Retailers and Consumers Benefit from Social Media on Black Friday

For retailers that jumped on the social media bandwagon in 2009, the impact on Black Friday was significant. Before heading to stores and malls this Thanksgiving weekend, many consumers scoured Facebook, Twitter, and other Web sites that track Black Friday sales to decide where they wanted to shop.

Social media has become another avenue for shoppers to compare deals and find bargains. This is especially valuable in the current tough economic environment, where making a dollar go further makes a huge difference. The rapid growth in these tools, especially this year, has made them a practical alternative for bargain hunters ahead of the holidays.

Many retailers reached out to their customers via social media this year. With plenty of consumers already using platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, companies felt they needed to go where their customers are and engage them:

  • Best Buy advertised its $500 laptop deal on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Sears held a Facebook sweepstakes to win the chance to shop its Black Friday deals before Thanksgiving and a $500 gift card.
  • J.C. Penney tweeted about its 4 a.m. store openings.
  • Office Depot tweeted its Black Friday deals, including a Vivitar digital camera bundle for $49.99.
  • Staples sent its Facebook Page fans and Twitter followers a sneak peek of its Black Friday sale.
  • Toys”R”Us gave its Facebook fans the first look at its Black Friday deals.

Target, Kohl’s, and many other retailers experimented with these tools as well. Twitter feeds were nonstop leading up to the hottest shopping day of the year, as companies maneuvered for top-of-mind position with the estimated 134 million Black Friday shoppers. Many of the consumers who crowded stores on Friday came armed with facts and advice they obtained via social media outlets and were prepared to take action the minute they walked through the doors.

There are many shoppers who aren’t interested in social media, and plenty of them still turn to the newspaper. A Deloitte study conducted by before Thanksgiving found that 40% of consumers planned to get their deal information in this manner — a considerable number of the shopping public. Some even clipped coupons, a tried-and-true recession tactic for stretching cash. Deloitte also found that 27% planned to check Web sites specializing in Black Friday deals, and 29% were going to look at flyers and mailers. Only 24% were turning to retailers’ Web sites for specials.

But for consumers who want advice from others before making purchase decisions for their limited dollars, social media is fast becoming a fundamental part of their shopping experience. Once deals are posted on Twitter or Facebook, shoppers often share them with friends and repost them. Marian Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide, said, “It’s almost crowdsourcing for opinions. We increasingly need affirmation from our peers and our loved ones and the people that create our lifestyle to feel good about where we are buying things.”

Salzman said that social media still needs to prove itself as a meaningful driver of retail sales. While companies may beckon shoppers by offering special deals — as when Starbucks let its Facebook fans print out an invitation to get a free pastry when they purchased a drink — customer loyalty isn’t always the result. “Success lies in a repeat customer,” she said.

The focus of reports on social media has been on the benefits to the consumer, but there’s a lot of upside for retailers that use these tools to engage their customers — upside that extends far beyond the ability to get in front of prospective customers in a new channel. Kasey Lobaugh, a principal at Deloitte Retail, noted social media’s market intelligence and tracking capabilities, saying many retailers like it because it enables them to track how many shoppers they’re reaching: “If you send out a URL via Twitter you know how many people clicked on that URL,” he said. Other forms of advertising, including print, can be virtually impossible to track unless there are additional mechanisms in place, like coupons or special offer codes “When you put a newspaper tab out, you have no idea of the traffic in your stores, how much was influenced by seeing an ad in the newspaper that day,” Lobaugh said.

Social media may still be an immature marketing tool, but retailers have recognized its capacity for generating sales and they are starting to take action. This year’s social media engagement was a learning experience. Next year, it won’t be optional.

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Enhance Your Brand: Create a Facebook Page

A large and growing number of some of the most valuable demographic groups are devoting more of their attention to Facebook versus other media channels. With 300 million active users and counting (plus 500,000 new users every day), Facebook is no longer just a virtual community for college students to share photos and news with their friends. Adults and professionals from around the globe have embraced the platform, including 90 million in the U.S.

This has businesses large and small asking themselves: Will Facebook really help my business? Does my company need a Facebook Page?

Why is Facebook Important to Marketers?

