Social media – Heard it through the grapevine?

There is little doubt that since facebook and twitter burst onto the social media scene, their impact has been immeasurable. But how has the beauty industry got on board with these two key networking tools and which companies are leading the charge? Katie Middleweek reports

There is little doubt that since facebook and twitter burst onto the social media scene, their impact has been immeasurable. But how has the beauty industry got on board with these two key networking tools and which companies are leading the charge? Katie Middleweek reports

“The trend for businesses using social media is soaring and sites such as facebook and twitter have really got into their stride in the past few years,” says Sean Smith, operations director at media insight company, which offers its clients a service to monitor their social media coverage, such has been the explosion in interest.

“It’s quite astonishing really how these two sites in particular have permeated the business landscape and this applies to the beauty industry just as much as any other.”

Smith explains that twitter, which has just celebrated its fifth birthday, is currently the fastest growing social media platform with 190m users and a growth of 129% in 2010. The site, which was created in the US by Biz Stone, Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey, allows users to communicate with each other by way of ‘tweets’ – statements of no more than 140 characters a time.

This followed hot on the heels of facebook, created by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, which allows users to create a network of friends, form groups and post status updates which are similar to tweets although with no word limit. Facebook is used by 600m people globally and is growing steadily by 70% year-on-year. And it is much the same for social media as a whole with the medium (also including sites such as YouTube and Myspace) being used by 1.3bn of the 2bn people currently using the internet.

Both facebook and twitter allow easy access to shared content including words, images and web links and the advantages for companies cannot be understated. Facebook and twitter are now utilised by companies for corporate reasons in much the same way as individuals use them for social reasons. And the sites themselves have both developed ways to further facilitate this realising that their value truly lies in the number of users they can boast.

Power to the people

Smith continues: “Social media has really put power back into the hands of the everyday person which is so different to just a few years ago when the internet was primarily used for authorised bodies to broadcast messages. Now engagement is a must for companies and social media allows them to reach and monitor people in an instantaneous way and one that was never open to them before. L’Oréal is one of our clients and we track their social media mentions for them so they can find out who is talking about them and what they are saying – thus giving them a chance to engage and respond which are both absolutely crucial when it comes to succeeding in business. The overall aim is to increase positive mentions on the most influential sites with the most influential people – although ultimately all publicity is good publicity.”

Smith explains that many beauty brands have set up their own twitter and facebook accounts, often with a dedicated person in the office whose role is to update these sites. A facebook page allows the companies to post status updates on what the brand is up to, list information on campaigns and new products, upload pictures from recent events and forward blog posts and reviews. Meanwhile twitter is a more immediate, direct site, a forum for discussion which many companies use as a way to conduct their customer service enquiries.

Smith adds: “With the increased use of iPhones, each of these can be accessed 24 hours a day and their accessibility is the real key to their success. But it is still a business and facebook is making increasing amounts of money through advertising while twitter does not currently host advertising but places its value in its user base instead – perhaps it feels that using advertising would start to alienate its users which is something social media should be aware of as it is all about striking a balance.”

Creating a social hub

Despite a largely positive reaction from the business community, social media consultant Richard Stacy urges caution saying that tools such as facebook and twitter can be of use, but only when used in the right way.

He comments: “Social media only works if the company creates what I would call a social media hub. That is a combination of tools such as facebook, twitter, YouTube, Flickr and a selection of blogs. But I would still personally say that blogs are the most useful tool as they are the most accessible while facebook could be best used as a forum for discussion and twitter could be used for real time conversations in the same was as texting is for example.

“But it needs to be a combination of many different types of media and I would discourage a reliance on just one – you wouldn’t be a carpenter and only use a hammer would you? You need a broad range of tools at your disposal.”

He urges that companies should recognise both the pros and cons of each medium and not just be seduced by the immediacy of them, adding that some companies went head first into setting up twitter and facebook pages but failed to make proper use of them.“If you always base your business strategy on one or two tools,” comments Stacy “you will always lose out in the long run as there will always be a new tool around the corner.”

A broad appeal

Despite this warning it seems that the beauty industry cannot get enough of social media at the moment with many brands getting on board with facebook and twitter. Luxury Australian lifestyle company MOR Cosmetics has 3,985 facebook fans and 2,308 twitter followers. Dianna Burmas, founder of MOR Cosmetics says: “From a company perspective the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. For us, facebook generally has the upper hand and we use twitter as a platform to announce what we are doing on facebook. That said, twitter is a great micro blogging tool which helps us to get a message out quickly to a global audience.

“The use of the sites are extremely valuable as they allow us to have a direct conversation with our online community, the members of which are wonderfully responsive and love to be kept updated in this way. We also keep the information we post fresh and engaging and posted at intervals that will not annoy our fans or make them feel bombarded.”

Meanwhile, Clinique’s facebook page has over 21,000 fans in the UK and Rachel Hollis, Clinique’s online manager, feels it is the perfect way to engage with customers and potential customers on a daily basis.

