It is clear that your customers are using social media, but how can you use it to create sales? The answer is to create trust.
Being Social by Leslie Carothers
Many people in the furniture industry are asking themselves, “Where is the traffic I used to get?” “Where can I find the consumers who are ready to buy?”
Here is what I believe has changed- besides the economy:
Back in the 1950s and 1960s business people of all types, including most furniture store owners and managers did a lot of business networking in their communities. They joined local clubs (Rotary, Lyons, etc.) and met local people. They got to know their neighbors and customers personally-face to face. And, gradually, their neighbors and customers got to know and trust them.
Over the last 10 years or so, the ability to do face to face business networking has shifted. The amount of time we have to accomplish an ever mounting work/life flow has changed. Women and men are juggling hectic work schedules with young kids and, many times, older parents and young kids are overwhelmed with school, religious, charitable, family and friend activities.
In addition, we have recently been through a period where our most trusted institutions and corporations let us down and hundreds of thousands of people have lost their life savings, their jobs, their sense of security. We don’t TRUST anymore.
That’s what’s changed- It’s that simple-and that hard.
It’s that hard because the way that most retailers generate retail traffic is through traditional advertising that gives customers a deal of some sort. And, that still works for those companies with enough volume to thrive on lower margins. But, for the rest of you, continuously low margins will drive you out of business and... that is just what is, unfortunately, happening.
What is working in today’s economy is online business-to-consumer networking- through two way interactive conversations with consumers who are actively choosing to listen and communicate with local stores.
You may ask, “given the constraints on my prospects’ time, why should I believe they would choose to interact with me online?” That would be a fair question.
The answer: some won’t. You’re right. but, some will and many are. Consumers for furniture, as we all know, are generally women.
Many of these women are Moms. They have complete responsibility, in many cases, for furnishing their homes.
Moms are starved for time, but paradoxically they are spending more of this limited time online. They are also skeptical of traditional advertising appeals they find there.
Moms are estimated to be responsible for $2.1 trillion of U.S. consumer spending, controlling about 80% of household expenditures. That’s according to BSM Media. 87% percent are using the web regularly to research and buy, per ComScore. Mom bloggers represent the fastest growing group of bloggers in the world-and they listen to each other. Nielsen Online now monitors 10,000-13,000 Mom blogs at any one time.
Since many of today’s Moms are online and blogging, you need to make an effort, using some sort of social media, to become part of their network of trust.
How Not to Use Social Media
Let’s get back to basics for a minute for those of you who are new to the social media world. What is the definition of social media? It’s the use of any online media tool that can be used to be social with consumers. What does the word “social” mean in this context? The same thing it means in the offline world. It’s a two way conversation that forms a relationship.
Online social media is sometimes referred to as “New Media” but if you use it the same way you use traditional media tools, you won’t get very far, because you will be missing out on the “relationship” part. Unfortunately, a number of furniture retailers are doing just that, and they are missing the whole point! More about that later in this article.
Who Is Using Social Media?
There are literally thousands of people in the following categories using Twitter, YouTube, Viddler, Facebook. LinkedIn, Hulu, etc., including: brick and mortar furniture retailers, interior designers, home stagers, real estate agents, renovation specialists, kitchen and bath designers, home builders, furniture designers, furniture trend specialists, e-commerce only furniture retailers, manufacturers and suppliers, editorial people from all over the world involved in furniture, interior design and home building, green furniture lovers, eco trend people.
How Is The Furniture Industry Using Twitter?
A number of screen shots from Twitter accompany this article. Look at the “tweets” closely and take some time to visit these and other retailers’ Twitter pages (for example, www.twitter.com/ SleepNumberSara) to see how they are using Twitter to drive sales. When using Twitter or other online social networking tools, consider how you might react to a person you met in a social situation who, every time you saw him, said something like, “by the way Jon, we’ve got a half price sale on recliners this week. Come check it out.” Would you want to run into him again? Of course not! You might talk business, you might talk about personal things, but you can’t build trust with a one-way conversation that consists of sales pitches! It is inappropriate... especially before you’ve established a personal relationship. Common sense social networking tips follow:
- Let your real personality shine through so they begin to trust you. If they trust you, do you think they will go to a competitor down the street first?
- Don’t use social media solely to talk about your latest specials, sales or deals. You will largely be ignored.
- Try to help people by sharing your knowledge and information. It will be appreciated.
- Include links to interesting content that you find that fits with your store’s image such as news items, decorating advice, educational pieces, videos or content posted to your website.
- Twitter can be the virtual door to content on your site and in your store.
- Find the right person to represent your store. Don’t hire an intern or give this responsibility to a low level employee. If you wouldn’t send this person to interact with customers at a non-virtual event, then don’t do it online .Online conversations index on Google so they stay “searchable” by consumers forever.
