Marketing Online: 10 tips to help you create an effective social media strategy

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March 27/April 3, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 21

By Lindsay Baillie

 

For many retailers, jumping into social media is similar to exploring uncharted territory. It is unfamiliar, time consuming and poses the risk of failure/getting lost. However, now more than ever, social media has become a crucial part of the consumer’s search for products and services. If you are not maintaining your presence on social media, you run the risk of being buried by your competition, experts say.

FCNews recently spoke with three social media marketing experts to gather tips on how to create a social media strategy.

Tip #1: Make it mandatory. “The first thing retailers have to realize is social media is no longer just an option—it is a necessity,” said Paul Friederichsen, marketing expert and owner of BrandBiz. Retailers have to “understand it is a part of their overall marketing strategy. It is just as important as advertising and public relations.”

Tip #2: Align your social media efforts with your business strategy. Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier, Simple Marketing Now, encourages dealers to ask themselves a few questions when developing a social media strategy. “Why are you doing this? It takes a lot of time and effort to do social media correctly—just like anything else does—and you want to make sure those resources deliver value to the business.”

Tip #3: Start with your customers. After fitting social media into your business strategy you have to decide what platforms to join. For this, Whittemore suggests talking to your customers. “Find out where they hang out online. Ask them what they do there. Where do they go to find inspiration? That can help guide content and the kind of relationship building you do.” According to Whittemore, the time you spend on digital media is similar to what you would spend networking in person, so you also want to uncover where the majority of your customers look for new products.

Tip #4: Learn about each platform. According to Friederichsen, retailers should learn the best roles for each platform and what kinds of social etiquette are required for each. Bottom line: Retailers should have a pretty good understanding of what each platform does and what the environment is on those platforms before joining.

Whittemore calls this understanding the “nature of the network,” so you can show up with the right kind of content and know how to say what you want to say. “It’s not just about sales,” she explained. “It’s about providing helpful information.”

Tip #5: Be selective. After talking with customers and learning about the different platforms, take the time to be selective about which platforms you actually join. Whittemore suggests retailers stay away from joining every social media site. Instead, maintain a presence on heavily populated sites such as Facebook and where your customers hang out such as Pinterest. She also recommends regularly Googling your business to see if any listings—such as Yelp—show up. If they do, make sure to claim them.

Tip #6: Start with one and then add on. If you are worried about maintaining multiple sites, experts advise starting small and concentrating your efforts on one. “Start with one and work on it,” said Lisbeth Calandrino, FCNews columnist and retail industry consultant. “Get a lot of customers on your page so then when you have good sense of that [platform] and people are replying to you, you’re ready to go to the next one.”

After you have successfully grown one social media account, try branching off to another site; however, make sure you do not take on too much to handle. “Retailers should be on as many sites as they can do well,” Friederichsen noted. “It’s better to do a few things well than many things poorly.”

Tip #7: Engage your customer. “This is the age of the consumer, and the consumer needs to talk,” Calandrino said. “What better way to get a referral than to have your customer be online and talk about a job you’ve done? You have to figure out how to engage the customer.”

Along the same vein, Friederichsen explained it’s not the place to push out your message as you would in an advertisement. “It’s the sharing of ideas; it’s an engagement [with others]. A lot of dealers feel like that is really not selling, when in fact it is because it creates a much broader view of your store and your brand so that you can attract the kind of customers you want.”

Tip #8: Create a blog. In addition to communicating with your customers, social media helps call attention to your website. While social media platforms provide ample opportunity for customers to visit your site, Calandrino recommends creating and maintaining a blog. “It’s likely that your website is stagnant. If every time I go to your website it’s exactly the same then I am less likely to return. If you have a blog and it is up to date—you decide to post every week or every day—then whoever signs up for [the blog] will see your site.” She recommends retailers build content around their personality and strengths instead of buying posts.

Tip #9: Let social media buffer your other marketing outlets. Social media is an interconnected form of marketing and can easily complement a retailer’s overall marketing campaign. Friederichsen suggest retailers use their social media accounts to share when sales are occurring, when new products come in or when any seasonal promotions are going on in the store, etc. “Like advertising and public relations, social media plays an important role. They don’t all play the same role but they complement one another.”

Calandrino agrees, adding: “A social media strategy doesn’t stand by itself. It is not an isolated strategy. Rather, you need to work it into whatever else you’re doing. If you’re doing a contest you should move it to your social media so people have to respond.”

Tip #10: Be patient. Developing and maintaining a social media strategy requires time, but probably not as much time as you think. In order to maintain a couple of social media sites, experts say retailers should spend anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour every day, as time and effort are equally important.

Friederichsen warned retailers that building followers on social media doesn’t happen overnight and followers should never be purchased. His recommendation: “Build a following over time with good content and consistent posts—with proper etiquette.”

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