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Louise Findlay-Wilson, managing director of Energy Public Relations, looks at how to use social media to build a brand effectively.

How do you use social media effectively for your clients?

While a website acts as the face of a brand to the outside world, social media is often its voice. It’s a phenomenal tool for nimbly engaging with consumers and those who influence them. It can be used in a number of ways such as increase website traffic, improve SEO, gain feedback on new products, promote initiatives, keep in touch with brand fans, bloggers and the media – or simply to increase brand awareness online.

Should blinds and shutters manufacturers invest resources in social media?

Absolutely… consumers are increasingly going online for advice and information, and of course to buy. Social media plays a crucial part in this journey – for instance 60 per cent of Pinterest users have bought a product they’ve ‘pinned’. Social media is therefore worth investing in.

However, unfortunately is it too often left as an afterthought, with responsibility handed over to a junior member of the team. That can be a big mistake. Social media is an important communications tool – not something to get off your to do list as quickly as possible!

It is important to invest not only in expert advice, but also to spend time creating useful content that can be shared. To jump into setting up a Facebook or twitter account without this investment may cause more harm than good.

Which forum do you find works most best and why?

Each social media platform, whether it’s twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube or LinkedIn, has its own audience and function. Accounts should never be set up simply because ‘it’s what our competitors are doing’ – it needs to serve a purpose.

While LinkedIn may work better for trade communications, Facebook and Pinterest are traditionally more consumer-focused. Twitter can be used for all communications, as long as the messaging is kept relevant for either customers or retailers.

How do you ensure that business to customer communication works successfully?

Rather than work in isolation, social media should form part of the wider communications strategy for interiors brands. It’s all about creating useful, shareable content that’s of interest to consumers and retailers, rather than just broadcasting the brand messaging.

It’s important to target the right audience with the right messaging over the right social platform.

Equally, social media should not be considered as a direct sales tool. Yes, mention products or promotions every now and again, but keep to posts that are useful, shareable and informative. Far too many see twitter as an opportunity to broadcast – but no one wants to follow someone who is only going to talk ‘at them’ not ‘with them’

Are there any pitfalls to using social media that other manufacturers and retailers should be aware of?

As social media directly talks to customers, it must be monitored to ensure all interactions present the brand in the best possible light, in keeping with strategy and brand messaging.

Also be aware, many consumers with a complaint turn to social channels – rather than call a customer care line! So whoever is handling your social media needs to be ready to closely collaborate with your customer service team.

Ensure whoever is managing your social channels understand the brand’s tone and message and has good product/service knowledge. They need good grammar skills too; social media is a fast and fluid tool but the person using it still needs to have attention to detail. If they don’t, there’s a risk of incorrect, out of date or even offensive communications being posted – making the company look unprofessional to customers.

Also, whoever is handling your social media needs to be prepared to keep an eye on things over the weekend. You don’t want to come into the office to a product-related twitter or Facebook storm on Monday that has been raging for the whole weekend unattended!

What tricks of the trade do you use to boost sales through social media?

News stories and blogs on the brand website can be shared across Facebook, twitter and Pinterest to increase traffic to the site. Pinterest in particular is useful for those who want to use social media as a way of increasing ecommerce, as users are 79 per cent more likely to buy a product seen on Pinterest than on Facebook.

You can also run channel specific promotions – for instance promoting a special discount code on twitter or Facebook.

If you sell through a catalogue, think of ways to raise awareness of it on social channels. For instance, you can reward people with a voucher if they tweet a photo of themselves with their catalogue when it lands with them – this can create a great buzz when the latest catalogue comes out – driving up subscriptions.

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