In the latest instalment of our blog series looking at how different brands use the main social networks, I’ve decided to shine the spotlight on Ikea.

The Swedish furniture manufacturer is probably one of the most recognisable brands on the planet, and its catalogues are full of striking visuals that are perfect for sharing via social.

Ikea has also just found itself caught up in the horsemeat scandal, so it’s the perfect time to see how it is using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ for customer engagement.

For comparison, I’ve previously looked at how Walmart, Tesco, Red Bull, John Lewis and ASOS use the four main social networks.

Facebook

Ikea has separate pages for each of the markets in which it operates, with the UK page attracting almost 200,000 fans.

The Australian and Canadian pages have a similar number, and largely follow the same engagement strategy. Each of the pages is updated once a day, normally with an attractive image of a room kitted out with Ikea furniture.

Often the updates include links to Ikea’s ecommerce site, but the social teams also pose questions, link to photo albums, and post YouTube clips.

There is a decent level of engagement, with posts generally achieving a few hundred ‘likes’ and ten of comments. The teams occasionally respond to customer queries and complaints, though in general they remain quiet other than to push out the daily updates.

The UK page has also been forced to address the recent horsemeat scandal, after its iconic meatballs were found to be contaminated.

A statement was posted a few days ago stating that the company was investigating the claims, which attracted more than 250 comments.

And despite the relatively low number of updates, Ikea’s social teams appear to be good at running promotions that reward their fans and generate additional content.

For example, in the UK the retailer hosted a sleepover in its Essex store in response to a Facebook fan group called ‘I wanna have a sleepover in Ikea’.

Almost 100,000 people joined the group, and Ikea gave 100 of them the chance to actually spend a night in the warehouse.

Not to be outdone, Ikea Australia held a competition that gave one ‘lucky’ couple the chance to get married at an Ikea store on Valentine’s Day, with 80 Facebook fans in attendance.

Rewarding Facebook fans with these unique, quirky prizes is a great way of maintaining an active online community as it gives them access to experiences they can’t get anywhere else.

Any retailer can give away a bed or a new sofa, so there’s more value in terms of building brand loyalty if you offer people something unique.

Ikea’s US page is far more popular than the other English-language markets, attracting 1.7m fans. It is updated far more regularly, with three or four posts each day.

The content tends to be far more salesy than in the other markets, with loads of information on discounts, promotions and in-store sales. Engagement is also much higher, though that is obviously due to the higher number of fans.

Twitter

In keeping with its Facebook strategy, Ikea has separate Twitter feeds for each of the local markets in which it operates.

The US feed has 132,000 followers and does an excellent job of responding to @mentions, a vast majority of which are currently questions relating to the horsemeat scandal.

However it also deals with product queries and complaints, as well as responding to users who have mentioned the brand simply because they are planning a visit to the store or have just bought something.

This is a different strategy than many of the other retailers I’ve looked at, which tend to operate a separate Twitter feed for customer service.

This avoids getting the marketing messages and consumer engagement initiatives mixed up with customer complaints, and means marketing and customer service have full ownership over their different domains.

Interestingly, one of the only markets that doesn’t appear to have a Twitter feed is the UK.

There have been several short-lived attempts at using Twitter, but none of them lasted for more than a few hundred tweets and have since been left dormant.

For examples, the UK press office tweeted five times in 2011 but is now silent, while the Ikea stores in Warrington and Nottingham also established feeds a few years ago but quickly abandoned the experiment.

The retailer should really kill these feeds, as it doesn’t reflect well on the brand to have a number of failed social accounts lying dormant, but it would also surely benefit from having an official UK page.

The US feed shows how useful Twitter can be in dealing with customer queries, particularly in times of crisis, so it’s a bizarre decision to avoid the platform altogether.

Pinterest

Despite the fact that Pinterest is now a well-established social network, Ikea US only created an official account in January.

This is surprising as interior design is one of the most popular subjects on Pinterest, and many other brands have been achieving impressive results.

Furthermore, other local markets, such as the UK and Canada, have been using Pinterest for almost a year.

Even so, the US page has quickly overtaken the others in terms of popularity, attracting 14,000 followers compared to around 3,000 in the UK and 9,000 in Canada.

Each of the pages adopts the same strategy of only pinning images of Ikea products, complete with links back to Ikea ecommerce sites.

Though John Lewis also uses this tactic, I’m not a fan as it rather misses the point of the platform.

Pinterest offers brands a chance to create a more rounded image by projecting their personality and values, so using the platform as an extension of an existing ecommerce site seems to be a missed opportunity.

One of Ikea’s own pages supports this theory – the Ikea Family account has more followers than any of the others (25,000) and is coincidentally the only one that pins third-party content, though that strategy does seem to have changed recently.

Google+

Ikea’s commitment to Google+ is slightly lacking, to say the least. It doesn’t appear to have even bothered to upload a cover image.

While on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest it has established separate communities in each local market, on G+ it has one main account then two utterly pointless pages for Canada and Kuwait.

The main account isn’t much better – it was established in December 2011 and has since been updated a mere six times, with the last post coming on September 14 2012. This measly effort has attracted 8,000 followers.

It really begs the questions of why Ikea bothers to keep the account open, though perhaps it hopes to get some kind of SEO benefit from maintaining an official G+ page.

But it’s not that uncommon for brands to totally ignore their G+ page. Walmart and Tesco are equally as apathetic about Google’s social network, while ASOS and Red Bull have each managed to clock up around 1.5m followers despite only updating their pages once a day at most.