Retailers have long felt the pressure to get in on the social media game. While some merchants have focused their attention on embracing one or two platforms, many have tossed a large net across various sites. However, it’s no secret that some sites are better suited for retail than others. “Each has its specific role and purpose, and retailers need to figure out how to best leverage them to meet their brands’ needs,” according to Susan A. McKenna, CEO of Winnetka, Calif.-based social media firm McKenna’s Marketing.
Here’s a look at some of the social media sites most applicable to the retail environment (sites are ranked out of five stars):
LinkedIn * * * *
LinkedIn is a powerful tool for business-to-business retailers. Right now, many merchants are using it for networking, HR recruitment and reaching out to those in the supply chain, from buyers and sellers to product wholesalers. Retailers can benefit from being active in the forums and answering questions from peers. Professionals are often seeking e-commerce, supply chain and other solutions for their companies, and retailers can benefit from reaching out to build relationships or even a partnership.
Facebook * * * * *
Thanks to so many built-in tools that leverage fan pages and encourage customer interaction, Facebook is often considered the most relevant social media site for retailers. Some companies are taking further steps to reach out to Facebook fans. Target, for example, is now offering prepaid Facebook gift cards that can be redeemed for the purchase of virtual goods through popular games hosted on the site, such as FarmVille and Bejeweled Blitz. The social networking site’s first foray into the retail world is a prime example of how merchants can take advantage of its inherent fan base.
Twitter * * *
Although Twitter is often hyped as one of the top growing social media sites, retailers are still trying to figure out how to best use the platform. With slightly more than 100 million registered users—and only a small percentage routinely using the site (21%, according to a report by Barracuda Networks Inc., an e-mail and Web security company)—it’s hard to compare Twitter with Facebook’s active user base of 500 million, 50% of whom access the site every day.
“However, Twitter does have mass marketing appeal,” McKenna said. “Marketers successfully use it to send out promotional messages, answer customer service questions and offer exclusive discounts, but the platform doesn’t allow as much creativity and interactivity as other sites.”
YouTube * * * *
YouTube can be used in innovative ways, including the posting of product video demos. Retailers can also develop short humorous videos that can go viral and catapult a business from obscurity to overnight fame. While the chance of a making a big viral splash is like winning the lottery, it’s worth giving it a shot, McKenna advised. YouTube also can provide value through search-engine optimization; since Google owns YouTube, videos become indexed in Google’s database when tagged with keywords.
MySpace * * * *
Although many consumers have abandoned MySpace for other social networking sites, it remains very popular among younger audiences between the ages of 16 and 25 and has a strong international presence. Although MySpace hasn’t been able to duplicate Facebook’s behavioral marketing tool, the platform itself offers ample opportunity to accomplish many of the same things as its competitor. It shouldn’t be completely ignored for targeting younger consumers.
Finally, experts agree that since all sites meet different needs, retailers should link social media efforts together.
“When a retailer posts content on Facebook, it should automatically connect to their Twitter account,” McKenna said. “Retailers can do the same thing with LinkedIn. It’s important to link all venues of social media so a brand message can reach an even larger audience and ultimately become that much stronger.”