Social Engagement

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, retailers are connecting with customers, building their brand, and boosting business. All you need is an Internet connection and an open mind.

Facebook says it has more than 400 million “active” users, half of whom log on to the site on any given day. Twitter passed the 100-million-users mark this year. The social media buzz has grown deafening, and businesses are heeding the call.

Many jewelry retailers, however, still haven’t jumped on the proverbial bandwagon. It’s perhaps not surprising, given that so much of the sales process is driven by the customer’s ability to see, feel, and experience the merchandise in person. (In fact, that’s why some retailers don’t offer an e-commerce component to their websites.) But when it comes to social media, jewelers who have tried it are hooked.

While early sites like Friendster and MySpace helped Americans get comfortable with the idea of “socializing” and “networking” online, Facebook holds the most potential benefits for businesses. “Facebook is the go-to because of the visual aspect and easy addition of data,” says Megan Meinerding, vice president of client services at Fruchtman Marketing in Toledo, Ohio.

“At the end of 2008, I started looking at inexpensive alternatives to our existing marketing plan,” says Lee Krombholz, owner of Krombholz Jewelers in Cincinnati. Facebook held a particular appeal, he says, because his team could set up and manage an account themselves.

Explains Meinerding, whose firm has created social networking–based marketing opportunities for many jewelry retailers: “It’s a mix of two things—trying to generate a dialogue with customers and really understanding who your advocates are, and trying to affect your bottom line by converting them into in-store sales.”

1, 8: Krombholz Jewelers celebrated its “Dog Days Sale” with portraits for special canine customers;  2, 6, 9: This summer, Birks Jewellers across Canada threw Venetian-themed client-appreciation parties; 3, 4, 7: Everyone got to pose for a photo at Peter & Co.’s Facebook Fan Night; 5: Riders get ready to roll at J.F. Kruse’s Kruse’n for Diamonds

Helen Adams Photography

Courtesy of Birks & Mayors, Inc., Image Archives

Courtesy of Peter & Co.

Courtesy of Peter & Co.

Jenny Tchida

Courtesy of Birks & Mayors, Inc., Image Archives

Courtesy of Peter & Co.

Helen Adams Photography

Courtesy of Birks & Mayors, Inc., Image Archives

Building Your Base

If you’re going to create a Facebook page, the first thing you need to do is to attract current and prospective customers. There are several ways to do this; employing more than one maximizes the results.

The first—some might say simplest—way to build your network is by doing so organically: Add the news that you’re now on Facebook along with the link to your e-mail signature. Advertise your Facebook page at your retail location via a door decal or other highly visible means. Also, include the news at the bottom of all direct mail, e-mail, and local advertising initiatives.

Many retailers with whom JCK spoke said they ran sweepstakes, giveaways, or similar promotions to boost their fan numbers, offering entry into a drawing—jewelry is usually the prize—for people willing to “like” their page. While this definitely can boost your fan numbers, not everyone’s a fan of the tactic. Many of the people who sign up via giveaways will never become actual customers, maintains Meinerding, who advises her clients against such promos. They could be halfway across the country, so their presence on your Facebook page is unlikely to translate into foot traffic or actual sales.

David Spicer, owner of David Spicer Jewelers in Paducah, Ky., solved this problem by modifying his prize. Rather than jewelry, he typically gives gift certificates to a local restaurant. This, he says, limits the pool of participants to people who live within driving distance of the restaurant—and his store.

Facebook does have regulations about consumer promotions, and the penalty for violations can be as severe as having your page deleted. (Since Facebook changes its rules relatively frequently, it’s worth going to for the most up-to-date information.) “If you’re running any sort of contest, you can’t require people to do anything that edits their profile or promotes your business on their walls,” cautions Ryan Goff, vice president and word of mouth/social media director at Baltimore-based MGH Inc. Offering incentives such as participation in a giveaway in exchange for clicking the “like” button is what Goff terms a “gray area.”

Goff says paid Facebook ads—at the cost of between 50 cents and $1 per click—are a better way to increase fan numbers, since ad placement can be finely targeted by demographics.

If you don’t want to pay to play, don’t despair; there are creative ways to grow. Spicer pledged to donate $1,000 to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation if his business’s fan base grew to 1,000 within a predetermined time frame. He selected October for this initiative; in addition to being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this gave him a bump in time for the holiday season. For a Thanksgiving promotion, he ran a food drive and offered entry into a sweepstakes to consumers who brought a canned good to the store. Goff says any promotion like this—in which the person has to go off Facebook (such as to a retailer’s website or store) in order to enter a contest—is fair game. You can also offer a discount or coupon code. Goff says because there’s no limit on how many people can “win” such a promotion, it’s not bound by rules governing sweepstakes.

Finally, retailers have successfully run online sweepstakes in which they give away a piece of jewelry or other prize without attracting the attention of Facebook’s enforcers. Although it’s an “at your own risk” activity—and one JCK doesn’t advocate—smaller fan groups seem to escape detection, some retailers note.

Communication: A Two-Way Street

The biggest difference between social media and other forms of marketing like radio ads or direct mail is the fact that your customers can—and, ideally should—talk back. “The people that like us on Facebook are very engaged in our postings and making sure they’re giving us feedback—we really appreciate that,” says Sondra McFarlane, director of marketing at Mann’s Jewelers in Rochester, N.Y. When you post messages on your Facebook wall, your fans can instantly respond and then share those messages with all of their friends. You can easily upload photos or invite people to add their own pictures. In short, you’re hosting a real-time, multimedia conversation, which gives you an unprecedented level of communication with your customers. 

