Digital Marketing: Social media and online reviews - Jun 2016

By Jessica Chevalier

Digital marketing offers flooring retailers the opportunity to connect with new and existing customers in a convivial environment for little upfront cost. However, for it to pay real returns, digital marketing requires a significant commitment to activity on a frequent basis, a strategic approach and a bit of tactically applied capital as well.

An online presence is comprised of several different components: a quality website, search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, online reviews and social media. All of these work in unison to create an online presence and, even more importantly, should work as a part of a larger, more traditional advertising strategy—not as a replacement of one. And the two most important tools for opening lines of communication with current and potential customers are social media and online reviews.

OUTSOURCING DIGITAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT
Retailer AJ Rose partners with a digital marketing team to handle its digital media accounts. The collaboration works well, as it puts the day-in-day-out work of managing digital media in the hands of professionals who understand both the platform and the etiquette. 

What an external agency may not fully understand, however, is flooring and the flooring business, which is where the concept of partnership really comes into play. Though hiring digital marketing professionals may remove the burden of constant posting from the retailer’s shoulders, it doesn’t mean they can scratch it off their to-do list completely. To make the partnership work, co-owner A.J. Boyajian sets goals and holds the company accountable to them. “The more they know about my business, the better they are on returning on the investment,” says Boyajian.

Roughly 50% of AJ Rose’s total advertising is through digital media—which he estimates is a much greater percentage than his competitors.

MAKING CHOICES
Unlike buying a billboard, running a TV spot or taking out an ad in the local newspaper, social media requires no initial cost. Because a business can open a social media account and build a page free of charge, many small business owners mistakenly believe that they are participating in social media simply by being present and stand waiting for the Millennials to flood their showrooms. What’s worse, some make the mistake of cutting back on their traditional advertising once their social media accounts are in place, and then express frustration when they see flat or reduced revenues, wondering where they went wrong and blaming the newfangled technology for their woes. 

However, the fact is that social media demands active involvement on a frequent basis if it is to yield results. This can present a challenge for harried small business owners, who are already stretched thin with daily operations and feel uncertain about sending a private message on Facebook, let alone crafting a digital strategy. As of yet, few flooring retailers have a dedicated marketing professional on board—even fewer have one focused on social media—so many simply hand off the position as an added task to the youngest employee in house, assuming that their youth alone qualifies them for the job. 

However, just because an individual is adept at Tweeting about the Kardashian’s latest wardrobe malfunction doesn’t mean they are capable of crafting a digital marketing strategy for a business. Just as you wouldn’t hire your resident film buff to produce videos for your YouTube channel, you shouldn’t assume that personal use of social media qualifies someone to do any more than share the details of a promotion, post a picture from time to time or respond to basic consumer inquiries. Social media changes rapidly, so what works today may not be effective tomorrow. This means that, at the very least, the person handling social media for your business should be abreast of current developments in business use of social media and, ideally, should be enacting a digital strategy that you, or someone with a seasoned understanding of online marketing and etiquette, has established. 

Because it’s better for a business to have a few digital media accounts on which it is an active participant, both joining conversations and generating them, than a multitude of inactive ones, retailers ultimately must make choices about which and how many digital media they can best handle. They need to consider which ones will yield the desired results, which are feasible for the team to keep up with on a frequent basis and which set the business apart from the competition, communicating its unique offerings, strengths and skills. To that end, Irene Williams, founder of digital media firm Msg2Mkt, believes that, at present, the greatest social media tools for getting customers through the doors are Houzz, Instagram and Facebook—if retailers have the budget and time to use Facebook correctly.

KEEPING YOUR WEBSITE FRESH
Jennifer Homeyer bought Carpets Plus Home Renovation Design Center (then called Carpets Plus Texas) in 2008. At the time, the store had no website. Over the course of the last eight years, Homeyer had launched four new websites, a new one roughly every two years, believing that presenting a fresh online presence is critical to building business. 

“Our previous site matched the time frame in which we constructed it,” says Homeyer. “It was warm, cozy, traditional. But today we want more of a Restoration Hardware look, cleaner with straighter lines, or a Chip-and-Joanna [Gaines] kind of look. I believe its critical that the look of a website reflect the current style.”

