Retailers Stretch Social Media Strategies

Carol Spieckerman covers eTail West

Carol Spieckerman covers eTail West

Not that long ago, social media was regarded a simple game of multiple choice by many retailers and brand marketers, with "A and B" (Facebook and Twitter) seen as manageable choices, but "all of the above" (Instagram? Vine?) being out of the question. This was the case even as consumers delighted in exploring the growing number of social platforms available to them.

Presentations at this month’s week's eTail West conference illustrated just how much marketers' mindsets have changed in terms of both social media's promise and the exercising of new options. The perception of social media as a necessary evil with dubious ROI has quickly evolved toward that of a playground of possibilities, particularly when it comes to user-generated content (UGC).

In particular, social media is becoming a cost-effective resource for satisfying marketers' insatiable appetites for images. Streetwear brand Stussy recently leveraged online content aggregator Social Board to grab all social content that included the "Stussy" hashtag, garnering millions of photos that the brand is using "for all kinds of things," according to its lead designer, Domenic Venneri.

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Meanwhile, Under Armour's successful, female-focused "what's beautiful" contest, which encourages women to share their goals and success stories, has allowed the company to glean a treasure trove of multi-media, user-generated content. Several companies, including Jetblue, have now made integrating more socially-derived UGC into corporate websites a top initiative.

Under Armour's mobile app gathers vital stats from users.

Under Armour's mobile app gathers vital stats from users.

Many companies are awakening to the power of the "visual web," which is also driving accelerated interest in Instagram and Pinterest. Steve Hartman, Urban Outfitters' managing director of direct marketing, called Instagram a "huge" engagement venue for the brand, noting that even pictures of employees' shoes have immediately grabbed over 40,000 likes. By contrast, Urban leverages Pinterest for showcasing product. Katie Laird, Blinds.com’s social media manager, said that it wasn’t until they “dug deep” into the data that they realized how important Pinterest is to their business.

As new options proliferate, fewer marketers are defaulting to a "Facebook first" strategy, although Twitter seems to have only gained in popularity, despite the crowded field. For Urban Outfitters, JetBlue, blinds.com and others, Twitter plays a vital customer support role and, in some cases, marketers are intentionally leveraging the platform to take the pressure off of call centers and other traditional customer service solutions.

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Some are also taking more measured approaches to Twitter promotions. According to JetBlue's head of digital commerce, Maryssa Miller, its deep discount promotions on Twitter have been so successful that the company has had to deploy them sparingly. Under Armour selectively uses Twitter to promote flash sales and to get the word out as it makes forays into new categories such as basketball. The preponderance of players who are active on Twitter ensures exponential reach by association.

In terms of up and comers, Twitter-owned Vine, a micro-video platform that is being called a mashup of Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, was cited most often as the "one to watch" in my conversations at the event.

Read Carol's other E tail West articles:

What Will It Take to Improve the Mobile Shopping Experience?

Disney Store Makes Digital Magic

Prescient Points: A wrap-up of Carol's favorite moments from the show

This article also ran on Retail Wire. Check out the discussion.