your business and trust ROK to bring you that best financial product. If you're looking to expand the business or purchase inventory or do a remodel, there are so many different reasons as to why a business would need to borrow capital. And we're just here to ensure that when that time comes for you, that you're getting the best offer, you're not overpaying, and ultimately your information is protected and you're getting the best deal for your business or the best bang for your buck. Ashby (BC): Yeah, that's great. And I'd like to talk a little bit about that trust that you've built. You know, there's a lot of ways that you can kind of pay for reputation if you will. There are a lot of websites, a lot of places that will kind of prop up your brand. Now, you've utilized the Best Company platform because we don’t do that. There are no payment platforms so that you can get elevated in some type of rankings or anything like that. And you've got a lot of great reviews. I think you guys just surpassed more than 100 positive reviews and especially for your industry, where you're not dealing with millions and millions of customers, it's amazing how many of your customers have been willing to leave you positive reviews. Have you guys read those reviews and actually adjusted your product and offering according to what your customers have said? What have those reviews really meant to you? Manning (ROK): Oh yeah, I mean, absolutely. You've absolutely hit the nail on the head there. You know, we've used this platform and I also appreciate you pointing out that Best Company specifically is a platform where there's no pay-to-play model. This isn't a situation in which we're paying a fee to have positive reviews or a reputation built for us. This is very organic and is really built off the work of the team here internally and what they carry out on the phone with their clients. But yeah, this has been a huge opportunity for us to hear from our client base. Of course, we read every review. We're a smart group of people, right? We understand that the scariest thing for a business owner is borrowing money and sharing personal information online with somebody that they've never met face-to-face, right? So the biggest reason why we've utilized the platform is to bring that sense of security to those that are looking for financing and give them that layer of comfort — hey, here's past reviews. Here's what people who have worked with us, what they said. You will know that by applying through us, your information will be protected, you will have a positive experience. So number one, it's been a great way for us to bring that comfort level to our customer base. But then, more importantly, once we raise that comfort level we start to work together now — we want to learn from you. We have a saying here internally where we say, “Cover your belly button” and basically what that means is to be open to the feedback. We understand that there's always room for improvement — that's a core belief of ours, that we can always get better. This has been a great platform to hear from our customer base and empower them to give us that feedback. You know, we have heard certain things from our clients like, “Hey, at this point of the process, I would rather hear about a more confirmed offer before I share certain banking information.” So we took that feedback, and we instantly implemented it into our process. And we've gotten a lot of positive feedback since making that adjustment. Ultimately, what our business comes down to is efficiency. We want our application process to be fast and easy, so we're always looking at ways to innovate our process and new technologies that we can implement to make it a simple application or borrowing process. Hearing back and getting testimonials from our clients has honestly been like a cheat code in that sense because we're hearing exactly from the horse's mouth: “Hey, this is what we think would work best.” “This would really make our experience enjoyable.” And we take careful consideration to all of that feedback and try to implement as much of it as we can, all while maintaining the integrity of our process. You know, we do need to be a structured-process business. Ashby (BC): Yeah, that makes sense. My other question for you is, a lot of potential customers who are on Best Company are learning about different ways to access financing and they will come across ROK Financial and they may come across other companies as well. What would you tell those customers that are kind of analyzing the playing field, what other options are out there? How do you feel like ROK Financial really differentiates itself from the field? Manning (ROK): Yeah, it really keeps going back to this online reputation and the reviews and what people are saying, I mean, what else can you go off of? I mean, you don't know any of us when you start applying for financing, whether it's my company, another broker out there, or a direct lender. You don't know any of us from a hole in the wall, and with the direct lenders, there's this negative connotation around brokers at times. But we scream from the rooftop, we love to be the broker because to us, that's where we can provide the most value to you as the borrower. We’re able to gather a variety of offers from multiple lenders, then we get them to compete against one another to ultimately drive you, the end-user, the borrower, the best product possible. And then with the direct lenders, they have their product. When you're a direct lender, you can’t have 80,000 products, you have your product, and either that works for a particular borrower, or it doesn't. So for us, being a broker makes us very dynamic in what we can offer back to our customer base and ensure you that you are getting the most competitive offer that's out there. But like I was mentioning, just based on the reviews, right? And don't ever put all your eggs in one basket, you know. If you're watching this video, don't take my word for it, and it’s very nice for you to have us on