She says: “From being the first to know about a new Clinique product to highlighting in-store events in their area or sharing tips and advice, the facebook page enables us to build a closer relationship with our fans and allows us to offer the same custom fit skin care advice and the gold standard customer service that they would find at a Clinique counter.

“The main strategic advantage is that it gives us the opportunity to gain an insight into the Clinique consumer and target audience – what are they posting about, what are their questions regarding and what is their main skin care concern? And I would say that integrating and participating in social media does required a dedicated manpower resource and the ability to respond quickly to concerns but once this is in place there are clearly many advantages,” she adds.

The concept of training staff to engage in social media is one not lost on Poole-based natural handmade cosmetics company Lush. A real advocate of social networking and extremely active on both facebook and twitter, head of brand communications, Harry Blamire, explains how and why the company is investing in this type of media.

“Our sites are updated each and every day by a variety of people dedicated to promoting the Lush message, says Blamire, “and we currently have 146,000 facebook fans and 36,000 followers on twitter which is no mean feat.”

He explains that when the company started up its facebook page in 2008 and its twitter account in 2009, it didn’t update them every day but all that changed in September 2009 when Lush decided to take a more active role in social media, becoming somewhat of a trailblazer in the process. Frequently quoted by others as a company which leads by example in the social media stakes, Lush is in the process of training up 18 members of its mail order staff use the Lush facebook and twitter sites. And because we are such a close knit company,” adds Blamire “we all dip in and out of various roles, so it is very useful to have this crossover.

“What you get out of social media is equal to what you put into it and because our business is built largely on word of mouth, and we don’t use advertising, the use of facebook and twitter has been vital to us. People in our industry who do not get on board with social media are at serious risk of getting left behind.”

This might indeed be the case as the influence of both twitter and facebook show no sign of slowing and the social media juggernaut continues to roll onwards, gathering converts at a staggering speed. Those who do not get involved, might find they have missed the boat.

Harnessing the benefits of social media

LVMH-owned company Benefit Cosmetics has really got on board with harnessing the advantages that facebook and twitter can bring it. Two new members joined the digital/e-commerce team last October to concentrate on expanding this further.

Jasmine Zhang is Benefit’s digital manager for the UK and Republic of Ireland. She discusses how using facebook has become a must for the company when it comes to engaging with its customers, both present and potential.

“Since I joined in October last year we have increased the number of fans of our facebook page from 10,000 to 17,425 at last count which is a real achievement. By comparison Benefit’s US facebook page has 174,719 fans but this would make sense as it is a US company after all. Our aim for the UK is to hit 20,000 fans by May as we try to integrate our digital and print methods.

“By using facebook as a way of marketing and promoting the brand we are largely targeting the younger age group of 18-26 year olds who are online all the time. Because they are young and trendy they appreciate the constant interaction that facebook offers them, either as a way to communicate with friends or with a brand they love such as Benefit. “The way in which we use it varies – we use the page to promote special offers, new products and reviews on the brand and also as a way to garner customer feedback and have live interaction with people who love the brand and want to know more about it. It has been a great way for us to improve and speed up our customer service as we are able to respond instantly to any queries or complaints.

“We can also segment our audience reach by using areas of the site to promote content that will appeal to specific groups – yummy mummies, students or bloggers for example – or people who are in specific geographical locations. We also have a Q&A part of the page which is called Dear Darren, where people can pose questions for our senior body and grooming expert and this allows us to be more interactive than ever before.
“I have really felt the benefits of being very active on facebook and it is part of my job to keep the site updated with the latest news. For example Benefit recently provided the make-up for the Paul Costelloe and PPQ shows at London Fashion Week and I was backstage during the event to see everything in action. The entire time I was there I was uploading photos of the models to facebook and also posting interviews that I was dong with the make-up artists. The immediacy of facebook meant that we could get news and images from the show out there before anyone else which was pretty special.”

Nichola Pergande is Benefit’s e-commerce manager for the UK and Republic of Ireland and part of her job is to tweet regularly on what is happening at Benefit. She tells ECM that you can get a lot across in just 140 characters.

“Twitter allows you to say what is on your mind at that very moment and because it is roughly the same length as a text it allows one to be very concise. I currently have 1,534 individual followers on twitter and it is growing fast because as a medium it is very organic.

“Although my twitter account is for Benefit I do tweet some personal stuff to give a human interest angle which I think people appreciate. For example just the other week I tweeted something about Pancake Day and International Women’s Day really close together so that shows how the personal and professional can be integrated successfully.

“As a business tool it is very valuable as it allows me to follow beauty bloggers, beauty journalists, make-up artists or anyone else who is relevant to our industry. Because I have built up my individual community when I engage I can say something that really resonates with the people that follow me. “Social media in general is a good match with a company that is young and fresh like Benefit – they are natural partners. We are allowed to be edgy here as that is what the company ethos is all about and twitter plays to women’s strengths as we are natural sharers and love a good chat! Men find it harder to share in my experience and often men who are on twitter retweet other people’s comments rather than tweet themselves.

