Barnes & Noble Struggles to Leverage Borders Digital Assets

Barnes & Noble’s co-opting of the online assets of rival Borders was bound to have a glitch or two. The former retailer has been attempting to absorb the latter’s email list, Facebook page, and Twitter account, among other digital things.

Wednesday, Barnes & Noble apparently extended the deadline for Borders customers to opt out of the retailer’s email and purchase history databases until Nov. 2. After recently buying its rival’s online assets, Barnes & Noble sent out an email on Sept. 29 from CEO William Lynch that stated Borders customers could opt out of the databases but had until Oct. 15 to do so.

Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley issued a statement on Wednesday alerting her constituents that they now had more time to opt out of Barnes & Noble’s system. The New York-based retailer has declined to comment for this story. But ClickZ News was told by a government source that the deadline extension affects all former Borders customers and not just the ones living in Massachusetts. Attorneys general from various states are participating in the discussion, the source said, while New York State was leading negotiations with Barnes & Noble.

Sundeep Kapur is director of strategic marketing e-commerce at NCR and a ClickZ email marketing columnist. Kapur questioned the original two-week opt-out window given by Barnes & Noble.

“It is a problem because not everyone will get to the information in due time,” he said. “On the issue side, I think they are committing a serious SNAFU by using the negative opt-in process. What Barnes & Noble has done is that they have pulled off an append with a negative opt-in. [I] always prescribe against appends, especially a negative opt-in append. This to me is one of the serious errors that they are making.”

On the social media side, Barnes & Noble has been utilizing Borders’s Facebook and Twitter pages to promote its brand. Those accounts respectively include 894,000 fans/likes and 233,000 followers. While copy on the pages still reads “Borders”, the logos are for Barnes & Noble. All in all, the responses to Barnes & Noble’s messages have been reasonably positive.

For instance, a post asking Borders’s Facebook fans about their weekend reading on Monday drew 1,400 comments with viewers listing book titles. However a Twitter search on Thursday afternoon for the Borders brand produced more negative tweets. Here’s an example: “So weird seeing Barnes & Noble in control of the @Borders Twitter feed.”

Separate Facebook and Twitter brand accounts cannot be automatically merged on the backend, reps from both social sites confirmed.

Heidi Cohen is a digital marketing educator with a focus on social media and a ClickZ columnist. Cohen explained some of the trickiness that comes with assuming control of another brand’s social assets.

“Today’s consumers are fairly savvy and will understand the switchover,” she said. “[The] issue is whether combining the two sites meets the social media needs of the Borders fans and followers. How were their interactions different? Is Barnes & Noble providing the same level of support and engagement?…To the extent possible, they should keep the same voice, quality and quantity of messages, and same ratio of engagement versus sales message.”

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