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Are you ready for the “Third Wave of Social in Retail”?

Guest Blog By Mike Heffring

2013 is shaping up to be a tipping point for the retail industry on Facebook, according to insights Expion has uncovered in its F.A.V.E. 50 Social Retail Report*. In the first half of the year (H1) retail brands experienced the greatest decline in key metrics since 2011, including total volume, fan engagement, and the lowest new fan acquisition growth rate since 2011.

In addition, H1 was the first six month period where the company posts trends didn’t mirror engagement and volume trends – showing that brands are publishing less effective content than before.

Brand behavior on Facebook is still relatively new, and has come in waves, as the charts above illustrate. These waves have been clearly defined:

Wave 1 – More Likes Please. In the growth phase, brands focused on building up their fan base by getting everyone to “like” their brand page. The rapid rise in fan base early on is now starting to taper off, shown by “Lifetime Total Fans” above. Once critical fan mass had been reached, brands turned to strategies to engage their fan base.

Wave 2 – Engage with My Brand: Once fans bases were solidly established, brands looked to increase the number and type of posts they shared to increase fan engagement, measured by likes, comments and shares.  The total number of posts in this 2012 time period increased by 60 percent, as highlighted in Total Company Posts above.

Now there’s another wave upon us…

Wave 3 – My Brand as a Social Channel.  As engagement has dropped off in the last six months we believe we are now entering the third wave of social.  Brand marketing on Facebook has matured as more and more companies are focused on creating a unique social channel by not just by pushing out content, but creating a brand narrative with targeted campaigns in near/real time.

How can brands successfully navigate this third wave?

  1. Replace one-off posts with social campaigns.  On average, retailers are posting 50 times a month – and some as much as 150 times. Retailers should group posts into campaigns around categories – new product launches or seasons, entertainment and pop-culture tie-ins, and ties to larger advertising or marketing campaigns. These posts can then be tagged to a specific campaign and tracked.
  2. Develop a clear social persona for your brand: The best performing brands (Tiffany’s, Victoria’s Secret, Walmart, Bath& Body Works and Coach) have figured out what type of content is most appealing to their fans. Engaging content tends to be highly relevant (Tiffany’s designers and Victoria’s Secret “Angels”) and conversational (Q&As) in nature with strong visuals, rather than pure product and sale/promotion oriented.
  3. Turn best posts into everyday posts: Every brand can deliver or two great posts, but most aren’t learning from and replicating their success for the other 80 percent of underperforming posts. Learn from what works. The technology now exists to repurpose successful posts across brands, locations and countries in real time, and to quickly create related new posts that will drive higher performance.

Despite overall lower engagement by retailers on Facebook in H1, 50 percent of retailers did improve their brand engagement in the past six months, showcasing that indeed there is still room to grow.  By embracing social’s third wave, retailers, and brands in general, can continue to move from high quantity strategies to a high quality one.

About Expion’s F.A.V.E. 50 Social Retail Report*

Expion F.A.V.E. 50 Social Retail Report analyzes the Facebook presence of the top 50 U.S .retail brands1 during the first half (H1) of 2013. Expion leveraged its social media and marketing insights software to unearth key social trends in the industry, as well as winners and losers across brands, posts and post types in both engagement and volume. Over 16,000 posts were analyzed.

Mike Heffring is Expion’s CMO

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