March 10, 2011, 11:12 AM

Want to win with social media? Give up some brand control, Wet Seal says

The teen and women’s apparel retailer tries to encourage consumer interactions.

Lead Photo

Retailers that want to boost sales through social media need to relinquish at least some control of their brand to their most engaged consumers, said Jon Kubo, chief information officer of The Wet Seal Inc., during the Innovate 2011 conference Wednesday in San Francisco.

The girl’s and women’s apparel retailer,  No. 338 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has gained in the past year about 1 million Facebook fans, giving Wet Seal some 1.3 million fans total. Kubo credits the gains largely to encouraging consumers to become what he calls advocates for the retailer, including through social campaigns that Wet Seal runs six times a year.

One such campaign, a model search, involved a social media contest whose winner receives a photo shoot and an introduction to a modeling agency. The campaign includes Facebook teasers and a YouTube contest that invites consumers to vote on the best videos from the aspiring models. The model search resulted in 100,000 new Facebook fans for the retailer and 300,000 YouTube views of the videos. “You can see these things become very viral,” Kubo  said.

And the content also brought multichannel benefits. Because potential winners had to fill out an online application and then take it and their photos to one of Wet Seal’s more than 400 bricks-and-mortar stores—visits that often included the friends or relative of contest participants—the retailer has attracted at least 100,000 new store visits as a result of the model search, Kubo said.

Wet Seal’s experience shows that retailers need to use Facebook for more than just discounts or to announce new product lines or sales, features already found on retailers’ e-commerce sites, Kubo said. “You want customers to feel affiliated with other customers,” he said.

A typical Wet Seal deal offered through Facebook, he continued, attracts some 200 comments, which he called interactions. By contrast, posing a question on Facebook related to style, or posting a relevant quote—a politician’s quip about fashion, for instance—tends to attract some 2,000 or 3,0000 comments, he said. “You are trying to shape a community,” he said.

Granted, he said, most consumers will simply sit back and watch what unfolds on Facebook, with only 10% of Wet Seal’s social media consumer base classified as highly engaged. But retailers need to reach out to such loyal and enthusiastic consumers, who can be counted on to promote a brand or product line to other friends and family on Facebook, and take part in such efforts as designing clothing collections on Wet Seal that other consumers can comment about.

“They want fame, fortune and fun,” Kubo says of these highly engaged consumers, with fortune referring to discounts and fame to recognition from other consumers using the social network. 

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