What’s Working in . . . New York, NY

What’s Working in . . . New York, NY

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I’m a freelance writer who works from home, so I spend a good portion my day involved in some sort of Internet-related activity. And yes, some of that Web surfing includes interacting with like-minded individuals (friends, family, colleagues) on Facebook or Twitter. Whether it’s promoting my freelance work or just passing along a link to an interesting story by someone else, I’ve found those two social networking services to be invaluable to my business. They’re kind of part watercooler, part soapbox and are a fun way for me to get my “brand” out there. (And what’s wrong with fun?)

Because I write about photography and consumer electronics, many of my “friends” on Facebook and most of my “followers” on Twitter have some connection to the tech world, whether they’re photographers, manufacturers, fellow journalists, digital evangelists or just gadget-obsessed consumers. And, increasingly, there are more photo retailers out there who are using social networking to promote their services.

Though a fair number of photo retailers have set up virtual storefronts on Facebook—over a year ago I wrote about Specialty Color Services in Santa Barbara, which is heavily active on Facebook—it’s taken longer for them to embrace Twitter. Whether it’s Twitter’s stifling 140-character limit per post, or the morass of bizarre and occasionally profane tweeters out there, photo retailers seem to view Twitter as Facebook’s pesky younger brother: annoying and, perhaps, a little intimidating. That’s starting to change, though.

Whether it’s sharing info about deals at their stores, discussing issues that are important to photographers, or just meeting customers “face-to-face” in the rapidly growing “Twitterverse,” I’ve noticed more and more retailers joining the Twitter party. In fact, two major retailers in New York City—B&H Photo and Adorama—have over a dozen employees between them who are actively tweeting on behalf of their stores. The question is, with so many competing voices on Twitter, including everyone from Ashton Kutcher to Sarah Palin, what are retailers getting out of it?

For Henry Posner, B&H’s director of Corporate Communications who tweets as part of B&H’s Web Customer Service department, it’s more about showing off the store’s personality than trying to directly sell merchandise.

“We don’t want to be perceived as a box house, which we’re not, or as a monolithic no-named corporate structure, which we’re not,” Posner says. “We want people to know we’re living, breathing human beings with pretty much the same interests the customer has, and Twitter lets us show that.”

“I tweet between one to a 12 times a day, depending on what’s going on. You don’t need to post 1,000 things a day and you don’t need to post every day. It doesn’t need to be business-only but there does need to be a focus to what you tweet.”

Along with Posner, who tweets under the @bandhphoto handle on Twitter, there’s a main store Twitter account (@BHPhotoVideo), an account for the Used Department (@BHPhoto_Used), one for the events space (@BH_Event_Space), one for its Edu Advantage group (@BH_EDUadvantage), one for its professional video studio (@thestudioatbh) and one for its surveillance video specialist (@ari_erenthal).

Yes, that’s a lot of tweeting going on. But one of the misperceptions about Twitter is that it was created so people can aimlessly share info about what they had for lunch or where they’re going after work. While there is some of that on Twitter, it’s not as prevalent as you’d think. In the case of B&H, each account presents a different side of the store. Posner wants to show that B&H is “helpful, available and diverse,” and he tweets about everything from photo stories in the news to answering a question about whether a product is still in stock. On the other hand, the store’s main @BHPhotoVideo Twitter account focuses more on new product announcements and deals on gear.

Posner doesn’t think there are any hard and fast rules about what to tweet other than to keep it fun and keep it focused.

“I visit Twitter every day, and I tweet between one to a dozen times a day. It all depends on what’s going on in the world,” Posner says. “You don’t need to post 1,000 things a day and you don’t need to post every day. It doesn’t need to be business-only but there does need to be a focus to what you tweet.”

Mason Resnick, who is editor of the Adorama Learning Center and tweets under the @Adoramalearn Twitter address, also takes a focused “soft sell” approach. Since Resnick works for Adorama’s education department and is editor of the store’s online magazine, his tweets are typically about new content that’s been posted to the site, such as recent stories about shooting video with DSLRs or reviews of microphones for recording sound through your camera.

“We want to be proactive and engaged not just with our customers but with the entire photographic community,” Resnick says. “Since the industry is undergoing so many changes, we want to help people understand.” 

Along with Resnick, there are five other people who tweet for Adorama on a regular basis. As with B&H, each tweeter covers a particular niche at the store, whether it’s pro sales, the used department or direct customer service.

“We want to be proactivess and engaged with our customers and the entire photographic community. The industry is undergoing so many changes, and we want to help people understand.” 

Helen Oster, who is Adorama’s “customer service ambassador,” says using Twitter is part of a larger effort by the store to respond to customers needs whether it’s on blogs, in forums or on Facebook. And just because its in cyberspace, it doesn’t mean that the same rules of etiquette don’t apply.

“Genuine empathy is key to every engagement,” Oster says. “If a Tweet links to a photography forum, a blog or shopping site, where I need to post a response, I always address the customer as an individual, although I know that my posting could be read by 70, 80 or 90,000 people!”

Both Posner and Resnick say the main thing to avoid on Twitter is being overly aggressive, either in trying to gain followers or trying to sell customers.

“The big mistake is to run out and tweet 100 things a day and try to collect thousands of followers,” Posner says. “Expect that you’re going to build your audience slowly. Like Rome, a Twitter account isn’t built in a day.”

Resnick says he’s careful to keep his tweets on-message, which for him is all about education and information sharing. “People are very sensitive to being spammed. The overall tactic is to tweet on a fairly regular basis and look at other people’s tweets. If you see something that makes you go ‘Wow, that’s interesting,’ then retweet it and share it with your followers.”

Sounds simple, right? So what advice do Posner and Resnick have for stores that are thinking about taking the Twitter plunge?

“Don’t hesitate,” Posner says. “It’s difficult to be wrong about this if you use a little common sense.”

“The first step is to set up a Twitter account and start snooping around,” Resnick notes. “Look at what other people are interested in and start following those people who are interesting to you. Try to be engaged, build credibility and hopefully you can turn people into customers.”

What’s Working in . . .  features a photo specialty retailer who is doing something to set him or herself apart from the competition. If you know someone who has an idea they’d like to share, please send an e-mail to danhavlik@gmail.com

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