December 20, 2012, 3:38 PM

Retailers move social media out of its silo

Express and Sephora weave social elements through their holiday campaigns.

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There was one stark difference when Express Inc.’s marketing team sat down to plan this year’s holiday marketing campaign compared with a year earlier.

The retailer has long focused on social media—the retailer’s chief marketing officer Lisa Gavales has, for several years, insisted that retailers must engage consumers on the social networks where they spend so much time—but it largely kept those efforts in a silo, says Eric Gohs, director of digital marketing at Express, No. 102 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

But this year, regardless of what the team was discussing—the retailer’s web site, mobile site, app, or ads—the team circled back to how they could tie in social media. “It isn’t that social has gotten a bigger slice of the marketing pie, but rather that social has been integrated throughout the pie because we’re always asking, ‘How would social play into this?’” he says.  

Take, for instance, the retailer’s on-site gift guide. The retailer this year added tools so that when a shopper mouses over an item he can click on an “Express view” that pops open a window with product details, or he can click to share the item on Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter. The retailer has also added similar social sharing buttons throughout its site and in its e-mails. Social buttons offer a simple way to encourage a shopper interact, says Gohs.

Those types of simple integrations—as well as several more robust initiatives such as its use of mobile-focused social media ad units, like Facebook’s Sponsored Stories—are aimed at getting shoppers to think about and interact with Express. Mobile Sponsored Stories ads are messages originally posted from a consumer’s friends about their interactions with a retailer’s page, Facebook application or event. The retailer pays to promote the message to the consumer’s Facebook friends and the message appears in the consumer’s news feed.  

Encouraging consumer engagement throughout the holiday season is also the goal at cosmetics retailer Sephora USA Inc., No. 136 in the Top 500 Guide, says Bridget Dolan, the retailer’s vice president of interactive media.

To drive consumers to interact with its brand, Sephora developed a broadly focused marketing campaign centered around the concept of eight “extraordinary” women, then adapted the messaging and approach to fit Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram and YouTube, she says.

The theme highlights the traits that make celebrities like actresses Leelee Sobieski and Parker Posey, as well as Sephora’s customer base, extraordinary and beautiful women, the retailer says. On Facebook it posted stylized images of products with mantra-like captions—for example, a close-up of lipstick with the line, “Beauty is in the lip: so be bolder.” On Twitter Sephora posted links to videos and other content highlighting the celebrities, such as, “Watch actress Leelee Sobieski describe her glam-mom morning beauty routine.” And on Instagram it encouraged shoppers to post photos of themselves decked out in makeup.   

Sephora linked those messages together by creating the hashtags #YourExtraordinary, #GiftExtraordinary and #MakeItExtraordinary that it added to those posts. By adding a hashtag—any word that starts with a pound sign—to a post it enables consumers to click on the hashtag to find other, related posts that also include the hashtag.  

Sephora also launched a #YourExtraordinary social feed on its web site that gathered together all the content it—and its fans—created on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr that was tagged with any of those hashtags.

“We want to bring together the various channels in a way to inspire our customers,” Dolan says. With a customer base that skews young, the retailer aims to use that social media-centric page to deepen its connection with its customers, she says. “We want to build engagement with the goal of having that customer come to us for inspiration, to see our how-to’s and to ask us questions.”

Sephora hopes that if a consumer sees an Instagram photo of  another shopper wearing makeup she bought at Sephora, featuring the caption, “I'm officially #obsessed with this liner. #YSL #KatVonD #sephora #MakeItExtraordinary #SmolderingEyes” that the consumer might be inclined to click to Sephora.com, for instance, to look at the product that shopper used. The approach has worked, she says. In the days leading up to the day after Thanksgiving, often called Black Friday, the retailer’s page views were up nearly 1,000%, she says, thanks, in part, to its social media posts drawing consumers back to its site.

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