A social media expert sees dollar signs for lighting showrooms that get on board with online networking communities like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace.
Residential Lighting: What is social networking?
Patrice-Anne Rutledge: Social networking is an important component of Web 2.0. It sounds techie, but it’s just the next generation of Web sites that emphasize collaboration and connectivity. It’s all about being able to collaborate and connect with people. Some use it for personal reasons, others for marketing their products and generating sales.
Social networking is becoming a part of daily digital life. It started with technical people and a younger audience, and now it’s branching out.
Residential Lighting: Can lighting showrooms use these sites to make money?
Rutledge: Social networking can be cost-effective for lighting showrooms. The first step is to focus on your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Where are those people online? Look at not just the larger sites, like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn, but also at the smaller niche sites. Many [of these] are devoted to home décor -- RateMySpace.HGTV, MicasaStyle, MyDecor.tv and Curbly. Niche sites may have less traffic, but they have people interested in what you have to sell.
Residential Lighting: What are some social networking guidelines?
Rutledge: In general, the hard sell doesn’t work. Unless you are purchasing an ad, you don’t want to say, “Come to our store” or “Buy this.” Instead, you want to create a face for your business. You have to be open, so people feel like they are getting to know you and develop trust. But, don’t open up too much about your personal life. Have a professional picture and emphasize your credentials. Look like someone [people] would want to do business with.
You can mention projects you’ve worked on, and use sites such as Flickr and YouTube. Lighting is very visual. So, by creating a YouTube video, for example, people can see what you have to offer.
Residential Lighting: Should lighting showrooms advertise on the sites?
Rutledge: Experts estimate that this year alone companies will spend $2.2 billion advertising on social networking sites. Obviously, it can be very effective, but it depends on how well you target your audience. It also depends on the types of ads you run. So, you have to test and see which ads pull better. The advantage of Facebook is that you can target by geography -- everyone, say, in the Los Angeles area -- and you can also target by age, interest and profession.
If you’re looking to promote to a consumer audience, I would say Facebook is probably one of the stronger choices. LinkedIn can work in that capacity, but it’s more for professional connections. People think MySpace is just a lot of young people, but actually half of the MySpace audience is over 35. The challenge is that it is a huge audience and there is less opportunity to target using the site. If I were a lighting center, I would probably try Facebook for marketing, LinkedIn for professional connections and niche sites for decor-focused targeting.
Patrice-Anne Rutledge is a social media expert, certified e-marketer and the author of 26 books. Her latest book is titled “The Truth about Profiting from Social Networking.”