Facebook offers a unique marketing opportunity for businesses. More and more people are migrating to social networks, and that’s where they’re choosing to research companies, products, and services. Marketing on Facebook has a viral effect, as it does on most social media sites.

Microsoft’s recent partnership with Facebook to integrate Facebook updates with Bing paves the way for more real-time search results. Google likely will do the same with Facebook in the near future. So having an understanding of Facebook can open up new ways for marketers to reach out to their audiences and brand themselves.

Consider some of the benefits of using Facebook as a business branding tool:

  • Customer acquisition: As people become fans of a company’s Facebook page or post comments on it, they get a notice posted on the wall of their own page — where their networks see it. This increases visibility, and the viral aspect often leads to new fans. Facebook pages can also be linked to other social networking sites, increasing a brand’s reach.
  • Customer interaction: Facebook provides a forum for dialogue between a brand and its customers. This enables companies to build better relationships and to demonstrate to their customers that they care about what they think.
  • Reputation management: Direct contact with customers via comments and feedback helps companies gain a deeper understanding of  how their brand is perceived online and offers an avenue for brand enhancement and, if need be, damage control.
  • Traffic generation: As traffic increases on a company’s Facebook fan page, traffic to the its Web site increases, too. Facebook Pages also appear in search results.
  • Targeted advertising: Facebook ads enable businesses to advertise an event, a Web site, a product – any content, really. Companies can target the reach of their ads by gender, age, interests, and location. With custom filters, Facebook automatically updates the count of people who fit the criteria and gauges the size of the target market on Facebook.
  • Increased exposure: An important reason to invest time in creating an engaging page is that all the activity of your fans (from becoming a fan to posting a comment) is shared with a greater network.
  • Branding: In addition to a company’s Web site, a good Facebook Page can create brand awareness for new audiences and reinforce it for current customers by sharing valuable information with its fans and emphasizing the company’s position in its industry. Developing and nurturing an active community enhances a brand.
  • It’s free: What’s not to like about using a new, viral channel for customer interaction without paying a cent?

Here are some brands that have embraced the Facebook Pages platform and successfully leveraged it to engage their audiences and create a real community for their fans:

Coca-Cola (4 million  fans)

Starbucks (5 million fans)

Pizza Hut (1 million fans)

Sears (148,000 fans)

Best Buy (1 million fans)

Walmart (55,000 fans)

Nutella (3.3 million fans)

Pringles (2.8 million fans)

9 Things to Think About As You Create a Facebook Presence For Your Business:

  1. Start with a strategy: Just like any kind of marketing, having a solid strategy in hand from the beginning is key. What is your message? Who are you targeting? What’s in it for them? How will you reach them?
  2. Be creative: You need to have a strong creative execution. What is exciting or interesting to your customers/friends/fans? How does your page content add value? Creative execution includes sharing photos and videos, running contests and promotions, having lively conversations with members, and doing things that are just plain interesting that will keep your fans coming back.
  3. Engage with your fans: Many businesses create a fan page, invite people to join, and then seemingly forget that the page exists. Active fan engagement is the key to an effective Facebook presence. Have a content plan in hand that’s engaging and germane to your target audience. What will you post? When will you post it? How will you inspire your fans to participate? Don’t just create a page – create an engagement plan.
  4. Communicate consistently and frequently: The most successful and fruitful social media campaigns promote a strong message that is repeated often and is consistent in voice and tone. This increases brand awareness and sales potential by keeping your brand messaging top of mind with your target audience.
  5. Own your fan page: Some company fan pages are created and managed by an actual fan instead of the company. Fans expect company pages to be run by the company itself, and they want the company to play an active role. Issues around having a fan own a company’s page might not immediately present themselves, but not having control of a brand’s messaging might cause problems down the road – even if the owner is the company’s biggest fan.
  6. Monitor discussions: It looks pretty bad when a business is inactive and doesn’t respond to its fans. It’s important to monitor your fan page for activity and respond to relevant questions and comments. It’s a good idea to have someone who is dedicated to this effort and empowered to engage on behalf of the company.
  7. Pay attention to analytics: Facebook fan pages offer analytics and insights, so you can learn how engaging your page is. These great tools will help you understand what is and isn’t effective, aiding you in your efforts to constantly improve and refine your page.
  8. Don’t focus on the number of followers/friends/fans: Many businesses focus on the number of fans they have. This measure lacks relevance, since it’s not difficult to get followers or fans. These numbers shouldn’t be used as a key metric – what matters is how you engage your followers. A balanced approach measures what’s really important based on your strategy.
  9. Be transparent and honest: The importance of establishing integrity, honesty, and transparency up front cannot be overstated. Once credibility is lost, it’s very difficult to get it back.

