How retailers can use social media for marketing

Social media is becoming an increasingly important element of many firms’ marketing efforts but independent retailers are slower to pick up the trend. However social media can benefit all types of business, including high street shops, restaurants and pubs.

Recent research has underlined the fact that many consumers now use the internet generally, and social media specifically, as their first port of call when looking for products or services. It is also the case that as many as 70 per cent of consumers now use social media to air their grievances about firms with which they have had a bad experience.

As a retail business owner you must ensure that you are properly harnessing the power of social media if you are to benefit and control the way your business is perceived online.
All too often when social media is used, business owners think it is enough to simply sign up to a few social networks and then forget about them. This is not an effective strategy. In reality, you will only get the most out of social media if you make a proper time investment.

So how can you best use social media as a marketing tool for your retail business? We have compiled a list of examples showing how other retailers have used social media marketing (often shortened to SMM) to great effect.

Micro-blogging

Twitter and other microblogging platforms provide an incredible, free marketing opportunity for independent retailers. The benefits are two-fold.

Firstly, they provide you with an opportunity to monitor what customers are saying about your firm in real-time, while allowing you to respond instantly. Secondly, they allow you to engage instantly with your customers about promotions, new products and other related news.

Zappos, the American footwear retailer, set the benchmark for Twitter engagement. It was an early adopter of the technology, using it for customer service and to promote offers, and has since set up an aggregation page that displays every mention of its brand – again, in real time. This helps to present Zappos as a reputable brand, and an active part of the social media community.

Facebook applications

Facebook is by far the most popular social network, and marketers have long been considering ways to make it work for them. It may not be an effective marketing tool for every retailer, but it is worth spending a bit of time trialling it to see whether it is right for your business.

IKEA have been responsible for some of the most innovative uses of Facebook. Late last year they ran a campaign in which photographs of IKEA storerooms were posted on the network, and Facebook users were told that whoever ‘tagged’ themselves on an item first would win it. This clever combination of interactivity and competition helped to create significant exposure for the retailer across Facebook – and, of course, got people talking offline as well.

Employee engagement

SMM tends to fail when it is obviously dictated from the top down. Instead, you should think about ways that you can encourage your employees to participate in your social networks and their own on behalf of your business. Enlisting their help will also cut down on the time you spend managing your social networks, which can end up being quite a lot!

Sainsbury’s has become increasingly proficient at this in recent months, developing a ‘cookalong’ scheme whereby employees cook a meal (with Sainsbury’s ingredients, of course) once a week and tweet the recipe as they cook.

The importance of listening

Remember that your SMM efforts will only succeed if you are prepared to listen to your customers, rather than talk at them. Unlike most other forms of marketing, social media facilitates conversation, rather than a one-way flow of information. BT understands this well; they monitor many social networks for mentions of their brand name, and respond to users where appropriate.

Bear in mind, though, that users will be instantly turned off by anything resembling spam. So avoid mass following on Twitter, or going on ‘friending’ sprees on Facebook. Instead, think about ways that you can encourage users to come to you.

The power of video

Many businesses underestimate the power of video content but for many people, video is a far more engaging medium than text or still image. Comparatively few marketers bother experimenting with it, however, as it is difficult to get right and the videos can be expensive to create.

A ‘viral’ video is often seen as the holy grail of SMM, and content of this type has driven massive sales for some canny retailers and brands. IKEA has been particularly successful in this area, developing a series of somewhat risqué adverts, and then posting them to YouTube described as ‘banned’ commercials.

As a retail business owner you obviously need to stick to a careful budget, and some of the ideas and examples provided here may therefore be beyond your abilities. But they should help to underline the basic concepts of social media marketing. If you are prepared to listen to your customers, and you understand that the social media sphere does not work like any other marketing medium, you are on the right track.

Finally, it is important to remember that SMM is unlikely to be a panacea for your business. Do not throw all of your eggs in one basket by neglecting other marketing activities. Instead, think about ways that you can leverage a mix of media and marketing techniques to help get your message across.

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