Retailers, Start Your Engines: Winning the Social Media Race

This week 7,000 people descend on San Diego for the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, one of the largest conferences for the e-commerce industry. Its website promotes the event with this catchy messaging: “E-Commerce Shifts Into Overdrive: The Race Is On!” With the number of American online buyers to jump almost 15% by 2015 and e-commerce spending set to increase steadily over the next four years ($269 billion in 2015, up from $188 billion in 2010), there’s no doubt all sectors of online business are moving at an incredible speed. The analogy is especially fitting for retailers working to not just keep their brands up to date online, but also surprise and delight customers with relevant content and online experiences.

image by tharrin/Flickr

They’ve got it right; the race IS on. Successful social media teams and racing teams have quite a bit in common. Here are 4 things to keep in mind to be the first driver to pass the checkered flag – or engage customers and drive them to checkout.

Speed
If online marketing and customer interaction are anything, they’re fast. Speedy service has always been a selling point for retailers, but in the social media world, it’s critical. Customers expect fast response times to customer service issues and questions posted on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Working to respond quickly to customers isn’t just a mantra of good community management, although it’s helped companies like e-tail giant Zappos differentiate itself. A recent study shows that 64% of worldwide Twitter users are more likely to buy from a company that responds to tweeted questions.

Speed also becomes a factor for content creation. Just like fashion trendsetters who break the news of the hottest new looks, retailers – who are increasingly serving as publishers themselves – must produce content that consistently and frequently engages customers. The content delivery mechanism is a race in itself, too. Retailers must be able to keep up with their customers in terms of the platforms they are using, whether those are blogs, location-based services, QR codes, social shopping sites, social sharing options – the list goes on. For example, fashion retailer Perry Ellis has offered everything from a live stream of Fashion Week shows to its latest Foursquare campaign.

The Competition
You’re racing around the proverbial track at 200 miles per hour with just inches between your car and the next. Running a competitive retail digital program can feel oddly similar. This means staying nimble, creating and posting relevant content, and launching innovative campaigns that engage (and re-engage) shoppers better and faster than your competitors. Facebook contests are a popular way to incentivize consumers to establish a social connection with one brand over another (after all, 58% of consumers follow retailers to find discounts, according to Shop.org’s 2011 Social Commerce Study.) A sampling of great contests currently running by retailers include Backcountry.com’s Black Diamond Photo contest and KillerDana.com’s boardshort giveaway sweepstakes.

The Team
Winning drivers are the ones photographed with trophies at the end of a race, but everyone knows the pit crew is the engine behind the prize. Retail digital and social media teams are no different. It takes a disciplined focus on brand voice and consistency, community conversation moderation, dedication to customer service, and a true understanding of your customers to attract new buyers and loyal followers. Retailers who do these well create brand evangelists and instigate lively conversations that are worth their weight in gold. (Beauty and personal care brands are especially good at this.)

Drive (also known as guts, courage, or willingness to take chances)
Race car drivers don’t play it safe. Retailers who play it safe in social media don’t win races, either. Customers’ attention is fractured, and there are more places than ever to spend dollars online. Launching fun, innovative online campaigns help strengthen relationships and boost the likelihood that customers will share branded content with their own circles of social network friends.

Marketers in the driver’s seat at retail companies are kicking it into overdrive, as Internet Retailer suggests. The stakes are high, and some retailers will speed ahead. But the real winners are customers, who will enjoy online brand experiences that interest them and make it simple for them to be loyal customers.

Are you at the Internet Retailer conference this week? Stop by Shoutlet’s booth, #1955, to discuss how retailers use social management platform Shoutlet to power their social media programs.