February 18, 2010, 12:00 AM

Social marketing should be fun, but also have specific goals, expert says

Retailers’ social marketing efforts should be fun, but they should also have clear goals, such as further developing a retailer`s brand, Bridget Fahrland, director of creative strategy at web site design and development firm Fry Inc., said at IRWD10.

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Retailers’ social marketing efforts should be fun, but they should also have clear, definable goals, such as further developing a retailer`s brand and the brand’s personality, said Bridget Fahrland, director of creative strategy at web site design and development firm Fry Inc. at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability 2010 Conference, in a session entitled "Designing your web site to create social marketing success."

“It seems that everyone is putting their toes in the water, but they don’t quite know how to make it look,” she said. The result is social marketing efforts that lack continuity between the retailers’ other presences or a failure to engage users. For instance, several retailers launch a YouTube channel that features nothing but commercials. “I think they missed the memo that we all got DVRs to skip commercials so why would we go to YouTube to watch the same commercials?” she asked. That is, unless the commercials were particularly creative or informative.

Driving consumers to retailers’ social marketing efforts is a little like high school, she said. The presence has to fit in with the network’s general aesthetic, but also be different enough to draw consumers’ eyes and participation.

One of those effectively drawing eyes and participants is membership club and online retailer 24 Hour Fitness USA Inc., which maintains its own social network, 12millionlives.com.The site allows people to post their exercise goals and read about others. It works as a separate social network because it has a specific goal-to offer a place for people to share fitness tips and goals-that meets people’s interests, said Fahrland.

Vitamin Water, a provider of nutritional beverages owned by the Coca-Cola Co., took another approach to engage consumers. It held a contest last month on its Facebook page that allowed shoppers to propose a new flavor and share the idea with friends.

Missing from many retailers’ social marketing efforts is a design consistent with the retailer’s overall aesthetic, Fahrland said. “Many retailers have a great design on their web sites, but that doesn’t carry over to Facebook.” But continuity is important, she said, as it reinforces the company’s brand.

Engaging consumers on social networks is the best way to develop customers’ loyalty, as well as reach every retailer’s ultimate goal-a transaction, she said.

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