Being ‘liked’ is not enough

Just in case you’ve been living in a cave – specifically one with no access to wireless internet – social media is increasingly becoming one of today’s most important communication strategies for retailers.

From Twitter to Google+ to Facebook, there’s no denying the captive audience at a brand’s fingertips, with the latter of those networks now registering more than 800 million active users globally.

Inside Retail Magazine has spoken to a range of experts in the field about the main trends innovative retailers need to embrace in 2012.

Socially driven sales

Just when you thought you were down with social media lingo, another hyphenated word gets introduced: f-commerce.

Gaining traction in the last six months, this trend targets (you guessed it) users of Facebook, with specially designed apps that brands embed in their company pages on the social media site.

International retailers like Nine West and Sears use this to offer limited edition products to their fans, which they importantly can view, choose and pay for within a Facebook checkout.

Wayne Troy, director of Sociocom – which developed shoe label, Beau Coops’ f-commerce – says the advantage of this is in engaging customers where they already spend their time, rather than diverting their attention away to an e-commerce site.

The app also lets customers share products with their friends in different ways, such as the ‘like’ function that allows individual products to be rated by online communities.

“At the heart of what we do is the premise that somebody sharing product with their friends is a better thing than a retailer just telling people to buy,” says Troy.

“It’s about more than revenue. It’s about marketing, enhanced brand positioning, and having your brand talked about.”

Google+ is currently ironing out its recently launched company pages, but as of yet it’s not clear whether it will take on Facebook’s three-year market advantage.

eBay also has its own f-commerce app that allows retailers to embed their existing eBay Store within a Facebook company site – a bizarre double whammy of corporate branding.

Admittedly, there are problems with investing all online sales in this model.

Cost is a factor, but there’s also a worry of particular demographics deserting the platform (we all remember MySpace) even though Facebook’s dominance is assured for now.

For those wishing to spread their eggs around, there’s also a budget-friendly trend of brands selling product on social networking via auctions.

Australian streetwear label, Geedup, recently did this by putting items up on Facebook for people to manually bid on in the comment section.

The idea is that the page keeps going until the moderator says stop – a labour intensive process but cheap – letting customers interact in fast, fun and interesting ways.

Translating likes to buys

A well trod path in social media is retailers encouraging consumers to ‘like’ their Facebook pages via external publicity campaigns or goodwill appeals.

Being the most popular kid in school isn’t good enough anymore, however, with a new expectation from consumers that ‘liking’ you will give them something in return.

“We’re moving past just a ‘like’ phase,” says Jeff Clark, MD of Silverpop APAC, a media consultancy firm working with Woolworths, Big W and Vodafone.

“Companies are realising that there’s no point in having consumers like you without doing anything with them.”

The majority of savvy company pages now give users full access to functions – like apps – only once they ‘like’ a page; usually luring them in with special discounts and exclusive offers.

For instance, Silverpop client, Cracka Wines, used fangate apps to give away winery weekend escapes to people who liked its page.

“The whole point is that you want people to try to unlock your apps to get rewards,” says Clark.

Local swimwear retailer, Seafolly, used this tactic earlier in the year to give away a bikini every hour, every day, for seven days as part of a Facebook promotion.

“There is huge value in rewarding fans and followers with exclusive product lines, early releases, or special discounts,” says Aden Hepburn, head of digital at retail marketing company, Ideaworks.

“This all leads to sales but you need to add value to being a fan,” he says.

A two way street

If there’s anything that social media has revolutionised for retailers, it’s the way that individuals interact with brands.

The audience is no longer passive – in fact, communication is now better described as a conversation, with customers increasingly expecting to talk back.

In terms of immediacy, audience reach, and simplicity, Twitter is still by far the best way for brands to chat to their audience.

One of the better examples of this medium’s ability is American fashion designer, Tory Burch, who has amassed more than 110,000 Twitter fans simply by talking to other users.

Miki Berardelli, the CEO of Burch’s retail fashion brand, says the designer discovered early in the game that social networks aren’t “a conduit to [the brand’s] marketing messages”.

Rather, they’re best suited to “of the moment, off the cuff comments” that give insight into the people who work behind a brand, thus personalising the company to the audience.

Of course, Twitter can backfire, as highlighted by Qantas’ #Qantasluxury failure.

Less of a PR disaster is Coca-Cola’s much publicised naming campaign in Australia, which encourages people to take pictures of soft drink and generally interact with the brand.

“That campaign would feature on almost every Facebook news feed in the country right now. Globally,” says Ideaworks‘ Aden Hepburn.

Likely to push the conversation along are new changes to Facebook Insights, which aims to make it easier for brands to figure out the demographics, viewing patterns, and exposure of company pages.

Peripheral to the conversation – but also concerned with making content engaging for an audience – is an ongoing trend of tailored content for users.

Tesco is the best at this, with an individual user’s demographics considered in order to tailor the offers and editorial content that they receive in newsletters.

More locally, online retailer is also a fan of this technique, as is Woolworths with its mobile device app that was launched this year.

Where are your customers?

Big Brother is watching – and he’s giving freebies to his most loyal followers.

Increasingly popular with retailers – especially those in the food sector – is location-based marketing that rewards customers for ‘checking in’ via social media sites or smartphone apps.

The concept is admittedly nothing new, with the smartphone application, Foursquare – popular with younger audiences, now registering 11 million users globally.

In Sydney, retailers like Mad Mex, as well as bespoke individual cafes, are known to give thee ‘Mayors’ of their Foursquare location free food on allocated days.

The lauded ‘Mayor’ title is awarded to the most active user – measured by checking into the bricks and mortar store via GPS or receiving virtual loyalty stamps for purchases – thus encouraging brand loyalty and frequent visits.

Facebook jumped on the bandwagon in August by offering a rival to Foursquare, Facebook Deals, which has so far engaged KFC, 7-Eleven, and Westfield.

For instance, 7-Eleven recently finished a weeklong promotion that gave those who checked in at any store a $1 voucher towards a bottle of Coca-Cola.

“We’re really starting to see more of this trend in Australia. It’s about living socially and getting out,” says Silverpop’s Jeff Clark.

Silverpop is currently engaged in a newer platform, Place Punch, that Clark says is more suited to old school bricks and mortar retailers compared to its competitors.

“It’s actually pretty simple to use and suits a range of product. It can be coffees. It can be televisions. It can be appliances,” says Clark.

The app is importantly also cross-platform, which means it works as a separate app across the major location-based social networks: Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.

And then there’s the much-discussed Field Agent app launched earlier this year, which doesn’t sell product but does involve GPS check-ins for secret shoppers to validate their jobs.

But don’t forget…

Sophisticated technology, f-commerce, and GPS marketing is all fine and dandy, but don’t forget an important social media basic: quality content.

For instance, there’s a recent trend among bespoke fashion retailers in Melbourne including Comeback Kid, Fat, and Alice Euphemia, of having DJs mix playlists and mp3s for users to download via social media.

Blogs are also quite important for the bigger names in edgy content, like with US fashion chain Opening Ceremony now widely known for its content outreach.

On a less fashion-based level, local burger chain Grill’d and American adventurewear retailer, Patagonia, are also known for their blog content.

“Look at your social personas, in terms of what your key demographics are actually doing online,” says Ideawork’s Aden Hepburn of tailoring content.

“Build out those key personas so the marketing teams know exactly who they are talking to and the costs of things they actually engage with online.”

* This article originally appeared in Inside Retail Magazine. To read features like these as soon as they’re published, subscribe to the magazine directly. Click here for our special subscription offer.

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