Spreading Holiday Cheer

Connecting with shoppers via Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Tumblr

A lot has changed in the past year on the social media block. Facebook and Twitter are no longer the only two major players helping retailers connect and engage with their shoppers in real time. Consumers are flocking to platforms such as social-photo sharing sites Pinterest and Instagram, and some brands are even creating their own social blog accounts on Tumblr.

As retailers start to get ready for the busiest shopping time of the year, experts say they must consider how to best reach their target audience via the social platforms on which they already engaged.

“Unlike print, radio and television, social media gives some control to shoppers, allowing them to share with friends, comment or even curate,” said David Dorf, senior director of technology strategy at Redwood City, Calif.-based Oracle. “Done right, a smaller budget can actually reach more people and ‘go viral,’ allowing shoppers to participate and shape the message. These efforts can sometimes be stickier than traditional advertising and can engage these shoppers in ways that retain them in the long run.”

Here are some suggestions for how to make the most of the key social media platforms this holiday season — and all through the year:

Twitter: In addition to pumping out last-minute deals to followers, Twitter is unprecedented when it comes to optimizing direct-to-consumer marketing and customer service. Retailers can take advantage by combing through tweets and searching for keywords.

“If people are tweeting about having a sore throat, we’ve seen drug stores tweet back with a deal for cough drops,” said Molly Garris, digital strategy director for global ad agency Leo Burnett. “If a shopper says they are looking for a last-minute gift for a child, tweet them a suggestion and a discount code. Social listening is powerful, especially when it’s done at the right time and with the right message.” 

Solutions are also available from companies such as New York City-based LocalResponse, which “listens” > for keywords and locations, and tweets targeted messages.

Meanwhile, Oracle’s Dorf recommends having someone on Live Chat and social media 24/7 to field customer-service inquiries.

Instagram: Although Instagram has been around since 2010, its growth skyrocketed in the past year, boasting 50 million members in the spring — around the time Facebook acquired it for a rumored $1 billion.

“Brands can get consumer consideration at a new speed,” Garris said. “Coupled with beautiful photography, companies such as Banana Republic are presenting looks in ways that resembles a high-end brand. Merchants are also sharing pictures that hint at future trends, which make shoppers feel like they have insider access.”

Pinterest: Pinterest — which also launched in 2010 — has become one of the most buzzed-about social networks, and retailers such as Macy’s and Nordstrom are already working hard to tackle the medium.

“Pinterest allows users to upload and share products — and a retailer can benefit from click-throughs to its website — but it’s also great for providing do-it-yourself project ideas and gifts,” Garris said. “Retailers can get creative and show how to make something special with their products.”

Facebook: In addition to posting pictures on Facebook that give context to products — such as a sweater for the dorm or a blanket for watching TV — integrating a Facebook Like button on product pages allows shoppers to share items with others. The images then show up in their friends’ news feeds, which furthers the brand’s reach.

“Brands aren’t necessarily seeing a lot of purchases from Facebook, but the ads are useful and so is encouraging people to share their purchases on the site,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, VP e-business and channel strategy at Forrester Research.

Tumblr: Brands such as Kate Spade, Anthropologie and Saks Fifth Avenue are turning to Tumblr — which rakes in 250 million page views each day — to create destination pages for fans, where they can check out pictures, videos, editorial and other multimedia content that bring products to life. Think of it as a modern-day, interactive catalog on the Web.

Overall, social media sites hold the key to engaging shoppers this holiday shopping season in ways that could last throughout the year.

“Broadcasting deals might drive sales in the short term, but smart retailers will find ways to establish a deeper, long-lasting relationship,” Dorf said.