Social Media Offers a Myriad of Benefits

By Paddy Kamen

The eyewear business is abuzz with talk of social media, Internet ordering and Facebook. Now is the time to get onboard!

Eyecare professionals who want to spend their marketing dollars effectively can’t afford to ignore social media. According to Paul Salsberg, vice president of operations for Toronto-based consultancy EyeconX, at least 20 per cent of Canadian ECPs have a Facebook page. “Social media can make their marketing spend soar in terms of return on investment,” he notes.

Canadian business, overall, is very much a part of the social media scene. A recent survey from Regus[i], a provider of workplace solutions, reveals that 40 per cent of Canadian companies are successfully recruiting new customers through social networks. According to Regus:

Social networking has fully evolved from a nice-to-have to a necessity as the majority of businesses in Canada (67 per cent), and internationally (74 per cent) agree that social media activity is playing a bigger role in their marketing strategy. Canadian (69 per cent) and global firms (per cent) are also emphasizing the need for a balance of marketing media, confirming their belief that without a combination of traditional and digital techniques, marketing campaigns will not work.[ii]

A hybrid of the new (Internet technology) and the old (social interaction), social media is the use of Internet-based applications to communicate and foster social interaction among users. The most widely talked about social media applications in North America include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr. With a rapidly changing electronic marketplace, new applications are appearing almost daily, threatening to overwhelm all but the most dedicated cyber-hounds.

The formerly well-defined lines separating content providers from content consumers have shifted with social media, allowing the rise of ‘consumer-generated’ media including Facebook pages and blogs (personal weblogs) wherein individuals express their views, share information and dialogue with friends, family and others who read their pages. Social media sites differ from websites in that they feature easy-to-use tools to encourage dialogue and feedback. That said, more websites now offer social media components such as blogs.

Businesses use social media to get their value proposition across to the billions of people who use the Internet looking for product and company information. While the Internet used to be best-suited to conveying news about large or global businesses, it is increasingly about local services. Social media aficionados love this aspect, readily letting one another know about their new favourite restaurant or a great sale at a popular store. Internet-based coupon services such as Groupon and Twongo provide member deals and advertising for businesses in various cities. Mobile device use fosters ‘location-based’ applications (such as Foursquare, Gowalla and GooglePlaces) that list a range of local businesses and make the information known to a local user base. Even tourists get in on the action, seeking products and services that meet their needs while travelling. No one wants to be left out of these potentially lucrative and often free advertising opportunities.

Transitions Optical has been active in this space, both promoting their own products and helping eyecare professionals (ECPs) to do the same. According to Transitions spokesperson Christina Wetzel, 79 per cent of companies on the Fortune 100 list use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or corporate blogs to communicate with customers. “Clearly it’s a market that no one can afford to ignore,” she notes. “In March 2008, Facebook had more than 500 million users, more than half of whom log in every day, and more than 200 million users access Facebook through a mobile device.”

Wetzel adds that according to an analysis of responses to Transitions’ Facebook advertisements, 3,520 Facebook users inCanadahave ‘liked’ (meaning they click a ‘Like’ button on the Facebook page), or are interested in groups or pages associated with the optical industry. “And this number is potentially much larger because not everyone who visits the site ‘Likes’ the page. The numbers confirm that Canadians are using social media to find information related to our industry.”

New Business Opportunities
Mike Christiansen, president and designer of Venus Eye Design has opened 50 new accounts as a result of his Facebook presence.

“Facebook has helped us reach a much broader market than we could imagine,” says Christiansen. “It breaks down boundaries and borders and is instantly global at the touch of a keypad. Almost 400 people have ‘friended’ us on our Facebook page in the last eight months and business has improved about 10 per cent as a result. While websites can be expensive to set up and maintain, Facebook is inexpensive and gets more bang for the buck. It’s also easy to use.”

Optical Retailers See Benefits
Optical retailer, Krysten Adams, owner of Hanly’s Eyewear Boutique in Ancaster, On., loves the free advertising aspect of Facebook. “I’ve had a Facebook presence for 18 months and it helps me to stand out. The more my business name is out there the more ‘top of mind’ I’ll be for people in our region. I find that people respond to my posts about new brands and it only takes about five minutes to write a short post and put in a picture.”

Nada Vuksic, owner of Vancouver-based Bruce Eyewear, started using social media three years ago. “In my experience, it takes a lot of time to do it properly and there is definitely a learning curve. I update our Facebook page several times a week and we could employ someone eight hours a week just to do our social media. The value is there for us because our clients are design savvy and technologically savvy as well. We get tons of positive feedback when we do a blog post. We reference designers, stylists and others in the same or affiliated businesses, which has led to them linking back to us and we hear from people all over the world.”

According to Marie-Sophie Dion, optician and owner of Bar à lunettes, a three-location optical concept in Quebec, Facebook solidifies her relationship with existing customers as well as attracting new ones. “Readers can see we are active and creative, so our clientele is proud to say they come to our Bar. Our social media work fosters word-of-mouth advertising.”

Dion created the Facebook page herself and then had her staff contact clientele to ask them to be added to the ‘Friends’ list. Whenever they hold an event or receive a new collection, they post it on their Facebook wall for viewers to see. “We have a lot of pictures on the page and place a link to our website for maximum exposure,” explains Dion.

Help for Eyecare Professionals
Paul Salsberg’s EyeconX offers full-service Internet and social networking tools exclusively to eyecare professionals (ECPs). “Every ECP I talk with knows the importance of Facebook but they are busy practitioners and need time to establish and maintain a presence. A Facebook page lets customers and potential clients know that you are progressive and at the forefront of practice trends. But one of the challenges is creating meaningful content. We’ll be launching a content service soon that will provide cut-and-paste material for our clients to use on their Facebook pages and websites.”

