Summer is only beginning, but many digitally savvy parents are already starting their back to school shopping research, and brands are just starting to lock down plans for back to school initiatives -- which, for some brands, is the biggest time of the year. Brands need to start marketing right now to reach these early researchers, and there's no better place to do so than on Facebook, which has become the best social media channel to reach and engage with back to school shoppers, boasting much greater reach and influence than sites like AOL, Yahoo, and MSN.
In 2011 social media became the channel for parents and students to learn about back to school products and offers. According to a 2011 study by Deloitte 69 percent of parents will use social media to seek out back to school promotions, and one out of three will use social networking sites during their shopping. One out every four parents will seek out product reviews and recommendations online as well.
Facebook's ad offerings give advertisers a scalable turnkey solution to reach and engage back to school shoppers who are in the shopping cycle and seeking recommendations from friends. Reaching these shoppers isn't complicated, and brands can build a dedicated back to school campaign in three easy steps.
Build awareness and your fan base
With more than 23 million moms on Facebook and more than 44 million students between the ages of 13 and 24 using it daily, Facebook has a huge audience of consumers who will do some sort of back to school shopping. The first step of any Facebook ad campaign is to build awareness of your back to school offering and, at the same time, build your fan base of highly qualified, interested consumers early in the back to school seasonal push.
One way to build awareness and uncover more fans is utilizing Facebook's Sponsored Stories ad format. When consumers "like" your status update or photo, or your brand itself, the Sponsored Stories ad unit notifies their friends of the action. When consumers see their friends interacting with a brand, they are far more likely to do the same, making it easy to leverage social relevance to build a fan base. Facebook refers to this as word of mouth at scale, and is a marketer's dream: Consumers are promoting your brand on your behalf. That's the most powerful form of endorsement.
Recommendation: Put about 30 percent of your Facebook budget into early awareness, fan building and sponsored stories initiatives.
Engage with brand advocates
Once you've built a following, it's time to market to these advocates with relevant and timely messaging. This goes hand in hand with step one, because you're not only reaching your brand fans, but continuing to build a fan base by reaching friends of fans and leveraging new audience targeting. You are taking advantage of this early base of fans to deliver word of mouth advertising at scale.
The best way to engage your audience is through a dedicated content strategy. Look at the kinds of content that your users "like" and respond to best, and emphasize that kind of content. Whether it's special offers, funny status updates, or photos that encourage interactions like sharing and commenting, your primary goal is to encourage the prospective back to school shoppers to "like," share, and visit your page. The more engaged your fan base, the greater impact they will have on your "EdgeRank" algorithm, which influences the distribution and reach of your page post messages. Keep in mind that Facebook says that on average your posts reach only 16% of your fan base. By building an engaged fan base, you will have a significant impact on the success of your fan page.
Recommendation: Assign 35 percent of budget for 10 standard page posts and sponsorships.
Activate your audience to drive sales
Of course, the goal of a back to school marketing strategy is to drive the online fan base into the store. We have found that this is what Facebook is best at, even as it is where other advertising mediums fail. People search out through their friends to learn what to do in their offline activities, whether for shopping, socializing, or other activities. Now that you've built an engaged audience and developed a content strategy, focus on driving incremental awareness by promoting relevant national and local store offers to drive retail store traffic. This should be done by targeted, timely, and relevant local advertising and promotional offers.
One of the great things about Facebook is that it's possible to target consumers on a local level while maintaining national scale. If there's a new store opening with back to school sales, promote the opening to the local audience within a hyper-targeted geo footprint. This presents a great co-marketing opportunity as well, as brands can work with their retail partners on special offers on the local level.
Retailers can obviously use Facebook to find audiences on a regional level on their own, driving their fan base into brick and mortar stores for big sales. Other brands with back to school offerings can use Facebook's paid ads to push special offers such as coupons or discounts that will drive fans to the store to make a purchase.
Recommendation: Allot 35 percent of budget for hyper local store traffic promotions and offers.
For brands to be most successful this back to school season, it is critical to start planning early, work with an experienced API partner, and not wait but get started on a back to school campaign in three steps. Once the campaign is launched, it is crucial for all brands to continuously plan, manage and analyze their campaigns so they can improve results and uncover wins that can be amplified across markets.
Understanding your target audience before spending money on a campaign and experimenting with relevant and localized ad copy to ensure that your brand resonates across audience segments is critical to success. And use targeting, content, and creative insights across markets to maximize campaign performance for all locations. Brands can uncover a wealth of information about what resonates with their audience simply by looking at their metrics regularly across all campaigns. For a more in-depth look on the insights you can gather from your Facebook metrics, consult "6 cheap tricks for better social media marketing."
David Rollo is Chief Strategy Officer at BLiNQ Media .
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"3D Render of back to school" image via Shutterstock.