Antiquarians know well the ways in which communication has changed over the course of the last two centuries. From the day in 1844 when Samuel B. Morse transmitted “What hath God wrought” by telegraph, the tools we use to communicate have continued to evolve.
Deluged by the onslaught of e-commerce, email marketing and now social media, antiques dealers, show promoters and even manufacturers continue to spin in confusion and ask over again that same question, “What hath God wrought?” The uknown is often met with avoidance, but as history has shown, adoption is only a matter of when–and the sooner that when comes, the better off the industry will be for it.
Particularly in the last two decades the changes in communication have accelerated. From email to social media, communication through devices today is often in real time and direct. It’s a curious phenomena that the relevance of communication intermediaries like newspapers, telephone books and even television are fading. For businesses, that means a paradigm shift. A good consumer experience spreads fast, but not nearly as fast as a bad one. Offerings must be authentic, fair and complete—and there’s little tolerance for hype or spin.
“The lack of young people interested in antiques may be communication channels that don’t connect. The way young consumers are receiving information is not the same as the way antique dealers are sending it.”
Like all mediums, the adoption rates vary between industry and demographic groups. Somewhat expectedly, the antiques industry has been slow to adopt web sites, e-commerce, e-mail marketing and social media. That’s in part because the participating demographic is older, but the failure to adopt may prevent bringing in new antiquarians and customers. The lack of young people interested in antiques may be communication channels that don’t connect. The way young consumers are receiving information is not the same as the way antique dealers are sending it.
Pioneers in Social Media
Still there are pioneers who have ventured into these new communication channels and built up a following and built new friendships with Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media channels.
Linda Carannante, a glass dealer from Southeastern Pennsylvania says she first went onto Facebook after becoming aggravated with someone on television who advertised a page. “I signed up in order to complain,” she recalls. From there she signed up for a business page and began posting articles and gained a number of fans along the way.
For Carannante the articles posted online on Facebook, News-Antique, Worthpoint.com and elsewhere are the door to new customer relationships. She says the results have gone beyond her expectations, and while she still does shows and sells through antique malls, social media is part of a combination approach necessary for success in today’s market.
“Business is different now than it ever was before,” Carrannante says. “The articles add validity and social media has broadened my geographic reach and helped build trust. The more trust you build in a customer base, the better base of customers you have.”
A Tool of Engagement
Tommy Krupp runs a web site called Mydesignbroker.com. He says social media has helped facilitate discussion and make his expertise available online, similar to the way a dealer can in a shop or at a show. The site features merchandise from a number of dealers, and success often involves being engaged with the dealer and the customer.
“We are copied on all the emails the dealers receive,” Krupp says. “One woman was looking at dining chairs, so we called her. People like to discuss their choices. It’s a very personal decision when you bring something into your home.”
For Krupp, the use of Twitter and Facebook is about establishing friendships and participating in the antiques community.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people I communicate with on Twitter I didn’t know before,” Krupp says explaining that the relationships result in the sharing of knowledge—something you can never have too much of when dealing in antiques. And with social media, that knowledge can spread faster and be more accessible than ever before.
“Social media is really important because it’s a word-of-mouth method,” Krupp says. “Things become viral very quickly. It gives me the opportunity to express what I’m really thinking. Buyers are getting access to information that they couldn’t get from a print ad.”
From Search Engine Optimization to New Conversations
Hardwood Artisans is a manufacturer of high-end furniture with retail locations in the Washington, DC area. Alison Heath, Director of Sales and Marketing, says the company initially entered the fray with a corporate blog with a desire for search engine optimization.
There was no rush to use social media because the company’s target demographic, 45-65 year-old professionals, were not necessarily using social media. More recently that’s started to change.
“Facebook has become popular with older users,” Heath says explaining that’s important because a large number of the company’s customers come from referrals.
The reach of social media is broad, however, and while that can be of benefit to a glass dealer, it’s not necessarily beneficial to a furniture manufacturer and retailer.
“Ours is a regional company, but social media is not regional,” she says adding that new fans in some areas of North Carolina and Pennsylvania could help should the company expand.
Heath says Hardwood Artisans is learning to integrate social media into existing marketing and is using it to engage in quality conversations about antiques, art and furniture. She stresses that the number of followers isn’t important, it’s the engagement that matters.
“I’m content with low subscriber growth,” Heath says. “It allows me to get to know people better.”
New Avenues of Advertising
Sally Schwartz, Creative Director at Chicago’s Randolph Street Market Festival says that social media has brought major changes to the way she approaches promoting an event.
“Six years ago if you didn’t have a half-page ad in magazines, you weren’t credible,” Schwartz says. “We started interviewing people as they came in and asked how they heard about the fair.”
The most often heard answer: “a friend.” That, Schwartz says, is what social media is about, friends telling friends.
“When compared to traditional media, the cost of social media is so much more affordable,” Schwartz says. “I thought you’d have to buy ads just for credibility. But my job is to bring in the customer.” While Randolph Street Markets does still buy print ads, efforts have also broadened to paid ads on Facebook.
“It’s incredible how specific the audience can be,” Schwartz says. “We don’t need the entire universe, just the people who like this stuff.”
To support social media efforts, Schwartz says a web site is critical, as is email marketing, but it’s not always the contents of the email that bring home the bacon.
“The most important thing is the subject line—many never read the rest,” she says.
Schwartz says social media is particularly important for younger generations because they have been marketed to at extraordinary levels and don’t receive advertising messages the same way as older adults. The youngest among them are the ones who she sees as really getting into the vintage, retro and even antiques markets, and the most willing to seek out the unusual.
“Younger people want shopping to be an experience,” Schwartz says, “—otherwise why not just shop online-it’s the same stuff as you find in the store.”