According to Deloitte’s 2011 Holiday Survey, 44 percent of consumers claimed they would use social media as part of their holiday shopping process. Whether it was to find discounts, read reviews, or research gift ideas, social media played a huge role in last year’s holiday shopping season. And with social networks continuing to grow, experts expect social media to have an even bigger impact for the 2012 holiday season.

A big player. Social media is quickly changing how consumers find information. So savvy marketers are leveraging it to help their businesses amplify their messages and interact with consumers like never before. And even though the calendar may still read summer, many retailers are already thinking ahead to the highly profitable holiday season and figuring out how to better incorporate social media into their marketing plans.

Food for thought. Summer is a great time to work on building up your business’s social network followers and experiment with a few new ideas before the holidays. So this month we’ve put together a list of ways you can harness the power of social media to your advantage and get you thinking about your own holiday plans.

  • Set goals. Like any good marketing campaign, you should always define your goals. What do you hope to get out of using social media this holiday season? Do you want to increase brand awareness and Facebook fans? Are you wanting to increase sales or drive coupon redemption rates? Do you want to be able to make short-term special offers available in real-time or just reinforce your other media channels? Once you’ve defined whatever success means to your business, you’ll be better able to measure the effectiveness of your efforts.
  • Integrate social media with other marketing channels. Use social media to support your other promotional messages across multiple channels. Include your social media links on your marketing communications from your website to flyers to shopping bags. Coordinate your status updates and post with email blasts or direct mail drops by prompting consumers to look in their mailboxes for something special from your business. Post a YouTube link of your latest TV commercial. Or, add a sense of urgency to your coupon redemption by reminding shoppers your promotion expires soon.
  • Encourage sharing. Just like anything else on the Internet, the best way to encourage sharing is to provide content people will find valuable, funny or entertaining. Everybody loves a good deal, but your Facebook posts and Twitter tweets don’t always have to be a great offer. They can be helpful information such as a photographer who shares tips on what to wear for your annual family holiday photo. Think about the needs of your customers and what they would find useful and speak to those needs with your posts and tweets. Consider giving fans or followers who re-tweet or share your marketing message with their friends an extra discount or small gift card for helping you to spread the word.
  • Offer an exclusive promotion. Reward your Facebook fans or Twitter followers with special “members only” deals or discounts. Show them how much they are appreciated and build a sense of community by making them feel like they belong to an exclusive club.
  • Include a call to action. Always tell your followers in your posts what you want them to do next. Do you want them to visit your website? Do you want them to come in to the store? Do you just want them to post their opinion on something? Be specific when you start a conversation, offer a promotion, or request feedback from an email or one of your social media channels.
  • Engage, listen & respond. Too many businesses use social media as a broadcast channel for their promotions rather than creating conversations and engaging with their followers. Use the Facebook Questions feature to poll customers about what kind of holiday promotions they would like to see or what they’re shopping for this season. If a conversation catches fire, fan the flames and see where it goes. You could gain valuable insight to what your customers are looking for this holiday season. Plus, customers love it when they feel like a company is listening to what they have to say.
  • Use pictures & videos. Remember a picture is worth a thousand words. Whether you’re selling handmade jewelry, a spa package, or custom car parts, consumers respond to posts with photos or videos much better than with just text alone. Use imagery whenever possible to help promote your offerings.
  • Customize your message. There are a lot of tools available these days that make it easy to share the same message across all your social channels. But you may want to consider customizing a different message for each channel depending on where your target audience spends its social time online. How you relate to your customers on Facebook may need to be different from how you communicate on LinkedIn.
  • Incentivize customers to follow you. A recent report from Forrester Research showed that Facebook fans were more likely to buy, consider and recommend the brands they engage with on Facebook than non-fans. Build your followers or fan base before the holidays by providing a small discount or the opportunity to enter a contest by “Liking” your page. You’ll not only get a short-term boost in your social efforts, but you’ll expand your long-term reach into the new year as well.
  • Hold a contest. Contests are a great way to spread your message beyond your regular followers because entrants will often repost the contest on their own page. Just be sure to read the Facebook Guidelines for promotions or read our article about How to Run a Promotion, Contest or Sweepstakes on Facebook.
  • Promote unique events. If you’re hosting a special Facebook fans shopping event, exclusive after hours shopping night, charity benefit, or participating in something like a Toys-for-Tots campaign, use your social media channels to get the word out.
  • Create a microsite or custom landing page. Consider creating a microsite featuring holiday promotions you can direct all your social networks to. Also, Facebook allows you to customize the page that new viewers see the first time they visit your Facebook business page.
  • Track your efforts. Measure your social media efforts by adding tracking codes to any promotions you offer. Or, use different offers for each social media channel to see which ones are producing higher response rates and better sales.

A season for sharing. For many, the holidays are all about sharing with others. Social media networks are a great tool for your small business to do just that. Plus, you can expand your reach and connect with your customers at a deeper level. The promotional possibilities of social media are endless. The sooner you can start thinking about how to incorporate them into your holiday marketing plans, the better.


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