Caroline Rolfe is Head of Online at luxury jewellery brand Links of London where she’s responsible for the full scope of the company’s ecommerce business globally, including online marketing, multichannel retailing, fulfilment, customer service and technology developments. She is also a member of the Institute of Digital & Direct Marketing (IDM) Digital Council.
Caroline tells Figaro Digital how Links of London has been using social media to drive advocacy, loyalty and engagement, and sketches out some of the key issues facing marketers in the social sphere.
Introduce us to your role at Links of London and your digital strategy there
I’ve been here 18 months as Head of Online. I head up the web team in terms of acquisition, retention and so on, and project management in terms of re-platforming the site. I also head up customer services so I’m responsible for web fulfilment, indirectly. Multichannel comes under my wing. It’s the full set, basically! Since I’ve been here we’ve restructured the way the brand sees online and put it much more at the heart of what we’re doing. As a brand, we know that’s where our consumers want to talk to us, so I’ve been getting people on board with the idea that we’re the first window onto the brand – potentially the first way a customer experiences us. We’re not just looking at web-sales individually, but also how we generate traffic and drive people into stores – the whole multi-channel approach. Links of London is also the official jewellery collection partner of London 2012, so this is a big year for us.
How are you adapting the brand’s online presence to make the most of social media?
We just launched a new mobile optimised site and I believe we’re one of the first retailers of our size to do that. Even though our old site wasn’t really usable on mobile, we were still getting 11 per cent of our traffic from mobile devices. So we’re really focused on that. We’re not looking at it as a sales tool, but as a traffic driver into stores and online – a customer touchpoint.
We’re not yet using NFC and geo-location technology, but it’s very much on the agenda. Coming at this from a multi-channel perspective, it’s all about how things shouldn’t be siloed. It’s about how they work together. I think a common mistake across digital is to think: ‘We need to have a mobile optimised site. Tick. Done. What’s next?’ What we’re trying to work out is how we can really make this work for us, to join the dots between our different channels. With the Olympics coming up we want to be able to service the customer in a very different way – we have a whole product line around the Olympics and we want to look at the potential of click-and-collect, which we see as key.
Social media is very much part of that. When I joined we had a really good social following, but we were doing it through an agency and I think it was viewed as sort-of-a-sales tool, sort-of-a-communications service, sort-of-a-part-of-customer service. Now we’ve taken it in-house and we very much focus on Facebook. YouTube and Twitter too, but particularly Facebook. We’ve got over 50,00 fans who are very active, which for a brand of our size is quite big. We never drop below ‘500 people are talking about this brand’ on the Facebook stats and that’s very important for us. We use it for customer service, marketing, research and we’ve run numerous competitions, which have done massively well for us.
Could you talk us through some specific examples and explain why you think they worked so well?
Bracelets and charms are our big thing – that’s what a lot of people know us for. We ran a competition to design a charm for a bracelet and got so many suggestions that our studio picked two designs, rather than just one. They’re going to be launched this year as a mainline product, so that generated an awful lot of buzz for us.
But what really turned everything around for us – and I’m conscious this may make me sound slightly mad – was a huge gnome hunt we ran, starting in November in 2010. This was a campaign focused around our friendship bracelet and the idea was to do something that ran across all channels, but which could be created without a lot of money.
We used our email database and our social channel to tell people about the competition. Then we ran a series of clues across Facebook and Twitter, so people could try and find this gnome, which was always located somewhere near a store. People could take a photo and the first 50 to go into each store with a photo of the gnome got a free bracelet, which was quite a valuable prize.
From that we doubled our Facebook fans in just a few weeks. And because the campaign ran over a number of months, we were really able to communicate with people. I think almost overnight people saw that we were really responsive, really engaged – we got a much higher level of communication. Not everything is always positive, but now we almost get customers fighting our corner for us, because they use our page so regularly that they almost do part of our job for us.
