June 17, 2011, 7:01 PM

IRCE 2011 Report: Social networks let like-minded shoppers unite

Threadless gives consumers multiple platforms where they can interact.

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The web has always been social, but social media provides a particularly accessible way for like-minded consumers to unite, said Cam Balzer, Threadless vice president of marketing today at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2011 in San Diego. “There are no lonely geeks anymore,” he said. “Now they’re interacting with each other online.”

Retailers can leverage the social nature of the social web by giving consumers a forum where they can voice their opinions. That’s an inherent part of Threadless’ do-it-yourself business, which allows shoppers to vote on the designs they would like to see featured on T-shirts.

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are a prime vehicles for retailers to communicate their passion about what they sell. “The social web is made for it,” he said. “Big brands try to find a way to generate passion around their products, but for all us DIYers this is made for us because we are genuinely passionate about it.”

By communicating that passion, a retailer like Threadless can draw in consumers who increasingly seek meaning in what they buy, said Balzer. “How far can you push at your company to give consumers a genuine opportunity to not just offer input, but an actual say in what you’re selling?” Balzer pointed to women’s apparel retailer igigi as one retailer that does just that. Igigi uses Facebook to pose questions to consumers about what types of pleats, cuts or eveningwear they’d like Igigi to offer.

And that’s just one way retailers can let consumers offer input, he said. He recommended that retailers place Facebook’s Like button on every product page, because when a consumer clicks that he Likes a product that message instantly is amplified as it’s communicated to his Facebook friends. In May, Threadless had about 20,000 Likes, which led to 5.7 million impressions on Facebook. In turn, that led to about 25,000 referrals directly from Facebook back to Threadless.

Another way Threadless is experimenting with using Facebook to draw in shoppers is via Sponsored Stories. Sponsored Stories is an ad service that companies can use to have their logos appear alongside Facebook posts that mention the company. Facebook only displays a portion of a consumer's connections' posts in her news feed. That means that even if a consumer clicks that she Likes a design on Threadless only about 10% to 12% of her connections will see that action. However, displaying through Sponsored Stories that the shopper Likes that design can reach a much broader consumer base, he said.

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