Live from Internet Retailer: Don’t Be A Social Outcast

Chicago–If you haven’t brought your store to the social networking sites yet, you may be missing a key marketing opportunity.

Heather Dougherty, director of research at Internet monitor Hitwise, says her company’s data shows social networks are no longer just an online playground for younger users.

Speaking Tuesday at the Internet Retailer Conference and Expo here, Dougherty said that shift to an older demographic is even more pronounced on Facebook. Compared to 2005, Facebook traffic by age 18-24 is down 28%, but up 7% by 25-34 year olds, 11% by 35-44 year olds, and 18% by 45-54 year olds in 2008.

Some examples of retailers using Facebook as a marketing tool include Amazon, which has an application that enables gift purchasing for your friends when their birthday is coming up. Sears recently used the social network to enable social shopping for prom dresses.

But it’s Victoria’s Secret that has really mastered the art of Facebook, according to Dougherty. The marketer has almost 370,000 fans of its Pink brand going to its page for coupons and news, and allows fans to upload photo of themselves wearing the branded gear.

Then there’s online shoe merchant Zappos, which launched an application recently that allowed customers to show brand affinity and display “I heart Zappos” badges on their social networks – whether it’s Facebook or MySpace – and blogs.

What do you need to know before you hit the social networks? Dougherty cited four things:

  1. Marketers must use caution or mistrust will erode the audience. The overall social marketing audience has seen a decline over the past several months, partially due to backlash against advertising and piracy. So the overall experience, if not done right, can look transparent.
  2. Switching barriers are low. Social network traffic often moves from one site to another, suggesting that users have multiple accounts and switch loyalty from one network to another quickly.
  3. Your brand’s fans can act as advocates. Provide them the social tools that allow your customers to help spread your message to exhibit their affinity, and engage them further by offering rewards and recognition.
  4. Social networks will become a primary channel for targeted marketing. As their role as a portal increases, social networks will serve as a channel to build and maintain relationships with your customers.