Experts offer their perspectives on ways of driving consumer engagement, winning loyalty and increasing sales on social media platforms.
An effective social media strategy and clever use of search engine optimisation (SEO) have never been more important for fashion businesses to reach new and existing customers.
There are now a staggering number of users on social media platforms. Worldwide, Facebook claimed to reach one billion monthly active users in September 2012, while Twitter says it has 200 million monthly users.
Indie retailers and multiples alike are leveraging the established social platforms, as well as YouTube, Google+ and Pinterest, to generate peer-to-peer endorsements, drive engagement, boost brand awareness and ultimately get product in front of consumers.
Generating relevant and lively content for web users is at the heart of social media and search, as brands and retailers look to push themselves up the Google rankings by engaging web users across social platforms, their own websites and those of consumer media and bloggers.
Though the majority of web users are not specifically searching for fashion purchases via Google or social media, the Drapers Etail Report 2013 (due to be published in May) does indicate that just under 29% of consumers use search engines to research fashion purchases, while around 27% have responded to an email or social post by buying from that fashion retailer.
With many fashion businesses beginning to use Facebook and the like effectively, a savvy social media and SEO strategy is becoming less of a slight competitive advantage and more of an absolute must-have.
If you’re a retailer or brand that has struggled to find an audience on social media or to climb the search rankings, what are the best approaches to social media and SEO to drive web traffic - and ultimately, sales? Our experts share their tips.
Vertical business partnerships, EMEA group director of retail at Facebook
Fashion retailers need to think of Facebook as a part of their overall strategy. It shouldn’t be approached in isolation or solely as a place to push promotions or highlight products.
There are obvious tactics like posting regularly to maintain the conversation, or rewarding fans for ‘liking’ your page. But it is also about reaching consumers at all stages of the [buying] process, from viewing a dress online that a friend bought, to buying it.
Advanced brands on Facebook understand the balance between brand-led storytelling, showcasing products, and listening to and rewarding fans. The strategy should tie back to business objectives and provide utility and entertainment to customers.
Topshop is a great example. In September, for its London Fashion Week show it created the ‘Shoot the Show’ [video app], which allowed fans to view and share the Topshop Unique show via a live stream. It brought fans into the live experience by engaging them in the action, and as a result the collection sold out.
Account director at digital marketing agency iProspect UK
SEO is about making sure you’ve got a wide range of assets working together and delivering across channels, so it’s not just for natural [search], it’s for video, social media and paid.
Search is all about what Google has always been trying to achieve, which is the best results for customers in the most genuine way. There are no short cuts any more. Getting the right kind of content online is incredibly important, such as reviews, which are powerful from a click-through rate perspective.
Offering users the chance to interact on-site or off-site is also important. Google+ is big for branded search and you get more real estate within that if you’ve got the right kind of presence there. Pinterest will also be key this year.
Offering bloggers the chance to interact with your brand is vital too. They have a fantastic social following on Twitter. Bring bloggers into your own blog and feature them. Pick out the key ones to work with long term and make them feel rewarded for it. It’s a good way of growing your social following as well as getting customers interacting [with the brand] online.
Head of ecommerce at shirtmaker Hawes & Curtis
The best approach to SEO is a controlled one, because you can get penalised if you’re trying to link and make changes too quickly. Using Google as the example, it can drop you down the rankings - or worst-case scenario, drop you altogether.
The thing about SEO is that Google is trying to find the authority in that field or search term. If you’re aware of that, you should be able to control what you’re doing in order to try to get up the rankings.
When you’re writing content, it has to be relevant and dotted with words that you want to be found on. There’s no point in having a photo of a shirt, but then not mentioning the word [shirt]. The strategy would be, for example, to look at a shirt and go, “I’ll pick three key words: ‘men’s,’ ‘business,’ and ‘shirt’”. We can’t repeat them too many times and must keep a balanced approach.
The difficulty is getting that top percentage of a keyword that is generic, like ‘white shirt’. That’s when you build a bigger campaign, such as a page with information about a specific white shirt. Plus, we would get articles out there that our page would be linked to from.
PPC [pay per click] ties into SEO.
I can pay for ‘white shirt’ to get to number one, but if someone else is more of an authority in ‘white shirts’, they would come above us, even if they pay less. It’s a misconception that you can pay to be number one.
Social and mobile lead at Shop Direct Group
The goals of social media need to be around the functionality of the platform and what customers do on it.
Pinterest is about posting engaging imagery and collections, so the goal there is to get content shared and seen.
For Google+, we make sure the content is fresh, so when people search for our brands [on Google] they get Google+ content in the results.
One way we use Facebook is to find new customers like our existing ones. We drive engagement with our content and then customers’ sharing of that allows us to grab data. We can then use that, as the more we know about our customers the easier it is to find more like them.
Increasingly, customers are reaching out to us on Twitter, and ultimately they want our help. I think many retailers were quite scared of negative comments, but our view has been to embrace [them]. We encourage the conversation to be suitable for all our customers, so it’s important to keep an eye on it, but not to be heavy-handed.
If someone says they’ve got a problem with a delivery, we don’t delete that; that would be foolish. What’s also important, especially with anything negative, is to feed that back to the right part of the business.
We also do activity with our internal teams. When we just had brand Twitter accounts, the merchandisers and buyers would want to talk about their own products [but there was so much to say]. [Now they] have their own accounts, so the people who really know their products can talk about them [more freely].
Director of PR at department store Debenhams
Social media activity is not about bombarding social media users with promotional messages. We take a much more subtle, magazine-type approach in terms of content, to excite, entice, support and respond to that community.
First and foremost, social for us is about creating a community that is engaged with our brand through that editorial approach.
The strategy behind this is to build brand awareness online and to utilise the social media channels to communicate to anyone interested in our brand. Each day we do around four posts [on Facebook]. To ensure we are talking to everyone, we’ve identified profiles and age groups, so that filter applies to ensure there is a relevant post for each of those groups.
Then it’s about providing things to that community first. We’ll preview sales and provide exclusive codes for discounts. We’ll put three products up [on Facebook] and ask the community which one they would like a discount on.
It’s also about offering them something they can’t get somewhere else. For the red coat TV ad [which featured prominently in Debenhams’ Christmas campaign], we had one left, so we offered that up as a prize on Twitter.
People came forward saying “I deserve the red coat because…” Then rather than us deciding who got the coat, we asked the Twitter community to do that job for us.
Unsuccessful social activity takes traditional marketing messages and just posts it on Facebook. You have to be more mindful of what the community actually wants and why they’re actually involved.
General marketing manager, lingerie retailer Ann Summers
Knowing your customer is the heartland of social media. If you know your customer and your tone and message is correct, you can engage with them in the right way. They want to know you’re their friend and you’re there to talk to them.
[Our social strategy] is brand building but it is also for expressing our brand and converting social media customers onto our website. It is for creating a community too, and we are able to do that through our social channels. There is more of an appetite if you become a Facebook fan and you’re interested in a brand. You want to know more and want to feel like you’re part of a community.
The social content we do is relevant to what our customers want. Yes, we do incentives and competitions, but most of our activity is around listening to our customers and engaging with them. [In] anything we do, we make sure it has the wit and humour that is associated with Ann Summers. For instance, we did a national stocking day and had a hashtag on Twitter encouraging people to change film titles [to be stocking related]. That was one of our highest engagement pieces. It had a competition attached, but it’s using the combination of the two to get a positive response.