Facebook Inc. regularly tweaks its news-feed algorithm, which can make it difficult for some retailers to adapt.
However, amid those changes, ThinkGeek has managed to maintain strong engagement with its posts thanks largely to the quirky nature of its products and the irreverent tone in its posts—traits that appeal to its geeky fan base. That’s not an accident, says Jeff Burchett, the retailer’s director of product marketing. “We’re a cool, unique place to find stuff you just can’t get anywhere else,” he says.
The retailer of gadgets and electronics maintains its tone but regularly adjusts its efforts to prioritize content that Facebook’s algorithm favors, which in the past year has largely been video (and increasingly its live video feature called Facebook Live). “We’re certainly not above the law when it comes to Facebook’s algorithm,” Burchett says.
The retailer regularly monitors how its posts perform, which enables it to quickly adapt when specific types of content start to garner more impressions. But as it does so ThinkGeek seeks to maintain its cheeky tone, particularly in videos and images, which it develops with a “social-first” mindset aimed at generating highly shareable content. For instance, when it rolled out Feisty Pets, a line of plush animals that snarl when squeezed, the video it shared on Facebook showed a shopper looking at the cute stuffed animal in a ThinkGeek storefront. She then buys the toy, frolics with it in the park and then squeeze it, discovering its hidden, feisty side.
“We could have made a video that was straight product video or create something more like a commercial, but we decided to show Feisty Pets in a light that smells like ThinkGeek,” he says. “We didn’t make it to be something that someone will want to share, we made it because it’s funny, but because it’s funny it is something that our fans will want to watch and share.”
ThinkGeek posts a daily “Today in Geek History” that features obscure trivia about the TV shows, movies and videogames that the retailer’s fans are into, as well as at least one product post that features its signature tone. The approach works. The retailer has more than 1.4 million Facebook likes, roughly 21.5% more than it had a year ago. And those fans are engaged. For instance, a post today featured a photo of James Earl Jones with the note, “Today in Geek History: Happy Birthday, Lord Vader! James Earl Jones was born in 1931. You have brought peace, freedom, justice, and security to the empire.” It received more than 6,900 reactions a little more than five hours after it posted. Such engagement helps ensure ThinkGeek’s followers see its posts because Facebook’s news-feed algorithm factors in a consumer’s engagement with a brand’s posts in its formula, which means that if a shopper interacts with one post from ThinkGeek, he’ll be more likely to see the retailer’s other posts.
While ThinkGeek has a large Facebook fan base that regularly sees its posts, it also regularly pays to promote posts to ensure they’re being viewed. The targets of those ads are depend on the particular post.
The retailer uses its customer relationship management system to divide its customer base into segments. It then uses Facebook’s Custom Audiences tool to share those segments with the social network, which enables ThinkGeek to find those customers on Facebook. The retailer can then target the customers with ads—or use Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences tool, which lets brands find consumers who share traits with their existing customer base.
When ThinkGeek is promoting a post that features a “Star Trek” product, it might only target its customers interested in the “Star Trek” TV series. However, it more often takes a broad-minded approach using Lookalike Audiences to promote a video like Feisty Pets to consumers who may not yet know of the ThinkGeek brand.
“We’re bent on world domination, just like any supervillain,” Burchett says. “While we have a lot of fans, we know there are a lot more geeks out there who don’t know us. So we have to use advertising to try to find them.”