Retailers discuss how to get social

Social media in the spotlight at Internet Retailer Conference

Social media took center stage at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2010 in Chicago last week, with many retailers debating the best way to approach the medium.

“The impact of social media is clear -- it’s not an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘now,’” said Andrew Koven, president of e-commerce and customer experience for Bayside, N.Y.-based Steve Madden Shoes, during a session. “We don’t want to be a general merchandiser that just throws things against the wall -- so we have to make things relevant to audience.”

Steve Madden has already recognized the power of product recommendations via its targeted e-mail programs. Now, however, the footwear chain is taking recommendations a step further by leveraging social networking platforms to draw attention to its products.

For example, shoppers can now like/share/tweet or recommend Steve Madden items and spread the news on social networking sites.

“Social media is an open invitation for those who are interested in your brand -- sometimes the feedback is positive and sometimes it’s not. Either way, it builds customer-brand trust and helps the company know where to make improvements,” Koven explained.

Steve Madden is currently redesigning SteveMadden.com to make “significant adjustments that make it a more socially minded site,” Koven said. This will include introducing new up-and-coming artists and adding more ties to social networking sites.

It is also setting the bar high for its Twitter and aims to reach triple its follower base in the next 12 months. Not only does Koven and the marketing team send out tweets, so does Steve Madden himself.

As for the frequency of tweets from the company -- a much-discussed topic throughout the conference -- Koven said it depends on whether or not the company has something meaningful to say.

“Sometimes we have a lot of things going on and other times we don’t,” he said. “We keep it natural and organic and don’t say there has to be at least five in a certain amount of time -- though, we do try to send out at least one a week.”

Unlike Steve Madden, however, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Moxsie.com -- an online retailer that sells independent designer clothing, jewelry and shoes -- reaches out to its audience via Twitter much more.

“We don’t have the brand recognition yet that Steve Madden so have to do a lot more to engage our customers -- we tend to send out a tweet at least once an hour,” said Julia Kung, director of marketing, Moxsie.com.

Moxsie -- with nearly 62,000 followers on Twitter -- uses the social networking site to not only let shoppers know about new items and giveaways, it also uses it as a platform to chat directly with customers.

“Like our audience, we watch Glee and reference Lady Gaga,” Kung said. “We go off topic sometimes and this is what keeps people interested -- it’s an authentic voice, and a refreshing and effective alternative to traditional marketing. It also helps us relate and better interact with our customers, and ultimately we get loyal brand evangelizers.”

In fact, some shoppers take pictures or film videos with their purchases and in turn, the company posts them on Twitter. “People like to be a part of our brand, and we’re glad they are active participants,” Kung said.

Its Twitter strategy has indeed helped the company establish its brand presence and get the word out. In fact, 50% of its traffic comes mainly from Twitter. And when Moxie highlights certain products on Twitter, they often sell out fast.

“When something sells out, we usually send out a tweet and let everyone know we hope to get it back in stock soon,” Kung said.

It also gives its Twitter followers a sneak preview of when certain products come into the warehouse.

“We snap pictures and post them on the site,” Kung said. “Even if it’s blurry, we put it up -- it’s not about perfection, it’s about wetting your customer’s whistle and making them feel like they are on the inside.”

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