Want loyal customers? Take a lesson from Sephora: Teach them how to use your products

After the makeover: Melanie and I strike a pose during our post-makeover cocktail celebration.

Melanie and I strike a pose during our post-makeover cocktail celebration.

I am a member of the cult of Sephora.

Actually, I’m a VIB member – that’s Very Important Beauty – of their Beauty Insider rewards program for spending $350 in a calendar year (don’t judge; it’s not all for me – I do buy lots of birthday and Christmas gifts there!).

Why do I keep coming back? Because Sephora is not just a place where you buy makeup. You also have access to information and education – in the store and online – to help you choose the right products and learn how to use them.

This is a lesson that anyone – whether you’re a small business or big corporation – can use to win loyalty by letting customers try out products and services, and going beyond that with in-person demonstrations and social media content that provides education and best practices.

It starts with the store itself. If you haven’t been to a Sephora (or if you’re a guy and have stayed far, far away from them), they have a knowledgeable staff and aisles and aisles of makeup. Each product has a sample available that customers can try on. There are plenty of endcaps with disposable eyeshadow brushes, cotton swabs and tissues that allow you to try on the makeup (without getting any germs from the last customer). Beauty Insider members also get samples to take home and try based on purchase points earned – and a free birthday gift.

A Sephora palette from one of my Instagram photo-a-day pics.

A Sephora palette from one of my Instagram photo-a-day pics.

Sephora also offers a range of in-store educational services: express makeup application, classes and personalized consultations. Most are free, and a few are paid. A few weeks ago my friend Melanie and I made appointments for the customized makeup application, and it was definitely worth the price. The Sephora consultants were fantastic – they helped us with all of our questions on makeup application, indulged us with our “I always wanted to learn how to do ____” requests, and helped us find our own perfect colors and combinations. I had such a great experience and shared it on Facebook (word of mouth!), which is why I’m going back this weekend with 3 more friends – I’m picking up a few supplies and hanging out while they get express makeovers.

Most of their social media and email content shares that same combination – they strike a good balance of education and best practices vs. sales. The Sephora Facebook page and Pinterest boards are full of pro tips, links to Q&As with cosmetic company founders and reps, links to instructional videos, ideas, trends and invitations for fans to share their tips and photos.

Yes, Sephora is a global company and they want to make money, but they’re also providing a good experience for the customers with the sampling and educating. If you’re a customer, you can know on the spot if something’s right for you and not waste money on products that you’re never going to use. And if you’re a loyal customer, you’ll come back when you’ve used up your favorite shade of lipstick.

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How your social media content can drive traffic to your fans’ content

Social media marketing is about getting the most exposure and engagement for your business to help you spread word of mouth, create community and grow your business.

Notice I said the word “your” twice.

What about the people who follow those businesses? We don’t often talk about exposure, engagement and growth for the customers and fans.

Recently, I had a few interactions with businesses that helped me get a little social media love, and it was a great thing – it’s nice when a brand or businesses send some clicks, views and followers your way.

Sharing followers’ content

One of those interactions was with the Content Marketing Institute. I retweeted their post about creating engaging content using Facebook’s Graph Search. They answered me and asked for more tips. I just happened to write a blog post on this topic a few weeks before (wink, wink), tweeted it to the CMI, and they retweeted it.

Content Marketing Institute Retweet

Score!

Thanks to their huge readership, I got a bit of blog traffic. In the next 24 hours, I had 54 unique views to my blog, and that post is my third most viewed post. That may not be a whole lot for some people, but that’s fantastic for me and my little blog.

The Content Marketing Institute did not have to retweet my post. They could have said nothing or a simple thank you. The fact that such a prominent marketing blog shared a post on a blog from one of their followers who they’d never interacted with before made me feel pretty special.

Putting the spotlight on what others are saying

The second thing that happened was also Twitter-related. I tweeted about a recent episode of the NPR show Radiolab (if you have not listened to it, make some time to check out their podcasts – amazing stuff).

Radiolab’s website had an embedded widget that didn’t promote their tweets – the widget found tweets that included the search term Radiolab. My tweet appeared in their stream, which, according to HootSuite’s analytics, led some visitors to the link that I shared:

HootSuite Analytics for Referrers

The important part of this example is not the number of clicks (I know, it’s a small number). It’s the fact that Radiolab shared what their followers were saying, not their own Twitter content. Yes, it’s still content that promotes the show, but it was a nice way to spotlight what their fans were saying about Radiolab. Embedding your fans’ tweets on a site that gets a lot of traffic has the potential to direct readers to any content the fans share, whether it’s their own or yours. It’s nice exposure for the people who provide positive word of mouth for what you do.

