By David Buchanan, Social Senior Account Manager at Loud Mouth Media
Social media has been one of the greatest influences of the last decade. It’s popularity has soared with the general public, and the retail industry has embraced it as an essential marketing tool. This is especially true of the last 12 months, where social media platforms played an integral part in one of the most challenging times the retail sector has ever faced.
With stores shut to the public in line with COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns, social media allowed retailers to keep trading, engaging, and interacting with customers – so much so, online sales are predicted to grow by around £3.4 trillion by the end of this year. So, as a retailer, how can you gain the most from social media and evolve your online presence?
Retailers arguably have the most to gain from social media marketing, and contrary to popular belief, social media isn’t killing retail but instead giving it the chance to evolve.
An omnichannel social presence is key
Social media is a powerful tool for retailers as it allows them to engage with people throughout the customer lifecycle; but as with any strategy, it’s not without its challenges. To make the most of your campaigns, it’s crucial to understand what works for retailers and what brands need to do to map out that important customer journey. The best way to get in front of your customers wherever they are, whenever? An omnichannel social presence.
Retailers can’t afford to stick to a single social platform, and while putting all of your efforts into one channel might keep you from spreading your resources thin, doing so can also be detrimental. For example, creating a successful social media-wide campaign can consist of Instagram, taking advantage of paid Facebook advertising and an active Pinterest and Twitter presence. This allows brands to cross-promote its content to address customer concerns and highlight its great customer base, while also ensuring they have the widest reach possible for its buyer network.
Perfect social customer service
Effectively using social media for retail isn’t as simple as sharing offers and deals, and although customer support on brand platforms is crucial, reeling them in with offers is only the beginning of the journey in converting them to loyal customers.
Customer service concerns are among the top reasons that consumers engage with retailers on social media, with one billion messages exchanged between people and businesses every month on Facebook Messenger. So social customer service isn’t just about questions and complaints – it also involves showcasing your customers and highlighting their positive experiences with the company. The more a brand draws attention to its satisfied customers, the better. Customer service can’t be an afterthought for retailers, and consistent monitoring and social listening can make sure that those mentions don’t go unnoticed.
The visibility of negative comments on social channels presents a challenge for brands. By dealing with it in the comments sections, other potential customers can take note and feel encouraged that their voice will be heard. On the other hand, negative customer service experiences or ignoring customers can be very problematic for brands. An agitated customer that gets little response can send them on a viral campaign to tarnish the company; and with their friends or followers seeing it, the issue can spread far and wide. They will likely spread negativity through word of mouth offline, on social media you can identify the issue, deal with it and turn a negative into a positive. With experts saying customer experience will overtake price as a key brand differentiator, having a seamless experience across all touchpoints online is essential – social media is no different.
Staying on top of the latest trends increases engagement
Social media retail trends are constantly changing, so brands need to consistently experiment with new ways to engage with their followers to keep up. At the same time, competitors and new products are promoting themselves heavily in retail spaces that have a strong presence in their industries.
TikTok for example is such a rapidly growing platform, it’s surprising how few retailers are taking advantage. By advertising or using this platform before your competitors, you can have a competitive advantage. The hashtag challenges on the platform can quickly go viral on to other channels like Instagram (Reels), and a well-thought-out engagement strategy can really benefit the brand.
Listening is also crucial for brands looking to stay on top of social media retail trends. Social media has shifted what engagement looks like for consumers, but it also offers real-world feedback and interaction like never before. Using strategies like sentiment analysis can therefore help retailers better understand how customers feel about their brand and tailor content accordingly. To take full advantage of this, however, retailers must make sure they are listening to their audience and remaining agile with key trends.
One of the biggest must-haves for retailers across social media is being engaged with user-generated content (UGC), with even the biggest companies in the industry relying on UGC to showcase their products. Existing customers’ photos are a great way to increase conversions and engagement among social followers, so allowing existing customers to talk about their latest purchases encourages potential customers to interact with the brand.
Retailers should actively encourage their followers to share UGC, and creating a dedicated hashtag provides both an outlet for encouraging customers to share their content and a place for brands to directly interact with their target audience.
Make social shopping as seamless as possible
As noted by the number of brands that are thriving on social media, encouraging followers to complete purchases directly from social media is becoming more popular. However, it’s not as simple as just posting product links. To increase your social media conversion rate, the shopping experience needs to be as seamless as possible without multiple links and redirects. Even if you don’t use a third-party tool for social shopping, making social landing pages mobile-friendly is crucial.
Social platforms are constantly unveiling new shopping and advertising features tailored for social media for retailers. This includes the roll-out of Instagram checkout, which has been designed to make it easier for brands to drive purchases without needing customers to leave the app. If the customer journey is quick, efficient and easy to complete, conversions will follow.
Retaining loyal customers
The goal for using social media for retail is nurturing customers throughout their buying or browsing journey and encouraging them to become return shoppers. Retailers can’t afford to rely solely on acquiring followers unless it is resulting in your social presence leading to long-term engagement and purchases. If someone is following your brand, they’re more likely to make a purchase. In fact, 9 out of 10 people say they buy from companies they follow on social media, which is something a retailer needs to hone in on when it comes to promoting offers.
To attract consumers, increase your efforts at times of the year where spending is high, run influencer marketing and UGC campaigns and social ads. Tracking your growth and engagement can also give you a better understanding of what’s encouraging purchases from your followers over time.
Social media at large
There’s no denying that retailers have their hands full when it comes to optimising their social presence. However, they have the most to gain from social media as we move out of lockdown.
From establishing new customers to increasing the value of those you already have, the number of creative business opportunities available to retail brands on social media is almost endless. With COVID-19 only accelerating the demand for online shopping and social media, retailers can expect to be left behind if their social presence falls short of customer expectations.