With Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram now occupying a seemingly permanent place in our society, social media has become a force that must be reckoned with at every level of public and private life. In the world of retail, social media has the potential to be a powerful tool for advertising, sales, and increasing brand engagement. Businesses can reach out directly to customers through curated content and also manage the larger online conversations centered around their brand. This is an advantage that older forms of media do not afford retailers. It seems like a no-brainer to jump in head first and embrace this versatile and useful form of communication.
However, retailers would be well advised to take notice of the possible pitfalls when entering into or expanding social network outreach. Retail social media is a tricky balance of relatability, image management and trust within a consumer base. If users find a retailer’s social media presence to be hostile or exploitative, the backlash can be explosive, long reaching and have a lengthy shelf life. It’s important to keep the human element in mind and carefully control the narrative, lest a company become the latest hashtag dragged across all the top platforms.
Advantages and Opportunities
Retail social media has some clear advantages for any savvy marketing department, the most obvious of which is good old-fashioned advertising. With an ever-expanding user base, ads on these platforms can reach a wide audience. Social media networks are very welcoming to advertisers, offering not only fee-based promotion for posts, but also a targeted reach. Algorithms and the copious amounts of data gathered by social networks gives them the ability to put relevant content on user’s screens, and those users are all potential customers.
It’s therefore possible to create ads tailor made for the audience they’re meant to reach. That puts an extra tool in the hands of marketing teams: they can create content with a broad appeal, as well as hyper-focused online campaigns. However, it’s important to make sure each ad is tailor made to its platform. The 280-character limit on Twitter requires a different strategy than the image-first model of Instagram. It’s vital to take these factors into account when crafting social media content.
Then there’s the influencer. These trendy, often young social media users have ready-made audiences of impressionable consumers who will often make purchases based upon the influencers’ recommendation. Developing relationships which leverage this phenomenon can be a boon to retailers.
Disadvantages and Pitfalls
There are also plenty of disadvantages when engaging in retail social media. Without a clear vision, it’s easy to sink lots of resources into a campaign that yields few if any benefits. Social media accounts need to be carefully managed to make sure that the brand is strong, or else they can easily descend into an unorganized mess of rarely updated, untargeted posts.
There’s also the risk of backlash. Take for instance Amazon’s FC Ambassador program. At face value it sounds like a good idea: deploy satisfied and invested employees online to dispel myths and answer questions regarding Amazon business practices. In practice, it’s been a mixed bag at best and an unmitigated disaster at worst. Many online find them to be inauthentic and odd, an unnatural fit for social media where authenticity is key. Instead of focusing on innovations and new tech deployed by Amazon, these accounts commit the ultimate sin of social media and somehow seem less real than a more conventional social media presence. Consumers are savvy enough to recognize that brands online are looking to sell them something. There’s no reason to obfuscate that.
Respect the customer. This is particularly true for accounts run by associates in local stores and not by the home office. Since these are the people who your customers are interacting with, those relationships need to be well maintained. While social media can be a good forum to address negative customer concerns, without a coherent and holistic strategy attempting to communicate via such platforms leaves retailers open to increased negative feedback. While the news cycle is fast enough to brush aside a gaffe in a few days, if your approach is derailed it can take a significant amount of time to get back on track. At its best, a social media presence is unobtrusive and welcoming, getting pertinent information across in a succinct and enjoyable fashion. Getting bogged down in drama is a bad move for retail social media.
If you’re curious about how to use AI more effectively as a retailer, then check out what CB4 can do for you.