Experts say the biggest mistake social networking neophytes make is to treat the medium like a traditional advertising channel. Meinerding recommends a 60–40 ratio of news and information to straight sales talk. For instance, you could post about trendy seasonal colors and only mention in passing that you have a new collection that complements the latest runway fashions. Or you could announce your participation in a community or charity event.

If people “talk” to you on Facebook by commenting on a post you make or by posting something on your page, it’s imperative to reply. “We post something new usually every other day, but we respond to comments more frequently,” says Melissa Kelley, co-owner of J.F. Kruse Jewelers in St. Cloud, Minn. These sites’ appeal from a promotional perspective is that they facilitate real, unscripted discourse. If you come from a traditional marketing background, social media may at first seem too in-your-face or too intimate. That’s the point.

What if someone criticizes you? It might happen, so you need to be prepared and squash your initial impulse to delete the negative comment. Instead, use the opportunity to start a dialogue. If the poster is a dissatisfied customer, a prompt offer to rectify the problem will be more effective than any damage control you can buy.

One more thing: To keep the momentum going, it’s crucial to update your Facebook feed regularly. Experts generally agree that once a week is the absolute minimum. “With Facebook you become stagnant very quickly,” cautions Ryan Berg, vice president at Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry in Metairie, La. “We try to update it as frequently as we can, a few times a week,” he adds. While most jewelers JCK interviewed don’t add to their Facebook pages daily, many do so every other day, and respond to comments between updates. In order to ease the burden of generating enough content, Berg says he’s been asking his vendors and brands to provide him with images and information he can share with fans.

Alert the Press

Most retailers who use Twitter are also on Facebook, although the reverse isn’t true. Twitter’s truncated format, reliance on linking, and text-only format all make it a better supplement to an existing social media strategy than a stand-alone vehicle. That said, Alexandra Tanner, Internet and social media manager at Montreal-based Birks & Mayors Inc., claims Twitter is unparalleled for connecting with media.

“Twitter is the easier place to find up-to-the-minute conversation,” says Tanner, who started her company’s social media journey on Twitter before adding Facebook (a relative anomaly in the industry—usually Facebook is everyone’s first stop on the social-media train). “It’s more about disseminating information that’s akin to a press release, but less commercial.” The heavy media concentration among Twitter users makes the site ideal for spreading the word about a new product line or event. To keep things engaging for people who follow Birks & Mayors on multiple social networking sites, Tanner varies the information she posts on each site. For instance, she says she’ll upload different pictures of the same event on Facebook and Twitter.

Another benefit Twitter offers is its search function. Enter a search term—like the name of your store or a designer you feature—and you’ll immediately see who else is “tweeting,” or sending out messages via Twitter, about that topic. Tanner encourages retailers to take advantage of this collective cyber-stream of consciousness and hop into the conversation. “If they’re talking about us, we’ll reach out,” she says. “It’s a good way, as a brand, to seem more friendly and interested.”

Taking Events to a New Level

Building buzz around events—and bringing bodies in the door—is where sites like Facebook really pay off. Krombholz uses Facebook to promote a monthly “first Friday” event, which features everything from music to cocktails to local artwork. Lee Krombholz, who started the parties in 2009, realized quickly that if word of mouth was a valuable tool, its digital version could be just as useful. “It clicked with me that this is a great way to get these people into the store,” he says.

For a recent event at Avon Lake, Ohio–based Peter & Co. ­Jewelers, Meinerding’s team at Fruchtman built buzz—and boosted sales—a few ways. “Everyone gets a $25 gift card, good for that night only. You partner with a local photographer who can take pictures to be used on Facebook. We set up a computer bank so people coming in could update their status and tag the company,” she says, referring to the practice of linking to a Facebook connection in a post. And to give guests incentive to plug Peter & Co. on their personal pages, the ­jeweler gave guests a discount that evening (on top of the gift card).

If you’re going to hold an event exclusively for your Facebook fans, it’s important to have a fan base of at least 750 to 1,000 to ensure a good turnout. Jewelers who like the idea but don’t have that kind of network just yet can consider adding Facebook to an existing events marketing strategy, a tactic jewelers across the country tell JCK they’ve used with great success.

J.F. Kruse saw attendance at its “Ladies’ Night” event jump by a whopping 50 percent after the store added Facebook to its promotion strategy. Kelley says the company started advertising the party on Facebook three months in advance and sent out a save-the-date notice to fans. And the marketing blitz didn’t end after the party. “We posted video and images of the event for the people who didn’t attend as an enticement to come next year or attend our next event,” she says. In its Kruse’n for Diamonds scavenger hunt—where a $10,000 diamond ring is a prize—participants jumped from 500 to 700 in its third year, which Kelley also attributes to a Facebook campaign. She says it’s likely the scavenger hunt also boosted J.F. Kruse’s fan numbers, since extra clues were given only to Facebook fans.

Moving the Needle

Retailers admit the impact of social networking on sales figures is a hard metric to pin down. Short of surveying every customer at point of purchase, there’s no way to tell what brought a shopper into the store. What’s more, customers might not remember whether they heard about you via Facebook, the Internet, or a local radio ad.

Sondra McFarlane says one way to connect your online presence to your sales is by posting a promotion or a discount code on your page. While there’s an outside chance someone could stumble across it without being a fan of your store, it’s unlikely. “What we can tell is when we post new pieces of jewelry, people comment, ‘I need to get that,’” she says. “Or, we’ve said, ‘Just for Facebook fans we’re offering an item at X price,’ and people came in and purchased it.”