Social surfers: social networking and watches

Just when we’ve all come to terms with the importance of a brilliant website, the cyber landscape shifts, making different demands on both brands and retailers. 

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr and the multi-realms of the blogosphere are becoming increasingly powerful, uprooting the reputation and growth of a business from official reviewers and authorised pundits and placing them instead in the hands of consumers, enthusiasts and anyone who wants to have their say. For watch businesses that are being talked about in this interactive space, the opportunities for marketing and growing the brand are extensive, if approached in the right way.

Rewind five years and, in some cases, luxury businesses, and watches specifically, were trailing behind the pack with website developments. However, in recent years the industry has surged forward, taking its offer from landing page-only sites; laborious slow-to-load flash sites and websites remiss of a contacts page, to fast, creative and useful websites that do justice to brilliant businesses and products.

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This willingness to develop and meet changing shopping and research habits is being tested once more with the growing dominance of social networking sites and their powers of persuasion.

Watches are among the brands that come under scrutiny everyday on forums, in blogs, and on other social network sites, including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr. So, rather than just being talked about, it’s important that brands and retailers are clued up with what’s being talked about online and make sure their voice is heard and their business is fairly presented.

“Bloggers and Tweeters are opinion formers, information aggregators, super consumers if you like, that have an inquisitive nature and like to talk about their experiences,” says Jonathan Crocker, CEO of Accurist. “So for me, I treat them as people first, have a good conversation and let them do what they do best.

“As for social media, there should be no mystery in my opinion. It is modern communication – simple – and as time goes on, finds a way to become part of our every day lives and therefore, is a very important part of the dialogue mix. One hundred years ago marketing was restricted say, to door-to-door sales people, billboards and word of mouth, 50 years ago TV became a significant driver and so was added to the mix, together with lifestyle magazines, and now we have Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram and a plethora of others – the principals have not changed, just the method of delivery, which is broader than ever before. Therefore, I feel it is most effective when treated in its purest form as one-to-one communication.”

BEYOND BLOGGING
Watch bloggers are plentiful and the majority exude professionalism and have excellent reputations within the industry and beyond. The general public are constantly consuming content on the likes of watch blogs Hodinkee and A Blog to Watch, to name but a few, and then there are the fashion bloggers, who also boast an avid following. The number of bloggers has exploded with growing consumer demand.

In June this year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the UK has the second highest proportion of social networkers in the EU. Data found that the number of adults accessing the internet every day in Great Britain more than doubled between 2006 and 2012, from 16 million to 33 million.

The recent growth in social networking is being largely credited with changing the way people communicate using the internet. The ONS said that in 2012, almost half of all adults (48%) used social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The use of this space is not solely confined to young people. In 2012, 62% of adults aged 35 to 44, and 40% of adults aged 45 to 54 used social networks to communicate online.

The report points out that the growth in social networking can partly be explained by increasing mobile internet use in Great Britain. In 2012, 52% of all adults used a mobile device to access the internet and, of these, 63% accessed social networks. In this case, the term ‘mobile’ refers to any mobile or smart phone, PDA, MP3 player, e-book reader or handheld game console and excludes the use of tablet computers.

Using data collated by Eurostat, the ONS revealed that the UK is a leader when it comes to participation in social networking across the EU. In 2012, within the EU, the UK ranked second behind the Netherlands for social networking by all individuals (adults aged 16-74). Using Eurostat’s definition of social networking, which is: “posting messages to chat sites, social networking sites, blogs, newsgroups, discussion forums and the use of instant messaging”, the research found that 57% of adults said they had made use of social networks in the three months prior to the survey.

Bloggers are a huge part of this online interaction. Although blogging is not a particularly new phenomenon, what has changed is the professionalism of blogging, the frequency of posting and the bloggers’ dedication to expanding the reach of their blogs. Bloggers have influence that should not be underestimated and brands are increasingly recognising the make-or-brake power of the blog.

Engagement with bloggers –whether it is those promoting fashion brands and on-trend watches, or the growing wave of passionate watch enthusiasts who eat, sleep and breathe watches – is hugely important.

Figures confirm that social networking is rife. Statistics compiled from various sources for the Huffington Post, towards the end of last year set the scene for what we are seeing in 2013, in terms of the ways in which social networking is being used. Among those statistics, Business 2 Community said that 80% of social media users prefer to connect with brands using Facebook; a study by American Express said that social media users spend 21% more on brands that exceed customer service expectations; Digital Buzz Blog reported that 34% of marketers have generated leads using Twitter; Edison Research stated that 23% of users check Facebook five or more times a day while
Web Analytics World reported that 69% of Twitter follows are due to friend recommendations.

Watch brands are increasingly reacting to trends. For instance, Tissot encourages people to share brand knowledge. Access is given to Tissot assets, and news feeds on Facebook are constantly posted, as are back-stage videos on YouTube and live comments about events on Twitter.

Other brands are being cautious in their social networking approach. Patek Philippe controls its online presence to preferred mediums. “The key point for Patek Philippe is to have the right presence online, so we do not follow trends,” explains Jasmina Steele, international communication and public relations director for Patek Philippe. “We are not active in social media, we are not present on Twitter or Facebook. In the mid-short term, the Patek Philippe social media activity takes place on the patek.com site and on patek.com/owners, area in the website launched for existing customers.”

UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Those brands that have embraced the power of social networking for recommendations, will recognise the relevance of bloggers. In terms of watches, both fashion bloggers and specific watch enthusiast bloggers have a growing online presence and audience. For watch brands and retailers looking for a way to engage with this relatively new sphere of influence, the approach can be difficult.

“The effective use of bloggers and social media is an emerging skill, and one that is incredibly difficult to harness and utilise – very easy to talk about it, but not so easy to implement with success,” confirms Julian Pollock of IBB London, which distributes Lulu Guinness, Glam Rock, ToyWatch and Ibiza Rocks.

However, the most important approach is forming relationships with bloggers and online pundits, making conversation and exposing them to high quality, interesting or highly fashionable watches, marketed creatively. Employing someone with the sole purpose of creating a structured social media strategy, maintaining a consistent and creative presence online and building a list of key bloggers, and active social network individuals with a significant number of followers is important for both brands and retailers alike. It is within this online arena too that businesses can adopt a more colourful and less corporate voice, while interacting with customers and product commentators. It is vital, however, in order to ensure brand or shop consistency and values to adopt a professional approach to social media and to plan ahead.

Although social media has gained traction when it comes to influence, a solid website remains at the heart of any online activity. For both retailers and brands a quality website remains key to online credibility. See pages 25 to 30 for more on watch websites.

While websites must continue to be given significant time, investment and resource, the emerging consensus is that it is peer opinion online that encourages consumers to choose one business over another or to make a purchasing decision. “I think that websites are still seen as corporate and are mostly relevant as a source of information and/or somewhere to buy merchandise,” says Pollock. “They are, however, far from impartial and it is this impartiality that consumers are seeking in 2013 when evaluating and rating brands.”

Peer reviews have increasing sway and, while an individual’s opinion online is out of the hands of brands and retailers, it would be folly for them to neglect the importance of doing everything possible to build a brilliant reputation online through a thorough social networking strategy.

This article first appeared in the September issue of WatchPro magazine. To see the digital version of the magazine, click here

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