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Making The Connection

Social media is changing the conversation between companies and customers, with mobile moving it forward.

By Joyce Kauf

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. 

Facebook…Twitter…Pinterest…YouTube…LinkedIn…Google+…these 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.

GETTING SOCIAL

“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 more male-dominated.

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 platforms.

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 feeds.  

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.”

AVOIDING UNLIKE

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 conversation offline.

“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 RULES

“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.

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