According to a whole host of surveys and data, many Americans spend more time staring at a screen than they do outside. The average adult spends three to four hours a day on their phones and, per household, clocks up eighth hours of TV time.
You’re staring at a screen right now, though it’s all good as it’s to learn something new to apply to your business and not just to aimlessly scroll through social media.
However, while all that screen time won’t be a positive for fitness levels, it does come with a sneaky benefit for retailers – as it gives you a prime opportunity to put your store in front of potential customers using social media marketing.
Does social media marketing work for independent retailers?
As with everything in retail marketing, social media can be complicated – and, even worse, expensive.
However, the stats for its effectiveness speak for itself:
- 71 percent of consumers who have a good social media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others.
- 53 percent of consumers recommend companies or products in tweets, with 48 percent following through to purchase those products or services.
- 78 percent of consumers say companies’ social media posts impact their purchases.
But – and it’s a big but – the algorithm that chooses what to show people has changed in recent years so that most posts are only shown to a tiny fraction (about two percent) of the people who like a page.
If you have 1,000 followers on your store’s Facebook page, only 20 people are likely to see your updates – which can feel like a zero-sum game, especially if you don’t have a budget to spend or if you’re a one-person team who just doesn’t have the time.
Which begs the question:
Do you need to pay-to-play to win at social media marketing as an independent retailer?
Anything that gets more eyeballs on your products helps. And sure, while it’s highly unlikely that someone is going to immediately run out to your store because they saw one of your posts, brand recognition matters – as does reminding customers that your store exists and sells great products.
Having budget to spend (and the knowledge of how to use social media to create targeted ads) helps enormously but it isn’t a must-have to see success – especially if you’re an independent retailer who needs to carefully balance your books.
Facebook and Instagram’s paid advertising tools are particularly powerful for stores with e-commerce arms, but if you don’t do e-commerce, you have several other ways to use social media marketing to create a great experience for your customers.
How independent retailers can use social media to see success (with actual examples from real retailers)
You’ll find loads of advice online about choosing the right social platforms for your store, why you should use social media to build relationships, and how you need to be investing in great video content to promote your store.
Which is all great. But you’ll be met with the same problems: budget, resourcing, and time.
Instead of diving into those topics, we’re going to look at five quick wins for independent retailers on social.
1. Put the time into creating something useful – otherwise, don’t bother
If you’re going to do social media marketing for your independent store, go into it with your eyes open – and the intention of only creating something interesting. Think of it like this: if you watched TV and all you saw was advertising, you’d switch off.
You need the flavor in between.
Meghan Thompson, of Learning Express, is quick to stress how the content you create needs to be meaningful to your customers – and not just a sales pitch for your store. “Creating valuable and engaging content is so important,” she says, “The more people ‘like’ and ‘react’ to your content, the more visibility it will get.
“For Learning Express, we’ve seen success with video content – it doesn’t have to be a big production. If you create short videos of your products or services, it will receive priority and higher visibility on platforms like Facebook and Instagram.”
Jay’s Prehistoric Pets has seen huge success with videos on social media too – which are shot and uploaded from a phone.
Granted, he has a big in with the range of exotic animals in his store.
The following Christmas-themed video racked up over 120,000 views – though avert your eyes if you’re not a fan of snakes!
This (coincidentally prehistoric) post from Bartell Drugs showcases how gorgeous design can help to elevate a typical product ad too:
Of course, it requires someone on the team with animation skills!
On a simpler level, Little Pnuts Toy Shoppe & Party Boutique uses Instagram’s Boomerang feature to showcase one of its products:
Ultimately, it’s not about having a big budget – but about using what you have to showcase something interesting.
2. Use social media to talk to your customers for better customer service
When something goes wrong, more and more customers are turning to social media to complain. They’re writing negative reviews or sending angry messages to the businesses involved.
And businesses are hiring whole customer service teams to talk to them. Just look at any bank or telecomms provider – they spend hours everyday fighting fires and dealing with complaints.
