Volume 27/Number 26; April 28/May 5, 2014
By Jenna Lippin
While the flooring industry tends to embrace changes over time, there is not a minute to waste when it comes to social media. Floor covering retailers often tend to be “old school” thinkers, honoring longtime traditions and business practices, but the last several years have brought about many unavoidable modern marketing and sales techniques, the most important being online tools, including up-to-date websites, Google Plus pages, and Facebook and Twitter profiles.
The first step, according to Internet and social media experts, is making a business known. Exposing what a store has to offer is no longer limited to monthly mailers and a listing in the Yellow Pages. A retailer’s initial goal should be creating a store listing online.
“The name of the game is being found,” said Paul Friederichsen, owner of BrandBiz, a marketing and advertising company utilized by several flooring companies, including Novalis, Beaulieu and Kronotex. “If you’re not taking care of [that exposure], you’re at an immediate disadvantage from a competitive standpoint with other retailers in your area. Social media, blogs, etc., all contribute to organic ranking on Google. It’s very important. It is the new battleground that’s really not even new anymore.”
Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier at Simple Marketing Now, also cited the importance of a retailer’s presence on Google, both through searches and with a page that is much like an online, expanded version of a listing in a directory like Yellow Pages. “Google Plus Places is really important,” she said. “[Through it] you can encourage visitors and, in turn, encourage customers to leave reviews for you. Google is critical for being found online. You don’t have to be updating [your page] every minute; you can have a more natural pace.”
Frequency is what makes a Google Plus Places page different from social media platforms and blogs, which have to be updated regularly to keep prospects and customers engaged. While a retailer should gauge how often to post based on his own individual audience, Whittemore suggests posting something at least weekly.
The issue of late, however, is that Facebook is challenging many businesses to start paying for content. The social networking site now encourages members with business/company pages to pay a few bucks to “boost” a post, giving that particular picture, update, etc., more exposure in the Facebook universe.
“If you’re going to put effort into building a presence on Facebook, you’ll have difficulty being seen by anyone unless you pay,” Whittemore explained. “Luckily, it’s not that expensive. You can pay something like $5 a day. The benefit of paying is you can run a test to see what works and what doesn’t.”
After finding what works, users should consider making a posting schedule that is easy to follow and maintain. Whittemore suggests creating a content calendar so there is no time wasted determining what to post.
If a retailer has had success with Facebook and is thinking about integrating Twitter, he should be mindful that what is appropriate on one platform may not work well on another. The 140-character limit for a tweet is a case in point; what you post in Facebook may just not fit in a Twitter post.
“With Twitter you have the potential of getting an awful lot of followers, so updates matter more,” Whittemore explained. “There have been a lot of retailers who connect Twitter to Facebook and things come up nonsensically. Facebook speaks to people in French, Twitter speaks to people in Chinese—you end up with French in Chinese territory and vice versa.”
While Twitter and Facebook are perhaps the most well-known social networking tools, Houzz—think of it as Pinterest for interior design—is another platform gaining popularity, but experts suggest it’s more appropriate for larger companies and manufacturers than retailers. “It’s a source of visual ideas and it requires a different level of commitment in terms of the content you’re going to put on it,” Whittemore said.
Erica Clements, vice president of operations at Al’s Carpet Flooring & Design Service in Rockford, Ill., said she has, in fact, explored Houzz a bit, but believes it “really is more of a manufacturer tool” as it allows a company to showcase products in completed installations. “We have an account and I can put our finished jobs on there, but I just don’t do a lot with it because it really is more of a manufacturer thing.”
In order to cater to her local customers, Clements thinks of a Facebook as a top online advertising tool. Al’s Carpet revamps its website every couple of years, which helps keep things fresh, while the store’s Facebook page is updated just about daily.
“Because everything fluctuates so much, I post depending on what’s going on in our business,” she explained. “One of our vendors may come out with a new product, so I may highlight that. If there’s a week that doesn’t have a lot going on, I prompt a question to get some response and interaction. A lot of times we have a huge job going on so I can post some ‘before’ pictures and tell followers to ‘stay tuned’ to see the finished product.”
The key to social networking is deciding what works best for your target demographic, and then planning what to post based on what content elicits response. For example, for a small-town showroom with a target customer of a 50-year old female, Twitter and its hashtags may not be best. However, this consumer may be very active on Pinterest, planning her upcoming home renovation project.
Clements suggests experimenting with social media and finding what works. “Start with one or two things [on social media] and slowly add other avenues and see what response you’re getting. Where is the interaction coming from? Focus on the one you’re getting the most out of and tie everything into that.”
Whittemore uses the “Rome wasn’t built in a day” philosophy, noting that creating a solid online presence takes time and commitment. “Start at the basic level,” she concluded. “Update your website as you would your showroom. Make sure you’re up to date. Then integrate these other tools.”