Share the love

I know this is another item to add to the Social Media Marketing To Do List, but helping your followers get a little social media love is a win-win. Awesome Merchandise, a UK promotion and printing company, does this well – they asked fans to send them photos of their products, and then promoted the fans’ businesses in a Facebook photo album.

Keep an eye out for the people who tweet your stuff, comment on your Facebook posts, or share your pins on Pinterest. Ask them for their tips or blog posts, and share them with your audience. Take a look at your followers’ profiles, check out their work, and link to it. Carve out a little space on your social profiles to show off your fans. It makes the loyal supporters even more loyal, and gives those fans a wider audience for the work that they’re doing.

Stats, source and a new look: 3 things you should know about Pinterest

I have an on-again-off-again relationship with Pinterest. It’s mostly due to my on-again-off-again relationship with online shopping. I prefer to shop in person, try things on and see them face-to-face.

But sometimes I am curious about what’s new without having to leave the house (like tonight when we got a foot of snow). And then I see a ton of things I want, so I pin them to my boards (hello 30 dresses and skirts from ModCloth!).

I’ve noticed an on-again-off-again trend with Pinterest. You hear a blip here and there, and then there’s a period where Pinterest is everywhere – that’s what’s happened in the last month. So here are 3 things that you might want to take a look at if you’ve put Pinterest to the side lately. Log in and crank it up!

1. Stats

There are actually 2 things in the stats category. Here’s the first. An infographic I saw today with data from the Pew Center for Internet & American Life confirms what most people know about Pinterest: Most users are women. However, Pinterest use is very common across geography (urban, suburban and rural), race, education and income. When I think about the people I know who use Pinterest and their demographics, that really fits the bill. Some of those people could care less about Twitter or Instagram, but they are regular pinners.

Here’s the second stats item: As of last week, Pinterest added an analytics platform. Right now, it tracks pretty basic activity of content from your site that’s been pinned: number of pins, pinners, repins, impressions, reach, clicks and visitors. I’m interested to see how this develops over time. My little blog has a small amount of Pinterest data – my busiest times are the days that I pin blog posts, and a day or two after that:

Pinterest Stats for azurecollier.com

2. Source

Here’s a cool little trick to find out what content from your website is getting pinned. Use this URL: http://pinterest.com/source/YourWebsite.com/. This is a screenshot from my blog’s content that’s been pinned – mostly by me! But as my blog grows, it will be nice to see what’s being pinned so I can get a better picture of what content readers want.

Pinterest Content from azurecollier.com

3. New look

If you have a Pinterest business account or have a verified website on your profile, you can preview Pinterest’s new look! There’s some small changes to the navigation – the search bar and categories are on the top left and tools for your settings have collapsed under one bar on the right. When you hover over the categories icon, it opens a window of 2 dozen topics.

The more interesting change is on the pins themselves. When you click a pin, it now shows a menu of other pins from that pin’s board, and suggests other items that people have pinned from that source/website. It’s a great way to explore other items or products that you haven’t seen before.

New Look - Pinterest Pins

That’s the latest about Pinterest! Got some tips that I didn’t cover? Let me know in the comments. Happy pinning!

How can your business get noticed in the new Facebook news feed? More visual content

A look at the new Facebook news feed (image from Facebook)

A look at the new Facebook news feed (image from Facebook)

The most important lesson from Facebook’s news feed upgrade announcement this week is this: multimedia is critical to your business’ success on Facebook.

Photos and videos will appear larger in the news feed – currently that content makes up 50% of the stream. And there’s a good reason for that. Facebook users are more engaged with multimedia than with text updates alone, or with text and a link. MBooth found that videos are shared 12 times more than link or text updates, and photos are liked 2 times more than text updates.

It makes sense. for Facebook users – your fans and followers – photos and videos are a huge part of their social media activity. A recent Pew Internet and American Life study shows that almost half (46%) of online adults post photos and video, while 56% have completed at least one photo-sharing activity.

For small businesses who are already using photos and video, the changes validate the time and effort they spend on creating that content. For those that aren’t, it’s time to take stock of your content creation for 2013, and change those New Year’s content resolutions. The top content types that small businesses in a BusinessBolts.com study planned to increase this year were written content; 53% wanted to focus on video, and 30% planned to increase photo creation. If your business placed multimedia towards the bottom of the list, your smartphone is going to be your new best friend.

