July 3, 2013, 12:17 PM

Social media payback

Retailers pay heed to their results on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

To succeed in social media marketing, retailers need a clear game plan, said Brad Walters, director of social media and emerging platforms at Lowe's Cos., at the 2013 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in June. "You need a clear objective," he said. "Without that, social media doesn't mean anything."

For Lowe's, social media is a branding tool that enables the home improvement retailer to inspire and inform shoppers. Regardless of a brand's goal, retailers' approaches should be measurable, he said.

For instance, Lowe's recently posted a video on Vine—Twitter's video app that enables users to shoot and share 6-second video clips that play over and over—that shows how to use a rubber band to remove a stripped screw. The video engaged consumers, Walters said; the video was retweeted 150 times and 90 consumers clicked to make it a favorite post, Twitter's equivalent of a Facebook Like.

Lowe's achieved similar success on Pinterest with its "Spring has sprung" board that aimed to inspire shoppers with ideas such as "Turn pieces of gutter into containers for herbs and leafy vegetables." More than 74,000 consumers chose to follow the board.

"The content has to speak on behalf of the brand," Walters said. Social media, he said, is a value exchange. If consumers see value in a brand's messages they will spread that message to their friends. If they don't see the value, they'll ignore it.

That means retailers have to pay attention to how consumers are reacting to a brand's social media campaigns, said Kerry Bennett, HauteLook's vice president of marketing and communications. For example, the flash-sale retailer initially sought to produce sales directly on Facebook. While the sales did produce solid returns—a Facebook-only DVF (Diane von Furstenberg) sales event coincided with a doubling of off-site transactions to 20% of total online sales—the campaigns frustrated some customers who wondered why they couldn't find the promotions on the retailer's site. So the retailer shifted its focus.

It has continued to revamp its goals—and how it gauges success—as the ways in which consumers engage with social networks change. The retailer manages accounts on seven platforms—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and Google+. In 2012, 4.18% of all traffic to HauteLook.com came from social networks, according to Internet Retailer's 2013 Social Media 300.

"Six months ago we were tracking engagement," she said. "Now we're focused on traffic and conversions."

The retailer is always testing to figure out what works, Bennett said. For instance, when Facebook last year rolled out its Custom Audiences tool that lets marketers target customers based on information that shoppers have shared with the marketer off of Facebook, such as their e-mail addresses, the retailer used the tool to remove its existing customers from its ad targeting so that they wouldn't see an ad encouraging them to sign up for a HauteLook account; the campaign drove strong returns, she said.

Retailers have to keep pace with the rapid evolution of social networks, Bennett said. "The social landscape changes quickly," she added, "so you have to embrace change."



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