Who Likes You Now?
Are your customers inspired and entertained when they visit your store? Do they appreciate your sales associates’ knowledge about the products you sell? For most successful retailers, the answer to both questions is yes. What happens when your customers move online? Do your website and social media profiles project the same sense of fun and product knowledge as your brick-and-mortar store?
As with every other aspect of building your business brand, social media success requires strategy and a positive attitude. What’s more, your online presentation and personality is where more and more consumers make their first impression of you, gauge your brand’s trustworthiness, and, ultimately, decide whether your store is the place they want to shop.
“Retailers have a tremendous advantage: they own brick-and-mortar places, which are natural social hubs,” says Laurent Francois, founder and executive creative strategist for RE-UP Agency (www.thisisreup.com), a creative marketing group with offices in London, Paris, and Los Angeles. “People test products, discover new goods and services, and have a chance to chat with the owner or the sales staff. Social media posts can be the translation of this tangible experience, for example, posting interviews of local influencers and live Twitter feeds coming directly from your store’s event.”
In this way, notes Francois, the personality of the brand is embodied in all these organic interactions. A compelling, unified brand becomes popular and motivates customers to interact on social media, sharing their voices to further shape a retailer’s overall personality.
Connecting to your customers
The first step in deploying social media to radiate your brand’s personality online is to tailor your photos and blog posts to your store’s optimal clientele.
“Every retailer has several different customer types that range from the casual one-timers to lifespan buyers,” says Debra Ellis, founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting (www.wilsonellisconsulting.com), a firm based in Asheville, N.C., specializing in multichannel marketing and operations management. “Matching customer type with expectations provides the insight necessary to create social media posts that deliver the brand experience. In some cases, a retailer may want to change expectations. If this is the situation, the retailer needs to define the personality the brand wants to project and create posts to match.”
According to Ellis, strategies to trigger emotion and brand recognition include using lots of eye-catching images and graphics (people remember visual aids), always speaking in the voice of the chosen brand personality (shifting voices confuses customers), and periodically asking outsiders to review post content for personality, brand, and emotion.
When thinking about how to cultivate a fun social media presence, think about the fun you have in your store, advises Lynn Switanowski-Barrett, founder of the Creative Business Consulting Group in Boston, Mass. (www.cbc-group.net). “There are so many ways retailers can engage their customers online, such as loyalty programs, joke of the day, funny cartoons, and posting about pop culture and sports events,” she says. “Be where your customers are, and if you don’t know, ask them about the brands they like to follow.” To make sure your in-store and online experience match up, Switanowski-Barrett advises retailers to constantly showcase and repeat the in-store experience online, especially since many new customers do research online before shopping. “Many retailers assume customers already know about their programs, but they don’t. Make sure your website talks up things like the products you carry, the programs you offer (referral and loyalty, etc.), and the reasons to shop with you—and don’t forget to add your customer testimonials.”
At Old Faithful Shop in Vancouver, B.C. (www.oldfaithfulshop.com), owner Walter Manning says his online presence is not about promoting products but about sharing interesting content. “We feel a constant barrage of products eventually goes unnoticed,” he notes. “We’re not really looking for things, but sharing things we find appealing. This could include photographers we like, blogs that are interesting, or short videos. We’ll also share any external media-related articles regarding our vendors. Of course we still share new products, events, and store-related news we feel people need to hear about.”
Heather Elizabeth, the owner of Heather Elizabeth Designs (www.hedesigns.com), a product manufacturer in New Orleans, La., says that since her jewelry and accessories for home are inspired by her city, she likes to tie in New Orleans-focused historical and current events to her social media. “Typically, my Facebook posts include my newest designs and art market venues,” explains Elizabeth. “On Twitter, I usually tweet more about current events or national media showcasing our city, such as last season’s Top Chef: New Orleans. It was great and really engaging for my followers. I even got to tweet back and forth with one of the chefs who made it to the finals!” She uses Pinterest to give her customers a “sneak peek” at her newest items. Says Elizabeth, “Pinterest is a great way for me to let people know how and where to find my work.”
The power of rituals
Marketing experts emphasize the importance of giving your customers something they can look forward to on a regular basis. “A brand in social media should include rituals,” explains RE-UP’s Laurent Francois. “Develop your digital rituals in the same way a physical store does. For example, the ‘special of the day’ at a restaurant: that’s a ritual. The more you create rituals, the more you create a shared language and connect with your customers.”