THE HOWS OF HOUZZ
Houzz is an online community focused on architecture, interior design and decorating, tailor made for design and renovation professionals. Like Pinterest, Houzz allows retailers to create a virtual collage of ideas, but, unlike Pinterest, it focuses solely on the built environment and connects users with design and renovation professionals, allowing users to post reviews of those with whom they’ve done business. In addition, the site includes an online marketplace for furniture and home accessories. 

Massachusetts retailer AJ Rose launched its Houzz account only a month ago. Company co-owner A.J. Boyajian explains his company’s initial strategy for the platform: “We are starting with before-and-afters and tagging them with specific product names. We hope it serves as a source of inspiration for users.”

Before-and-afters are popular commodities for Houzz, as they showcase not only product in a “live setting,” but also design and installation skills. To these and all photos on the site, businesses can add product tags that, when scrolled over, include information such as the product brand, name, color and even purchase information. In addition to its free offerings, Houzz sells premium listings with upgraded features, including personalized customer support. 

Blake Powell, digital marketing consultant for ICC Floors, holds a master’s in Internet marketing and believes that Houzz is a great resource for flooring retailers. ICC had a Houzz account, with only a few uploaded pictures, before Powell came on board five months ago, which he was asked to nurture as part of his responsibilities. One of his first moves was to buy into the Houzz PRO+ad platform. 

“The biggest motivation [to buying into PRO+ad] was to gain more exposure by having them promote us in top spots throughout the site in two categories (flooring and cabinets) and three local counties,” explains Powell. “We have a really good support representative, which makes things easier. If I don’t have time to upload pictures or do something, I can send it to her, and she will do it for me, which is very helpful. They also offer great statistics: I can see which of our photos are being saved the most and, in turn, can see what our followers are most interested in. This helps in making sure I post more photos of that space, style, etc. (the give-the-people-what-they-want idea). It will also be very helpful when I start the ICC blog in terms of content creation.”

Once monthly, Powell schedules a call with his support representative to discuss how they can optimize ICC’s Houzz site to reach its company goals. Over the course of the meetings, the representative has advised them to upload more pictures and further build out its profile, but she also honed in on one aspect of the site that can be very powerful: online reviews. That led Powell to conceptualize a month-long competition for ICC associates to generate reviews. 

ICC’s competition works like this. Employees email the review link to customers and blind copy Powell. For that action, the employee earns one point. If the action generates a review, they earn five points, and at the end of the month, the employee with the most points gets $100. Second place wins $50. 

“I really tried to drive home the idea that the associates aren’t just doing this to help the company but to better themselves,” says Powell. “If I am a consumer on Houzz, and I see all these good reviews, that is going to make me feel comfortable shopping at that business. And if a salesperson is named as exceptional, I am going to ask for that person by name. It’s a surefire way to generate leads not only for business, but also for yourself by not doing much.”

But has it worked? Like a charm, Powell reports. In fact, by the second week of the contest, ICC had 25 new reviews on Houzz. 

Retailers can dip their toe into Houzz for free. The platform enables ease of communication between users and participating retailers, providing access to phone numbers, websites and email addresses. In addition, it allows users to share a retailer’s post via social media—including Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus—as an additional promotional tool.

WORD OF MOUTH 21st CENTURY STYLE
In conducting interviews for the Best Practices column every month, we come across a great many retailers who credit word-of-mouth as their greatest advertising medium. Often these are long-established businesses, serving generations of community members, who take pride in their reputation and believe it is enough to pull in sales. 

However, at the same time the definition of word-of-mouth is itself changing, increasingly encompassing not only face-to-face conversation but also online conversation. Says Carpets Plus’ Homeyer, “People are shopping via word-of-mouth, and Facebook and other social media are a part of that. So often I see my friends asking, ‘What’s a good restaurant?’ It’s no different with flooring. People trust what others say.” 

Frequently in these situations, the respondent will tag the recommended company in their comment using the @ symbol, allowing them to become a part of the conversation, or link to the company’s website, an opportunity that is lost by those companies that are absent.

INSTAGRAM & THE ART OF THE HASHTAG
Instagram is a photo- and video-sharing community used by individuals and businesses alike. The platform was founded on the idea of celebrating moments of beauty, and sharing these with the community of users. 

