Canadian retailers dip their toes into the social media pool

Roots presentation photoSocial Media Week, an international event taking place in major cities around the globe, kicked-off today in Toronto.  The Ted Rogers School of Retail Management at Ryerson University hosted a session this morning entitled “The Evolving Role of Social Media in Retail.”

The event opened up with a presentation from Canadian retailer, Roots Canada Ltd., explaining how they use social media to gather customer insights, build brand experiences and facilitate product enhancements and transactions online.  James Connell, Sr. Director of E-Commerce, Digital Marketing & New Media and Tanya Zelko, Manager, Digital Marketing & Online Customer Experience from Roots Canada educated the audience about what tools and tactics have worked for Roots Canada so far across multiple social media platforms.

Connell and Zelko highlighted some of the best practices for implementing a successful social media plan for retailers. If you are just getting started in social media, Connell and Zelko recommended the following strategies:

1. Determine where your audience is online first and then listen to their sentiments and discussions regarding your brand.

2. Define your social media marketing goals and then identify measurable targets.

3. Use tools like, blogs and alerts, etc. to monitor online chatter regarding your brand

4. Check your brand’s Wikipedia page for inaccuracies and make any changes necessary.  The story told on that page will likely proliferate on other sites on the web.  So, it’s crucial that your Wikipedia page be accurate.

5. Use LinkedIn to recruit the best talent – your future employees are there.

6. You don’t always have to be first to market on a social media platform to be successful.  James Connell gave the example of Foursquare and the fact that early adopters only saw results of 50 check-ins or so on early Foursquare campaigns.  He said that Roots would wait for user adoption to be higher before jumping onto a new platform like Foursquare. 

7. Download a Twitter alert app and arrange for the alerts to be sent to your mobile phone. Connell said that this helps to get real-time updates on discussions happening around your brand and your competitors’ brands.

After the presentation, Meg Sinclair, Manager of Corporate Communications at Syncapse, moderated a panel discussion with major Canadian retailers including Sears Canada, H&M Canada, Black’s Photography Corporation and Home Depot Canada.  What was interesting was that most of the retailers on the panel were just starting to dip their toes into social media. All of the panellists said that their organizations were using social media to build stronger customer relationships and brand experiences.

While a number of the panel speakers said that they see Facebook Deals as a better opportunity for implementing location-based promotions instead of Foursquare, the focus of their social media efforts to date have not really focused on impacting immediate transactions. However, Emily Scarlett, Public Relations Manager at H&M Canada, said that they often use social media to reward their super fans with discounts and invitations to exclusive in-store events. She said that they recently promoted a re-opening event for their Toronto Eaton Centre store through their social media channels. This promotion resulted in roughly 6,000 RSVPs to their exclusive, 4-hour event.

Will Alexander, Community Manager at Sears Canada, admitted that the social media impact on in-store sales and events can be scary for a retailer at first.  The H&M example shows that there are no guarantees as far as how popular a social media promotion can be and there are no predefined methods for projecting the turn out that they can expect. In the H&M Toronto Eaton Centre example, people were lined up around the block for the entire 4 hours – just to get 25% off and an exclusive look at the new store. This isn’t a bad problem to have but the panellists implied that it’s just hard to project the impact at this time.

All of the retail panel speakers agreed that they absolutely had to be in the social media space today. Yet, many of them have been slow to staff up enough resources behind their initiatives to date.  The good news is that they all hinted that they would be hiring more staff in this area in the next year or two. So, polish up those resumes!