For Valentine’s Day, we asked people for their love stories. All they could win was a little engraved charm, but we actually had over 14,000 love stories. And people really submitted essays. Some of them were crazy. Some of them were amazing. But we were asking for a very high level of engagement here – you couldn’t just click a button and enter. And we got fantastic entry levels. So by doing the odd big thing, we’ve created advocates who spend a lot of time with us, and we try to make sure they’re very well looked after.
To what to what extent has social media proved its value for you, in terms of both ROI and acquisition?
Well, we of course measure all channels on ROI, but for social the return is about visits and not sales. Whether it’s the right approach or not – it’s always been my gut feeling that the social channel should not have a sales target as it should be about building your brand and having conversations with your advocates. Ultimately you want this to lead to sales, but social is definitely at the start of the sales conversion funnel. And yes, I did just say that horribly marketing-textbook phrase ‘sales conversion funnel’!
Our product is inherently aspirational, so if we can create aspiration and communication with our customers at the beginning of the journey, then we know that when it comes to a birthday or Christmas, we’re top of their list because they’ve been talking to us, looking at what we’re launching and so on. We’re creating that must-have sense through social, so in the long-term there is an ROI, but I refuse to look at that as a stat within social media in the immediacy, because most of the other channels are much lower down the funnel, as it were. It is an investment – but it’s an investment in our customers.
What advice do you have for brands seeking to make sure social media is more fully integrated into their broader marketing mix?
Introduce it into the conversation at the beginning. Try and use those social channels for what they’re really good for, rather than trying to fit social into an idea. Instead look at the idea, and think about how that can work across different channels. Don’t just create a video and shove it on YouTube. Work out how that video is relevant to what you’re working on and then use other channels to drive traffic to that video or site. It’s got to be relevant to the environment. And if you’re too sales focused on Facebook, you don’t get the interaction that maybe you should, because people will see you as trying to flog stuff to them all the time.
Is it the case then, if you’re trying to build a community, that selling within social media needs to appear almost incidental?
Yes. We’re very strict actually. We’re launching new products all the time, so of course we put those on Facebook, but it’s more of a conversation. On Chinese New Year, for example, we posted about the Chinese dragon charm. But it was relevant, rather than random product placement, and I think then people engage with it more.
What are some of the commonest mistakes you see brands making within social media?
The classic ‘the CEO wants a Facebook page so let’s make one’ approach, rather than really thinking about it. And I think everyone was guilty of that at first, unless they were really very clever. It’s thinking about why you want that channel, why customers are in that channel, and not treating all channels the same way. Tailoring what you’re doing per the channel and per the customer who’s going to be there.
It’s about knowing how people behave in a specific environment, but also knowing which users are there. We have a very different demographic split for our Facebook page from some of our other channels. It’s slightly younger on Facebook. Our emails, for example, are very on-brand – the wording and the style is a little more formal. It’s still aspirational, but on Facebook we have a little more fun. It’s a little more relaxed.
What for you are some of the most significant issues facing social media marketers right now?
Brands will only retain engagement if they stand out from the crowd. People are getting plied with marketing within their own personal environments (i.e. Facebook), and if you aren’t relevant and engaging then you’re just going to add to the general noise. I am a believer in quality over quantity in terms of the social space.
Brands also need to look for emerging social media platforms and decide whether they would work for their particular customer. Things like Google + and Pinterest are creating a lot of buzz, but are they going to actually help build your brand if you invest the resource into managing and appearance in them? I went to a really interesting talk by a guy at Google who was sharing some early success stories from brands like H&M and Burberry who already have over one million users engaging with them. On another note I think the growth of online time spent on mobiles will potentially add to the amount of engagement time you have with your consumer – both on the shopping journey and the brand building arena. Social being part of the latter – so if your social presence is engaging, then as a brand you potentially have more time available to spend with your fans. The emergence of social shopping (from F-commerce to Polyvore) should also be on the radar for all social marketers.
Caroline Rolfe was talking to Jon Fortgang