However, social media doesn’t just have to be reactive. Instead, you can be proactive – by getting out in front of your customers.
Many businesses now use Facebook Messenger to talk to customers – and it’s all automated so you don’t even need to necessarily be online to help.
For example, Dubray Books in Dublin, Ireland, has a set of questions that pop up when someone visits their page.
Staff can reply when they’re online or the store can build answers into the chat using a Facebook Messenger chatbot with a service like ManyChat or Chatfuel.
You can read all about using Facebook chatbots on falcon.io.
Of course, chatbots aren’t your only option as you can go much more traditional and personal with it too, and ask staff to answer any questions that might come in when they have the time.
If someone doesn’t want to pick up the phone to call to check stock availability, they can message the store to ask. (Alternatively, a service like Pointy will show their stock availability if someone looks up a nearby product they want to buy on Google.)
At the very least, you should have a Facebook and Twitter account for basic store and product updates and for answering customer queries as they come in. It isn’t too time-consuming and it gives your customers a new way to reach you.
3. Promote your products when it makes sense – but with the right audience in mind
There’s no getting around the fact that it helps if you have money to spend on social media – but you also have to be smart about it.
If you spend $20 on a post that’s going out to people who aren’t going to buy from you or who aren’t interested, you’re wasting those dollars.
The Norfolk Deli, a UK-based farmer’s market and deli, has seen success with occasionally using Facebook and Instagram as a pay-to-play service around significant events such as Christmas. They’ll target nearby shoppers with appetising ads to lure them in-store.
Intent is important – if you’re going to spend your hard-earned money on social media, you need to know that it has a purpose.
It won’t work for every store, but for example, a pet store could run an ad targeting a new product at stay-at-home moms who are pet owners. Facebook and Instagram has lots of options to target your ads, so before you spend any money, get familiar with it.
Facebook has an entire resource explaining its ad targeting, so make sure to check it out!
4. Create a community-led group that’s built around a niche interest
Facebook groups have become hugely popular as online meeting grounds for people with a shared interest.
The key is in finding the interest.
For some stores, it’s obvious: pet stores can capitalize on its customers and how much they love their pets while a bookstore could make an online bookclub. Likewise, a vinyl store could create a listener’s club where members talk about their favourite records.
Once you’ve made your group, make sure to advertise it to customers. You could add a link on a receipt slip, put it on your social channels and website, and mention it to customers in-store.
Keep it light and breezy and make sure it doesn’t just become one big promotional tool.
5. Use it to show off who you are
If you’re going to use social media marketing for your independent store and you want to build up your likes and followers, there’s no better shortcut than showcasing your personality.
“For businesses with a physical location it’s essential to highlight what’s unique and interesting about your space and the experience of going there,” says Emile Milgrim, Co-owner of Sweat Records.
“We’ve found that posting things that get real-life reactions in the store tends to resonate best online. If we pull a record out of a box and an employee goes ‘Whoa!’ or if we all crack up at a music joke then it’s likely many of our customers will engage the same way.”
It’s particularly true for stores built on experiences: customers want to know that they matter and that you really are an advocate for your business and products. It’s all part of the experience for shoppers.
It’s a thought that’s echoed by Mark Kacary, the Managing Director of The Norfolk Deli.
“We find that if we post a mix of what we want people to buy alongside the social aspects of the business, we see really good engagement,” he says.
“We find that these elements often get the best response and that incorporating the day-to-day life of ourselves and our business (for example posting the dogs we own) creates more activity and introduces our store to people who wouldn’t otherwise have found us.”
And sure, posting about your dog’s excitement to see you after a trip to the cinema probably isn’t going to drive direct sales to your business, but it’s going to endear you to your customers and help you stand out – especially ahead of online giants or big-box stores that can come across as soulless and cold.
Ultimately, good social media marketing will introduce your business to more people in a positive way – which increases the chances of bringing more people to your store.
So why wouldn’t you do it?