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is key to having an effective Internet presence, notes Salsberg. SEO is the activity of making one’s website or Facebook page easily located by search engines like Google, Yahoo or Bing. “Ideally, you want to appear on the first page of search engine results. To do this you must use key words, constantly introduce new content and make it easy for others to spread the word about your site to their contacts. Facebook helps with SEO because it is so socially-oriented, making it easy for those who like your product or service to let others know about it.”

It’s essential that your Facebook page and website tout the benefits of your unique offering. “If you’re located in Moncton and only sell to customers in your store, then you want to make sure your geographic information is front and centre because it positions you for the target market,” explains Salsberg. “If you specialize in low vision you need to say that. What else makes you special? This is an important way not only to retain patients but to have them tell family and friends why you stand out.” 

Have a Plan
Dana Sacco is managing principal with Predictive Success, an international management consultancy. She is also a licensed optician and the owner of Rossland Optical in Whitby, On.

“Most Canadian ECPs don’t present themselves effectively on the Internet,” notes Sacco. “It’s essential that people find you when they are searching for information about eyewear. Typically, they find the big box stores instead. Using the Internet and particularly social media wisely is about identifying a marketing opportunity and seizing it.”

Sacco stresses the importance of planning your social media strategy, recommending that practitioners learn enough to be able to delegate, rather than try to do it all themselves. “It’s essential to lay out a plan and benchmarks by which you can evaluate your progress. I also recommend that you assess the talents and capabilities of your staff to determine who might be best at updating and maintaining the website and Facebook page. In order to reach the right audience you need a plan. And that plan has to honour the character and strengths of the business.”       

Suppliers Expand Online Ordering
Suppliers have their own priorities, as they work to make it easy for customers to order online and get needed product information. Centennial Optical has offered online ordering for more than 10 years, making them an early adapter. “We have a steadily growing customer base using the service,” says Rick Leroux, marketing manager for the lens division. “We offer a two per cent discount for online orders and we’ve been surveying our clientele recently to ascertain how we can better meet their needs going forward.”

HOYA Vision Care has a Facebook fan page — HOYAQuest — that runs an annual promotional contest for customers. Last year’s winners traveled to Barbados. “The theme of the trip was social media,” notes Maria Petruccelli, manager of marketing and professional services for HOYA Vision CareCanada. “We had seminars about website development and social networking, encouraging participants to embrace new ways to market themselves. It was an exciting trip.”

The HOYA Canada website is the e-face of HOYA and serves as a first stop for ECPs to learn more about the company. Orders can be placed electronically by way of their EyeConnect system, while a new web ordering tool, MyStyle iDentifier helps ECPs order their most advanced PAL lens, the Hoyalux iD MyStyle.

“One of the key benefits of e-ordering is that there is less chance of error,” says Petruccelli. “It is more efficient and quicker.”

Resources for ECPs
The Transitions Facebook page — links to the company’s other sites and lets ECPs and the public stay up-to-date with business tools and the company itself. “The page is growing exponentially, and has been visited by close to 18 million Canadians,” says Christina Wetzel.

Most importantly, Transitions has prepared two excellent brochures for ECPs: Getting Social is a primer on social media and Putting Your Practice on Facebook provides essential information for the Facebook beginner.

Legal Considerations
If you are simply creating a Facebook page about your store and linking to your website you probably don’t need legal advice. But anyone who plans to sell products, run contests, and/or connect with third-party businesses like suppliers may benefit from consulting with a lawyer who specializes in Internet business and social media.

“I don’t believe that anyone with a Twitter feed and Facebook page necessarily needs legal counsel, but if your site is integrated with other company sites and third parties are allowed to post content to your site there may be risks,” says Joel Ramsey, partner with McCarthy Tétrault in Toronto. “While no one wants the additional expense of legal counsel, if you work with someone who knows the issues and has done this work before they can help you efficiently and save you trouble down the road. Canada has quite progressive consumer protection laws. By that I mean that they favour the consumer. Business people need to understand the risks.”

The very nature of social media means you are ceding some measure of control of your brand to the world, adds Ramsey, referring to the ability of users to post comments on Facebook and blog sites. The risks inherent in this have been written about extensively and won’t be covered in this article. Suffice it to say that we’ve moved from a world where the range of word-of-mouth (both positive and negative) was limited to friends and family, to a world where you can broadcast opinions around the globe with the click of a button.

Every province in Canada has consumer protection legislation and each law stipulates the requirements involved in setting up a site that sells products. Even if you only sell overstocked items and are primarily a bricks and mortar operation, there may be regulations imposed by the province in which you reside. “For example, many require an explicit acceptance of the website in order for the terms to be binding,” explains Ramsey. “Or if someone agrees to an online contract, some provinces require a copy of the contract be sent to the customer within a certain number of days.”

Quebec’s consumer protection laws are more stringent that those in the rest of the country and act as a de facto barrier to many companies doing business in that province. “This is one reason why you’ll see a disclaimer on many contests that they are not applicable in the province of Quebec,” Ramsey points out. “It’s also important to know that if you are planning on doing business in Quebec French language rules must be complied with. This is an important consideration for national brands.”

Ramsey also cautions business people to be careful about all forms of self-expression on the Internet. “People tend to write less formally on Twitter and Facebook than they would in other places. Keep in mind that everything you put on the Internet can be found and may exist in perpetuity. Be careful not to allow the social media forum to keep you from the solid fundamentals of business communication.”