How to Benefit from Social Media

Jan 13, 2009 8:28 PM  By

Savvy multichannel merchants use social media to connect with consumers. They know that one of the best ways to build a community is to create a dialog with customers—and to allow customers to create a dialog with each other.

That’s the power of social media. It provides consumers with the opportunity to form their own conversations around the brands and products they’re passionate about.

By equipping consumers with social media tools—including ratings, reviews, recommendations, blogs, photo galleries, and forums—merchants can actually create an army of influencers who advocate their brand and provide invaluable feedback. Indeed, consumers love talking about what they’re buying and the brands they support. Using the right tools, combined with a well thought out strategy that incorporates employee involvement and deep integration within core site experiences, successful retailers can foster a consumer experience that is consistent across multiple channels.

What’s more, social media can play a vital role in tying together their disparate sales channels. A recent study by Vertis Communications found that the number of Americans who first surf the Web to research items, and then make actual store purchases, has increased 10% since 2006. With social media, however, multichannel retailers can transform their Web properties into online destinations with vibrant communities—helping to drive sales both online and offline.

A perfect example is Whole Foods Market. At a typical Whole Foods store, it’s common to see shoppers and employees chatting about cooking tips, product ingredients, and their personal experiences with products. Whole Foods wanted to extend that same intimate relationship online by allowing shoppers to easily interact with employees and each other, just as they do in the store.

That’s where the Whole Foods Market’s blog comes in. The blog has become a place where customers come together to learn more about organic food and express their thoughts on a range of topics central to the Whole Foods community.

Enhanced by video and audio podcasts, the blog is used by Whole Foods experts to alert customers to topical issues, such as last summer’s tomato safety concerns, as well as share the inside scoop on new products coming to market. Customers also contribute their opinions and directly interact with Whole Foods experts via the blog.

Recipes are another popular feature on the Whole Foods site. But Whole Foods doesn’t just post recipes online; it provides the opportunity for visitors to rate and comment on these recipes. As an added feature, customers can store their favorite recipes in a personalized “recipe box.” And, of course, if they see a recipe on the Whole Foods site, customers have the satisfaction of knowing that Whole Foods carries the listed ingredients in its stores.

Circuit City is another major multichannel retailer that’s effectively leveraging social media tools. In addition to becoming a one-stop destination for research from leading publications such as Consumer Reports, Circuitcity.com allows shoppers to share information with each other through the use of blogs, forums, and monthly photo contests.

In particular, the site enables customers to connect with each other and Circuit City associates before purchasing complex items like HDTVs, digital cameras, MP3 players and personal computers. The site has also fostered deep-rooted community engagement as witnessed by the 5,000 user contributions per months, the 1,000 product demonstration videos that let shoppers see products in action, and the 150,000 unfiltered product ratings and reviews from consumers.

Merchants need to turn their Websites into destinations where people can not only shop, but also where they can meet, talk, and exchange information about the products they care about. With social media, online shopping is no longer a solo endeavor. Instead, it’s a compelling content experience that invites customers to play an active role, making shopping fun and communal again.

So what’s in it for you? Inviting customers to take part and engage with a broader community not only provides a better, more fulfilling experience, it also fosters long-term trust and loyalty in your brand. And ultimately, that’s what drives purchases.

Adam Weinroth isdirector of product marketing at Pluck (www.pluck.com), a wholly owned subsidiary of Demand Media