How Social Media Can Help Brick-and-Mortar Retail


With Facebook and Twitter each celebrating milestone birthdays recently (10 years and 8 years respectively), it’s safe to say that social media is here to stay.

But even with over a billion networked people on the planet and opportunity seemingly lining up in your favor, you may still find yourself battling superiors as a retail marketer pursuing social media.

Does this sound like a familiar situation?

Let’s break down the key themes you’ll need to understand (and share) as you make the case for social media in your organization.

#1 – Social media is about conversations, not sales

This one sounds counterintuitive. It might even seem ludicrous to the uninitiated. How the heck are you supposed to win resources to spend against social media if it’s not going to lead to sales?

First, if you’re going to win the hearts and minds of your superiors, you’ve got to set the stage: social media is not about sales. I didn’t say it won’t lead to sales. I said it isn’t about sales.

Many of the early success stories in retail social media involved ecommerce windfalls. Dell made $6.5 million in 2009 by posting links to product sales on their outlet site. Let me be the first to say it – that’s not going to happen for you.

In fact, you probably won’t sell a single product through Twitter. Or Facebook. Or even red-hot Instagram. And certainly not in a 7-second Snapchat. But that’s not the point.

Social media is not about selling. It’s about gathering like-minded people together (think: your customers) and having great conversations.

Participating in social media as a retailer is akin to staffing your store with people. You wouldn’t open a store without employees, right? Nor should you ignore the conversations going on all around you online.

#2 – Social media is about giving, not taking

Leading off the first point, you have to put the proper foot forward in social media. If you show up in your customers’ favorite social media channels and spend all day asking, asking, asking, you’ll get tired of your own voice very quickly.

People primarily participate in social media to maintain connections with family members and friends. Two thirds of users say staying in touch with current friends and family is a major reason they use social media, and half say connecting with old friends is a primary motivator for use.

But connecting and catching up doesn’t mean always pestering people.

Your (well-liked) family members aren’t always showing up on your doorstep asking for something, are they? Why would anyone think that’s what a customer would like from their local retailer?

As you strategize around how you’ll approach social media, don’t forget to give in abundance. And that doesn’t have to be monetary. It doesn’t mean you have to shower people with free coupons and giveaways – though they might be interested.

Giving could mean searching for customer questions and responding. It could mean replying to unsolicited mentions of your store’s name. It could mean giving people a reason to get together and talk about something, even if it isn’t about you.

When it comes to giving, the act is more about the fact that you’re not doing the opposite – taking – when you’re meeting customers face-to-face in digital channels.

#3 – If you invest in your customers, they’ll invest in you

Once you understand the way that social media works and the currency that’s in exchange, you’ll realize that what you put into your relationships with your customers will pay out tenfold in terms of their engagement with your brand.

Don’t run off in search of a 10X payout, but realize that the work you put in will pay nice dividends for the business down the road.

In fact, if you’re caring, honest, and upfront with your customers, when it’s finally time to make the ask it will be that much easier. Customers will actually feel compelled to buy from you or spread your message – whatever it is you’re asking of them – because of the relationship that’s been formed.

While having someone stop into your store once or twice a week to buy something is great, you only get a small window of time with them. If you can connect with your customers through social media, you’ll have an always-on window into the things they care about, what they’re looking for help with, and possibly even how you can assist.

Engaging in social media isn’t just about driving a quick sale in your store, it’s about building relationships with people and giving them no one else they’d rather turn to when it comes time to buy.

You can take the top spot because you’re their top choice, not because you’re the closest or have the freshest coat of paint.

You can make the case for social media

Armed with the three key narratives above, you’ll be well on your way to a successful retail social media practice in no time. Just don’t lose sight of where you started and all that you’ve learned.

If you can focus on the conversations taking place, give early and often, and ultimately invest in the success of your customers, the results will present themselves. You’ll see a customer base that is more talkative, more engaged, and more profitable as a result.

Are there elements of social media you’re afraid will work against you? How have you tackled tough conversations like this one?

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