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Small Businesses Can't Afford Not to Make This One Hire

"Heading into 2013, consumers could continue to think twice about their discretionary purchases as they face decreases in their paychecks and other concerns with their household budgets," NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement.

Robert Klaben, vice president of marketing for Ohio-based Morris Home Furnishings, decided to hire a third-party social-media expert to help the company grow its customer base, particularly in Cincinnati, one of its newer markets.

"People are searching for you on social media, so you might as well be there," he says.

"I look at social media as today's in-store bulletin board," which is shared by more people at a much lower cost to the company, Klaben says.

Whether it's highlighting recent customers and their purchases, sharing videos of community involvement, offering sneak peeks at special offers, private sales, sharing industry trends, or giving fans special gift cards and other offers, Klaben's presentation listed 21 ways the company engages with consumers via social media, mainly on Facebook.

Tanna Dang, owner of Eden in Love and winner of the NRF's "This is Retail" video contest this year, says Facebook is an important part of her marketing strategy. The Honolulu-based boutique's Facebook page has more than 13,000 fans.

Dang says a few strategies helped her social-media efforts, including professional photos of merchandise and creating a "voice" for the Facebook page that is an extension of the store's brand.

Retailers and restaurants are the top two brand categories that Twitter users most want to hear from, according Richard Alfonsi, Twitter's global vice president of small-business sales.

Two-thirds of Twitter users are following businesses on Twitter to get discounts or deals, as well as exclusive content. Twitter users who see retailer Tweets are 1.4 times more likely to make online purchases, Alfonsi said during the Forum's luncheon presentation.

Twitter is "a great way to connect to users to their interests," he says.

Alfonsi concluded his presentation with some thought-provoking questions on the future of retail.

"What if the future of retail isn't about moving product; it's about moving people" into your store, Alfonsi asked. "What if the future of retail isn't about spreading messages, but having others spread it for you?"

He recommended some easy steps for businesses to get started on the social-media site:

  • Listen: Learn from what users, competitors and others in your industry are tweeting about.
  • Tweet: Find the voice you want your business to project.
  • Plan ahead: Use a calendar to schedule Tweets.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to:

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.
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