How Retailers Use Social Media to Better Their Business

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Retail’s transformation has been far from subtle in the past couple of decades. In a short time, consumer behaviour has shifted from phone calls for information and store hours to swipes and clicks to learn more about brands, products and stores.

As retail has digitized, social media initially rode alongside it. Early on, social media seemed to be more about personal expression than brand identity. But then businesses bought in, too. Marketing minds recognized the tremendous power truly at play for retailers and other businesses. Today, the social media statistics that impact businesses are almost dizzying.

Social media strategy is, to say the least, a necessary part of any retailer’s overall marketing plan. The beauty and frustration comes with how social media strategies vary so much – some companies take more of an informational than promotional approach, others are lighthearted and fun, and still, others use it sparingly but effectively.

You could say all retailers have something to learn from one another. Here’s how some retail brands use social media to improve the business while teaching us all a little about how to communicate with our customers.

Social Media and Brand Reputation

It may sound a little trite to some, but there’s a huge difference between recognizing your brand from the sight of a logo to people understanding your brand’s mission and purpose. Social media platforms are critical to a company’s ability to communicate with audiences about their mission and social views, as well as their products, sales events and other relevant messages.

For retailers, building brand loyalty through social media and other channels is a tremendous business advantage. Take Apple, for example. As smartphone sales accelerated over the past decade, Apple gained a distinct advantage over Samsung by saving money on marketing using brand ambassadors—Apple spent almost $3 billion a year less than its competitor.

Apple’s brand ambassadors, first and foremost, love the company for its efficient, smart and intuitive products. By nature, they can’t wait for the next product to come out. Knowing this, Apple has embraced a sophisticated, sleek and simple image, all wrapped up in a pretty bow of functionality and purpose. Knowing this about its power as a brand and audience needs influence how Apple plays its social media cards.

In many ways, Apple is a study in what it doesn’t say. The company knows it has brand ambassadors, so it’s not a promotion-heavy enterprise. It’s more a case of reminding its loyal followers that the company is still thinking of them.

Look up Apple’s social channels and you’ll find absolutely no posts on Twitter or Facebook. The company avoids official handles and simply buys ads when it needs to, usually with little text, just product images. The more text-heavy ones highlight events. Apple respects users by not flooding them with messages. Instead, if you retweet or share, Apple will send you more information about the product or event. Otherwise, the company does an excellent job of leaving you alone. It’s a minimalist strategy, for sure, but one that speaks to developing your company with great products, first and foremost, and respecting your audience by not bombing them with too many messages.

Chipotle is another example of a brand that has thrived on a stellar reputation for quality ingredients and consistent product delivery. But unlike Apple, Chipotle is a little more playful in the way it engages with its audience on social media, while also mixing in the serious side of product integrity and quality. During the COVID-19 pandemic, social media helped Chipotle thrive, not simply survive.

Chipotle went all-in with social content, leveraging all channels, including a TikTok Chipotle Royalty Challenge that gave its burrito fans a chance to win $10,000 if they could explain why, among the millions of burrito combinations available at a Chipotle store, their unique recipe was the best—and let’s not forget its Guac Dance and Lid Flip challenges that kept the energy alive around the idea of eating out still being fun (even if you’re only grabbing it curbside).

That said, Chipotle never misses a chance to talk up its commitment to sustainability and the sheer amazingness of its ingredients. The company took to social media on National Avocado Day, not to just shout out about its guacamole, but to cite studies about how the mighty avocado can help prevent heart disease. They also profiled growers who talked about growing and picking great avocados. Chipotle, in many ways, uses social media to celebrate the almighty burrito; it balances fun with educational insights, and it’s clear this brand knows its audience.

The Power of Influence(rs)

Instagram and TikTok influencers allow retail businesses to attract in-person traffic (through local marketing and location-based strategies) and online shoppers. In fact, 70% of teens trust influencers over celebrities and 60% are more likely to follow the advice of influencers over celebrities, according to the Digital Marketing Institute.

This is particularly powerful for fashion brands. Boohoo, for example, aligned with influencers throughout the pandemic to promote products and speak to its customers. It leveraged the reality that we were all staying at home more to create its “Boohoo in the House” at-home fashion content. It was one way to acknowledge the crisis while keeping its young audience engaged with the brand.

It’s also important to remember that when it comes to influencers, bigger isn’t always better. H&M, for example, tapped micro-influencers, or those who don’t necessarily have a huge number of followers but whose followers are still very engaged with them. H&M started internally, highlighting about a dozen of its own employees from its stores who were active brand ambassadors on social media. They talked about incorporating H&M styles into everyday life. It’s a relatively simple and inexpensive strategy and well worth the effort, as 82% of consumers say they would follow the advice of a micro-influencer.

The Power of Video on Social Media

Video has been a known successful commodity in social media for some time. Instagram photos can make for a beautiful collage of products and a great way to see your customers engaging with your product, but video, plain and simple, is active and generates better results. About 81% of businesses use video as a marketing tool and six out of 10 people would rather watch an online video than television.

Sephora is a brand associated with beauty knowledge as much as it is for thousands of fantastic private-label products. For more than five years, its social media strategy has been about empowering its customer with knowledge about beauty best practices as much as it has been about exposing them to great products—and video has been the key component.

Sephora has hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers who look to the brand for ways to make make-up application simple. Sephora also allows subscribers to sign up for deeper content dives with its “Beauty Insider” members-only online community. All of the information it gives out in its video content is also a fantastic lead generation tool, allowing Sephora to build its email lists and gather customer data for targeted marketing efforts on other channels.

The Power of Fun

Few brands embrace silly, fun irreverence better than Warby Parker. From teasing a line of canine eyewear to spinable glasses inspired by Jimmy Fallon to tons of quirky images in its social media posts, the company that started as a serious reveal about the unnecessarily expensive eyewear industry keeps its social messaging light most of the time.

At the same time, the company uses social media to respond to customer complaints and concerns. It’s not afraid to leverage social media to talk about community initiatives, too. Through its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” campaign, Warby Parker has donated more than 500,000 pairs of glasses to people in need and has put infrastructure in place in developing nations to help them learn to sell eyewear to one another and build a small industry that’s good for the economy while improving human health.

These six retailers use social media in their own unique ways to successfully communicate with customers, boost sales and improve brand recognition and image. While each company has a unique way of doing it, all share in the understanding that there is power in the billions of social media users, and not using social channels is a missed opportunity.

Find the right way to integrate social media into an overall marketing plan that serves your retail brand and customers and you’ll likely find your growth will be a two-step process—better brand affinity and recognition and the knock-down effect of increased sales as well.

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