Retailers Go Nuts for Social Media in Holiday Marketing

More Than Half Turn to Facebook, Twitter. But Is It Working for Them?

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NEW YORK ( -- Retailers are embracing social media like never before this holiday season. More than half are including it in their marketing strategies, up drastically from only 4% in 2007, according to a new survey out from BDO Seidman. Of those who reported plans to use social media, 76% are focusing on Facebook, 50% on Twitter, 14% on MySpace and 14% on YouTube. Ten percent said they expected to utilize each of those outlets.

As holiday efforts peaked on Black Friday, 4.3% of Facebook users and 2.3% of Twitter users visited the website of a top 500 retailer immediately after perusing the social-networking sites, according to data from Experian Hitwise. (For perspective, Facebook was the second-most-visited site in the U.S. on Black Friday, behind Google.)

Clearly, retailers are throwing money behind social media, but are their strategies paying off? We look at five social-media strategies that are getting it right and five that could use a little -- or a lot -- of improvement.

Social-media strategies we love ...


Even its commercials have a social-media tie-in, featuring its Twelpforce Carolers offering gift advice. (Its YouTube channel offers behind-the-scenes footage of actual employees trying out for the Twelpforce Carolers.) The retailer also has a robust Facebook presence, featuring several exclusive applications such as Hint Helper, Secret Santa, Idea Giftr and, coming soon, Christmas Morning Simulator. The Hint Helper will drop personalized hints to friends and family via a cookie placed on their computers. While Best Buy's application section is robust, it could do a better job of leading the conversation on Facebook, as opposed to simply responding to customer complaints. Still, when it comes to customer interaction, Best Buy has it down on Twitter. Its handles @bestbuy and @twelpforce, not to mention CMO Barry Judge's own handle, @bestbuycmo, all do a stellar job.

The online retailer kicked off the holidays with a free WiFi offering on Delta flights over Thanksgiving, which earned plenty of mid-air tweets of appreciation. Those following eBay on Facebook or Twitter have also been rewarded with up-to-date sales and promotions data (for example, a Zhu Zhu pet giveaway to the first 100 visitors at the eBay pop-up store). On Facebook, eBay leads the conversation with sales news or by posting content from popular sites such as Chow. And its Twitter handles @ebay and @ebaydailydeal are completely holiday themed. The former supports the retailer's mobile boutique, which is popping up in 12 cities this holiday, and the latter gives out hints about its "12 Days of Deals" program, which features a new item with limited availability at a deep discount each day. Both Twitter feeds are streamed onto Also, there are streams of texts and tweets featuring holiday gift wishes.

JCPenney uses its Facebook page as much for customer service as for marketing. When customers post complaints or praise to Penney's wall, the retailer jumps in to address them , offering personal assistance and thanking customers for posting their love for the brand. It occasionally posts video content and links to buyer guide Another tab on its Facebook page links to a follow-up to "Beware of the Doghouse," the 2008 video from Saatchi & Saatchi that drew millions of views, as well as a new website from North Kingdom. (The new "Doghouse" site is in itself a user-generated fest and users can post that content back on Facebook.) Fans can also participate in an online giving tree, and view designer collections and sale items. On Twitter, the brand tapped blogger and tweeter @SavvyAuntie to disseminate sweepstakes and sale items on Cyber Monday to her nearly 12,000 followers.

With Shaquille O'Neal, Toys 'R' Us will donate $1 to a charity for every new Facebook fan. Shaq even tweeted about the promotion -- what he called the "Shaq-a-Claus" challenge -- to his more than 2.6 million followers. The brand also appeals to parental nostalgia on Facebook, providing audio and surveys on the old-school jingle "I don't want to grow up." Mixed in with callouts of discount products, polls have a substantial presence on the brand's wall, with queries on favorite board games or Disney characters. The page also contains coupons to use in the brick-and-mortar stores. On the customer-service front, Toys 'R' Us is an exemplar brand for responding to fans and managing customer reaction. On Twitter, the brand used tweets to drive traffic to Facebook with offers of online discounts for new fans. While the brand responded to a few customer tweets, next year they should Twitter more in this way.

