In Field Test, Practical eCommerce has gathered ten seasoned ecommerce merchants and asked each of them the same questions around a given topic. This month’s topic is social networking.
The participating ecommerce merchants are: Dave Norris, House of Antique Hardware; Justin Hertz, MuttMart; Chris Stump, Only Hammocks; Mike Reiman, PoolDawg; Dan Stewart, Xtreme Diesel Performance; Roman Kaagan, Appliance Parts Pros; Cindy Barrileaux, Write Your Best; Claudette Cyr, Gear-Source; Mike Butler, Bloom Designs Nursery; Kristen Taylor, Juvie.
The responses for four of the ten merchants follow below. The answers are shown in random order to preserve anonymity.
PeC: Which social networking sites do you visit?
FIELD TESTER 7: Primarily Myspace.com and Youtube.com.
FIELD TESTER 8: Industry specific forums, dot com journals, Digg.com, Linkedin.com and Youtube.com.
FIELD TESTER 9: Digg.com.
FIELD TESTER 10: Gardenweb.com, Davesgarden.com (a/k/a Garden Watchdog)
PeC: Which social networking sites do you market your business on?
FIELD TESTER 7: We currently do not market on social networks.
FIELD TESTER 8: Our own forum and Youtube.com.
FIELD TESTER 9: None.
FIELD TESTER 10: Davesgarden.com.
PeC: Do you monitor traffic and/or sales from social networking sites?
FIELD TESTER 7: We do not currently monitor traffic from social networking sites.
FIELD TESTER 8: Yes.
FIELD TESTER 9: No.
FIELD TESTER 10: Yes.
PeC: How does your ecommerce business use social networking for marketing purposes?
FIELD TESTER 7: We do not currently use social networking sites to market our business on, however, we recognize the potential and plan to use them in the future.
FIELD TESTER 8: Our forum provides free repair help as well as general information. To date, we have over 7,500 members, many of whom become loyal customers. We also plan to showcase short video clips with various specific repair topics on Youtube.com. Our journal is one of the leading industry blogs that focuses on news and product recall information, with a large and growing number of subscribers ranging from homeowners to manufacturers’ representatives. In some cases, as with (a recent) recall, our journal acted as an important medium for homeowners to display their frustrations and for the manufacturer as a chance to respond.
FIELD TESTER 9: We attempted to create our own social networking site to tie in with our customers, but got very little response.
FIELD TESTER 10: We have listed many of the products we have available on Davesgarden.com. We review forums for comments and possible trends, and on occasion take part in the forum discussions.
PeC: Can you describe both successes and frustrations that you’ve encountered with social networking sites?
FIELD TESTER 7: I believe a business needs to overcome two challenges in order to use social networks to its advantage. First, is the ability to present yourself as an expert in your field without making a blatant plug for your business. The second is to drive not just traffic to your site, but targeted traffic — what is it worth if you can’t convert any traffic coming from social networks?
FIELD TESTER 8: Whenever you can present your company in front of a highly targeted audience you are bound to see great results. Both our repair forum and journal have proven to be a success in that regard.
FIELD TESTER 9: We were hoping that the whole concept of user-generated content would take on a life of its own. It didn’t, at least for us.
FIELD TESTER 10: The Garden Watchdog provides an independent site for customers to post their experience with online/mail order companies, and the positive responses we have received give prospective customers added confidence when ordering from us. While not a frustration, upon ordering, a couple of new customers attempted to intimidate or “threaten” us with possible negative reviews if they did not like what they received.
PeC: What are your plans for utilizing social networking sites in the next 12 months?
FIELD TESTER 7: We are in the process of laying out a strategy to market ourselves on social networks.
FIELD TESTER 8: We will be looking closely at using Youtube.com. We also have a brand new social networking site in the works.
FIELD TESTER 9: Really none. We will always keep our eye on trends, but until concrete information proves that there is income to be made, we won’t be jumping in.
FIELD TESTER 10: We will continue our current program of monitoring site forums for trends, comments and ideas. Marketing dollars will be fine tuned to see if we can improve response rate/return from the targeted market.