Social Media's Draw Too Powerful to Ignore
Jenny Heinzen York -- Furniture Today, July 13, 2011
ATLANTA - Social media such as Facebook and Twitter can offer businesses big opportunities to reach customers, speakers at the Online Technologies Conference said.
Several suggested ways to incorporate social media into business-to-business and business- to-consumer models.
Mark Grondin, senior vice president of Shopatron, said 250 million users log in to Facebook every day for an average of 55 minutes. He said the average user has 130 friends and is connected to 80 community pages, groups and events.
But for all of that, it's still not a place where a lot of business is done.
"Facebook is not a mall; it's a party," he said. But it's also a branding tool, a community builder, a great communication tool, a traffic source, an advertising venue, an awareness builder and a decent source of analytics, he added.
What it is not: A one-way communication medium for brands, an email replacement or a new search engine, he said.
One of the biggest attributes of marketing on Facebook, Grondin said, is the ability to hyper-target consumers. Because people reveal a lot about themselves in their profiles, it's possible to specify marketing messages to reach people based on their location, gender, age group or marital status - and even to target customers who "like" your competitors' pages.
The new Facebook Sponsored Ads platform is a good, inexpensive way to push out messages, he said.
Grondin sees the future of "f-commerce" as important, but not as a direct seller. It can be a huge traffic driver, though. For example, Amazon's traffic from Facebook was up 328% year over year in 2010.
Twitter can be important for businesses, too, but it's more effective as a one-way communication. Facebook requires much more interaction to work effectively.
Robert Williams, the director of fun, experience, marketing, e-commerce and social media for Houstonbased retailer Gallery Furniture, said his company has used social media to grow its business and build consumer loyalty.
Williams said that although many people are uncomfortable with Facebook in business, it is too popular to ignore, with hundreds of millions of users. He cited a study that said 47% of people have checked Facebook while in the bathroom.
"You have to go beyond what you're used to," he said.
Gallery has found success through Facebook sweepstakes and contests, giving away teachers' lounge makeovers and furniture to needy families. It has held contests to invite customers to visit the High Point Market, and has asked consumers to help the buying team select new products. All of these efforts have helped boost the store's fan base and created loyalty among its users.
He said some companies are afraid of the negative feedback they might receive on a social media site. But as long as the businesses respond in a timely manner, complaints can actually become good marketing tools because all of your page's visitors will see how responsive you are to problems, Williams said.
Gallery Furniture has embraced technology in other ways, too, including offering live chat on its website from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. to answer customer questions. It also includes a QR tag on the labeling for each product to encourage consumers to get more information immediately. Sales associates carry iPads for looking up information, scanning codes and making notes.
Michael O'Hanlon spoke on behalf of CSN Stores, an online marketplace for furnishings that had $380 million in revenues in 2010, making it the second-largest online retailer in the furnishings space.
O'Hanlon said 2% of all furniture was sold online in 2009, but that's projected to reach 5% by 2014.
While social media is just a small part of CSN's marketing strategy, it is an effective one that's mainly valuable in helping the company listen to and understand customers better.
He also said the use of consumer reviews on a website can dramatically increase product sales, and gives the site a good way to monitor problems or get a feel for great products. And Yelp - though less well-known than Facebook or Twitter - is a great way to monitor what consumers are saying about your company or brand.