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Social Marketing

Make friends in all the right places online, and watch your site's traffic soar.

Buying a diamond is typically an interactive, hands-on experience. So $15 million Whiteflash.com, an online diamond jewelry retailer, has sought out ways to make its website seem more neighborly to upscale customers hailing from Singapore to Russia.

Whiteflash.com has achieved this by using live online chat to extend support beyond traditional U.S. retail hours and by getting chummy with bloggers who can keep its name well-represented in search engines.

In the process, the Houston-based company has grown organic visitor traffic to its site generated by the top three search engines by 411 percent since 2006, to an average of 10,000 visitors per month. Revenue, meanwhile, has grown by 15 percent, says CEO Debra Wexler, 49, who co-founded the business with Brian Gavin, 50, a fifth-generation diamond cutter.

By working with internet search agency Web.com, Wexler has orchestrated a social marketing campaign over the past two years that stokes dialogue on fashion and gossip blogs by sending bloggers pictures of celebrities wearing Whiteflash.com designs. The partners collaborate with Web.com to publish 10 to 20 articles per month on its own website related to fashion and style. Earlier this year, the company also extended its Facebook presence with a fan page where customers can share stories and photos.

Wexler estimates they spend about $10,000 per month on social marketing activities. "Anything you touch has the potential to touch 50 other people," she says. "This is where we're going with marketing. You have to get people talking about you."

To keep people engaged while on the Whiteflash.com website, Wexler plans to add live chat features using technology from LivePerson.com in early 2009. This serves a dual purpose: It helps provide prospective customers with quicker answers to their questions, and it gives the staff valuable customer metrics that can be used to guide future product choices. Says Wexler, "We can better understand where they are coming from and where they are going."

Heather Clancy, a freelance journalist and consultant, has been covering the high-tech industry for close to 20 years. She can be reached at hccollins@mac.com.

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This article was originally published in the November 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Social Marketing.

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