Lululemon and WestJet say social media presence goes beyond advertising

Lululemon Athletica Inc. turned its Facebook Page into a virtual presence for its local retailers, while WestJet used its page as a crisis response centre.

Social media stakeholders from these organizations spoke at last week’s Mesh West conference in Calgary. The panel discussion, ‘Building Social Meaning to Support Success’, focused on the use of social media platforms by organizations to engage with the public, receive valuable metrics, and ultimately drive business.

A specific focus on building lively Facebook communities made sense when considering strategy for Lululemon, said Sarah Dickinson, senior vice-president of strategy at Blast Radius.

Each store has an individual Facebook Page, and actively engages with members of the community, leading to long-lasting relationships. This strategy, intertwined with other marketing initiatives such as the Lululemon ambassador program, has led to the clothing store being recognized as a brand heavily involved in the communities housing its stores, she says. Facebook also offers Lululemon an ideal platform to provide customers with the latest updates on new products, with individual stores often uploading product shots before they hit the e-Commerce site.

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Greg Hounslow, emerging media advisor at WestJet has built his company’s presence on both Facebook and Twitter. This strategy proved crucial in a moment of crisis, during last year’s deadly swamp gas explosion at a Mexican resort. Immediately following the realization that WestJet clients may have been among the Canadians killed, Hounslow’s team put up a Facebook message acknowledging the event and assuring the public of continuing updates.

Over the next several days, Facebook and Twitter were employed to communicate with the public and provide crucial contact information. Not a single press release was issued. Social media provided timely updates picked up by news organizations, and WestJet’s actions built a great degree of goodwill among its clients, Hounslow says. This kind of reaction, however, is impossible if a company decides to adopt social media on the day of the crisis. WestJet’s embedded following and quick reaction resulted in a swift PR success.

Building a successful social media marketing strategy encompasses much more than simply amassing a large number of ‘Likes’, or getting the most Twitter followers, stated marketing and innovation strategist Leigh Himel, president of Toronto-based Gravity Ltd.. The importance lies in the quality of the following and the level of engagement with the community.

Defining the purpose for your social media presence is imperative in building a successful page-although social media followings grow organically, it is important to deliver content that keeps the audience interested and engaged, she says. Asking followers to constantly ‘Retweet’ the latest deals will quickly lead to a monotonous conversation. The key lies in balancing clever, interesting updates with a unified marketing message.

Although the companies presenting at Mesh West haven’t stopped traditional advertising, they are actively complementing it with rich social media offerings.

Businesses have recognized the importance of social media as a marketing tool, and anyone who refuses to consider it risks being left behind, panelists agreed.

Martin Studzinski is a marketing and communications professional and technology enthusiast. You can follow him on Twitter @martstudz or reach him via email at [email protected].

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