- Make an effort to follow people on Twitter who matter to your business, and talk with them a lot! Just like in real life, social networking is a two-way conversation. Make sure you prioritize it every day. The worst thing you can do is to make a half-hearted effort at conversational marketing online. What message does this send to your potential customers?
If you take social media seriously and commit to it, you will see relationships develop that benefit your business in many other ways aside from sales and customer service. Partnerships will form, you will find information you need to get a new customer or try a new service. And, out of the blue, people you don’t know will connect you with consumers who need to buy furniture in your area.
I hope you will join in and connect with your local customers. They’re there, waiting for you to engage and listen to them.
Updated Social Networking Statistics
What are the stats and what are the key facts about social networking? Here are the numbers according to Nielsen, as of June 2009:
- The average time spent on site for Facebook in June was... are you ready? 4 hours and 33 minutes per month. This is a 240% year over year increase. That’s an average with some people hardly using Facebook, and others using it much, much more.
- The average time spent on site for Twitter for June was 31 minutes and 17 seconds. That’s a 522% year over year increase.
- There were over 85 million unique visitors to Facebook in June, a 198%
year over year increase.
- There were over 21 million unique visitors to Twitter in June-a 1928% increase year over year increase!
What do these statistics mean for you? Your potential customers are spending much of their free time online vs. coming into your stores first!.
Don’t really believe that your older customers are doing this? More stats:
Nielsen Online, Global Index, December 2007-December 2008 reported that, “The greatest growth on Facebook has come from those in the 35-49 year old age group (24.1 million).
Furthermore, Facebook has added almost twice as many 50-64 year old visitors (13.6) million than under 18 year old visitors (7.3 million).”
Don’t really believe your customers are viewing video content? More stats:
Nielsen Wire: July 17th, 2009 notes that, “Facebook was the fastest growing social media site by both total video streams and unique viewers of video. Total streams increased 434% year over year from 10.1 million to 54 million streams. Unique viewers of video increased 397 percent, from 2.4 million in June of 2008 to 12 million in June of 2009”
Costs To Consider When Starting A Serious Social Media Program
So, how can you determine if the return on investment you might get on social media will be worth it for your company?
First look at your fully loaded annual investment in “Old Media”. This includes the cash you are investing in local television, radio, newspaper and direct mail. Also take into account the value of your time and how much you are paying people to prepare, place and track your ads.
Now ask yourself if the foot traffic you are generating from this investment is of the same quantity as in year’s past and are these consumers QUALIFIED, INFORMED and SERIOUS or are they just there because of a sales event and not too likely to come back until the next one? What are your margins on these sales?
If your costs are high and your return has diminished, you might want to take a small portion of your budget (see costs below) and invest it in a social media effort.
The MEDIA is FREE. BUT, there is a cost associated with learning to use the media, setting up the media and measuring the results of the media. So what are these costs?
Set strategy. Do not implement social media tools without a strategy in place. Social media conversations and comments stay online forever. It is all indexed on Google for every customer, potential customer and competitor to see.
Learning to use the tools. There is a lot of good information available for free online and more furniture specific information can be found through outsourcing.
Set up: The initial set up and implementation costs associated with blogs, landing pages, etc. are usually less than $2,500.
Execution: Execution costs-can be done in house by your own team or can be outsourced.
Caveat: Do NOT execute a social media strategy without a website that is updated. Why? Once you invite customers to connect with you online through social media conversational marketing, they WILL visit your website. To them, it is your virtual store. You want their virtual store experience to be as good as it can be. You don’t have to sell online, you just have to have a “virtual front door” that represents your brand message in the right way or else they will be turned off and you will not get them back.
Fine tuning: There are modest costs associated with the fine tuning of your strategy and continuing education to implement new tools that become available.
Measurement: You will need measurement tools to gauge the effectiveness of your social media efforts. This might include Techrigy’s SM2, Radian 6 and Scout Box and the integration (eventually) of your CRM efforts with the social media tools you are using to generate leads. For instance, Salesforce.com and Toucan’s Twitter integration allows you to track and follow leads you are getting in Twitter seamlessly. These last two items, monitoring and CRM, will cost you anywhere between $2,000 and $10,000 per year depending on the level of sophistication and granularity in information you desire.
It will take you one week or less of concentrated time and training to begin using social media tools. Then you will need to invest anywhere between 1 week and 4 months to start seeing actual sales results and customer service savings from your efforts.
Leslie Carothers is CEO of The Kaleidoscope Partnership- a social media agency for the home furnishings and related companies. Along with her COO and business partner, Sev Ritchie, they strategize, implement, execute and train companies how to use social media marketing to increase top line revenue and decrease bottom line expenses for increased profits. They are also international speakers on social media and other internet related tools home furnishings companies can use to grow their own businesses and brands in today’s connected economy. For more information visit http://tkpartnership.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.