The success of Instagram use hinges on posting pictures that pique community interest and thereby gaining followers. If this is to happen, the photos themselves must be appealing. Quick snaps of an installation in progress simply won’t make the cut. If a retailer hopes to get noticed on Instagram, they should feature beautiful, well-composed—even inspirational—pictures, equivalent in beauty or interest to what is typically found on the site. 

Retailers can increase visibility for their photos by mastering what Williams calls “the art of the hashtag.” Hashtags were created on Twitter but rapidly became a tool used on many social media sites, and serve as a way for users of the media to add text and context to their photos. They are also used as a tool in searching the site. One of the most popular flooring-related hashtags used on Instagram is #ihavethisthingwithfloors, which currently yields more than 311,000 posts, typically showing an overhead shot of dynamic flooring with the toes of the photographer’s shoes at the bottom of the photo. Similarly, the hashtag #tileaddiction has more than 39,000 posts. 

Use of these and other popular hashtags increases the likelihood that communities of individuals who appreciate design and flooring are likely to see your posts and, hopefully, both like the photos and follow your business’ account. A word of warning, however: they should not be abused for overt promotion. Just as memes and other viral phenomena lose their power when adopted by a corporation, so do “abused” hashtags turn users off, spurring them to move on to the next new thing. 

The construction of quality posts is key to Instagram success. Only a year ago, Williams anonymously launched the Tile Tuesday account, describing it as “[a] visual feast for tile lovers.” Today, Tile Tuesday has over 16,000 followers, who have been attracted organically through quality posts and the use of hashtags. What’s more, Instagram retailers often drive traffic to their website by including links related to recent posts in the profile, the description of the business that appears at the top of its account page. 

Of course, Instagram also sells “sponsored” space, ads that are interspersed through users’ feed. As with Facebook, these allow advertisers to target a particular audience as well as set a budget and timeline for the ad to run. What’s more, advertisers can use the same creative assets for both Instagram and Facebook, aligning their campaigns and streamlining the process of social media advertising. Instagram provides indepth performance metrics for advertisers. 

Instagram may not be top of mind for flooring retailers because it is picture-driven, rather than word-driven, but in reality, the opportunity to express a business visually is particularly suited to a design-driven industry, such as flooring. 

ALL THOSE ICONS
Like a professional with one too many titles behind their name, all those little social media icons can become burdensome. Retailer ICC Floors has several billboards around its hometown of Indianapolis, and digital consultant Powell made the conscious decision to maintain a focused, clean look on them by omitting all social media icons. 

Instead, the billboard lists only the company’s web address. Upon visiting the site, consumers will notice links to the company’s social media profiles in the upper left-hand corner. Included there is the familiar Facebook icon, as part of a larger button that reads, “Check in for your free paint kit” and includes a picture of a paint tray liner filled with other painting accessories. 

The link leads to the company’s Facebook page, where visitors to the store can virtually check in and take home their prize, a $10 value in total. 

For a Facebook user, a check-in is a way of communicating one’s location. A check-in is viewed as soft endorsement for a business. It can be assumed that there is a correlation between a high number of check-ins and the popularity of a business.

HOW DOES FACEBOOK ADVERTISING WORK?
With more than one billion users worldwide, Facebook is the most popular social media network and typically top of mind for businesses as they delve into digital marketing. Having a Facebook page for your business is, in many ways, the equivalent of the Yellow Pages listing of yesterday. It’s a must, but its presence alone isn’t a substitute for advertising. 

On Facebook, ads appear both in the newsfeed and on the right side of the page. However, in order to preserve the customer experience, Facebook limits the number of ads that appear, and, therefore, cannot run every ad at every business’ whim. 

To determine what ads will run when, Facebook conducts an auction. Businesses choose an audience (by age, gender, location and interests) and a budget, and decide how long they want the promotion to run. Then, on behalf of the business, Facebook bids on ad space, ending when the budget has been reached or the chosen time span has been fulfilled. 

During the process, businesses can make changes to the ad, according to what they are seeing from the ad’s analytics: adding additional dollars to the budget if it is performing well or making changes to the ad to increase its efficiency. 

