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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: Using social media in holiday marketing

As merchandisers gear up for holiday sales, about

As merchandisers gear up for holiday sales, about two-thirds of marketers will spend more on social media this holiday season than last, according to a report from Offerpop, a digital marketing software platform. Photo Credit: iStock

As brands gear up for the holidays, expect to see social media play an even greater role in their marketing efforts this year than last.

Roughly two-thirds of marketers -- 67 percent -- will spend more on social media this holiday season than last, with Facebook being the dominant player, according to a new infographic by Manhattan-based Offerpop, a digital marketing software platform.

So if you're not planning to incorporate social media into your holiday marketing mix, you may want to reconsider, experts say.

"We're seeing marketers continue to invest more in social media marketing," says Mairead Ridge, senior marketing manager at Offerpop. "It just demonstrates the momentum that social media is building as a marketing channel."

It offers brands an opportunity to reach a large target audience and provide instant offers in real time, experts say. But as consumers get more inundated with offers, marketers need to become more creative and engaging in their messaging.

Make it fun, visual. "You need to build and nurture your community," notes Ekaterina Walter, co-author of "The Power of Visual Storytelling" (McGraw-Hill; $29) and "global evangelist" at Sprinklr, a Manhattan-based social media management platform. "It's about making someone's days better, easier and more fun."

Engage your community in fun ways, taking the visual into account, she recommends. "The visual world is becoming more and more powerful," Walter explains. "People pick the content that visually stands out for them."

For instance, she's seen brands respond on Twitter to customer questions with a video response instead of just a simple tweet. It might contain a personalized message that makes the customers feel special, she notes.

Visual platforms like Pinterest and Instagram are expected to do well this holiday season. In fact, 73 percent of marketers think the breakout social network of 2014 is Instagram, according to Offerpop.

Video is very important when using Instagram, as is including hashtags in your posts, says Ana Raynes, director of social media at Didit, a Mineola-based marketing agency.

Hashtags are how people search on Instagram, she notes, adding there are sites like hashtags.org that can be helpful.

Pinterest is good because "it really drives that direct sale," she notes, adding you can have direct links to product pages from Pinterest.

Facebook still king. For many marketers, Facebook will be king given its 1.32 billion users. "It has the biggest audience," Ridge says.

But as with any marketing medium you use, you need to know your audience, Raynes says. Find out where your customers are and "try to drive the conversation there," she says.

Photo contests are popular and get a lot of engagement, Ridge adds, noting brands should try to come up with a holiday promotion that "bakes in a viral element."

The more shares you get, the wider your reach, she notes. For example, offer a discount if customers refer friends.

Melissa Chicarelli, owner of The Sugar Chic in Amityville, a cookie shop and boutique bakery, has had success with contests in past holiday seasons.

Last year, customers who liked Sugar Chic's Facebook page and shared a photo from the page were entered to win a box of cookies. "It's almost a direct referral when they share a photo," she says.

Chicarelli, who has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, expects to increase her social media activity this year.

"During the holidays, it's important to show a constant presence," she notes, adding it helps boost sales. "You're reaching so many people."

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