The time is right for multimedia content, especially for small businesses on a small budget – no one has to purchase expensive equipment, or hire high-end professionals to show off their business. Everything you need is on your iPhone or Android. The tools are extremely easy to use, and you don’t have to spend hours on your photos or video. A couple of images in a small album or photo collage, or a short video (really short if you’re using 6 second clips from Vine) are all you need. If you haven’t already, download Instagram and Vine, and start capturing engaging, interesting visual content.

Why reviews matter

Gold Star AwardI am a crazy cat lady. Three felines live at our house, and – like most pet owners – I sometimes go nuts on the pet products. I have a loyalty card for and receive emails from one of the big chain pet stores. I’ve been looking for one of those pet water fountains, so I was psyched when I got an email with a link to a sale.

I ended up not purchasing anything though. Why? The reviews for all of the water fountains were so bad that I bailed. Everyone who purchased one ended up returning it because they leak, make noise and/or break.

Turns out I’m one of the 32% of Americans that trusts total strangers when making purchasing decisions, according to Forrester. There’s often speculation about reviews. Are they true or fake? Are people being paid by the company to write favorable reviews?

A 2012 DemandForce infographic shows that review writers have good intentions. When asked why they post reviews, the top 3 reasons were about being helpful:

  • To help other consumers make good decisions – 90%
  • To share experiences on consumer reviews – 86%
  • Because people rely on consumer reviews and posting reviews is a way of giving back – 79%

Although I have run into the occasional questionable review – one store that I will not name promoted a review for one of their products from a Worchester, MA customer (Caught ya! It’s Worcester, you fakers!), I like to think that many of these reviews are true, because that’s what I feel I encounter in real life. I’m a huge shopper, and want to hear my friends’ experiences – good and bad – when they purchase something, whether that’s a car, a book, or a sweater. I’m also happy to share my experiences – especially the good ones.

The DemandForce infographic shows I’m not alone in this – 70% of consumers look at up to 10 reviews before making a decision, and – when it comes to local businesses – 67% of consumers read the reviews.

I am willing to take time to read reviews before I purchase something, especially if it’s for something I have little to no experience with, like when I purchase anything for my nieces who live out of state. I don’t have kids, so when I want to buy them clothing, I head to one of the best sites I’ve seen for reviews – Old Navy. I trust the moms who write the reviews there (there are TONS, which is amazing because clothing is seasonal and the products change pretty frequently), and they seem to be in consensus about the products. Either something’s cute and it fits right, or it’s not-so-great.

I definitely trust the people who write reviews who are by people like me. Whenever I start looking for a new pair of winter boots or a coat, I skip over anything written by anyone outside of New England. If you don’t have to dodge ice and slush for 6 months out of the year, I am not going to care why you like those boots. Give me a hardy New Englander and a description of how a pair of cute-but-functional boots helped them climb snow piles in a parking lot.

While some parts of the Internet are anonymous-and-mean-spirited-gone-wild or overshare city, reviews are kind of a warm and fuzzy haven. They’re a common ground, a community, and a place where you can find people who want to help their fellow man save a few bucks.

What are your opinions of reviews? Like ‘em? Hate ‘em? Worthwhile or not worth your time? Let me know in the comments!

We’re getting away from Marketing 101

This is a guest post by my friend, photographer and social media marketer Dana Dillehunt. If you have a minute (or two), please check out her photography website, read her blog, Like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter!

Dana is tired of brands and businesses abusing social media marketing. She’s got 4 tips on how you can redeem yourself:

Blonde Woman with MegaphoneIf McDonald’s was showing clips of ‘80s movies instead of advertising their food on TV, we’d all surely enjoy the commercials. But we’d have no idea that they were created by McDonald’s, and they wouldn’t exactly inspire a surge of Big Mac purchases.

So why are brands abusing the largest marketing opportunity available?

Somewhere along the blue-brick road, companies lost their way. They decided it was more important to have 1 million likes than 1,000 sales directly inspired by content. They wanted ALL THE FOLLOWERS, regardless of the actual audience composition.

So they stood over their social media minions (with whips! and fire!), evilly cackling away at LOLCATZ and ehrmagerds, completely neglecting their actual message. And no one bought anything from them, ever, and they went bankrupt and the media minions rose up and bought the company and renamed it something awesome and made all the bosses work as janitors.

Don’t let this happen to your business! Here are four no-fail ways to make sure nobody ever thinks of you (or your company) as a giant douche.

