Note: This is the fourth post in a four part series focusing on the retail outlook for the 2013-year. You can access the first post on the economy here, the second post on technology here and the third post on retail lessons from the best and worst here.
Let’s face it. We live in a world that revolves around ‘likes,’ ‘retweets,’ ‘pins’ and ‘check-ins.’ It is unavoidable. Although it’s no longer a new concept, some retailers can still be slightly hesitant to dive into it most likely because they are still facing the same problem they’ve been facing since social media’s inception. And as all-purpose platforms grow and new, specialized ones pop up each month, retailers and brands really need to understand how to utilize them as social networks present ample amounts of opportunity to reach consumers.
What is the problem and what will it demand in 2013?
Social media is exactly that: a place in which to be social. But instead of focusing on the social part, retailers are approaching it with the notion of selling first. They should be listening, interacting and reacting before selling.
Many brands have been clamoring about social media’s direct link to ROI and have been coming up short of answers. Michael Heffring, vice president of marketing for social media software firm Expion, noted that retailers “have to understand how to link engagement to specific goals” as a form of ROI. “The idea is to improve basic engagement and link it to all the important things you can measure. That’s where we are today, increasing engagement of a brand’s social content and starting to track its impact on specific marketing goals,” Heffring said. Social media should be an essential part of retailers’ marketing efforts.
Demand, demand, demand
At a Sunday lunch keynote during NRF’s BIG Show 2013, social media and technology expert Erik Qualman, author of the book Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business, was joined by Jill Puleri, vice president and global leader for retail at IBM Global Business Services, to dish out advice on the changing digital and social times and what it demands from retailers in 2013. The key? Learning to listen. Retailers must also be ready to respond, even – or especially – when what is being said is not positive. “It’s another place retailers must pay attention. They’re not your enemy. Far from it. They’re your advocates. And you should be bending over backward to ensure their experience is one worth sharing,” Puleri emphasized during the keynote.
But the same question keeps surfacing. Best poised by the article Top Retailers Harnessing the New Word of Mouth in STORES Media: If a retailer posts on Facebook and no one responds, was it worth the effort? Heffring explained it as “the number one thing all brands have always known.” Word of mouth drives businesses and in the simplest of terms, social media is about managing the word of mouth.
Jonathan Hudson, social and mobile lead at Shop Direct Group, gave Retail Week a similar view. Hudson said, “While the ability to capture social data is still quite new, it’s enabling the home shopping giant to identify important demographic information.” Used correctly and data captured via social platforms helps deepen customer engagement and sales. The value – or ROI – of social media is being able to get inside consumers’ heads. So much that when a customer sees a brand regularly on their wall or stream, they become much more familiar with and have greater brand awareness for the particular brand than retailers that are less visible.
Wilson Tang, head of digital creative at New York marketing company TBA Global, knows that consumers are exposed to brand messages over time and that from a brand perspective, it gives them a little more credibility. “What retailers are hoping is that the next time you walk past their store, or they run a deal, it’s a lot easier to associate with that brand and for them to execute a commerce transaction.”
Read last year’s post on social media to see what concepts still apply today here >>
Unleash the power
Expion assessed the Facebook pages of STORES’ Top 100 Retailers to determine which brands were doing well with fan engagement measured by tallying fan actions: comments, likes and shares.
41 of the top 100 retail brands have fan bases over a million. Wal-Mart secured the top spot. “Wal-Mart is the tsunami of frequency,” Heffring said. “They say ‘I want to be out there as often as I can and in any way that I can.’ The top posts don’t have a lot to do with products or services.”
Victoria’s Secret took the No. 2 spot. The brand’s posts are what Heffring likes to call “aspirational.” “They show the angels, the fashion. The whole approach is to be pure to the brand.”
How else are retailers garnering such good responses? Social media is about going where your customers are going and being where they are. Some retailers are using their Facebook pages to help fans connect with each other and to offer behind-the-scenes looks at events. These can generate a high response. Of course, new products and store openings can be important posts to build brand awareness and generate ‘likes.’
Savvy retailers are also utilizing Twitter updates, online contests and other online forms of marketing and advertising. Another creative area to explore? Mommy bloggers. Target has been working with mommy bloggers for many years now. “We recognize that mommy bloggers have really large and engaged followers, and they can speak very authentically to their readers… who trust them,” said Target spokeswoman Dustee Jenkins. “We call them online influencers.”
