Originally posted on Digby’s The Mobile Retail Blog

The last couple of years have been pivotal for brands’ social media capabilities. Social media has grown beyond the 140-character, text-only limit and has blossomed into media-rich social communities. There is a burgeoning opportunity for brands to take advantage of social media in new ways to garner more brand interest, loyalty and participation.

About four years ago, Twitter was dominating the media waves with thousands of experts and bloggers sharing advice on how brands and companies could harness this new social technology. Now, media-rich platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram are the social media darlings, and Facebook continues to release innovative new capabilities for companies hoping to connect with their social customers. Some brands are making promising headway into social and mobile integration, and soon, they’ll be paving the way for many other brands. For companies contemplating dipping a foot in—or diving in completely—there are a number of practices to start now.

1. Incorporate merchandise photos on an Instagram brand page.

Instagram is a popular new photo sharing mobile app, where users can upload or take photos, edit them using preloaded photo themes and share with the community and their friends. Brands with photogenic merchandise should get on Instagram now. Companies should upload in-store photos of products or events, product shots, magazine spots and any other brand-worthy photos to Instagram, and tag them with key words and location to drive traffic to local stores. Puma (11,000+ followers) is doing a great job of sharing not only product shots, but lifestyle shots, with a friendly mobile fan base.

2. Add “lookbooks” to Pinterest.

Officially launched in 2010 as an invite-only beta trial, Pinterest has become the fastest growing and third most popular social network, behind only Facebook and Twitter. This virtual pin board allows users to upload photos from the web, add a description, organize by topic (or pin board) and share with their followers. Because every pin is credited back to the online source, many brands have experienced increases in site visits and sales from Pinterest traffic. A study showed that 21 percent of Pinterest users had made a purchase directly from Companies could easily create boards that serve as lookbooks for their merchandise. One of my favorite brands to follow on Pinterest is Michael Kors, and his board, “Style Tips” is a good example of a brand sharing a product-inspired lookbook. A recommendation for Mr. Kors would be to link the photo back to the e-commerce product page or include the link in the description.

3. Allow customers to create and share Pinterest boards as a part of a community action.

Earlier this year, The Paper Source, an arts and crafts store, encouraged their customers to create a board inspired by a craft project using pins from as a part of a competition. The chosen winner of the most creative board would receive a large discount on all supplies needed to complete the project. It would be awesome to see a company run an in-store mobile contest where customers could create Pinterest boards on their phones or tablets by scanning product QR codes and adding them to the boards.

4. Incorporate social sharing functions in your product pages to encourage customers to share products with friends on social networks.

For example, Free People has implemented a unique version of this strategy—it has begun uploading Instagram photos from fans and customers on its product pages. What an incentive for customers to post Free People product photos! Free People also allows customers to create wardrobe wish lists directly on their site, which they can share on Facebook with friends.

5. Incorporate these social sharing functions into your mobile app.

Social sharing happens anywhere there is opportunity and inspiration, so social sharing capabilities in mobile apps is a must. Nordstrom has incorporated social sharing buttons into its mobile product pages so customers can interact with Nordstrom and fellow shoppers and friends on a more personal level. Nordstrom commented in a recent article, “We know our customers love shopping with their iPad and we hope this is a first step toward creating a more convenient and compelling way to interact with Nordstrom on this device.”

6. Encourage social participation in the store.

The physical store is no longer strictly physical. Customers can use mobile devices to scan product barcodes or QR codes, they can share store photos on Instagram, check in on Fourquare or Yelp, and many other virtual activities. If you’re a brand who has it, flaunt it. If you are active in all of the above areas (or plan to be), tell your customers! Sephora does this well. The beauty products retailer has an incredible “nail bar” where polish is on display, as well as tutorials and photo examples of trendy manicures. All around the nail bar are signs that encourage shoppers to share their latest manicure/pedicure creation on Sephora’s “Nailspotting” Pinterest board. Shoppers can take pictures of their nails, send to Sephora and the retailer will post your creation for all to see.

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