1. Stop asking your followers to LIKE, or SHARE, or COMMENT. They can read (they’re on Facebook, after all). Allow your content to inspire them, to drive them to do any (or all) of those actions. Even the least savvy of followers might be dissuaded from acting, just because you told them to. (We all have a little rebellious streak).

2. Don’t exploit memes because people “like” them. We don’t need any more stock Victorian imagery over pastel backgrounds with snarky text. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Does the meme somehow communicate your brand’s message? And on the rarest, (read: RAREST) of occasions, can it be modified or stretched slightly to align with your brand?

3. Don’t capitalize on national tragedies to leverage engagement. This is the douchiest move of all. We all groaned as brand after brand posted stock images of candles or flowers and aligned themselves as keeping “the victims of Sandy Brook Elementary in our hearts.” Just don’t do it. It’s tasteless. It’s OK to NOT acknowledge awful things. In fact, a nice way to acknowledge without being a total douche would be to NOT post. By not posting your typical upbeat, on-brand (albeit trite, in the face of tragedy) message, you are paying respect without exploiting. And we all know that it’s better to do a good thing without telling everyone that you’ve done it. Trust me. People will notice.

and of course, the most important lesson:

4. DON’T POST ANYTHING THAT DOES NOT DIRECTLY RELATE BACK TO YOUR COMPANY OR MESSAGE. Just re-read that a few times.

We’re all capable of producing fresh, inspiring and fabulous content, and have no need to resort to these awful (and surprisingly still prevalent) tactics.

3 tools to analyze the impact of your personal Facebook profile

I live in the world of social media marketing geeks, where we spend all day talking about how small businesses can effectively use their Facebook business page to market themselves.

There’s a lot of tools out there to measure ROI of your marketing efforts. Facebook has Insights for business pages, and there’s a lot of free and paid tools that exist as well.

But what kind of impact are you making with your personal Facebook profile? Who is engaging with the content you’re posting for your personal networks? What types of posts do your friends engage with?

Before we go any further: I am NOT talking about using a personal profile as your business page. If your business’s Facebook account has friends – not Likes – you are not using the right account. Stop reading this right now and convert your business’ personal profile to an official Facebook business page. Trust me. You’ll thank me.

Here’s what I found to give you some insight on your personal Facebook profile:

Wolfram Alpha Word Cloud

Apparently I say the word awesome a lot in my posts!

1. WolframAlpha’s Facebook Report

This first tool – free from computational knowledge engine WolframAlpha – is the most comprehensive of the 3. Click through to the Facebook Report, connect it with your personal profile, and you’ll receive a ton of information:

  • Recent posting history – posted links, vs. statuses vs. photos
  • The most frequent times and days of the week that you post
  • The total likes and comments, average likes and comments, and average length of your most recent posts
  • What words you use most frequently – and a word cloud!
  • Your most liked post and most commented posts
  • Your top commenters and sharers
  • Your most liked and commented photos
  • Friends’ demographic information
  • Most common names among friends
  • Friends with the most mutual friends
  • A graphic that shows different combination of “friend clusters” based on mutual interests/demographic information
One of my most popular Facebook posts. Apparently my friends want more stuff like this.

One of my most popular recent Facebook posts. Looks like my friends want more stuff like this.

2. Klout

If you haven’t signed up for Klout, you’re probably not a marketing geek. Klout provides each of its users with a score that shows how influential they are on social media.

In Klout’s words:

Klout measures your influence based on your ability to drive action on social networks.

The Klout Score is a single number that represents the aggregation of multiple pieces of data about your social media activity. We compute the Klout Score by applying our score model to these signals.

Marketers like to roll their eyes at the impact of a Klout score, but it’s also a bragging right. I think it’s fun, and I have a little bit of trash talk going on about the scores with a handful of people.

Klout monitors your personal Facebook activity, plus 11 additional social networks. It gives you a look at the most popular content you’re sharing on your personal Facebook profile – the posts with the most likes and comments, and who you engaged with.

3. My Social Strand

This last tool – from the National Marrow Donor Program – creates a cool infographic about your Facebook activity and networks (and suggests possible donation matches) that you can post to your Facebook page.

Connect it to your profile, fill out some basic info (city and state), answer a few questions (Zombies or Aliens?), and My Social Strand will create something like this:

A personal infographic! Woo hoo!

A personal infographic! Woo hoo!

You’ll get some interesting facts about yourself vs. your friends, which friends are most engaged with you, and your average activity level on Facebook.

I hope you try out these tools too! Let me know if you’ve found any more tools like this in the comments.