How Macy’s Made its Facebook Followers Believe

Following up on the study Covario conducted a few months ago focusing on how major advertisers present themselves on Facebook, I took a closer look at nation’s leading department store chain, Macy’s, which last month grew its customer fan base by 23% to more than 3 million fans.

While fan growth was impressive, it’s really not so surprising given the retailer’s history of iconic brand building efforts during the holiday season, most notably the Thanksgiving Day parade.

Many retailers pushed gift cards on Facebook this holiday season, but Macy’s focused on creating an interactive experience for all ages to enjoy. It was based on its perpetual “Believe” campaign, allowing fans to post holiday photos and watch a beautifully animated version of the “Yes, Virginia (There is a Santa Claus)” story.

Macy’s biggest effort though appeared to be around its “Letter to Santa” program, another iconic marketing campaign. As part of the “Believe” experience, Macy’s created a workshop-like environment on Facebook where the youngest fans could write and decorate a letter to Santa before printing it out and depositing in a mailbox at their nearest Macy’s store. Of course, having to visit the store was the marketing hook, but it was executed so well that you didn’t really mind. It all made perfect Christmas sense.

There was a charitable component to the effort as well. For each letter received, Macy’s donated a $1 to the Make-A-Wish foundation. As of Dec. 21, nearly 1 million children had created and dropped off letters at Macy’s stores.

In addition to the “Believe” campaign, Macy’s posted 106 messages to its Facebook page during the 30 days prior to the holidays, garnering an average of 1,700 likes and 100 comments each. That’s a much higher level of engagement than most of their competitors. While most often the posts were product or brand promotions, some were written in a survey style.

Like most other retailers, Macy’s also offered links to a couple different gift-giving guides on its Facebook page, as well as a recipe guide. They all seemed to serve their purpose, but were not necessarily executed with high level of creativity as the “Believe” campaign.

What is unique about Facebook and other social platforms is that they provide an immediate forum for anyone to comment on a brand − supporters and detractors alike. That’s a new reality for brands. One that is especially challenging for banks and other financial service providers, but it is something that retailers need to watch out for as well.

Consumers seem to enjoy commenting on the quality of merchandise a store carries, as well as their shopping experience; they typically aren’t shy. Macy’s appears to have been more immune to detracting comments than some of its competitors. That said, there does seem to be an opportunity for Macy’s to find a creative and direct way to address customer concerns as part of its posting strategy.

Overall, Macy’s receives a good grade for how its Facebook site is navigated through and how it has built a unique presence on popular social media platform during the holiday season. It seems the key to Macy’s success was that Facebook was used as a way to extend its brand building efforts.

It will be interesting to watch what they do to make sure we continue to “Believe” come January.

Janice Smithers is senior media strategist for Covario’s analytical insight services.