At Westco, we understand how important time and resources are to our merchant customers. So, as well as introducing new product lines and doing our bit to raise the standards of our industry, we want to help you to maximise revenue for your own businesses through the provision of sales and marketing support.
Over the next few months, Westco Marketing Manager Katie Cullen will be sharing a range of handy guides to help us do this. And, in this latest installment, we take a look at how merchants can make the most of their social media activity.
What is multi-channel retailing?
For today’s retailers, while what happens in store remains crucial, your offline presence no longer exists in isolation.
Consider your own buying habits for example. You might see something in a magazine, go online to find out more, and ask your friends their opinion on a potential purchase; all before visiting a store to take a look at the product for yourself.
Savvy retailers understand that this trend is becoming increasingly common, not only for consumers, but also for business buyers. To stay ahead in this game, it’s vital to become ‘multi-channel’.
Multichannel retailing is where a customer interacts with a business, through a variety of different means when making a purchase. Such channels can include bricks and mortar stores, e-commerce websites, mobile apps, telephone sales and even social media.
Taking this one step further, ‘Omni-channel’ retailing is the process of providing a consistent customer experience across all these on and offline channels.
How does social media fit into the multi-channel experience?
Today, more and more customers are turning online for recommendations and price comparisons, with social media playing an increasing role in this process. However, as well as being part of the customer research process, social media can also help you to reach out to customers and potential customers on a regular basis.
How to get the most out of your social media activity
If you want to find new contacts, promote your business and generate leads, social media can help. However, despite what you might have heard, it isn’t free. While it won’t cost you anything to set up your social media accounts, to deliver results social media needs to be managed correctly. And that requires an investment of time and resources.
In this quick guide, we’ve collated some useful advice to help our merchant customers to make the most out of their social media efforts and generate that all important return on investment (ROI).
Ten top social media tips:
- Understand your market. Before you set up a social media account such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, ask yourself whether your customers are likely to be using it. For many businesses, marketing resources are tight, and budgets are best spent on those channels most likely to deliver results. That said, the majority of customers do expect businesses to have an active social media presence, with 85% of today’s business buyers believing companies should present information via social networks. 
- Understand your customer. We’ve said it before, but understanding and satisfying customers is essential to delivering excellent service and generating repeat business. When it comes to successful social media, the more you know about your customers, the easier it is to deliver a social experience that will appeal to them. If you haven’t already done so, spend some time figuring out the wants, needs and motivations of your customers and then use your social media accounts to demonstrate your understanding of these. And don’t be overly ‘salesy’. Rather than a steady stream of product promotion, use social media to engage with your customers and to share information about what you can do for them. Talk about yourself all the time and people will start to avoid you!
- Understand what you want social media to achieve. To deliver results you need to establish what you want social media to do for your business, and figure out how you’re going to achieve these goals. Social media doesn’t exist in isolation. Instead, it should be integrated into, and supportive of your wider marketing plans, communications, and business objectives.
- Be active, engaging and responsive. To maintain a consistent presence online, you need to post regular updates and show an interest in other people’s content. The more you post, the more likely it is you’ll be noticed. However, don’t overdo it. Posting two or three quality updates over the course of a day is better than 50 posts made all at once. You want to be noticed, not annoying! Also, be sure to monitor your social media accounts to see who has commented on your posts so you can respond where appropriate. Likewise, don’t ignore customer feedback on social media. Thank customers for positive feedback and be sure to address negative comments, even if that means taking it to another, less public, means of communication.
- Live your brand. Social media is more than just another way to get your business in front of its customers. It also lets you communicate your brand values, culture, and personality. And, in a competitive world, a unique brand identity can help you to stand out from the competition.
- Create a content and engagement strategy. Content such as blogs, guides, infographics, and videos can really help your business to stand out on social media. What’s more, the more content of value you give away, the more you will be seen as an expert in your field, and the more people will follow you so as not to miss out. A well thought-out engagement and content plan will establish what you want to tell your followers and how you plan to do this.
- Complete your profiles. The more complete your social media profiles, the easier it is for others to find you and determine what makes you tick.
- Less is more. One of the biggest mistakes made by those new to social media is to fall into the quantity over quality trap. It’s easy to gain (or even buy!) irrelevant followers, but they are unlikely to have any positive impact on your business. Engagement, conversations, and relationship building are where the real value’s at. Identify who you want to talk to, and use social media to appeal directly to them.
- Cultivate your network. Relevant followers are invaluable on social media. Therefore, as well as connecting with people you already know, spend some time pinpointing those you want to get to know. Find and engage with key individuals and influencers and see if you can leverage their brand and connections (for example by commenting on their news or joining in conversations where appropriate).
- Measure the success of your social media activity. As with everything in marketing, what can be measured should be measured. Be sure to establish some Key Performance Indicators(KPI) to keep track of your success (and change tack where necessary).
Of course, all of the above tips relate to using social media’s free tools and capabilities. In 2015 however, most social media platforms did all they could to push businesses towards their various paid advertising platforms.
A real alternative to more traditional advertising channels, if you are serious about capitalising on the business benefits social media can deliver, you should also consider using social advertising to augment you organic efforts.
In addition to the above social media guide, we have also provided some top visual merchandising tips to increase sales in store. Keep an eye out on our website and across our social channels for further updates.