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Business Builders: Beyond Facebook

Posted: August 1, 2014, 9:10 a.m. EDT


Mark Zuckerberg’s enterprise might still be king, but the courts of Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram are gaining power. How retailers are using various social media outlets to great success.

By Keith Loria

Not long ago, connecting with customers via social media meant posting store event photos or sale information to the ol’ Facebook page. Now, newer outlets offer pet retailers great ways to expand their reach and grow their businesses.

"We use different social media as a way to build community,” said Jessica Schlosser, owner of Lizzi & Rocco’s Natural Pet Market in Columbia, Mo. "We encourage everyone to be interactive and share photos—whether it’s new puppies they adopted, new pet products or anything interesting to pet lovers.”

Ryan Tarver, marketing director of Cloud Star Corp., a manufacturer of natural pet products based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., said pet specialty retailers should view all social media sites as a combination of marketing and customer service tools.

"Customers will look to a retailer’s social media pages for a number of reasons: new product information, events, discounts and deals, entertainment and to seek answers to questions,” he said.

 Moustache
Photo enhanced with a retro vintage Instagram filter. Shutterstock

Everybody’s Doing It
According to Craig Smith, research analyst at Digital Marketing Ramblings (expanded ramblings.com), the latest estimates showed 255 million people were tweeting via Twitter, 200 million were posting on Instagram and 70 million were pinning to Pinterest.

Gary Vaynerchuk, a social media expert and author of "Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook,” which explores how to use social media to grow business, believes that many small retailers use social media sparingly and oftentimes incorrectly.

People who invest in direct mail, print, radio and TV are not getting the same return on investment they were only five years ago, Vaynerchuk said.

"Businesses need to use social media more to achieve their goals,” he said.

A Thousand Words
Photo-driven social media sites have become default modes of sorting and understanding the vast amounts of information people are exposed to constantly, said social media expert Katie Lance, CEO and owner of Katie Lance Consulting in San Francisco.

A recent report by ROI Research Inc. (roiresearch.com) revealed that when users connect with friends via social media, photos deliver the biggest draw. In fact, 44 percent of respondents said they were more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures than any other media.

"We connect visually,” said Lance. "I remember things more often because I saw a photo—it’s really powerful stuff. If your strategy includes marketing to Generation Y or Millennials, Instagram is a great network to think about.”

AdreAnne Tesene, owner of Two Bostons Pet Boutique & Gourmet Bakery, which has three stores in Illinois, said she has been using Pinterest for a little over a year and has seen business increase because of it.

"We pin cute photos and cartoons, but we also use it to educate people about different topics that are important to us,” she said. "We pin our blogs on Pinterest, as well as any articles that we find that we want people to read—things that will help people take care of their pets more responsibly.”

Tesene has noticed the network of connections growing, which leads to more foot traffic at the boutiques, she said.

To enhance users’ Pinterest experiences, Lance suggests using Share As Image, a tool that enhances photos with quotes, images and other things, and Pinstamatic, which allows retailers to create a virtual sticky note that can be posted to Pinterest without the user needing to know about editing tools.

Lately, Lizzi & Rocco’s Schlosser has been focusing her efforts on Instagram, sharing photos of pets that visit the store, new products for sale or other animal-themed shots.

"Cute animal photos make everyone feel warm and fuzzy,” she said. "And we find they help bring more people to our events and put more focus on our latest products.”

According to Digital Marketing Ramblings’ Smith, 55 million photos are uploaded every day to Instagram, resulting in 86.4 million comments.

"In the pet industry, how can you go wrong with photos of puppies and kittens?” said Teresa Miller, owner of Treats Unleashed in St. Louis. "We link everything back to our website, so we can make people aware about who and where we are.”

According to consultant Lance, one great app for retailers is Followgram, which provides free statistics about clicks and popular photos, as well as an album creator and organizer. Another app she recommends is Postagram, which turns Instagram photos into postcards that can be sent to customers to highlight store specials and sales.

Tweet, Tweet Success
With almost 700 Twitter followers, Two Bostons (@twobostons) uses the site to alert customers to store specials, share photos of pets and provide information about the pet community.

"Twitter is a great way to post an event reminder or a food recall, so people can take action quickly,” Tesene said. "One of our goals this year is to engage our Twitter fanbase more. It’s hard to do Twitter right without designated personnel handling social media accounts.”

Treats Unleashed’s Miller regularly tweets to her 675-plus followers about store events and community happenings. She also uses Twitter to help reunite lost pets with their people, she said.

"Twitter is the perfect way to network and communicate with other businesses in town as well,” she said. "Customers come back to see what we have to say and re-tweet to their followers, helping us expand our business.”

The Social Win-Win

Many retailers advertise contests or sweepstakes on their social media sites and find it’s a great way to grab customer attention and spark their engagement.

"Our Pin It to Win It contests are a fun way for people to post photos, and we get a lot of energy behind it,” Tesene said. "Prizes can be bakery goods or a gift certificate, and it just creates a positive vibe on the site.” 

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