Retailers like the butcher and the baker used to be at the center of every community. Today that is long gone, with many of us ordering products—especially nutraceuticals—online.
While our way of shopping may have changed, we haven’t; most of us want to know more about the retailers we buy from, and to interact with them more.
Many nutraceuticals companies have already realized this idea and are using social media—Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogs—to connect with their customers and keep them as regular shoppers.
Viviscal, a natural-based dietary supplement used to reverse hair loss, has built up 3,500 fans on Facebook in less than two years.
It uses the social media site to provide information to its customers such as surveys, interviews with people who suffer from hair loss, and foods that help thicken hair.
“The level of engagement among our fans is high,” said Mark Holland, North American director. “The fans are discussing the issues among themselves.”
And that engagement is key, he said. Viviscal rarely uses social media to sell its products but instead uses it to engage with customers around the topic of hair loss and healthy hair.
The company recently ran 31 stories about hair loss issues (one for each day of the month). The stories ran on Viviscal’s website, and teasers ran on Facebook linking back to the website.
“The key is that [social media] is a resource not a selling tool,” Mr. Holland explained. “I think where brands get it wrong is they use it purely as a selling tool and list the benefits of their products instead of talking about the issue and things people would be interested to read.”
Along with the day-to-day posts, Viviscal also uses social media for events. In July it held its first Twitter party.
The company hired two social media experts to facilitate the two-hour event and they took questions pertaining to hair loss and Viviscal products. Those participating ranged from stylists to consumers, Mr. Holland said.
But the two women did more than answer questions. They sent information about the event to their network of 30 bloggers, and those bloggers’ reach was 150,000 followers. “So over the course of the two hours we had 310,000 impressions across Twitter. It was a huge success and there was a lot of engagement,” Mr. Holland said. During the event Viviscal products were also given away.
On top of the engagement and the connections with consumers, there’s another bonus with social media, Mr. Holland said: It’s free.
And that’s just one of the pluses pointed out by Lorrie Thomas Ross, CEO of Web Marketing Therapy, and author of The 36 Hour Course to Online Marketing.
“The only reason not to get into social media is if you don’t have the time to do it,” she said.
And even if you don’t have time to be involved, she added, if you have the resources, you can hire someone to do it for you.
But one of the worst things you can do is become involved in social media—write a blog, create a Facebook page, for example—then ignore it. Unanswered questions from consumers or blogs whose latest post was a year ago doesn’t create a good impression, she noted.
Ms. Thomas Ross encouraged all companies to be involved in social media. “Social media humanizes a brand and it gives an organization a voice. So instead of talking at our target market, it gives us a chance to talk with them. It’s authentic.”
Social media also allows nutraceuticals companies to create a conversation around their brand—and if they’re lucky to get customers talking between themselves without input.
“So instead of a B2B or B2C community, you have a P2P (people to people, or peer to peer) marketing,” Ms. Thomas Ross explained. “You have people speaking with you, not at you.”
If Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like are a little too technologically challenging for you, a blog may be the best way to start, Mr. Thomas Ross suggested.
“Start a blog (and write how you speak),” she said, adding that it’s essential for your blog to have an overarching theme or purpose. “That purpose is what drives the content creation.”
The theme might be health for those over 60 years of age, or fiber, for example, and that must be communicated throughout to give your company a compass point on what to use social media for, she explained.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) launched its blog in 2012, tying in with its website. Both of these online vehicles encourage consumers to practice a healthy diet, supplements and exercise—what the council calls the three pillars of health, said Judy Blatman, senior vice president of communications.
Seven women and one man—all experts—write the blog. CRN also recently launched a mobile app, WannaBeWell, which helps consumers manage their health. The app is available for free in the iTunes store.
“What social media does is give you the perfect opportunity to really talk about wellness and health,” Ms. Blatman explained. “We talk about what supplements you might need if you’re a vegetarian; or about hiding vegetables in food for children. So these aren’t necessarily supplement specific.
“For us the goal is to get people to think about supplements as one piece of a healthy lifestyle. We’ll do things like have an inspirational quote of the day. Or we might post a study on the Facebook page,” which all comes back to engagement, of course.
“People used to be looking to be told what to do by experts and now they’re looking to engage with companies,” Ms. Blatman concluded. “Consumers now expect to be engaged, especially people who are getting their information online.”
Because this engagement is so important, companies using social media should follow Viviscal’s example and use social media primarily to engage consumers and not to sell, said Ms. Thomas Ross.
“People don’t want to be sold to on social media. The human component is more important so there needs to be more than selling.”
Lietta Ryan, owner and president of Naturally Botanicals, limits selling to e-mail marketing.
“Our blog posts are primarily designed to be informative and educational, with minimal sales pitch or product reference,” she said. “We find that people are put off by sales pitches in blogs. Our readers are looking for sound educational material on various health conditions, nutraceuticals and other possible natural health cures.”
Engage, communicate and let your brand’s personality shine through; and these days you can do it all through a computer.
If you don’t have time for social media, or the money to hire someone to do it for you, you might want to follow the lead of Naturally Botanicals, which uses automated functions from one social media site to another to assist with the posting process as much as possible.
When Ms. Ryan posts information on Facebook, that same information is reposted on Twitter and LinkedIn, “thus saving an enormous amount of time, which is crucial for small businesses,” she said. Next up she’ll be linking up the company’s Google+ account.
To link up your accounts, look at the Admin Settings of your social media page, she said.
She also Networkedblogs, which combines both syndication and automation. When she posts a blog, that posting is automatically pushed by Networkedblogs to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Naturally Botanicals’ blog is also syndicated out to companies that send it to big search engines like Livestrong and EHow, which allows for the potential of thousands of eyeballs reading it.