I’m currently out in Austin for SXSWi, the tech conference that looks at what’s new in the digital world. As always there are the naysayers who snipe that it’s too big, too mainstream and that the truly cutting edge stuff happens elsewhere but the fact remains it’s a completely unique event that attracts some really interesting people, has a fantastic range of workshops and panels and is, well, fun. You don’t like it? don’t come, stay at home and moan (tellingly my sister-in-law, who has lived in Austin for 20 years, reckons they’ve been saying that stuff about it since the 2nd sxsw).
This year’s SXSW conference kicked off yesterday and among panels and lunch, I met up with James Hart, the eCommerce director for online fashion retailer ASOS. James is widely credited with being responsible for ASOS’s phenomenally successful use of social media, an approach that has paid concrete dividends. ASOS.com attracts over 6.9 million unique visitors a month, has 2.9 million registered users and is rapidly becoming the leading online fashion retailer. It has multiple twitter accounts which it uses for promotional activity, community outreach and customer relations, a huge Facebook following and its own community on ASOS.com. Last year they launched ASOS reviews, a site that pulls in quotes from Twitter, classifies them as positive or negative and displays the results; a real-time barometer of customer opinion. And their most recent initiative is ASOS follows fashion, essentially a site that displays the tweets of other ‘fashion forward’ twitter users.
James was kind enough to answer my questions about how they approach social media, what the benefits have been and what they have planned for the future.
Who is responsible for social media at ASOS?
We don’t consider that social media to ‘sits’ within any one department, it’s about treating the customer in the best way possible and that’s everyone’s responsibility within the business. Essentially we want to make it easier for customers to communicate with us, to buy from us, to ask us questions and social media provides us with a great way of doing that.
Do you measure ROI of your social media activity?
Not specifically no. We do track our activity but we don’t impose KPIs onto it because we understand that it has intrinsic value. So if we see that for example, someone mentions us on facebook, perhaps they’ve had a less than great experience, then we pick up on it, deal with it and that has value but we don’t measure it by number of tweets responded to or whatever, because that’s not what it’s about.
What advice would you have for a company that had never used social media before but wanted to get started?
Always start by thinking about the customer and their experience rather than the department within the business, put yourself in the place of the customer, and map out the processes; how they find you, decide whether or not to buy from you, what do they want out of the buying experience itself? then work out which team is best placed to deliver it.
Of course you need to know whereabouts online your customers are, work this out before you do anything. And be aware that customers want different things and behave differently depending on the social network. So for us, Facebook people sound off a fair bit and they’re always looking for discount codes, whereas our Twitter customers tend to interact with the brand more. Having said that, although you need to do some research, you can also get so bogged in strategy that it paralyses you from ever actually doing anything. To an extend you do need to just get on and do it, it’s a bit like the wild west out there, there aren’t any rules and you need to get on and try it out, if it doesn’t work, you can always just change it and try something new.
Talking to James, it sounds like they have some exciting projects in the pipeline and there’s certainly no doubt that they are set to continue their incredible growth. Our conversation got me thinking about last year’s SXSW where Tony Heish from Zappos took to the stage to talk about how they always start by putting the customer at the heart of everything they do and their social media activity naturally flows from that. ASOS sound like they take a very similar ‘customer first’ approach and let’s face it, if they can emulate the success Zappos have had they won’t be in bad shape!