The exponential growth in social media, combined with the
ability to target promotions to a customer’s exact location and the expanding
use of mobile, has transformed the retail landscape. “It’s all about SoLoMo —
the convergence of social, local and mobile,” says Lori Schafer, co-author with
Bernie Brennan of Branded! How Retailers Engage Consumers with Social Media and
Mobility. Engaging the customer takes on new meaning with “conversations” that
are posted, tweeted or pinned. Companies need to join the conversation with a
strategy that seamlessly integrates social media, their website and mobile.
social media platforms exert a vast global reach. “Social media has become part
of people’s everyday habits,” says Michelle Crames, chief executive officer
(CEO) of SkuLoop, a company that provides retailers with the capability to
conduct and measure promotions across media. “Companies can no longer afford
not to be on social media,” asserts Schafer, executive advisor, retail at SAS
Institute, a business analytics and software provider.
In its December 2011 report, “Top 10 Need-to-Knows About Social Networking and Where It’s
Heading,” ComScore noted that in March 2007, social networking had a global
audience of less than 500 million. At the end of 2011, social networking sites
reached 82 percent of the world’s online population — 1.2 billion users. And
it’s not just the younger demographic; according to ComScore, men and users 55
years and older represent the fastest-growing segment in social media.
In a February 2012 survey of senior executives conducted by
PulsePoint Group, a management and digital consulting firm, and the Economist
Intelligence Unit, the London-based sister organization to The Economist
magazine, 84 percent of those surveyed said that social media campaigns
increased the effectiveness of their marketing and sales efforts, as reported
by eMarketer™. Furthermore, 81 percent responded that a social media presence
helped increase market share.
“Your choice of the social media platform really depends on
what you want to do and what works best for your product,” explains Daniel
Flamberg, managing director of digital and customer relationship management
(CRM) at Kaplan Thaler Group, an advertising agency in New York City. For most
companies, establishing a presence on Facebook is at the top of their list.
According to Nielsen, Americans spend more time on Facebook than on any other
U.S. website. “Facebook and Pinterest are better if you want to romance your
product and tap into your niche,” Flamberg comments. Driven by visuals, these
sites offer another advantage in that they allow you to “celebrate the beauty
of your products,” explains Crames, who also suggests companies use Facebook’s
timeline feature where they can highlight company milestones and key events
with photos across the top of the page. Platforms such as YouTube are effective
for companies with videos that feature their products.
“If you want to
blast out information, Twitter is the route to go,” says Flamberg. Aanarav
Sareen, creative technologist at Wunderman, the New York City–based advertising
agency, points out, “Twitter is the biggest broadcast medium. You can broadcast
to everyone regardless if they are following you or not.”
For some companies, Google+ offers the advantage that your
website will rank higher in organic — nonpaid — searches when customers do a
Google search. Unlike Pinterest, which primarily attracts women, Google+ is
Schafer cautions that it may be difficult for the novice to
manage multiple social media platforms and advises companies to start with the
platforms that offer the broadest distribution. There are also applications,
such as HootSuite, www.hootsuite.com, that facilitate managing multiple
For companies in the business-to-business (BtoB) arena,
where access to sensitive information may be an important consideration,
LinkedIn offers privacy settings, along with several other advantages. “It’s a
missed opportunity if a company is not on LinkedIn,” explains Ana Quillinan,
social media trainer and consultant at AMTM Consulting, LLC, citing the 4
billion searches conducted on LinkedIn in 2011, double those of 2010. LinkedIn
presents several advantages — three free banner ads, a description of your
service and a picture of your product and a video. LinkedIn also introduced a
new program that allows companies to include a “follow company” button on its
brand page. Followers will receive updates from that brand in their LinkedIn
LinkedIn gives companies a way to differentiate themselves
by providing information, through constant updates or by posting an article
about their product category that will “always keep them top of mind,” says
Quillinan. Content should include keywords that best describe the product or
service to expedite search engine optimization (SEO).
GETTING TO LIKE
The cardinal rule of knowing your customer takes on
increased importance when you can connect 24/7. Conversations need to be
personalized and meaningful. “Find the one thing that is unique about your
brand and use it to connect with people,” says Sareen. “There is so much data
available now to companies about customers that they should leverage the
information to improve the conversations,” he adds.