The Takeaway

Facebook has quickly morphed from a fad into a highly effective business tool. If you have the time to devote to building and using social media for marketing, Facebook may have potential for your company. It can be a powerful avenue for establishing and enhancing a strong online brand identity.

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Discounts Drive Users to Engage With Brands on Social Networks

As brands scramble to define themselves on social networks and connect with their customers, a new survey indicates that what consumers want from brands in this new engagement model is some old fashioned marketing: Good deals and customer service.

The results of Razorfish’s annual survey of 1,000 “connected consumers” was recently released, and it contains some interesting data. The sample group was about 50/50 male/female and the respondents all live in ten major U.S. cities and cover four major age groups:

Based on previous Razorfish consumer research, we have found that these “connected consumers” roughly mirror the U.S. population with broadband access. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, about 63% of all Americans today have a high-speed Internet connection, up from only 55% in 2008. This translates to roughly 200 million people, based on a July 2009 population estimate from the CIA World Factbook (total population 307,212,123, July 2009 estimate).

The survey found that the primary reason for “friending” a brand on Facebook or MySpace is for access to exclusive deals and discounts:

More than 25% said they followed a brand on Twitter:

FEED09_Chart-Q25

And 43% of those who follow brands on Twitter do so because of exclusive discounts or offers. That trumps being a current customer (24%), interesting/entertaining content (23%), and customer service/support (4%):

Following a brand on Twitter usually keeps it top of mind when making a future purchase decision:

FEED09_Chart-Q26

The report references Starbucks, the most popular brand on Facebook (by virtue of a promo that offered coupons for free ice cream and pastry). Whole Foods is the leading brand on Twitter, with more than 1.5 million followers. It gained its huge following by offering shopping tips and weekly specials.

Comcast has a great reputation for leveraging Twitter as a CRM tool thanks to the fabled efforts of Frank Eliason, Senior Director of Comcast National Customer Service. Virgin America and Zappos have also received high marks for using Twitter for customer realtions.

The takeaway:

Consumers are obviously very willing to engage with brands via social media. As social networks grow and attract more users, this will continue to be the case and undoubtedly gain more traction.

Brand marketers themselves need to become more engaged and give their friends and followers special offers — pushing out content and hoping consumers hop on the bandwagon isn’t nearly as effective. As social networks become more advanced and brands figure out how to leverage them, there will be many interesting new opportunities for marketing interaction.

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Lufthansa’s MySkyStatus Combines Social Media, Flight Tracking

Flight trackers have been around for a long time, but they haven’t worked very well with social media. Dopplr and TripIt have the ability to connect with your social profiles, but not in real time.

Enter Lufthansa:

myskystatus

The branded MySkyStatus application automatically posts periodic departure, arrival, and en route flight info as status updates to users’ Facebook and Twitter streams. An accompanying link enables users to continue tracking the flight’s progress. And it doesn’t just work for Lufthansa flights — the list of participating carriers is exhaustive. The service mimics what people are doing already — tweeting when they arrive — but has the added advantages of being more accurate and working while you’re in the air with no Internet connectivity.

myskystatusupdates

MySkyStatus is similar to the German site FlightMemory, which launched earlier this year and also updates Twitter when your flight departs or arrives.

The days of proprietary brand experiences are over. Brands today need to contribute to people’s lives in a useful way and not limit their outreach to brand-only engagement. In offering this service, Lufthansa has demonstrated a good execution of social media strategy:

  • MySkyStatus is easy to use
  • Customers receive something of value with minimal effort
  • Because it’s valuable, users naturally want to share it with others
  • It works just as well with Lufthansa’s competitors’ services as with its own
  • It gives users choices about what/how much information they want to share
  • It communicates up front what customers will gain even before they engage with the application

Way to go! It will be interesting to see the next moves from Dopplr and TripIt.

