Power Players' Lounge: Does your store have a social strategy?

Social media has launched a new means of connecting and communicating that in turn has created a market opportunity for companies of all sizes to engage directly with customers, consumers and each other. Whether it is through blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other means, strategically using social media has the potential to positively impact specialty retail if a retailer's customer base feels engaged.
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In January 2009, SNEWS® named the industry's first class of outdoor industry Power Players (click here to read).

"Insight and inspiration provide an edge that everybody can use in these economic times," SNEWS reported when it announced the Power Players. "Both can be found by listening to people who have become business leaders. And that is the driving force behind the launch of the SNEWS Power Players -- an honor that will acknowledge outdoor industry leaders for varied accomplishments in different industry sectors."

To acknowledge the honor of being chosen as the first class of Power Players, the group wanted to collectively give back to the outdoor industry. Each week, through the end of October 2009, a new column will be posted to the Power Players' Lounge. It's intended to be a place where our industry friends can gather to read and hopefully discuss ideas for improving business -- especially important during these challenging economic times.

We encourage you to interact with others while hanging out in the Power Players' Lounge and it's our hope their columns will inspire imagination and debate. Use the comments button at the top and bottom of each article to post your own remarks and observations, and to engage in discussion.

Power Players' Lounge columnists include: Bill Gamber, Joe Hyer, Jennifer Mull, Brad Werntz, Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, John Sterling, Josh Guyot, Mike Wallenfels, Beaver Theodosakis, and Sally Grimes.

This column was written by Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, president, Verde PR & Consulting (kco@verdepr.com).

Social media has launched a new means of connecting and communicating that in turn has created a market opportunity for companies of all sizes to engage directly with customers, consumers and each other. Whether it is through blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other means, strategically using social media has the potential to positively impact specialty retail if a retailer's customer base feels engaged.

To bring this shift into focus for outdoor specialty retailers, let's consider the impact of this communication transformation on your business and what you can do to effectively engage your customer base directly via content marketing (newsletters as one example) and the social web (blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

Two articles that appeared in SNEWS® -- "BIGresearch Profiles Social Media Users; Not all Created Equal" (click here to read) and "Internet Users Turn To Social Media To Seek One Another, Not Brands or Products" (click here to read) -- highlight the importance of establishing a clear social media strategy.

One huge bonus: You have a loyal customer base already, otherwise known as your readership or online community. Through your retail store, you've already earned the capability to communicate with your customers as a trusted resource (meaning, you don't have to pull teeth to get their email addresses, for example).

Now, you need to play this strength to your online community. You are already an expert for your customer base on the outdoors, as well as services and products that relate to being outdoors, within your community.

As such, you are a great candidate to create an online community through the social web and content marketing.

Social media and content marketing does take work, mostly in the form of content generation. Organization, creation and execution of a plan, with strong staff accountability, is needed to successfully launch an online community or content marketing effort.

Here are some things to consider as you plan your store's online community and content marketing, or as you continue to creatively grow it:

1. Learn about your audience

It's a longstanding media rule that is very relevant to the social web: Who is your audience? What defines them? List the defining characteristics of your customer base. Always involve your staff. Do this quarterly.

2. Continually acquire your consumer's email addresses

At the point of sale, capture your customer's email addresses. Let them know that you only plan to use it to communicate store sales, regional outdoor information and resources to them. Commit to never selling these email addresses; care take these addresses in the most ethical manner possible. Doing so will build trust and create loyal readers out of your consumers.

3. Survey customers to discover where they're online now and how they want to be communicated with

If I were an outdoor specialty store owner, I would find out as much information as possible from my existing customer base on their online research habits or their favorite social web outlets. I would engage men and women and include a wide range of people. I would also ask them if they would respond well to receiving a newsletter, and if so, monthly or quarterly. The newsletter concept is non-threatening and can be appealing to a wide range of consumers. Content generated for a newsletter can be used on a blog, or on other social media outlets, so it's a good branding exercise to build one and it will make you plan ahead to ensure that you're store is indeed offering unique resources to your community (readership).

4. Involve your staff

Allow your employees to write for your social media outposts or your newsletter. It's important to gain buy-in from your staff and allow them to help define the resource that is your store. Allow them to recommend favorite trails or share experiences. Your staff will be an excellent content source, and a key member of your staff should be involved in the organization and execution of your content and online efforts.

5. Involve your vendor partners

Find out what your vendors are doing on the social web and how you can tap into their reach and branding savvy to build your own community. Shared content and community (linking blogs for example) is a great way to bolster your efforts. The marketing department within the vendor company is a great point of entry to find out what can be shared.

6. Engage your reps

In addition to going to your vendors directly, you should also be engaging your reps as they come to do clinics in your store. Find out what your vendor reps are doing on the social web -- chances are it's more than you might assume. Reps are an important community ambassador between regional communities, vendors and sales floor employees. As such, they are important to feature in your online community and in your content marketing. One very basic example: Posting a clinic or rep-sponsored event on your store's blog or in its newsletter.

Forming your own online community and "pushing" out your own content, such as a newsletter, can bring a big boost of momentum to your store.

I believe social media has the capability to be the new "silent seller" at retail, augmenting existing point of purchase within your store. One example: Vendors and reps can enhance newsletter or blog content with information and images of a featured product or collection. Ideally, your customer base will see this info via your newsletter or your blog, and be primed with the information and the concept before they head into your store to shop.

Social media, well used, offers a great opportunity to bring your employees together and to sharpen your branding and community focus, both online and in your community. Have fun with it! Doing so will strengthen your store's branding while bolstering relevancy to your customer base.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden is president of Verde PR & Consulting, a Durango, Colo.-based, agency she founded in 2001. Carpenter-Ogden started Verde after a nine-year journalism career in the outdoor and lifestyle markets. Verde is a full-service public relations, marketing, branding, and consulting agency with an emphasis in new media and corporate social responsibility. Verde was founded in the outdoor, lifestyle, health and wellness, cycling, snowsports and travel industries, and also works with clients in the natural grocery and renewable energy markets. Visit www.verdepr.com for more information.

We have made this article public access, to ensure all may be able to read it. If you like what you are reading, and want to be able to fully participate in the discussions and view articles and expert corner columns in our archives, you'll need your own SNEWS® subscription, which we've made really easy -- the SNEWS Freebie. Click here to activate your own SNEWS access today and become part of the strongest and most interactive outdoor and fitness industry community on the web today.

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