Editor’s Note: This is the first in series of interviews with ecommerce merchants on their use of social media.
OTC Sports is a family-run specialty dealer of premium baseball and softball equipment. It targets serious, tournament-level ballplayers. We spoke with the owner, Jeff LeRiche, who co-founded
OTC Sports in 2009, about the company and its use of social media for marketing.
PeC: How do you market OTC Sports?
Jeff LeRiche: “The majority of our efforts are online or social-media based. Other forms of marketing we engage in include:
- “A monthly opt-in email newsletter that includes tips, product news and special offers;
- “Setting up our booth at local tournaments and events, where we interact with customers and pass out flyers and postcards;
- “National OTC sports referral/affiliate program;
- “Youth-league fundraiser program.”
PeC: What prompted you to consider using social media? When did you begin?
LeRiche: “My wife, Kimberly, currently owns a business helping other small business owners with Internet marketing. So she was a big proponent for integrating social media into our marketing plan from the beginning. We knew we could use social media for networking and creating connections online, as well as to help with OTC’s online visibility.
“When we met with our web developer, the plans included a blog, as well as discussion about where the icons for our social media profiles would be included on the front page of the site. With her help and knowledge, we didn’t have the typical learning curve associated with jumping into using social media and we were able to implement social media strategies effectively and efficiently.
“We began using social media even before we launched our website. While I was already on LinkedIn, I did go and join some relevant sports merchandise industry groups and we set up a Twitter account along with a Facebook Fan Page.
“We also created accounts on Delicious and Flickr, but these have not been as developed as our blog, Twitter and Facebook. Even prior to launching OTC, I was an active member on a few different softball forums, so I was already well-known within those communities.
“Using both Twitter and Facebook, along with my participation on softball forums, we were able to drive traffic to a landing page where people could sign up for our e-newsletter, which we used to announce our official launch along with a coupon code for a discount off the first purchase. Using these methods, we had an email list of over 200 before we even launched the site.”
PeC: What does social media do for your business?
LeRiche: “Social media provides us with additional avenues for connecting with our target market online. By participating in forums, on Twitter and Facebook, we are able to reach out to people who are interested in or involved in softball and baseball.
“We don’t use these social media avenues as just a means to blast out links to our products or about what products are currently for sale. We use them as tools to engage with people on any level.
“Our Twitter profile and Facebook Fan Page have both been optimized with keywords to help them get found by our target market, not only when people are searching within those platforms, but also to also help those profiles appear in search engines searches. What we’ve discovered is that about 25 percent of our new traffic comes from Facebook and approximately 10 percent is coming from Twitter.”
PeC: Tell us more about your blog.
LeRiche: “As a marketing and promotions manager in my previous career, I realized the importance of having a forum where you can write good, informative content and interact with people. A blog was the perfect avenue for this. We use the blog to write about what’s going on in softball and baseball, to provide product reviews, and company updates, as well as tips and hints for becoming a better ball player.
“We’d like to continue for our blog to become a hub where people regularly come for good content and to encourage people to comment and interact with us there. Of course, we also realize the benefits a blog can bring in helping us get found in the search engines and for building links.”
PeC: How do you use Facebook and Twitter?
LeRiche: “Facebook has been a good tool for answering questions about products and for questions from people wanting additional information about ordering a product. We’ve also had customers use our Facebook page to give great testimonials about our customer service.
“Though Twitter has not driven significant amounts of traffic to our site, we have seen some other qualitative benefits such as connecting with other large, national softball associations and creating connections with serious ballplayers.
“We’ve been using Twitter to keep an eye on what our competitors are doing. Some of them I know personally, so I’ve connected on a personal level, but we also watch what they are doing and how they are doing it.”
PeC: Are there downsides to using social media?
LeRiche: “One of the primary problems we’ve encountered is finding the time to keep different profiles updated and getting posts out on a regular schedule.
“Social media works best when you stay in front of the audience consistently. Time seems to be the biggest downside for almost anyone involved with maintaining his or her own social media efforts.”
PeC: In terms of maintaining the sites, do you have a staff person dedicated to the task, or is that a role you play?
LeRiche: “Both my wife and I maintain all of OTC Sports social profiles. We both manage the Facebook page and Twitter- although she’s much more familiar with Twitter than I am and has set up a system for targeting followers, tracking keywords and creating lists of others to follow closely. I primarily do the writing for the blog, but she helps to maintain the more technical aspects of the blog along with setting up the systems for distributing our RSS feed to our different profiles.”
PeC: What advice would you give to other ecommerce merchants who may be considering social media?
LeRiche: “Have a strategy. Understand how the different platforms are used for connecting and engaging. Figure out what are your goals for using social media and consistently take stock of your efforts so that you can revise your strategy over time.
“If your goal is to drive traffic to your website, then figure out which platforms are best suited to that purpose and how you will specifically use those platforms in a non-spammy way for driving quality traffic to your site.
“If your goal is to increase sales or to convert visitors to sales, then do your research first on how to use social media to do that without alienating your market. Don’t just interact online as a business; interact with others as a person who happens to have an online business.
“Also, make it easy for people to find you in other social networks. Make your links to other social networking sites visible. Run your promotions through those social networks, and provide special coupons to just fans and followers.”