July 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

The Big Four

(Page 2 of 3)

Shoe e-retailer Zappos.com Inc. has been focusing its social marketing time and efforts on Facebook. But a few months ago it decided to turn its attention back to its MySpace page to spruce things up and ensure it’s connecting with what it describes as a younger crowd a touch more open to social marketing based on how amenable it’s been to the overwhelming number of musicians on the social network.

“We have a video blog entry once a day, usually about our company’s culture and humor,” says Brett Houchin, blog/video/social media supervisor at Zappos.com. “We also have an area to post comments, and we embed YouTube content, like our TV commercials. If there’s one thing we try to avoid it’s over-packing it-MySpace pages can get overwhelming.”

Zappos.com includes MySpace in its social marketing mix to ensure it’s reaching out to as many consumers as it can to spread the word about the company and its culture of customer service but also to put a face-literally, in many instances-to the company.

“MySpace and other social media allow us to connect with customers in ways we can’t really do on the e-commerce site,” Houchin explains. “It’s all about engaging customers and having them leave with very positive feelings about your brand.” m

YouTube: An immensely popular venue for retailers to entertain and explain

Facebook and MySpace are social networks in the broadest and deepest sense. They do everything: friends, profiles, photos, videos, applications-the list goes on. YouTube, however, does one thing, video. But it does it extraordinarily well.

Of the Big Four social networks, it draws the largest crowd: In June it reached 87.7 million unique visitors, a 22% year-over-year jump, research and measurement firm The Nielsen Co. reports.

Internet users can create their own accounts and channels with profiles and heaps of favorite videos. Once signed up, YouTube members can link to friends just like on Facebook and MySpace. And they can subscribe to the channels of others, including retailers, so when others post new videos they are alerted to the new content.

“YouTube has become ubiquitous in everyday life. And it’s so easy to understand because it’s the broadcasting model we’ve been comfortable with for decades,” says Paull Young, social media strategist at social marketing firm Converseon Inc.

YouTube members are ravenous for video, one of the most popular pastimes on the web. So if brands want to entertain or explain, the two things video does best, experts say, this is the place to be.

“YouTube offers retailers tremendous power because video is a way to show off products that goes well beyond anything text or images can do,” Young says. “And YouTube gives that video huge scope.”

Not only does YouTube offer a high-visibility venue for brands to connect visually with consumers, it’s also a way to boost brand awareness via natural search, where videos are now routinely popping up in what is called blended search-search results with site links, images, videos, news links and more.

“The neat thing for brands is this: Videos you post on YouTube can get great exposure in natural search,” says Dan Shust, director of emerging media at interactive marketing firm Resource Interactive. “It’s harder to find a video posted on a brand page on Facebook or MySpace than a video that’s been posted and properly tagged with keywords on YouTube.”

Hanover Direct Inc.’s Undergear brand of underwear, swimwear and men’s clothing has something perfect for video: its harem of handsome hunks strutting fashion runways and cavorting on beaches around the world. Video was the next step after catalog spreads and eye-popping images on its e-commerce site to make its connection with customers stronger than ever-and bring in new customers.

“The Undergear YouTube Channel offers fans of the brand a platform to comment and share their opinions on the products, models and overall brand sentiment,” says Matt Bavaro, Internet brand manager for Undergear, which also has Facebook and MySpace pages. “Even with cuts in catalog circulation, unique visitors to our e-commerce site are up almost 40% year over year. We can only attribute this to our increased social media presence.”

Twitter: Soaring in popularity, the little network can create key connections

This year it seems all the world’s atwitter about Twitter. When a site’s unique monthly visitors skyrocket 1,928% year over year, it’s safe to say something’s up.

What’s up is a quick-and-easy, down-and-dirty way of communicating with friends, family, readers or customers in 140 characters or less anytime and oftentimes, thanks to mobile phones, anywhere.

Many call tweeting micro-blogging. Greg’s at Starbucks after having seen the new Star Trek film and tweets a mini-review, seen by all the people who’ve elected to “follow” him on the miniature social network. CNN tweets a breaking news story on health care reform legislation. Retailer GEMaffair.com tweets the announcement of a contest exclusively for its Twitter followers to win jewelry.

At 21 million unique monthly visitors, according to research and measurement firm The Nielsen Co., Twitter is the little guy of the Big Four. But there’s an intensity that the other networks cannot match. If someone is following another person or a business, he clearly wants to know everything they have to say, says Paull Young, social media strategist at social marketing firm Converseon Inc.

“Twitter is a phenomenon that keeps growing and growing, and its users are very highly engaged,” Young says. “It’s a strong part of their web environment throughout the day.”

Retailers can approach Twitter passively or actively, experts advise. Passively, they listen to what is being said about them and their product categories and products through routine monitoring via Twitter search and of consumers or bloggers it elects to follow.

If, for example, a books/music/video e-retailer sees that new Star Trek film among Twitter’s top 10 trends, it could send out a tweet with a coupon code for 5% off the Blu-ray Star Trek DVD box set. Or it could simply get a sci-fi geek on staff to join the conversation, though leaving the hard-sell behind, experts advise. The point in this case is to show expertise and become an authentic voice.

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