here, but this isn’t about us just promoting ourselves and saying how great we are. By all means, look us up. There are multiple platforms that you can search “ROK Financial” and you'll see that we have thousands of reviews that maintain five stars or better, so we really do back our word in that sense. And you know, the proof is in the pie, we always say. Go look for yourself, don’t take our word for it. But that's the first thing you're gonna find: you should look at multiple options. I'm telling you to look at multiple options. But when you look at those options, if you see ROK Financial has thousands of reviews, a five-star rating, a huge online presence, social media, and constantly sharing content transparency into the workplace, this is their team, this is who you're talking to and working with. And then you look at the other companies and they don't even have a website or they have no reviews? Don't take that lightly. Don't be the guinea pig with something as important as your business. You know, most business owners have sacrificed something personal to get that business off the ground, whether it be their personal finances, their savings, or their personal credit score. A lot of people leverage something personal to get the business off the ground. This is your baby. This is something that's very important to you. So when you do finally decide to put your trust in somebody, definitely look at the reviews and start there. And then if you see multiple companies with good reviews and good feedback, then my advice from there is to go with the field. You know, if the reviews are real, you're clearly in good hands, there are other people outside of us, and we're not for everybody, we know that. But we're direct, we're honest, we're to the point, and even sometimes negative information could be good information. Some people will tell you, “Hey, you just don't qualify for this and you're getting that.” Well, we always believe in putting education behind that. Like, “Hey, do X, Y, and Z for your business. This is why you're not qualifying. This is what we can do to get you to qualify for that. But in the meantime, here's a plan that we can execute and get you going on where you're looking to go.” So that's just our approach. Definitely lean on the reviews — any company you decide to give your personal information to or apply for financing should be somebody reputable and there should be a track record of that listed somewhere online. Start there. Ashby (BC): Right — perfect, Patrick. That was great for any potential customers that are watching this. Obviously, if you're on ROK Financial’s profile page on Best Company, scroll down, read more about them, and check out the reviews. If you're seeing this anywhere else online, there is a page for ROK Financial and Best Company where you can learn more and get a hold of them that way. Patrick, thanks for spending some time. Hopefully, this gives some more context about your business and how they can access financing. Manning (ROK): Thank you. Visit ROK Financial's profile page for more information about their products.
Guest Post by Brad Anderson, President of FAMR The federal contracting marketplace is massive: the federal government awarded an eye-popping $5.4 trillion of contract work to certified businesses in 2019. Companies that can capitalize on any portion of this economic boon, from small businesses to large corporations, are well-positioned to scale and succeed. Additional benefits of working with the federal government include preferential bidding, subcontracting, set-aside grants, and a few others that we will detail further below. To vie for federal contract work, though, a business must first register with The System for Award Management (SAM). SAM acts as a platform where government officials and associated contractors can search for vendors based on varying factors. Registering with SAM is an ongoing process as businesses must update or renew their registrations annually. Read on to learn about federal contracts and also how various businesses that meet specific criteria are eligible for receiving supplementary benefits from the federal government. These businesses include women-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, businesses run by socioeconomically challenged owners, and all businesses conducted within a historically underutilized zone. Why register to do business with the federal government? Well, let’s touch on the numbers again. As mentioned above, the government spent $5.4 trillion on contract work in 2019. How about in 2020? If you think that spending went down amongst a global pandemic, you’d be wrong. The government spent $5.6 trillion of its budget on purchases from domestic businesses. The bottom line is that the federal government is the largest purchaser in America. Any business selling to the largest buyer has a straightforward path to success. Outside of the numbers, the reasons to work with the federal government include securing exclusive grant and certification opportunities. An additional reason is particular to small businesses. The U.S. Small Business Administration is keenly interested in the bolstering of small businesses across the country. In fact, 23 percent of all federal contracting must be allocated to small businesses annually to support small business growth. The benefits keep coming for federally registered businesses. Federally registered businesses are allowed to access valuable business opportunities in the private sector through private sector bidding. Federally registered businesses also benefit from preferential bidding, which empowers them to win federal business over the non-registered competition. Subcontracting is also legally encouraged by the federal government for registered businesses, which increases a registered business’ influence in its industry. Okay, so we’ve covered the why to register federally. Let’s take a look at the how. How do I register to do business with the federal government? Business owners and operators have multiple options for registering their business with the federal government. For starters, business owners can self-register or partner with a professional group to advise them throughout the process. The process consists of acquiring a DUNS number with the Data Universal Number System (DUNS), getting SAM-Registered, and submitting for a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) code. Data Universal Number System (DUNS) The first step in the process of registering to contract with the federal government is to acquire a Data Univeral Number from the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS). These unique, nine-digit numbers empower the federal government to track the financial stability and reliability of businesses. System for Award Management (SAM) Registration Upon acquisition of a DUNS number, businesses can self-register with the System for Award Management (SAM). Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) Code Once a business has successfully registered via SAM, they can use their DUNS number to request a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) Code. This code which was designed to be public information is distributed by the Department of Defense. It enables the government to keep a watchful eye on every company that does business with the government. And that’s it. Once a business has secured its CAGE code with the government, they’re ready to jump into the Federal Marketplace and start competing for federal contracts. Additional certifications for small businesses Certifications can help businesses excel even further within the federal marketplace. If a business is declared small via the U.S. Small Business Administration’s sizing standard, a business may be eligible to receive additional benefits via a small business certification. The litany of certifications afforded to businesses awarding them various benefits target underrepresented groups, including women, veterans, underutilized zones, and socioeconomically underprivileged entrepreneurs. Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Certification Businesses owned by 51% women and operated by women executives qualify to receive the Woman-Owned Small Business certification. This program, established in 2011, guarantees that 5% of annual contracts allocated will be with WOSB-certified businesses. Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB) Certification Businesses that are majority controlled by Veterans, that are operationally managed by Veterans, and have a Department of Defense Form 214 are eligible to join the VOSB program. The VOSB certification affords Veteran owned and operated companies to leverage exclusive contracting opportunities. HUBZone Certification When U.S. Congress launched HUBZone Empowerment in 1998, it did so with hopes of assisting business owners in traditionally underutilized business zones. Certified businesses within these zones can vie exclusively for 3% annually of the federal government’s contracting budget. 8(A) Certification Born out of the civil rights movement, the federal government’s 8(A) Certification aims to give minority entrepreneurs and small business owners additional support. Certified 8(A) businesses are awarded an exclusive 5% of the federal government’s contracting budget. Federal contracts benefit American businesses The federal government is the largest spender in the United States annually, and those businesses that work to service the federal government are in an incredibly advantageous position. Additionally, the federal government aims to support small businesses with its spending by exclusively reserving varying degrees of its budget to support domestic small businesses. We’ve covered the steps necessary to register with the federal government for federal contracting: acquire a DUNS number, register with SAM, and be dispatched a CAGE code. Business owners can complete this process on their own, or they can seek professional advisement throughout the registration process. Regardless of the method of registration, the potential benefits of working with the federal government are paramount, and any relevant business should pursue this opportunity. When domestic businesses — and small businesses, in particular — thrive, we all succeed. Brad Anderson is the President of Federal Award Management Registration, a trusted, family-oriented business dedicated to assisting businesses in navigating the Federal Marketplace. FAMR’s mission is to efficiently and accurately guide dedicated businesses through the complex series of requirements and red tape the government requires for Federal Contracting, Registrations, and Certifications. Established in 2015, FAMR has assisted thousands of successful businesses over the hurdles placed before them in any of these processes. Brad is at the helm of this industry-leading business, adapting and growing every step of the way to ensure clients succeed.
Guest post by Jonathon Morgan, CEO at Yonder The Information Age has ushered in a golden era of interconnectivity. Astute observers of this phenomenon are aware that the new reality is both a blessing and a curse. The most creative and innovative brands have been strategic about using the internet as a platform to create community and meaningfully connect with their audience. At the same time, this interconnectivity means that all types of information — true, false, helpful, and harmful — can spread in the blink of an eye. According to a 2021 report by Visual Objects, 67 percent of consumers try to understand a company’s online presence before even considering the brand, further proving the importance of ensuring the most accurate information is being shared across the web. For communications teams, this challenge presents a tremendous opportunity to step up and lead their businesses as the first responders in mitigating brand risk. Communications professionals are on the front lines of protecting brand integrity Communications professionals are typically the first to see when a viral narrative is