by Emily J. Cappiello
Social networking is no longer an added part of success; it has become one of the main tools to help businesses thrive. Social networking allows companies to get closer to their customers and can even help consumers find local flooring stores, since Facebook is becoming an ever-increasingly popular search engine as well as social networking site. YouTube can enable people to network with each other but can also be used to supply partners and potential customers with educational information about products. And with new additions like Pinterest, social networking is growing by leaps and bounds.
“The social media tools themselves are constantly evolving,” said Shane Smartt, marketing, Kährs. “The advancement is actually its penetration is deeper and deeper into all segments and demographics of society and business.”
Eric Appleby, industry and social media expert, explained social networking is growing and the platforms on which to do so aren’t going away; they are evolving as well. “My picks for the two big social networking stories of the last year or so are Pinterest and Google+. Neither is brand new or particularly revolutionary, but they each illustrate some interesting trends.”
Appleby added that Pinterest gives its users visually appealing online spaces to “pin” collections of images, whether from other websites, their camera phones or from one-another’s “pinboards.” “It combines social bookmarking with photo/image sharing in a way that, apparently, makes women in their mid-30s—their prime demographic—swoon. I make special mention of this because it’s a fact that ought to make flooring retailers, if not swoon, at least take notice.”
As for Google+, Appleby explained that because of how integrated it is with gmail and maps, it makes the inner circle closer and more people can see what is being said about your business faster. “Prior to Google+, I could log in with my Google ID if I wanted to post a comment about a local business. The comment would then appear when other users viewed the business in the local search or map results. With Google+, this activity would be immediately visible to my circles—subject, of course, to privacy settings. If I am a happy customer, that business will be pleased that I’ve instantly recommended it to my friends. If I’m not happy, I have just warned all my friends about my bad experience. Google search results and maps already have a lot of influence, but now I, the consumer, can multiply my own influence using Google’s social tools. The other, less obvious implication is that every local business is now participating in an online social network whether they realize it or not. Claiming and maintaining their Google Local Business page should be on every retailer’s to-do list.”
In addition, according to Betsy Amoroso, Mannington’s director of communications, things are changing quickly in social media and part of this is the fact many key consumers are now using social networking sites. “Not only are more people engaged in social networking today than a year ago, but there are more social media outlets for us to work through. And, as it’s evolved, we’re finding the demographics are changing—it’s not just the 20-somethings who are active. Today, companies that don’t take part in social networking run the risk of becoming invisible to consumers because that’s where she begins her shopping: Online.”
And, according to industry insiders, it is those key components that are making social networking a more accepted part of a total marketing strategy.
“Social media is here to stay,” said Paij Thorn-Brooks, senior director of marketing for Unilin Flooring, a Mohawk company. “Brand promotion through social media is not only effective, but in most cases, is also an economical marketing tool. By capitalizing on the opportunity to communicate with consumers via social media, our brand is able to increase overall brand awareness, reach a large number of consumers with a specific message in a timely manner, and motivate consumers to positively respond to a call-to-action.”
Kimberly Lefever, Armstrong’s social media manager, echoed the sentiment. “A social media presence is now becoming accepted as a marketing initiative and there are a lot of social media sites that are developing. Social media allows us to have a one-on-one conversation with users, which helps build brand advocates as well as improve customer service. In addition, you can touch the consumer at every phase.”
There is great value in understanding consumers’ experiences with a company’s products, according to Todd Callaway, interactive marketing manager at Shaw. “Social media helps give us that understanding. It gives us an opportunity to interact with people and join conversations they’re already having about selecting products for their home and about their overall satisfaction with their purchases. By joining these conversations, we have an opportunity to learn from them and ultimately make consumer experiences even better. There is also great value in social media’s ability to spread the word to audiences who may not be familiar with the Shaw brand or our products.”
It is important to reach consumers where they are, and they are on these social networking sites. “These sites are a vital aspect of the way many consumers live their lives—from doing research or seeking advice to simply sharing experiences and news,” Callaway said. “We’re excited to have avenues like Facebook and Pinterest to speak directly to these consumers. Building relationships with them and having a better understanding of them helps us make sure we’re providing floors that meet their needs and they’re pleased and proud to have in their homes.”
But, according to Elise Demboski, vice president of creative services at Mohawk, marketing yourself on social networking sites allows for more than brand promotion—it makes you a participant in the social circle of your target audience. “Life unfolds in real time on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking websites. If you aren’t using social networking in your marketing approach, you aren’t part of today’s conversation. And if you aren’t part of the conversation, chances are you aren’t closing as many sales as you could. Don’t use social media because it’s trendy or popular, use it because it is an effective tool to reach consumers and engage them to shop at your store. Social media fosters consumer interaction, and that brings a real opportunity. You can learn what works and what doesn’t work for your customers and ultimately better meet their needs.”
However, industry experts told FCNews that social networking is not something to be left by the wayside. It will continue to affect the way consumers get information, shop and even complain. “People like having a voice and that voice is going to grow louder,” Lefever said. She predicts more niche social media sites will keep popping up, which will make for more direct contact with target consumers.
Demboski added that consumers are going to continue to go to social networking sites and everyone in the supply chain should be prepared. “For a while now, we’ve described the retailer’s store website as their front door. Sticking with that same analogy, I think social media is now a GPS mapping device that leads consumers to the right location. Social media has created an incredibly educated, highly informed customer. She’s asking her friends on Facebook for purchasing advice and reading consumer product reviews on numerous online sites prior to purchasing. She’s definitely done her homework and I believe that’s a good thing for the industry. It’s making us work smarter and it’s holding us accountable. Also, social media is teaching us to be a more creative industry—especially when it comes to marketing and advertising. I really think our best, most creative years are ahead.”