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Social Networking: Time To Join In!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Social Networking: Time To Join In!(GIFTBEAT)

Posts, tweets, social networking and more. Whatever does it all mean—and how can it positively impact your business? Read on, as Roy Prevost, president of British Columbia-based Oakray Marketing Services Ltd and a marketing consultant helping small businesses compete in the big-box retail world, discusses social media marketing.

Q. Can you offer Giftbeat readers an explanation of social media marketing, and why it is key to their business future? A. Social media marketing is a method of promoting your brand, product, service or company by making your presence known via a variety of social media networks [including Facebook.com, Twitter.com, MySpace.com and LinkedIn.com]. This relatively new marketing allows you to enter the minds of your consumers and prospects and have a real conversation and/or tell them a story about your company, products or services.

This is Web 2.0, the future! Web 1.0 is having a website and email, and a little bit of video. [With 1.0,] you are driving somebody to your website, or emailing [customers] in a one-way conversation. In today's world, you have to understand how the consumer is accepting information. Web 2.0 is "give me the information when I want it, where, why and how I want it, and then engage me and have a conversation."

The best part is that you have the opportunity to learn about social media marketing and get involved in it while it is still relatively new. It's about engagement. The more you can engage with your audience, the more you will stand out. It's also free, so it's a level playing field! If you are not taking advantage of what some experts are calling the Social Media Revolution, then you are missing out on the No. 1 opportunity to significantly grow your business. You can move toward Web 2.0 slowly. There's not a big, huge emergency rush to get there, but that's where the world is going.

Q. What are the latest statistics on the growth of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter? A. A recent survey by Pew Research found that the proportion of North Americans using social networking sites has increased from 7% to 22% since 2005. Facebook now has 200 million active users, with 100 million logging on once a day. Four billion minutes are spent on Facebook every day. The fastest-growing segment of users is 35 and older, and the average user has 120 friends on the Facebook site.

Eleven percent of online adults use Twitter or a similar service. Some 19% of 18- to 24-year-olds have used Twitter, as have 20% of those ages 25 to 34, and 10% of those ages 35 to 44. Among Twitter users, 35% live in urban areas and 10% have annual household incomes of $75,000 or higher.

Q. With these compelling figures, why do many retailers avoid Web 2.0?

A. When email came out, there was huge resistance. People said "We have snail mail, what do we need electronic mail for?" Eventually, we all came to embrace it and it has worked well. Sometimes [these changes] create more work, sometimes more efficiencies. But social media networking is a tsunami of change happening in the world. Anyone who doesn't get a sense of what it is and the implications for their clients will be behind big time.

[Social media networking] is also a time commitment that most people don't have. Independent retailers are overworked. They're trying to get their message out and differentiate themselves from the fray. Now, they're up against 2.0 and thinking "What the heck am I going to do with it? How will I use it?"

Calm down, take a deep breath and just look at it as something that is imminent. Set up accounts on Facebook and Twitter, and forget about the rest of it for the moment. I call this "getting in the game." Begin to explore these two mediums. Keep an eye on what's happening in the marketplace. It should be an ongoing education process.

Q. Can you provide examples of ways our readers can use Facebook and Twitter?

A. Social media marketing fits perfectly into what gift store owners are doing. They're providing information to customers and engaging them. [But, remember] that Facebook doesn't have a formal, written code of conduct. If you're using it as a business application, you have to be very subtle about your message. Your "post" [or message] has to be discussing something; it can't be promoting your store in blatant ways. But you can ask questions [on Facebook] like "What product would you like to see in our store?" or "What items are you looking for this Christmas?"

Just because you own a retail gift store doesn't mean you can't engage members on other topics. Post a Facebook message asking "What are you doing today? Get over to Joe's Bakery and get some cinnamon buns before they're gone!" On Twitter, send a "tweet" [short message] that offers a deep discount on a popular product for the next three hours. A pub owner told me that he "tweeted" at 11 a.m., saying "Chicken wings, 10 cents from 4-7 p.m. on Friday." At four o'clock, his pub was packed with people. A coffee shop owner tells me that he has 40 to 50 people who "tweet" on their way to work, saying [something like] "I'll be there in 90 seconds."

Q. Can you share the list of action steps you've developed for successful social media marketing?

A. Declare your brand and core message. Are you branding your name or company across two platforms [Facebook and Twitter]? Choose one primary message which indicates your proficiency in a specific area and make it catchy so people will remember. The message can also demonstrate within the community your specific expertise. As an example, if you own a gift shop with a particular niche, you can coin a phrase like "The Gift Expert" or "The Gift Queen."

Put your headshot on Facebook and Twitter. Have a professional photo done by a photographer who specializes in online poses.

Review your website's domain name. If you want, you can have a separate domain name for Facebook and Twitter. The name should be simple, memorable, and easy to spell and say. Remember that users can be redirected from your existing website to your social media accounts.

Choose a list of the top 50 keywords that relate to your core message, like greeting cards, gift store, gift wrapping, pottery, delivery, etc. Build appealing profiles for your accounts. Fill out profiles with pertinent information and a bio on the owner. If it's Mary's Gift Shop, there should be a profile of Mary, who she is, her connections to the community and more.

Import your address book to Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, scroll down to the "Help" link and type in "import address book." Use the "Find Friends" link to search for, and add, people who want to follow you or be friends with you. You can grow your network by searching for and adding partners in the community that you would like to work with.

Adopt best practices. Familiarize yourself with the terms of use, proper etiquette, unspoken rules of conduct, etc. on Facebook and Twitter. Save time by syncing Facebook and Twitter together. To find out how to do this, google "twitter sync."

Carve out regular time to "tweet" daily. Apply the 80/20 rule. Focus on the top 20% of your key contacts and nurture those relationships.

Note: To sign up for Prevost's monthly newsletter, go to www.royprevost.com.

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