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Letting Women Talk: Using Social Media to Connect With Consumers

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In this 21st-century existence we lead, engaging on social media is more than de rigeur - it's required. From photos of your best friend's latest holiday to the new Internet meme that everyone seems to have heard about before you, your social life is increasingly lived in the virtual space. This is especially true for women, who are dominating social sites like Pinterest (more than 95% of whose users may be female, according to the TechCrunch report that made headlines earlier this year).

This reality is why we knew that social media would have to play an instrumental part if Zaggora, the lifestyle company I founded in July 2011, had any chance of getting off the ground. Zaggora is geared toward women who are looking for smarter solutions to getting in shape and staying active, and while we had faith that our exercise wear, which is engineered with a unique fabric technology to boost the effects of your workout, could strike a chord, there's a cacophony of noise out there around fitness, activity, and wellness more generally. So to gather some initial research, we eschewed more traditional market research routes and went straight to the consumer instead. We tweeted like mad, asking women all over the Twittersphere if they would test-drive our inaugural product, HotPants, for two weeks and report back to us with their results. When 500 agreed, we were on our way, destination unknown but hopeful.

Whilst the feedback was fantastic, and we knew we were onto something, I believe that our Twitter experiment did much more than simply excite some women who would get to trial a new pair of exercise shorts for free. Women are savvy and discerning buyers - even more so in our recession era - and paying heed to their time and financial decisions is crucial. In a world where more household purchasing decisions are made by women, engaging with the decision makers is a necessity for any business.

Respect and transparency toward its customers have been Zaggora's ethos from the beginning, and the relationship we forged with women via social media has without a doubt been the driving force behind our success 16 months later. Our Facebook page is the hub of the Zaggora community, where we solicit feedback on new and existing products and share behind-the-scenes news from our community of 321,000 fans. Further, cultivating this community has also given us a built-in focus group that's 321,000 strong - and growing. They tell us what products they want to see next, in what split we should purchase our inventory, and how we can keep improving. (Case in point: a simple question we posted, "Zip or no zip on our new top?", received more than 3,800 comments, an all-time Zaggora record.) That's just one side of the coin, though. On the other are these women's journeys toward being happy with their bodies and with their place in life, journeys they share openly, frequently and enthusiastically with us on Facebook, Twitter and beyond.

Transparency breeds trust, and trust breeds positive word-of-mouth. The Zaggora.com homepage features a live feed from our Facebook wall, so the first thing you see when you visit our site is comments by fans and curious women from around the virtual globe. It's no coincidence that in a survey we did with 11,000 of our customers, 67% said it was this "social proof" from other women that led them to buy a Zaggora product.

Zaggora aims to make smart products for smart women and create an environment where savvy and time-strapped buyers take control of the information available to them, ultimately driving their own purchasing decisions. The support of bodies like the Women of the Future Awards, in association with Shell, enables us to further this vision. All too often, businesses view social media platforms as yet another channel to deliver a one-way monologue to consumers about their latest products and offers without being brave enough to open the floor to a two-way conversation about what those consumers really want. To do that as a business, you have to be prepared to let consumers speak and, most importantly, listen to what they have to say and act on it. Astute consumers are very good at telling you what they want.

None of us likes a friend who only talks about themselves, so why should our conversations with consumers be any different?

Dessi Bell is a shortlister of the 2012 Women of The Future Awards.

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The awards ceremony will take place on Tuesday 20 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.