Retailers, experts offer social media do's and don'ts
Clint Engel -- Furniture Today, February 24, 2014
HIGH POINT — Furniture stores today can't afford to ignore the Internet nor deny the ever-growing importance of social media as the consumer's go-to tool for inspiration, reviews, communication and shopping.
But not every attempt and idea for reaching out to potential customers through this vital venue is a good one.
With that in mind, Furniture/Today did a little reaching out of its own and asked retailers and online industry marketing experts to give us their best social media do's and don'ts.
Their main message: tone down the hard selling, respond quickly to consumers, use lots of photos and videos to entice them, and be creative - and, perhaps, unexpected - in what you say to your fans on Facebook and elsewhere.
For more on this story, see a series of video interviews at FurnitureToday.com, featuring leaders from Wayfair.com, MicroD, NetSertive and others. (Click here to see videos of both the do's and the don'ts.)
Scott Perry, director of online marketing for San Diego-based Jerome's, started with, "Do have a plan," and "Use video in Facebook posts and other social media because video is very engaging."
Also, use the image-oriented Pinterest, Perry said. "This is the furniture customer
demographic sweet spot for social media." Jerome's Pinterest page features hundreds of product images, mostly from its store, as well as decorating tips.
Other "do" suggestions from Perry:
• Use the big social media channels Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz.
San Diego-based Jerome’s uses social media venues including Pinterest to showcase its offerings as well as to offer decorating ideas.
• Pay attention to analytics; watch what gets likes, comments, etc.
• Think outside the box. "Sometimes a silly post gets 10 times the action of a regular post showing a new item," he said.
As for things not to do, Perry said, don't be spammy and "don't forget to thank people or add comments when people say nice things." Also:
• Don't let negative comments live on your social outlets. "Hide or remove bad comments from difficult customers if you can or if you can't respond in a positive helpful manner." (Some sources, however offer the opposite advice to this one.)
• Don't pay people for reviews or fake comments. "Customers can tell when you do this and it is not good for trust, plus it's just dishonest," he said.
• Don't bad mouth customers, vendors or anybody.
• Don't post too much. Perry said to "throttle it to once a day" and make sure the content is worthy of the consumer's time.
Kady Anderson, marketing coordinator for the two-store Sam's Furniture & Appliance in Fort Worth, Texas, developed some rules of thumb from her graduate research on the subject of social media.
Be conversational, not promotional, Anderson said.
"The goal is to create engagement and conversations through the content you post. For every one promotional piece of content or message that you use, you should have at least three non-promotional pieces of content that are helpful, insightful or entertaining," she said.
Anderson also recommends these do's:
• "Listen. Always react and respond to what your audience is saying or talking about," she said, and monitor those conversations, especially with your customers. When customers contact you via social media, they expect a quicker response time than if they had reached out to you by email or via a general online contact form.
• "Offer educational content that is useful. In the furniture industry the possibilities are endless for creating helpful content for customers. Incorporating blog articles that highlight how-to's, frequently asked questions and lists are helpful without directly promoting your company." Anderson said this is the type of content that builds your brand without coming off as blatant advertising.
• "Be visual. Text-based statuses and posts are much harder to connect with and relate to," she says. Images and videos are easier for consumers to interact with and enjoy.
• "Have a voice/personality." Writing for social media is different from writing formal copy or a press release, Anderson said. "Keep it simple and add your personality to your updates. Just make sure it is consistent and relevant to your audience."
Anderson also said retailers should treat the various social media platforms differently. "Content that is great for Facebook users might not appeal to Twitter users since people use these platforms differently and for different reasons," she said.
On the other hand, her first rule for what not to do is: "Don't delete negative content," with the exception of vulgar or offensive comments.
Deleting the negative is akin to "hanging up on an upset customer on the phone," she said. "It will only make the situation worse." Better to respond and ask them to contact you to resolve the issue privately, she added.
Sam’s Furniture & Appliance in Fort Worth, Texas, keeps the tone light and conversational on its Facebook page, but there’s a link back to its website where consumers can find more information including the price of the item and related pieces.
