Tuesday, 25 November 2008

2009 will see social media hit the mainstream for UK retail

If 2008 saw the UK tentatively engage with social media tools, 2009 will see us embrace with open arms. The early adopters have ducked in, experimented and put in place creative, compelling social media strategies that have engaged their customers and created a lot of noise in the online maelstrom. There have been a few learning curves to boot and the occasional backlash. Social media is not a passing fad, the concept of enabling your customers to engage with your brand on their terms is one way to start building an online buzz. Some individual tools may be short lived but the concept is not. The experience online is becoming increasingly important and as the world descends into discount fever, those brands that compete on more than just price will benefit.

Take a look at what the more enlightened companies are doing in the social media space. Firstly, let’s look at Facebook. Very much maligned yet undeniably has had a huge impact on how people interact. There are 8.4m UK users alone and 67m active users worldwide. Wiggly Wigglers has taken the ethos of Facebook to heart and developed a branded page that offers excellent content and value to members, interacting with them at both the personal and company level. What it has done well is to post regular content that informs customers as well as posts that are light hearted, humorous and engaging. This has resulted in 1,063 members of the group who are all sharing information with each other, much of which is related back to Wiggly Wigglers products and service. The company has recently won the Global Dell Small Business Excellence Award. An interesting move saw Amazon acquire Shelfari (a network site dedicated to book lovers) in October 2008. This was a commercially cute way of developing its social media presence whilst giving direct access to a highly targeted audience who can buy books direct from Amazon.

You Tube is another interesting prospect for customer engagement. Hitwise data shows that UK traffic to online video websites has roughly tripled in the last year and You Tube accounts for 70% of that traffic. The number of branded video channels is increasing, with major retailers like Diesel embracing this channel for brand engagement. Diesel has 516 subscribers and 17,968 channel views (as of November 24th). If creating a channel is not your bag, then it is easy to load videos to the site to showcase your company. Acquired by Google, You Tube also displays Google Adwords adverts on search results…. A nice way for them to get more click revenue!

One of the more intriguing sites is Twitter. This dispenses with the bells and whistles and simply enables you to give a status update (max 140 characters, aka microblogging) and to follow other members and be followed too. You have a basic update list to tell you what you and your followers are up to. Many companies are now monitoring the twittersphere [go with it….]for reference of their brand and then engaging with the twitterati where relevant. JetBlue in the US is a great example and their actions have spawned blogs on the subject. At the same time, these companies are tweeting [Twitterspeak for posting updates] to their heart’s content. Even the UK Government has muscled in with the kids, creating a twitter feed for No.10 Downing Street with 6,056 followers. If you’re feeling voyeuristic, check out twittervision where you can view the latest tweets on a global map! I really should get out more….

Similar to tweeting is the global phenomenon of blogging. In the blogosphere [detect a theme?] content is being generated rapidly by both individuals and companies. In the last 3 years, UK traffic to blogs has increased by 208%. With pingback and trackback functionality, blogging is increasingly linking people together and having a significant SEO effect. Is this relevant to your brand? Definitely. Take a look at what Ikea is embracing with the Ikea Fans site. I’m also a fan of the Topshop style blog; simple and effective and you can also sign-up to the RSS feed. The secret to a successful blog is….. well, I’m not going to give that away for free am I!

I’ve saved the peak of my enthusiasm for the subject of Customer Reviews. There has been increased uptake of the major UK providers Feefo, Bazaarvoice and Reevo and some retailers are also implementing bespoke solutions on-site. A good example of how to do reviews is Boden. If you really aren’t convinced about the power of reviews, take a peek at some of the stats. People inherently trust independent feedback more than your own product information. Providing customer reviews not only adds validity (and SEO friendly content) but has also been proven to increase order values and conversion. I don’t think customer reviews is a competitive advantage so much as a necessity.

So, social is the new black. I’ve not even touched on the more gimmicky but nevertheless popular aspects such as widgets, wikis and applications. For examples of e-inbusiness Clients going forth into social waters, take a look at New Look’s My Look community forum, and the Facebook presence of both New Look and Radley.

The eCommerce industry is itself using blogs, forums and reviews daily on sites like Chinwag and eConsultancy, so why have so few committed to social media for their customers?

I think we will see more exciting uses of social media in 2009 and we hope to help you become one of the converted! I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, so to embrace the social media theme I’ve started this blog which is also linked to Technorati. The blog starts with this article, so please tell me what you think. Are you excited by the social media potential for your brand? Do you have a SMO strategy? Or are you finding it hard to work out how your brand can be relevant in social spheres? Or can you share new information to increase my socialsphere? All comments will be welcome.