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Getting Realistic about Social Media

Posted on  | June 13, 2012   Bookmark and Share
Written by | Ian Griffith

I was recently asked what practical advice I would give an audience of wine store owners who want to use social media campaigns to increase sales. My response was not to bother, which reflected the experience of the retailers in the room, none of whom had an eCommerce website. My answer shocked me a little as I’ve had great experiences using social media, but from a practical perspective I recognize that the measurable impact of social media for a retail store is pretty small. For a store with no experience selling online there are several more significant steps to take that will produce sales.

A recent Fast Company magazine article, projected that 80% of US companies will participate in social media marketing this year. The article likens the current climate to the early days of TV where companies are experimenting with the platform, but aren’t seeing or expecting to see revenue from it. This lack of accountability is partly due to the fact that social media marketing can be notoriously difficult to measure, and are unpredictable in their impact as companies are often surprised by what takes off and what doesn’t.

A review of the web analytics for the top 40 retailers on the BevSites eCommerce platform gives a pretty consistent view of the impact social media has in driving referrals to the store website. This group of stores includes several multi-million dollar websites that are pretty sophisticated with their marketing. Yet, only 10 stores were able to generate more than 1% of their referrals from social media. A deeper analysis of the referral sources shows that some stores have been very successful on Yelp which accounted for between 60-80% of their social referrals. By removing the Yelp results only 5 stores are driving more that 1% of their traffic from social media. These stores were using the social platforms in a truly social way, by engaging new and existing customers on Facebook, Twitter or even Yahoo Answers.

It could be argued that the benefits of social media don’t show up with Analytics tracking. New customers might be influenced by reviews or a post from their friend’s Facebook news feed, but the transaction or even the visit to the website might not follow a measurable path from social media. It is also true that the impact of social interactions accumulates over time and can have a multiplier effect.

The following are the different levels of social engagement we see for wine stores:

  1. The minimal level of effort involves claiming your Yelp, Foursquare and Google+ Local pages. These pages represent your store and will collect consumer reviews without much interaction on the part of the store. Setting them up with good pictures and logistical details is well worth the effort.
  2. The next step is where the store is creating its own content. At a minimum these stores are republished their email campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. This grows to include interesting articles from other sources.
  3. The final stage is where things start to get social; where customers are being engaged. The goal here is growing the comments, likes and retweets you receive against your content. Be patient and expect small numbers.

In deciding your level of participation you want to look at it in the context of your overall marketing strategy and how social media fits into that plan? Who are your customers and where do they hang out? And finally who is going to feed the beast? It is rare for a store owner to be drawn to social media and have the capacity to feed it while juggling the priorities of the store. It is more common stores will set loose salespeople who are already active online and gravitate to using Facebook or Twitter to express themselves. For stores with some experience selling online social media could well be worth the effort, but proceed with caution, be patient, and expect the numbers to be small.


3 Responses to “Getting Realistic about Social Media”

  1. Ian Griffith
    June 15th, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

    Some interesting feedback about social media referral rates for winery websites from Andrew of Vin65: “Often times 10+% of their referring traffic is coming from Facebook alone.”

    This is very interesting. I suspect there are 2 things going on; being the product “creator” the winery has a different quality of relationship with the consumer than the retailer, hence the higher level of engagement. I also suspect that Beverage Media’s high volume websites are driving a lot of referrals from marketing sites as part of the cost of keeping their traffic up which is diluting their SM numbers.

  2. Rick Breslin
    June 15th, 2012 @ 9:33 pm

    I would add there are two social media \referrals\ to be measured here:

    1) Online: Measured by clicks from a SM property to a wine store web site, and

    2) Offline: Measured by sales from customers who enter the brick and mortar store as a result of forming a relationship with the retailer on social networks.

    The measurement of attribution has always been a challenge. Before social networking sites, it was (and still is) difficulty of measuring the conversion of web site visitors to retail customers. Before the Web, it was print (which is nearly impossible to measure without a coupon).

    Have retailers participating in social media conducted surveys? Can retail staff be social in the offline world and ask a few questions about whether or not the customer \likes\ the store on Facebook to check out the weekly ad?

    So much opportunity here.

  3. Ian Griffith
    June 25th, 2012 @ 10:32 am

    Thanks for the comment Rick.

    I totally agree that there is a larger story to tell here. But I was very interested in the comparison between SM referrals for retailers and wineries measured the same way using Google Analytics.

    There are characteristic differences between these eCommerce operations that both sell wine. What might work well for a winery may not work so well for a retailer. Or it might be that it works fine but that the volume of traffic needs to be much higher for a retailer website so that the impact of SM can become lost.