“In terms of how different brands use twitter it is different in each case – it wouldn’t be suitable for everyone but I think for many it is an amazing medium and one which we should all make the most of because it has revolutionised how we do business really. It also allows us to follow other beauty brands such as Laura Mercier, MAC and Bobbi Brown which on the one hand is useful to see what the competition is up to but on the other hand I find it a real source of inspiration. “And I would also echo that from a customer service angle it is an invaluable tool. If someone has something they are not happy with we can pick up on that by doing various searches and then respond to that almost immediately. People really appreciate this and love the fact that we can interact with them in this way – and twitter gives us the ability to do that in a way we never could before which is great.”

Twitter in practice – A blogger’s view

Jane Cunningham is a top UK beauty blogger, whose site regularly attracts thousands of followers. She posts links to her blog on her twitter site, where she currently has over 9,000 followers

“Twitter is a good way to both keep in touch with fellow bloggers and readers of my blog and my twitter activity feeds my blog in many ways. Twitter is good because of its immediacy and the fact that people can react in such a quick way. I have found that people used to communicate with me through the comments section on my blog but these days it is much more efficient for them to use Twitter.

“I have been doing the blog now for three years and have had a twitter account for about 18 months and it would be hard to imagine one without the other now as I do find it very valuable. And the nice thing is it can be used socially as well as professionally.

“The way I use twitter varies depending on what I am doing and what I am working on. If I am working on a feature about Mother’s Day for example I can tweet a request for information or people can tweet me with things I might be interested in blogging about. Or it can be much more informal – a PR might tweet me to say thank you for attending a launch for example – so it is a very good way to invest in relationships. “There are some pitfalls however that people should be aware of. Because most people have their account set to a public setting there is the temptation to overshare which could sometimes be to your detriment.

“For example, of my 9,000 followers I have only actually met or know about 50 so you do have to be careful about how much you divulge, even in 140 characters! I would say it is crucial for beauty companies to get on board with twitter but how they use it is critical – it shouldn’t be used as a sales tool or a way to bombard journalists as people resent this. Used correctly, twitter can be very useful but it is all about approaching it in a healthy way as there are ways for companies to mix business with humanity and have the best of both worlds.”

Twitter in practice – A PR’s view

Tracey Robinson is the founder of Vert PR, a PR company which specialises in representing natural and organic beauty brands. She uses her twitter account to follow 897 people, many of them other PR contacts and journalists, and at last count 666 people were following Vert PR on twitter

“I do find twitter extremely useful as a business tool and to be honest I wonder how I would ever get by without it now. I use it to share and link to other posts which gives my clients extended coverage. It is like added value for them which is additional to what they might expect which is great. So for example if a journalist has tweeted something nice about my brands, which include Lavera or Pinks Boutique, I can retweet it and get the good news out to many more people.

“And it works both ways so if a blogger for example has reviewed one of Vert PR’s products then I can acknowledge them and show my appreciation in a very public way which is a valuable thing to be able to do. I find I use twitter and facebook increasing amounts and split my activity 60% offline and 40% online these days which is quite representative of how much I value social media.

“To be honest though I was a bit reticent to join twitter but I finally did in April last year and I have never looked back – there must be some disadvantages to using it but I cannot think of any. The number one reason for me to be on it is the instant contact and access I can have to relevant beauty journalists and bloggers. And it is also useful for industry news. I used to be reliant on magazines and newsletters much more to keep my finger on the pulse of the industry but the twitter timeline keeps me just as up to date, if not more so.

“And there are various platforms for hosting your account, I use TweetDeck which is an iPhone application which enables me to se what all sorts of different people are up to. My advice to other PR’s would be don’t be afraid of twitter, use it to your advantage as I do. And remember the key word here is social. Where email communication can sometimes be a bit impersonal, tweeting is friendly and accessible and if people in the industry aren’t engaging in it they are missing out.”

Facebook’s advice – Top tips for beauty brands

Create and use a facebook page to communicate with your target audience or gather consumer feedback Use targeted advertising on facebook by linking to another page or an e-commerce site to boost engagement

Use advertising to attract customers’ attention – last year Rimmel created a sampling ad to trial its new 60 Second Nail Polish

Make use of sponsored stories to harness recommendations – this will be additional to the original story in your newsfeed and will help drive word of mouth marketing between friends

Facebook can be increasingly used as an offline medium and the launch of ‘facebook Deals’ enables marketers to create socially and geographically relevant offers that can drive footfall to increase sales. On Valentine’s Day for example Debenhams offered the first ten people who checked in at each store a free Benefit mascara and makeover

Use facebook for social commerce and to help drive e-commerce sales. We provide tools for retailers to add social context to their websites and people can then share their shopping experience by liking, sharing and commenting on brands

These tools then serve as social recommendations that personalise sites and facebook sees this taking off in two key ways – through social merchandising and time-based sales. Two examples are Max Factor adding e-commerce to its page and partnering with Amazon to fulfil delivery and Clinique developing an application which helps fans of its page to find products similar to their favourites which may have been discontinued