Social media plays an increasingly influential role in customer/company interactions, and businesses actively seek out those interactions. As of mid-July, Disney had nearly 45 million “likes” on Facebook, while Target had nearly 22 million. Despite the continued blurring of the lines between social media and commerce, however, businesses still have to determine how to effectively integrate the two.
“Our belief is that the idea of putting commerce into a social environment isn’t necessarily brand right,” says Billy May, group vice president of e-commerce, digital and CRM with Abercrombie & Fitch, parent company of Hollister. “It’s not necessarily solving a customer problem.”
Hollister has nearly 600 stores around the world (about 500 in the United States) offering apparel and accessories inspired by the Southern California lifestyle. The team at Hollister considered creating a Facebook store, but ultimately decided that wasn’t the right path for the brand. Instead, they felt a more relevant approach was to “take social and infuse it into a commerce environment,” May says.
Hollister teamed with Mass Relevance, a firm that helps brands and retailers filter and integrate social experiences into their media and marketing efforts. Mass Relevance CEO Sam Decker co-founded the firm after a stint as chief marketing officer with a social commerce company that focused largely on offering retailers a means of gathering and using customer feedback like ratings and reviews.
Although reviews have become a key element of many brands’ online presence, Decker realized that consumers wanted other ways of connecting with retailers. As the popularity of Twitter and Facebook skyrocketed, “in a short amount of time, the consumer audience … wanted interaction,” he says. Decker saw a gap, however, between the amount of time consumers were spending on social media and the amount of time brands and retailers were dedicating to these venues.
“The consumer decision-making journey has changed,” he says. “Most prospective purchasers review numerous screens — reviews, Facebook recommendations, Twitter content — before deciding what to buy.”
Successful retailers need to reach consumers through a mix of what Decker calls “paid, owned and earned” media. Paid media typically refers to traditional marketing efforts that a company purchases, such as TV and print advertisements. Owned media might include a company website or blog. Earned media refers to the publicity a company gains when someone outside the firm — a customer or the media — mentions it on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Hollister spends very little on paid marketing, May says, preferring to interact with its customers through such venues as Facebook (more than 10 million fans) and Twitter (560,000 followers). May points out that teens — the company’s core market — are so connected that traditional, paid advertising is less effective than it was even three to five years ago.
To better connect with customers, Hollister launched a Flock-to-Unlock Twitter campaign. Gaining 50,000 tweets with a #inHollister hashtag within a one-day period unlocked a limited-time offer of select t-shirts at a promotional price.
“We wanted to engender conversation and create consumer interest,” May says, “and hopefully drive critical mass in such a way that the behavior had a payoff.”
Hollister launched the campaign just before spring break season. It unfolded primarily on Twitter, but Hollister kept its customers aware of the campaign’s progress, regularly updating the percentage of tweets still needed to unlock the promotion on its website and Facebook page.
By any measure, the campaign was a huge success: Online sales jumped 45 percent over a typical day and social media mentions of Hollister skyrocketed 600 percent during the period. “Consumer receptivity absolutely exceeded expectations,” May says. “We were surprised at how quickly consumers responded.” In fact, the company sold through 95 percent of the stock it purchased for the promotion.
The promotion “fit very closely to our DNA,” May says. Rather than purchasing passive, one-way messages via paid media, the promotion was “a way for us to drive engagement and encourage interaction with the brand,” he says.
Over the past few years, Mass Relevance’s solutions have integrated 25 billion pieces of social content — everything from Tweets, photos and Facebook posts to polls and reviews — within its clients’ digital displays, including websites, mobile applications, in-store display screens and other devices. “You want to engage the audience across any digital experience,” Decker says.
The software aggregates and filters content according to company-set rules, Decker says, such as rejecting social media mentions or reviews that include profanity or competitor information. Social media content that complies with the established criteria is included within the company’s digital display.
Outdoor gear and apparel retailer Patagonia worked with Mass Relevance, the band Wilco and nonprofit organizations HeadCount and the League of Conservation Voters to develop a “Vote for the Environment” campaign in the weeks before the 2012 elections. Customers were asked to share what they loved about the environment, using the hashtag #becauseilove. Patagonia then included images of their responses within in-store displays, on its Facebook page and in displays during Wilco concerts. Not only did the promotion engage Patagonia’s customers, it helped register 110,000 new voters.
Although Hollister doesn’t want to recreate the Flock-to-Unlock promotion — “it would lose its impact,” May says — the company is planning similar future promotions because it was an effective way to engage customers and track the results. That’s in contrast to most forms of paid advertising, where it’s often not clear just where the ads are showing up or who is seeing them.
“This was a way to talk to fans and drive influencers, while at the same time having a very effective campaign ROI,” May says.