In addition to getting people in the door of your business, the goal of Facebook advertising is to garner “likes.” Accumulating likes bodes well for the reputation of a business, but it has more tangible benefits as well. Through the analytics section of its profile, a business can see demographic information about the people who like its page, as well as data from a recent one-week period about the days of the week and times when fans are on the Facebook site, all of which assists in creating targeted online advertising campaigns.

GENERATING & MANAGING ONLINE REVIEWS
The way consumers begin the flooring shopping process online has changed with the popularity of online peer reviews. The influence of these reviews is no longer up for debate; acquiring and marketing peer reviews is now a necessity for today’s retailer. “Eighty-eight percent of consumers have read reviews to determine the quality of a Local Business,” according to BrightLocal.com. 

This data tells you everything you need to know. Reviews have created a new form of marketing and advertising, which can help or hurt your business, depending on how well you capture and manage them. They provide a way to keep control of your online reputation, increase sales and build customer loyalty. If you built your business based on your referrals from previous customers, you need to be aware of the new reality: “Consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations,” Search Engine Land reports. If you plan to continue to reap the rewards of referrals, you need to adjust to how your customers have changed with regard to their patterns. Capturing and marketing ratings and peer reviews should be an integral part of marketing your business plan.

There are several key ingredients to being successful with peer reviews. In addition, there are things you want to avoid doing. This list of dos and don’ts should help in starting or improving on how to make peer reviews work for your business.

DO
• Regularly monitor your online ratings and reviews
• Respond promptly to any negative reviews and, just as importantly, to positive reviews
• For protracted communication with negative reviewers, get the communication offline 
• Actively participate with reviews; don’t pass this off to an employee not as vested in the outcome as you are
• Request reviews from all satisfied customers; this should be a part of the normal post-installation service process
• Make it easy for customers to give reviews
• Stay consistent with your tone in all communications

DON’T
• Ignore negative reviews or let emotion drive your response
• Respond to a negative review when angry
• Offer a financial resolution online, where it can be seen by other consumers
• Specifically ask for a positive review, which goes against the terms of service for most online review sites; simply ask customers to review you
• Incentivize customers to provide positive reviews without consulting the Federal Trade Commission guidelines, which are listed on the commission website

TURNING NEGATIVES INTO POSITIVES
If I could choose one message for a flooring dealer to take away from this topic, it is to not be afraid of a negative review. A consumer motivated to post a negative review is going to do it whether you ask for reviews from your customers or not. Many dealers allow this fear of the negative to keep them from asking for any reviews. Not only do they miss the opportunity to collect and market all the many positive experiences their customers have with their store, their employees and their products, they also miss the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. In fact, according to researcher Panagiotis Ipeirotis, “Negative reviews that are well written can actually increase sales of a product. One reason is that buyers gain confidence that ‘if this is the worst this product will throw at me, it must be pretty good’.”

Also, a negative review gives you the opportunity to demonstrate how quickly, efficiently and professionally you handle the inevitable issues that arise in doing business. Rational consumers expect you to have some negative reviews, and this provides you the chance to bring confidence to them that you will handle fairly whatever occurs when installing their flooring. 

Finally, remember your dos and don’ts for direction on how to best manage these negative reviews, which are part of everyone’s business.

YELP HELP
When the subject of reviews comes up in the flooring business, one review website always leads the discussion, Yelp. Due to its business model, it doesn’t balance good reviews with the bad. It gives preference to reviews from consumers that frequently post on Yelp, and, of course, in many instances those people tend to be serial complainers. If a serial complainer on Yelp is negatively affecting your business, you naturally want to do everything possible to resolve the problem. 

However, the solution is not directly with Yelp. There is no resolution or viable way to resolve this directly with them; you can and should respond to that reviewer online, but that will not make the review go away.  

To quickly see the influence of one negative review drowned out by the majority of your satisfied, happy customers, contact via email every satisfied customer within one week of installation and after thanking them for their business, ask for a review, one that is short and to the point. Then post it to your website. And most importantly, sign up with a service that syndicates these positive reviews to search engines, social media sites and directories, everywhere that consumers are looking to validate what your customers say about you. Using a tool that makes it easy to request, accumulate and syndicate reviews online will help you to manage the process more efficiently and effectively.

Copyright 2016 Floor Focus 



Related Topics:Carpets Plus Color Tile