May 1, 2013, 12:56 PM

Social media marketing matters for e-retail

All but four of the Top 500 web retailers are on Facebook.

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Visit a product page on 1-800-Flowers.com and you can click to share the item with your friends and followers on Facebook (in two ways—either via a public post or a private message), Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.

If you tend to forget your loved ones’ birthdays, you can sign into the site using your Facebook credentials and, once you grant the retailer access to your account information, it will present your friends’ upcoming birthdays on its site.

And, if you have a friend who Likes the brand, you’ll likely see that relationship noted in ads throughout Facebook, including in the news feed—both when looking at Facebook on a PC or on a mobile device.

1-800-Flowers considers itself to be a social media-focused company because social media is where consumers are looking.

“Social has become a critical marketing tool for all retailers, and especially retailers of our size,” says Amit Shah, vice president, online, mobile and social at 1-800-Flowers.com, No. 58 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

Social is woven throughout the retailer’s efforts because the flower and gifts retailer believes that all marketing should be social, he says. That’s why rather than have a single social media department, or point person, the retailer says that everyone in the company should embrace a social mindset and find ways to make their marketing efforts more social.

That approach aims to get consumers to share, whether they’re on 1800Flowers.com or viewing a marketing e-mail. When shoppers are talking about 1-800-Flowers, he says, they’re doing the brand’s marketing for the brand.

1-800-Flowers is hardly alone in its embrace of social media marketing. Just having a presence on social networks is now a given. All but four of the Top 500 retailers (99.2%) have a Facebook page, nearly all (97.2%) are on Twitter, and most are also on YouTube (87.6%) and Pinterest (78.0%). That’s a sharp rise from 2009, when Internet Retailer began measuring merchants’ social media presences. Back then, 56.8% of Top 500 retailers were on Facebook, 20.4% were on Twitter and 41.4% were on YouTube.

Retailers are also rapidly gaining followers. The Top 500 retailers had 477.5 million Likes of their pages last year, up 28.1% from 372.9 million a year earlier. Similarly their Twitter followers grew 84.4% to 34.3 million from 18.6 million in 2011.

The more followers a retailer has, the more people its messages can reach. For instance, when 1-800-Flowers posted a special offer on Facebook for its “Precious Pink Azalea” for Mother’s Day for $31.99, the message received more than 2,500 Likes and nearly three dozen comments.

Having a robust social media presence appears to be providing a significant boost to several retailers’ financial performance. For instance, Fab.com is the third-fastest growing retailer in the Top 500 Guide with Internet Retailer-estimated 2012 web sales of $150 million, up 653.8% from $19.9 million in 2011. Fab.com is No. 150 in the Top 500 Guide, as well as No. 2 in Social Media 300, an Internet Retailer research guide that ranks retailers by the percentage of traffic to their web sites from social networks, thanks to 25% of its traffic stemming from social networks.

Fab.com describes itself as an “e-commerce site based on Facebook,” as it offers cash rewards for consumers who share its products on social networks and features a custom-built social feed that alerts Fab.com visitors of who’s buying, sharing or liking its products at any time.

In addition to Fab.com, four more of the 15 fastest-growing retailers—Nasty Gal Inc., PetFlow.com, JackThreads.com and King Arthur Flour Co. Inc.—are also in top 10 in the Social Media 300. Nasty Gal is No. 170 in the Top 500 Guide and No. 9 in the Social Media 300; PetFlow.com is No. 406 in the Top 500 Guide and No. 1 in the Social Media 300; JackThreads.com is No. 319 in the Top 500 Guide and No. 7 in the Social Media 300; and King Arthur Flour is No. 359 in the Top 500 Guide and No. 6 in the Social Media 300.

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