Multichannel Merchants Need to Be More Social

Are you sitting on the sidelines of the social media scene? You need to get on board with it, but also keep in mind that social media strategies should not replace existing marketing tactics.

Speaking Wednesday at the Hudson Valley Direct Marketing Association’s seventh annual Meet the Presidents event in Greenwich, CT, the panel said the shift of purchasing patterns to the Internet means marketers need to expand their online horizons.

And thanks to spam concerns, marketers relying on e-mail need to find other means of getting their messages across online in additional ways. This could mean joining or creating a community on a social network such as Facebook or MySpace, or launching a blog to support your products.

So how can a merchant rise above the clutter of e-mail and other marketing messages by using social media? Just like any direct marketer would – by being relevant and sending a targeted message, says Joseph Feigenbaum, president of TDO Marketing Communications.

“Social media is a component of the future of direct marketing,” Feigenbaum says. “But it shouldn’t replace all of your direct marketing tactics.”

Added Valorie Luther, CEO of public relations and marketing firm Creative Concepts, consumers are online talking about your products and services. And if you’re not listening to them, you won’t know what they want.

But how do you win over new customers on social networking sites like Facebook? Not with advertising, Luther says.

“Advertising on the social networks is not working,” Luther says. “The business community has not quite figured out yet that people using Facebook have created a community, and the users do not want to be bothered by people that are outsiders.”

So how are you going to reach them? Just like you would at a conference or a trade show. Network, but don’t give the online social community a hard sell.

“As a marketer, you can join a community, but don’t go in with the intent to sell,” Luther says. “If you are going to talk about your product, come in with full disclosure that you represent your company. Then just continue to work it.”

Matthew Staudt, president and country head of Interactive Marketing Group, says the relevance is kept when you market to the customer in the way he or she says she wants to receive communication.

“The keyword at my company has been ‘evolution,'” Staudt says. “We evolved as opportunities came up, and we’ve pretty much played through them.”

Both the social network sites and the blogosphere have become ubiquitous, too, meaning they are not just a part of the Internet solely reserved for teens and 20-somethings. And blogging gives marketers a chance to put its brand out there and make itself an expert in your field, Luther says.

“Everyone is online now, and readers love blogs, so whatever you’re talking about, people are easily going to pick up on,” Luther says. “Bigelow Tea is one of our biggest clients, and we have people on the blogs telling us all the time that they are grandmas. All ages are coming [online] and chatting.”

But if you do decide to create a blog, how do you get people to read it? More traditional ways would be with a press release. You also would want to reach out to people with similar agendas through the blogosphere, by leaving your blog’s address when leaving comments on similar Web logs.

“However you are reaching out to your customers, everything you do, you put your blog address out there,” Luther says. “And people will come.”