Five Steps to Establishing an Effective Social Media Presence

Apr 18, 2012

Topic: Technology

For every small business person exalting the advantages of social media, there seem to be just as many people confused and even intimidated by the ever growing list of options. Still others seem to rush onto Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest with little advance planning.

With that in mind OIA consulted some leading outdoor retailers, brands and social media gurus for guidance on how local independent specialty retailers and outdoor brands should approach social media. Below is a list of steps to help guide you, no matter how far along you are with your social media efforts.

Establish your objectives. Before setting up your first Facebook page, Twitter account or YouTube channel, take the time to identify your objectives. If you are a retailer, are you looking to drive traffic to your brick-and-mortar store, your online store, or both? Is your goal to build your brand beyond your geographic market? Perhaps you are just looking to create a feedback loop with your customers.

“In North Carolina, Nantahala Outdoor Center has had tremendous success reaching out to our rafting guests via Facebook and turning these casual outdoor adventurers onto the other facets of NOC – our retail, events, and other programs,” notes Lauren Dieterich, retail marketing manager.

“Understand your target market, understand your product offering and understand the channel,” advises Paul Kirwin, founder and CEO of Channel Signal, which specializes in helping outdoor brands gather and analyze what people are saying about them on social media channels.

One caveat: While social media can help you do all these things and ultimately lead to higher sales, experts generally advise against using it primarily as a sales channel.

Choose a single platform. Start by selecting a single platform. While there are tools available that allow you to automate content feeds to multiple social media channels and then monitor activity on each on a single dashboard, it’s important to remember that you will still have to create or reformat content for each channel.

“Choose a channel and focus on that channel,” Kirwin said.  “Expecting an employee to maintain a quality dialogue on more than one or two channels on top of their other job responsibilities is a recipe for failure. We’ve been doing this for a number of years and it can become wildly overwhelming in matter of months. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and do it well.”

Many outdoor companies appear to be coalescing around Facebook because it is so conducive to creating and sustaining a dialogue.

Connecticut retailer Morsel Munk has cut back its use of YouTube, Foursquare and Twitter to focus on Facebook. “We were too fragmented in how we were approaching social media, whereas now we are more thoughtful,” said Brigitte Rouleau, who owns and operates the business with her husband Scott. “Even within Facebook we were not consistent with the type of posts. One day we were talking about camping, then waterskiing or posting brainteasers. We were not thinking far enough ahead.”

These days, Rouleau tries to map out her Facebook campaigns at least two weeks at a time.  She makes sure she posts at least once a day and runs a contest every week so fans have a reason to visit.

Create quality content. Kirwin urges retailers and brands to adopt a voice that reflects their brand personality. That may seem self-evident, but he said he has seen too many retailers throw up and then abandon a Facebook page. It’s okay to plug an upcoming sale or arrival of new products occasionally, but content should overwhelmingly celebrate the sports, events, clubs, non-profits and brands you support. Entice staff and customers to contribute content to your blog in exchange for additional discounts or store credits or swag.

Build your audience. One of the quickest ways to build up your fan base is to convert your email list to Facebook fans, Twitter followers or YouTube subscribers. Offer your email subscribers an incentive to become a fan, such as entry in a sweepstakes, access to a private sale, e-coupons, swag or entry to a “Friends and Family” sale. Most of the email marketing platforms, including Constant Contact and iContact, now offer social campaign tools for this purpose, complete with dashboards to help you track and manage your campaign.

Identify, cultivate and reward your brand evangelists. Finally, remember that not all social media fans are created equal. Take the time to identify, cultivate and reward those people who emerge as brand evangelists. For some ideas on that, you can read our next story.