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The value of making friends

Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook, retailers are scrambling to jump on the social media bandwagon. But who is doing it right and which social media channel is the one most likely to deliver commercial results?

Online communities built up by the likes of Facebook and Twitter are now vast. In just six years, Facebook has attracted 400 million users globally, while Twitter, the micro-blogging site, has more than 75 million users worldwide, according

to US ecommerce analyst RJMetrics. Together with Bebo, YouTube, Flickr and countless blog sites and online forums, the appetite for digital chit-chat seems insatiable. Knowing the tech-savvy are just clicks away from a purchase, it’s little wonder retailers are joining the digital party in droves.

“We’re advising our clients they’ve got to have a presence across these channels as it’s an incredibly useful way to track new and existing audiences, to create an online buzz for your product, to generate loyalty and foster engagement, and ultimately to convert more people into committed buyers,” says Graham English, affiliate manager at website designer Drive Business.

But social media must be used wisely, says Andy Francis, owner of e-marketing specialist E-style. “Too many retailers today are doing it badly or for the wrong reasons. The danger is not being prepared for a two-way conversation and not having a clear objective,” he warns.

Social media marketing is cheap compared to traditional advertising and direct mail-outs. It can help retailers build up a database of signed-up fans, and send out marketing messages to huge numbers incredibly quickly. Tweets on Twitter can inform followers of new ranges, discounts or special events.

“Two great examples are Asos and Topshop, strong brands that are building an amazing audience on social networks, gathering hundreds of thousands of fans,” says Fabio De Bernardi, UK business development director for social commerce service Wishpot.com. “Asos, in particular, has lots of team members who tweet individually. They deal extremely well with people’s requests.”

Unadulterated truth

Social media activities provide a valuable window into the hearts and minds of your customers, says Asda director Doug Gurr. “Twitter is not about telling, it’s about listening,” he says. “On Twitter and through the Your Asda customer forum, we are hearing the raw, unadulterated truth about what people think of our stores and products. It’s incredibly valuable.”

Last November, Burberry’s Artofthetrench.com site invited Facebook users to submit images of themselves wearing the brand’s trench coats, and, coinciding with London Fashion Week, 600,000 fans visited the site.

It’s an example of ‘crowd-sourcing’ - creating an online buzz that draws huge numbers of people - and is being widely emulated.

The next stage for retailers is to link that audience into a buying situation, says English. Young fashion brand Gio-Goi, a Drive Business client, recently launched a competition on its Facebook page for fans to ‘become the face of Gio-Goi on Facebook’. It’s a clever way to drive interest and get people to post photos and comments. On the left of the Facebook page are adverts for women’s jeggings and men’s shirts - carefully selected top-sellers. Users can click straight to the Gio-Goi website to make purchases.

“We instantly get to see the numbers of people visiting the site from those ads on Facebook, and we’ve already seen that featured items are becoming best-sellers,” says English. “It’s no good just increasing interest in the brand unless you improve your conversion rate too.”

It’s early days for iPhone apps, but forerunners including Oasis, Net-a-Porter, Ralph Lauren and Lacoste clearly hope to benefit from the channel. Womenswear chain Oasis was the first fashion name to offer the ability to buy via its app. “The Oasis iPhone application has been extremely popular,” says Oasis creative director Nadia Jones. “We wanted to tap into the needs of the young iPhone users and be the first to offer them an essential shopping accessory on the move. And we’re seeing the store-finder section increasingly being used as a valuable aid for shoppers.” l

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