Since the last holidays, Walmart has gone from no holiday traffic from Twitter to being the most-visited retail site during Black Friday and Cyber Monday after Amazon. With nearly a dozen Twitter handles, the brand addresses topics from music to customer service and calls out deals online. The biggest retailer in the world dubbed the week following Thanksgiving "Cyber Week" and used social-media channels to drive traffic to its online specials. On Facebook, the brand features apps to support U.S. troops and generate wish lists, as well as sections that aggregate commercials and photos. While we can offer Walmart lots of advice for its social holiday next year -- get into the conversation on the comments wall; Facebook isn't a broadcast channel, it's a chance to foster conversation with customers. The brand does a good job with holiday-themed articles, such as "Using Leftovers," that offer advice and don't just shill.

... and those that could use some improvement

It's hard to believe that a teen retailer has such a lack of involvement in the social-media space. The initial link on its Facebook page is for an A&F casting call looking for models for its back-to-school and holiday campaign -- in 2010. Its current holiday print ads are posted, though there are no other mentions of holiday products, gift ideas or promotions from the brand. There's also no response to customer comments, though admittedly the majority are positive. Still, with a following of more than 540,000 fans, many of whom are asking for a store in their area, it's clear that A&F is passing up a major opportunity to engage this group. Similarly, a Twitter account, @AbercrombieNY, boasts a respectable 7,591 followers even though it hasn't tweeted since July 11.

Twitter and Facebook drove more total traffic to Amazon than any other retailer on Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, according to data from Experian Hitwise. But even with all that traffic, the brand is pretty absent from social media with a holiday-specific effort, and seems to be resting on its laurels as an early adopter in the space. Amazingly, the e-tail giant does not manage an active Facebook page; its last updates are from September 2008. Amazon's traffic from Twitter actually dropped more than 30% this Black Friday, and on Cyber Monday it only saw a 1% bump. The brand maintained its steady clip of lightning deals and product call-outs on Twitter, but holiday-specific content was isolated to links to the retailer's many blogs and a smattering of Cyber Monday mentions.

Admirably, Kohl's committed to increasing its investment in digital and social media by 25% this holiday season. On the social-media front, the retailer said it planned to seed consumer blogs with merchandise giveaways, leverage its Facebook page and maintain its partnership with Stardoll, an online community. Where Kohl's falls down is on Facebook and Twitter. The Facebook page is noticeably devoid of holiday content and deals, though it has posted its holiday commercials and a link to its homepage, which touts "25 deals of Christmas." But, with nearly 900,000 fans, the retailer is missing out on an opportunity to speak directly to consumers about its sales, promotions and exclusive products. Instead, the Kohl's page seems to be merely doing its best to address a portion of the hundreds of complaints posted by disgruntled holiday shoppers. And on Twitter @Kohls_Official there was an inexplicable gap in tweets lasting from 12:28 a.m. on Nov. 26 until 8:59 a.m. on Dec. 1, the entirety of the Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday shopping period.

The sparse holiday messaging and unanswered consumer complaints on Facebook are a far cry from the engaged fans that were breathlessly posting about how to find deals through the retailer's interactive circular just a few months ago. The week after Black Friday, an outdated tab on the page continued to promote GobblePalooza, which ran from Nov. 26-28, and the most recent video content, posted about five months ago, promotes tank tops. Similarly, the last videos posted on the brand's YouTube channel are from eight months ago. Third parties have also taken to piggybacking on Old Navy's nearly 350,000 fans, promoting their own products on the page. Old Navy's Twitter page, @OldNavyOfficial, is similarly sparse, with one-way communication about deals linking to the brand's home page. The brand's Supermodelquin Twitter pages were also eerily quiet through the biggest shopping weekend of the year."We currently have content up from prior campaigns as record of our overall campaign. We will update our holiday content shortly," said a spokesman.

Target, a brand touted for its current, youthful appeal, is conspicuously quiet in the social-media space and serves as a prime example of the damage unchecked social-media pages can cause. While it's created a forum for Facebookers to comment and contribute their own photos and videos, the brand seems deaf to negative comments and fans' personal promotion. Target broadcasts videos and articles without ever responding to comments such as "extremely disappointed in Target's customer service. " Some customers use the fan photo and video section to promote their own agendas -- one fan posted a YouTube video and a link to his not-at-all-retail-or-holiday Facebook page. "Some customers have had enough with all the non-related content on the page. "Could you please remove/delete the trashy posts on your site?" asked one fan. The brand does maintain a daily deals Twitter handle, which also tweets to consumers without responding. The main Target Twitter account does a better job of addressing its followers, but only totaled three tweets during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

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