Powell’s Shares Some Social Media Strategies

Jun 01, 2009 9:01 PM  By

Like many merchants Powell’s is still learning what works and what doesn’t when it comes to social media. The online bookstore took a stab at using the social networks for customer acquisition this Valentine’s week: It posted a note on its Facebook page saying that people who signed up for its Specials newsletter would receive a Valentine with a special offer—a $5 coupon.

What did Powell’s learn from the experience? MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT senior writer Tim Parry talked with Megan Zabel, Powell’s marketing and promotions coordinator, about the merchant’s adventures in social media.

What kind of a lift did you see as a result of the Valentine’s Day promo on Facebook?
The response to this promotion was bigger than we had anticipated. We didn’t mention the $5 coupon on Facebook; we posted a note saying that if you signed up for our Specials newsletter, we’d send you a Valentine with a special offer, but we didn’t divulge what it was.

The copy we wrote was very conversational and playful, which I think helped to reaffirm people that they weren’t being bamboozled in some way. We don’t do many of these promotions, which helps to ensure that it seems special when we do. And we’ve definitely been able to drive Web traffic, and generate sales through Facebook.

How long was the Valentine’s promotion, and how many people signed up for the Specials newsletter during that time?
We posted the note about the Valentine’s promotion and allowed fans six days to sign up for the newsletter. We already had a pretty substantial number of Specials mailing recipients, so the new signups from Facebook were a small proportion of the whole.

But we did find that those who signed up through Facebook had a higher rate of interaction with the mailing, and a higher percentage of them redeemed the coupon.

What’s the biggest lesson Powell’s learned about dealing with its audience on Facebook?
We just started really investing in Facebook within the past six months, so I think we’re still learning what works, and what doesn’t. We recently posted a piece of news about the new Dan Brown book, and the response to this surprised us.

Although we weren’t even endorsing the book, we got some comments from people couldn’t believe that Powell’s would draw attention to something so mainstream, which opened up an argument about the value of popular literature versus literary elitism. The discussion that ensued was really interesting, and showed that our fans’ tastes are really all over the map.

But most important, I think it reaffirmed something that we already know—which is that our customers expect us to be special and present information that’s more thoughtful than a publisher-sponsored ad. There’s a really strong sense of community among the Powell’s customer base, and Facebook has been a really great way to reinforce that.

Besides Facebook, are there other social networks you’re using, like Twitter, MySpace, etc., or something that is a niche network?
We use Twitter regularly, and have a MySpace page that we maintain, but don’t spend much effort there. When we did the Valentine’s Day promo, we also ran it on Twitter and MySpace, and the response rate on MySpace was well below the other two. Twitter has proven pretty valuable, though, especially as a customer service tool, because of the ability to instantly respond to questions and concerns voiced there.

How about the blogosphere — is Powell’s blogging, too?
We do have a blog on our Website, http://www.powells.com/blog. We feature author guest bloggers, reviews, book news and other author content created exclusively for Powell’s.

We often repost the content on our Facebook page, and have noticed that people are more apt to comment on it there. We attribute this to the ease of already being signed in and the ability to show your friends what you’re commenting about.

When you look at your overall time spent on marketing, what’s the ballpark spent now on social media initiatives?
I would say on average I probably spend half an hour per day with the Facebook page, but it really varies. If we’re working on some kind of campaign focused there, it’s obviously more time, and more people are involved.

But most days I try to find something relevant and interesting to post there, and check out the analytics and measure what kind of response specific items are getting, and how we’re acquiring fans. Our contact center manages our Twitter page, and there’s someone checking on that and responding to customers throughout the day.