While a tweet can be automatically posted on Facebook,
companies should also pay careful attention to varying the content from one
social media platform to another.
“You need to govern your website and utilize it across all
channels,” notes Crames. But a company’s social media presence should not
mirror its website, but rather provide additional compelling content — written
and visual — that establishes or reinforces a strong connection to existing or
potential clients. “Consider your website the anchor of your digital
ecosystem,” advises Flamberg. The website should be integrated into any social
media campaign. Show a picture of your product on Facebook with a link to your
website that shows users the entire product range. Offer an exclusive promotion
on Twitter and drive users back to your site to complete the transaction.
“Encourage users to make wish lists and tie them to a sweepstakes so you give
them an incentive to create and share.” Crames strongly advises curated
offerings tailored to users’ preferences.
Sree Sreenivasan, a professor at the Columbia School of
Journalism, created a social media success formula. “Every social media post or
tweet should be at least one — ideally more — of these attributes: helpful,
useful, informative, relevant, practical, actionable, timely, generous,
credible, brief, entertaining and fun.”
The experts offer a word of caution. “Social media can make
a success more fabulous or hugely magnify a mistake,” says Crames. “The biggest
mistake is cluttering customers’ feeds and not giving them something useful,”
says Sareen, adding, “It’s a waste of resources.”
Schafer points out that companies must offer more than the
“sale of the day.” Flamberg advises that companies not treat social media like
advertising. More importantly, he counsels that you have to be aware that
“everyone is a reporter and a critic.” He notes that since the average person
has 133 friends, not every comment is going to be complimentary. But Flamberg
thinks that some negative comments add a certain amount of credibility to your
brand because not every customer will have a positive experience. However,
companies must acknowledge these comments in a timely manner. To avoid having a
negative conversation online, he suggests providing a phone number to move the
“Facebook is the new permission marketing. It is like the
email opt-in. It also gives companies the opportunity to experiment, but they
must be ‘sensitive’ to what they say on very public channels,” Crames cautions.
“Mobile becomes the connective tissue between online and
offline,” says Crames, who further points out, “Like your conversation in the
social media world, mobile must also be a more personalized experience. Use
mobile to get them excited and deliver unique content and make it actionable.
However, putting your catalog online is not a killer app,” says Crames.
“The biggest hurdle for some companies is to realize that
the web and mobile require a different approach,” says Sareen. Companies need
to ask themselves what are they offering on mobile that is not available on
their social networking sites. “The value proposition is the key
differentiator,” he says.
Advances in technology enable companies to target a
customer’s exact location and develop value-driven promotions. Some
location-based services (LBS) include features that take into account the
user’s personal preferences. Gartner Research estimates that the total user
base of consumer LBSs is expected to reach 1.4 billion users by 2014.
Schafer adds that some of these services provide more
accurate location-tracking than GPS systems through a smartphone that not only
captures the location, but also tracks how long a person looked at an item.
Schafer points out that the information is relayed through a “ping” in the
phone without identifying the owner of the phone.
Mobile commerce is also forecast to grow. Gartner Research
reports that new applications over the next 24 months will enable customers to
check into a store to alert the retailer that they are there or offer the
ability to add items to a shopping cart via a photo or by scanning a bar code.
LOOKING AT THE BOTTOM LINE
Analyzing return on investment (ROI) depends on your
perspective. Most experts agree that the bottom line is important in the long
term but not in the short term. “Don’t think about what is spent — think of the
value of the conversation,” points out Flamberg. “There is more value in
getting the word out to build brand awareness. You’re talking to people who
wouldn’t necessarily talk to you because they don’t know you. But they know you
— as a friend of a fan or through a retweet or a posting on LinkedIn,” he adds.
HERE TO STAY
“Social media is dynamic. It is never going to stop
changing,” asserts Sareen. The statistics attest to its exponential growth and
the increasing number of users accessing these platforms using a mobile device.
“There is no longer any offline. By effectively using social media to connect
with your customers, you make them your brand advocates,” concludes Crames.
Article from the Rapaport Magazine - June 2012. To subscribe click here.