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I find myself broaching this important subject again. Where ever I speak, during client presentations, in the coffee shop, online forums, list-serves, etc., the hype about social networking continues.  Sure, in many important ways, social networking lives up to the hype, given the sheer numbers (people participating and their activity of course). Sadly, living the hype is not like hyping the hype, living the hype is less glamorous, I can assure you.

Here’s Why. It makes all the sense in the world to play in this space, but what good is it if you are not growing your network. Yes, there is value in being in touch with your customers, and social networking, gives you the opportunity to be exposed to your clients’ network. But isn’t the idea to grow your potential network so the influence of your brand, ideas, products, and organization grows?

My next post will be on the idea of dependence on social networking and the implications / complications that may arise…I’m also working on 10 ways to grow your network.

More to come…


Here’s a link to article about social networking in The Record by Joan Verdon. The article is also referenced below…

Mall links to shoppers via Twitter, Facebook
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Last updated: Tuesday July 21, 2009, 9:15 AM
BY JOAN VERDON
NorthJersey.com
STAFF WRITER

When North Jersey’s largest shopping mall, Westfield Garden State Plaza, was looking for a new way to connect with consumers, it turned to two marketing tools becoming increasingly popular with retailers — a Facebook fan site and a Twitter account.

For the past 10 days, the Paramus shopping center’s representatives have been posting news about sales and deals on the Facebook page, and sending out instant messages via Twitter.com about celebrity sightings and restaurant specials. Mall enthusiasts have been signing up as Facebook fans at the rate of about 100 per day. As of Monday at 10 a.m., the site had 1,067 fans.

“Social media is shifting the way we communicate with our customers,” said Lisa Herrmann, the mall’s marketing director. The Facebook site and Twitter account “allow us to send out information that is significant to our shoppers with real-time updates in a fun and engaging way,” she said. The mall plans to expand its offerings with fashion tips and shopping suggestions from style experts, and video clips of celebrity appearances at the mall.

The use of Facebook pages and fan sites has surged among retailers over the past year. A study released by Hamilton-based interactive marketing agency Rosetta in January found that 59 percent of the top 100 retailers had Facebook fan pages, and that the number of such sites doubled during the second half of 2008.

National department store chain Macy’s debuted a fan site in late June and already has more than 11,000 fans.

The return on investment for retail social networking sites has yet to be quantified, but the investment needed is minimal, although some sites have spent money for features such as interactive contests. Computer company Dell Inc. last month boosted the business credibility of social networks by announcing that it had made more than $3 million in sales through links to one of its Twitter accounts.

Marketing executives caution that malls and other retailers should have a clearly defined marketing strategy in mind before they jump on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagons.

“We haven’t surveyed retailers to see if they’re getting the ROI [return on investment],” said Adam Cohen, head of the social media practice for Rosetta. “But frankly, to set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page is not that expensive.”

The value of such networking lies in allowing retailers “to connect with their consumers in a different way,” Cohen said. The sites let companies build relationships and a sense of community with their customers, he said.

Retailers, Cohen said, need to dedicate time and effort to truly interact with online fans. “Otherwise, I think a lot of companies are going to be disappointed. Or they’re going to be measuring the buzz by how often someone comments on their page. They’re going to have a hard time being able to really attribute that to any quantifiable increase in sales,” he said.

“It’s very powerful if you do it right,” said Abe Kasbo, chief executive officer of Verasoni, a Little Falls marketing firm that has seen its social networking projects increase tenfold over the past year. “You can stay in constant touch literally on a daily basis with your clients and customers,” he said. “But the big caveat is you have to have a strategy and you have to do it right.”

The biggest mistake, Kasbo said, is launching a site and not maintaining it with frequent postings and relevant information. “It has to be relevant to the customer or they’re not going to hang out with you” online, Kasbo said.

Another potential pitfall with Facebook fan pages is any fan is free to post comments about the retailer’s news alerts, and those comments may be negative. The Plaza site has generated very little discussion thus far, and all of that has been positive. But some retailers have seen their sites hijacked by disgruntled shoppers or even their own employees.

On most sites, however, the Facebook fans live up to their name. The Target site, for example, gets daily postings by people proclaiming their love for the Minnesota-based retailer.

Westfield Garden State Plaza got a running start on building the fan base by launching it the week “Harry Potter” movie star Tom Felton (“Draco Malfoy”) appeared at the mall. His appearance drew 2,000 fans of the film series, and the mall used the event to promote its Facebook site.

The no-Sunday-shopping blue laws of Paramus and Bergen County don’t apply to shopping tweets and Facebook updates. Herrmann said the Plaza’s Facebook and Twitter followers can expect to get news alerts even on Sundays. This past Sunday, Plaza fans online at 6:21 a.m. could learn that the Tourneau store at the mall was offering a free pair of TAG Heuer sunglasses with any purchase of a TAG Heuer watch.

E-mail: verdon@northjersey.com