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9 Must-Read Posts About Social Media

Here are some great recent blog posts on navigating the world of social media:

The 4Cs Social Media Framework
Image by Gauravonomics via Flickr

Mapping Your Way Through Social Media
To enable any kind of social media strategy, you need a door opener. An entry point to help you reach the people and places you need to be. A social map can help you with this.

Tips from the Trenches: Using Social Media in Business
Although many businesses know how to use social media to connect with others and build relationships, plenty still struggle to see how social media will benefit them, especially business-to-business companies.

Use Social Media to spot issues before they hit the Contact Center
Firey laptop batteries, defective chips, tainted foods, toothpaste that stains teeth – these are just some real examples of issues that struck companies recently that might have been headed off at the pass by social media.

Is Social Media Marketing a New Requirement of SEO?
The goal of social media marketing is to communicate with a community of humans. Indirectly, the goal of SEO is the same. But with SEO the attention is focused at the search engines with the assumption that humans will be reached through the engines. So while the eventual goal is the same, the initial one is not and, as marketers know, that makes a difference when it comes to strategy and tactics.

Social Media Time Management: Resource Allocation
Organizations that are embarking on social media are going to be at different levels of maturity. That’s okay. What’s most important is that you recognize where on the spectrum you sit, so you can plan your efforts accordingly, and focus on how to get to the next level.

Integrating Social Media- A Middle Up Down Approach
In talking with Jess Krywosa yesterday, I realized that I hadn’t explained much about my take on how I get traction on social media projects in companies. The way we do it at New Marketing Labs more often than not is with what I call the middle-down, middle-up approach. Okay, that might take a few sentences to explain for some of you.

Leveraging SEO and Social Media for Maximum Results
Broadly approached as a great standalone marketing strategy, social media marketing is integrated more and more with search engine optimization (SEO).

Redefining social media
I sat on a panel at SUPERCOMM’s Digital Media Forum in Chicago on Friday called, “Redefining Social Media.” (Eric Forst of Visible Technologies and Edward Moran of Deloitte & Touche spoke with me, ably moderated by Patty Brown of The Content Strategy Group.) The name of the panel initially threw me, because it feels like anything old enough to be redefined seems a bit passé, which social media most decidedly is not. But I think there is a point to be made about social media and how it is maturing.

Is Your Office Youngster the Social-Media Whiz?
Business owners are trying to figure out what difference a tweet or Facebook post can make to their bottom lines. Younger employees frequently lead the way.

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Got a Tweet to Spare? It Could Help Your Favorite Charity

Social media is all about engaging people and facilitating conversation.

The global nature of that communication is a very powerful platform for generating awareness and spreading the word about causes and issues.

Charities can really benefit from an active social media presence. Social networks are a boon for fundraising, as evidenced by several recent campaigns:

  • Using the #BeatCancer meme, a combined Twitter/Facebook effort helped raise $70,000 for cancer organizations.
  • FarmVille, the popular Facebook game (over 56 million members play each month), sold a virtual crop of sweet potato seeds and raised almost $500k for feeding poor children in Haiti.
  • TwitCause, service built on top of Twitter, used tweets to promote a diabetes research walk and to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And Haagen-Dazs has pledged a $1 donation for each #HelpHoneyBees tweet from November 5-11 to raise awareness about the worldwide collapse of honeybee colonies.
  • SocialVibe, which develops charity-focused sites and social media applications, has launched a Halloween trick-or-treat program called Click 4 Good geared toward Twitter, Facebook,  and MySpace users.
  • Room to Read partnered with Twitter to raise money for African and Asian schools and libraries by selling custom wines from Crushpad.
  • Facebook has enabled its members to buy virtual gifts to benefit various nonprofit groups.
Money Back Guarantee
Image by Roby© via Flickr

Even during this recession, when overall donations to charitable groups are down, social networking campaigns have helped replenish nonprofit coffers.

Methods for leveraging social media are still evolving — nonprofits need to tread lightly in order not to “over message”. But its advantages for getting the word out about good causes means that more charities should, and undoubtedly will, jump in and embrace the medium for doing good works.

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