Rob Harles: “Social media is about convenience, choice and value”

 “Over half the world is under 30. They’ve never known the world without the Internet.”

When you start a presentation with a stat like that, it’s hard to top it. But Rob Harles, VP of Community for Sears Holding Corp. managed to do so, speaking about how to build a successful online community through convenience, choice and value.

Harles realized that there was a need for a strategic approach to Sears’ online presence since most of the company’s customers are over 53, but the customers they WANT are under 30. So the company created the MySears community for customers to engage with each other before and post purchase. As he noted in his presentation during the social media and mobile commerce day at eTail, it’s getting harder and harder to capture people’s attention. As it is with all marketing efforts, you’re “hunting the snark,” you never quite know where the customer is. The answer, as it seems we keep hearing, is to engage your customer, and according to Harles, the definition of engagement is evolving it includes the following:

–         Create: create and upload video, write a product review, write a blog, etc.

–         Critique: vote, comment on your posts, others’ posts, tagging

–         Share: e-mail and social networks

“The biggest thing is biggest thing is to get people to comment and review,” said Harles. “But you can’t just ask people what they’re interested in, you have to do something with that information.”

“Customer service has become a big part of what we do,” he continued. “Customers don’t care how they interact with you, they just want an answer. People will find ways to connect with you one way or another. The value proposition for the customer is to fix their problem.”

Harles also advises to build social loyalty and discover what motivates your customers through recognition, statistic tracking and social interaction.

“If you create artificial barriers, you won’t get a sense of community,” said Harles. “We don’t censor reviews or content but we do moderate. We scrub out spam or profanity. We generally don’t post it if it just says ‘This product is bad, this product is good.’ Internally, we’ve set up our own guidelines. It’s never going to be perfect, you’ve just got to be in front of it.”

As an example he said that opening a Twitter handle and then using it to push promotions is counter-productive. You have to first connect with people emotionally, he said.

Said Harles: “You have to think much more like a media company these days than like a marketer.”