Considering the explosive growth of social media, retailers are quickly expanding their social strategies. According to Compete.com, a leading Web analytics firm, Facebook had over one million unique visitors in April, and the Twitter craze is driving huge growth for tracking sites. Fast movers in April included tweetmeme.com (up 338% to 1.68 Million Unique Visitors), tweetdeck.com (up 69% to 915,000 UVs), twittergadget.com (up 56% to 100,000 UVs), twitpic.com (up 37% to 3.33 Million UVs), and bit.ly (up 53% to 1.81 Million UVs), according to Compete.
Several retailers are cultivating a strong presence on social networks to communicate and engage with their customers. With its 820,900 followers, Whole Foods Market ranks number 36 overall in number of followers as of June 7, according to Twitter tracker Twitterholic.
The grocer tapped CoTweet, a version of Twitter designed for businesses that supports both proactive marketing communication and response-driven customer support that allows multiple people to communicate through corporate Twitter accounts. Whole Foods optimizes its tweets with teasers designed to drive followers to The Whole Story blog, which provides more detailed information.
“Making sure that the voices communicating in social media outlets are attached to actual human beings within the organization is really important,” says Chris Carfi, Co-Founder of Cerado, Inc. and author of The Social Customer Manifesto blog. “It's much easier for customers to connect to an actual human being than an abstract "brand."
Richard Hastings, Consumer Strategist, Global Hunter Securities, LLC, points to Sears Holdings Corp. and its family of retail Web sites, including Sears.com, Kmart.com, and more recently, Kenmore.com and Craftsman.com as another model of expanding the role of social networking. “The company is very focused on social strategy partly due to the cost efficiencies of social networking instead of paid advertising through unaffiliated third parties, and due to the existing, very large database from the sears business that has built a huge consumer network over decades of multiple points of relationships,” says Hastings.
Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. is evaluating the more advanced version of Facebook Connect, and this summer will enable users share product information and reviews on Facebook and other networking sites. “Given how fast the technology is moving, our concern is making sure we don’t spend a lot of time developing something complex and then by the time we launch it, technology has leapfrogged ahead,” Jeffrey Hennion, Dick’s CMO recently told The Wall Street Journal.
For those retailers, just starting down the social networking path, industry experts recommend the following key strategies for social media:
Get Personal: Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh handles the company’s Twitter account, putting a friendly face behind a big company. Hseih also follows people back for that extra special personal touch.
Let Customers Know What’s Happening: One of the main foundations of social networks is the real time updates and information sharing. Let customers know about store openings, in-store events, promotions, etc.
Ask Questions: Apparel retailer Mandee posts questions on Facebook through the status feature, which provides rich, real-time customer intelligence on preferred styles and colors to assist in merchandising decisions, as well as understand customers on a more personal level.
Be Engaged and Participate: Retailers need to monitor feedback by listening to what consumers are saying about the brand and respond accordingly.
Be Relevant: Post information not only relevant to your brand, but to people who shop in your stores. Whole Foods posts recipes for organic dishes on their Twitter site. People want useful information that can help them make informed decisions.
Social media is reflecting consumers’ shopping habits and patters primarily in the area of personal service, according to Nancy MacGregor Hill, Communications and Social Media Strategist, Real Time Communications. “People get frustrated when they make a phone call and are greeted by an endless string of automated voice options, and are never able to speak with a real human,” she says. “Social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook enable people to keep up with new things retailers are doing, and also gives them a way to provide feedback on their experiences, ask questions or participate in fun marketing promotions – all while getting responses from actual people. The key is that companies using these outlets need to make sure they do monitor what people say about their brands, and respond in a timely, personal manner.”
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