Shop.org's annual eHoliday Study points to a growing trend among merchants this holiday season - off-site Web development. According to the study, retailers are taking social media seriously. They are developing their presence outside of their own websites to help attract consumers. Or - more to the point - to help consumers find their businesses.
Over 60 percent of retailers reported making enhancements to their Facebook presence this year, and over 58 percent have done the same for their Twitter profiles. In addition, more than 65 percent have updated their blogs and RSS feeds.
So what can you do enhance your off-site presence for consumers? Below are five places to develop your brand this holiday (and beyond) and a few pointers to get the most out of your efforts:
Discount sites: Consumers are quite adept at finding discounts online. One trend with staying power is coupon sites. RetailMeNot.com attracts more than 6 million visitors per month and that number will rise sharply over the next 45 days or so, just like it did in 2008. Consumers come here to find coupons to your products - give it to them. Other sites to consider are Groupon.com, FatWallet.com and CouponCabin.com.
Facebook and Twitter: Millions of Facebook users update their statuses with news or offerings from brands. But you can't just announce products on Facebook; you have to give people a reason to share. That means special offers and discounts. Also, make sure your Facebook presence is customized to your brand - with your logo and special sections of the page specific to your brand and industry. Don't limit yourself to your own page - there are plenty of special interest organizations and other "clubs" on Facebook where you can make your presence known. Want to make friends on Facebook? Try a paid ad - they are highly targeted. Search Facebook advertising coupon code and you can likely find a $100 or so voucher.
Twitter is an excellent place to connect with users who are accustomed to spreading messages. This is where you want to "tweet" a special promotion - as long as you can handle a possible influx of interest. One of the nice things about Twitter is the prolific use of small URLs. They are non-descript and people click them without too much thought. So, you can direct them to your Facebook Page, a product page on your website, a YouTube video ... just about anywhere. Like Facebook, make sure your Twitter ID is representative of your brand, your logo is consistent and identifiable and that your messages provide true value. Also, with the recent announcement of Twitter lists, your tweets can extend far, far beyond Twitter itself and onto blogs, websites and other social profiles and networks.
YouTube: Online video is appearing in search results more these days and easily shared through channels like Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and more. And the main stage is YouTube. Create videos for your products and services. They can be video instruction manuals, product feature explanations, or even ways to use your product that might not be immediately apparent to a consumer (how many packs of Mentos and liters of Diet Coke do you think were sold from that one YouTube video?) Make sure to optimize your videos with keywords in the title and links to your website or product page in the video description.
Q&A sites: The Internet provides one of the easiest places to research products or services. Take a hard look at your industry and your products and think about the questions consumers might have before purchasing. Check out Q&A sites like Yahoo! Answers and industry forums. Be sure to include your brand message (tactfully) in answers to your target audiences' questions. Also consider guest-blogging on an industry leader website - it positions you and your brand as a trusted authority figure.
Blogs: A blogger's lifeblood is his or her network. Catch the attention of just a few highly-regarded bloggers and your brand will end up on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and possibly thousands of other blogs and websites. Identify top bloggers in your industry and send them some free products. Of course, you must follow-up relentlessly (preferably without badgering.)
Your website is the most important touch point for consumers this holiday season and every other season of the year. But more and more, consumers seek out and expect to find your brand at their convenience, wherever they might be spending time online. Be sure they can find you, that you deliver an experience worthy of their attention, and - more importantly - the attention of their friends.