Building A Community
Social Media Tools Help Snow Sports Retailers Connect with Enthusiasts
Best Practices by Lou Dzierzak, Lkdcom@visi.com
More than ever before, snow sports retailers are using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to build communities of loyal consumers.
“The most powerful market tool is word of mouth,” says Ryan Corwin, advertising manager, Bob Ward and Sons, Helena, MT. “That translates online as social media. Facebook, Twitter and others like Pinterest and Instagram allow us to have a voice with our customers.”
Elevation Sports, Santa Monica, CA has used social media as a communications tool for over 3 years. A recent Facebook promotion attracted 3,000 “likes” from followers and friends. “It’s very exciting. You are able to reach such a large number of people with a single post or tweet,” says Rosemarie Li, social media manager, Elevation Sports. “I like to stay on top of what our audience is interested in and looking for. We want to make sure our customers know what’s going on as well as introduce them to new products.”
Basin Sports, Killington, VT uses daily social media posts to keep followers informed about ski conditions, events and product information. The shop’s YouTube videos have generated more than 10,000 views. “That helps create more credibility and lets people know about what we live and breathe every day,” reports Bret Williamson, hardgoods manager, Basin Sports. “People will call the store asking questions about the products we feature in the videos.”
Facebook and Twitter posts are used to inform, educate, educate and entertain followers. “Social media been a great outlet for us to let people know about events at the store or in the community,” says Scott House, social media director, White Pine Touring Center, Park City, UT. “We work to make sure our posts are relevant for our customer.”
While traditional media like print and radio play an important role in building awareness and preference for a shop, social media tools can have a more immediate reaction. “In Montana, the weather changes every 5 minutes. We can get a couple of feet of snow on the mountain in a couple of hours,” notes Corwin of Bob Ward and Sons. “We’ll post we have the skis for these conditions so come in and grab them. Social media allows a more dynamic message. Newspaper and radio you just have to let it run. There’s no changing it.”
“Social media has changed the landscape for everyone in terms of marketing. Consumers are smart and tech savvy. They research products online and know what they want before they go into the store,” notes Mike Duncan, co-founder and Creative Director of Sage Island. “Many people are getting brand and product recommendations through social media. Product trends are being pushed out through tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It can be awkward if you are not attuned to these conversations and know what concerns consumers have about with particular products or services.”
SnowSports Industries America’s Retail to Consumer Marketing Guide offers a comprehensive set of recommended strategies for social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. The guide includes suggested headlines and message topics for timely social media posts.
Adrienne Belk, account director, Sage Island, who worked with SIA executives to create the marketing resource materials reports, “The Guide’s campaigns are pointed to a different segment of customer at a certain stage in the consumer lifecycle such as mom/parents, lapsed participants and backcountry skiers.”
The Retail to Consumer Guide also offers options for integrated marketing campaigns. “It’s not just print, radio or television anymore. It is all the different social networks as well as in-store promotions,” says Duncan of Sage Island. “The marketing calendar can spark creativity. Even the largest shops who are already using social media tools will say that’s a good idea for another campaign we can do.”
By combining using tailored messages to communicate with specific social media tools, the Retail to Consumer Marketing Guide can help retailers create meaningful long-term relationships with local ski enthusiasts.
Creating a Loyal Audience
While there are no hard and fast rules on frequency, Sara Lingafelter, director of digital & social strategy, Verde PR & Consulting suggests watching how the audience responds. “Is the audience growing and engaged or are people abandoning you in droves? Keeping an eye on what’s happening with your following will help you know how you are doing in terms of frequency and whether what you are doing is resonating with your audience,” reports Lingafelter.
“When a company is setting a precedent of how they are going to use a digital channel such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube then they need to be aware that any community they create as a result of that action is going to expect that level of interaction going forward,” reports Eric Berto, social media communications, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. “There will be folks who are asking questions via twitter. Is the person you’ve hired addressing those questions or is the channel going silent? You are going to lose that audience and in turn lose any business coming from them.”
Following the Conversation
Posting information about local snow conditions, product clinics and weekend sales is just half the job. Monitoring posts from followers is equally important.
Facebook and Twitter posts can cover an incredible range of topics. While usually infrequent, complaints require attention. “A negative post or complaint is the perfect opportunity to communicate one to one with that customer and let them and everyone who is reading, know they have been heard and that you, as a retailer, are listening,” reports Belk, Sage Island. “It’s a great opportunity to address the issue, apologize if necessary, or give a suggestion to remedy the situation.”
With appropriate and timely responses, troublesome issues can often be turned to the retailer’s advantage. “When a customer uses our Facebook profile to voice a complaint it allows us instant contact with them. We can open a dialogue and solve the problem. In the end, we always come out with a positive resolution. If a product was defective or customer service wasn’t there we can fix that with social media,” explains Corwin.
Having a plan in place to deal with complaints or controversial images may prevent a fast response being misunderstood or not clearly communicating the shop’s position.
“The best crisis communication strategy is to have a plan in place,” explains Berto, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. “Even if the message is “we’re investigating we will comment shortly.” A short message like that is helpful.” Berto recommends creating a style guide that address scenarios. “In most cases those crisis scenarios are relatively predictable problems like poor service.”
Belk adds, “A response shows that as a retailer you are being attentive and that you care. It’s free demonstration of your customer service not only to the person who posted the initial complaint and to the rest of your followers. In some cases, your own customers will chime in as well, with suggestions, or to counter the post which can be good dialogue.”
Snow sports retailers across the country are using social media tools to build committed, involved and loyal customer bases. Suggested social media topics and posts in the SIA Retail to Consumer Marketing Guide make it easier than ever to get started with social media tools like Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
“Be willing to try and be genuine. Don’t be afraid to tell your story. The rewards for doing that far outweigh the risks,” notes Lingafelter. “Think about who your dream customer and then think about what that customer wants from your business in terms of social outreach.”
Duncan says, “Social commentary helps build and reinforce your brand. It’s a great channel for a small store to go out and have a big voice.”
For more information on SIA’s Retailer to Consumer Marketing Guide, visit the page or contact Mary Cecile Neville, SIA’s Associate Director Marketing & Communications, at MCNeville@snowsports.org or 703-506-4201.
Managing a successful snow sports specialty retail store requires expertise in an ever-changing array of business operations. Human resources, event planning, marketing, product selection, social media and e-commerce are just a few examples. Lou Dzierzak has written about these topics for over a decade. Best Practices will shorten the learning curve by offering case studies, resources and how-to tips from experts in specific fields. If you have suggestions for future topics, please feel free to contact Lou at Lkdcom@visi.com.