Social media maven: Sara Meaney Q&A

Sara Meaney shares tips on engaging youth and marking pay-to-play work for your business.
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Sara Meaney calls Outdoor Retailer, “as much a lifestyle enthusiast rally as it is an industry event.” And she loves it.

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An expert in helping companies drive sales via customer engagement online, Meaney points to brands as diverse as Patagonia, Life is Good and Tough Mudder for knowing their audiences, and speaking to them on an intimate (but appropriate!) level.

She anticipates growth in brand-generated content as consumer-brand relationships strengthen.

Why should specialty retailers get off the trail — or off the shop floor — and onto social media?
The answer is easy: my new hammock. I had been thinking about buying a new hammock for months. One morning, still in bed, I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed when I came across a post from a friend who shared the link that caused her to buy and consequently gloat about her fantastic hammock a few days prior. I clicked. Then I bought. And so did no fewer than five of her other Facebook friends; we each posted comments to let her know we bought one, thanks to her. My new hammock is precisely why retailers and manufacturers need to get their acts together on social media. If you have a good product or great service, your happy customers will amplify the impact of your work for you, if you enable them.

How can retailers and manufacturers preserve the authenticity of their connection to customers while using more sophisticated social strategies?
Start by assuming your customers are smart. And imagine that they have lives and priorities that are completely unrelated to your product or service. Once you’ve accepted those facts, you can begin to imagine the many motivations for your customers to interact with you and how you can add value to their lives, both directly through your product/service or indirectly through your knowledge and shared human experience.

Ultimately, people prefer buying things from other people who they know and trust. In that vein, think of social media as an opportunity to insert humanity — literally — into the interactions with your customers. Be human. Have a voice and an opinion and actual interests that your customers may share. And I don’t mean shared interests in the sense that you make moisture-wicking clothing and people tend to sweat sometimes. I mean, use social media and creative content to demonstrate your love of active endeavors and of specific trail rides you’ve enjoyed or of epic hikes or treks where sweating may or may not have occurred. Use storytelling the way you would if you were there in the room with all of your customers; be human. Be original. Be interesting.

The outdoor industry is always trying to get young people outside. It can seem like a contradiction to use digital tools to do that. How can we resolve the gap in our thinking?
First we have to get over the notion that digital devices and outdoor activities are mutually exclusive; in fact digital devices are expected enablers for most experiences these days. Whether using interactive maps and apps to help deepen the outdoor experience, we can use digital tools to create more meaning and context for what comes next. We’ve all become somewhat used to the idea of having access to information anywhere and everywhere. When we don’t know the answer to a question in a conversation, where do we go first? Google. The same holds true for our outdoor experiences. What kind of flower is that? Where is the nearest bait shop on my way to the river? Where can I get a repair kit for my kayak? What time will the sun set tomorrow while I’m on the trail? If we can enable young people to explore the outdoors, appreciate the importance of preserving our natural resources, or try new physical activities by offering digital bridges to get them there, then we’ve accomplished much.

How can we use social to open up new markets, particularly overseas?
The fantastic thing about many social media platforms is the ability to target messaging and promoted content for specific people and places. The power of social media extends the influence of your customers upon their own network of friends, family and acquaintances online, wherever they are.

While Facebook, for example, has a billion users all over the globe, the most popular social platforms can vary widely by region. Aside from language differences, there are also cultural differences in terms of how users interact on social sites and what they expect from brands and content. The U.S. is years behind on several mobile trends that are commonplace in Asia and elsewhere; mobile push marketing, geotargeted brand messaging, NFC device chips and mobile wallets are the accepted norm in many countries. These technologies open up entirely new ways to reach consumers and explore business expansion possibilities, with the right knowledge and resources.

--Megan Mulligan

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