Seasons Koll, owner of Presents of Mind in Portland, Ore. (www.presentsofmind.tv), says one of her most popular social media rituals includes posting great photos of new products and store displays. “We have a top-notch, in-house camera with an expensive lens,” says Koll. “It allows us to take beautiful photos that are more likely to get picked up by users on sites like Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr, as well as liked by our Facebook followers. On Facebook, we do either a strong item/display photo with bulleted text or a small album with more informational text that works as a sort of mini-blog post.” Koll also makes special promotional pages to generate excitement for upcoming in-store events such as trunk shows. These include blog posts, grouping recent photos and albums, or putting together an entire story she email-blasts to her customers.
Aside from offering product-related posts and curated content posts, the team at Knock Knock (www.knockknockstuff.com), a product design company in Venice, Calif., uses their social media to spotlight what it’s like to work at the company, a strategy that can work for retailers as well. “We post photos of our team and even irreverent phrases heard throughout our office,” says Melanie Gasmen, Knock’s Knock’s marketing and digital coordinator. “This gives a good glimpse of our company’s culture: the faces and personalities behind our brand. For example, we share things such as what made our team laugh during the day and even add some links we’ve emailed each other out of amusement, which is really just sharing our company’s water-cooler talk.”
Beyond posting, advises Creative Business Consulting Group’s Switanowski-Barrett, “Don’t forget it’s very important to do your advertising. Facebook and Twitter have ad models. Use them to engage both current and potentially new customers. If you need help creating daily posts, you can take advantage of scheduling tools offered on Facebook, as well as HootSuite.com.”
Popular posting times
According to RE-UP’s Laurent Francois, there’s not really a one-size-fits-all best posting time, but at a global level, customers tend to be more available in the evening as they settle in after a long day at work.
Multichannel marketing consultant Debra Ellis suggests the best times to post will often vary by product type, customer, and community. To find the best time, she advises retailers monitor the activity that follows posts at different times of the day. If certain periods consistently peak, she says, those are your hot spots.
Presents of Mind’s Koll says she posts at various times of the weekday but has also found great success posting on weekends as well. “People are on social media sites during the weekend, sharing their photos and checking out other people’s photos in the process,” she says.
Knock Knock’s Melanie Gasmen says they post on Facebook several times a day, usually morning and early and late afternoon. Weekend posting is also key. “It’s important to remember everyone isn’t in the same time zone,” said Gasmen. “We post at all these times so our East Coast followers will see our links earlier in the day and our West Coast followers can see our posts around their lunch breaks when procrastination is at its peak.”
Old Faithful Shop’s Walter Manning says he tries to post something every weekday. “We feel we need to keep our dialogue constant,” he says. “We tend to post things in the early afternoon, and we feel this has decent reach, as people either check it at work or on their way home.”
Perhaps the best way to gauge optimal posting opportunities is to see what times you are getting the most views. “Your Facebook page, for example, will give you this specific information,” explains Switanowski-Barrett. “However, in general, if you’re going to post two or three times per day, I suggest early in the morning when people are getting up and checking their computers, again around lunch time, and then again at the end of the day, because most people spend more time online at night.”
Rating social media channels
Reaching out via social media to enhance and grow your in-store brand is best achieved through a variety of channels, from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Pinterest, but are some channels better at achieving certain ends than others?
“Right now, I think Instagram has the most reach,” says Manning. “It’s mobile-friendly, and if you’re posting original and interesting images, you’ll garner an interactive following. I feel more people are likely to engage with Instagram over other social outlets. Facebook used to be really good for us to connect with our followers and it’s still all right if you’re willing to pay, but I feel it’s starting to look really spammy, and engagement has decreased.”
According to Koll’s experience, all social media channels serve a purpose and have different users at different times for different reasons. “I think it makes sense to have a presence on all,” she says. “Many will cross-share, so it doesn’t even have to mean that much extra work. I also use Flickr and get views and likes from there. People are online all the time now, and I intend to capture as much of their attention for my business as possible.”
A recent LinkedIn survey of nearly 1,000 small and medium-sized businesses found 81 percent use social media. Of those:
- 94 percent use it for marketing purposes
- 49 percent use it to learn and develop business insights
- 90 percent use it to maintain brand presence and identity
- 82 percent use it for lead generation.
(Source: Priming the Economic Engine: How Social Media Is Driving Growth for Small and Medium Businesses, LinkedIn white paper, February 2014.)
First published in Vol. 28 No. 6 of Retailing Insight. © 2014 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.