Friday, 16 January 2009

What will 2009 bring for social retail in the UK?

I've been lazy and skipped a week in this blog but I had a good reason. I've been busy. First recovering from new year indulgence, second getting my thoughts together on where we are all going with social retail in the UK. I've been banging the drum at e-inbusiness for the last 12 months about the value of social media and how its application to retail is evolving quickly. Nurture and nature. Nurture from the brands and the social evangelists, nature from the communities it is engaging. 

So this week's blog is about the potential, not the application. My current horizons are limited on purpose to focus on key social sites: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Digg, Delicious, WAYN, Flickr, Technorati etc. This is the tip of the iceberg - there are so many social avenues online, it is like naming all the stars in the galaxy. Microsoft has now launched its Windows Live community....could this be the new Facebook? It is early days and the application is rather basic but Microsoft has the reach with its hotmail base and I’ve already seen invites from friends outside the UK to join up to their Live network. It will be interesting to see which social networks stand the test of time and which satisfy the typical shelf life of a fad.

So back to my point this week. 2009 is the time for retail to take social media more seriously. 2008 was a time for experimentation and some people got it spot on, others were lazy in their attempts to leverage the social vibe.

I think some brands took the sinful approach of banging up a profile on Facebook and thinking “job done”. There are also some companies whose employees have gone and set up their own groups with some seriously damaging content for the brand. Check out the Currys offering and read entry 9 in the news section. I’m not sure the Marketing Director would embrace it! There are currently 1,324 members, many of whom are disgruntled and have the claws out. My shining example of delivering a positive engagement via Facebook is Wiggly Wigglers and it was good to see them hailed in this month’s Catlaogue & e-Business magazine (pp18-19 if you have it).

Twitter continues to excite me and social buzz has to be a key element in a social model. I have frequently used the example of Starbucks (with over 30,000 followers) to highlight how brands can give short and sweet updates to their fans. Now I’ve been shown the perfect Twitter blog that contain a list of brands currently tweeting away, I highly recommend you check it out here. One of the interesting players is Delicious, so we have a social media site using a buzz channel to spread the message. Tidy.

So how do retailers need to sharpen up to get social in the right way? The key word is community. A community is not built overnight and is not created in one place. A community is far reaching, has diverse members and a will of its own. A community also needs leadership and the belief that what is wants and says is important to those leaders.

Brands need to think big and join the dots. Set-up a commanding profile on a site like Facebook, have a Twitter feed, post videos to YouTube, photos to Flickr, get busy on Digg, Stumbleupon, Delicious, start your blog, link it to sites like Technorati, find your brand ambassadors and reward them for spreading the love. Make sure all of these elements work to a shared vision and the content is co-ordinated. Most of all, don’t launch and then sit back. Social media demands daily attention, it needs to be prioritised and should be driven by someone who is passionate about it. If you don’t live it, you can’t love it. I was recently sent a blog by Kevin Gibbons that gives an example of a brand doing it the right way.

Building a community starts with a vision and a message. You must know what you want to say and what value you can provide. Then you need to give your prospective members the tools they need to interact with you on their terms. You need nurture and nature. Nurture to encourage, to participate and share information, to answer questions and make people feel involved. Nature to give people the free will to contribute, to post content and receive content where they want, when they want.

Perhaps this is a form of social regeneration, building ties between people to feel a sense of belonging. Perhaps this can help break down cultural barriers. You may laugh and think I’ve gone overboard but why not? More and more people interact online, from the furthest corners of the world. Why shouldn’t social media be a means to bring people closer together?

Danger for the brand that treats its community like a traditional marketing channel.

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