For Fortune 500 Retailers Selected Product Posts Win Engagement

Harley Davidson has it easy. The motorbike company is known for producing a single product. That product is photogenic so it’s not surprising that the company’s Facebook page looks like a photo album of beautiful motorbikes. A Photo of the Day shows a rare model every 24 hours. In between those posts are pictures of other models and when the page’s 5.6 million followers add their own comments, which they do in their hundreds (“likes” typically range from 15,000 to 30,000 per post,) they often include pictures of their own bikes.

It’s a content strategy that’s simple to apply and obvious to choose. While the page might sometimes advertise the company’s own riding courses or show events at which the bikes have been featured, nowhere do we see branded accessories like jackets or helmets offered for sale. This is a page that’s all about the bikes, and it works. Posts win engagement, deepen the relationship with customers and give the brand the viral reach it expects from social media.

Companies with a broader range of products have to make some harder decisions.

B2C retail firms of the Fortune 500 are among the most enthusiastic users of social media. They use Facebook and Twitter, as well as Instagram and Pinterest, to promote their products and draw people into their stores. But retailers like J.C. Penney, Nordstrom and Macys face a challenge: with a huge range of different products on offer, which pictures should they place on their content streams? Should they promote samples of their entire stock to appeal to as broad a spectrum of their followers as possible? Should they show stores and themes, happy employees and announcements of sales? Or would they do better by focusing on a narrow band of iconic products, as Harley Davidson does, even at the risk of excluding some potential followers and some sales?

Looking at the response rates won by companies that have used each of these strategies reveals that for retailers a specialized content strategy is more effective than a diversified strategy.

Nordstrom Versus J.C. Penney

For retailers and other firms with wide product ranges who are struggling to understand which content is the most effective, A glance at the figures isn’t always revealing.

On Facebook, J.C. Penney’s audience of more than 4.6 million likes is far larger than Nordstrom’s 2.6 million. But while J.C. Penney has won more likes overall, Nordstrom has much higher engagement figures. The company typically wins one like on a post for every 1,329 followers; J.C. Penney requires 4,636 followers to land each like.

That average, calculated by counting the responses to the most recent twelve posts and removing the best and worst-performing content, hides a great deal of variability. Nordstrom’s last ten posts included a picture of a male golfer in shorts that generated just 33 likes and a shot of a Michael Kors watch that picked up more than 18,300 likes. J.C. Penney’s variation was much narrower: from 295 likes to 9,868.

On Instagram, where Nordstrom has more than ten times the number of followers that J.C. Penney has, its overall engagement rate is more than double that of J.C. Penney: it needs just 40 followers for every favorite it receives; J.C. Penney needs more than 88 followers for every favorite.

But again, Nordstrom’s variation is much greater. Although the company’s Instagram images average about 10,000 favorites each (from a follower base of more than 400,000), in practice the response rate can drop as low as 3,500 favorites and rise as high as 20,000. J.C. Penney has a much narrower range of about 225 to 700 favorites with most posts picking up somewhere in the 300s from a little over 32,000 followers.

Both companies post a variety of different content on Facebook and Instagram: shots of shoes and accessories, pictures of store coffee and seasonal messages. Overall, Nordstrom’s content is working better helped by the fact that some posts are winning much more engagement than others.

Pinterest’s Boards Allow For Easy Tracking

Pinterest provides a useful clue into what’s happening and why followers are more likely to respond to some of Nordstrom’s than to J.C. Penney’s content.

The site, whose user base may be as much as 80 percent female and which generates more referrals than any other social media platform except Facebook, offers a rich target for retailers whose products are targeted largely at women. Uniquely on social media sites, Pinterest also allows users to filter the content they follow: instead of following all of the content in a stream, users can follow boards dedicated to specific topics created by the publisher.

Like tracking channels on affiliate accounts, those boards allow publishers to categorize content to see which performs the best.

In general, users choose to follow — and to engage with — boards with specialized content.

Both Nordstrom and J.C. Penney maintain active accounts on Pinterest.


J.C. Penney has nineteen boards, on which it has placed 3,604 pins, earning 350 likes from 34,070 followers.

Nordstrom is even more active. Its 66 boards contain 15,551 pins. They’ve earned 4,533 likes from more than 4.4 million followers.

The definition of the boards created by each of the companies differs considerably. Nordstrom has boards that are both specific and diversified. Four are dedicated to a topic as broad as colors. (The “color of the year” is “radiant orchid” but Nordstrom also has boards called “Pick Pink,” “Pop of Color” and “White Haute.”) Each of the seasons has its own board and seven of the company’s boards are dedicated to weddings.


Among the boards with a wide range of different products, “All Dressed Up” is intended to provide “inspiration for a special occasion straight from the Oscars red carpet.” The board has more than 194,000 followers and 232 pins. Those pictures of jewelry, dresses, shoes and prom gowns can be expected to receive around 250 repins each, or one repin for every 776 followers.

Spring Fashion,” despite having a higher number of followers has a much lower rate of engagement. Its 204,228 followers will typically repin a picture of the spring dresses, shoes, jewelry, sunglasses and spring photos placed on the board about 160 times. Each repin requires about 1,276 followers.

Some of the boards created by Nordstrom though are dedicated to single products rather than collections of different products gathered around a theme.

Shoe Lust,” a board that is filled entirely with pictures of shoes, is the largest of Nordstrom’s boards with 750 pins. The board has picked up more than 197,000 followers and each pin typically generates around 296 repins. A board dedicated to pictures of shoes is giving Nordstrom an engagement rate of one repin for every 666 followers.

Arm Candy,” a board for accessories, does even better. Its collection of handbags, supplemented occasionally by photos of watches and bracelets, has a little over 185,000 followers. Each pin, however, typically receives around 500 repins and generates an engagement rate of one repin for every 370 followers.

On Nordstrom’s Pinterest page, boards with a narrow range of content may attract fewer followers but they typically have higher rates of engagement.

That relationship between engagement and specific product ranges is even clearer when comparing Nordstrom to J.C. Penney.

All of J.C. Penney’s boards are general. Two of its nineteen boards are about seasons. A “prom shop” is similar to Nordstrom’s “All Dressed Up” board. One board offers deals while just two boards have to cover all of children’s clothes and menswear.

A board called “Where the heart is” (“from furniture to small appliances, find top brands for every room in your house”) has picked up 26,751 followers. Its 552 pins can expect to receive an average of eighteen repins each, a rate of 1,486 followers for every repin.

The company’s largest board has similar rates of engagement. “Looks to love” (“we’re giving you head-to-toe looks, must-have pieces and more styles than ever before”) has more than 26,200 followers for its 727 pictures of sandals, dresses, pants, tee-shirts, shorts, sweaters and other products. Each of those pictures generates about eighteen repins, a rate of one for every 1,402 followers.

Nordstrom’s product-specific Pinterest boards not only have a far higher engagement rate than their general boards; they also have an engagement rate nearly four times higher than J.C. Penney’s boards.

Pinterest gives users a unique degree of control over the content that enters their stream. It’s the only platform that allows users to choose which of the content offered by a publisher they wish to see. That gives publishers and companies valuable information. For retailers on Pinterest, offering boards that focus on specific products lets followers add one particular kind of content to their pages and raises engagement.

On other platforms, that automatic filtering is harder to do so retailers will need to pay careful attention to the content they’re sharing if they’re to maintain their engagement levels. One solution that retailers have so far overlooked may be replicate Pinterest’s boards by creating separate pages for each of their departments.

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