The Old Cannery in Sumner, Wash., which has about 8,500 Facebook fans, also keeps selling via social media to a minimum. Advertising Manager Steve Fowler said posts should be "90% entertainment, 10% selling."
"If you try to sell people you will lose your audience," he said.
"Pictures, pictures, pictures," Fowler added, agreeing with Perry and Anderson. "That's what gets their attention. But not just photos of furniture - photos of people, community events your company is involved in, sports teams."
The Old Cannery posted something on its Facebook page every Friday night during the NFL season, noting that it was giving away Seattle Seahawks tickets and other items and then taking photos of the winners and posting those, too.
The retailer also has a knack for garnering community support. Each year before Christmas, it holds a Stuck River Bridge lighting ceremony that draws crowds of consumers. But when it posted that last year's ceremony was going to be delayed because the bridge had been vandalized, the retailer was swamped with support and offers of help from consumers and local businesses commenting on its Facebook page.
One fan, Ashley Cuyle, said that she and her husband owned a local plumbing company and "we are happy to help in any way we can ... stringing new lights, replacing bulbs," then recalled their years of coming out to watch the lighting with their daughters. So the glitch and Old Cannery's history with the ceremony actually helped build community between the retailer and its fans.
"Don't use social media to talk. Do use social media to get other people to talk about you," said Andy Bernstein, president and founder of FurnitureDealer.net, which develops websites and other online marketing solutions for the furniture industry.
"Your brand is not what you say to people. It's what other people say to people when you're not in the room. It's really about online word of mouth."
Bernstein said too many retailers are talking about themselves online and "it's offensive," he said. The opposite strategy comes from Belfort Furniture of Dulles, Va., a FurnitureDealer client and one of the best in the industry at using social media to its benefit, without selling and bragging, he said. Belfort's Facebook page is covered in often-glowing customer reviews.
"They don't have a philosophy that that says, ‘We want to get positive reviews,'" Bernstein said. "They just want to do things that naturally lead to good reviews."
Bill Napier, managing partner of Napier Marketing Group and creator of Social4Retail.com, where retailers can learn more about social media platforms, said the main hurdle for retailers today is figuring out which social platform they should be focusing their efforts on. Most turn to Facebook, but Napier said he's not a huge fan. Retailers should have a presence there, he said, but it should only be a fraction of their social media effort.
Napier pointed to a multitude of reports contending that Millennials are leaving Facebook for Tumblr and other social platforms.
"I use it to catch up with or spy on my kids," he said. "I hide any and all advertisements; they irritate me. I joined Facebook to interact with family and friends, not your newest sofa promotion." A better plan is "to be everywhere your consumers want to find you and when they want to find you," he said. "It must be a multi-faceted strategy: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, Google Places, YouTube, Yelp and a blogging platform like Tumblr."
R&A Marketing customer Connell’s Furniture in Mount Vernon, Ohio, keeps its Facebook page playful, asking fans to guess the famous TV show living room shown. (It’s “Friends.”)
This also helps to "get found on the Web," he said.
The more places a retailer is active on social media with links back to its website, the more Google rewards the company, recognizing its posts as valid, useful content, pushing them up the search results ladder.
Napier said consumers are relying on friends and the experiences of others - reading online reviews, for instance - more than ever to guide their shopping and buying decision. "If you are not (everywhere) they will assume you don't exist," he said.
Getting to that ubiquitous stage requires a dedicated person on staff to manage and measure the consumer engagement, he said, "someone who has knowledge of social media, knows your business vision and mission, and has the passion to engage consumers across all these platforms ... at least twice daily."
Kevin Doran, CEO of R&A Marketing, echoed what others have said about avoiding the use of social media to hard sell.
"Don't scream and shout your sale," he said. "Saying 50% of all living room furniture is only going to get lost in the social media world." Instead, he said, "Create a conversation where your current promotion can solve their home furniture needs."
But he added, "You're a furniture store for a reason. Focus on your product and your brand. What makes you better than the furniture store down the street?
"Social media is a perfect chance to showcase your products, your store, and community involvement. Always remember to think differently and have fun!"
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