May 27, 2010, 2:04 PM

Finding the right measure

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Housing the conversation
It isn't just questions that online-only dog supply retailer SitStay Inc. wants to respond to on its Facebook page, it's anything dog-related. That's because the company is focused on driving consumers to its Facebook site and exposing them to its brand. In doing so, it wants to build another conduit to lead consumers to its web site.

In February the retailer began buying Facebook ads, which cost up to $100 a day. The ads referred users to SitStay's Facebook page rather than its retail site Ads featured questions such as "What's the best trick your dog does?" or casual invitations such as "We're having fun on our Facebook page talking about dogs. You have dogs? Come on and join us! We talk smells, training, poop, moreÉ"

The ads were not targeting direct sales, says Kent Krueger, SitStay vice president. "We wanted to build a community where we can talk about dogs and share information," he says.

Since the ads began, SitStay has averaged more than 650 new users per week who like the Facebook page, he says. As of mid-May the page had more than 13,000 consumers who like the page.

"We've built a strong community of dog owners, many of whom hadn't heard of us before," Krueger says. Those Facebook users find SitStay through either the Facebook ad or their friends sharing information posted on the SitStay page.

Krueger says he spends about 20 minutes a day on the page, updating information, engaging in conversations, and posting videos or photos. Rather than focus on pushing products, Krueger says he uses the site to develop an emotional connection to its fan base. "We don't just want to use it to market our stuff," he says. "That's why we're different from the big box guys. For us it's all about the dogs, not what we sell."

But it is also about directing shoppers to Krueger's Facebook conversations lead to 200 to 300 users a week clicking directly from Facebook to, accounting for about 9.4% of its overall referrals in March—second only to, according to Compete Inc., which tracks web traffic. Krueger says those direct clicks have led to sales significantly increasing.

Generating buzz
Jones Apparel Group Inc. simply wants to entice shoppers to follow its various brands. The reason? More Facebook fans means the company has more shoppers Jones can directly market to on the social networking site, says Ron Offir, Jones e-commerce president.

"Social media allows us to reach out to people in ways that traditional media can't," he says. For instance, its Nine West brand can communicate to followers daily, or even several times a day, as long as it has something relevant to say. And it allows it to use a conversational tone, such as "We can't wait for the summer to come! Check out how E! News styled the NW Botero denim heel in a recent segment on denim styling tips for the summer!"

To draw in shoppers, Jones works with technology firm Fluid Inc. to build Facebook pop-up stores modeled after its bricks-and-mortar pop-up stores, which are shops that open for a few days in a major city or a mall where shoppers can buy items, but that are primarily aimed at generating excitement and buzz.

Jones has opened Facebook pop-up stores with both its Nine West and Rachel Roy brands. Similar to their real-world cousins, the stores are open anywhere from three days to six weeks.

The first consumers to learn about the pop-up stores are the brand's followers. That's because Jones lets consumers know about each store's opening by posting notes on its brand's Facebook wall. Facebook walls are part of the pages on the social network where users can share information. On the wall it also highlights Facebook-exclusive items and Facebook-only promotions such as 15% off purchases.

When the stores are open, the pages' followers who click on a Shop Lookbook tab on the Nine West or Rachel Roy Facebook pages can shop, as well as click a button to note whether they like a product. When a shopper clicks the Like button, that information is shared with everyone connected to her on Facebook. When she adds an item to her shopping bag, a separate tab opens with Nine West's standard checkout. Checkout takes place outside Facebook because Fluid and Jones were concerned consumers would hesitate to complete a transaction on Facebook, says Andy Lloyd, Fluid CEO.

While the initiatives generate some sales, they are primarily aimed at generating attention—both from shoppers hitting the Like button and the press, says Offir. For instance,'s Teen Fashion Blog wrote a post "Nine West Luvs Facebook" that noted that the retailer's Facebook-exclusive shoes were "Kind of cool, right?"

And AOL Inc.'s fashion site featured a post highlighting Rachel Roy's Facebook-exclusive offerings. That awareness had a notable effect on Jones' follower base. Before the Rachel Roy store opened in February it had 8,847 followers; by mid-May it had more than 15,080. "That's one measure that is easy to measure and that dictates success," he says. "It shows we're evolving in ways that are attractive to our fans."

Meet the consumers
That awareness can also help bolster the general metrics the company is monitoring, such as consumers' awareness of its brands and, like Vistaprint, its share of online conversations, says Offir. While it can't peg a direct dollar figure on its social marketing efforts, Jones has already generated some direct sales from Facebook, as well as a boost in its share of online conversations.

For retailers like Jones and Levi's, Facebook provides a marketing channel where its customers are already looking, says Levi's O'Connor. "It's a great place to meet our consumers where they are spending time every day," she says. And with the unique visitors, page views and total time spent on Facebook all doubling or more in 2009 compared to 2008, according to online measurement firm comScore Inc., the benefits are only likely to improve.

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