The retailer has 17 mommy bloggers who are part of the Target Inner Circle in which they are given behind-the-scenes access to information relating to the brand to share with their followers. For example, Target might bring a food blogger to its test kitchen or provide a preview of a new clothing line to a fashion blogger.
New Social Media
This item is no longer available
Online pin-board platform Pinterest made big waves last year as a potentially huge tool for retailers. It wasn’t until recently that retailers were experiencing problems. It’s not that the site doesn’t work – in fact, it’s driving massive traffic for retailers. The issue comes in a different form. AdWeek used fashion retailer H&M as a prime example of the problem with Pinterest.
H&M is pretty popular on Pinterest: Over the last month, H&M has seen 145,000 pins, repins, comments or likes on its products, according to Pinterest analytics firm Curalate. Sounds great, right? The problem is that a good number of H&M’s popular pins feature dead links.
Take an H&M dress that has been shared on Pinterest nearly 1,200 times in the past 30 days (as of February 4, 2013.) When a customer clicks on the product’s pin, it returns the message, “Sorry, this item is no longer available.”
“Pinterest is driving a ton of people to H&M’s website, but you can’t buy anything when you get there,” said Curalate CEP Apu Gupta. H&M is only one example of retailers experiencing missed opportunities via Pinterest. So what gives? As far as Gupta sees it, the issue is the way brands are divided. Large companies separate their social and digital marketing teams from e-commerce. Gupta believes there is an easy fix. Brands can simply leave any out-of-stock product pages live on their sites so at least users don’t think they have clicked a wrong link or the site is down. Another option would be to put a mechanism in place to offer an incoming Pinterest user a coupon for another of the retailer’s products based on Pinterest popularity. Other companies have developed image-recognition technology, which helps retailers showcase alternative items when pinned products are out of stock.
Social networks to watch in 2013
Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, teamed up with CNN Money in the article Seven Social Networks to Watch in 2013 to highlight the newest platforms and apps in the social sphere. Although Facebook will continue to reign in 2013, Twitter will thrive and Google Plus will achieve critical mass, some truly exciting specialized tools are emerging taking social networking into more focused directions. We picked out the four most likely to impact retailers in the 2013-year and added one of our own favorites not covered by Holmes:
Pheed: The pay-as-you-go social network, according to Holmes. Pheed gives users the option of monetizing their “pheeds.” For a monthly subscription fee, “pheeders” can offer subscribers access to a media-rich stream of text, audio, photo, video and even live broadcasts.
Thumb: Say you have no idea what shirt to match with your new jeans. Snap a photo, upload it to Thumb and crowdsource the decision. Simple questions have proven to generate hundreds of thumps ups up or thumbs down, plus comments, from the network’s very active user-base. Thumb generates serious engagement among users; reports to be around four hours a month, second only to Facebook among established networks.
Chirpify: Chirpify takes the concept of one-click payments for online shopping into the social media era. Sellers offer stuff for sale on Twitter or Instagram and consumers respond with the word “buy.” It’s as simple as that. No credit cards. No “proceed to checkout” or “add to cart.” The entire transaction is conducted through Twitter accounts.
Conversations: Instead of getting lost in email chains, team members or group members collaborate in real-time by posting on message boards, Facebook style. Anyone can be invited to join a conversation, enabling customer support teams to rally around issues, marketing teams to coordinate on campaigns, etc.
Vine: Our pick, Vine, is one of the most talked about new social media apps turning the average man or woman into a mini movie-maker. Vine videos are limited to six seconds and looped repeatedly. Users can post the clips on Vine’s social network or link to Twitter. The Star Tribune article Is Vine the Next Big Thing in Social Media? looked at Vine’s most popular subjects thus far: food, pets and kids, but notes that businesses are also hopping on board. Wheat Thins, for example, used Vine to promote its crackers on Twitter during the Super Bowl.
There is a lot of room for retailers to grow in social media. Retailers have so many options and tools to enhance the customer experience and engage with consumers via social networks. Not sure where to begin? If it moves or touches you in some way, share it, but don’t forget to listen and respond to those who take the time to interact with you and your brand.
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