emerging. Perhaps your brand is suddenly trending, a spokesperson for your company is being targeted online, or your brand is being boycotted, as seen when Coca-Cola held a stance against the Georgia Voter Law earlier this year. The first step is to identify the origin of these online conversations. Because strategic communications teams typically serve horizontally across organizations, they are uniquely positioned to work cross-functionally and coordinate a response in the event of a crisis. However, “crisis” is the keyword here: It may not be worth your time and your company resources to overreact when something about your brand goes viral online. Social intelligence tools can play an unprecedented role here. First and foremost, effective social intelligence tools can determine whether these online conversations are authentic or inauthentic. Modern marketing and communications teams are adopting social intelligence tools in order to know what’s coming day-to-day, make strategic daily decisions that mitigate risk, and stay in control of their brand’s image. Why do viral incidents still catch brands off-guard? Unfortunately, it’s still very common to see these incidents catch communications teams off guard. This is because most teams only have traditional social monitoring and listening tools in place. While these systems tune into keywords, trends, and hashtags on mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter, they have a huge blindspot: they can’t monitor fringe channels online. Remember when QAnon conspiracy theorists targeted Wayfair, claiming that the company was trafficking children through their website? Although this claim was blatantly false, this faction knew that using a well-known brand as a vehicle to spread disinformation would garner more attention for their conspiracy. And it worked: What started out as a single Tweet quickly turned into mass media headlines and primetime coverage. Online chatter that appears to come out of nowhere can shape a brand’s reputation and bottom line in a matter of days or even hours. Another way that brands get caught off guard is when factions troll their company executives, employees, and other spokespeople. Factions are often able to get an off-the-cuff reaction out of them, further spreading their agenda through this opportunistic publicity. Most brands have executives, board members, and spokespeople that have established some political affiliations, either through communicating their stance on hotbed issues online, through charitable giving, or through their informal relationships with organizations. And who could forget how the “WallStreetBets” subreddit boosted GameStop’s shares in defiance of all market norms, eventually costing hedge funds billions of dollars? The most influential internet factions are experts at tapping into the infrastructure of private forums and chat rooms to rapidly spread their message. How to make your brand less vulnerable to viral stories online With a social intelligence tool, your brand can determine where a viral event was initiated, who started it, and who is amplifying it. Traditional social analytics tools are not capable of answering these critical questions. Once your brand’s marketing or communications team understands the motivations of the online faction responsible for starting a petition, spreading a hashtag, or otherwise sharing some kind of viral message, they can determine what sort of impact their actions online could have on the narrative and your brand’s integrity Based on the faction’s historical track record, your team can assess the likely trajectory of the narrative: Will it spread to channels or audiences that matter to your brand? If the viral narrative is authentic, it’s imperative that you take action. Inauthentic conversations are spread via bots, low-quality accounts, and other methods for making a few voices sound much louder online. But even an inauthentic narrative that’s being manipulated to appear authentic can be a threat to your brand’s reputation and valuation. At times, addressing the narrative can further incite it. Social intelligence platforms can provide your brand with insights that can help decide whether or not to take action by activating your leadership and communication team. For example, Yonder can monitor the source of the information and other non-mainstream channels (think: 4chan, Gab, and Parler) in case the narrative takes a turn that would represent a crisis for your brand. Social intelligence can empower your strategic communications team to completely avoid these incidents. If an incident has already occurred, using these same social intelligence tools can provide data-backed answers and a plan. With these tools, communications teams can provide insights and data that are relevant across many different company functions, including public relations and analytics. Incorporating social intelligence tools into your communications strategy can also monitor emerging narratives around high-level issues that impact your industry, making sure you don’t get caught in the crosshairs of advocacy groups that are instigating petitions and boycotts. It has been clear for some time that managing these communications crises is a high-level process, not a one-time effort. Brands that are doing the work now to preemptively prepare for viral online stories will be less vulnerable than those that try to default to their gut instinct.Jonathon Morgan is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Yonder. Prior to Yonder, he published research about extremist groups manipulating social media with the Brookings Institution, The Atlantic, and the Washington Post, presented at NATO’s Center of Excellence for Defense Against Terrorism, the United States Institute for Peace, and the African Union. Mogan also served as an adviser to the US State Department, developing strategies for digital counter-terrorism. He regularly provides commentary about online disinformation for publications such as New York Times, NBC, NPR, and Wired.1.